The Super Bowl heroes, goats, thrillers, duds—they are all ranked and examined in our lists.
The Super Bowl turns 50 on Feb. 7, 2016. To celebrate the NFL’s golden anniversary, SI is looking back at all the highs and lows. The heroes, the goats, the thrillers, the duds—it’s all here.
You can navigate to an individual story by using the jump links above or by using the navigation on the left rail.
JUMP TO: Games, Ranked | Best QBs | All-Time Team | Best Plays, Drives | Worst Losses | Best, Worst Halftimes | Controversies | What-Ifs | Best, Worst Ads | Best, Worst Coaches | Trick plays | Media Day
From I to XLIX, our ranking of the best (and worst) Super Bowls of all time:
49. Super Bowl XXIV: San Francisco 55, Denver 10
The ultimate Super Bore. No more calls, we have a winner. The 49ers scored a nice even two touchdowns per quarter, missing one extra point just to keep things interesting. The 55 points set a Super Bowl scoring record that still stands, and San Francisco led 27-3 at the halftime, crushing any hope John Elway and the Broncos had of competing with Joe Montana and the 49ers’ finely tuned machine. San Francisco’s effort that day in the Superdome wasn’t perfection, but it was a close as it gets in football.
48. Super Bowl XLVIII: Seattle 43, Denver 8
It wasn’t really over when that shotgun snap sailed past Peyton Manning and Seattle scored on a safety just 12 seconds into the game, but you knew Denver was in trouble from that moment on. Throw in that 69-yard Malcolm Smith pick-six (22-0 Seattle) and Percy Harvin’s 87-yard kickoff return to start the second half (29-0 Seattle), and the Broncos never knew what hit them. After getting 10 consecutive Super Bowls that were all decided by 14 points or less, Denver’s total no-show against Seattle felt even emptier than anyone could have anticipated.
47. Super Bowl XXVII: Dallas 52, Buffalo 17
Good thing the Bills scored first to seize the momentum in the Rose Bowl, getting a two-yard Thurman Thomas run to take a 7-0 lead. Because after that the Cowboys went on a 52-10 spurt that kind of drained the drama out of things. Buffalo committed a mind-boggling nine turnovers, but there was that plucky little Don Beebe, who ran down a showboating Leon Lett and knocked the ball out of his hands at the 1-yard line, preventing the Cowboys’ eighth touchdown.
46. Super Bowl XXXV: Baltimore 34, New York Giants 7
All due credit to the Ravens’ ridiculously dominant defense, which set a league record that season with just 165 points allowed, 22 fewer than the 1986 Bears. But all that defense made for one of the more boring Super Bowls, with the Giants punting 11 times, reaching Baltimore territory just twice, recording just 11 first downs and throwing four interceptions. The game did at least feature one dizzying three-play sequence that saw Ravens cornerback Duane Starks return an interception 49 yards for a touchdown, New York returner Ron Dixon go 97 yards for a touchdown on the subsequent kickoff, and then Baltimore return specialist Jermaine Lewis match Dixon with his own kickoff touchdown return, from 84 yards.
45. Super Bowl XXIX: San Francisco 49, San Diego 26
The good news was that we weren’t subjected to a Bills-Cowboys Super Bowl for the third consecutive year. The bad news was that this game wasn’t any more suspenseful than those Buffalo-Dallas blowouts, with San Francisco racing to a 28-10 half and then piling on the points until it had a nice even 49 on the scoreboard (get it, 49ers?). The Chargers managed to score in every quarter, but it was never enough. San Francisco quarterback Steve Young, via NFL Films, had that “monkey’’ surgically removed from his back on the sideline late in the game, after throwing a record six touchdown passes.
44. Super Bowl XII: Dallas 27, Denver 10
Most of the football-watching world outside of Dallas fell in love with the upstart Broncos and their "Orange Crush" defense in that magical season of 1977. But what a letdown the Super Bowl was, with Denver committing eight turnovers to completely self-destruct. Broncos quarterback Craig Morton, the former Cowboys' starter in Super Bowl V, completed four passes to his Denver teammates, and four to Dallas defenders, eventually getting benched in the third quarter after nearly throwing a fifth pick. His passer rating for the game was a never-to-be-broken 0.0. Though the final margin was only 17 points, it felt like 70 when you were watching it.
43. Super Bowl XVIII: Los Angeles Raiders 38, Washington 9
This was billed as one of the best Super Bowl matchups of all time, a game for the ages featuring two dominant clubs that had easily set the pace in their respective conferences. Instead it turned into the biggest rout in Super Bowl history up to then, a 29-point laugher that was essentially over when Raiders linebacker Jack Squirek picked off Joe Theismann just before halftime, returning the heist five yards for a touchdown that pushed L.A. up 21-3. In a small, largely irrelevant footnote, this game in Tampa Stadium was the first Super Bowl I ever attended or worked, and I still have the press pass to prove it.
42. Super Bowl VI: Dallas 24, Miami 3
The Cowboys finally finished on top of the heap after five agonizing near-misses in the postseason from 1966-70, but their crowning achievement still had an anticlimactic feel to it, given how lackluster this game was. It’s still the only Super Bowl that featured a team going without a touchdown, and try wrapping your brain around these superlatives: Game MVP Roger Staubach threw for 119 yards for Dallas; the leading receiver was Miami’s Paul Warfield with four catches for 39 yards; and the longest play in the game was Bob Lilly’s 29-yard sack of Bob Griese. Yawn.
41. Super Bowl XXVI: Washington 37, Buffalo 24
Washington’s 1991 championship team is considered coach Joe Gibbs’s finest work, and earned him his third Lombardi Trophy in nine years, each with a different starting quarterback. But the game itself left a lot to be desired. Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien was never anyone’s idea of a prototypical superstar passer, but it clicked well enough for him against the overmatched Bills, who trailed 17-0 at halftime and 37-10 early in the fourth quarter before Buffalo scored two garbage-time touchdowns. The only lasting memory from the game is Bills running back Thurman Thomas misplacing his helmet and missing the first two plays of the game.
40. Super Bowl XXI: New York Giants 39, Denver 20
This game gave us the first-ever Gatorade bath in a Super Bowl, with Giants linebacker Harry Carson dousing coach Bill Parcells and his gray sweater with a bucket load of the orange thirst quencher. So there’s that. But the outmanned Broncos defense had no answer for New York quarterback Phil Simms, who was a ridiculous 22-of-25 for 268 yards and three touchdowns, besting the Broncos’ John Elway in their head-to-head matchup.
39. Super Bowl XI: Oakland 32, Minnesota 14
After a decade of chasing that elusive Super Bowl victory, the Raiders finally reached the mountaintop, pummeling an aging and big-game averse Vikings team that slipped to 0-4 in the NFL’s showcase event. John Madden won his ring, as the Raiders gouged Minnesota for 266 yards on the ground, with receiver Fred Biletnikoff picking up the MVP honor based on a paltry four catches for 79 yards and no touchdowns. But I can watch NFL Films treatment of this game forever, especially the “Old Man Willie’’ Brown pick-six of Fran Tarkenton.
38. Super Bowl XLI: Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17
I remember the game-long rain. And Devin Hester’s game-opening kickoff return touchdown. And not a lot else. I’ll bet even Peyton Manning, who won his one and only Super Bowl ring against the Bears in South Florida, puts this game below some of the classics in which he has played. Tony Dungy winning it all, four years after he watched the Bucs team he helped build take the big confetti shower with Jon Gruden at the helm, added a compelling element to this otherwise mundane Super Bowl.
37. Super Bowl VIII: Miami 24, Minnesota 7
No, it wasn’t exciting. But Miami’s dominant power-running game was a marvel of blocking execution and brute strength, and it was on perfect display in this Super Bowl mismatch, with the defending champion Dolphins aiming Larry Csonka at the heart of the Vikings defense all day long. Csonka gained a rugged 145 yards on 33 carries, with two short touchdown runs. Miami’s supremacy was so complete that Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese was asked to throw just seven passes in the game, completing six for 73 yards, as Don Shula’s club won back-to-back Super Bowls to match the 1966-67 Packers.
36. Super Bowl XV: Oakland 27, Philadelphia 10
With the Eagles trailing 24-3 entering the fourth quarter, there wasn’t much about this game that held our interest, but Raiders linebacker Rod Martin some how picked off three Ron Jaworski passes and still managed to not win the MVP award. It went instead to Oakland quarterback Jim Plunkett, who threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns. The renegade Raiders, who painted Bourbon Street red all week, became the first wild-card team since the 1970 merger to roll from second place all the way to a Super Bowl title.
35. Super Bowl XXVIII: Dallas 30, Buffalo 13
The Bills got a fourth and final shot at earning a ring, but the results in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome were the same as they had been the previous three Super Bowls: a Buffalo loss. Facing a Dallas team that had obliterated them 52-17 in the previous season’s Super Bowl, the Bills were much more competitive and even led 13-6 at halftime. But three Buffalo turnovers, including a Thurman Thomas fumble that was returned for a touchdown, doomed the Bills, and the Cowboys threw a 24-0 shutout in the second half to become the first back-to-back champion since the 49ers in 1988-89.
34. Super Bowl II: Green Bay 33, Oakland 14
The Packers went just 9-4-1 in the regular season in 1967, but they played as if on a mission in the Super Bowl, which correctly was presumed to be the final game the legendary Vince Lombardi would coach in Green Bay. The Raiders hung in there in the first half, trailing just 13-7 until right before halftime, but then the Packers scored the game’s next 20 points, blowing it open and locking up a third consecutive championship—a feat that has not been duplicated since.
33. Super Bowl XXXIII: Denver 34, Atlanta 19
In a storybook finish, John Elway won the MVP award in the final game of his 16-year NFL career, walking away at age 38 after the crowing achievement of winning back-to-back Super Bowl titles. The Falcons never really had a chance against Denver, especially after one of their team leaders, safety Eugene Robinson, was arrested the night before the game for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute. Remarkably, Atlanta coach Dan Reeves opted to let Robinson play in the game the next day, and the distraction that created seemed to sap the Falcons of the momentum they had generated in going 16-2 up until Super Bowl Sunday.
32. Super Bowl XL: Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10
The Steelers got hot late in the season and went on to become the first No. 6 seed to win a Super Bowl, but this game is primarily remembered for a series of questionable officiating calls that hurt Seattle’s cause and Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis winning a ring while playing his final NFL game in his hometown of Detroit. The low-scoring affair wasn’t artistic, with winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger posting a 22.6 passer rating and dropped passes by Steelers No. 1 receiver Hines Ward and Seattle tight end Jerramy Stevens dragging down the quality of play. But Pittsburgh finally had that elusive “one for the thumb’’ it had chased for 26 years, and coach Bill Cowher was at last a champion after 14 seasons on the Steelers sideline.
31. Super Bowl XXXVII: Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21
Sometimes you have to give defense its due, and without a doubt the Bucs earned the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on that side of the ball, sacking shell-shocked league MVP Rich Gannon five times, picking him off five times, and returning three of those for touchdowns. Oakland produced just 11 first downs and 269 yards of offense, and the Raiders trailed 34-3 late in the third quarter, making the end of the game one long celebratory bow for first-year Bucs coach Jon Gruden, the former Raiders architect who had been traded to Tampa Bay the previous off-season.
30. Super Bowl XXII: Washington 42, Denver 10
A truly confounding game. As the first quarter came to a close, the Broncos were up 10-0 and Washington quarterback Doug Williams was on the sideline getting his hyperextended knee looked at. The next quarter? Washington went on a record 35-0 run, and another Super Bowl blowout was in the books. Williams’s historic performance as the first African-American quarterback to start the NFL’s big game was the lasting headline in yet another Denver Super Bowl meltdown. And in a strike-shortened season, Washington won its second NFL title in five years.
29. Super Bowl IX: Pittsburgh 16, Minnesota 6
I know offense makes the NFL go round, but a truly dominant defense is a thing of beauty in its own right, and the Steelers debuted the Steel Curtain on the Super Bowl stage for the first time in this game. The Vikings offense had absolutely no chance against Pittsburgh, with a paltry 119 yards in the game, which didn’t even come close to offsetting Franco Harris gaining 158 yards on the ground for the Steelers.
28. Super Bowl I: Green Bay 35, Kansas City 10
I’m a sucker for history and this is the game that started it all. And it wasn’t a Packers rout the whole day, because the Chiefs trailed only 14-10 at the half. Any game that featured hung-over Green Bay receiver Max McGee coming through with seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns—after reportedly being out all night with a blonde from Chicago—has to be fairly high on my list for sheer heroics.
27. Super Bowl XXX: Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 17
The Cowboys somehow got the job done with the mercurial Barry Switzer as their coach, winning a third title in four years, this one against a Steelers team that was a 13-point underdog. Pittsburgh might have pulled a massive upset had it not been for quarterback Neil O’Donnell gifting Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown with a pair of second-half interceptions, both of which quickly led to short Dallas touchdown drives.
26. Super Bowl XIX: San Francisco 38, Miami 16
In Dan Marino’s one and only Super Bowl, he and his Dolphins were out-classed by a 49ers team that earned its second ring in four seasons. San Francisco’s superb secondary frustrated Dan the Man and Joe Montana starred with 331 yards passing, three touchdowns and one rushing score.
25. Super Bowl XXXI: Green Bay 35, New England 21
The Packers cap their five-year journey in returning to relevance in the Mike Holmgren-Brett Favre era, knocking off a Bill Parcells-coached Patriots team in New Orleans. Green Bay had the best offense and defense, but it was their special teams that led the way to victory, with Desmond Howard’s kick return touchdown earning him the game’s MVP nod.
24. Super Bowl XX: Chicago 46, New England 10
Obviously this game doesn’t merit a top-half ranking based on its competitiveness, because it was another blowout in the NFL era that was defined by Super Bowl blowouts. But the 1985 Bears were a truly memorable team—with William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, Mike Dikta and that legendary defense—and this was their high-water moment on stage.
23. Super Bowl IV: Kansas City 23, Minnesota 7
I’ve seen this game given the back of the hand treatment in other Super Bowl rankings, but not gonna happen in mine. This was not only just the second (and final) AFL win in the Super Bowl series (tying things up at 2-2 in perpetuity), it was the game that gave us a mic'd-up Hank Stram, with the wildly entertaining Hall of Fame Chiefs coach introducing such priceless gems as “keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys," and "65 Toss, Power Trap" into the NFL lexicon.
22. Super Bowl XVII: Washington 27, Miami 17
The 1982 season was the most tainted in NFL history, given it was shortened to a measly nine games by a 57-day midseason player's strike. But at least this Super Bowl matchup almost made up for it, with a close game that wasn’t decided until Washington running back John Riggins burst through Miami’s defensive front to go 43 yards for a touchdown on 4th-and-1 with 10 minutes remaining.
