With 57 Super Bowls in the books, which ones are the most memorable? Which games were the most exciting? Which had the greatest impact on NFL history? We ranked all the Super Bowls in NFL history, taking into account all these factors and more.
Ranking Every Super Bowl of All Time
57) Super Bowl XXIV (1989)
This game didn’t define any legacies — it was John Elway’s third Super Bowl loss and Joe Montana’s fourth Super Bowl win — and it wasn’t the culmination of excellence from either team.
San Francisco fielded better overall units than their 1989 squad in previous and subsequent years. It did give the 49ers their first Super Bowl win of the post-Bill Walsh era and allowed George Siefert to start off his career with a title, but other than that, it wasn’t as meaningful as other Lombardi matchups.
The game itself was a bore, and the Broncos were down 27-3 by halftime. Halftime itself is a reason to forget the game. The scheduled halftime performer quit three days before the game, leading to an Elvis impersonator performing standard magic tricks on “3D-TV” without singing actual Elvis songs. And that was more entertaining than the blowout it interrupted.
56) Super Bowl VIII (1973)
Perhaps the most forgettable of the Vikings’ four losses in the Super Bowl, the Dolphins scored 24 unanswered points before a consolation touchdown in the fourth quarter prevented the first shutout in Super Bowl history. It was a boring game, and most observers checked out when the Vikings fumbled away their only first-half scoring chance near the goal line.
There are some historical notables, like Fran Tarkenton producing the first rushing touchdown in Super Bowl history and this being the second chance for a Vikings ring. The Dolphins became the second team to repeat consecutive Super Bowl titles and threw the fewest pass attempts of any Super Bowl team.
But prior and subsequent Minnesota teams were better, and the undefeated 1972 Dolphins overshadows this squad. Miami wouldn’t know that this would be their last Super Bowl appearance of the decade, as they were building a dynasty, but that didn’t make experiencing this game any more interesting.
55) Super Bowl XLVIII (2013)
The 2013 Seahawks were able to take advantage of this game to solidify themselves as an all-time NFL defense. They also secured the first ring in franchise history.
Peyton Manning’s struggles reinforced the notion that he could be great in the regular season but collapsed in the playoffs. But aside from those broad strokes, there wasn’t much to the game itself. From the first snap — a mistake from center Manny Ramirez that resulted in a safety — to the final whistle, it seemed as if the game was never in doubt.
Seattle became the second team in history to score touchdowns on offense, defense, and special teams. The unique 43-8 score has never been repeated in an NFL game. But while there were some notable moments, it wasn’t as significant as other Super Bowls, and it wasn’t a good game.
54) Super Bowl LV (2020)
This game was a disappointment, if only because one of the teams saw its offensive players all play below their level. Patrick Mahomes suffered eight drops or failed contested catches in the game, and his offensive line gave up a mind-blowing 28 pressures to the Buccaneers’ defense while incurring three penalties for 30 yards. The Chiefs’ defense made their own unforced errors, responsible for 82 yards of penalties.
The special-teams unit was responsible for 13 more penalty yards, leading to one of the worst penalty performances we’ve seen from a Super Bowl team. This resulted in one of the only three Super Bowls where one of the teams didn’t score a touchdown.
It was the least-attended Super Bowl in history due to COVID protocols, and the energy in the stadium reflected it. There is some historical significance as it extended Brady’s legacy — he was the first player to win the Super Bowl MVP with multiple franchises and extended his appearance record to 10, but Brady’s legacy doesn’t need much help at this point anyway.
53) Super Bowl XVIII (1983)
A game with no lead changes, no notable dynasties spurned from it, and few storylines. Super Bowl XVIII was more notable for the fact that Apple’s famous 1984 commercial aired during it than for the game itself.
This was Washington’s second consecutive Super Bowl appearance, and it could have set a stronger legacy up for Joe Theismann after winning the previous year, but Washington never had a chance in the game itself. Joe Gibbs’ teams will be better remembered for winning the 1982, 1987, and 1991 Super Bowls than the loss to the Raiders in this game.
Washington didn’t score a touchdown until the third quarter, and it wasn’t even seven points. Mark Moseley’s extra-point try was blocked, a good addition to a field goal he had missed earlier. The Raiders’ early lead from a punt block was never threatened, and the game was a snooze fest outside of some incredible runs by Marcus Allen to set a Super Bowl rushing record (191 yards on 20 attempts).
52) Super Bowl XV (1980)
The 1980 Super Bowl featured the first Hispanic head coach, Tom Flores, to win a Super Bowl, leading the first Wild Card team to win the Super Bowl in the 1980 Oakland Raiders. Those milestones aside, this game wasn’t particularly significant from a legacy perspective, though it did help Cliff Branch further his postseason performance legend with two touchdowns. Jim Plunkett’s appearance is notable as the first of his two Super Bowl wins.
A number of Eagles players likely would have been viewed much differently historically with a win. It was Philadelphia’s first Super Bowl appearance, but they never led and didn’t get particularly close after the first quarter.
Ron Jaworski threw three picks — all to the same player, Rod Martin. A win might have kept all-star Charlie Johnson in Philadelphia, where he was on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Instead, he demanded a trade and didn’t earn the accolades in Minnesota he did with the Eagles.
Without any in-game drama, this ranks as one of the more forgettable Super Bowls in NFL history.
51) Super Bowl XXIX (1994)
Steve Young finally got the monkey off of his back and won a Super Bowl as a starting quarterback, helping George Seifert add a second ring to his collection. If was the 49ers’ then-record fifth Super Bowl win and the Chargers’ first Super Bowl appearance, having made the game off the backs of two consecutive halftime comebacks in the playoffs.
If it wasn’t for the talent of recently departed general manager Bobby Beathard, the Chargers wouldn’t have had a shot. They were perennial losers until he joined in 1990, building the talent that would allow San Diego to make a playoff run.
The 49ers, on the other hand, were dominant in the regular season and just had to prove that Young could win in the playoffs. They did in crushing fashion, winning 44-15 in the Divisional Round and following that up with a 38-28 win over the Dallas Cowboys that wasn’t as close as the score, having jumped out to a 21-0 lead.
These two styles didn’t mesh well, and the 49ers outscored the Chargers in every single quarter but the last. The three quarters before more than made up for it, and though the Chargers were in it for longer than the 49ers’ previous game, they still didn’t have the juice to compete. The game was historically notable, but not as much as some of the other blowouts on this list.
50) Super Bowl XI (1976)
The Vikings’ loss here marked the franchise’s historic relationship with futility. They would be the first franchise to lose all four of their Super Bowl appearances, an ignominious feat only matched later by the Denver Broncos in 1989 and the Buffalo Bills in 1993.
This game helped secure John Madden’s legacy as a Hall of Fame coach, which would later lead to his position as perhaps the most influential public figure in all of football. It would also allow the NFL to recognize the excellent level of play the Raiders had put together for years without a title to their name. Additionally, it kicked off a bit of a dynasty, as Tom Flores would take this team and go on to win two more rings in 1980 and 1983.
The game itself was — like all Vikings Super Bowls — a bit boring. The Raiders dominated front to back, and Minnesota continued their streak of being scoreless in the first halves of these games.
This was a big part of the legacy for Fred Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch, Gene Upshaw, and Art Shell. It played a big role in the Hall of Fame case for Ken Stabler. The game set some NFL narratives for quite some time, but it wasn’t entertaining.
49) Super Bowl XII (1977)
This Super Bowl pitted two former teammates in Roger Staubach and former Cowboy Craig Morton, and two dominant defenses between the Dallas Doomsday Defense and the Broncos’ Orange Crush. Staubach and Morton had previously competed for the starting job with the Cowboys, with Morton winning at first and Staubach taking over the next season.
This game could be considered a capper on that storyline. It would also serve to extend Staubach and Tom Landry’s legend and induct a new class of iconic Dallas Cowboys into football history, including Randy White, Tony Dorsett, Harvey Martin, and Drew Pearson.
The Cowboys were far better than the score implied. They forced as many turnovers as completions they allowed (8). They had more pick opportunities than their final total, too — with four converted and a few more dropped.
While Dallas started off shaky with a few fumbles of their own, they recovered all of them but two. They also recovered all four of the fumbles they caused. The Cowboys drove into field goal range five times but missed three of them, underscoring how much better they were than the score implied.
The Morton/Staubach battle was made irrelevant, and it was perhaps morbidly apropos that Morton was benched in this game after nearly throwing his fifth pick for a less effective Norris Weese. It was not a good game, and its historical significance is more about individual storylines than broader NFL history, extending narratives instead of upsetting them.
48) Super Bowl XXXV (2000)
The Ravens were able to enter the discussion for being one of the greatest defenses in NFL history with their win over the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, led by a head coach who earned the job off of crafting one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses with Brian Billick, who previously coordinated the Randy Moss Vikings offense.
The game lacked offensive firepower but made up for it with some stellar defensive play on both sides of the ball. Some turnovers came from sloppy offensive play, but this game featured standout defensive performances across both units. It ultimately turned into a blowout after Trent Dilfer found his rhythm, and the Ravens were able to convert their turnovers into scores while the Giants had their opportunities stifled by turnovers or a better Baltimore defense.
This wasn’t a game that could be considered a back-and-forth, but it was certainly more entertaining than a lot of blowouts.
47) Super Bowl XXVII (1992)
The game itself was a boring mess. The Cowboys led 28-10 at halftime and dominated a hapless Bills team throughout the game. For a moment, at the very beginning, it looked like it could have been competitive, given that Buffalo opened the scoring. But reinjury to Jim Kelly in the second quarter forced Frank Reich back into action, and — unlike in their famous comeback against the Houston Oilers earlier in the playoffs — they couldn’t keep up.
But the game carries historical importance. Not only did this begin to turn the Bills’ Super Bowl legacy from lacking to futile, but it was also the beginning of the Cowboys dynasty under Jimmy Johnson with Troy Aikman, Emmit Smith, Michael Irvin, and a host of other Hall of Famers.
Johnson became the first head coach to win both a college national championship and a Super Bowl. Fittingly, it was the last game to be played in the Rose Bowl or in any non-NFL stadium. It also has Leon Lett’s famous return fumble, caused by Don Beebe’s hustle and Lett’s premature celebration before crossing the goal line.
