In part 3 of CHEAP.SEATS.PLEASE weeklong lead up to Super Bowl Sunday, let’s take another look backwards. I’ve already showcased who are my picks for which players had the best games or careers playing in the Big Game, but which games were actually the best? The Super Bowl is unique in that despite all of the hype around it, in the majority of years it actually lives up to it. In the last 10 years, only two games have been decided by more than 10 points. Ironically, those totals were scored by two teams that walked into Super Sunday with big time defensive reputations (’01 Ravens and ’03 Buccaneers).
I’m not going to be presumptuous enough to try to rank the best of all 44 Super Bowls played, for a variety of reasons. One being I want to have an actual opinion from memory, meaning I want to comment on what I’ve seen. With all due respects to the Steel Curtain & Roger Staubach & company in Dallas, it’s hard for me to remember things that happened before I was born (for obvious logistical reasons). Also, I won’t count myself as actually understanding what was going on when Joe Montana took to the field for his late 80’s Super Bowl reign, because while I watched it, I didn’t really have a clue what was going on like I would need to include them on this list. NFL Films or opinions from others isn’t at work here, just a guy’s memory who has only missed one Super Bowl broadcast in the last 20 years. The first Super Bowl I remember is Super Bowl XXV in 1991, so this rounds out well and makes the top 10 of the last 20 years a manageable task. Enjoy.
10. Dallas Cowboys 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 17 (Super Bowl XXX, 1996): This game was a tale of two halves, with it being a defensive struggle early and then a Cowboy showcase in the second half. The Steelers took a 13-7 lead into the half, however a 20-point second half and three interceptions by Steeler quarterback Neil O’Donnell turned the tides of this game. Two Emmitt Smith touchdown runs and two Larry Brown interceptions sealed the Cowboy victory, a record third in four years.
9. Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21 (Super Bowl XXXI, 1997): This was a return to the spotlight for the NFL’s most successful franchise in Green Bay. Lead in by league MVP Brett Favre, the Packers took control of this game early and often. Its notability remains in the style in which the Packers won, with a couple of record-setting Sundays, including a 3-sack game from future HOFer Reggie White. However the highlight of the day was Desmond Howard and his 244 total yards, including a 99 yard kickoff return.
8. New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17 (Super Bowl XLIV, 2010): In a showdown between the league’s MVP (Peyton Manning) in Indianapolis and Drew Brees, the heart and soul of a dangerous Saints offense, this was advertised as a shootout where whoever had the ball last could be the winner. Instead this game came down to a strategic onside kick by New Orleans to start the second half, which they recovered, and a 15-point fourth quarter by the Saints, capped by a 74 yard interception return for a touchdown by Tracy Porter during Manning’s 4th quarter drive, which sealed the first Super Bowl for the Saints.
7. Denver Broncos 34, Green Bay Packers 24 (Super Bowl XXXII, 1998): The Packers returned the Big Game to defend their title against a Bronco team that was a redemption mission of sorts for quarterback John Elway, who had been beaten badly in his previous Super Bowl trips. Elway made a heroic run to inch into the end zone, while being spun by two hits from Packer defenders, but the main difference maker was Terrell Davis and his three touchdowns & 157 rushing yards, while playing with a migraine that caused him to miss most of the second quarter. A deflected fourth down pass by John Mobley sealed the win during Brett Favre’s late drive to tie the game.
6. New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19 (Super Bowl XXV, 1991): This game gets summarized by one moment in history, Buffalo kicker Steve Norwood’s missed field goal with only eight seconds left following an impressive drive by quarterback Jim Kelly. This miss is the most infamous moment in Super Bowl history, and also ended the Bills best chance at a Super Bowl victory during their four-year stretch of reaching the game, as the Redskins and Cowboys easily defeated them over the next three years.