21. Super Bowl XLV: Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25
A better game than many remember, even though the Packers once led 21-3 in the first half and looked to be waltzing to the franchise’s first Super Bowl win in 14 years. The Steelers stormed back and were only down 21-17 when Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall fumbled deep in Packers territory, after a crunching hit by linebacker Clay Matthews. Green Bay, the lowly No. 6 seed in the NFC, completed a magical postseason run amid the Super Bowl temporary-seat and weather snafus in Dallas.
20. Super Bowl XXXIX: New England 24, Philadelphia 21
The game lacked some of the drama and memorable moments of the Patriots’ first two Super Bowl victories, but New England capitalized on four Eagles’ turnovers and shaky late-game clock management to squeak out yet another three-point victory, cementing their dynastic legacy with a third championship in four seasons. Patriots receiver Deion Branch came up clutch in Jacksonville, and his 11-catch, 133-yard showing earned him game MVP honors. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb threw three interceptions in the only Super Bowl of his career, and the Patriots’ two-year record of 34-4 in the 2003-04 seasons set an NFL record.
19. Super Bowl V: Baltimore 16, Dallas 13
As mistake-prone and sloppy as two Super Bowl teams ever looked, the Colts and Cowboys still managed to make some history in the Orange Bowl, with the game being the first Super Bowl decided in the final seconds, on Baltimore rookie kicker Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard field goal with five ticks left. But to get to that scintillating finish, fans had to sit through an affair that featured 11 turnovers (seven by the winning Colts), and included Dallas being penalized 10 times for a Super Bowl-record 133 yards. “The Blunder Bowl," as Sports Illustrated so aptly dubbed it on its cover, was almost so ugly it was beautiful.
18. Super Bowl XLIV: New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17
Forty-three years after their first game as an NFL expansion team, the long-suffering Saints finally scaled the pinnacle of pro football, climbing out of a 10-point first-half hole to knock off Peyton Manning and the favored Colts in South Florida. Manning was the league MVP, but Saints quarterback Drew Brees won the game’s MVP honor with a brilliant 32-of-39, 288-yard, two-touchdown passing performance, and Tracy Porter’s 74-yard pick-six of Manning with 3:12 remaining sealed the deal for a New Orleans team that would not be denied throughout its epic 2009 season.
17. Super Bowl XVI: San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21
It was the Super Bowl that no one saw coming. Both the 49ers and Bengals had gone a dismal 6-10 in 1980, but there they were, battling for NFL supremacy in the deciding game of the 1981 season. The 49ers raced to a 20-0 halftime lead in Detroit, but then held on for dear life, with the Bengals scoring three second-half touchdowns and coming up just shy of a fourth thanks to a superb goal line stand by San Francisco late in the third quarter. The 49ers weren’t yet the dominant machine they would become, but they had Joe Montana at quarterback and Bill Walsh as coach, and that proved to be enough to launch San Francisco’s golden era.
16. Super Bowl XIV: Pittsburgh 31, Los Angeles 19
Of the four Steelers Super Bowl wins in the ‘70s, this last one produced the largest margin of victory, but that’s where final scores can be deceiving. The upstart Rams, who finished just 9-7 in the regular season and were 10-point underdogs to the defending Super Bowl champs, actually led 19-17 at the end of three quarters and were so close to pulling the upset they could taste it. Then Pittsburgh lowered the boom, with Terry Bradshaw’s exquisite 73-yard bomb to receiver John Stallworth early in the fourth quarter taking the breath out of Los Angeles. The game turned on that thunder clap of offense, and the Steelers’ dynastic decade ended in one last crowning victory.
15. Super Bowl XLVI: New York Giants 21, New England 17
So much for payback. Four years after seeing their perfect season cruelly ended by a three-point loss to the underdog Giants, the Patriots had their shot at revenge ruined in a four-point loss to the underdog Giants. New York went a modest 9-7 in the regular season, with their .563 winning percentage the worst ever for a Super Bowl champion. New England was a gaudy 13-3 by comparison, but couldn’t protect a 17-15 fourth-quarter lead, giving up an improbable 38-yard Mario Manningham catch that sparked New York’s game-winning drive, and Ahmad Bradshaw’s eventual six-yard go-ahead touchdown run with 57 seconds remaining. For both clubs, it was déjà vu all over again.
14. Super Bowl XLVII: Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31
Where were you the night the lights (or some of them any way) went out in the Superdome? The Ravens were cruising 28-6 in the “Harbaugh Bowl’’ after Jacoby Jones returned the second-half kickoff a Super Bowl-record 108 yards, but a 34-minute power outage seemed to blunt Baltimore’s momentum and the 49ers produced 23 of the game’s next 26 points to pull within 31-29 with 9:57 to play, setting up a frenetic finish. The 49ers drove all the way to the Ravens' 5 inside of two minutes, but three straight incompletions by Colin Kaepernick effectively ended San Francisco’s almost-historic comeback and its championship dreams. This was the 49ers first Super Bowl loss ever in six trips.
13. Super Bowl XXXVIII: New England 32, Carolina 29
In a strange but very underrated game that ebbed and flowed and saw no scoring in the first and third quarters, both teams put on a furious fourth-quarter showing, combining for 37 points and scores on seven of the eight possessions. But it was the Patriots’ good fortune to have the ball last, and again see quarterback Tom Brady and kicker Adam Vinatieri produce under pressure, as they had two Super Bowls earlier against the Rams in the final moments. Brady was 4-of-5 for 47 yards passing on the final drive, and Vinatieri converted from 41 yards out to give New England its second ring in three years.
12. Super Bowl VII: Miami 14, Washington 7
As a game it was far from a classic, but the Dolphins’ victory over the George Allen-coached Washington team deserves inclusion in the top 12 if only because it provided the history-capping moment in Miami’s 17-0 perfect season of 1972, still the only unblemished record in the NFL’s nine-decade-plus existence. And the fact that those early ’70’s Dolphins were my favorite team in boyhood doesn’t hurt their place in these rankings one bit either.
11. Super Bowl XIII: Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31
The Steelers and Cowboys met again in a Super Bowl played in Miami’s Orange Bowl, and just as it was three years earlier, Pittsburgh wound up four points better than Dallas on the day. A then-Super Bowl record 66 points were scored in the game, and the outcome turned on the Cowboys inability to slow down Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw and his pair of Hall of Fame-bound receivers, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. The duo combined for 10 catches and 239 yards receiving, with Stallworth scoring twice and Swann once. It was a slugfest featuring the NFL’s two premier franchises, with both teams trading punches and touchdowns, and never being down for long.
10. Super Bowl XXXII: Denver 31, Green Bay 24
The Broncos shocked the mighty Packers in San Diego, despite Mike Holmgren’s team being an 11.5-point favorite and the defending Super Bowl champion. Denver’s well-deserved victory snapped the NFC’s 13-year streak of Super Bowl triumphs (11 by double digits), and finally made a champion out of 15-year Broncos quarterback John Elway, who was 37 and had fared miserably in losing his previous three Super Bowls. Denver running back Terrell Davis was the game’s MVP, but it was Elway’s eight-yard scramble on a key 3rd-and-6 that provided the game’s most memorable moment, with him going airborne and spinning around in a “whirlybird" maneuver after two Packers defenders hit him as he dove for the first down.
9. Super Bowl XXV: New York Giants 20, Buffalo 19
The pain must still linger for Bills fans, who saw their team’s first of four consecutive Super Bowl trips end with the cruelest of twists: A Scott Norwood 47-yard field goal attempt that barely missed to the right with just four seconds remaining, giving the Giants the smallest margin of victory in Super Bowl history. Buffalo entered as a touchdown favorite, making it the largest Super Bowl upset in 21 years, but the game was a well-played and evenly matched affair that was set amid the backdrop and high emotions of the United States's first Persian Gulf war. New York overcame adversity to become champions, playing and winning with its backup quarterback, Jeff Hostetler, after starter Phil Simms injured his foot late in the season in a loss to the Bills.
8. Super Bowl XXIII: San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16
The 49ers won their third Super Bowl title in a span of eight seasons—becoming the NFL’s Team of the ‘80s in the process—in a game made famous by its dramatic ending in Miami, a crisp 92-yard touchdown drive that Joe Montana engineered with aplomb in the game’s final three minutes. The 49ers' veteran quarterback, known for his unwavering cool at all times, found receiver John Taylor in the back of the end zone from 10 yards out with 34 seconds remaining, for the first decisive last-minute touchdown pass in Super Bowl history. San Francisco’s Jerry Rice earned the game’s MVP honors with his 11 catches for 215 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown grab of 14 yards.
7. Super Bowl X: Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17
Both the Steelers and Cowboys already owned one Super Bowl ring when they met in the first of their three Super Bowl matchups, at Miami’s Orange Bowl. The lasting memory of this battle of 1970’s-era powerhouses was the game turned in by Steelers second-year receiver Lynn Swann, the game’s MVP, whose graceful and almost balletic moves produced four catches for 161 yards and a touchdown, with three of his grabs among the most memorable in Super Bowl history. Swann’s 64-yard scoring catch with 3:02 remaining provided the winning points, but a Roger Staubach-led Cowboys comeback fell just short, when the Dallas quarterback was intercepted by Steelers defensive back Glen Edwards in the end zone as time expired.
6. Super Bowl III: New York Jets 16, Baltimore 7
This was the game that spawned the most iconic guarantee in the history of sports, which was followed by the most momentous upset in the annals of pro football, the New York Jets’ stunning conquest of the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Miami’s Orange Bowl. The outcome secured football immortality for Namath and served to validate the entire AFL in its bitter competition against the NFL, a struggle that had spanned almost the entire decade of the turbulent ‘60s. Namath’s goal was to prove the Jets were equals, but on game day, New York dominated an over-confident Baltimore team that had been installed as 18-point favorites. It was a victory that has resolutely stood the test of time and it entered into pop culture history as soon as the final gun sounded.
5. Super Bowl XLIX: New England 28, Seattle 24
Playing on the same University of Phoenix Stadium field on which they experienced their most crushing Super Bowl defeat, seven years earlier against the long-shot Giants, the Patriots pull off their own miracle victory to deny the Seahawks a second consecutive NFL championship. Down 24-14 at the start of the fourth quarter, New England gets two short Tom Brady touchdown passes to take a 28-24 lead with 2:02 left. But a circus-like 33-yard juggling, deflected catch by Seattle receiver Jermaine Kearse—how did he ever make that play?—gives the Seahawks life at the Patriots 5 with plenty of time remaining. And then, you know the rest. New England rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler’s remarkable goal-line interception of Russell Wilson ends the Seattle comeback bid in controversial fashion. Should have run the ball, Pete Carroll.
4. Super Bowl XLIII: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23
Our mental snapshots from this game are indelible, with the game’s three most crucial plays all breathtaking in their uniqueness: the epic 100-yard interception return by Steelers linebacker James Harrison on the final play of the first half, creating the longest play in Super Bowl history; the stunning 64-yard Kurt Warner-to-Larry Fitzgerald touchdown pass that capped a furious fourth-quarter comeback by the Cardinals and gave them their first and only lead of the game with 2:37 left; and the picturesque game-winning throw and catch executed by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Santonio Holmes, a six-yard touchdown in the extreme back right corner of the end zone with 35 seconds remaining. For the sheer volume of plot twists, it was the greatest fourth quarter in the annals of the Super Bowl.
3. Super Bowl XXXIV: St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16
The heart-stopping finish to this game is the stuff of legend, with Titans receiver Kevin Dyson seemingly end zone-bound on the game’s final play, only to be stopped an excruciating three feet shy of the tying touchdown on the sure tackle of Rams linebacker Mike Jones. League MVP and epic feel-good story Kurt Warner doubles his hardware with the game’s MVP honor, connecting with receiver Isaac Bruce on the game-deciding 73-yard touchdown bomb with 1:54 remaining to give the upstart Rams the franchise's first Super Bowl title. The Titans’ comeback was inspired, but the game ended a yard short of the first overtime Super Bowl in history.
2. Super Bowl XXXVI: New England 20, St. Louis 17
This was the thrilling and suspenseful upset that launched the still-intact Patriots dynasty, and denied a loftier place in history for the Rams and their celebrated “Greatest Show on Turf’’ offense. It was Bill Belichick’s masterpiece work as a defensive guru, and a New England roster filled with spare parts and modest free-agent signings somehow coalesced around an emerging defense and the late-game heroics of second-year quarterback Tom Brady. In the first post-9/11 Super Bowl, the Patriots fittingly triumphed against all odds, winning on Adam Vinatieri’s clutch 48-yard field goal as time expired. And to think John Madden said New England would be wise to play for overtime.
1. Super Bowl XLII: New York Giants 17, New England 14
Given what was at stake, with the 18-0 and supposedly invincible Patriots one game away from perfection and cementing their place as the greatest team in NFL history, no Super Bowl can match XLII for drama and significance. The red-hot Giants were a 10-6, wild-card qualifier and 12-point underdog, but David Tyree’s miraculous “helmet catch’’ and Plaxico Burress’s game-winning 13-yard touchdown reception with 35 seconds remaining were the daggers that slayed the giant from New England. New York’s monumental upset was built on its ferocious pass rush and a gritty coming of age performance by fourth-year quarterback Eli Manning. I can still recall the sense of shock that swept the stadium when the Patriots were at last vanquished and history denied.
From Dilfer to Montana, ranking all the winning-Super Bowl quarterbacks:
Hey, a win's a win. Technically, though, this one belongs to Baltimore starter Johnny Unitas, who was knocked from the game with an injury. Enter Morrall, the starter over Unitas two Super Bowls earlier when Joe Namath's Jets upset the Colts. He didn't do a whole lot this time around, either—Craig Morton's three interceptions actually swung the game in Baltimore's favor. Unitas finished 3-of-9 for 88 yards, one TD and two INTs.
Griese is a Hall of Famer and two-time Super Bowl champion, so calling him "inconsequential" to this result would be unfair. But this game obviously took place during a different era of football, and the Dolphins did not need much from their quarterback. Griese was 4-of-4 passing in the first quarter as Miami opened a 14-0 lead, then he attempted—and completed—just one pass after halftime—a key 3rd-and-5 conversion to Paul Warfield for 27 yards.
Nearly 15 years after this game took place, Dilfer is still held up as an example of how teams can win the Super Bowl without standout quarterbacking. Dilfer's lone TD pass, a 38-yarder to Brandon Stokley, put Baltimore on top. But Dilfer nearly gave the lead back in the second quarter when he threw a pick-six, which was wiped out by a defensive holding penalty.
The Steelers' best pass in this game was thrown by wide receiver/former college QB Antwaan Randle-El, who tossed a 43-yard TD Hines Ward's way. Roethlisberger's key contribution came late in the second quarter—he connected with Ward on a 37-yarder, then scored from one yard out to put Pittsburgh ahead just prior to halftime.