This Super Bowl carries historical significance outside of the game, too. The site of the game — originally Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona — was used as a means of pressuring Arizona into recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Because they didn’t, the Rose Bowl was selected instead.
It was also the first time the NFL was concerned about counterprogramming at halftime, and so booked Michael Jackson as the halftime entertainment and established halftime as a must-see event.
46) Super Bowl VI (1971)
Kickstarting the first Cowboys dynasty, Dallas’ win over the Dolphins helped establish the bona fides of 1970s NFL legends like Staubach, Rayfield Wright, Mel Renfro, Cliff Harris, Bob Hayes, Jethro Pugh, and Bob Lilly. Mike Ditka, Herb Adderley, and Lance Alworth were also able to grab some end-of-career rings with a new franchise.
Some weird records were set in this game, including Staubach becoming the first quarterback of a winning Super Bowl team to play the whole game. Dallas also became the first team to lose a Super Bowl only to win it the next year, right before Miami accomplished the same feat.
The game itself was fairly boring. An early Miami turnover led to Dallas gaining the lead with a field goal, followed by the longest sack in Super Bowl history — a 29-yard takedown of Bob Griese by Lilly — that kept the Dolphins behind all game.
There were exciting individual moments from stars of the era, but there was never a sense of big stakes for many of those plays. It was a coaching masterpiece by Tom Landry.
45) Super Bowl XXXVII (2002)
The 37th Super Bowl did not lack for storylines.
Whether it was Jon Gruden’s new team taking on his old team from just the year prior, the extraordinary year Rich Gannon had as the Raiders QB after getting benched in Minnesota and playing backup for years, Oakland’s bounce back from the controversial “tuck rule” game the year prior in a loss to the Tom Brady Patriots, the fact that Brad Johnson was Gannon’s backup in Minnesota, or the fact that the Raiders’ starting center was absent the day before the game — found hours beforehand admitted into a hospital.
The beginning of the game was mostly close in terms of the score, but the play on the field massively favored the Buccaneers, who were smothering the Raiders’ offense. Eventually, the dam broke, and Tampa Bay rocketed ahead to a 20-3 lead right before the half.
Oakland never caught up, and we were treated to elite performances from Simeon Rice, Dexter Jackson, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, and John Lynch. The Raiders’ pair of Woodson DBs wasn’t enough, nor was Jerry Rice or Tim Brown.
The game was the culmination of both franchises for quite some time, and they wouldn’t return to relevance for a long time. It was the subject of significant controversy, from Raiders players accusing their new head coach Bill Callahan of throwing the game with a nonsense game plan to speculation that Gruden knew the plays after having spent the previous year with the Raiders with no change from Oakland’s offense.
44) Super Bowl XXVI (1991)
The final score of this game was somewhat close, but the Bills didn’t score until the third quarter, and there were no lead changes. This Washington team was one of the better ones to win the Super Bowl, though it wasn’t able to turn that quality into a dynasty.
The first quarter was a comedy of errors from both offenses, but Washington took control in the second quarter of the game with a 17-point performance while still holding Buffalo to a shutout. The third quarter opened with a Bills pick, and Washington scored just 16 seconds in. The game seemed completely out of reach for Buffalo at that point.
Washington’s 1991 squad would have been more historically significant, given how fantastic they were, if they could have turned in more postseason success the following years, but it really was the end of their success. A win for Buffalo might have helped push Darryl Talley over the hump to Hall of Fame consideration, though that’s unlikely.
43) Super Bowl V (1970)
Despite this game being a low-scoring effort, it turned out to be one of the most dynamic Super Bowl games we’d ever get the chance to experience. This would be the first Super Bowl where the winner of the game would be crowned the NFL champion, as the previous Super Bowls were interleague affairs. It was also the first season the Baltimore Colts would play on the other side of the AFC/NFC divide, having been an NFL franchise moved to the AFC to balance the conferences.
The changing dynamics of the game wouldn’t come as a product of high-level execution, however. The game earned the nickname “Blunder Bowl” for all of the mistakes made on both sides of the ball as well as by the officiating staff. This game would have a Super Bowl record 11 turnovers, including five in the fourth quarter, both NFL records.
The game started out with offensive ineptitude, with punts and turnovers galore. Both teams couldn’t take advantage of the field position these turnovers provided, and they finished the quarter 3-0, with a Dallas lead. The Cowboys would lead for most of the game as they benefited from Baltimore’s mistakes, though they made their fair share. Even the turnovers were more offensive ineptitude than defensive excellence — dropped passes, absent-minded fumbles, and missed assignments on both sides of the line.
The lowlight of the game was an injury to Johnny Unitas (on a play he threw an interception), forcing backup Earl Morrall — the goat of Super Bowl III — into the game. Morrall performed well and drove the Colts to the 2-yard line but missed his fourth-down pass attempt.
The opening kickoff of the second half was a fumble, and Dallas took over, using that opportunity to themselves fumble on the goal line. The Colts drove down the field and missed a field goal. The miss was short, and Mel Renfro was waiting to return it. He turned down that opportunity hoping it would roll into the end zone for a touchback, and the Colts downed it at the 1-yard line, another big mistake.
The Cowboys got out of that jam thanks to a penalty and then got back into it after failing to execute a flea-flicker and fumbling the ball — a ball that bounced through the hands of six different players before it jumped out of the back of the end zone to return the ball to the Cowboys on a touchback.
Dallas then threw a pick, leading to a tying touchdown run from Baltimore. The Cowboys then screwed up their game-winning drive opportunity with a penalty and another pick, leading to the Colts’ game-winning field goal – meaning Baltimore had the shortest time with a lead of any Super Bowl winner until the Patriots won in overtime against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
This game has historic importance. Not only was it the first post-merger Super Bowl, but it was the first time the trophy was presented after being named for Vince Lombardi. But for a game that was played close and featured a fourth-quarter comeback with this kind of significance, it really was a dud.
42) Super Bowl XXXIII (1998)
The Atlanta Falcons could have pushed back against the decades of misery fans of Atlanta sports had felt, but we were instead treated to a résumé capper for John Elway, whose second ring in his final game served as an exclamation point to his reclamation as an elite quarterback after his prior struggles to win a championship.
This game also served as legacy moments for Shannon Sharpe, despite being injured early in the affair, and Terrell Davis, whose Hall of Fame case is partially built on his unreal postseason success.
The game was unfortunately not a spirited back-and-forth. The Denver Broncos dominated throughout despite the occasional Falcons highlight play here and there.
The Broncos entered halftime with a 17-6 lead. They failed to expand that lead in the third quarter but, early in the fourth, drove the final nail into the coffin to go up 24-6. The game was alive for longer than others but still did not carry the excitement of a titanic clash.
41) Super Bowl LIII (2018)
One would expect a game featuring the second- and fourth-highest scoring offenses in the NFL would score more than 16 points, the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in NFL history. The question is whether or not a low-scoring game is inherently a boring one and whether or not this was offensive ineptitude or defensive brilliance.
After all, two of the greatest defensive minds in NFL history — Bill Belichick and Wade Phillips — coordinated two talented units featuring Dont’a Hightower, Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Michael Brockers, Ndamukong Suh, Aaron Donald, Marcus Peters, John Johnson, and Aqib Talib.
That would require suspending some disbelief, however. Those defenses are very good, but not great. They did not lead their teams into the Super Bowl — the offenses did.
Still, Belichick defenses are particularly good when he has an extra week to prepare. He averages 16.4 points allowed in bye weeks and 22 points allowed in Super Bowls. The Patriots changed up their game plan in notable ways to stem wide-zone running and rarely played their staple man coverage looks, with much more zone defense than the Rams expected.
The Rams were brilliant in their own way, finding unique ways to bracket Rob Gronkowski, implementing mixed coverages and devising peculiar pass-rush plans while still only sending four. They grabbed impressive picks and stopped the run until the fourth quarter.
There were bad mistakes by both Tom Brady and Jared Goff, but this game was more defensive genius than offensive failure. Still, seeing just 16 points on the board and feeling like most drives didn’t matter deadens the experience. This was a much better Super Bowl than it’s given credit for, but it doesn’t often get much credit anyway.
40) Super Bowl XX (1985)
This was a blowout, and so there’s a ceiling on how high this game can rank. But it does help that we had iconic moments in the leadup to the game, during the game, and after.
The Super Bowl Shuffle from the Bears set the stage, and the game itself featured an unforgettable touchdown from William “the Refrigerator” Perry. The Bears’ defense celebrated the win by hoisting Buddy Ryan on their shoulders to commemorate their spot among the NFL’s elite historic defenses — the 46 defense, conveniently the number of points the Bears scored.
The Patriots were there, too. Ten-point underdogs that had squeaked into the playoffs as the third seed from their division, New England scored first on a fumble return and subsequent field goal but themselves could not move the ball on offense for any positive yardage until the final play of the first quarter, which led to head coach Raymond Berry benching starting quarterback Tony Eason for backup Steve Grogan.
New England didn’t net positive yards until the first play of the second half. It was a slaughter.
39) Super Bowl IX (1974)
The Vikings did not earn an offensive score against the Steelers, with a fourth-quarter punt block responsible for their only points. Both defenses played great games, but Minnesota’s offense struggled once again against an AFC opponent with a different type of defense than the ones they faced all season.
A fumbled pitch from Fran Tarkenton to Dave Osborn resulted in the first safety in Super Bowl history and the only points in the first half. There were a few scoring opportunities, but dropped passes or missed kicks from both teams suppressed the score.
A series of further mistakes on both sides in the third quarter led to a short scoring drive for the Steelers, the only touchdown of the game. Multiple turnovers later, Chuck Noll became the youngest head coach to win the Super Bowl at the time and set off a Steelers dynasty that saw four rings in six years.
38) Super Bowl XXII (1987)
This game carries enormous historical importance, as it was the first to feature a starting Black quarterback. Doug Williams was a first-round draft pick who started for the Buccaneers but was frozen out of contract talks, forcing him to leave the NFL to play in the USFL before Joe Gibbs at Washington — the coach who recommended that the Buccaneers draft him in the first place — offered him a job.
