No. 20: Super Bowl 1976 (X) ‒ Highly watchable
Steelers 21, Cowboys 17 ‒ This game lived up to its billing. Roger Staubach had the ball with under two-minutes to go in the Cowboys' last chance to win. Staubach fell short against the better team. The Steelers and Cowboys played a better game in SB XIII. This game, however, was the most competitive Super Bowl up to that time. I don't remember much more about it.
No. 19: Super Bowl 2002 (XXXVI) ‒ Tom who? Watchable
Patriots 20, Rams 17 ‒ For as much as fans love a winner and bask in swagger, we love upsets too. The Rams had the stars and the offense that made fantasy ballers drool. That Belichick guy must have been crazy to think he could win with a bunch of no names. Heck, his quarterback, Tom Brady, wasn't even the full time starter. With decisions like that, it's no wonder the Browns fired him.
The Greatest Show on Turf was everything we thought they would be and less. The Rams dominated time of possession. They ate yards in chunks. And their turnovers gave the game away to the Patriots for the win nobody saw coming. Even then, it took a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal to break the tie and avoid overtime.
No. 18: Super Bowl 1991 (XXV) ‒ The God Bless America At War Bowl
Giants 20, Bills 19 ‒ Desert Storm was under way and America was awash in patriotism in the quest to push the nefarious Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and preserve the price of oil. Whitney Houston belted the greatest rendition of The National Anthem in the history of the National Anthem.
Bill Parcells' Giants offense controlled the ball for 40 minutes to keep it out of Jim Kelly's hands. This tight, low-scoring affair was surprisingly entertaining. Scott Norwood's missed field goal attempt cost the Bills their best shot at winning a Super Bowl. Norwood disappeared from the NFL a season later.
No. 17: Super Bowl 2012 (XLVI) ‒ Strangely watchable
Giants 21, Patriots 17 ‒
The "Fire Coughlin" movement was in full roar just a few months earlier. Based on my twitter timeline, fans suspended their belief that the 9-7 Giants would pull it off until far into the fourth quarter. The 13-3 Patriots were the best team in the NFL. They did struggle with physical defenses (Steelers, Giants) during the regular season, but a strong finish wiped out memory of that.
The story of this whole game is told in the last drives of each team. Down to their last time out and with under a minute to go, the Pats "gave" the Giants the go-ahead touchdown by allowing Ahmad Bradshaw's unhindered run to the goal line. That would only make sense for the Patriots and only because Tom Brady was their quarterback. Tom Terrific did drive to the Patriots' 49 yard line. He threw a Hail Mary prayer to Aaron Hernandez that was knocked away. If Hernandez caught that pass and was named game MVP, the NFL would now be sunk in deep p.r. doo-doo of OJ proportion.
No. 16: Super Bowl 2013 (XLVII) ‒ Watchable
Ravens 34, 49ers 31 ‒ If the NFL staged this game in Atlanta, they could have sung "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia." Instead, they went out after halftime at the Superdome in New Orleans. The Ravens were running away with the game by halftime. Jacoby Jones' third quarter kick-off return put Baltimore ahead 28-6. A 30-minute power failure darkened the stadium and cooled the Ravens. The 'Niners 25-6 scoring run turned a snoozer into a thriller.
John and Jim Harbaugh are the first brothers to coach against each other in a Super Bowl. Perhaps the NFL will stage a Manning on Manning game some day. This game will be remembered as Ray Lewis' last. Stuff like that counts big in Hall of Fame balloting.
No. 15: Super Bowl 1980 (XIV) ‒ Curiously watchable
Steelers 31, (LA) Rams 19 ‒ The Rams were a classic 1970s team ‒ elite defense with run-first offense ‒ that nobody wants to see in a Super Bowl ever again. They reached the game by upsetting the Cowboys 9-0 in the NFC Championship. Dallas clearly looked past them toward another shot at Pittsburgh. (I blame Tony Romo. Everyone does.) Fans enjoyed slap downs of America's Team, even then. We preferred to see the Steelers crush the Cowboys, instead of the Rams, in a continuation of SB XIII. Oh well.