45. Super Bowl VII: Bob Griese, Dolphins (8-of-11, 88 yards, one TD, one INT)
Miami Dolphins 14, Washington Redskins 7
As was the case a year later in Super Bowl VIII, Griese did most of his damage early. On the final possession of the first quarter, with the game tied 0-0, Griese completed a pair of passes for a combined 46 yards. The second was a 28-yard TD strike to Howard Twilley. Griese would connect on just four more passes, plus he fired an end-zone interception.
44. Super Bowl IV: Len Dawson, Chiefs (12-of-17, 142 yards, one TD, one INT)
Kansas City Chiefs 23, Minnesota Vikings 7
Dawson actually took home MVP honors, despite throwing an interception and finishing with 41 fewer yards passing than Minnesota's Joe Kapp. And Dawson did produce the game's biggest play: a 46-yard TD pass to Otis Dawson. A strong effort in 1970; one that pales in comparison to many of the performances to come.
43. Super Bowl IX: Terry Bradshaw, Steelers (9-of-14, 96 yards, one TD)
Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Minnesota Vikings 6
When the Steelers needed Bradshaw in this game, he delivered. After the Vikings cut Pittsburgh's lead to 9-6 on a blocked punt in the fourth quarter, Bradshaw and his offense embarked on a 68-yard drive that chewed up seven critical minutes. Bradshaw was 3-for-3 on that possession, all of his completions coming on third down, including a four-yard TD to Larry Brown. A great finish following a nondescript first three quarters.
42. Super Bowl XXVIII: Troy Aikman, Cowboys (19-of-27, 207 yards, one INT)
Dallas Cowboys 30, Buffalo Bills 13
The Cowboys trailed by seven at halftime. They tied the game by returning a fumble for a touchdown and took the lead on a drive that featured seven Emmitt Smith runs in eight plays. (Aikman's lone pass attempt during that span was a three-yard completion to Daryl Johnston.) Aikman connected on a couple of key third-down conversions in the second half, but once Dallas got the lead he mainly stepped back so Smith could take over.
41. Super Bowl XIV: Terry Bradshaw, Steelers (14-of-21, 309 yards, two TDs, three INTs)
Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Los Angeles Rams 19
Bradshaw took home his second consecutive Super Bowl MVP, but his three interceptions leave the door open for debate there. As with his aforementioned Super Bowl IX performance, Bradshaw again saved his best for last at Super Bowl XIV. His turnovers helped the Rams carry a 19-17 lead to the fourth quarter, but Bradshaw then fired a 73-yard TD to John Stallworth and later set up a Franco Harris score with a 45-yarder, also to Stallworth.
This game produced arguably the most recognizable moment of Elway's storied career: the so-called "helicopter" scramble, on which Elway took off on 3rd-and-6 and dove headfirst for extra yards, taking a hit and spinning 360 degrees mid-air in the process. The Broncos' real offensive hero, though, was Terrell Davis. He put Denver on his back en route to 157 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner late in the fourth quarter.
39. Super Bowl XVII: Joe Theismann, Redskins (15-of-23, 143 yards, two TDs, two INTs)
Washington Redskins 27, Miami Dolphins 17
Were it not for John Riggins's yeoman-like effort, Theismann and his teammates would not have emerged victorious. Riggins, the game's MVP, rushed for 166 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries. Meanwhile, both Theismann and Miami QB David Woodley (4-of-14 for 97 yards, a TD and an INT) struggled. In the third quarter, Theismann was 3-of-8 for 15 yards and an interception. He bounced back with a late fourth-quarter TD to seal the win.
38. Super Bowl XVIII: Jim Plunkett, Raiders (16-of-25, 172 yards, one TD)
Los Angeles Raiders 38, Washington Redskins 9
Hard to complain at all about Plunkett's showing—his TD pass handed the Raiders a 14-0 lead and he avoided the mistakes that undid Joe Theismann on this day. There just was no need for heroics from the Raiders' QB. Oakland took the lead on a blocked punt, then added on via an interception return.
37. Super Bowl XXXVII: Brad Johnson, Buccaneers (18-of-34, 215 yards, two TDs, one INT)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Oakland Raiders 21
Johnson's evening hit its lowest point on the third play from scrimmage when he threw an interception to Oakland's Charles Woodson. The Raiders took their one and only lead moments later, but Tampa Bay came out firing on its next possession; Johnson kept the sticks moving with a 23-yard third-down toss to Joe Jurevicius. In the second half, Johnson twice hit Keenan McCardell for TDs as the Bucs notched a blowout.
36. Super Bowl XII: Roger Staubach, Cowboys (17-of-25, 183 yards, one TD)
Dallas Cowboys 27, Denver Broncos 10
Super Bowl XII is remembered as much for the Broncos' epic meltdown—they committed eight turnovers (four fumbles, four INTs)—as anything the Cowboys did. Staubach's TD pass was a 45-yarder to Butch Johnson, a play that staked Dallas to 20-3 lead. The Cowboys' other touchdown pass came courtesy of fullback Robert Newhouse, who tossed a 29-yard strike off a trick play.
35. Super Bowl II: Bart Starr, Packers (13-of-24, 202 yards, one TD)
Green Bay Packers 33, Oakland Raiders 14
Starr did not throw all that much (210 attempts in 12 games during the 1967 regular season). However, when he took to the air, he usually produced big plays. Starr averaged a league-high 15.9 yards per completion in '67 and finished at 15.5 in Super Bowl II. The early game-breaker: a 62-yard TD pass to Boyd Dowler, which gave Green Bay a 13-0 cushion.
Don't worry, 49ers fans: Montana gets his due later on our list. Of all his Super Bowl appearances, Montana by far had his least impact here. He did throw a first-half TD pass, as the 49ers opened up a 20-0 lead thanks to three Cincinnati turnovers. But Montana completed just two passes after halftime, with his team milking the clock.
33. Super Bowl VI: Roger Staubach, Cowboys (12-of-19, 121 yards, two TDs)
Dallas Cowboys 24, Miami Dolphins 3
From the midpoint of the second quarter on, Staubach completed seven passes. Nothing too spectacular there, so why is he even this high on our list? Well, all seven of those completions went for either a first down or a touchdown—one TD each to Lance Alworth and Mike Ditka.
Flawless? No. But McMahon's day was plenty in a dominant team effort. McMahon scored twice on the ground—a two-yarder in the second quarter and a one-yarder in the third. He also averaged 21.3 yards on his 12 completions. McMahon's totals all came during the opening three quarters. With the Bears comfortably in control, backup Steve Fuller played late.
31. Super Bowl XXX: Troy Aikman, Cowboys (15-of-23, 209 yards, one TD)
Dallas Cowboys 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 17
Were it not for CB Larry Brown's ownership of Pittsburgh Neil O'Donnell, Aikman and the Cowboys may not have captured their third Super Bowl in four years. Brown's two picks set up the Cowboys' two second-half touchdown, the last coming with the Steelers down just three. Aikman's touchdown pass occurred back in the first quarter—a 10-yard toss to Jay Novacek.
30. Super Bowl XI: Ken Stabler, Raiders (12-of-19, 180 yards, one TD)
Oakland Raiders 32, Minnesota Vikings 14
Stabler's passing prowess played an instrumental role in all five of the Raiders' offensive scores (they tacked on a defensive touchdown). Three separate times, Oakland scored a touchdown on the very next play after completions by Stabler to game MVP Fred Biletnikoff. Stabler put the icing on one of those drives himself, throwing a one-yard TD to Dave Casper in the second quarter.
29. Super Bowl XXV: Jeff Hostetler, Giants (20-of-32, 222 yards, one TD)
New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19
Hostetler was sacked for a safety with 8:52 left in the second quarter, putting the Giants into a 12-3 hole. From there on, he was near flawless. On the Giants' final drive before halftime, Hostetler connected on 5-of-8 passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. He then was 4-of-5 for 41 yards to open the third quarter, resulting in another TD, this time on the ground by RB Howard Cross. And with his team again trailing in the fourth, Hostetler matriculated the Giants into field-goal range, on the strength of two big completions to Mark Bavaro and another to Mark Ingram.
28. Super Bowl X: Terry Bradshaw, Steleers (9-of-19, 209 yards, two TDs)
Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17
Just once in his Hall of Fame career did Pittsburgh wide receiver Lynn Swann top the 161 yards he posted, on four receptions, in this Super Bowl. The Bradshaw-Swann connection was brilliant in rallying the Steelers from a fourth-quarter deficit. Swann's juggling, falling catch near midfield has been a Super Bowl highlight-reel staple, but it was a 64-yard touchdown pass later that helped seal the win. Bradshaw sidestepped a sack attempt and took a shot to the jaw from Cliff Harris right as he delivered a bomb downfield.
27. Super Bowl XLI: Peyton Manning, Colts (25-of-38, 247 yards, one TD, one INT)
Indianapolis Colts 29, Chicago Bears 17
The game could not have started much worse for Manning and the Colts. Chicago's Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and Manning then threw an interception on his fourth pass attempt. Manning quickly settled down—a 53-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne on Indianapolis's next possession tied the game and swung momentum. Manning's outing was good enough for MVP honors.
26. Super Bowl XXXVI: Tom Brady, Patriots (16-of-27, 145 yards, one TD)
New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17
One of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history. New England, a 14-point underdog, raced out to a 17-3 lead—Brady's touchdown pass to David Patten was part of the early onslaught. St. Louis scrapped back to tie it at 17. And then, Brady began securing his legacy. Starting from his own 17 with 1:21 left, Brady completed five passes for 53 yards, giving Adam Vinatieri the chance to nail a game-winning field goal.
25. Super Bowl I: Bart Starr, Packers (16-of-23, 250 yards, two TDs, one INT)
Green Bay Packers 35, Kansas City Chiefs 10
The first points ever scored in the Super Bowl came courtesy of a touchdown pass from Starr to Max McGee. Those two connected for another score in the second half, part of a 21-0 run by the Packers to pull away. Starr captured the MVP by outdueling fellow future Hall of Famer Len Dawson.
24. Super Bowl XLVIII: Russell Wilson, Seahawks (18-of-25, 206 yards, two TDs)
Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8
Wilson played a very strong ballgame in his team's blowout win over the Broncos, hitting both Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin for second-half TDs. The reason he's not higher? Seattle already led 29-0 when Wilson connected on those scores. Super Bowl XLVIII was a defensive showcase, with Wilson serving a complementary role.
23. Super Bowl III: Joe Namath, Jets (17-of-28, 206 yards)
New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7
The Guarantee. Need anymore? Namath promised that his AFL-champion Jets, a whopping 18-point underdog, would take down the mighty Colts in Miami. He then delivered with 206 yards through the air. Baltimore, meanwhile, opted to start Earl Morrall over Johnny Unitas, then made a switch midway through this one. Too little, too late to get past Namath and Co.
22. Super Bowl XXVI: Mark Rypien, Redskins (18-of-33, 292 yards, two TDs, one INT)
Washington Redskins 37, Buffalo Bills 24
Rypien finished with two touchdown passes, and he could have had three except Art Monk became the first player in Super Bowl history to have a TD reversed via replay. Washington's QB shook off that play plus a first-quarter interception to shred the Bills. On top of the two touchdown passes, a 41-yard completion to Ricky Sanders set up Washington's first field goal and a 34-yarder to Gary Clark later led to a Gerald Riggs's scoring run.
21. Super Bowl XLIII: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (21-of-30, 256 yards, one TD, one INT)
Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23
The last three minutes were simply breathtaking. On a safety (holding in the end zone) and a 64-yard TD from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals stormed ahead by three with 2:47 left. Roethlisberger answered, leading a 78-yard drive and finishing it with a dart to Santonio Holmes, who tiptoed the sideline for the score. Straight-up clutch from Big Ben.
20. Super Bowl XXXIII: John Elway, Broncos (19-of-29, 326 yards, one TD, one INT, one rushing TD)
Denver Broncos 34, Atlanta Falcons 19
Elway leaned on his teammates for a Super Bowl XXXII win. One year later, he stole the show himself. Shaking off a first-quarter interception, Elway came back to throw an 80-yard TD to Rod Smith and later tacked on his own three-yard rushing touchdown. His 326 yards passing ranked as the third-most in Super Bowl history at the time. (Currently eighth.)
19. Super Bowl XLII: Eli Manning, Giants (19-of-34, 255 yards, two TDs, one INT)
New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14
David Tyree deserves a nod here, of course—his leaping, helmet-aided grab remains among the Super Bowl's most famous plays. Without that play, the Giants may not have rallied to break the Patriots' hearts. With it, the stage was set for Manning's game-winning TD pass to Plaxico Burress, part of a 152-yard fourth quarter from the Giants' quarterback.
18. Super Bowl XXXIX: Tom Brady, Patriots (23-of-33, 236 yards, two TDs)
New England Patriots 24, Philadelphia Eagles 21
It took Brady until deep into the second quarter to get warmed up—the Patriots did not score for 28-plus minutes and Brady coughed up a fumble during the drought. Once he did, however, the Eagles could not slow him down. Brady wrapped the first half with a four-yard TD to Corey Dillon, tying the game, and a two-yard TD to Mike Vrabel put New England on top early in the third quarter. All told, the Patriots scored on four of five possessions to grab control.
17. Super Bowl XLVI: Eli Manning, Giants (30-of-40, 296 yards, one TD)
New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17
Again, Manning and his Giants entered the Super Bowl as underdogs to the Patriots. And again, Manning excelled late. The Patriots' chance to seal the game fell through on a Wes Welker drop with four minutes left, leaving the door open for Manning. He promptly connected on 5-of-6 passes for 74 yards—the best coming via an acrobatic 38-yard catch by Mario Manningham.
16. Super Bowl XIII: Terry Bradshaw, Steelers (17-of-30, 318 yards, four TDs, one INT)
Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31
Remove a three-series stretch that spanned the end of the first quarter and start of the second, and Bradshaw's showing easily would be top 10. But in that seven-minute span, Bradshaw turned the ball over three times (two fumbles, one interception), leading to 14 Cowboys points. The Steelers stopped the bleeding on a 75-yard Lynn Swann TD—Swann covered most of the ground after the catch—sparking a run that would end with Pittsburgh up 35-17. Dallas' D allowed 11 TD passes all regular season; Bradshaw threw four.
15. Super Bowl XXXI: Brett Favre, Packers (14-of-27, 246 yards, two TDs, one rushing TD)
Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21
The Packers grabbed hold of a back-and-forth affair in the second quarter by scoring 17 unanswered points—seven coming on an 81-yard Favre touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman, another seven on a two-yard Favre run. The fiery QB also opened the game's scoring by hitting Antonio Freeman for a 54-yard score, then capped it on a two-point conversion to Mark Chmura.