It was Williams’ only NFL offer, and it was as a backup. After an injury to starter Jay Schroeder, Williams took over the starting job, taking Washington to the playoffs and ultimately winning the Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP — marking additional milestones for Black quarterbacks.
Denver, on the other hand, featured a strong performance from Elway, who appeared in the second of five Super Bowls. This was another loss for Elway before reclaiming his legacy as a winner in the 1990s. After the Broncos came out to a 10-point lead, Williams led Washington to put together the highest-scoring quarter in Super Bowl history with 35 points.
That said, this game came at the conclusion of a strike season with games filled out by replacement players — more for some teams than others — the hype and legitimacy of this Super Bowl had been partially drained away. Some high-level teams had lost most or all of their replacement-player games, including the defending champion New York Giants, who missed the playoffs with a 6-9 record.
After a scoreless second half for Denver and a perfunctory seven points in the fourth quarter from Washington, the excitement of the comeback, historical event, and game had petered out.
37) Super Bowl XXX (1995)
After a run of playoff appearances without a title shot, Bill Cowher appeared in the Super Bowl for the first time in his to-be-storied career. This would be the third time the Cowboys and Steelers met in the Super Bowl, creating a sort of rivalry across conferences. It remains the most meetings between two teams in the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXX is connected to Super Bowl XXVII, when that game was taken away from Arizona for not recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day, this game was given to the state after they did choose to recognize the holiday.
The Steelers’ fourth-quarter scramble to score points made the game look closer than it was. Dallas took an early 10-point lead, and the closest Pittsburgh got was a six-point deficit to end the half.
Unlike some Super Bowl blowouts, the Steelers were never really out of it. But the flow of the game was against them the entire time. It was somewhat competitive but largely one-sided.
This game gave Charley Haley his record-breaking fifth Super Bowl win and allowed Dallas to tie San Francisco for most Super Bowl wins, though it was the final Super Bowl trophy of the Aikman Dallas dynasty. It was a better game than many Super Bowls but lacks enormous historical significance.
Cowher, meanwhile, had to build an entirely new Steelers team to get to the Super Bowl again.
36) Super Bowl XLI (2006)
The first Super Bowl between two Black head coaches and the first where a Black head coach won, this game was a historical milestone in several ways. It also featured the earliest lead in NFL Super Bowl history after Devin Hester ran the opening kickoff back for a score — the first opening kickoff score in the history of the game.
As a result of that and a missed extra point in the Colts’ response score, the Bears held the lead until late in the second quarter. Indianapolis never really pulled away from Chicago, with a pick-six early in the fourth quarter turning out to be the final score in this 12-point game.
The Bears and Colts were tied for having the second-best offenses by points in the NFL. Chicago also happened to have an elite special-teams unit and the third-best scoring defense, while Indianapolis had a below-average defense and some issues with special teams.
Nevertheless, the Colts’ defense dominated, forcing two picks and four fumbles while holding the Bears to 30% on third down. Bob Sanders’ importance to the team’s defense was emphasized by this game and his season. He, along with Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Antoine Bethea, showcased what Peyton Manning could do with high-level defensive players supporting him.
This game was critical to Manning’s perception among the NFL’s elite, and it also bolstered the reputations of Tarik Glenn, Marvin Harrison, Jeff Saturday, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark. The game only felt out of reach in the Colts’ final drive as they nearly ran out the clock. The rain contributed to missed kicks and turnovers, but it didn’t drain away the excitement of the match.
35) Super Bowl II (1967)
Still not known yet as the “Super Bowl,” the AFL-NFL World Championship Game was not nearly as significant the second time around but still holds historical importance. If counting the 1965 NFL Championship Game (no AFL participation), then the Packers become the only team to win three consecutive championship games, joining themselves as the only team to also win three consecutive championships (from 1929 to 1931, they won the league title without a championship game).
This was also Vince Lombardi’s last season coaching the Green Bay Packers.
The game came off the heels of the now-famous Ice Bowl played in Green Bay for the NFL Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys two weeks before. That game carries much more historical and schematic significance than most Super Bowls, including this one.
There was a presumption that the NFL was far superior to the AFL and that this was the weakest Green Bay team in some time. Because of this presumption, however, the Packers were 14-point favorites. They covered. Journalists covering the game saw the first play, a tackle for loss from Ray Nitschke and declared the game over. They were right.
The Packers took an early 3-0 lead, extended to 6-0 soon after, and never lost it.
34) Super Bowl 50 (2015)
The NFL, perhaps correctly, did not want to have a Super Bowl called “Super Bowl L,” so went with Arabic numerals instead of Roman numerals in this singular instance. This game featured a young upstart MVP playing in the league’s “Golden Super Bowl” in commemoration of 50 years of interleague play up against NFL royalty. It would be the league’s top-scoring offense against the league’s top-scoring defense.
Neither quarterback played well, which was a surprise for Cam Newton but expected for Peyton Manning, who had already been benched that season after leading the league in interceptions before sitting on the sidelines. Manning returned to the starting lineup, but it wasn’t a surprise that he didn’t perform to his name.
Nevertheless, it was an exciting defensive game, featuring defensive scores and high-level plays. The game was competitive into the fourth quarter until the Broncos scored the game-sealing touchdown with three minutes remaining.
It wasn’t as historically impactful as other Super Bowls, but it did remain a legacy-builder for Manning, becoming the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl for two different franchises, the first to 200 regular and postseason wins, and the oldest QB to win a Super Bowl at that time.
33) Super Bowl VII (1972)
This Super Bowl would mark the conclusion of the greatest season in football history. After appearing in the 1971 Super Bowl, Miami kickstarted a short stretch of dominance and played against a team that would go on to make numerous Super Bowls over the next several years.
Interestingly, the Dolphins were on the verge of making the game a 17-0 shutout to match their 17-0 record, but a blocked kick turned into a botched pass that was fumbled and returned for Washington’s only score to make it a 14-7 game.
As a result, Washington had an opportunity to get back into the game, but Miami’s suffocating defense prevented them from gaining positive yards in their only drive following the score.
The Dolphins were an intriguing team to have gone undefeated, given the quarterback controversy between Brian Griese and Earl Morrall. But the combination of Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick at running back, along with Paul Warfield at receiver, more than made up for it. An incredible offensive line with Bob Kuechenberg, Jim Langer, and Larry Little was critical to their success as well.
This would be Don Shula’s first Super Bowl win and a critical component to his résumé as a claimant to the title of greatest coach in the NFL. Despite the score, it wasn’t a close game but was more of a defensive slugfest with some missed opportunities on offense than it was an offensive slop. Certainly not the most exciting game, but also not as dreary as other low-scoring outcomes. And it made NFL history.
32) Super Bowl XIX (1984)
Pitched as a QB battle between two elites — Dan Marino and Joe Montana — this game presented an opportunity for Marino to enter the greatest-of-all-time conversation or for Montana to make good on his journey to the top of that list.
This game fulfilled that promise, with more combined offensive yards and net passing yards than any previous Super Bowl in history. They also set a record for most points scored in the first quarter and second quarter of a Super Bowl, and, therefore, the most points scored in the first half of a Super Bowl. These teams combined for fewest rushing attempts and most passing attempts, too.
The game did get away from Miami late in the second quarter as defensive adjustments stymied their passing attack. Marino stumbled, as did the rest of his team, and they were functionally resigned to watching Montana put together one of the best QB performances ever seen in a Super Bowl up to that point.
It was an exciting game, even if it wasn’t competitive for most of the affair. This game also earned some notoriety for being the central focus of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and has become a big part of both quarterbacks’ legacies.
31) Super Bowl IV (1969)
As 12-point favorites, the Vikings greatly disappointed those who thought Super Bowl III was a fluke. In fairness to oddsmakers, the Kansas City Chiefs weren’t even supposed to be there and were road dogs throughout the playoffs.
As a result, the Chiefs further reinforced the idea that the AFL could compete with the NFL and made the upcoming merger — announced four years prior — much more palatable for football fans. The last Super Bowl before that merger, SB IV set the tone for how the two leagues would develop into one.
The game was characterized early on by defensive dominance. Kansas City settled for (at the time) long field goals to start out the game, with Jan Stenerud setting a Super Bowl record for longest-made field goal at 48 yards, a record that wouldn’t be broken for 24 years.
The Vikings were unprepared for the Chiefs’ adjustments, including a big nose tackle head-up over their lighter center and double-teams on offense to prevent Minnesota’s pass rush from getting home.
Minnesota would not convert a third down until the second half and could only rush for 24 yards in the first half. The game fell apart in the second half when the Chiefs managed touchdowns, and the Vikings couldn’t respond. The game was closer than the score and more competitive, but Minnesota was simply outmatched.
Aside from being the last Super Bowl of the two leagues era, it was also notable in that it was the first Super Bowl where a head coach was outfitted with a microphone marking a turning point for NFL Films.
A win for Minnesota would have put the 1969 Vikings into the conversation as one of the greatest teams of all time, not just because of the bevy of Hall of Famers and near-Hall of Famers on the roster, but because they led the league in points scored and points allowed. Instead, it started a long-running trend of the Vikings failing to meet expectations.
The game turned into a bloodbath at the end but was moderately competitive compared to other blowouts and carries enormous historical significance.
30) Super Bowl XL (2005)
The 40th NFL Super Bowl showcased some incredible players with incredible performances, with a Willie Parker 75-yard touchdown run setting a Super Bowl record, as well as Kelly Herndon’s 76-yard interception return. Antwaan Randle El was the first wide receiver to throw a touchdown pass — a 43-yard score to Hines Ward –, and it clinched the game.
This was Ben Roethlisberger’s second NFL season after taking over for an injured Tommy Maddox partway through his rookie year. This time, it was Roethlisberger who was injured partway through the season, but he returned in time to play in the playoffs and meet the MVP, Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander, in the Super Bowl.
The game was marred with officiating errors, including questionable pass interference calls, unusual decisions about possession, and confusion over what counted as a catch. Of course, that was relatively uncommon in 2005 — par for the course in 2022. That officiating controversy drains some of the excitement away from the Super Bowl, though it nevertheless built up the reputations of Roethlisberger, Randle El, Alan Faneca, Ward, Heath Miller, Casey Hampton, Larry Foote, Joey Porter, Ike Taylor, and Troy Polamalu.
