Super Bowl XLII, Giants 17, Patriots 14, was, to my way of thinking, the best Super Bowl ever. There, I've said it! I spent many hours on a torturously delayed flight from Phoenix to Newark ranking all of them and reviving old memories. I will list them all for you, according to grade categories, then I'll give you, in order, the eight I've selected for grades in the A class. Remember, these are strictly personal choices, many of them reflecting not so much the quality of the game but my own relationship to it.
XL (2006) Steelers 21, Seahawks 10 -- Both quarterbacks awful. Only strong memory was the terrible officiating. Signs everywhere proclaimed it 40th Anniversary. I got into at least 50 arguments. Super Bowl 40 is not a 40th Anniversary, I explained. Just as the day of your wedding is not the first anniversary. The only argument I got was, "We've made the signs already."
XXVII (1993) Cowboys 52, Bills 17 -- Nine turnovers for Buffalo. Naturally, your faithful narrator had the Bills. Michael Jackson provided halftime entertainment just to make the act complete.
XXIV (1990) 49ers 55, Broncos 10 -- Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips supposedly was a serious head coach prospect, but it took him four years after this debacle to land a job. What I remember best was strong safety Dennis Smith covering Jerry Rice when he lined up in the slot. Oy! Five TD's for Joe Montana.
XII (1978) Cowboys 27, Broncos 10 -- I was doing a book with Lyle Alzado, an eight-day special, written during Super Bowl week. I was hanging out with the Bronco defensive guys and they were in a mood to kill. I was sleep deprived. My lead for my game advance for the NY Post was advice to the bettors to jump on the Broncos getting 4½. I'd forgotten that Craig Morton and the boys also had to take the field on the Denver offensive side of the ball. Eight turnovers later, down the dumper goes old Z.
XXXVII (2003) Bucs 48, Raiders 21 -- Five picks for Rich Gannon and his Raider gnat attack, three for TD's... 34 unanswered points. Bleeaugh!
XXXV (2001) Ravens 34, Giants 7 -- 152 yards for the G-men, five turnovers, battle of the century between Trent Dilfer and Kerry Collins. A whole week of Ray Lewis and Tony Siragusa beating their chests in a "we are the greatest" frenzy.
XXXIII (1999) Broncos 34, Falcons 19 -- Overmatched Atlanta never in it. Biggest headline involved Falcon safety Eugene Robinson, a proud old vet and a good guy, getting caught in a sting operation in a hooker neighborhood in South Beach.
XXXI (1997) Packers 35, Patriots 21 -- Max Lane trying to block Reggie White. Three sacks and counting. There should have been an arrest. Right. Three picks for Drew Bledsoe, who was lucky to get out alive.
XXIX (1995) 49ers 49, Chargers 26 -- Steve Young, record six touchdowns. Sorry, but a whole bunch of pitch and catch, seven-on-seven TD's doesn't thrill me.
XXVI (1992) Redskins 37, Bills 24 -- O-line couldn't handle Redskin rush. Four picks for Kelly. Old Z had picked the Bills to win big.
XX (1986) Bears 46, Patriots 10 -- Chicago coach Mike Ditka actually caught some heat after this one when the Fridge scored more TD's (one) than Walter Payton (zero).
VIII (1974) Dolphins 24, Vikings 7 -- Vikes once again show up unprepared. Highlight for me was the author, Hunter Thompson, joining my writers' handicapping pool and signing up four times, under four names. Nope, he didn't come close.
VI (1972) Cowboys 24, Dolphins 3 -- Duane Thomas and the "evidently" quote. Best player on the field, but Sport Magazine gives its trophy car to Roger Staubach out of fear that the elusive Thomas wouldn't show up at their ceremony.
II (1968) Packers 33, Raiders 14 -- Not that terrible a game, but a tough one for me because, as an old AFL man, I was pulling hard for Oakland. Tom Keating, the Raiders' terrific defensive tackle, tore an Achilles but finished the game, actually recording a sack.
XLI (2007) Colts 29, Bears 17 -- Chicago, for all its great defense, had no one who could keep up with Joseph Addai, my personal MVP. Rex Grossman, playing dinkball, threw two picks.
XXXIX (2005) Patriots 24, Eagles 21 -- I don't know why, but this No. 3 in the Pats trio of Supe victories, didn't really thrill me. I remember doing a complicated strategic piece about Charlie Weis throwing two straight screen passes off multiple wideout formations.
XXXVII (1994) Cowboys 30, Bills 13 -- For the fourth straight year, I picked Buffalo. SI's preview issue had on its cover, "Cheer up, Cowboys, Dr. Z Picks Bills." Worst of all, I was never informed. Nothing like a little loyalty from your employer. Let's call this one a C-minus.
XXII (1988) Redskins 42, Broncos 10 -- Another in the Bombs Away series, this time Doug Williams lighting it up with 35 points in the second quarter. Felt bad for the Broncs, good for Doug, who deserved a bit of good luck.