Nothing like outdueling one of the greatest ever, Peyton Manning, for a Super Bowl win. Brees and the Saints' offense struggled to find space in the first half and entered the locker room down 10-6. A surprise onside kick to open the third quarter swung momentum in their favor. Brees capped the ensuing drive with a 16-yard TD pass to Pierre Thomas, Brees's fifth completion on a possession totaling 58 yards. Later, he found Jeremy Shockey for another score, plus tacked on a two-point conversion pass to Lance Moore.
13. Super Bowl XV: Jim Plunkett, Raiders (13-of-21, 261 yards, three TDs)
Oakland Raiders 27, Philadelphia Eagles 10
Plunkett started both halves hot. The Raiders' opening possession, following the first of three Ron Jaworski interceptions, resulted in six thanks to Plunkett's TD toss to Cliff Branch. The first quarter closed with Plunkett and Kenny King hooking up for an 80-yard touchdown toss—King doing much of the work after Plunkett scrambled left and lofted one to him along the sideline. Plunkett and King struck again to open the third, pushing Oakland's lead to an insurmountable 18 points.
12. Super Bowl XXXIV: Kurt Warner, Rams (24-of-45, 414 yards, two TDs)
St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16
The 414 yards Warner compiled still stands as the most prolific Super Bowl passing day ever. His overall numbers could have been even more remarkable had three Rams drives not stalled out on the Tennessee 9, 10 and 11, respectively, all leading to field goals. Warner did eventually throw two touchdowns, including what stood as the game-winner—a 73-yarder to Isaac Bruce.
11. Super Bowl XXIII: Joe Montana, 49ers (23-of-36, 357 yards, two TDs)
San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16
The Broncos crafted "The Drive" during the 1986 AFC Championship Game, but there are not many possessions that actually top what Montana put together in this game. Trailing by three with three minutes left, and pinned down at his own 8-yard line, Montana—cool as ever—completed eight passes for 87 yards. His last was a 10-yard touchdown to John Taylor with just 34 seconds left. This was Montana, arguably the greatest of all time, doing what he did best.
10. Super Bowl XLV: Aaron Rodgers, Packers (24-of-39, 304 yards, three TDs)
Green Bay Packers 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 25
Because the Steelers' shot at a potential game-winning drive crashed and burned in their own territory, this matchup falls outside the window of the greatest Super Bowls. It was pretty darn entertaining, though. Rodgers fired a touchdown pass in the first, second and fourth quarter—the first two helping to open up a 21-3 lead, the third staving off a Pittsburgh rally. Had Rodgers capped the Packers' penultimate drive with another TD rather, rather than his team settling for a field goal, this performance would be even further up the list.
9. Super Bowl XLVII: Joe Flacco, Ravens (22-of-33, 287 yards, three TDs)
Baltimore Ravens 34, San Francisco 49ers 31
Say what you will about Flacco, but he always has been a terrific playoff quarterback ... and this was his masterpiece. Flacco tossed three first-half touchdowns, the last of which came on a 56-yarder to Jacoby Jones and helped send Baltimore to halftime up 21-6. It was 28-6 when the Superdome lights flipped off, and Flacco lost a little mojo afterward. Baltimore had to settle for a FG after a 3rd-and-goal incompletion from the 1-yard line; its potential game-clinching drive then stalled on a 3rd-and-2 incompletion, leading to another three points. Still, Flacco's first half was borderline perfection.
8. Super Bowl XXXVIII: Tom Brady, Patriots (32-of-48, 354 yards, three TDs, one INT)
New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29
The Patriots have not always come out on top, but just about all of their Super Bowl appearances with Brady at QB have been high on drama. This one was no different. A pair of Brady TD passes (one each to Deion Branch and David Givens) staked New England to a 14-10 halftime lead. It held until a wild fourth quarter, featuring 37 points. Brady found linebacker Mike Vrabel for a one-yard toss with 2:51 left, erasing a 22-21 deficit, but Carolina answered to tie the game at the 1:08 mark. Just as he did in Super Bowl XXXVI, Brady calmly moved his team down the field, even overcoming an offensive pass interference call. His 17-yard pass to Deion Branch on a 3rd-and-3 in the waning seconds set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winner.
7. Super Bowl XXII: Doug Williams, Redskins (18-of-29, 340 yards, four TDs, one INT)
Washington Redskins 42, Denver Broncos 10
Williams's 1987 regular-season record as a starter: 0-2. Washington even flirted with trading Williams before the season, so as to clear Jay Schroeder's path at QB. To say it all worked out in the end is a massive understatement. Joe Gibbs chose Williams as his starter before the playoffs, and Williams rewarded the call by winning Super Bowl MVP honors. Washington actually trailed 10-0 before a remarkable five-touchdown second quarter—all of Williams's TD passes came between the 14:17 and 1:11 marks.
6. Super Bowl XXVII: Troy Aikman, Cowboys (22-of-30, 273 yards, four TDs)
Dallas Cowboys 52, Buffalo Bills 17
This turned into a clinical showing by Aikman, who actually started the game 4-of-7 for a measly 12 yards. But following a 20-yard pass to Michael Irvin, he was lights out—he completed 18 of his last 23 attempts, racking up another 261 yards and the four touchdowns. Irvin was on the receiving end of two scores, both coming in the second quarter. Jay Novacek opened the Dallas scoring with a seven-yard reception and Alvin Harper helped tack on points later, taking a 45-yarder to the house.
5. Super Bowl XLIX: Tom Brady, Patriots (37-of-50, 328 yards, four TDs, two INTs)
New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24
It's not just how Brady orchestrated a comeback over the game's final 12 minutes. It's how he did it against that defense. The Seahawks were the top-ranked defensive unit during the regular season in both points and yards allowed. Brady hit them for two TDs in the first half, only for Seattle to answer with a pair of INTs—the second led to a Doug Baldwin touchdown, which left the Patriots in a 24-14 hole. However, Brady caught fire with his back against the wall, starting on a clutch 3rd-and-16 conversion to Julian Edelman. Danny Amendola and then Edelman later scored to flip New England in front. A dramatic goal-line stand finished the job.
4. Super Bowl XIX: Joe Montana, 49ers (24-of-35, 331 yards, three TDs, one rushing TD)
San Francisco 49ers 38, Miami Dolphins 16
"As far as my own game," Montana told legendary Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman, "well, I'd have to admit it was pretty close to the best I've ever played." Montana may have reconsidered five years later (we'll get to that), but it's hard to argue with the assessment. In what was billed as a likely classic between Montana's 15-1 49ers and Dan Marino's 14-2 Dolphins, San Francisco took a second-quarter lead and never looked back. Montana connected with Roger Craig on a pair of touchdown passes and found Carl Monroe for a third. The first Montana-to-Craig hookup opened a stretch in which San Francisco scored on five consecutive possessions, interrupted only by a fumble on a kickoff and halftime.
3. Super Bowl XXI: Phil Simms, Giants (22-of-25, 268 yards, three TDs)
New York Giants 39, Denver Broncos 20
Simms missed on three passes, all in the first half. He was a perfect, dazzling 10-of-10 after halftime, as the Giants scored a point a minute over the final two quarters—Denver led 10-9 at the break. Simms's final two touchdown passes came during that onslaught: a 13-yarder to Mark Bavaro and a six-yarder to Phil McConkey. Earlier, Simms and Zeke Mowitt had combined to get the Giants on the scoreboard. The 88 percent completion rate Simms manufactured in this game still stands as a Super Bowl record for any QB attempting 20 or more passes.
2. Super Bowl XXIV: Joe Montana, 49ers (22-of-29, 297 yards, five TDs)
San Francisco 55, Denver Broncos 10
Obviously, Montana did not score any bonus points for late heroics here. This was just total domination, all the way through. San Francisco scored on its first possession thanks to a 20-yard pass from Montana to Jerry Rice, and the game never again was even so much as tied. Montana and Rice would connect on two more touchdown tosses—38 yards late in the second quarter, 28 yards early in the third. Brent Jones and John Taylor also hauled in Montana TD passes. The five touchdowns would stand as a Super Bowl record, until ...
1. Super Bowl XXIX: Steve Young, 49ers (24-of-36, 325 yards, six TDs)
San Francisco 49, San Diego Chargers 26
Forget the Super Bowl. Young's six-TD outburst is one of the most electrifying quarterbacking performances in NFL history. Young, like Montana five years earlier, found Rice for three touchdowns (44, 15 and seven yards). The southpaw added two more touchdown passes to Ricky Watters, who scored three times in all, and a five-yard TD to William Floyd. The six touchdown passes broke Montana's record, and the four Young threw in the first half tied Doug Williams's Super Bowl XXII showing. The Chargers were heavy underdogs for this game, and Young made sure they stayed there.
From Montana to Lambert, our Super Bowl All-Star team:
QB: Joe Montana, 49ers: Tom Brady has two last-minute, game-winning drives, a brilliant comeback vs. Seattle and two heartbreakers vs. the Giants. He has a case for this spot. For now, though, it still belongs to Montana.
The Hall of Famer made four trips to the Super Bowl as a member of the 49ers. San Francisco won all four. Montana's combined numbers in those games: 83-for-122, 1,142 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also scored a pair of rushing touchdowns, one each in Super Bowls XVI and XIX. Nobody has done it better.
RB: Emmitt Smith, Cowboys: Currently the all-time leader in Super Bowl rushing touchdowns with five, Smith wears three rings. He twice gashed the Bills—135 total yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII; 158 total yards and two TDs in Super Bowl XXVIII. Two years after the latter outing, Smith delivered another two-score performance as Dallas knocked off Pittsburgh.
RB: Franco Harris, Steelers: Harris has more rushing attempts (101) and yards rushing (354) than any player in Super Bowl history. An irreplaceable part of the Steelers' 1970s dynasty, Harris scored in three of the four Super Bowls in which he played. His best statistical game came in his first appearance: 158 yards and a touchdown vs. Minnesota in Super Bowl IX.
FB: Larry Csonka, Dolphins: When Miami lost to Dallas in Super Bowl VI, Csonka had just nine carries for 40 yards. When the Dolphins walked off as champions in the following two Super Bowls, Csonka compiled a combined 257 yards and two touchdowns on 48 attempts. Csonka's hard-nosed running style was a calling card for the Dolphins, particularly on the undefeated 1972 team.
WR: Jerry Rice, 49ers: A no-brainer selection. Rice is the NFL's all-time leader in Super Bowl receptions (33), receiving yards (589) and receiving TDs (eight). No player is even close in those last two categories—the next-highest TD total is three, and Rice leads by more than two hundred receiving yards. His 11-catch, 215-yard showing in a dramatic Super Bowl XXIII win also left Rice holding the single-game yardage mark.
WR: Lynn Swann, Steelers: There was a brief internal debate regarding whether Swann or his teammate, John Stallworth, should be on the list. Stallworth averaged 24.4 yards per catch over four Super Bowl appearances and scored three times, matching Stallworth's total. After a completely quiet Super Bowl IX, though, Swann was a driving force in Pittsburgh's next three Super Bowl wins. He scored in each of those games, averaging 121.3 yards along the way.
WR: Max McGee, Packers: Had McGee's Super Bowl I story occurred in modern day, he likely would have drawn a suspension. Instead, he's a legend. Expecting to warm the bench, McGee famously went out drinking the night before the NFL's first-ever Super Bowl. But he found himself in the lineup and easily could have been named MVP over QB Bart Starr—McGee caught seven passes for 138 yards and two TDs, including the first receiving touchdown in Super Bowl history. He added another 35 yards in Green Bay's Super Bowl II win.
TE: Jay Novacek, Cowboys: Novacek never was known as much of a blocker, but he was lethal in the passing attack. True to form, he served as a key target for Troy Aikman during three Super Bowl wins. Novacek leads all tight ends in Super Bowl receptions (17), and he scored in both Super Bowl XXVII and Super Bowl XXX.
OL: Jerry Kramer, Packers: Any number of offensive linemen could lay claim to an All-Super Bowl team honor. Kramer nabs a spot because of his role in the Packers' Super Bowls I and II victories. The Green Bay guard also deserves a little extra love considering the Hall of Fame committee has kept him out of Canton despite a stellar career.
OL: Gene Upshaw, Raiders: Upshaw later served as head of the NFLPA. Before that, he became the first—and thus far, only—player in NFL history to play in Super Bowls spanning three decades with the same team. Upshaw played in Super Bowl II, Super Bowl XI and Super Bowl XV with the Raiders, walking off a winner in the last two. Oakland pummeled Minnesota on the ground in Super Bowl XI, to the tune of 266 yards rushing.
OL: Joe Jacoby, Redskins: Washington steamrolled its way to three titles between 1982 and '92, with a Super Bowl XVIII loss to Oakland also in the mix. The run game was remarkable in those wins, particularly in Super Bowls XVII (276 yards vs. Miami) and XXII (280 yards vs. Denver). The O-line then was known as "The Hogs," and Jacoby was an anchor at left tackle.
OL: Randy Cross, 49ers: A three-time Super Bowl winner with San Francisco, Cross called it a career after a 20-16 Super Bowl XXIII win over Cincinnati. He played center in that game, a position at which he spent several seasons. But he lined up as a guard during two prior Super Bowl trips
OL: Nate Newton, Cowboys: Hey, someone had to open those running lanes for Smith (and it wasn't the pass-catching Novacek). Newton, a six-time Pro Bowler, was a standout on the Cowboys' three title teams in the 1990s, both in paving the way for Smith and in keeping Troy Aikman upright.
DL: Charles Haley, Cowboys/49ers: Haley played in, and won, five Super Bowls—two with San Francisco and three after moving to Dallas. He notched two sacks on Cincinnati's Boomer Esiason in his Super Bowl debut (Super Bowl XXIII) and finished with four career sacks in the NFL's championship game.
DL: Justin Tuck, Giants: With Adam Vinatieri, one of two members of our All-Super Bowl team still active, Tuck played an instrumental role in the Giants' upsets of New England at Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. He recorded two sacks of Tom Brady in each of those games, matching Haley's four career Super Bowl sacks and putting him just one behind the total posted by the next player on the list.
DL: L.C. Greenwood, Steelers: The NFL did not begin charting sacks as an individual statistic until 1982. So, unofficially, Greenwood turned in an incredible four sacks of Roger Staubach during Pittsburgh's Super Bowl X win. Greenwood also played on four Super Bowl-winning teams as a Steeler.
DL: Richard Dent, Bears: Had to recognize someone off that dominant 1985 Bears defense, so why not the Super Bowl XX MVP? Dent recorded 1.5 sacks and forced two fumbles in Chicago's 46-10 whitewash of New England. That game marked one of eight Super Bowls in which a defensive player took the MVP honor.
LB: Jack Lambert, Steelers: Simply one of the greatest linebackers and most ferocious tacklers in the history of football. Lambert was a teammate of Greenwood and Swann's when Pittsburgh steamrolled through the league in the mid- to late-1970s. Like them, Lambert ended his career a four-time Super Bowl winner.