The Seahawks took an early lead, which could have been by more were it not for the officiating, and smothered the Steelers early. It took the longest third-down conversion in history, a long Roethlisberger scramble to get the ball out awkwardly to Ward for 37 yards to kickstart Pittsburgh’s offense in the second quarter, which allowed them to take a 7-3 lead into the half, one helped by a field-goal miss near the end of the second quarter.
The third quarter was where we saw Parker’s incredible run for a score, and Seattle once again struggled to respond because of kicker woes. Still, they eventually closed the deficit entering the final quarter of the game but could not make anything of it.
A red-zone interception essentially ended their hopes as the Steelers scored on Randel El’s pass on the following drive. The rest of the fourth quarter was a bit sloppy, with more officiating controversy to add to the pile.
It was a good game made worse by the discussion surrounding the referees and penalty calls, but there were some exciting plays regardless of those moments.
29) Super Bowl XXVIII (1993)
This game pit perennial Super Bowl losers against a team in the middle of a dynastic run. The loss the Bills took here would cement them as the team of unfulfilled potential — the only NFL team to make four consecutive Super Bowls and, oddly, the only one to lose four consecutive Super Bowls.
At the same time, the Cowboys’ victory allowed them to reach four total rings, tied with the Steelers and 49ers.
This was one of the few Super Bowl rematches and the first such rematch to occur in consecutive years. This game was a good deal more competitive, and there were a few lead changes. The Cowboys scored first, but the Bills scored soon after to tie up the game with the longest field goal in Super Bowl history, breaking Jan Stenerud’s record with a 54-yard make.
The teams went back and forth until Buffalo ended the half with a touchdown lead. Dallas roared back with 24 unanswered points, marking the end of the Bills’ dynasty that never was.
Historically, this game marked a turn back towards neutrality for the NFL on political matters. Georgia’s state flag, which featured the Confederate battle flag, was the subject of significant protest. Despite pressuring the state of Arizona over Martin Luther King Jr. Day three years prior, the NFL claimed that they don’t get involved in political issues.
It was also Jimmy Johnson’s last game as the Cowboys’ head coach. A few coaches finished their tenures at teams with a Super Bowl win, but none had done it after being forced out by the owner. Jerry Jones’ intervention in this affair would end up defining his role as an owner, one of the most involved owners in the league.
28) Super Bowl XXXI (1996)
This game marked the return to relevance for both franchises, who were mired in mediocrity. The Packers, however, were considered a much better team given their recent history of success in the regular season.
Green Bay came out to an early lead before New England took it away from them late in the first quarter — a short-lived fact after Brett Favre threw an 81-yard touchdown to Antonio Freeman to wrench it back. The Packers continued to pour it on before halftime, but the game remained close, especially after the Patriots scored in the third quarter to bring the game to within one score.
That reprieve would be short-lived as the next play was Desmond Howard’s famous 99-yard kick-return touchdown. The subsequent two-point conversion didn’t put the game away but forced the Patriots to play off their back foot throughout the fourth quarter.
For a game without many lead changes, it was incredibly exciting. This served as critical legacy moments for Howard, Favre, Antonio Freeman, Reggie White, and LeRoy Butler. A surprising number of New England’s key players were able to return for Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams.
27) Super Bowl XXI (1986)
Both teams entered Super Bowl XXI with the opportunity to win their first Super Bowl. This was an incredible Giants team, with the Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense supplementing Phil Simms on offense. New York went 14-2 in the regular season and only allowed three points combined in their two playoff games.
Though the game got away from the Broncos in the second half, leading to their second Super Bowl loss (followed next year by another and two years after that for a fourth), it was close in the first half with Denver ahead 10-9. Both teams opened with scores, with the Giants’ second score taking them ahead 7-3. The Broncos scored once again to finish the quarter with a 10-7 lead.
Denver continued to play well offensively, but the shortest missed kick in Super Bowl history meant they didn’t get many points out of that level of play, and a safety on a sack tightened the score. Another set of brilliant plays from Elway meant another chance at a short field goal and another embarrassing missed kick for Rich Karlis.
Then the scoring broke open for the Giants, with a fake punt extending their first drive of the second half enough to lead to a score. On their next drive, a flea flicker put New York on the goal line, leading to a touchdown, putting them ahead 26-10 entering the fourth quarter.
An interception from the Giants and a lucky bounce led to another score, and the Broncos could only respond with a meaningless, if impressive, touchdown of their own to close the lead to 39-20. It was a fun game marked with one of the best performances out of a losing quarterback we’ve seen in the Super Bowl, but the lack of tension in the fourth quarter diminishes it.
26) Super Bowl XVII (1982)
In the aftermath of the 1982 players’ strike, the NFL could only play nine regular-season games, meaning that the playoffs were more of a 16-team tournament that ignored division standings. This meant competing teams would have to win three consecutive games, regardless of seeding, to make the Super Bowl.
The Dolphins featured an innovative defense, known as the Killer Bees because of the number of players who began their last name with a B. It was a one-gap 3-4 that featured shifting fronts and was a predecessor to the 2000s amoeba defenses that confused offenses by playing standup linemen and down linebackers who would drop into coverage with more stunts and twists than any other defense in the NFL.
Washington had the top passer in the NFL with Joe Theismann and a great offensive line, the Hogs. Mark Moseley became the first kicker to win MVP, and Washington had some great impact defenders.
The Dolphins’ offense, helmed by quarterback David Woodley and center Dwight Stephenson, was able enough to score first and maintain their lead for some time, only allowing Washington to tie the game with two minutes left in the first half and returning the following kickoff for a touchdown to regain it.
Miami would not score in the second half, however. The Dolphins’ defense gave up explosives but held tight in the red zone and entered the fourth quarter with a lead. It looked like they would maintain that lead after a pick, but Washington was aggressive, and when they got the ball back, would attempt to convert on fourth down.
That fourth-down run was a 43-yard touchdown for John Riggins, giving Washington their first lead of the game — one they wouldn’t give up.
The Dolphins were silent offensively in the second half, never gaining more than nine yards on a play and completing zero passes. They converted two first downs.
It was an exciting game with an unlikely fourth-quarter comeback, but the dead-in-the-water performance from Miami — who would take this game as a sign to draft Marino — as well as the odd setup of the strike season, takes the wind out of the sails of this game.
25) Super Bowl XLV (2010)
Though the final outcome was a one-score difference, the Green Bay Packers, under the stewardship of recently anointed quarterback Aaron Rodgers, were primarily in control. That said, Pittsburgh’s fourth-quarter touchdown to bring the game within three points was not a garbage-time score, and they genuinely had a great chance to pull off a comeback win.
Despite the fact that the Packers never let go of their lead, this game featured more tension than most games without a lead change.
Early in Rodgers’ career, this Super Bowl was supposed to be the first of many to come, given his elite level of play, which would peak a year later in one of the greatest QB seasons of all time. Instead, Rodgers and Favre each only have one ring to their names.
This particular game featured stunning plays from both quarterbacks, as well as highlight-reel plays on both sides of the ball from other players, including the Packers’ Jordy Nelson and Nick Collins, as well as the Steelers’ RB duo of Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.
The game likely swung some of the legacy talk for both quarterbacks. Had Roethlisberger won this in addition to his two other Super Bowl wins, he’d have been propelled forward historically. Without this win, Rodgers would be saddled with the Marino-like burden of never having won the big one.
24) Super Bowl XVI (1981)
This was the first Super Bowl appearance for both franchises — something not seen since Super Bowl III when the teams were playing in different leagues. It was, naturally, a legacy starter for the 49ers, who would go on to win a bushel of rings in the 15 years following.
It was also a student-meets-master moment for quarterback Ken Anderson, who ran the West Coast offense that Bill Walsh developed with him and quarterback Virgil Carter when they were all in Cincinnati. Of course, Joe Montana perfected it.
The game started with a flurry of turnovers in 49ers territory, but Montana emerged from the mess to lead a touchdown drive to give San Francisco the lead. They finished the half up 20-0 and never lost the lead.
That doesn’t mean the game wasn’t close. The Bengals not only found themselves in 49ers territory multiple times with some miscues preventing them from overwhelming San Francisco, and nearly completed the comeback by dominating the second half 21-7 over the final two quarters.
Were it not for an interception from Eric Wright in the fourth quarter on a pass intended for Cris Collinsworth, it might have been the Bengals who kickstarted a dynasty instead of the 49ers.
Regardless of the outcome, this game served as proof of concept for a style of football that favored quick, precision passing over the run-and-chuck style of football that dominated the 1970s.
That kind of passing game would come to dominant football until the mid-1990s, when big-armed quarterbacks finally had their day again. Montana earned his first of many rings and became the second-youngest quarterback (by a day) to win the Super Bowl, just behind his idol Joe Namath.
23) Super Bowl III (1968)
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this game to the history of the NFL. Not only did it establish the quality of the AFL to a skeptical public, but it was also the first Super Bowl to bear that name and played a critical role in the Hall of Fame case for Namath — including his famous pre-game guarantee that they would win the ring.
The Jets won despite being 19.5-point underdogs to a strong Colts team that won the NFL Championship by shutting out the Cleveland Browns 34-0.
Namath not only normalized the quality of play in the AFL, but he was also a big part of the reason the NFL initiated merger talks with the AFL several years prior. The NFL had lost the bidding war for Namath’s services as the No. 1 pick in the AFL draft and the No. 12 pick in the NFL draft.
A win for the NFL, but not for the players, who were benefiting from the bidding war in higher wages. Another storyline was present in that Jets head coach Weeb Ewbank was fired by the Colts a few years prior.
Without Johnny Unitas, backup Earl Morrall led one of the best regular seasons a backup QB has had in NFL history — enough for coach Don Shula to keep Unitas benched when he returned to health. But Morrall struggled to consistently make big throws under pressure, and his best throws were dropped or squandered, like with missed field goals.
Turnovers characterized the Colts’ performance, and Namath played against type by avoiding them himself with a conservative passing game to counter Baltimore’s blitzes and zone looks.
