These days, the game fits the name.
T’wasn’t always thus. Lopsided and low-scoring defined the 1970s, especially those Minnesota appearances when the Vikings cracked like exposed skin during an International Falls winter. Lopsided and high-scoring (for one team) defined the 1980s and some of the 1990s. The Super Bowl found balance as it reached its mid-30s and has enjoyed its peak ever since, a blowout bump or two aside.
From two upsets from an upstart league to two eras of an establishment powerhouse; from Unitas down to Manning up (and out); from Csonka at the goal line to they did WHAT? on the goal line; from the greatest comeback from a night-before-the-game party to the greatest comeback on Super Sunday.
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This traces that transformation and, hopefully, brings a little fun with it.
SUPER BOWL I
GREEN BAY 35, KANSAS CITY 10
▪ Jan. 15, 1967
▪ Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
▪ MVP: Green Bay QB Bart Starr
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Green Bay WR Max McGee. Seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, including the first and still perhaps the coolest touchdown in Super Bowl history. All while hung over.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 27th
Even the Big Daddy of U.S. sports had an infancy. The official name was “The AFL-NFL World Championship Game.” The crowd of 61,946 fell so far short of a sellout that fans were moved toward the middle to create a full look for TV viewers. Both CBS and NBC broadcast the game.
The head coaches’ pregame demeanors contrasted as sharply as their leagues. Some Chiefs trainers wore mouse ears that Chiefs coach Hank Stram bought at Disneyland to poke fun at criticism of the American Football League as a “Mickey Mouse league.” Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt had founded the AFL and negotiated the peace with the NFL that resulted in this game.
Meanwhile, Green Bay’s Vince Lombardi smiled nervously, knowing his NFL peers felt the Packers must win this first interleague game decisively.
It didn’t calm Lombardi when starting wide receiver Boyd Dowler got injured on the fourth play. In came hung over Max McGee, once a starter, now a little used backup, still a first-string partier. Yet, it was the 34-year-old McGee who made a one-handed, in-stride catch of a ball thrown behind him for the first Super Bowl touchdown, a 37-yard reception. The Packers took a 7-0 lead, and led 14-10 at halftime.
Early in the second half, Henry Jordan hit Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson’s arm, causing an interception that Willie Wood returned to the Chiefs 5. The first of Elijah Pitts’ two 1-yard touchdowns followed. Those scores sandwiched McGee’s 13-yard touchdown, part of his seven catches for 138 yards.
Afterwards, the media pressed Lombardi for a comparison until he finally said the Chiefs weren’t as good as Dallas and several other NFL teams.
“That’s what you wanted me to say, wasn’t it?” Lombardi snapped. “Now, I’ve said it. But, I don’t like to get into that kind of comparison.”
SUPER BOWL II
GREEN BAY 33, OAKLAND 14
▪ January 14, 1968
▪ Orange Bowl, Miami
▪ MVP: Green Bay QB Bart Starr. 13 of 22 for 202 yards and one touchdown.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Packers CB Herb Adderley. Shut down Oakland’s beloved bombs and returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 42nd
Unlike Super Bowl I’s exciting anticipation of the unknown, the second clash of league champions felt more like an outgoing coronation for Packers coach Vince Lombardi.
The Packers once again were huge favorites, though clearly fading. They beat Dallas for the NFL title by slowly skating downfield in The Ice Bowl’s dying minutes. In the AFL, Oakland compiled 67 sacks, a 13-1 record and blasted Houston 40-7 for the AFL title.
Though Lombardi never flatly stated it to his players, some late week speeches to the team left little doubt that this would be his last game as Packers coach.The Packers suppressed tears during the week, then the Raiders on Sunday.
Don Chandler booted four field goals overall, including the first two scores of the game. Oakland cornerback Kent McCloughan couldn’t get a good bump on 6-5 Boyd Dowler, McCloughan’s safety help froze on Bart Starr’s play action fake, and Starr hit Dowler with a 62-yard touchdown pass to Dowler. That put Green Bay up 13-0 on their way to a 16-7 halftime lead. Oakland had scored on the first of two 23-yard Darryl Lamonica-to-Bill Miller touchdown passes.
The second half highlight was Herb Adderley setting a Super Bowl record that the game’s other Hall of Fame cornerback, Willie Brown, would break nine years later (See Super Bowl XI). Adderley’s 60-yard interception return put the Packers up 33-7 and clinched Lombardi’s favorite retirement present.
SUPER BOWL III
NEW YORK JETS 16, BALTIMORE COLTS 7
▪ January 12, 1969
▪ Orange Bowl, Miami
▪ MVP: Jets QB Joe Namath
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Namath, but more because of how his cerebral management of the game than how he played it.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 19th, solely on importance. As a game, sloppy first half, drowsy second half.