LB: Ray Lewis, Ravens: The 2000 Ravens defense is right up there with the '85 Bears and Lambert's 1976 Steelers as the best ever. Super Bowl XXXV was no different. Baltimore squeezed the life out of New York's offense, allowing just a kickoff return TD on the day. Lewis was named MVP of that game. A dozen years later, he sealed his career with a second Super Bowl win.
LB: Mike Vrabel, Patriots: Not only did Vrabel help spearhead New England's defense as a pass rusher during the franchise's dynastic run from 2000-08, he also caught a pair of touchdown passes during his four Super Bowl appearances. Vrabel notched two sacks in Super Bowl XXXVIII and another in Super Bowl XXXIX.
LB: Chuck Howley, Cowboys: How brilliant was Howley in Super Bowl V? Well, he was named MVP, the first time ever for a defensive player ... and his Dallas team lost to Baltimore, 16-13. Howley picked off two passes in that game (one each from Earl Morrall and Johnny Unitas), then plucked one from Bob Griese the following year, when Dallas took Super Bowl VI over Miami.
CB: Randy Beverly, Jets: Beverly played just five years of pro football, split between the AFL and NFL. However, he was at the heart of arguably the greatest upset in NFL history: the Jets' Super Bowl III win over Baltimore. Beverly intercepted a pair of passes in that game—the first set up New York's only touchdown, the second helped clinch the game in the fourth quarter.
CB: Herb Adderley, Packers/Cowboys: Adderley was a member of the Packers' victorious teams in Super Bowls I and II. Later, he played for the Cowboys in Super Bowls V and VI, picking up another championship. Adderley took a pick-six back to the house for Green Bay in Super Bowl II and also served as the Packers' kick returner in those two games.
CB: Deion Sanders, Cowboys/49ers: Sanders also won a title with two different teams, and he did so in back-to-back seasons. He intercepted a pass in San Francisco's XXIX victory, then caught a 47-yard pass and played lock-down coverage for the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX. Larry Brown's two-INT, MVP-winning performance probably does not happen for Dallas without Sanders forcing Neil O'Donnell to throw another direction.
S: Ronnie Lott, 49ers: Lott made four Super Bowl appearances as a 49er, starting with Super Bowl XVI and ending with XXIV. In those games, all San Francisco wins, the defense allowed an average of just 15.75 points per game. Lott was the leader on those units, even if his personal Super Bowl stats do not necessarily show it.
S: Jake Scott, Dolphins: Another Super Bowl MVP off the defensive side, Scott claimed two interceptions off Washington's Billy Kilmer in Super Bowl VII. That game was one of three straight Super Bowl appearances for Scott and his Dolphins, and the first of back-to-back wins. In the second victory Scott produced 67 yards as a return man.
K: Adam Vinatieri, Colts/Patriots: As clutch a kicker as there ever has been. Vinatieri has played in five Super Bowls and won four (three with New England, one with Indianapolis). Two of those Patriots victories came down to his heroics—he beat St. Louis with a last-second game-winner in Super Bowl XXXVI, then did the same to Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
P: Jerrel Wilson, Chiefs: On 11 attempts Wilson averaged 46.5 yards per punt, still the highest mark in Super Bowl history. He punted seven times for 317 yards in Kansas City's Super Bowl I loss, though he probably had fonder memories of a Super Bowl IV win over Minnesota. Wilson averaged 48.5 yards per punt that day, twice pinning the Vikings inside their own 20.
KR/PR: Desmond Howard, Packers: Howard's 99-yard touchdown return vs. New England in Super Bowl XXXI is one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history. Howard took home MVP honors despite not producing a single yard when Green Bay's offense was on the field. He finished with 244 total return yards—154 on kicks and another 90 on punts.
When it comes to the biggest Super Bowl plays, the tendency is to mistake history for actual meaning. Many times, the plays we remember most fondly (or with the most agony) actually had little to do with the final result. When Marcus Allen "ran with the night" against the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII for an amazing 75-yard touchdown, the L.A. Raiders were already up, 28-9. When Garo Yepremian threw the worst pass in Super Bowl history on a botched field goal that was subsequently recovered for a 49-yard touchdown by Washington defensive back Mike Bass in Super Bowl VII, all that did was prevent the only shutout in the game's history.
Sometimes, as with David Tyree's amazing helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII or Malcolm Butler's improbable interception in Super Bowl XLIX, it's the most memorable play that is indeed the most important in the game. But would you believe that Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal wasn't the most crucial play of New England's first Super Bowl win? It might just have been a Tom Brady pass to Troy Brown on the drive leading up to that game. And it may not have been Ben Roethlisberger's late touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes that decided Super Bowl XLIII—there was a 40-yard pass on that same drive that really turned the tides.
There are two statistically-driven ways to truly determine the most important plays in Super Bowl annals. Brian Burke invented the Win Probably metric to determine the in-game effect of every play based on situation—there's even a Win Probability Calculator if you want to blow the next few hours. And Football Outsiders has come up with the Super Bowl Delta metric, which refines and narrows Win Probability to the NFL's most important game. According to those models and others, and a fundamental understanding of situation and opponent, here are our nominations for the most important— not necssarily the most remembered—plays in Super Bowl history.
10. Wide Right | Super Bowl XXV, 1991
The Bills are the only team to go to four straight Super Bowls, a feat diminished by the fact that they're also the only team to lose four straight Super Bowls. But the first of those four, an eventual 20-19 loss to the Giants, was the only one that was close and could have gone the other way. With 2:16 left in the game, the Bills started off at their own 10-yard line, and marched down the field to the Giants' 29. And that, of course, is where Bills kicker Scott Norwood pitched that 47-yard field goal wide right, leaving a legion of frustrated Bills fans wondering what might have been.
9. Warner's long touchdown to Bruce | Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000
The Rams' Super Bowl win over the Titans is best-known for Tennessee receiver Kevin Dyson getting stopped by St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones one yard short of the end zone, but the biggest play came with 2:12 left in the game. That's when Kurt Warner hit veteran receiver Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown, breaking the 16-16 tie and putting the pressure on Steve McNair and the Tennessee offense. McNair came up just a yard short of the potential tie, but it was Warner's long touchdown that turned the surging Titans back, and gave the Rams their only Super Bowl win.
8. Welker's dropped pass | Super Bowl XLVI, 2012
While it was a Giants' catch that really decided New York's first Super Bowl win over the Patriots, it was a dropped pass that helped decide Big Blue's second Super Bowl title over New England. The Patriots were up 17-15, and driving in New York territory when Tom Brady threw deep left to Wes Welker, his most dependable possession receiver. And Welker inexplicably dropped the ball. That play gave New England 3rd-and-11 at the New York 44, and after a deep incompletion to Deion Branch on the next play, the Pats punted the ball away, only to watch Eli Manning head down on yet another clutch game-winning drive.
7. Curtis's interception | Super Bowl V, 1971
The "Blunder Bowl" was a game that neither team really deserved to win. It was a turnover fest between the Colts and Cowboys, and eventually won for Baltimore on Jim O'Brien's field goal with nine seconds left. Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley won the game's Most Valuable Player award, becoming the only player on the losing side ever to do so in a Super Bowl. but Baltimore linebacker Mike Curtis may have had the most valuable play. With 1:09 left in the game and the score tied at 13, Cowboys quarterback Craig Morton threw a pass to running back Dan Reeves that Curtis picked off and returned to the Dallas 28-yard line. That set up the field goal that gave the Colts their first Super Bowl title—and the only one in Baltimore.
6. Kaepernick and Crabtree miss it by that much | Super Bowl XLVII, 2013
At the start of the third quarter, the Ravens looked to have Super Bowl XLVII very much in hand—when Jacoby Jones returned the second half-opening kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, Baltimore took a commanding 28-6 lead. But perhaps allowed to reset their game philosophy during the long power outage in the third quarter, the 49ers thundered back to make the game quite a bit closer—when Colin Kaepernick rushed 15 yards for a touchdown with 9:57 left in the game, San Francisco had closed the lead to 31-29. Baltimore's Justin Tucker kicked a field goal with 4:19 left, and the 49ers were left to respond. Starting at their own 20-yard line, the 49ers dropped Baltimore's Win Probability play after play, until there were just five yards left with three plays to go. But Kaepernick failed to connect on three straight passing attempts—an odd choice for the league's best power-running team—and the Ravens were able to secure the victory.
5. Montana to Rice on 2nd-and-20 | Super Bowl XXIII, 1989
Joe Montana's 10-yard pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left in Super Bowl XXIII put the 49ers up 20-16 and wrapped up one of the most competitive championship games in history, but the most important play of that game-winning drive came with 1:17 left in the contest. The 49ers had 2nd-and-20 on the Cincinnati 45-yard line, and the Bengals had a Win Probability of 76.5% at that point. After Montana hit Rice on a 27-yard pass, that WP dropped to 23.0%—and it would soon be eradicated by the game-winning touchdown.
4. Riggins's 43-yard touchdown run | Super Bowl XVII, 1983
Washington's 27-17 Super Bowl win over the Dolphins looks like a rout in retrospect, but it wasn't when the fourth quarter started. At that point, Miami had a 17-13 lead. The play that turned the tables in Washington's favor came with 10:28 left in the game, when John Riggins broke off a 43-yard touchdown run, giving Washington a lead it would never give back. On the next drive, which ended with a Joe Theismann touchdown pass to Charlie Brown, Riggins ran the ball eight times as Miami's win probability dwindled away.
3. Tyree's helmet catch | Super Bowl XLII, 2008
The Giants put up the biggest upset since Super Bowl III when they beat the formerly undefeated Patriots, and this was one instance in which the play everyone talked about was the biggest play of the game. With 1:15 remaining and the Giants at their own 44-yard line facing 3rd-and-5, Eli Manning ducked out of all kinds of pressure and heaved the ball up in the air, where receiver David Tyree jumped up and somehow—somehow—caught the ball against his helmet and brought it down for a catch with Pats safety Rodney Harrison all over him. Manning hit Plaxico Burress for the 13-yard go-ahead score four plays later, but the "Helmet Catch"—which dropped New England's Win Probability from 94.6% to 55.8%—was the real momentum-shifter.
2. Big Ben for 40 to Santonio Holmes | Super Bowl XLIII, 2009
Ben Roethlisberger's six-yard touchdown pass to Holmes with 42 seconds left in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl win over the Cardinals was the play that everyone talked about, and justifiably so. Holmes went over two Cardinals defenders to make an amazing play. But the really big play happened two plays before, when Big Ben hit Holmes for a 40-yard gain on 2nd-and-6 from the Arizona 46-yard line. That one play flipped the Win Probability from 62.8% to 5.4% for the Cards.
1. Malcolm Butler's late-game interception | Super Bowl XLIX, 2015
When Tom Brady hit Julian Edelman for a three-yard touchdown with 2:06 left in the most recent Super Bowl, it put the Patriots up 28-24 following Stephen Gostkowski's extra point. The challenge was then for the Seahawks to drive down the field and meet New England's score with their own. That they nearly did so was a testament to Russell Wilson, who hit Marshawn Lynch and Jermaine Kearse for deep passes on the corresponding drive. Kearse's catch in particular was an amazing juggling thing of beauty. And then, with 26 seconds left in the game, Wilson threw a skinny slant to Ricardo Lockette in a playcall that has been debated ever since. Pats cornerback Malcolm Butler jumped the route, and the Seahawks were out of chances. New England's Win Probability went from 41.2% to 99.9% on that interception.
From the "Greatest Drive That Wasn't To Be" to Montana-to-Taylor, the greatest drives in Super Bowl history:
10. Patriots | Super Bowl XLIX, 2015
After trailing by 10 points to start the quarter, New England still sat three points behind the Seahawks as it got the ball with 6:52 remaining. Tom Brady completed all nine of his passes for 72 yards against the league’s best overall defense, including the eventual game winner to Julian Edelman with 2:02 remaining.
9. Bills | Super Bowl XXV, 1991
The Greatest Drive That Wasn’t To Be. Taking over at their own 10 with 2:16 to play, with just one timeout and trailing the Giants 20-19, QB Jim Kelly and the Bills moved 61 yards in seven efficient plays to set up Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field goal. It was just barely wide right. Buffalo went on to lose three more Super Bowls in succession.
8. Broncos | Super Bowl XXXII, 1998
It's hard for a third quarter drives to get much fanfare, but this 13-play, 92-yard colossus that took up 7:12 and gave the Broncos a 24-17 lead deserves it. After an incomplete pass by John Elway, who was looking for his first Super Bowl title at 38 years old, the Broncos marched down the field, ending the drive on Terrell Davis’s 1-yard touchdown run. The highlight play was Elway’s eight-yard scamper on 3rd-and-6, in which he dove and was spun in the air by two defenders. Two players later, the Broncos scored.
7. Patriots | Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004
Not quite as daring as their first drive to a title, but Tom Brady marched the Patriots 47 yards (New England was backed up 10 yards due to penalty) in six plays. Brady connected on his final four passes to set up Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal from 41 yards out with just 4 second remaining.
6. Rams | Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000
Just one play, with the game tied at 16 with 2:12 to play, but it was a dandy. The Greatest Show on Turf came out with three receivers to QB Kurt Warner’s right, and one to his left. WR Isaac Bruce beat cornerback Denard Walker on a go-route down the right sideline, Warner got the ball far enough and after one broken tackle, the Rams had a 73-yard touchdown and a 23-16 lead that would eventually stand up.
5. Giants | Super Bowl XLVI, 2012
Trailing 17-15 to the Patriots with 3:46, Eli Manning worked his magic again from his own 12-yard line when on the first play of the drive, Manning lofted a perfect 38-yard pass along the left sideline that Mario Manningham caught falling out of bounds before being hit by safety Patrick Chung. Eight plays later, Ahmad Bradshaw scored on a six-yard run for a 21-17 lead with 57 seconds remaining as the Giants broke New England’s heart again.
4. Patriots | Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002
They had already blown a 17-3 lead in the fourth quarter and with no timeouts, 1:21 left, the ball at their own 17-yard line and the then-unheralded Tom Brady at quarterback, even TV announcer John Madden was saying the Patriots should play for overtime. New England felt otherwise. Brady completed 5-of-7 passes for 53 yards, the largest being a 23-yard crossing pattern to Troy Brown, to set up Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard game-winning field and a dynasty that would acquire three more Lombardi Trophies, and counting.
3. Steelers | Super Bowl XLIII, 2009
Backed up to their own 12-yard after a holding call on the first play, the Steelers methodically moved down the field on the Cardinals to set up 2nd-and-goal from the Arizona 6-yard line. After frantically scanning the field, QB Ben Roethlisberger pointed to the middle of the end zone and then threw a bullet to the back right corner where, over cornerback Ralph Brown and before safety Aaron Francisco could get there, receiver Santonio Holmes caught the touchdown falling out of bounds while keeping the tips of both feet in bounds.