It was largely a dominant Jets performance but primarily because of miscues on the Colts’ part. The game was itself a bit of a mess, and Baltimore didn’t score until the fourth quarter, but it was hugely significant.
22) Super Bowl XLVII (2012)
This was the first Super Bowl in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. But Super Bowl XLVII will be more well-known for the fact that both Harbaugh brothers coached against each other and for the power outage suspending the game for 34 minutes than it will for the actual game. Though the halftime show — an iconic performance from Beyoncé memorable by itself — was initially blamed, it turned out that it ran on separate power from the stadium.
Both teams turned in magical runs in the regular season and postseason with gifts for comebacks against the league’s top quarterbacks, like Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers. Some of the NFL’s best plays, like Ray Rice’s catch-and-run on 4th-and-29, or the most impressive games, such as Colin Kaepernicks’ traipsing over the Packers, came from these relative underdogs.
That might be why, even though the Ravens came out to a 21-6 lead in the first half, it was easy to believe the 49ers always had a shot. At least until the kickoff return and subsequent blackout, meaning they entered the unscheduled break with a 22-point difference.
San Francisco made a game of it and made it close enough for another iconic comeback, but a few miscues took away their best opportunities by the smallest of margins, including a controversial uncalled pass interference in the end zone on fourth down. The game ended with an intentional safety by the Ravens, closing out the game and closing the deficit from five to three in a meaningless manner.
This game was big for the legacies of several Baltimore players, including Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. But it also contributed to the legacies of Matt Birk, Anquan Boldin, Joe Flacco, Bernard Pollard, and Haloti Ngata.
The outage itself came after Jacoby Jones scored on the longest play in Super Bowl (or playoff) history, a 108-yard kickoff return to open the half. The blackout certainly sapped the energy in the stadium in both a literal and emotional sense, but in retrospect makes the Super Bowl stand out more. Despite the game not featuring one lead change, the game was tense, controversial, and full of possibility.
21) Super Bowl I (1966)
It’s perhaps ironic that the only Super Bowl simulcast to two networks — CBS had the right to AFL games and NBC the right to NFL games — would also be the only one lost to time, with no complete broadcast copies in existence. The two networks were as rancorous towards each other as the two leagues were. A fence was built between the two broadcast trucks to prevent further flare-ups.
The historical significance of the game was obvious. It was the result of an agreement to eventually merge the two leagues into one and the first test that the football viewing audience had of the general perception that the AFL was an inferior football product. The first coach to win the Super Bowl — then called the “First World Championship Game AFL vs. NFL” — would end up with his name on the trophy.
The AFL’s league champion, the Chiefs, were also its first franchise. The NFL’s champion Packers had long been considered the representative example of NFL football. It was a perfect match. If the leagues could have hand-picked which teams would be in this game, these would have been the choices.
The game was closer than many expected despite the eventual margin of victory. Though Green Bay scored first, Kansas City battled back and maintained relevancy — outgaining the Packers in both total yardage and in first downs in the first half. Down just four points to the Packers, the AFL side took confidence in their overall performance.
The Chiefs would not score again, though their level of play impressed Lombardi, who figured the AFL was not far away from competitive relevancy.
20) Super Bowl XIV (1979)
Despite the game ending with a 12-point win for Pittsburgh, it was actually a competitive matchup with four different lead changes. This was the first Super Bowl to be played in a team’s home market, as the Rams were able to suit up to a “home” crowd in the Rose Bowl.
The Rams were in an unusual spot, with their team owner having drowned during the offseason and an ownership controversy to follow, leading to Georgia Frontiere winning the power struggle and firing her stepson. Though the plans were already in place, this ownership change reinforced the movement of the Rams from Los Angeles to Anaheim, inviting a lot of fan backlash.
At the time, the Rams would have the worst record of any team to play in the Super Bowl, a record that wouldn’t be tied until the 2008 season. Los Angeles lived and died by the strength of their defensive line, a second version of their Fearsome Foursome that featured Fred Dryer and Jack Youngblood. The Steelers Steel Curtain was still in its prime, and this might have been the best version of that 1970s dynasty.
The Steelers were favored by 10.5 points, and though they ended up covering at the end, it looked like a bad line from Vegas for most of the game. Pittsburgh took the opening lead, but Los Angeles responded to their field goal with a touchdown. The Steelers finished out the opening quarter by taking the lead back with a touchdown of their own. They entered the half, behind after a pair of Rams field goals put them back ahead.
Once again, Pittsburgh opened the next quarter with a score that put them ahead — a beauty from Lynn Swann. Again, they lost the lead. Two interceptions from the Rams allowed them to maintain the lead. The Steelers didn’t pull ahead for good until partway through the fourth quarter when a stunning catch from John Stallworth led to a 73-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Another score cemented the win for Pittsburgh.
The Steelers joined the Pirates and Penguins as league champions from Pittsburgh and had one of the few fourth-quarter comebacks in the history of the event. This would solidify Pittsburgh’s legacy as a dominant franchise and played big roles in the Hall of Fame candidacies of a good chunk of their roster. This was the last time that group would play in a Super Bowl for the Steelers.
19) Super Bowl XLIV (2009)
Both the Colts and Saints went pretty far into the regular season before incurring a loss, and it was well-recognized that both teams likely represented the class of their conferences. New Orleans didn’t lose until Week 15, and Indianapolis lost for the first time a week later in Week 16.
Both teams ended the regular season on a loss, in part a product of the decision to rest starters in the final game as both had sewn up first-round byes. It wasn’t until later that the Saints team would be wrapped up in the Bountygate controversy that cast a shadow over this Super Bowl win and refocused some of the events in both their postseason games.
At the time, the Saints were the subject of a reclamation narrative surrounding New Orleans’ bounce back from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Though technically underdogs against the Colts, this wasn’t an instance of a Wild Card team finding their luck. New Orleans led the league in points scored and were dominant throughout the regular season.
Indianapolis started out with a pair of scores to bring them to 10-0 at the conclusion of the first quarter. The Saints continued to struggle on offense, but the Colts couldn’t put the game away early, as drops and penalties kept them out of scoring range. After that, the Saints began to score, adding a pair of field goals before the half to make the game a close 10-6.
To open the second half, New Orleans surprised Indianapolis with an onside kick, the first onside kick before the fourth quarter in the history of the game. Their recovery led to a touchdown to give them the lead, one that the Colts took right back on the next drive.
A Saints’ field goal would bring it to 17-16 in the fourth quarter. The Saints then took the final lead of the game early in the fourth quarter with the help of a controversial overturned ruling on a two-point conversion. An interception on the Colts’ response drive ended Indianapolis’ chances, and a score from New Orleans nearly sealed it.
Penalties and drops characterized the Colts’ final possession in the red zone, and the Saints were able to kneel out the win for the first one in New Orleans history and the first professional major championship for the state of Louisiana.
This win was critical to Drew Brees’ legacy as well as head coach Sean Payton’s. It also played a big role in the perception of Peyton Manning’s underperformance in the playoffs.
This was a turning point in NFL halftime commercial history as controversy, banned ads, and divisive marketing were at its peak, with advertisers learning that they could drive consumers to their website by uploading “banned versions” of their ads.
18) Super Bowl XXXIX (2004)
This game marked the true beginning of the Tom Brady era. The previous two rings were definitively products of New England’s phenomenal defense and the helping hand of Lady Luck, but Brady — breaking a season-long passer rating of 90.0 and an adjusted net yards per attempt of 6.00 for the first time in his career — established himself as truly one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
The game was stacked with some of the game’s greatest players, including Brian Dawkins, Terrell Owens, Brian Westbrook, Vince Wilfork, and Brady himself, with stars like Todd Pinkston, Donovan McNabb, Jevon Kearse, Rodney Harrison, Asante Samuel, Tedy Bruschi, and Mike Vrabel filling out the rosters.
The first quarter started out scoreless after a series of turnovers and strong defensive stands. The second quarter wasn’t much better, with both teams entering halftime tied at 7.
The Eagles scored first, meaning the Patriots trailed for the first time all postseason. The teams went back and forth in the third quarter, again scoring a touchdown apiece to enter the fourth quarter tied for the first time in Super Bowl history.
New England scored twice early in the fourth quarter and held Philadelphia, for the most part, from scoring with turnovers and tackles for loss. Nevertheless, the Eagles cut the deficit to three points on a long drive, leading to a famous discussion on whether or not McNabb was dry heaving in the huddle during the drive.
Because that drive took too long, the Eagles were forced to attempt an onside kick and failed to recover it. Philadelphia did get the ball back after that but made more time-management mistakes before an interception from Harrison ended the game.
Despite the Eagles’ mistakes near the end, it was an exciting game filled with a number of lead changes, some historical significance, and good play on both sides of the ball. The game lacks some of the extreme highlights we remember from some of the very best Super Bowls, but it came down to the final seconds and kept fans in seats.
17) Super Bowl XIII (1978)
It’s perhaps fitting that the first Super Bowl to feature a rematch would also be one of the closest, most exciting ones of the era. With three lead changes and a remarkably tight fourth quarter, fans had reasons to watch the 26 different Hall of Famers who participated in this game until the final moment.
The winner of the game would become the first team to win their third Super Bowl. The media discussion surrounding the game added to the hype. There was little in the way of controversy over who the best team in their respective conferences were, and the winner of the game would almost certainly allow their franchise to be crowned the team of the decade.
The game featured several lead changes, with the Steelers opening the scoring after benefiting from a botched trick play and marching down the field. Dallas responded in kind two drives later with their own touchdown off of a turnover.
The Steelers tied it 14-14 on a 75-yard TD pass and then once again took the lead off of yet another turnover. In the fourth quarter, two controversial penalty calls advantaged Pittsburgh and allowed them to pull ahead.
The Cowboys were forced into a situation where they had to score, recover an onside kick, score, recover another onside kick, and score again. They almost accomplished that, failing to recover their second onside-kick attempt with 22 seconds left in the game.
Terry Bradshaw added to his résumé with a number of Super Bowl records — first-half passing yardage, longest pass, and so on. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth built on their resumes, and the phenomenal defensive performances from both teams meant legacy-building moments for L.C. Greenwood, Joe Green, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Donnie Shell, and Mel Blount, as well as Randy White, Harvey Martin, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and Cliff Harris.
