The 52nd edition of the Super Bowl is set for Sunday, and we can only hope that this year provides as much excitement as the last.
If you feel empty without football and are filling the void between now and Sunday by reminiscing on past Super Bowls, you’re not alone. As we count down the days until the NFL’s Game of the Year, here are my top 10 Super Bowls of all time.
- Super Bowl XIII (1978): Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31
There are only two Super Bowls in which each team has scored at least 30 points, and the second is later on our list. The Cowboys would get their revenge in the 90’s, but the 70’s belonged to the Steelers. Terry Bradshaw threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns, earning his first Super Bowl MVP in a shootout against Roger Staubach. No wild finish here, but few games bear as much historic significance as this one.
Key Moment: A Bradshaw touchdown pass to Lynn Swann in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach for the Cowboys.
- Super Bowl III (1968): New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7
When Joe Namath uttered the words “We’re going to win Sunday, I guarantee you.”, many scoffed at such a notion—the Jets were an 18-point underdog, second-highest in Super Bowl history, and many viewed the AFL as inferior to the NFL.
But the Jets defense dominated, holding the Colts scoreless until late in the fourth quarter, intercepting Johnny Unitas once and Earl Morall three times, proving to the nation that the AFL belonged.
Key Moment: A Jim Turner field goal in the fourth put the Jets up by three scores, securing their first and only Super Bowl victory.
- Super Bowl XLVII (2012): Baltimore Ravens 34, San Francisco 49ers 31
Before there were 28-3 jokes, there were almost 28-6 jokes.
The 49ers defense had no answer for the Ravens offense in the first half, and their offense was dormant. After Jacoby Jones ran back the second half kickoff, it seemed like the end of San Francisco—but someone called the maintenance crew and ordered a power outage, and the 49ers stormed back.
Unfortunately, the NFC West struggles with goal-line play calling, and the 49ers called four questionable plays and failed to convert on fourth down, sending Ray Lewis out on top.
Key Moment: The Blackout—not a part of the game, but the delay completely shifted the momentum to the 49ers.
- Super Bowl XXV (1990): New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19
The NFL may look very different if the Bills had won this game—little did Bills fans know that this would be the first of four straight Super Bowl losses, but the next three would come by at least 13 points each. It was an epic back-and-forth contest, and frankly it’s a miracle the Bills were even in the game—the Giants time-of-possession more than doubled that of the Bills.
And you have to talk about it, but it’s hard to put all the blame on the kicker—even though it’s their only job. The 47-yard miss was Scott Norwood’s longest attempt on a grass field, so it’s a lot to ask in the most pressure-filled moment of a man’s career.
Key Moment: Aside from the missed field goal, the key play of this game was Giants backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler somehow holding onto the ball and taking a safety as opposed to fumbling and handing the Bills seven points.
- Super Bowl XXXIV (1999): St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16
Mike Jones’ game-winning tackle should be shown to every defensive player who wants to play in the NFL, because in today’s league of poor tackling, that is a touchdown and we’re headed to overtime. Luckily for the Rams, Jones was able to keep Dyson out of the endzone and cement the name of the “Greatest Show on Turf”.
Kurt Warner remains the only quarterback to throw for 400+ yards in a Super Bowl.
Key Moment: As discussed, there was no bigger moment than the Super Bowl-winning tackle.
- Super Bowl XLII (2007): New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14
The sole reason this isn’t higher on the list is that the score was 7-3 until the fourth quarter. This Patriots team was supposed to be the first-ever 19-0 team—their average margin-of-victory during the regular season was almost 20 points and scored the second-most points ever in a season with 589.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
The Giants came in as the fifth seed, and just about no one gave them a chance to beat the mighty Patriots—but lockdown defense and clutch performances gave us one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history.
Key Moment: The Helmet Catch sticks out as the obvious choice, but that play doesn’t happen if Eli Manning doesn’t somehow escape the clutches of the New England defensive line.
- Super Bowl XXIII (1988): San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16
When the game is on the line, the great ones show you what they’re made of.
Jerry Rice had one of the best games of his career, hauling in 11 receptions for 215 yards and a touchdown, earning his only Super Bowl MVP award. Joe Montana marched the 49ers on a 92-yard game-winning drive to secure the third Super Bowl of the decade for San Francisco. For the Bengals, it was a disappointing performance from the league’s number one offense, managing a mere 16 points. The Bengals have prompted a 1-8 playoff record since.
Key Moment: It has to be Montana’s pass to John Taylor for the win—possibly the greatest of his 33 game-winning drives.
- Super Bowl XLIII (2008): Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23
With the recent Patriot overhaul in Super Bowls, this one sort of gets lost in the shuffle. The Steelers defense dominated for the first three quarters, including a 100-yard James Harrison interception returned for a touchdown to end the first half.
It was a fairly ordinary game—until the last three drives. Up six and deep in their own territory, the Steelers picked up a critical first down. But there was holding in the endzone which resulted in a safety, which Warner casually turned into a 64-yard touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald. Big Ben responded, driving the Steelers down and completing an improbable pass to Santonio Holmes in the back of the endzone.
Key Moment: Instead of surrendering the lead heading into halftime, the Steelers extended it with the rumblin’, stumblin’ James Harrison interception
- Super Bowl XLIX (2014): New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24
Sometimes I still lay awake at night thinking what might have been if the Seahawks had run the ball on the one-yard line. You’d be foolish to blame Russell Wilson—it was a terrific play by Malcolm Butler. Some day there’ll be a 30 for 30 about former Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
Had it not been for the comeback of last season’s Super Bowl, this would top the list—there was good defense all around, back and forth lead changes, and a dramatic finish. The Seahawks were ready to start their dynasty, but the Patriots weren’t ready to give up theirs.
Key Moment: No-brainer on this one—if Ricardo Lockette would have out-muscled Malcolm Butler, Brady has three Super Bowl losses.
- Super Bowl LI (2016): New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28
Are we overhyping this one because it was the most recent?
It’s the only Super Bowl to ever go to overtime, and it’s the largest comeback in Super Bowl history—whether you credit it to Brady and Belicheck heroics or an epic Falcons collapse, there was enough madness to go around. For the Patriots, it was centered on the “never quit until the last whistle blows” mantra, elevating Brady and Belicheck to the top of their respective positions in the history of the game. For the Falcons, they took their foot off the gas and became the brunt of 28-3 jokes for eternity.
Key Moment: It very well could be the incredible Julian Edelman catch, but the Falcons are likely Super Bowl champions if Matt Ryan doesn’t take a sack with under 4 minutes in the fourth—they could’ve kicked a field goal and iced the game.
Stats courtesy of ESPN, Bleacher Report, NFL.com, and oddsshark.com