2. 49ers | Super Bowl XXIII, 1989
Until Eli Manning (below), this stood as the only game-winning touchdown in the final minute of Super Bowl play. Starting at their 8-yard line with 3:20 to play and after pointing out actor John Candy in the stands to his incredulous teammates, QB Joe Montana completed 7-of-8 passes for 86 of the 92 yards on the drive, including the 10-yard game-winner to WR John Taylor with 34 seconds to play.
1. Giants | Super Bowl XLII, 2008
The only game-winning drive in Super Bowl history where only a touchdown would do. Trailing 14-10 with 2:39 remaining in the game, the Giants put together a 12-play, 83-yard drive that culminated with QB Eli Manning hitting Plaxico Burress on a touchdown pass with 39 seconds remaining. The highlight of the drive was Manning’s escape from a near certain sack and then David Tyree hauling in a 32-yard, third-down catch by wedging the ball with one hand on his helmet with Patriots safety Rodney Harrison draped all over him.
Is it better to lose a Super Bowl in a blowout, or to have a win snatched out from under you in the most agonizing circumstances possible? No Super Bowl loss is easy, but these 10 teams might argue that it's easier to lose hope in the biggest game earlier than later.
10. Cardinals come close, but Big Ben prevails | Super Bowl XLIII, 2009
The Cardinals came into Super Bowl XLIII as one of the weakest conference champions in NFL history—they put up a 9-7 regular-season mark, and they scored one more regular-season point than they allowed. But none of that mattered when they hit the field against the Steelers—at that point, the Cards were a dangerous offensive force. They came back from a 20-7 third-quarter hole behind Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, and took a 23-20 lead when Warner hit Fitzgerald with a 64-yard touchdown pass with 2:37 remaining. But the Steelers bled Arizona's defense dry on their next drive, and Ben Roethlisberger connected with Santonio Holmes on an amazing leaping touchdown with 35 seconds left to clinch the victory.
9. Cowboys lose late on Jim O'Brien's field goal | Super Bowl V, 1971
The Colts went into Super Bowl V still fragmented in many ways from their shocking loss in Super Bowl III. They had a new coach in Don McCafferty, but a lot of old wounds. The Cowboys of the time were known as "Next Year's Team" because of all their postseason failures. The battle for redemption was a sloppy one, and it marked the only Super Bowl in which a player from the losing side (Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley) was the MVP. But it was a Colts linebacker—Mike Curtis—who intercepted a Craig Morton pass with 1:09 left in the game to set up the game-winning field goal for rookie Jim O'Brien. The Colts exorcised some of their demons, and the Cowboys would have to wait one more year before the "Next Year's Team" label was finally gone.
8. Kasay's kick leads to Patriots win | Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004
All three of those Patriots Super Bowl wins were by three points, and the Panthers were as close as any opponent to breaking the cycle. Jake Delhomme hit Ricky Proehl for a touchdown with 1:08 left in the game, tying the score at 29. But Panthers kicker John Kasay booted the subsequent kickoff out of bounds, giving New England the ball at its own 40-yard line. After another late Tom Brady drive, and another Adam Vinatieri game-winner, the Panthers were left with nothing but regret.
7. Underdog Patriots beat the Greatest Show on Turf | Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002
That Patriots dynasty really started in 2001—Bill Belichick's second year as coach, and Brady's first year as starter. The Rams were at the end of a three-year stretch as one of the best offense in NFL history, and they were considerable favorites to make a dynasty of their own. Belichick's plan was to mug the Greatest Show on Turf with a hyper-aggressive defense, and it slowed Warner and company just enough. Brady's last-minute drive led to Vinatieri's game-winning field goal, and the first of three Super Bowl wins in four years. The Rams, on the other hand, were about to start a downslide they're still trying to get past.
6. Giants upset perfect Patriots | Super Bowl XLII, 2008
The 2007 Patriots went into Super Bowl XLII with a perfect 18-0 mark and a real shot at a legacy as the best team in NFL history. They had set the single-season scoring mark with 589 points, and their defense was championship-ready. But the Giants, who had played the Pats close in the regular-season finale, had a plan to stop Brady—pressure him right up the middle, and it worked. David Tyree's historic helmet catch was the splash play in New York's 17-14 win, but the Giants really won the game with toughness and fundamentals, leaving New England with an unfinished story.
5. Bengals can't stop Joe Cool | Super Bowl XXIII, 1989
After a few years as a Bengals' backup quarterback and a few more as Bill Walsh's offensive coordinator in San Francisco, Sam Wyche was hired as Cincinnati's coach in 1984. Half a decade later, he had the best offense in football, an estimable defense and a 16-13 lead in Super Bowl XXIII with less than four minutes remaining. And then, Wyche had to watch what he'd seen all too often—Joe Montana effortlessly driving his team down the field. Wyche spoke on the sideline of déjà vu, and that's what it was—another incredible comeback from Walsh's greatest quarterback. Montana's 10-yard touchdown pass with 34 seconds left cemented the inevitable result.
4. Norwood goes wide right | Super Bowl XXV, 1991
In their first of four straight Super Bowl appearances (and Super Bowl losses), the Bills appeared to have this one dead to rights. They lost a 12-3 lead in the second quarter as Bill Parcells's Giants wouldn't stop coming back, but they drove the ball down to the New York 29-yard line with eight seconds left in the game. And then, with everything lined up, kicker Scott Norwood executed the most famous miss in Super Bowl history—a 47-yard attempt that went wide right. It was the only close Super Bowl for the Bills.
3. The greatest upset ever | Super Bowl III, 1969
The Baltimore Colts came into Super Bowl III as dominant favorites over the AFL's New York Jets, and that made sense—the 1968 Colts went 13-1 in the regular season and crushed their opponents through the playoffs. A few experts, however (including Vince Lombardi) believed that the Jets would win, and the minority was right: Using a great defense and ball-control offense, the Jets upset the Colts 16-7. Baltimore would win the Super Bowl two years later and the Jets have never been back, but it was the Colts who never really recovered—years later, those players said that 100 Super Bowls wouldn't make up for the embarrassment.
2. Titans fall one yard short | Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000
A 73-yard touchdown pass from Warner to Isaac Bruce put St. Louis up 23-16 over the Titans with 2:12 left in Super Bowl XXXIV. Tennessee then went into its two-minute offense, led by quarterback Steve McNair, and drove down the field with authority. They moved from their own 12-yard line to the St. Louis 10, and had a shot at causing the first overtime Super Bowl when McNair threw a short pass to receiver Kevin Dyson. Making the play of his life, linebacker Mike Jones stopped Dyson one yard short of the goal line as the clock ran out.
1. Wilson's late pick | Super Bowl XLIX, 2015
The Seahawks were less than a minute and a yard away from the touchdown that would put them up 31-28, likely winning their second straight Super Bowl. But the playcall from coach Pete Carroll and/or offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (the true genius is not yet known) was a pass play, with running back Marshawn Lynch flaring out to the left. With the best goal-line back in the game out of the picture, quarterback Russell Wilson threw a skinny slant to receiver Ricardo Lockette, which was picked off by Malcolm Butler. Thus, Seattle literally threw away its chance at a potential dynasty.
From Bruce to Katy, the best Super Bowl halftime shows of all time:
10) Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band | Super Bowl XLIII, 2009
After bidding the planet to “Step back from the guacamole dip” … and “turn your television ALLLLLLL the way up!” the Boss brought it, with a strong, four-song medley including “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Born to Run” and “Glory Days.” True, Springsteen carried a bit too much momentum into his trademark cross-stage knee slide, resulting in an uncomfortable close-up shot of his groin. And the stripe-shirted ref who came on stage at the end of the show, flagging the band for delay of game, was just … odd. By the standards of Springsteen shows, it was good. By Super Bowl halftime show standards, it was very good.
9) Beyoncé | Super Bowl XLVII, 2013
After coming onstage accompanied by … a Vince Lombardi pep talk (!?!) Beyonce brought frenetic, irresistible energy; she was, the New York Times effused, “a human pneumatic drill of intensity”—and that was before she was joined on-stage by former sidekicks Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. That’s right—it was a Destiny’s Child reunion, highlighted by a highly caffeinated rendition of “Single Ladies.” Yes, the show generated—and expended—plenty of power. No, it didn’t cause the 34-minute blackout that followed.
8) Rolling Stones | Super Bowl XL, 2006
Seldom has a 63-year-old summoned so much energy for a 12-minute performance. Strutting, bopping, chicken-dancing his way across the hastily assembled stage—a gigantic tongue—Mick Jagger proved that he and the Rolling Stones were still the masters of stadium rock. Criticism of the show was reserved for the censors, who remained, two years post-Nipplegate, on high alert.
7) Katy Perry | Super Bowl XLIX, 2015
How about that 26-foot long, 16-foot high, golden animatronic lion, rearing up on its hind legs—while Katy Perry gamely hung on—at the end of her anthem, “Roar”? Another highlight: Perry and Lenny Kravitz teaming up for “I Kissed A Girl,” which raised eyebrows in middle America—a good thing. And while the dancing sharks distracted from her otherwise splendid “Teenage Dream,” they did result in some excellent memes.
6) Paul McCartney | Super Bowl XXXIX, 2005
How would the NFL cleanse the nation’s palate a year after “wardrobe malfunction” entered the lexicon? Early money was on the aggressively bland troupe, Up With People. Concluding, apparently, that Americans had already suffered enough, Commissioner Tagliabue signed off instead on 62-year-old Paul McCartney, whose performance was rollicking, high-energy, comfortable, familiar and, most importantly, G-rated. Subsequent halftimes showcased the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and The Who—a span that might fairly be described as AARP With People.
5) Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake | Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004
(Editor's note: We chose not to embed video of this halftime show given the explicit ending.)
Lest we forget, the show leading up to the nipple—to be precise, Janet Jackson’s right breast was adorned with a star-shaped nipple-shield—was fairly kick-ass. This was an MTV production and it was edgy, interesting and superbly choreographed: sort of post-apocalyptic Cirque du Soleil. Jackson’s performance of “Rhythm Nation” flat-out rocked. Then, Justin Timberlake joined her onstage for his hit single, “Rock Your Body”—at the end of which he yanked off a section of her leather bustier, unleashing a puritanical backlash that resulted in the FCC fining CBS $550,000 (a penalty thrown out on appeal), and Janet Jackson being blacklisted by Viacom, parent company of CBS and MTV. Subsequent halftime shows were safer, more sanitized, less interesting.
4) Tribute to Mardi Gras | Super Bowl IV, 1970
Before Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man In the World, there was Tommy Walker, a former child actor, WWII vet and USC Trojans’ kicker, who went on to work for Walt Disney, and pioneered the Super Bowl halftime show. Before pop stars, rock bands and the WTF? years of Up With People, Walker produced three groundbreaking, imaginative, epic shows. His best work was arguably this tribute, featuring 20,000 balloons, 3,000 pigeons, 37 muskets and three cannons (used in an on-field re-enactment of the Battle of New Orleans). Yes, there was music: a “Battle of the Horns” between Al Hirt and Doc Severinsen, the Southern University marching band, Lionel Hampton and a jazz funeral procession with members of local second line clubs strutting across the field. While he might shudder to see what it has turned into, Walker’s spirit remains at the heart of halftime.
3) U2 | Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002
Commissioner Tagliabue, we have a problem. Janet Jackson had been scheduled to headline this show, yet another tribute to Mardi Gras, but cancelled. Like many performers in the months after 9/11, she wasn’t touring. Tasked with finding her replacement was John Collins, the NFL’s top marketing executive, who had a “Eureka!” moment at U2 concert at Madison Square Garden. During an encore, the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed six weeks earlier scrolled slowly across the domed roof of the arena. Collins knew whom he wanted for the upcoming halftime. U2 got on board. Stunning in its impact at the Garden, the name-scrolling was exponentially more powerful as Bono belted out “Where the Streets Have No Name.” The next day Collins got a note from U2’s manager: “I almost feel sorry for whoever’s next.”
2) Michael Jackson | Super Bowl XXVII, 1993
Clobbered by counterprogramming the previous year, the NFL shot the moon, reeling in the King of Pop, who loved the idea that his performance would be seen in 120 nations. “Michael worked harder than anybody [who’s done the halftime show], before or since,” says Jim Steeg, a producer and impresario who helped grow the Super Bowl into the colossus it is today. Steeg remembers seeing Jackson still rehearsing his act at 7 p.m. the night before the game, in a tent outside the Rose Bowl. And it showed. Jackson, rocking a bandolier-draped frock coat on loan, apparently, from Muammar Gaddafi, was sensational. True, it bogged down slightly in the end, with his treacly, on-the-nose “Heal the World.” Still, the final moments of that show were the most-viewed in the history of television at the time.
1) Prince | Super Bowl XLI, 2007
Dearly beloved, Prince’s seven-song set, culminating with an electrifying rendition of “Purple Rain”—just as it started raining at Dolphin Stadium—set a new standard for roman-numeraled intermissions. Covering songs by Bob Dylan, the Foo Fighters and CCR, he exhibited amazing range, showmanship, vocals and virtuoso guitar work. It wouldn’t have been Prince without a bit of shock value: a silhouetted shot of the neck of his guitar generated complaints from some conservative quarters—it struck some as phallic. For the most part, the show drew justifiable raves.
Selecting the worst Super Bowl halftime show is like choosing the most misbegotten dress in the history of the Oscars, or the least comprehensible speech delivered in a Miss America Pageant. There is so much awfulness to choose from. Yet, we must try:
10) Madonna | Super Bowl XLVI, 2012
The woman was 53, but Madonna’s moves and music were every bit as impressive as her Cleopatra entrance. This show—the most-viewed, at the time, in TV history—belongs in the Bottom 10 for a pair of extraneous acronyms. Redfoo and Skyblu, a.k.a. LMFAO, made minimal musical contributions while sporting smacked-ass ensembles that made those rocked by Zoolander’s Mugatu look understated by comparison. And M.I.A.’s middle finger was a desperate, pathetic attention grab.
9) Up With People | Super Bowl V, 1971
To counter the counter-culture, in 1965 one J. Blanton Belk founded Up With People, an excruciatingly clean-cut troupe of performers whose painfully bland stylings would later be parodied on the Simpsons, by a group called Hooray For Everything. On this sunny day in Miami, they opened with their eponymous staple, “Up With People,” a number so insipid as to make the music of Bobby Goldsboro seem daring by comparison. Inexplicably, UPW was invited back for three more halftimes, after which then-commissioner Pete Rozelle reportedly turned to another NFL exec and vowed: “Never f------ again.”