XVII (1983) Redskins 27, Dolphins 17 -- Joe Theismann and Joe Gibbs' Bunch Formation, Riggo and his 43-yard burst. Dolphins and David Woodley actually carved out a brief lead.
X (1976) Steelers 21, Cowboys 17 -- Like an idiot I followed the official directive to proceed downstairs with five minutes left, ("TV monitors will be provided"). Thus I neatly schnookered myself out of watching the end of this exciting contest, saved by a Glen Edwards end zone interception. We were herded into a room with no monitors, my howling and hand wringing went for naught. I can't cheer about something I didn't see, but I never heeded that foolish dictum again.
VII (1973) Dolphins 14, Redskins 7 -- A non--competitive game. Skins weren't in it, collecting their only points on Garo Yepremian's bloop pass attempt. Miami safety Jake Scott was the MVP. We all yelled when it didn't go to DT Manny Fernandez.
V (1971) Colts 16, Cowboys 13 -- Jim O'Brien's winning field goal produced the only last-second victory for the next 18 years. But the game was a parade of miscues. For the only time a member of the losing team (LB Chuck Howley) was named MVP, and I want you to remember this for later on.
XXXVIII (2004) Patriots 32, Panthers 29 -- Scoring, which included 37 points in the fourth quarter, was a little too free and easy for my tastes, but beginners in the art of football connoisseurship found it exciting. Winning field goal with four seconds left. A straight B.
XXXII (1998) Broncos 31, Packers 24 -- The Terrell Davis show. Strange ending in which Brett Favre threw three straight incompletes, the last an ill advised pitch to a covered receiver. Grade: B-
XXX (1996) Cowboys 27, Steelers 17 -- Another B-. Larry Brown's two interceptions of Neil O'Donnell's mishaps earned him MVP, and why, you ask, does this rather mundane affair get a decent grade? Only because the game was in Phoenix, and attending the contest was my new girlfriend, a flamingly red-headed Phoenix beauty named Linda Lou Bailey.
XIX (1985) 49ers 38, Dolphins 16 -- Montana vs. Marino, and gut pressure supplied by Big Hands Johnson and Fred Dean upended Danny. The straight B grade is the result of the game being held in the best of all venues, Stanford Stadium and the San Francisco Bay Area.
XVIII (1984) Raiders 38, Redskins 9 -- Marcus Allen got the MVP for his 191 yards, but my choice was a split between Matt Millen and Reggie Kinlaw for the shutdown job they did. Oh, yes, once again the rule was proved that unknown players always emerge in this arena, this time LB Jack Squirek, with his five-yard TD off an interception of a Theismann screen pass right before halftime. You're right, the game wasn't close, but I had gotten to know some of those Raiders defensive players pretty well. Grade: B-
XVI (1982) 49ers 26, Bengals 21 -- Game not as close as the score, but the whole thing fairly breathed with excitement -- the start of something big, the Walsh system and young Joey Montana, Ronnie Lott and the great DB's. Grade: B+
XV (1981) Raiders 27, Eagles 10 -- The Bowl of Flakes. Charles Phillyaw and John Matuszak and Teddy the Stork, lovingly known by his teammates as Kick'em. A million angles, all funny, pleasant to write, and to read. My favorite, the peanut shells found on the Raiders' sideline after the game. Yes, they had all been noshing away. Straight B for this one.
XIII (1979) Steelers 35, Cowboys 31 -- Yeah, it was exciting, with a recovered onside kick at the end and then Rocky Bleier recovering the final one, but this was the heyday of the America's Team arrogance and I wanted to see the Cowboys crushed not merely beaten. Call it B-
XI (1977) Raiders 32, Vikings 14 -- Best Super Bowl interview ever. Tuesday before the game I'm in the room of Oakland's OLB from Jersey, Phil Villapiano, with a few of his paisans, and we're putting away the pepperoni and mortadella and he asks me, "Say, do you ever bet?" and I tell him it's not professional for a man in my ... and he says, "Don't BS me, all you guys on the Post bet, so do yourself and your family a favor and send it all in on us. No way we won't cover 6½ points." Yes indeed, a very valuable interview. A B+ here.
IX (1975) Steelers 16, Vikings 6 -- The rise of the Steel Curtain against a typically inept Minnesota entry. Famous Pete Rozelle line at the next draft, after it's announced that Minnesota passes. "And L.C. Greenwood knocks it down." Straight B.
IV (1969) Chiefs 23, Vikings 7 -- Yeah! All those stuffy NFL people didn't really believe it when the Jets beat Baltimore in Supe III, but this one clinched it. I mean the champions of the new league just toyed with the Joe Kapp Vikes, who were actually favored by 12. Grade: B+
I (1967) Packers 35, Chiefs 10 -- A B grade with sadness because I begged my sports editor to let me cover this one and he said, "We've got Al Buck out there and that's enough." Close at the half, then the Pack pulled away. If I'd have covered it I'd be, right now, one of only 3½ living writers who've been to all 42.
