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Sports Then and Now

Ranking the Super Bowls: The 15 Greatest Games in Super Bowl History

Posted on January 31, 2010 by A.J. Foss
Super Bowl XLII

This improbable catch by David Tyree in the final minutes of Super Bowl XLII led to victory for the underdog Giants in one of the greatest upsets in football history.

This is Part 3 of the ranking of Super Bowls I-XLIII from 43rd to 1st.

This installment is the top 15 Super Bowls of all time and most of all them are truly classic games that are revered in the history of the National Football League.

Which is the Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time?

  • Super Bowl XLII (30%, 27 Votes)
  • Super Bowl XLIII (20%, 18 Votes)
  • Super Bowl XXXIV (13%, 12 Votes)
  • Super Bowl XIII (11%, 10 Votes)
  • Super Bowl XXV (11%, 10 Votes)
  • Super Bowl XXXII (9%, 8 Votes)
  • Super Bowl XXXVI (6%, 5 Votes)

Total Voters: 90

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So, here is 15-1:
15. Super Bowl XXXIX Patriots-24 Eagles-21
This game was close throughout as the Patriots won their third Super Bowl in four years, all by the margin of three points, though this time they did not need a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri.

Two performances turned in by wide receivers stand out from this game; Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch who tied a Super Bowl by making 11 receptions for 133 yards to be named MVP and Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens who caught 9 passes for 122 yards, six weeks after breaking his leg.

14. Super Bowl XVII Redskins-27 Dolphins-17

One of the Super Bowl’s most famous plays occurred with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Miami Dolphins clinging to a 17-13 lead.

With a fourth-and-one at the Miami 43, the Redskins called for “70 Chip”, a short yardage run for running back John Riggins.

Riggins took the handoff from quarterback Joe Theismann and ran to the left side, then broke the tackle of Dolphins cornerback Don McNeal at the line of scrimmage, and ran the rest of the way untouched for a 43-yard touchdown run that gave the Redskins a 20-17 lead, their first lead of the game.

Washington added a touchdown in the final two minutes to clinch their first Super Bowl title.

Riggins was named the game’s MVP as he ran a record 38 times for 166 yards and one touchdown.

13. Super Bowl XXXI Packers-35 Patriots-21
This Super Bowl featured many big plays by the Packers and the Patriots.

The Packers scored on their third offensive play of the game when quarterback Brett Favre threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison, which was followed in the second quarter by an 81-yard touchdown pass from Favre to Antonio Freeman.

The Patriots had big passing plays as well in the first half as Drew Bledsoe hit Keith Byars for a 32-yard screen pass to set up New England’s first touchdown, then threw a 44-yard bomb to Terry Glenn to set up the Patriots’ second touchdown.

The Packers had a 27-14 at halftime but the lead was cut to 27-21 late in the third quarter when Patriots running back Curtis Martin scored on an 18-yard touchdown run.

But on the ensuing kickoff, Packers kick returner Desmond Howard scored on a 99-yard kickoff return and following a two-point conversion, the Packers lead 35-21.

While there was no more scoring in the game, there were more big plays as Packers defensive end Reggie White set a Super Bowl record by sacking Bledsoe three times, including sacks on back-to-back plays, to secure the Packers’ first Super Bowl title in 29 years.

A late 74-yard touchdown from Terry Bradshaw to John Stallworth helped lift the Steelers over the Rams.

A late 74-yard touchdown from Terry Bradshaw to John Stallworth helped lift the Steelers over the Rams.

12. Super Bowl XIV Steelers-31 Rams-19
Despite being 11 ½ point favorites, the Pittsburgh Steelers had to hold off a scrappy Los Angeles Rams team to win their fourth Super Bowl in six years.

Trailing 19-17 early in the fourth quarter, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a 7e-yard touchdown pass to John Stallworth that produced the sixth lead change of the game, a Super Bowl record.

Following an interception by linebacker Jack Lambert, Bradshaw and Stallworth connected again, this time for 45 yards, that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Franco Harris that put the game out of reach.

11. Super Bowl X Steelers-21 Cowboys-17
Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann caught four passes for 161 yards, three of them that have been replayed over and over again on television, as Pittsburgh defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the first truly “classic” Super Bowl.