This game was monumental in deciding the character of both franchises coming out of the 1970s and impacts our perception of both franchises to this day.
16) Super Bowl XLVI (2011)
Known primarily as the rematch between the 2007 Giants and Patriots, the game that ended the only other potential perfect run in NFL history, the 2011 Super Bowl featured possibly the best fourth quarter in the history of the game.
Leading into that final frame was an unusual first three quarters. After the Patriots forced the Giants out of field-goal range and were subsequently pinned at their own goal line, pressure forced Tom Brady to get rid of the ball, which meant that New England’s first play from scrimmage was an intentional grounding penalty while the quarterback was in the end zone. Safety.
New York was able to capitalize on that and another penalty to score and take a nine-point lead with an incredible throw to Victor Cruz. However, the Patriots responded with 10 unanswered points to end the half, including a surgical end-of-half drive from Brady. They expanded that lead to begin the second half with another touchdown, while the Giants could only respond with a pair of field goals.
Both quarterbacks demonstrated incredible escapability in the pocket all game, a necessity for Brady given the Giants’ NASCAR package featuring four edge rushers lined up across the line. Brady’s fourth-quarter out-of-the-grasp escape artist move ended with a deep throw for an impossible catch for the wrong team, with Giants defender Chase Blackburn grabbing an interception. Manning’s escape led to a critical sideline throw to Mario Manningham, the catch of the game.
As the drive continued, the Patriots, lacking timeouts, decided to let the Giants score by opening up an alley for RB Ahmad Bradshaw, who figured out what was happening a tick too late and tried to stop himself before accidentally backing into the end zone.
Brady’s response was as deadly accurate as his end-of-half drive, but just like Wes Welker’s earlier famous drop on 2nd-and-11, Brady was victimized by drops from Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez and was forced to escape the pocket again on 4th-and-16. He converted that time and got in range for a Hail Mary as time expired. The Giants deflected it, and fans got what they paid for.
15) Super Bowl XXXVIII (2003)
The Cinderella stars of the 2001 season, the Patriots proved that their success was no fluke and that Bill Belichick was right to trade away their Pro Bowl quarterback in favor of Tom Brady by not only returning to the Super Bowl two years later but also winning it.
New England was favored by a touchdown against a team that had just recently become a franchise and trying to become their own version of the 2001 Patriots. The Carolina Panthers found their way there with their own unheralded quarterback, Jake Delhomme.
Delhomme had gone undrafted and was dominating NFL Europe. In the first game, after falling behind by three scores, he took over for starter Rodney Peete. Delhomme won the game.
The Panthers made their way to the Super Bowl on the strength of a good defense and above-average offense. Meanwhile, the Patriots climbed the NFL ranks with the league’s top-scoring defense and an above-average offense.
The combination of Ted Washington, Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest, Bruschi, Vrabel, Ty Law, and Rodney Harrison was too much for most teams. The Panthers had their fair share of high-level players like Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins, and Mike Rucker, but the Patriots were deep.
The game was exciting, with 10 scores and five lead changes (including returning to a tie game), all concentrated in the second and fourth quarters. The game ended, like in 2001, with a game-winning field goal from Adam Vinatieri as time expired.
This was only the second time in Super Bowl history both quarterbacks passed for at least 300 yards, and it ranked second in Super Bowl history in terms of total offensive yards produced. The 37 points in the fourth quarter were the most combined points in any quarter of a Super Bowl game, much less the decisive fourth quarter.
An 85-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad in the fourth quarter was both the longest play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history and the first instance in the history of the game that a team fought back from facing a 10-point deficit as the fourth quarter began.
In response, the Patriots took back the lead, with a TD reception for Vrabel, who lined up as a tight end on the play, and Kevin Faulk’s two-point conversion run. It was the only score of the season for either of them.
The Panthers took the lead back once more, and Ricky Proehl managed to repeat what he did two years earlier — score a lead-changing touchdown against the Patriots in the fourth quarter. That tied the game, and New England led a tense response drive to set up Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal.
There has rarely been as tense a Super Bowl as this. It set Brady down the path of turning from a quarterback that teams respected to one that teams feared.
It also was notable for inventing the term “wardrobe malfunction” after Justin Timberlake tore off a piece of Janet Jackson’s clothing during the halftime show. At least one YouTube co-founder credits this moment for the invention of the platform, and it led to a new era of FCC regulation.
14) Super Bowl LIV (2019)
The beginning of Patrick Mahomes’ legend and another shot for Kyle Shanahan to redeem his reputation after the Super Bowl LI loss up 28-3, the Chiefs and 49ers had a lot on the line, historically. Not only did Mahomes have his own legend to write, but Andy Reid also had his own set of redemption storylines to fulfill. He had been the winningest active head coach not to win a title by a pretty substantial margin.
The 49ers had just traded for Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots and put together another one of their trademark high-level defensive seasons. The creativity of their offenses helped bring them there, and it would define the Shanahan-style offenses for the next several years to come.
Against a powerful Chiefs offense, the 49ers largely held up, though they couldn’t stop some incredible Mahomes moments, one of which culminated in a one-yard scoring touchdown from the quarterback. Garoppolo’s limitations came to the fore as well. His play under pressure led to turnovers, one of which resulted in a Kansas City score.
Still, the weaknesses on the back end of the Chiefs haunted them, and the 49ers were able to get a score to finish out the half 10-10. They started out the next half with a scoring drive, and an interception set up yet another scoring drive to put them up 20-10 at the end of the third quarter, with possession as a result of another interception.
Kansas City wasn’t done, and Mahomes engineered a comeback that would come to define his career and how people remember him. The first scoring drive came after a 3rd-and-15 conversion, remembered forever as “Wasp” because of the play call.
That subsequent touchdown to Travis Kelce set up their next score, a seven-play drive characterized by a deep play to Sammy Watkins. Damien Williams scored the game-winning drive by stretching just across the goal line.
KC would prevent a response drive from San Francisco with a turnover on downs coming off of a Frank Clark sack. Attempting to run out the clock, the Chiefs handed it off several times to Williams. Instead of simply gaining first downs and draining clock, Williams scored a 38-yard touchdown, making it a 31-20 game with 1:12 remaining. An interception to close out the game sealed the win for Kansas City.
Mahomes became the youngest player to win the Super Bowl MVP award and was one of three quarterbacks to win the award despite throwing multiple interceptions. This game created the framework to judge all of his subsequent fourth-quarter comebacks, a rarity given how often they enter the fourth quarter with a lead.
13) Super Bowl LVI (2021)
After years of regular-season success and postseason fizzles, Sean McVay could finally make good on his reputation as a genius coach with his second Super Bowl appearance and first Super Bowl win – a product of a series of daring moves the Rams made to seemingly sacrifice their future development in order to maximize their window.
As a result, the Rams had some of the best collection of veteran talent we’ve seen in a post-free agency era team. At the time, they had the top players at their position in Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, along with Cooper Kupp and Andrew Whitworth.
One could consider the Bengals to be a homegrown version of the Rams, especially with Zac Taylor having come to Cincinnati by way of Los Angeles, where he was a quarterbacks coach under McVay.
Running the same offense with many of the same defensive principles, the Bengals’ primary stars came from their draft. They didn’t shy away from free agency or the trade market, but they also didn’t mortgage a series of first-round picks to get proven veterans in the door.
Joe Burrow, a year removed from injury, aimed to bring Cincinnati its first championship with the assistance of rookie and former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase along with a great group around them, including Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, and C.J. Uzomah.
Despite both teams being more well-known for their offenses, defense dominated early, and the first half finished 13-10 in favor of the Rams. This defensive dominance was not the product of mistakes on offense but more a consistently high level of performance from well-known and emerging stars, like Cincinnati’s Trey Hendrickson or LA’s Jordan Fuller.
There was one mistake with a botched snap on an extra point, which turned into an interception, of all things, but it was largely a clean game. Notably, no team ever led by more than seven points. Despite the fact that there were “only” three lead changes, the game remained tense and tight throughout.
The final Rams drive was particularly tense. They were taken to fourth down several times, converting one of them on a Kupp end-around and another time via penalty. They then scored after that penalty, but offsetting penalties forced Los Angeles to replay the down. As the clock wound down, Eli Apple incurred another penalty, this time in the end zone, pushing the Rams to have a 1st-and-goal from the 1. The Rams scored but left 1:25 remaining on the clock.
The Bengals were soon forced into fourth down themselves, where they elected to pass. Aaron Donald — who stopped the previous play on 3rd-and-1 — tore through the line and wrapped Burrow up before he could get rid of the ball, forcing a short pass that led to a turnover on downs. A truly incredible play, where debates about whether or not Jalen Ramsey had really locked up Chase rages still one year later.
The game ending with a series of penalties does leave it on a sour note, even if the calls were correct. But it does help that we saw one of the best halftime shows in about a decade.
Overall, it was an exciting affair, more than some other recent Super Bowls, but we won’t know the historical significance for some time. For now, it looks like it was a clash between the present and the future — the present won.
12) Super Bowl XXXII (1997)
The Broncos finally ended their drought with their first Super Bowl win, allowing them to escape the stigma carried by the four-loss Bills and Vikings. Instead, the Packers replicated a Vikings legacy, being the first double-digit favorites to lose since that 1969 squad. Denver became the fifth Wild Card team to make the Super Bowl and the second to win it.
The standout performance of the game belonged to Terrell Davis, who played through a migraine headache and missed a good chunk of the second quarter with problems seeing, to win the game’s MVP award after rushing for 157 yards and scoring three total touchdowns.
Both teams traded touchdowns to begin the game, and an interception late in the first quarter allowed Denver to take the lead in the second quarter on a touchdown off of a bootleg scramble from Elway, who faked a handoff to Davis. The Broncos extended their lead with a field goal after that, but Favre lead a TD drive to close the gap before halftime.
The Packers would tie it up coming out of the half, and both offenses petered out for a bit until a 92-yard drive from the Broncos, containing Elway’s iconic helicopter moment, where he converted a 3rd-and-6 on a scramble. As he dove in the air, Elway was hit by two different defenders, spinning him around. Two plays after that, Denver scored to take the lead once more.