No. 8 (A-) XXXVI (2002) Patriots 20, Rams 17 -- Yes, the birth of the Patriot nation, thanks to AdamVinatieri's 48-yarder at the end, but now the question comes up that could poison this one. Did New England really tape the Rams' Friday walkthrough? Here's the strange thing about that allegation. If the Pats had a read on the Rams' offense, how come St. Louis came back with 14 points in the last quarter against a tiring defense and forced New England to drive the field to win it? At the time, I called it my No. 1 Super Bowl. Wish I was sure this game was clean.
No. 7 (A-) XXI (1987) Giants 39, Broncos 20 -- Phil Simms and 22-for-25. A young Elway had a heroic game, coming back in the first half after the Giants had muscled the Broncs. Harry Carson and the goal line stand, remember? Mark Bavaro leading the Joe Morris power toss, and the Broncos finally wearing down in the second half.
No. 6 (the last of the A-'s) XXV (1991) Giants 20, Bills 19 -- Scott Norwood and wide right. Bill Parcells defeats the K-gun by leaving his big linebackers on the field and punishing the receivers. O. J. Anderson's 102 yards rushing are about to earn him the MVP when there's a commotion caused by one of the selectors, who is shouting, "Thurman Thomas! It's got to be Thomas!" (15 carries for 135 yards, 190 total yards, single-handedly brought the Bills back at the end). "Can't pick a guy from a losing team," he is told. "Like hell! Chuck Howley won it in '72." The screamer was yours truly. O.J. was selected. And I was booted forever as a selector.
No. 5, XXXIV (2000) Rams 23, Titans 16 -- The Greatest Show holds off Steve McNair's courageous final drive, as Mike Jones tackles Kevin Dyson at the one. My theme is that Ram coordinator Mike Martz made a strategic error by scoring so quickly at the end that an exhausted defense had to go back out and try to stop the fired up Titans. Which they did. But just barely. In the locker room, my thesis was scorned by the offensive guys, heavily supported by the defensive ones.
No. 4, XXIII (1989) 49ers 20, Bengals 16 -- Montana at his brilliant best, the 11-play, 92-yard drive that began with, "Hey, check it out... John Candy's over there." Montana hyperventilates, almost chokes, finally hits John Taylor for the winner. The first last-second victory since Jim O'Brien in '72.
No. 3, III (1968) Jets 16, Colts 7 -- History is made. I was the Jets' beat man for the Post, traveling with the team, staying in the same hotel, etc. Opening line of 17-points pushed up to 19½ by kickoff, that's how chaotic the Jets' place was during the week. The Namath guarantee, his pseudo-fight with Colts kicker Lou Michaels, his oversleeping Picture Day, then going out there and beating the Colts' strongside rotating zone easy as pie, throwing weak to George Sauer, running weak with Matt Snell. And for me personally? A young AFL writer sitting in the pressbox watching those old NFL faces frost over. Delicious stuff.
No. 2, XIV (1980) Steelers 31, Rams 19 -- A game that held great personal appeal. A sociological study, The last hurrah of a great dynasty. The Steel Curtain starting to show a little age, a little tiredness, and then the feisty Rams smacking it to them on the ground, which people never did. And L.A. is driving for the kill when Jack Lambert drifts way back in the zone and picks one off, and then Terry Bradshaw hits John Stallworth for 73 yards, and the rebellion has been quelled. For the mighty Steel Curtain, darkness followed.
No. 1, XLII (2008), Giants 17, Patriots 14. This was Rocky Balboa against Apollo Creed, when the champ was unbeatable. Greatest of all time, brayed the TV talking heads, that was this Patriot team. Parade planned, book ready to go to print about their unbeaten Super Bowl season and then they met someone tougher, at least on this one Sunday, someone who tore into the galley proofs and ripped up big chunks of copy.
There was brilliance on both sides of the ball on Super Sunday. My MVP vote would have gone to... sorry, Giant fans... the Patriots' Wes Welker. For a while it seemed as if he were the only weapon they had going for them. The Giants took a deep breath and won with their pass rush, a feat that at one time seemed impossible against such an impregnable fortress. There was suffering at the end of this game, too.... endurance, ability to keep going.
Unbelievable plays made by unlikely people. David Tyree, a fourth receiver, a special teamer, making one of the great catches in the history of the Super Bowl. I heard some people say, "Well it was dull for three quarters." Not for me it wasn't. Dull and low-scoring are not synonymous. Some of us find defense interesting, too. I like games in which nothing comes cheaply, in which everything is dearly won. I don't like those 41-38 airshows in which the ball just gets an airmail stamp.
And besides, I find that when contests with a lot riding on them start off dull, they invariably become thrilling at the end. The Steelers' Immaculate Reception game, for instance, was deadly dull for more than three quarters. Then all hell broke loose. Practically the entire fourth quarter of Giants-Patriots was played under excruciating pressure, right up to the time when Jay Alford broke through and nailed Brady for a 10-yard loss with 19 seconds left.
For me the game had everything, courage, incredible effort, sustained level of pressure by the Giant defense. Football doesn't get much better.