Swann caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Terry Bradshaw with less than four minutes left in the game that extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 21-10, the last of 14 straight points in the fourth quarter for the Steelers which started with a safety off a blocked punt.

The Cowboys scored a touchdown to trim the lead to 21-17, then drove to the Steelers’ 38-yard line in the final seconds of the game only to have Steelers defensive back Glen Edwards intercept Roger Staubach’s Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game to preserve the Steelers’ second straight Super Bowl championship.

10. Super Bowl III Jets-16 Colts-7
This was the game that put the Super Bowl on the map as one of the great sporting events in the world.

That was because of the huge upset in this game by the AFL’s New York Jets over the NFL’s Baltimore Colts as guaranteed by Jets quarterback Joe Namath three days before the game was played.

The game itself was not that interesting as the Jets forced five turnovers and won rather easily by the deceiving score of 16-7.

While it is not the greatest Super Bowl ever, it is the most significant one played.

After a run of Super Bowl blowouts, fans got exactly what they wanted in Super Bowl XXIII: the games best quarterback leading his team down the field for the game-winning drive.

After a run of Super Bowl blowouts, fans got exactly what they wanted in Super Bowl XXIII: the games best quarterback leading his team down the field for the game-winning drive.

9. Super Bowl XXIII 49ers-20 Bengals-16
Joe Montana and the 49ers made history in this Super Bowl as San Francisco became the first team to drive down the field for the game-winning touchdown in the final minutes of the game.

Trailing 16-13 with 3:10 remaining in regulation, the 49ers drove 92 yards in 11 plays, culminating with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Montana to John Taylor that San Francisco ahead 20-16 with 34 seconds left.

For almost three quarters, this was one of the most boring Super Bowls of all time as both teams were kept out of the end zone and the score tied 6-6.

But things heated up in the final minute of the third quarter when Bengals returner Stanford Jennings returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown that gave Cincinnati its first lead of the game at 13-6.

After the touchdown, it took only 91 seconds for the 49ers to tie the game as Montana found Jerry Rice for a 14-yard touchdown that tied the game at 13-13.

Rice finished the game with 11 catches for 215 yards, both Super Bowl records, and was named MVP of the game.

8. Super Bowl XXXVIII Patriots-32 Panthers-29

Most of this Super Bowl was a defensive struggle, with the exception of the last two minutes of the first half when the Patriots outscored the Panthers 14-10.

But both offenses exploded in the fourth quarter and combined for 37 points, the most combined points in a fourth quarter in a Super Bowl.

After the Patriots scored on a 2-yard touchdown run by Antowain Smith on the second play of the fourth quarter to extend New England’s lead to 21-10, the Panthers scored two touchdowns to take a 22-21 lead, with the go-ahead touchdown being an 85-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Delhomme to Mushin Muhammad on the longest pass play in Super Bowl history.

Both teams scored touchdowns on their next possessions and the game was tied at 29-29 with 1:08 left in regulation and the Panthers preparing to kick off the Patriots.

However, disaster struck for Carolina when Panthers kicker John Kasay kicked it out of bounds, giving the Patriots the ball at their own 40-yard-line and all three timeouts remaining.

The errant kickoff sapped some of the drama out of the finish as Tom Brady and the Patriots only had to travel 36 yards to set up a game-winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri, which was good from 41 yards out with four seconds to go.

It was the second time in three years that Vinatieri had won a Super Bowl for New England with a game-winning field goal.

7. Super Bowl XXXII Broncos-31 Packers-24

After suffering three humiliating Super Bowl defeats, Broncos quarterback John Elway finally got his Super Bowl ring.

Elway provided the game’s classic moment as he ran for a first down late in the third quarter.

The Broncos were facing a 3rd-and-6 at the Packers’ 12-yard-line when Elway scrambled and then dove to get the first down.

As he was hit, Elway was spun 90 degrees in the air and landed at the 4-yard-line.

The play is now known as either “The Dive” or “The Helicopter” as set up the second of Terrell Davis’ three touchdown runs and gave Denver a 24-17 lead.

Davis scored his last touchdown run with 1:47 left in the fourth quarter when Packers head coach Mike Holmgren told his defense to let the Broncos score so the Packers could get the ball back with more time on the clock.