A pair of turnovers ended the half, and Green Bay tied the game back up 24-24 on an 85-yard drive. A response from Elway led to the Broncos retaking the lead on a drive where, at the goal line, the Packers were instructed to let Denver score in order to maximize time on their return drive. The Broncos refused to play prevent defense on the final drive, and it nearly cost them. They still made crucial tackles in bounds and won the game.
A Super Bowl filled with iconic moments, a fourth-quarter comeback attempt, and six lead changes (including ties) is certainly exciting, especially as it created a new legacy for one of the teams and featured Hall of Famers playing their best.
11) Super Bowl XXV (1990)
Of the four Super Bowls that Buffalo lost, this was their best chance of securing a win. Their K-Gun offense hadn’t been figured out, and they drove into scoring range to set up the game-winning field goal, never having been out of the game the whole time.
While the game is better known for Scott Norwood’s miss wide right, it should also be remembered for the Giants’ ability to overcome their 12-3 halftime deficit to secure the win and the impact it had on the legacies of both head coach Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Bill Belichick.
Belichick famously told his defense that they would allow RB Thurman Thomas to have a 100-yard game, something the Giants’ defense prided itself on never allowing. They had the best run defense in the NFL that season.
New York put extra defensive backs on the field and disrupted the offense’s timing, forcing Jim Kelly to hesitate, encouraging the Bills to play less efficient football running the ball as their passing game became less effective. The Giants played on offense with heavy sets designed to run the ball and minimize the role of QB Jeff Hostetler.
The Giants set possession records in this game for how long they held on to the rock and forced the Bills’ offense off the field, but Buffalo still found ways to score and gain the lead. But because New York played slow football and had the final possession of the first half and opening possession of the second half, the Bills went two hours in real time without possessing the ball.
The decision to let Thomas run the ball against DBs almost bit the Giants, as he led a fourth-quarter drive to regain the lead after New York took the lead in the third quarter. The Bills, leading 19-7, needed to stop a Giants team willing to run out the clock on their field-goal attempt, something they nearly did by taking 7:32 off the board.
Kelly’s final possession was inspired, and he did a wonderful job leading Buffalo to attempt a field goal. Norwood missed.
The ramifications the game had on NFL history are hard to overstate. It jumpstarted Belichick’s career, cemented Parcell’s legacy with his second Super Bowl win, and normalized both no-huddle offenses and nickel defenses.
Wide receivers coach Tom Coughlin also earned job opportunities off of this win and started his own legacy. It was the first Super Bowl where no team committed a turnover — Super Bowl XXXIV being the only other one.
10) Super Bowl LI (2016)
It’s a mark of the memorability of the game that it can be instantly recalled with a score — 28-3 — that wasn’t even the final outcome. Considered the greatest comeback in the history of the Super Bowl and perhaps the greatest in NFL history when considering context, the Patriots expanded their legacy as monsters of football history while the Falcons continued their trend of being championship disappointments.
The Patriots scored 25 unanswered points after finding themselves down that many points midway through the third quarter, forcing the first overtime in Super Bowl history. More than 30 different records were beaten or tied in this game.
This was Kyle Shanahan’s coming out party as a high-level offensive mind, and it looked like he had the defensive genius on the other side of the ball figured out. Turnovers from the Falcons’ defense played a big part in their lead-up to the 25-point lead. By the time Atlanta reached the halfway mark of the second quarter, they had served Brady his largest Super Bowl deficit at 14-0.
A pick-six expanded that even further, and it took a heroic effort from James White to set up field-goal position to prevent New England from being shut out at halftime. They couldn’t even come out of the half with offensive firepower, and the Falcons were able to score again, giving them the titular 28-3 lead off of a Tevin Coleman TD reception.
It took a 75-yard drive, including a fourth-down attempt to respond. New England scored but failed their onside-kick attempt. The Patriots’ next score was a field goal, and they were down 28-12 with just 10 minutes left in the game.
A forced fumble on the next drive led to a touchdown and two-point conversion. Atlanta continued to make errors, allowing TFLs and penalties to set them back. It took some more luck, including a deflected interception, to keep New England alive, but they were able to score with 58 seconds left, completing the necessary two-point conversion.
In overtime, another penalty helped set up the game-winning score. Brady set career Super Bowl records (that he would later break), comeback records, and performance records. It was the most net passing yards teams combined for, most gross passing yards, first downs, and longest playing time, as well as the longest time in a Super Bowl with a lead for a losing team. This was the only time a team won the Super Bowl where they never ran a play while they held a lead.
It was a spectacular affair that expanded Brady’s legend and continued to dominate the narrative for Atlanta sports.
9) Super Bowl X (1975)
The first of three Super Bowl appearances for the next four years, the Cowboys would establish their cross-conference rivalry with the Steelers in this game, bringing Tom Landry’s innovative flex defense to the national stage against emerging NFL royalty.
The Cowboys started off the game with a kickoff reverse, a good preview for the creativity both sides had on offer. It wouldn’t be enough, however, as the Bud Carson Cover-2 brought more physicality into the game than most, creating backfield opportunities for the Steel Curtain. They ended up sacking Staubach seven times.
Nevertheless, Dallas found ways to score and opened up the scoring with a TD pass to Drew Pearson. In the response drive, Lynn Swann introduced himself to the rest of the NFL with an incredible sideline catch that set up the Steelers’ response touchdown, tying the game. Swann continued his high level of play with one of the best catches the NFL had ever seen on a 53-yard double-clutch circus catch.
Scoring was nevertheless low, and turnovers were high. Tensions were high, too, as a fight broke out on the field after a Steelers defender thanked the Cowboys kicker for missing a kick in the third quarter. The turning point of the game was likely a blocked Dallas punt for a safety to start out the final period of the game, making it a 10-9 game as Pittsburgh got the ball.
This set up a field-goal drive, and they followed that up with an interception. On that drive, Bradshaw audibled on third-and-short, suspecting that Dallas wouldn’t expect to see a deep pass. He completed that pass after evading a pass rush, only to be knocked out as he was throwing the ball. Bradshaw never saw the completion, but it led to another Swann spectacular catch and a touchdown.
Down two scores, Dallas responded with a TD drive and stopped Pittsburgh on fourth down to get the ball back with 1:22 left. A mistake from Preston Pearson — going inside instead of out of bounds after a reception — nearly doomed Dallas’ chances. But they did have one final opportunity to repeat the Hail Mary play that Drew Pearson made famous against the Vikings earlier in the playoffs. It didn’t work out, and the next play was a game-ending interception.
No early-era Super Bowl was as exciting, close, or tense as this one, with so much on the line. It established a historic rivalry and crafted narratives for both franchises as they set Super Bowl records. This was a dynamic game, with explosive passing, in-game heroics, tough running, and innovative play design. It’s the best that 1970s football had to offer.
8) Super Bowl XXIII (1989)
Coming off of one of the greatest passing seasons in NFL history, Montana also engineered one of the most iconic comebacks of all time, known for pointing to the stands before the final drive to ask the huddled players, “Hey, isn’t that John Candy?” More than any other Super Bowl win, this one defined the Montana legacy.
There were some incredible individual plays in the game, like a pass Jerry Rice tipped to himself in the first quarter, and some baffling mistakes, such as the new shortest missed field goal in Super Bowl history from Mike Cofer from 21 yards.
The first half ended with a disappointing 3-3 score, but the second half opened up scoring. It started with impressive plays from Cris Collinsworth and James Brooks to set up a field goal with a response field goal to tie it up at 6-6. That was followed by a kickoff return for a touchdown from the Bengals, while the 49ers found a way to score on the subsequent drive entering the fourth quarter.
Cincinnati responded and scored, forcing Montana’s iconic quip and subsequent game-winning drive, which concluded with a John Taylor touchdown for the lead with 39 seconds left. It ended up playing a big part in modern NFL history.
7) Super Bowl LVII (2022)
In the short term, it’s easier to remember that there was a dramatic penalty that seemingly decided the game between Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles. We’re also well aware of the field conditions that made players on both sides of the ball slip and slide across the grass. Those diminish the impact of the game, but don’t take away from the exciting back-and-forth affair between Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts, both of whom had some of the best games of their careers.
Seeing two quarterbacks play lights-out football with impossible throws, tight windows and incredible big plays is always a pleasure and not something we get to see in most Super Bowls. The game featured the second-biggest comeback from halftime in Super Bowl history, just after the Patriots famous 28-3 comeback against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI and maintained tension throughout.
There have been a number of blowouts in Super Bowls and close games that have been snooze fests. This wasn’t one of those and nearly every minute of play had something to offer a casual or veteran football fan.
Though they lost, the Philadelphia Eagles and Jalen Hurts established themselves as regular contenders and could be on the path to set up their own dynasty. Had they the time to engineer a comeback at the very end of the game, this might have been in contention to be the best Super Bowl we’d ever seen.
Any talk of the Eagles potential dynasty comes second to the Chiefs’ actual dynasty. After the conclusion of the game, the sports media world lit up with debates over whether Patrick Mahomes, at age 27, was the best quarterback in the history of the NFL. With two rings on top of his three AFC Championship titles and 100 percent appearance rate in AFC Championship games, his early resume is better than any other quarterback. He has a long way to go, but this game cemented him among the game’s greats.
6) Super Bowl XXXIV (1999)
Perhaps one of the most recognizable images in Super Bowl history, Kevin Dyson’s stretch just short of the goal line encapsulates the frustrations of every fan of every too-close team to be denied at the last opportunity.
This Super Bowl was the culmination of the birth of the Greatest Show on Turf, an incredible set of performances from Kurt Warner, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Az-Zahir Hakim, and Marshall Faulk coordinated by Mike Martz behind a great offensive line, including legend Orlando Pace and an excellent Adam Timmerman.
It was not a game featuring offensive explosion, despite the fact that the Titans had their own engine in Steve McNair, who connected with Frank Wycheck, Derrick Mason, Lorenzo Neal, and Eddie George behind one of the few offensive linemen in history who could challenge Pace — Bruce Matthews.
However, the Rams found ways to chip away and accumulated a small lead before they broke open scoring with a nine-yard touchdown at the top of the second half to Torry Holt to lead 16-0.