8) The Who | Super Bowl XLIV, 2010
Playing it safe in the aftermath of Janet Jackson and Nipplegate, the NFL went with a series of familiar old-fart ensembles. None of those elderly rockers—Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, The Who—seemed quite so wheezing and superannuated as The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, who struggled to summon even a fraction of their old energy. Was that Daltrey, or Bill Murray’s old SNL lounge singer Nick Winters covering “Who Are You?” and “See Me, Feel Me”? The sight of Townshend’s soft, white underbelly, as he performed his trademark windmills on guitar, is one that cannot be unseen.
7) New Kids on the Block | Super Bowl XXV, 1991
At the time, these heartthrobs were the Godzilla of boy bands. But seldom has a Super Bowl halftime pairing seemed so forced and awkward as NKOTB coming on after a medley of cloying, cotton candy numbers (“We Are The World," "It’s a Small World After All”) lip-synched by legions of costumed children. The show jumped the shark when some of those cute-as-a-button kids “rushed” the stage to sit in the laps of the New Kids, their impromptu “babysitters.” Awk-sauce.
6) “A Tapestry of Nations” | Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000
The excellence of a large, symphony orchestra could not redeem the Pablum, Up-With-People-esque lyrics of the duet sung by Christina Aguilera and Enrique Iglesias, celebrating “the magical tomorrow that lives inside of you.” Nor could the disappointing, drowsy performance by Phil Collins, clad curiously in cargo pants; or the earnest narration of Edward James Olmos, who declaimed at one point: “As it does every thousand years, the gateway of time has opened, giving us hope for a better tomorrow.” And for a better halftime show.
5) Blues Brothers Bash | Super Bowl XXXI, 1997
According to the faux Fox News Channel report at the start of this show, Jake Blues had “escaped” from the Illinois state penitentiary. Short of changing the channel, viewers could not escape Dan Akroyd, John Goodman and Jim Belushi’s beyond-the-pale imitation of the real Blues Brothers. Suffice it to say that Belushi repeatedly belting out “I’m a soul man!” could not make it so. The oh-by-the-way arrival of James Brown exhilarated and titillated, but was too little, too late, serving only to make us wonder what might have been if the Godfather of Soul had been given top billing.
4) “Winter Magic” | Super Bowl XXVI, 1992
The Super Bowl halftime show has given us many unwieldy pairings, perhaps none so nonsensical as the grafting of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine onto this vapid, saccharine Ice Capades wannabe. Viewers bailed by the millions in order to check out “In Living Color” on Fox, a coup of counterprogamming that forced the NFL to dramatically up its halftime game.
3) Black Eyed Peas | Super Bowl XLV, 2011
How disappointing to discover, early in the most-watched musical show of the year, what an enormous debt of gratitude that Fergie, will.i.am, apl.de.ap and Taboo owe to the studio engineers who record their hits. Performing live, without a net, their vocals—while perhaps not the “horrific caterwauling” that one critic described—left much to be desired.
2) "Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye" | Super Bowl XXIX, 1995
The pitch meeting for this Disney-debacle, entitled "Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye," apparently went something like this: “How about this: we get Indiana Jones to recover the Lombardi Trophy from bad guys—we’ll give him a bullwhip!—between songs by Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett!” Nobody came out of this one unscathed, except for Harrison Ford, who wisely took a pass.
1) "Be Bop Bamboozled in 3-D" | Super Bowl XXIII, 1989
“Be Bop Bamboozled in 3-D,” the theme of this production, could easily have passed for a parody of a bad Super Bowl halftime show. Sponsor Diet Coke distributed 40 million pairs of 3D glasses through which viewers might witness “the world’s largest card trick,” performed by the “Prince of Prestidigitation,” one Elvis Presto (in reality, a 33-year-old Solid Gold dancer named Alex Cole.) It was an atrocious idea, incoherently presented. The 3-D gimmick succeeded only in tripling dreadfulness. Awesomely, mortifyingly awful.
From Spygate to the Superdome blackout, the most memorable Super Bowl controversies (in chronological order):
Joe Namath's guarantee | Super Bowl III, 1969
Every football fan is aware of Namath's legendary remarks—he promised that his Jets, a heavy underdog, would take down the Colts on Super Bowl Sunday. But it actually was Namath's own teammates and coaches who were most annoyed by the guarantee.
"Joe told me, 'I said something tonight that's gonna be all over the news tomorrow,'" Jets cornerback Johnny Sample recalled, per the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "I asked him: 'What the heck did you say?' He told me he guaranteed we'd win the game. I said, 'Man, you didn't say that.' ... The thing was, we all thought we'd win the game. We had studied film on the Colts and we were really confident. But a guarantee? Joe said, 'Well, we're gonna win, aren't we?' I said, 'Yeah, Joe, we're gonna win, but you shouldn't have said it.'"
Namath's coach, Weeb Ewbank, said, "I could have shot him for saying it. But Joe always had a way of delivering. He didn't mind pressure. It seemed to make him play better. I figured, if he said it, he would just have to back it up."
He did, ensuring his guarantee went down as legendary, rather than foolish.
The end of Stanley Wilson's career | Super Bowl XXIII, 1989
Wilson was headed to a team meeting on the night before Super Bowl XXIII, when he told his teammates that he had to go back to his hotel room for his playbook. RB coach Jim Anderson found Wilson 20 minutes later, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, "in the bathroom of his room at the Holiday Inn in Plantation, Fla. ... sweating and shivering. White powder flecked his nose and upper lip."
Wilson had battled cocaine addiction prior to that setback, even siting out the 1987 season because of a league-issued suspension. This incident led to a lifetime ban.
Eugene Robinson's arrest | Super Bowl XXXIII, 1999
On the night before the Falcons were to take on the Broncos, Robinson, a starting safety, was arrested on a charge of soliciting a prostitute. He was released and played in the game, but neither he nor his teammates answered the bell in a 34-19 loss.
The New York Times reported that several Falcons had visited the area of Miami where Robinson was picked up by cops.
''Guys had been going there all week,'' a Falcon starter told the Times. ''It's just that Eugene was the only one who got caught.''
Barret Robbins' disappearance | Super Bowl XXXVII, 2003
The Raiders' starting center went AWOL two days prior to his team's eventual 48-21 loss to Tampa Bay, with some teammates alleging that Robbins had gone on a bender in Tijuana. The Raiders eventually released Robbins the following year due to a positive steroid test.
Robbins later was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and then in 2005 was shot three times during a fight with police.
Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" | Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004
Perhaps the most infamous second in television history. Performing at halftime of New England's win over Carolina, Jackson briefly had one of her nipples exposed—"Nipplegate," if you'd rather—when Justin Timberlake ripped off a piece of her outfit.
At the time of the broadcast, CBS did not utilize any sort of delay on the live performance, so there was no opportunity to censor or drop that shot. The network was fined upward of $500,000 by the FCC, though that penalty was later overturned on appeal, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court.
The officials | Super Bowl XL, 2006
It feels like there are several questionable calls per game these days, so a few other fan bases might want to throw their hat in the ring claiming Super Bowl injustice. The Seahawks, however, still believe they have the most right to be annoyed.
Their 21-10 Super Bowl XL loss to Pittsburgh was littered with debatable calls: an offensive pass interference call in the end zone, Ben Roethlisberger's touchdown, a crushing holding penalty on a play in which Seattle would say also should have featured an offside call on Pittsburgh.
"We knew it was going to be tough going against the Pittsburgh Steelers," then Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said at a rally for the team. "I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts, as well."
Spygate | Super Bowls XXXVI and XLII, 2008
Talk about history repeating. During the run-up to last season's Super Bowl (and then again all off-season), the Patriots had to defend themselves against "Deflategate" allegations. In 2008, it was the so-called "Spygate" scandal that painted the Patriots in a negative light.
On Feb. 2, 2008, one day before the undefeated Patriots took on the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, the Boston Herald reported that a member of the Patriots' staff had videotaped a Rams walkthrough prior to Super Bowl XXXVI. New England had been punished the previous September for taping the Jets' defensive signals—Bill Belichick received a $500,000 fine, the franchise was fined $250K and the Patriots lost their 2008 first-round draft pick.
The Herald in May of 2008 retracted its report: "While the Boston Herald based its Feb. 2, 2008, report on sources that it believed to be credible, we now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed."
Ray Lewis's deer antler spray and Chris Culliver's anti-gay remarks | Super Bowl XLVII, 2013
What a week. The Superdome blackout was icing on the cake, but a player from each team was in the spotlight for undesirable reasons long before the lights failed.
First, it was Lewis, who refused during media day to answer questions about a Sports Illustrated report that he had inquired about a banned substance while rehabbing an injury. Specifically, Lewis allegedly contacted Mitch Ross, owner of S.W.A.T.S. (Sports with Alternatives to Steroids) to discuss deer antler velvet spray. A S.W.A.T.S. employee compared the product to human growth hormone.
A day later, radio host Artie Lange aired a media day interview he had conducted with the 49ers' Culliver, who said he would not accept an openly gay teammate. "They gotta get up outta here if they do," Culliver said. "Can't be with that sweet stuff. Nah, can't be in the locker room."
Culliver quickly issued an apology for his remarks.
Superdome power outage | Super Bowl XLVII, 2013
The Ravens held a commanding 28-6 lead on the 49ers early in the third quarter when ... the lights went out. Most of them, anyway, leaving the Superdome an eerie scene for approximately 34 minutes. Once power was restored, San Francisco began mounting a comeback—its final drive ended with three incompletions from the Baltimore 5, sealing a 34-31 Ravens win.
"The bad part is we started talking about it," Baltimore's Ed Reed said. "Some of the guys were saying, 'They're trying to kill our momentum.' I was like, 'There's two teams on the field.' But once we started talking about it, it happened. We talked it up."
Some speculation for the outage's cause centered on Beyonce's elaborate halftime show, though an official statement merely blamed an "abnormality."
The weather | Super Bowl XLVIII, 2014
Let's be honest here: The NFL dodged a bullet. The league scheduled this game for the Giants' and Jets' shared home in East Rutherford, N.J., then crossed its fingers that any wintry weather would steer clear of the area on the second day of February. And it did, only to arrive on Feb. 3, forcing many Super Bowl visitors to extend their stays as a snowstorm blanketed the New York metro area.
Had the storm arrived 24 hours earlier, the NFL may have been forced to put in action a contingency plan that included the possibility of pushing Super Bowl XLVIII back a day.
At kickoff on Sunday night, though, the temperature hovered near 50 degrees—downright balmy for that time of year.
Marshawn Lynch vs. the media | Super Bowl XLIX, 2015
"When does my time start?" Lynch asked upon taking his seat at his assigned podium during media day. "Oh, it’s started? Well, let me say: 'I’m just here so I won’t get fined.'"
Lynch then proceeded to answer every question asked of him during a mandatory five-minute session with the same response, thereby avoiding any penalty for not participating in the league's annual dog-and-pony show. The NFL eventually fined Lynch $75,000 for not talking to the media after last year's NFC Championship Game.
There's no real consolation for a Super Bowl loss. Some teams are able to charge back the next year and win it all, but it's just as common to see the most crushing of defeats set a team back for years. Lombardi Trophy losses tend to diminish great teams through history, but here are 10 tremendous teams that fell short when the lights were brightest.
10. 2002 Raiders
Yes, they were picked apart in Super Bowl XXXVII by the Buccaneers, but despite that 48-21 score, this Raiders team was for real. The year before, the team built by Al Davis and Jon Gruden had fallen short to the Patriots in the Tuck Rule game, and it could be said that with Gruden now in Tampa Bay, new coach Bill Callahan should have done more to disguise his team's intentions. But this Raiders team finished second in points scored and sixth in points allowed, and it's a bit of a forgotten time in franchise history given all the down years that followed.
9. 1997 Packers
This was another loaded team, with Brett Favre at quarterback, Reggie White as a primary pass rusher and a brilliant roster from top to bottom built by general manager Ron Wolf and coached estimably by Mike Holmgren. The 1996 Packers had beaten the Patriots the year before in Super Bowl XXXI, and most expected a repeat against the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII. But running back Terrell Davis overcame a serious migraine headache to rush for 157 yards and three touchdowns, and the underrated Denver defense kept Favre in check. It would be the Broncos who would repeat the next year, as the Packers had to wait until Super Bowl XLV for another Lombardi Trophy.
8. 1990 Bills
Of all the teams built by Marv Levy and Bill Polian, the 1990 Bills may well have been the strongest. This was a loaded team on offense and defense, full of future Hall-of-Famers that thrashed enemy defenses with the hurry-up "K-Gun" offense. It looked as if they had a strong chance against Bill Parcells's Giants in Super Bowl XXV, and Scott Norwood's late missed field goal was the only thing that kept this team from turning its fortunes around and winning that first Super Bowl. The Bills went to four straight Super Bowls and lost them all, but one wonders how that would have shifted had they won the first.
7. 1988 Bengals
Sam Wyche was Bill Walsh's offensive coordinator in San Francisco from 1979 through '82 before Paul Brown signed him as the Bengals' coach in '84. Wyche brought a number of innovations to Cincinnati, and by the late 1980s, the Bengals were as strong as any NFL team. In 1988, they led the league with 448 points scored, Boomer Esiason was the NFL MVP, and it seemed that everyone was doing the Ickey Shuffle. The ultimate validation for Wyche would have been to beat his old mentor in Super Bowl XXIII, and it almost happened—with 3:44 left in the game, Jim Breech kicked the Bengals to a 16-13 lead. And then, Wyche had to watch in agony as Joe Montana ripped his estimable defense apart on the way to a 92-yard game-winning drive.
6. 1984 Dolphins
The 1984 Dolphins were about the flashiest thing anyone had ever seen on offense, with Dan Marino setting passing records all over the place and the "Killer Bs" defense locking opponents down. Miami lost just two games in the regular season and cruised through the playoffs, where they met a 49ers team with a quarterback in Joe Montana who was quite perturbed to be playing second fiddle to Marino. In Super Bowl XIX, the 49ers blew that offense apart, and it was Montana who took the crown and the game's MVP award.
5. 2001 Rams
With their "Greatest Show on Turf" offense and underrated defense, the Rams of this era already had one Super Bowl win under their belts and were considerable favorites to beat the Patriots, led by second-year head coach Bill Belichick and first-year starting quarterback Tom Brady. Back then, it was the Rams who were thought to be on the doorstep of a dynasty, and people had no clue what the Patriots would become. But Belichick and his staff put together a brilliant defensive gameplan that locked down Kurt Warner and his explosive offense, and New England's offense did just enough to stay in the building. Then, as the clock wore down, the Patriots played to win even with a 20-20 tie, and Brady had the first great drive of his career, which led to Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal. The Patriots went on to a decade-and-a-half of consistent greatness, and the Rams still haven't returned to those high-flying days.