However, the strategy did not work as Broncos linebacker John Mobley broke up a 4th down pass at the Denver 31-yard-line, giving the two touchdown underdog Denver Broncos and their legendary quarterback their first Super Bowl title.

6. Super Bowl XIII Steelers-35 Cowboys-31
This Super Bowl had just about everything.

It had great offensive touchdowns (a 28-yard touchdown catch by John Stallworth for the Steelers and a 39-yard touchdown reception by Cowboys wide receiver Tony Hill), defensive touchdowns (a 37-yard fumble return by Cowboys linebacker Mike Hegman),long touchdowns (a 75-yard catch and run by Stallworth), weird touchdowns (a 22-yard touchdown run by Franco Harris who went untouched because Cowboys safety Charlie Waters collided with a referee) and dropped touchdowns (a wide-open Jackie Smith dropping a pass in the end zone in the third quarter that would have tied the game for Dallas).

The game also featured controversial plays (Cowboys defensive back Benny Barnes being called for pass interference after he collided with Lynn Swann, which lead to Harris’ touchdown run), fumbled kickoffs (Randy White fumbling a squib kick that was recovered by the Steelers, setting up a 18-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw to Swann), and a furious comeback (the Cowboys scoring two touchdowns in the final seven minutes of the game, but falling just short).

The Steelers became the first team to win three Super Bowls.

Little did we know when Scott Norwood's kick went wide right in Super Bowl XXV that it would be the first of four straight disappointing Super Bowl losses for the Bills.

Little did we know when Scott Norwood's kick went wide right in Super Bowl XXV that it would be the first of four straight disappointing Super Bowl losses for the Bills.

5. Super Bowl XXV Giants-20 Bills-19
Played against the backdrop of Operation Desert Storm, the Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants played a Super Bowl for the ages.

The Giants, using a power running game, kept the Bills’ no-huddle off the field by controlling the ball for 40 minutes and 33 seconds, a record for time of possession in a Super Bowl.

The Giants had a 14-play, 87-yard drive that took up 3:14 at the end of the first half that culminated with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Hostetler to Stephen Baker.

This was followed by a 14-play, 75-yard drive that took 9:29 off the clock and ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Ottis Anderson to give New York a 17-12 lead in the third quarter.

Then after Thurman Thomas scored on a 31-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Giants drove for 74 yards on 14 plays for 7:34, to set up a 21-yard field goal by Matt Bahr to give New York a 20-19 lead.

The Bills had one last chance to win when they drove from their own 61 yards to the Giants’ 29-yard-line to set up a potential game-winning field goal by Scott Norwood with eight seconds to go.

But Norwood’s 47-yard attempt sailed wide right and the Giants came away with their second Super Bowl title in five years.

4. Super Bowl XLIII Steelers-27 Cardinals-23
This game featured not one, but two plays for the ages in a dramatic Super Bowl finish.

The first play occurred at the end of the first half as the Steelers held a 10-7 lead with 18 seconds left before halftime, but the Cardinals on the doorstep of taking the lead as they had the ball at the Steelers’ 1-yard line.

That is where Steelers linebacker James Harrison stepped up and intercepted a Kurt Warner pass in the end zone and ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown as time expired in the half to extend Pittsburgh’s lead to 17-7, thanks to the longest scoring play in Super Bowl history.

The second play occurred on the Steelers’ game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes of the game.

After Larry Fitzgerald scored on a 63-yard touchdown reception to give the Cardinals a 23-20 lead with 2:37 left in regulation, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers drove from their own 22-yard-line to the Cardinals’ six-yard-line where they faced 2nd-and-goal.

On the second down play, Roethlisberger threw a pass to the left corner of the end zone where Santonio Holmes stretched his hands and kept his toes in bounds to make the touchdown catch to give Pittsburgh a 27-23 lead with 35 seconds left.

After linebacker LaMarr Woodley forced a fumble from Warner which was recovered by the Steelers at midfield, Pittsburgh had its record sixth Super Bowl title.

Kevin Dyson's stretch on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV ended one yard short of the end zone.

Kevin Dyson's stretch on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV ended one yard short of the end zone.

