By Tom Shefchik
The Super Bowl is the largest event of the year in the United States. Regardless of the teams playing and the location, it is always greatly anticipated, discussed and watched.
That doesn’t mean that they’ve all been great.
I have taken the 44 Super Bowls and whittled them down to what I believe were the ten best. Obviously, this is a wholly subjective exercise, but to help break ties and give it some structure, I created a points system. The quality of play of the entire game and the amount of drama in the decision are both worth ten points. The level of interest of the country entering the game, the combined coolness of the uniforms, and the significance of the game before and after are each worth five points each. I ignored the location of the game for these rankings. It absolutely mattered for everyone who went to or covered the game, but makes virtually no difference when watching from home. I also ignored the halftime shows because most of them suck, and I hate how much attention they get anyway. So in other words, a “perfect” game would yield 35 points.
It may surprise some that Super Bowl III didn’t make the cut. On a significance level it would be 15 out of five. The problem is the game frankly sucked, and I put more emphasis into the quality than what the games individually meant. Others that were close, but didn’t make the cut are the Patriots over the Eagles in SBXXXIX and the Dolphins completing the only perfect season ever by beating the Redskins 14-7 in SBVII. Alright, enough foreplay, let’s get it on!
10. Super Bowl XXXIV: St. Louis Rams 23 Tennessee Titans 16
Quality: 7, Drama: 10 Interest: 3.5, Uniforms: 3.5, Significance: 3, Total: 27
After crunching the numbers, I am as surprised as anyone that this game didn’t finish higher than 10. There are a few things that held it back though. First, the game pretty much sucked for the first 3 quarters. Secondly, the lasting significance of the game isn’t high compared to others. The same Rams team made one more Super Bowl, which it lost. The Titans never made it back. The other thing that bugs me about this game is it reminds me of ABC showing the terrifying Brenda Warner roughly 621016540 times during the contest. Not cool, guys. Not cool.
9. Super Bowl X: Pittsburgh Steelers 21 Dallas Cowboys 17
Quality: 6, Drama: 8, Interest: 5, Uniforms: 5, Significance: 4, Total: 28
Any game that ends on a potential game-winning pass being intercepted in the end zone has to make this list. However, this was a game riddled with errors, including a missed extra point by Steelers kicker Roy Gerela. Also, it was an 11 point Pittsburgh lead with 3:02 remaining, but only got (very) interesting late. The most enduring image from the game was Lynn Swann’s acrobatic catch, which I have watched about a million times thanks to the NFL Films video my parents bought for me for Christmas 20 years ago. It was also significant in that it was Pittsburgh’s second straight world championship and it denied Dallas from winning their second.
8. Super Bowl XXXVI: New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17
Quality: 7, Drama 8, Interest: 4.5, Uniforms: 4, Significance: 5, Total: 28.5
The Golden Boy is born! Tom Brady, who in his rookie year as a 6th round draft pick, had taken the reigns from the Pro Bowl injured incumbent, Drew Bledsoe. The Rams had entered this game as 14 point favorites. New England’s defense was able to slow down the “Greatest Show on Turf”, and Adam Vinatieri booted a 48-yard field goal to win the championship. There are a few reasons this game doesn’t rank even higher on this list: First, the game winner was a field goal. Even though it was a long one, it wasn’t a dramatic touchdown as some of the other games on the list were. Second, there should’ve been 3 seconds still on the clock after the kick, leaving a sliver of hope for a “Music City Miracle” situation. Incidentally, they changed the rule after the game so that if there are 4 or more seconds on the clock, a made field goal cannot end the game (there were 7 seconds on the clock at the snap in this case). Finally, the “Spygate” tapes the Patriots secretly took of the Rams practicing leading up to the game takes some of the luster off of the championship as well. Regardless, it still holds up as one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.
7. Super Bowl XXXII: Denver Broncos 31 Green Bay Packers 24
Quality: 8, Drama: 8, Interest: 5, Uniforms: 3, Significance: 5, Total: 29
This game will forever be remembered as the game where John Elway finally broke through and won a championship, leaving Dan Marino as the undisputed “Greatest QB to Never Win a Super Bowl”. The most memorable play of the game is Elway’s helicopter run for a first down deep in Green Bay territory during the second half. What some people may not remember is that Terrell Davis won the MVP of the game, scoring 3 touchdowns and fighting off a migraine during the first half. I remember this game fondly, as the hated Packers were felled on the biggest stage. I must be objective though, and can’t rank it any higher than seventh.
6. Super Bowl XXIII: San Francisco 49ers 20 Cincinnati Bengals 16
Quality: 7, Drama: 9, Interest: 5, Uniforms: 4.5, Significance: 4, Total: 29.5
This game is the clear-cut best Super Bowl of the 1980s, which was chock-full of uninteresting blowouts. With their third championship, it is also the game which established the 49ers as the team of the decade, a mantle they were competing with the Washington Redskins to control. It was also a rematch of Super Bowl XVI. Even though it seems incredibly strange that the Bengals made 2 Super Bowls in 8 years, it is true. John Taylor caught the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left in the game. The coolest story from the game is Joe Montana talking to his team in the huddle right before the final drive of the game. Everyone was understandably tense, so to calm them down, he pointed out John Candy (RIP) in the stands. Seeing the literally and figuratively big star of the time relaxed everyone and they marched right down the field for the score. Honestly, if Uncle Buck doesn’t put you in the mindset to win, I don’t know what does. In all seriousness though, there’s a reason they call Montana “Joe Cool”.