4. 2014 Seahawks
Like the 1978 Cowboys (below), the 2014 Seahawks looked to be a better team than the year before, when they beat the Broncos decisively in the Super Bowl. Seattle went 12-4 in the regular season behind the development of quarterback Russell Wilson, a dominant running game led by Marshawn Lynch and one of the best defenses of the new millennium. And this Seahawks team had a great chance of beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX with a late drive down 28-24 ... until that ill-fated skinny slant from Wilson to Ricardo Lockette that was picked off by Malcolm Butler to seal the win for the Pats.
3. 1978 Cowboys
The Cowboys were coming off a 27-10 beatdown of the Broncos in Super Bowl XII, and the 1978 team may have been even better. With league rules changed to benefit offenses, quarterback Roger Staubach had a stellar season, and second-year running back Tony Dorsett rushed for 1,325 yards. Dallas's Doomsday defense was at its apex, and all that stood between the Cowboys and a potential dynasty was another potential dynasty—the Pittsburgh Steelers, with their own stellar offense and all-time defense. Super Bowl XIII was close, but the Cowboys' late comeback, with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, just wasn't enough, and the Steelers came away with a 35-31 win and their third Super Bowl victory of the decade.
2. 1968 Colts
Known primarily as the patsies for the American Football League's first Super Bowl win, the 1968 Colts were actually one of the most dominant teams in NFL history. They lost one game in the regular season—to the Cleveland Browns, who they then throttled in the NFL championship. Baltimore scored the second-most points in the NFL that year, and quarterback Earl Morrall was the league MVP, but it was the Colts' defense that really stood out—they allowed just 144 points all season, and most experts expected them to beat the living daylights out of the Jets in Super Bowl III. Didn't happen, of course—the Jets were far better than many expected, and with three interceptions of Morrall and a strong ground game, the double-digit underdogs pulled it off. That doesn't diminish how great the Colts were in the regular season, but as the 2007 Patriots can tell you, it don't mean a thing if you don't get that ring.
1. 2007 Patriots
On the heels of the Spygate saga, the 2007 Patriots proved then what they're now proving all over again—this is not a team you want to anger, legitimate scandal or not. Tom Brady led the best and most prolific offense in NFL history, setting a record with 589 points scored. New England's underrated defense allowed the fourth-fewest points in the league that season, an impressive feat considering every team they were playing was playing catchup from start to finish. They rolled through the postseason, and the closest game they had all season was a 38-35 win over the Giants in the regular-season finale. It should have been an omen, as the nearly-undefeated Pats were held to just 14 points by Steve Spagnuolo's tremendous defense, and the 10-6 Giants pulled off what may be the league's most improbable upset ever with a 17-14 Super Bowl win.
It's great to win a Super Bowl. No doubt about that. But what if you're the best player on the field during a Super Bowl ... and someone else goes home with the MVP award? Here, we right obvious wrongs throughout Super Bowl history when it comes to who should have won the award—and who should not have.
Super Bowl III | Matt Snell, RB, Jets
This one is tough to explain. Yes, quarterback Joe Namath was the big name in the Jets' super upset of the Baltimore Colts, but it was Snell who really guided the team to the AFL's first Super Bowl win. While Namath completed 17-of-28 passes for 206 yards, Snell scored the team's only touchdown of the day, and he carried the offense in the fourth quarter when the Jets played keep-away from Johnny Unitas. Keep this in mind: Snell carried the ball 10 times in the fourth quarter, and Namath didn't attempt a single pass.
Super Bowl VII | Manny Fernandez, DT, Dolphins
Dolphins safety Jake Scott was a worthy MVP candidate after the Dolphins beat the Redskins 14-7 to cap off the only perfect season in NFL history. But Fernandez, one of the most underrated defensive linemen in league history, would have been a better choice. Scott picked Billy Kilmer off twice, but Fernandez had 17 tackles and a sack, and was completely impossible to stop. He was almost as good in the next Super Bowl, when the Dolphins defeated the Vikings.
Super Bowl XI | Clarence Davis, RB, Raiders
Raiders receiver Fred Biletnikoff took the MVP award after Oakland crushed the Vikings 32-14 in Super Bowl XI, but as much as Biletnikoff impressed (he had four catches for 79 yards and a touchdown), Davis amassed 137 yards on just 16 carries. Not bad against Minnesota's Purple People Eaters, one of the most formidable defensive lines you'll ever see.
Super Bowl XV | Rod Martin, LB, Oakland Raiders
There was an unsung hero in the Raiders' second Super Bowl win, as well. While quarterback Jim Plunkett won the MVP award in Oakland's 27-10 victory over the Eagles, linebacker Rod Martin picked off Philly's Ron Jaworski a Super Bowl-record three times. When you're trying to decide a Most Valuable Player, let the phrase "Super Bowl Record" be your guide, guys.
Super Bowl XXV | Thurman Thomas, RB, Buffalo Bills
Making Thomas the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXV would have marked the first time the award went to a player on a losing team since Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley took the prize in Super Bowl V, but Thomas shouldn't have been penalized because Scott Norwood shanked a 47-yard field goal. Giants running back Ottis Anderson won MVP in that game, but he gained just 102 yards on 21 carries. Thomas countered with 135 yards on 15 carries. Both men scored one touchdown on the ground. How does that work?
Super Bowl XXVIII | James Washington, DB, Dallas Cowboys
Emmitt Smith was a deserving MVP in Dallas's 30-13 win over the Bills, but Washington was more valuable. Buffalo led the game 13-6 when the safety forced a Thurman Thomas fumble, recovered the fumble and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown. It was the first time Dallas had seen the end zone in that game. Washington also recorded 11 tackles and picked off a Jim Kelly pass.
Super Bowl XXXI | Reggie White, DE, Green Bay Packers
Did Desmond Howard deserve the MVP award in this game for his four kick returns and six punt returns totaling 244 yards and a touchdown? Maybe in most games, but not in this one. In this one, the award should have gone to White, perhaps the greatest pass rusher in NFL history, who had his best game when it counted the most. White put up three sacks and was totally unblockable throughout.
Super Bowl XXXVI | Ty Law, DB, New England Patriots
Tom Brady took the MVP award in New England's first Super Bowl as they upset the Rams. Good call, but Law would have been a better one. The defensive back returned a Kurt Warner interception 47 yards for a touchdown with 8:58 left in the first half when the Patriots' offense was sputtering, and he led the team in tackles with seven. Moreover, he was a key cog in Bill Belichick's brilliantly aggressive gameplan that had the Rams' receivers constricted all day long.
Super Bowl XXXVII | Dwight Smith, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another tough one to explain. Fellow defensive back Dexter Jackson won the MVP award in Tampa Bay's thrashing of the Raiders because he intercepted two Rich Gannon passes. Fair enough, but Smith also intercepted two Gannon passes—and returned both for touchdowns. Huh?
Super Bowl XXXIX | Rodney Harrison, DB, New England Patriots
Deion Branch won the MVP award after the Patriots beat the Eagles 24-21 for their third Super Bowl title in four years, and parlayed that into a lucrative contract with the Seahawks. Branch had a nice game—11 catches in 12 targets for 133 yards—but Harrison picked off two Donovan McNabb passes and racked up a sack, two passes defensed and seven solo tackles.
Super Bowl XLII | Justin Tuck, DL, New York Giants
It could actually be argued that Tuck was a more deserving MVP candidate than Eli Manning in each of Big Blue's last two Super Bowl wins, but we'll go with the first one here. Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo came up with a brilliant gameplan to stop Tom Brady—rush him right up the middle so he couldn't step up and throw. It worked, and Tuck was the prime instigator with two sacks, a host of hurries and a forced fumble. Tuck's game also led to a host of teams investigating the possibilities of multiple fronts and multi-gap pass rushers.
Super Bowl XLIX | Kam Chancellor, S, Seattle Seahawks
Linebacker Malcolm Smith grabbed the MVP award after the Seahawks decimated the Broncos 43-8 at MetLife Stadium, but this shouldn't have been close. Chancellor was by far the best player on the field, and he did a lot more than Smith, who had an interception return for a touchdown. Chancellor had an interception of his own, plus two passes defensed and nine tackles. But his primary value in this game wasn't on the stat sheet—he was the intimidator who forced Peyton Manning away from throwing anything over the middle, lest his receivers be turned into dust.
From Darth Vader to Mean Joe Greene, the best Super Bowl commercials of all time:
10) Volkswagen “Darth Vader” | Super Bowl XLV, 2011
Volkswagen has certainly had its share of headaches recently, but in the Monday-morning report card of the best ads of Super Bowl XLV (Packers vs. Steeler), this spot ruled the galaxy, hands down. A pint-sized kid dressed as Star Wars’ baddie Darth Vader is convinced he can use The Force to get what he wants. As he grows increasingly frustrated, his father pulls in to the driveway in his new VW Passat. The kid gestures at the car to make it turn on while the father, throwing his son a bone, remotely starts it with his smart keychain. You could watch this ad and come away thinking it’s heartwarming and clever. I suppose if you’re feeling cynical, you could say that dad just enabled his son’s belief that he possesses the power of the Dark Side. Either way, it’s a home run.
9) Old Spice “I’m on a Horse” | Super Bowl XLIV, 2010
A Super Bowl ad can be a perfect opportunity to launch a new brand or re-launch an old, forgotten one. During Super Bowl XLIV (Saints vs. Colts), Old Spice successfully repositioned itself as hip and fresh—not your grandfather’s aftershave anymore—with an inventive spot that went viral. Chiseled, easy-on-the-eyes actor Isaiah Mustafa stands in a shower and tells the women at home in a sexy baritone voice that he’s “the man your man could smell like.” Then he walks seamlessly from one set (he’s on a boat holding “two tickets to that thing you love”) to the next (on a horse, like a macho man who galloped off of the cover of a Harlequin romance). The ad has a how-did-they-do-that sense of illusion to it. But the real magic was making a tired brand smell sweet again.
8) E*Trade “Baby” | Super Bowl XLII, 2008
Before the global financial crisis of 2008, buying and selling stocks online seemed so easy that even a child could do it. That, at least, was the illusion that E*Trade was hawking in its slightly-creepy-but-mostly-funny talking baby spot that debuted during Super Bowl XLII (Giants vs. Patriots) and differentiated the company from the crowded field of online brokerage firms. The ad was certainly the most-talked about around the watercooler on Monday morning. But it wouldn’t take long for customers to feel queasier than the tyke in the commercial when the economy tanked later that year.
7) Reebok “Terry Tate” | Super Bowl XXXVII, 2003
This is pretty much a one-gag premise. But that gag is priceless. A fiery fictional NFL linebacker named Terry Tate (played by Lester Speight) is hired to boost productivity at a Dilbert-esque corporation. His means of motivation: tackling his coworkers and screaming at them about their TPS reports. (If it sounds familiar, that might be because Snickers used a similar tackling joke on Betty White in its 2011 Super Bowl ad.) What does any of this have to do with sneakers, you ask? No clue, but it got people talking after Super Bowl XXXVII.
6) Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?!” | Super Bowl XVIII, 1984
Sometimes the best way to distinguish your product from its competition is to explain how your product is superior. Other times, all it takes is a pack of old biddies mocking your rival’s flaws. In this pop-culture classic, which produced one of the funniest-then-most-tiresome one-liners of the ‘80s (Walter Mondale even used it against Gary Hart), three gray-haired grandmas inspect a fast food burger that seems to be all bun. The looniest of the trio, 81-year-old manicurist-turned character actress Clara Peller, gruffly barks, “Where’s the beef?!” The spot was a smash for the also-ran burger chain—and for Peller as well, who parlayed her 15 seconds of fame into a busy TV and movie career until her death in 1987.
5) Pepsi “Cindy Crawford” | Super Bowl XXVI, 1992
In 1992, it was impossible to be hotter than Cindy Crawford (in more ways than one). In this tastefully naughty Pepsi spot which aired during Super Bowl XXVI (Redskins vs. Bills), the supermodel drives up to a gas station in the middle of nowhere in a red Lamborghini as two pre-teen boys watch. Crawford gets out, barely contained in denim Daisy Duke cut-off shorts and a skintight white tank top, and struts over to a Pepsi machine. As she guzzles the drink as sexily as humanly possible, the boys ogle slack-jawed. The payoff: one turns to his pal and says, “Is that a great new Pepsi can or what?”
4) Coca-Cola “Hey Kid, Catch!” | Super Bowl XIV, 1980
Airing during Super Bowl XIV in 1980 (Steelers vs. Rams), Coke made history by turning Mean Joe Greene, one of America’s most intimidating football players, into a pussycat. Greene limps off the playing field after a game, wincing in pain. Just then, an adorable kid (Tommy Okon) offers the Steel Curtain stalwart a Coke. Greene guzzles the drink (it looks like a tiny airline liquor bottle in his gigantic mitt), turns away, and hobbles off. Then he turns around, and says, “Hey kid, catch!,” tossing him his game jersey. Apparently, even someone with the word “mean” in their name couldn’t help but be in a sunnier mood after an icy Coke. Fun footnote: Greene had to do several takes of his signature line in the spot because the soft drink kept making him burp.
3) Budweiser “Respect” | Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002
During the first Super Bowl to be played after 9/11, there was no dearth of ads that focused less on selling a product than a sense of red-white-and blue patriotism. The most emotionally resonant of the bunch was Budweiser’s tribute to the Twin Towers, “Respect.” In the spot, the brand’s Clydesdale mascots trudge across the snowy heartland to New York City. After crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, they stop, facing the heartbreakingly empty spot in Manhattan’s skyline, lower their heads and bend their knees in a gesture of respect. Fourteen years later, it’s still devastating.
2) McDonald’s “The Showdown” | Super Bowl XXVII, 1993
Admittedly, it’s a little strange to have two of the NBA’s biggest stars square off during the NFL’s biggest event, but it’s impossible to deny the giddy thrill of watching Larry Bird and Michael Jordan playing an epic game of HORSE for the grand prize of a Big Mac. The two sink a series of freak shots (“Over the second rafter, off the floor, nothing but net”). And while neither misses, leaving the fate of the Big Mac a mystery, the set-up would be resurrected (less memorably) in a 2010 burger-shootout sequel between LeBron James and Dwight Howard.
1) Apple “1984” | Super Bowl XVIII, 1984
Arty and dystopian, Steve Jobs’s 60-second spot heralding the introduction of the Macintosh personal computer was both groundbreaking and unforgettable. Made for $800,000 with dark, Orwellian flair by Blade Runner director Ridley Scott, the commercial aired during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII (Raiders vs. Redskins). Despite a dark, allegorical scenario where a lone female runner (Anya Major) hurls a sledgehammer at a giant screen dominated by a black-and-white group-think tyrant, the message of the ad was simple: Apple’s little beige box would save humanity from conformity, 9-to-5 drudgery, and IBM’s Big Brother. Jobs, for the first (but not last) time managed to equate one of his machines with spiritual liberation and soul.