3. Super Bowl XXXIV Rams-23 Titans-16
This was the first Super Bowl to be decided on the final play of the game as Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson at the one-yard-line as time expired.

For most of the game, it did not appear that the game would come to the final minutes as the Rams outgained the Titans 294-89 in the first half only to come away with three field goals and a 9-0 halftime lead.

But after quarterback Kurt Warner hit Torry Holt for a 9-yard touchdown to give St. Louis a 16-0 in the middle of the third quarter, the Titans appeared to be done.

However, the Titans would go on to score 16 straight points and tied the game when Al Del Greco kicked a 43-yard field goal with 2:16 left in regulation.

When the Rams got the ball back, Warner found Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown to give the Rams a 23-16 lead with 1:54 left.

The Titans got the ball back at their own 12-yard-line with 1:48 left and drove 78 yards to the Rams’ ten-yard line with six seconds to go, setting up Jones’ dramatic tackle of Dyson on the final play.

2. Super Bowl XXXVI Patriots-20 Rams-17

After stunning the millions of television viewers and fans at the Superdome by being introduced as a team, the New England Patriots shocked the two-touchdown favorite St. Louis Rams.

The Patriots held the “Greatest Show on Turf” to three points through the first three quarters as New England built a 17-3 lead, getting all of their points off Ram turnovers.

However, the Rams came back in the fourth quarter as they scored two touchdowns to tie the game at 17-17 with 1:30 left in regulation, following a 26-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner to Ricky Proehl.

Adam Vinatieri's game winning field goal in Super Bowl XXXVI followed a last minute drive led by first-year starter Tom Brady.

Adam Vinatieri's game winning field goal in Super Bowl XXXVI followed a last minute drive led by first-year starter Tom Brady.

With the ball at their 17-yard-line and no timeouts remaining, Fox analyst John Madden suggested that the Patriots take a knee and play for overtime.

Instead, New England went for the win and drove 52 yards in 8 plays, to set up a potential game-winning field goal with seven seconds left.

Adam Vinatieri came on and drilled a 48-yard field goal down the middle of the uprights as time expired to give New England a shocking 20-17 victory and the first of their three Super Bowl titles in four years.

1.  Super Bowl XLII Giants-17 Patriots-14

With a stunning upset, fantastic finish, and arguably the greatest play in Super Bowl history, Super Bowl XLII is the best Super Bowl of all time.

The Patriots entered the game 18-0 and set numerous offensive records during the season as the team scored 589 points in the regular season as quarterback Tom Brady threw a record 50 touchdown passes, 22 of them to Randy Moss, another record.

But the Patriots were held to just one touchdown through the first three quarters of the game as the Giant defense sacked Brady four times up to that point and only trailed 7-3.

It appeared New York needed only one touchdown to win the game and they got that touchdown when quarterback Eli Manning found David Tyree for a 5-yard touchdown to give the Giants a 10-7 lead with 11:10 left in the fourth quarter.

However, the Giant defense began to wear down, as Brady completed 8 of 11 passes for 71 yards on a drive that culminated with a 6-yard touchdown to Moss to put New England back in front 14-10 with 2:42 to play.

The Giants got the ball at their own 17 and drove 27 yards, where they faced a 3rd-and-5 with 1:15 left, setting up what many feel is the most incredible play in Super Bowl history.

Manning took the snap and escaped the grasp of Patriots defensive lineman Jarvis Green, then scrambled to his right and launched a pass that was caught by Tyree, who jumped out to catch the pass and pinned the ball to his helmet with Patriots safety Rodney Harrison draped on him, for a 32-yard-gain and a first down.

Four plays later, Manning found Plaxico Burress for a 13-yard touchdown that put the Giants back ahead 17-14 with 35 seconds to go.

The Giant defense sealed the Patriots’ fate by sacking Brady for the fifth time of the game and then defended two deep pass attempts to Moss, securing the win and denying the Patriots an undefeated 19-0 Super Bowl championship season.

The drama of this game, especially in the fourth quarter, makes Super Bowl XLII the greatest Super Bowl of all time.

Check out the remainder of the Rankings:

Part I: Ranking Super Bowls 43-31

Part II: Ranking Super Bowls 30-16

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