The Rams scored one touchdown and four field goals. The Steelers scored one field goal and four touchdowns in the come from behind win. Pittsburgh's dominance of the 1970s erased memory of the mediocrity of their first 40 years of existence.
No. 14: Super Bowl 2005 (XXXIX) ‒ When we loved Terrell Owens
Patriots 24, Eagles 21 ‒ Terrell Owens was the most admired man in sports by the end of this game. He played the Super Bowl against doctor's orders (and fan accusations of selfishness) with a metal plate in his injured ankle. He played that game very well (9 catches, 122 yards, 0 scores, uh-oh) and put the Eagles in position to win as he had done all season long. In his entire career, Donovan McNabb never had a finer target than Owens, nor Owens a better passer than McNabb. We saluted T.O. for his courage and loyalty. What he would do a few months later shredded all fan goodwill. Deservedly so.
Tom Brady didn't have a super star receiver to throw to, but he had the "Patriot Way" and the mind of Bill Belichick who kept Owens scoreless (uh-oh). Andy Reid had a mind, too. His pass-first offense outgained the Patriots by 105 yards and McNabb managed three TD passes. McNabb also managed three interceptions including the dagger that closed their last chance to win. The Patriots held the ball longer than the Eagles for a close win. All of the Patriots' Super Bowl wins were by three points. Tell me again why we don't speak more of Vinatieri?
This game met the entertainment standard of stars, passing offense, a dramatic close and a compelling back-story.
No. 13: Super Bowl 1992 (XXVI) ‒ Talk about your cold-weather Super Bowl
Redskins 37, Bills 24 ‒ The wind chill factor was 80-below for this cold weather Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Fortunately, the game was inside the (then) Humphrey Metrodome where it was a toasty 72⁰. Speaking of toast, the Redskins toasted and roasted the Bills in a game not nearly as close as the score indicated. The 'Skins were up 24-0 before the Bills' first score, a Scott Norwood field goal. The game was over by half-time, but we watched anyway. It was the Super Bowl.
The Bills were the Ferraris of football, but in the 15-years between 1981 to 1996, the AFC could not stand up to NFC muscle cars. This was Joe Gibbs' final Super Bowl trip. The '91 Hogs were the best of the four teams he led there.
No. 12: Super Bowl 1982 (XVI) ‒ Highly anticipated and did not disappoint
49ers 26, Bengals 21 ‒ The NFC flipped the Super Bowl script on the AFC in the 1980s and dominated Super Bowls for the next 15 years with winners being the 49ers or whoever won the NFC Beast. There was that one-night fling with the '85 Bears. We forget now how lowly were the 'Niners before Bill Walsh built them into something special. The Cincinnati Bengals were an offensive juggernaut that still bore Walsh's thumb print from his days as OC. The Kenny Anderson to Chris Collinsworth passing duo was fearsome. This game was as close to pick 'em as you could get.
San Francisco vanquished Dallas in a legendary conference title game to make the Super Bowl. They jumped out to a 20-0 half time lead over the Bengals. Cincinnati was smokin' in their second-half comeback. The 'Niners kept the lead despite the Bengals out-gaining them in yards. Collinsworth had nearly as many receiving yards (107) as Montana had passing yards (157). Fans hungered for future Montana-Anderson passing duels. We would see Montana again, a lot. Anderson? Not.
No. 11: Super Bowl 1969 (III) ‒ Highly watchable
Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7 ‒ This game was watchable until the very end only because everybody expected the Colts to be … the Colts. Baltimore, 13-1, was the prohibitive favorite to slap the upstart AFL Jets and their fast living quarterback Joe Namath back into their place. The Jets jumped all over Earl Morrell and the Colts. The "here we go" moment came with Johnny Unitas' late game appearance for what seemed a set up for a Hollywood finish. Unitas did lead Baltimore on a late but meaningless scoring drive. Jets coach Weeb Ewbank got his revenge on the team that fired him. He coached Baltimore to the famous 1958 NFL championship.
I rate this game high for historic value. It was the first sign of parity between the leagues when parity was essential for the game to become "super." Better days were coming for Unitas and for Don Shula (in Miami), but not for the NFL/NFC who lost eight of the next 10 Super Bowls.
Tomorrow: The 10 Best Super Bowls