With Super Bowl 51 (or LI, if you prefer the Roman numeral system) just around the corner, it is a perfect time to reflect on the impressive run of championship games that made up Super Bowls 1-50. It’s crazy to think that the biggest of football fans have been able to watch every single one of these games on TV. Kudos to anyone out there who has accomplished such a feat. Let’s get a little nostalgic about the best of the best, shall we? Here are the top seven Super Bowls that fans have enjoyed over the past 50 years.
7. Super Bowl 25 – New York Giants vs. Buffalo Bills
It was the game that offered popularity to a football related exclamation, “Wide right!” For those who didn’t watch the game, or remember much about it—except for Scott Norwood’s missed FG—the entire game was a back and forth battle. In fairness to Norwood, it was a 47 yard attempt and the ball had some of the craziest tailing movement ever seen, but he somehow kicked a slice. Overall, great defense gave way to key plays and sustained drives, and that kept the scoring relatively low. It was a shock to many fans, who expected the Buffalo Bills to win walking away. For those wrestling with their long-term memory, Jeff Hostetler was the QB for New York, and Otis Anderson was named MVP after running for 102 yards on 21 carries, with a TD. The Giants won 20-19.
6. Super Bowl 23 – San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Care to guess who led the Cincinnati Bengals in receiving in Super Bowl XXIII? None other than Chris Collinsworth. Unfortunately, his 40 yards of receiving didn’t come close to the total amassed by the Hall of Famer, and arguably greatest wide receiver to play the game, Jerry Rice. Jerry went for a cool 215 yards on 11 catches with a TD, and scored Super Bowl 23 MVP honors. One might read such a stat line to think this game was a blowout, but Cincinnati controlled the game late in the second half, and San Francisco needed an 11 play, 92 yard TD drive—led by Joe Montana, of course—in order to seal the deal. Cincinnati had just over 30 seconds to mount its own impressive game-winning drive, but the 49ers defense was fit to task. Final score: San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16.
5. Super Bowl 43 – Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals
Super Bowl XLIII was an exciting game for casual fans. It was full of big plays, changes in momentum and it ultimately came down to a spectacular catch by Santonio Holmes late in the game, giving Pittsburgh the victory. The story lines: Kurt Warner had all but been left for dead by the NFL after he was bumped from his starting role in New York (Eli Manning), and then found new life with Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. For Ben Roethlisberger, he was looking for the tag of Elite NFL QB, and the win would also offer him a second ring. Pittsburgh built a 20-7 lead early in the third quarter, but Warner and Cards came charging back, putting up 16 unanswered points in the fourth, before the Holmes catch with 30 seconds left. Pittsburgh won, 27-23.
4. Super Bowl 34 – St. Louis Rams vs. Tennessee Titans
This was one of those rare games that was played squeaky clean by both offenses and special teams. There were no turnovers. It has only happened one other time in Super Bowl history: the aforementioned Super Bowl XXV. The proof is in the puddin’. No turnovers = tight game. And here’s a little trivia for those who like impressive stats. Kurt Warner broke the record for most passing yards in a Super Bowl with 414. He also tossed one TD and was named the game’s MVP. This game was exceptionally close to going into overtime. So close, in fact, that it was referenced in the Robert Zemeckis film Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt. Tennessee was stretching for the goal line as time expired. St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16.
3. Super Bowl 32 – Denver Broncos vs. Green Bay Packers
There is little doubt that Denver fans are reminding themselves of this Broncos victory in the week preceding Super Bowl 50. Denver entered Super Bowl XXXII as an 11.5 point underdog, and up to 13 points at some sportsbooks. And it looked as if the oddsmakers called it correctly after Green Bay’s first drive. Brett Favre was looking to repeat as a Super Bowl champ, and he marched the pack straight down the field and tossed it in for a TD. Nobody expected what would happen next. Denver running back, Terrell Davis, put the team on his shoulders, allowed John Elway to effectively manage the game, and helped to keep the ball away from the potent Green Bay offense. Terrell Davis went for 154 yards on 30 carries with three TDs. He was named Super Bowl 32 MVP, and rightfully so, as Denver won 31-24.
2. Super Bowl 42 – New York Giants vs. New England Patriots
This game was easily considered for the top spot, but it lacked in one category: neither team was able to score 20 points. Nah, there’s nothing wrong with a great defensive battle, especially when one of the teams is playing for its place in NFL history. Few fans, pundits or oddsmakers gave the Giants (+11) a chance in this game. After all, New England had run the table in the regular season and were looking to finish at an impressive, and record breaking, 19-0. What the Patriots found was a Giants team that was peaking at the right time, and giving opposing quarterbacks fits vs. an incredible pass rush. Still, Super Bowl XLII will always be remembered for one play. The “miraculous” catch by David Tyree in the fourth quarter. The Giants upset the Pats 17-14.
1. Super Bowl 49 – New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks
It was just one year ago, and it’s still one that gives cause for pause. The first thing that comes to mind when recalling this game is “what was Pete Carroll thinking?” It’s understandable that a coach is looking to zig when an opponent is expecting a zag, but common sense should never be discounted when a Super Bowl championship is on the line. This is, of course, addressing Pete’s desire to throw the ball at the goal line, as opposed to feed Marshawn Lynch. The play resulted in an interception, and sealed the victory for the New England Patriots instead of the Seahawks. Outside of that face-palming, mouth-covering moment, the game was incredible—as if it was scripted. Changes in momentum, the tilting of scales, the twist at the end…it was everything you’d hope for in an elite sporting contest. Patriots 28, Seahawks 24.