By now, the game was officially “The Super Bowl.” The name had been used informally the first two years after AFL founder Lamar Hunt saw his daughter playing with a bouncy toy that she called her “Super Ball.”
Jets coach Weeb Ewbank won two NFL titles with Baltimore before being replaced by current Colts coach Don Shula. Jets safety Johnny Sample had started on the last Colts championship team.
Both story lines quickly drowned in the force of nature that was Jets quarterback Joe Namath.
Namath cooled a confrontation with Colts kicker Lou Michaels at a local restaurant by springing for dinner. He missed the Jets picture day, then met writers while sunning himself at the hotel pool. He said Colts quarterback Earl Morrall, the NFL MVP after taking over for injured Johnny Unitas, wouldn’t start for several AFL teams and would be the No. 3 quarterback on the Jets.
Then, while accepting an award from the Miami Touchdown Club, Namath said “we’re going to win Sunday – I guarantee it.”
Baltimore had gone 13-1; allowed only 144 points, a record low for a 14-game season; avenged their only 1968 loss by spanking Cleveland 34-0 in Cleveland in the NFL championship game.
Yet, the 18-point favorites blew early scoring chances. Morrall threw three first half interceptions, one on a flea flicker when he didn’t see primary receiver Jimmy Orr wide open near the end zone.
Meanwhile, the Jets took a 7-0 lead, then slowly pulled away in the second half. Unitas came in with the score 16-0 early in the fourth.
Namath, who called half his plays at the line, a rarity in those days, read the Colts’ basic zone easily. But his MVP award could’ve gone to Matt Snell who ran for 121 yards and the Jets touchdown; George Sauer Jr., eight receptions for 133 yards; or Randy Beverly, who had two of the Jets four interceptions.
Because the result legitimized the game – NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle considered changing the format -- and ignited fascination with it, it’s considered the most important Super Bowl.
SUPER BOWL IV
KANSAS CITY 23, MINNESOTA 7
▪ Jan. 11, 1970
▪ Tulane Stadium, New Orleans
▪ MVP: Kansas City QB Len Dawson. 12 of 17 passing for 142 yards and one touchdown.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Kansas City DTs Curley Culp or Buck Buchannan, whose dominance of the middle ruined the Vikings offense.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 35th
Maybe the difference was inspiration.
The Chiefs were proud AFL men humiliated by Super Bowl I. They wanted redemption in this last game before the AFL-NFL merger and to prove the Jets’ Super Bowl III upset wasn’t a fluke. Their owner, AFL founder Lamar Hunt, still hated Minnesota, which was to be an original AFL franchise but jilted Hunt at the last moment for the NFL.
Or, maybe the difference was the Chiefs simply were better than the Vikings: faster, more athletic, bigger (especially on defense), more physical.
Few anticipated that. The 13-point favorite Vikings had led the NFL in scoring while setting a record for fewest points allowed.
Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson’s name came up in a federal gambling probe, but would be cleared by Super Sunday. NFL Films talked Chiefs coach Hank Stram into wearing a microphone, turning his chatter – “keep matriculating the ball down the field” “65 Toss Power Trap” -- into catchphrases for generations of fans.
Using quick, hitch passes to beat Minnesota’s pass rush, Dawson drove to three Jan Stenerud field goals, including a 48-yarder on which the first soccer-style kicker in a Super Bowl set a Super Bowl length record that would stand for 24 years. After the Vikes fumbled a kickoff, Mike Garrett scored on 65 Toss Power Trap for a 16-0 halftime lead. The Chiefs ran wide receiver Frank Pitts on three end arounds for 37 yards. Otis Taylor turned a third quarter hitch into 46-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Taylor crossed the goal line with a high-kicking stride, a subtle bit of showboating that told everyone the obvious: game over.
On defense, the Chiefs overwhelmed center Mick Tinglehoff with nose guard prototype Curley Culp or 6-7 Buck Buchannan. Kansas City held the Vikings to 67 rushing yards, intercepted tough Minnesota quarterback Joe Kapp three times, then knocked him out of the game.
SUPER BOWL V
BALTIMORE COLTS 16, DALLAS 13
▪ Jan. 17, 1971
▪ Orange Bowl, Miami
▪ MVP: Dallas LB Chuck Howley, two interceptions.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Nobody.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 23rd, purely on late drama. And comedy.
Both the Super Bowl and Baltimore returned to the Orange Bowl. All three had changed.
The Orange Bowl now had Poly-Turf, one of the dreadfully cushion-less early versions of artificial turf, instead of natural grass. The next year, Tulane Stadium would join the Orange Bowl as the only two stadiums to host Super Bowls on natural grass and artificial turf.