5. Super Bowl XXXVIII: New England Patriots 32 Carolina Panthers 29
Quality: 9, Drama: 9, Interest: 4, Uniforms: 3.5, Significance: 4.5, Total: 30
This is a game which will forever be remembered more for a rogue nipple than the game itself. That’s a shame though, because it was a damned good game. Entering the contest, the Pats were seeking their second championship in 3 seasons, while the Panthers were looking to win their first ever in their short existence. This game would rank even higher, but it was a bit of a dog until the unbelievable fourth quarter, where the teams combined to score 37 points. It was also a tale of 2 kickers: Vinatieri was once again Super Bowl hero, with a game-winning 41 yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining. Panthers’ kicker John Kasay was the goat. The Panthers scored a touchdown on a 12 yarder from Jake Delhomme to Ricky Proehl with 1:08 remaining in regulation. However, Kasay kicked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, setting the Pats up with a short field on their own 40 yard line, and the rest is history.
4. Super Bowl XXV: New York Giants 20 Buffalo Bills 19
Quality: 8, Drama: 10, Interest: 4, Uniforms: 4.5, Significance: 4, Total 30.5
The Scott Norwood/Whitney Houston tilt. Compared to many games on my list, it certainly wasn’t high-scoring. The starting running backs Otis Anderson and Thurman Thomas were the stars of the game, both rushing for over 100 yards and each scoring a touchdown. It was a very clean game, the first of only two Super Bowls to be turnover-free. Of course, the moment everyone remembers is Scott Norwood narrowly missing a 47-yard field goal with 8 seconds left in the game, which would have won Buffalo the World Championship. He has been crucified for it ever since, but a 47-yarder on grass is no easy feat, especially with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
The most disturbing thing I’ve heard recently about the game are claims that Houston lip-synched the emotional National Anthem before kickoff. The game took place at the same time as the beginnings of the Gulf War, and her stirring rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner was phenomenal. If it wasn’t all it seemed, Houston’s stock drops even further into the basement. When paired with other Whitney transgressions, most notably massive amounts of nose candy and hitching her wagon to one Bobby Brown, her lack of remaining redeeming qualities becomes even more glaring.
3. Super Bowl XIII: Pittsburgh Steelers 35 Dallas Cowboys 31
Quality: 8, Drama: 8, Interest: 5, Uniforms: 5, Significance: 5, Total: 31
Just as with #4 on our list, this is a Super Bowl remembered more for a gaffe than a great play. Hall of Fame Tight End Jackie Smith dropped a would-be game tying touchdown in the third quarter. The image of him flipping on his head is one of the most famous in NFL history. As a receiver from Duluth East High in 2003 who was immortalized by a picture in the local paper dropping a pass, I can’t even imagine living with that forever. Think Bill Buckner Lite.
The Cowboys settled for a field goal instead to make it 21-17 Steelers, and never quite made up all of the ground in the game. The victory also went a long way towards cementing the Steelers as the “Team of the 70s” over the Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins. The other historical fact of note is that the Cowboys are still the only team to score over 30 points in a Super Bowl and lose. Plus, what an awesome looking Super Bowl! Two of the sweetest unis in the NFL. I actually don’t care that much about stuff like that, but what the Hell, it breaks ties.
2. Super Bowl XLIII: Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Arizona Cardinals 23
Quality: 9, Drama: 10, Interest: 4.5, Uniforms: 4.5, Significance: 3.5, Total: 31.5
I wrestled with the top two on this list for a long time. Ulitmately, I decided SB43 was tremendous, but just fell short. Kurt Warner's last game, and third Super Bowl, left him falling just short in the ultimate game. On the other side of the field, Ben Roethlisberger won his second ring. His life has been extremely quiet and boring ever since.
The two signature plays were Larry Fitzgerald splitting the Steelers' D and flying in for a late TD, then the incredible catch by Santonio Holmes which ultimately won the game. One moment which sours this game Hail Mary pass wasn't reviewed for some reason, even it looked like an attempted pass. All the same, an awesome game.
The other remarkable thing about this game was that Brenda Warner looked kinda hot. I would have bet a billion dollars I never would have typed those words back in 1999. I don't know how it happened, but good for Kurt. He's earned it.
1. Super Bowl XLII: New York Giants 17 New England Patriots 14
Quality: 8, Drama: 10, Interest: 5, Uniforms: 4, Significance: 5, Total: 32
We've made it, all the way to what I consider to be the greatest Super Bowl ever played. There are two reasons I put this game above SB43. First, the Giants broke up what would have been the most dominant season in football history. The Partiots were minutes away from 19-0, and let it slip through (Asante Samuel's) their fingers. The other reason is no matter how great the Holmes catch was, nothing else comes close to the insane Eli Manning to David Tyree helmet catch. How in the sweet Christ did a nobody like Tyree make a catch like that? I still can't believe that play happened. I really dislike the Giants and wasn't thrilled withh the way that game turned out, but objectively, I have to call it the best ever played.