BY SCOTT PITONIAK
Yes, there have been a number of Stupor Bowls along the way; games that didn’t come close to living up to the hype. But there also have been a handful of Super Bowls that were indeed super. Games like last year’s, when the New England Patriots nipped the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted rookie cornerback made the most important interception, perhaps the most important play, in Super Bowl history.
There was that historic Jets upset of the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in which Broadway Joe Namath delivered on his guarantee and the fledgling AFL proved it was ready to play and beat the big boys. There was the ecstasy of Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard, game-winning field goal in Super Bowl XXXVI and the agony of Scott Norwood’s 47-yarder in Super Bowl XXV that sailed wide right.
There was Joe “Cool” Montana leading his team on a 92-yard touchdown drive in the waning minutes of Super Bowl XXIII. And David Tyre making a miraculous helmet catch to help the Giants ruin the Patriots perfect season in Super Bowl XLII.
As the National Football League prepares to celebrate the golden anniversary of a game that’s become so big it’s an unofficial national holiday, we choose the 10 most memorable Super Bowls.
10. Super Bowl I – Packers 35, Chiefs 10 Known originally as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, this contest failed to sell out the Los Angeles Coliseum. But you have to start somewhere, and this one laid the foundation, as Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers added to their dynasty by pulling away in the second half with 21 unanswered points. Quarterback Bart Starr was named MVP, but you could have made a case for reserve wide receiver Max McGee, who came off the bench to catch seven passes for 138 yards and two scores. McGee caught just four passes during the regular season.
9. Super Bowl XIII – Steelers 35, Cowboys 31 Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw threw four touchdown passes and Dallas’ Roger Staubach tossed three in an entertaining shootout between two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and two marquee franchises that wound up playing each other three times in the big game. The difference, though, wound up being a TD pass that wasn’t caught. Cowboys tight end Jackie Smith dropped what would have been the game-tying score. The contest’s only field goal followed and the Cowboys never quite made up the difference.
8. Super Bowl XXXIV – Rams 23, Titans 16 St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner’s capped his rags-to-riches story with this victory as the “Greatest Show on Turf” brought the Lombardi Trophy to the Gateway to the West. One play after the game was tied at 16 late in the fourth quarter, Warner found Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown. But the contest wasn’t over as gritty Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair passed and scrambled his team down the field on one last, desperate drive. It ended with wide receiver Kevin Dyson being tackled by Rams linebacker Mike Jones one-yard shy of the end zone as time expired.
7. Super Bowl XXXVI – Patriots 20, Rams 17 The high-powered St. Louis Rams were heavily favored against a New England team featuring a young quarterback who had taken over for injured veteran Drew Bledsoe during the season and guided the Patriots on an improbable Super Bowl run. That QB – Tom Brady – led the Pats on a methodical, final drive, and Vinatieri delivered New England’s first Lombardi Trophy with a 48-yard field goal at the buzzer.
6. Super Bowl XLIII – Steelers 27, Cardinals 23 Few were expecting an exciting game between these two, but it wound being one of the most thrilling Super Bowls of all-time, featuring an array of big plays, crucial calls and instant replay reviews. Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison returned an interception a record 100 yards as the Steelers dominated the first half. But Arizona battled back, thanks to Larry Fitzgerald’s insane fourth quarter (six catches, 115 yards, two TDs). It appeared the Cardinals were going to complete a super comeback, but Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes hooked up four times in the ultimate drive, including a spectacular touchdown in the final minute.
5. Super Bowl XXIII – 49ers 20, Bengals 16 No one has performed better in Super Bowls than San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana, and he was absolutely flawless in his final drive of this game, guiding the 49ers 92 yards with 2:36 remaining. He capped the game-winning march with a 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor with 39 seconds to go. Legend has it that Montana was so calm and collected that when he entered the huddle for the first play of that drive, he looked up into the stands and told his teammates, “Hey, there’s John Candy.” That he would comment on spotting a celebrity during such a tense moment put his fellow 49ers at ease.
4. Super Bowl XXV – Giants 20, Bills 19 It will forever be remembered for Norwood’s missed field goal in the final seconds, but that isn’t the main reason New York prevailed in an emotional game in which patriotic fervor ran sky high because the Persian Gulf War had just commenced days earlier. The Giants won this one by executing a ball control game plan that kept Buffalo’s potent no-huddle offense off the field for nearly 41 minutes. Bullish Giants running back Ottis Anderson ran the ground-and-pound to perfection as Bill Parcells claimed his second Super Bowl ring against a Bills team featuring five Hall of Fame players – Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and James Lofton – as well as Hall of Fame coach (Marv Levy) and general manager (Bill Polian).
3. Super Bowl III – Jets 16, Colts 7 This wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it remains one of the most historically significant games in NFL annals, and one of sport’s greatest upsets. Joe Namath didn’t throw a touchdown pass and was more of a game manager in this contest. In fact, a strong case could be made that running back Matt Snell (30 carries, 121 yards, one touchdown) was more deserving of the MVP award. But Namath’s pedestrian stats (17-of-28, 206 yards) tell only part of the story. His guarantee of victory against a Baltimore team that was favored by some oddsmakers by as many as 24 points put all the pressure on him, while removing it from his teammates. The victory helped lay the groundwork for the AFL-NFL merger.
2. Super Bowl XLIX – Patriots 28, Seahawks 24 Perhaps no game in Super Bowl history featured a more bizarre turn of events at the end than this one. With 20 seconds remaining and the ball on the New England one-yard-line, Seattle Coach Pete Carroll eschewed the run and called for a pass. His decision will be questioned for as long as they play football. Marshawn Lynch, a running back nicknamed “Beast Mode,” literally had carried the Seahawks to consecutive Super Bowls, but Carroll out-thought himself and went with a pass that was intercepted by Malcolm Butler, an undrafted rookie cornerback. The pick enabled the Patriots to win their four Lombardi Trophy and momentarily silenced critics who had accused them of cheating in the “Deflategate” scandal.
1. Super Bowl XLII – Giants 17, Patriots 14 Most experts expected Brady’s Bunch to complete the first 19-0 season in NFL history, a year after Bill Belichick’s Patriots had been penalized for illegally taping an opponent’s signals in what became known as “Spygate.” But the underdog Giants proved the pundits wrong with a strong defensive performance and a miraculous final drive that featured the most unbelievable catch in football history. Eli Manning spun away from a would-be sack, rifled the ball down field and David Tyree caught the pass by pinning it against his helmet while being hauled to the ground by Patriots defensive back Rodney Harrison. Somehow Tyree held onto the ball, and several snaps later Manning found Plaxico Burress for the winning touchdown in the final minute.
Scott Pitoniak is a nationally honored sports columnist and WROC-TV correspondent who has covered professional football for 31 years and written five books about the history of the Buffalo Bills. The Professional Football Writers of America has recognized his work 11 times, including the past two years when he has finished first in column writing.