5. New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17 (Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002): In the history of upsets, this one was one for the books, with the high-powered Rams being 14 point favorites, while the Patriots had reached the game behind the improbable rise of their previously unknown backup QB, Tom Brady. The New England defense is what made the greatest difference here, giving up only one Kurt Warner touchdown out of his 365 passing yards and forcing two interceptions. In the end, a historic 48 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal won the Patriots their first championship of the Belichick/Brady era, and become the first Super Bowl won on its final play.
4. New York Giants 17, New England Patriots (Super Bowl XLII, 2008): In yet another Patriot appearance here, they were involved in yet another upset, albeit not coming out on the same end as they had six years earlier. This is not just ranked here for what it was as a game, but how monumental of an upset it was in the history of sports. The Patriots entering it 18-0 and looking to become the first team to win 19 games in a season, and Tom Brady and Randy Moss had the most productive seasons in the history of the game for a quarterback/wide receiver tandem. None of this deterred the wild card, fifth seeded Giants defense which continually stonewalled every Patriot attempt and deployed an ingenious mix of a heavy zone pass defense and unleashed a heavy blitz, which Brady never overcame. Also notable is wide receiver David Tyree’s amazing one-handed catch against his own helmet during a third down scramble by quarterback Eli Manning, which led to the go head touchdown catch by Plaxico Burress to seal the biggest upset in the history of the Super Bowl.
3. New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29 (Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2003): The Pats 2nd Super Bowl in three years was a thriller, and perhaps the most exciting of all of their visits to the game. After starting off slow, and staying that way for three-quarters, business picked up in the fourth in a major way. This final frame featured one of the best fourth quarter battles in the history of the game, with five touchdowns and three lead changes. It came down to a 41-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal to seal the win for the Patriots, his second such heroic kick in a three year span, but more on the other one later.
2. St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16 (Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000): This was a game that from the beginning smelled of an epic finish. The Rams, who had come to power shot out of cannon, brought one of the greatest aerial offenses in the history of the game to Atlanta for the game, to face the gritty, hard nosed Titans, led by Steve McNair and Eddie George. The first half of the game was a defensive struggle between the two clubs, with the Rams managing only three Jeff Wilkins’ field goals, but holding a 9-0 advantage.
Following the Rams first touchdown by Torry Holt, the Titans kicked into gear in the third quarter and scored 16 unanswered points to tie the game up. However, the Rams true fashion kicked into gear, and a 68 yard Isaac Bruce touchdown put them ahead. The greatness of this game is in its final play, which came after a 72 yard Titan drive in the last 1:48 of the game. In the end McNair connected with Kevin Dyson over the middle, but a lunging tackle by linebacker Mike Jones stopped Dyson half a yard (if that) short of tying the game (with the extra point afterwards) as the clock expired to secure the St. Louis Rams’ first Super Bowl win.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23 (Super Bowl XLII, 2009): This game was a sleeper that turned into a dynamo. The Cardinals rose from wild card status to the NFC Champions behind the arm of past Super Bowl hero Kurt Warner and an incredible three game run by Larry Fitzgerald. This game was characterized by the big & unexpected play, and they came early and often. The first big moment came at the end of a strong Steeler first half when linebacker James Harrison intercepted Kurt Warner in the Cardinal end zone and returned it for a 100 yard touchdown, a Super Bowl record.
In the second half, Larry Fitzgerald took over, making a two incredible catches for touchdowns, the second being a 63 yards score which pulled the Cardinals ahead for the first time with 2:37 left in the game. This is when Santonio Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger took over. The pair connected on 4 plays for 71 yards on the last Steeler drive of the game, which the last being an incredible six yard catch in the corner of the end zone, which Holmes barely getting both feet down, to put the Steelers ahead. The Cardinals got the ball back, but a Lamarr Woodley sack caused Warner to fumble with five seconds left and sealed the win for the Steelers.
Will the 46th Super Sunday lead to another moment being added to this list? Tomorrow never knows, but the Packers and Steelers have some big shoes to step into shortly.