The Titans then came back with consecutive unanswered scores with the largest deficit erasure in Super Bowl history, tying the game as the Rams took the ball with 1:54 left. They immediately scored with a 73-yard reception from Isaac Bruce, which gave Tennessee the opportunity to respond.
The near-comeback drive would have gone down in Super Bowl history. An excellently designed play to clear the middle of the field for Dyson, and it was an improvisation from linebacker Mike Jones that had him pivot away from his assignment to tackle Dyson short of the plane.
It was one of the greatest moments in the history of the game that stopped a potentially great moment and ended in one of the best metaphorical images we’ve seen.
5) Super Bowl XXXVI (2001)
This was the first Super Bowl of the biggest dynasty in modern sports. A double-digit underdog coming back to win against a behemoth of a team and kicking the game-winning field goal as the seconds expired on the back of a sixth-round quarterback on a team plastered with Patriotic imagery after the biggest attack on American soil in over 50 years.
This was the biggest upset since the AFL-NFL merger. It’s hard to oversell how big this game was in NFL history, how it marked itself in the minds of the football-watching public, or what it seemingly represented (shoehorned or not) to a broader viewing public.
This game represented one of Belichick’s legendary defensive game plans, with an intent to target RB Marshall Faulk on every play with a combination of coverages on the back end to deal with Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Az-Zahir Hakim, and Ricky Proehl.
The Rams started out with a lead but found yards easier to come by than points. A second-quarter Ty Law interception and touchdown return gave New England their first points of the game and the lead. They followed that up with a forced fumble and a short touchdown drive to take the lead 14-3.
This was the first time the 2001 Rams had ever fallen behind by two scores or more. The Patriots followed that up in the third quarter with another interception, leading to a field goal.
The Rams didn’t come alive until the fourth quarter but nearly fell apart when Kurt Warner fumbled at the goal line, leading to a 97-yard touchdown return, but a defensive penalty nullified it. This allowed St. Louis to rally back to score two touchdowns and tie up the game, with the second coming with 1:30 left in the game.
New England got the ball back with no timeouts. They played a relatively conservative passing game that nevertheless allowed them to stop the clock after getting out of bounds time and again.
Vinatieri’s 48-yard kick as time expired put him in the NFL history book and allowed Brady to become the youngest quarterback to win the Super Bowl, a feat he followed 20 years later by becoming the oldest to win the Super Bowl. He never held both records at once, as Roethlisberger overtook him five years afterward, but it’s pretty notable.
Not only was the game significant for obvious reasons, but it also established the NFL as an enormous force in the United States as a corporate entity. They won every negotiation they needed to in order to reschedule the Super Bowl in light of the schedule delays following the Sept. 11 attacks, strong-armed vendors, broadcast partners, and organizations with conflicting venue requirements.
They coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security, a practice that continues to this day. Belichick won his own negotiation with the NFL, forcing them to acquiesce to his decision to have the Patriots introduced as a team rather than individually.
4) Super Bowl XLIII (2008)
A Super Bowl full of iconic moments, the Arizona Cardinals pulled off a nearly impossible comeback and took the lead late in the fourth quarter, nearly winning the game with under two minutes to go with one of the best touchdown receptions the Super Bowl had ever seen, a 64-yard catch-and-run from Larry Fitzgerald.
It was perhaps the fourth-most impressive touchdown of the game, with James Harrison’s record-breaking 100-yard interception return at the end of the half topping it and Fitzgerald’s own earlier catch from the 1-yard line beating out the 64-yard one that put the Cardinals ahead.
And, of course, the Santonio Holmes game-winning TD with 30 seconds left will be remembered forever with his incredible corner-of-the-end-zone sideline toe drag. Amidst all of that was an end-zone penalty for a safety, an incredible Ben Patrick TD reception in the second quarter after Kurt Warner stumbled on his dropback off the snap, and a forced fumble from LaMarr Woodley to functionally end the game with five seconds to go on a Hail Mary attempt.
This game allowed the Steelers to secure the NFL record for most Super Bowl wins by a franchise and will be used for the Hall of Fame cases for Harrison and Roethlisberger. Despite the loss, it helped both Warner and Edgerrin James in their quest for Hall of Fame recognition. Fitzgerald won’t need the help, but having these moments could get him in even faster. It was truly an electric game.
3) Super Bowl XLIX (2014)
Remembered for the Malcolm Butler interception at the end of the game, the Seattle Seahawks will forever question whether or not it made sense to run the ball with Marshawn Lynch instead of trying to throw the game-winning touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter.
Both teams were the top seeds in their conference and the Seahawks were on the verge of becoming their own dynasty, having just won the Super Bowl the previous year. A win here would have made their 2015 run legendary in a way that two rings in three years just doesn’t do.
This game was notable for having come on the heels of the initial investigations surrounding Deflategate, an allegation that Tom Brady and the Patriots illegally deflated game footballs prior to the game outside of play specifications.
The game did not feature any scoring in the first quarter but did have six lead changes, featuring a New England comeback down 10 points in the fourth quarter that gets lost in the discussion surrounding the Butler interception. Jermaine Kearse had one of the best receptions in the history of the game as well, turning a deflected pass into a bobbling reception that gave Seattle the chance to score the game-winning TD at the end of the game — a product of a mistake made by Butler.
New England got the ball back at the 1-yard line, but a Seattle penalty moved the Patriots to the 5-yard line, allowing them to kneel out the play instead of being forced to run a play from scrimmage that could jeopardize their win. Following that, Bruce Irvin received the first ejection in Super Bowl history for brawling after a kneel.
Brady set a record for most completions in a Super Bowl with 37, and the Patriots managed the largest fourth-quarter comeback win in the game’s history, a record they would manage to beat themselves years later. Butler was an undrafted rookie entering the season and had only started one game. This launched his career and placed him atop the New England depth chart for the next several years.
An exciting comeback, highlight-reel plays, and one of the greatest individual efforts with one of the most controversial play calls in NFL history place this high on the list of best Super Bowls of all time.
2) Super Bowl LII (2017)
The NFL could not have asked for a better game, especially given the fact that the Eagles were playing with their backup QB and had been underdogs throughout the playoffs, entering the Super Bowl as five-point dogs. Appropriately, Philadelphia players and fans had been wearing dog masks to celebrate this fact.
With five lead changes, a high-scoring game, and historical plays, it’s hard to forget this Super Bowl. Brady dropped a reception, and Nick Foles caught one — a touchdown that will live forever as the Philly Special.
The Eagles were aggressive on fourth down, creative in their play design, and bold in their choices. It was a shining example of what Doug Pederson could do as a head coach.
The Patriots were equally innovative and just as effective on their own side of the ball. The end of the game came down to a Hail Mary, with Brady wrapped up in the arms of Eagles defender Brandon Graham before breaking free to fire off a deep shot to their best contested-catch player in Rob Gronkowski.
Philadelphia batted it down and won the game in one of the most exciting Super Bowls in history. This was their first franchise ring, and it came in the game with the most combined offensive yards of any NFL game and the second-most combined points of any Super Bowl. The game featured a spirited back and forth, some franchise firsts, an underdog win, and exciting, iconic plays.
The Greatest Super Bowl of All Time
1) Super Bowl XLII (2007)
The Patriots were on the warpath, with one of the best offenses in the history of the game, a number of Hall of Famers with their final shots at a ring and a chance to become the only 19-0 team in the history of the NFL. Considered the greatest team of all time, the Patriots needed the ring in order to establish their legacy in record books.
The Giants, with “the other Manning” at quarterback, didn’t feel like being a historical footnote and instead made history on their own with one of the best plays in the history of any sport in one of the most-watched games at the highest level of play. New York entered the game as 12-point underdogs. They didn’t just keep the game close throughout the match, they engineered a fourth-quarter comeback for the ages.
New York became the first team to make the Super Bowl by winning three road games, winning in overtime against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. The Patriots set playoff records as well, with the highest completion rate of a quarterback in the playoffs with their win over the Jaguars in the Divisional Round and Rodney Harrison tying a record for consecutive postseason games with an interception.
The Patriots and Giants were the only teams in NFL history to play in a simulcast game outside of the Super Bowl, with New England on their quest for an undefeated season playing New York in Week 17. In a preview of how the Giants would dismantle the squad in the Super Bowl, New York nearly won, losing by just three points after an aggressive game plan nearly knocked the Patriots off their pedestal.
The Giants engineered the longest drive in Super Bowl history (nine minutes, 59 seconds), were part of the only two-drive quarter in the history of the game, demonstrated extraordinary pass-rush prowess, and traded blows with one of the greatest offenses we’ve ever seen. They also helped set a Super Bowl record for most lead changes in the fourth quarter.
But they’ll be remembered for something else.
In the fourth quarter, David Tyree caught the then-best pass of his career, scoring a touchdown that gave the Giants a 10-7 lead. The Patriots responded with a five-minute drive to take the game down to 2:42 when Randy Moss secured a go-ahead score. New York’s response drive was nearly cut short; a wild pass to Tyree was nearly intercepted as he and Manning were not on the same page. But on 3rd-and-5, Tyree one-upped the touchdown catch he made just minutes before to help produce the greatest play in Super Bowl history.
Manning evaded Adalius Thomas and was in the grasp of Hall of Famer Richard Seymour as well as Jarvis Green — held up long enough for a referee to potentially call the play for forward progress. But Manning escaped the pass rush, reset his platform, and launched a pass to the deep middle of the field, where Harrison was lurking. Tyree elevated himself and pinned the ball to his helmet, keeping the drive alive.
This led to another third-and-long later in the drive, converted by Steve Smith, and then a slant touchdown to Plaxico Burress to take the lead with just 29 seconds remaining. The greatest offense on Earth had a chance at a response drive but did not gain a single yard.
A win might have propelled players like Logan Mankins and Wes Welker in their Hall of Fame résumés, as well as Vince Wilfork. It would have added to Randy Moss’ legacy, who retired in 2012 without a ring.
Instead, Eli Manning was able to define his legacy in a way that would have been impossible in another circumstance, even with a win in 2011 against the same team. This game set his place in NFL history and will be used as part of his Hall of Fame induction argument.