Instead of AFL vs. NFL, the game matched AFC and NFC champions under the NFL shield. Baltimore was one of three NFL teams that joined the 10 AFL teams in the American Football Conference. Even NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle admitted losing the interleague rivalry sucked juice from the game. The Colts had a rookie head coach, Don McCafferty, after the Dolphins pilfered Don Shula.
Just as well. The perfectionist Shula might’ve chewed through a row of Orange Bowl seats at this game. One play epitomized a game with 11 turnovers and 14 penalties: on a Colts flea flicker, the wrong player (running back Sam Havrilak) wound up throwing the pass, which an unintended receiver (Eddie Hinton) caught and eventually fumbled at the Dallas 10-yard line. For 20 yards, nobody recovered it until it wobbled out the back of the end zone.
Hinton had been the target on Baltimore’s 75-yard touchdown pass that tied the game 6-6. But Johnny Unitas overthrew Hinton, who tipped the ball to Dallas’ Mel Renfro, who tipped the ball to tight end John Mackey. Naturally, a missed block got the extra point swatted. Dallas knocked Unitas from the game soon after. Earl Morrall, arguably the greatest backup quarterback ever, replaced Unitas.
Dallas quarterback Craig Morton gave the Cowboys a 13-6 lead with a 7-yard pass to big, smooth runner Duane Thomas.
The Colts committed more turnovers than any Super Bowl winner, seven. Dallas committed the more poorly timed turnovers. After Baltimore’s Jim Duncan fumbled the second half kickoff, Thomas fumbled inside the Colts 5-yard line, so close to a two-touchdown lead. Every member of the Dallas organization still alive points out center Dave Manders came up with the ball, but officials ruled Baltimore had recovered.
In the fourth quarter, the Colts got two Morton interceptions after running backs Dan Reeves and Walt Garrison dropped high passes. The first interception set up Tom Nowatzke’s 2-yard touchdown run that tied the game, 13-13. The second set up Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard field goal with five seconds left.
MVP voting is done late in the game, not after the game. That’s how Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley (two interceptions) became the only Super MVP from a losing team. But the universe maintains its balance – Howley would’ve been a deserving MVP the following year.
SUPER BOWL VI
DALLAS 24, DOLPHINS 3
▪ Jan. 16, 1972
▪ Tulane Stadium, New Orleans
▪ MVP: QB Roger Staubach, Cowboys, 12 of 18, 119 yards, two touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Duane Thomas, the game’s leading rusher (95 yards, 5.0 per carry) and Dallas’ leading receiver (three catches).
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 49th
The term “Next Year’s Champions” dogged Dallas. People sneered the title of that book on the 1968 Cowboys yearly as the talented Cowboys failed in the playoffs. A slick, computerized organization of superior athletes coached by innovative Tom Landry, their 1971 team combined the NFL’s No. 1 offense and the fabled Doomsday Defense.
The Dolphins, in their second year under Don Shula, had a nice package, too: a young defense and a ball control offense spiced with deep threat Paul Warfield. President Richard Nixon called Shula after the AFC title win to offer congratulations and a suggestion that he thought the Dolphins could hit Warfield on a down-and-in against Dallas.
Dallas crushed that and everything else. The Dolphins remain the only Super Bowl team kept out of the end zone. The Dolphins lost two fumbles after losing none previously in the playoffs. With an assist from Larry Cole, Dallas’ Bob Lily hounded Bob Griese into a 29-yard sack. When Dallas’ second half-opening touchdown drive put it up 17-3, the Dolphins were done.
Before Super Bowl V, Duane Thomas deflated the idea that the Super Bowl was the ultimate game with, “They’re playing it next year, aren’t they?” Indeed, they did and Thomas was back, but not talking to anybody – the media, coaches, teammates. He spoke by gliding for 95 of Dallas 252 rushing yards. His silence probably cost him the MVP award. Voters went for Staubach after a pedestrian day, instead of going for someone from the defense that held the Dolphins to three points and 185 yards. Someone like linebacker Chuck Howley, whose fumble recovery and interception led to 10 points.
In two years under Don Shula, the Dolphins had grown from 3-10-1 to 10-4 to 10-3-1. That didn’t alleviate the pain of this defeat. The Dolphins remembered.
SUPER BOWL VII
DOLPHINS 14, WASHINGTON 7
▪ Jan. 14, 1973
▪ Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
▪ MVP: Dolphins safety Jake Scott, two interceptions.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Dolphins DT Manny Fernandez, 17 tackles, one sack. NFL Films’ highlight film called Fernandez the No Name Defense member who “stepped from obscurity by fulfilling the lineman’s dream by dominating the most important game of his life.”
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 33rd
The Dolphins just wanted another Super shot. They didn’t care if they got it by winning each game, although they did that. They didn’t care if they led the NFL in offense and defense, although they did that, too.
Don Shula longed to shed his “big game choker” reputation. In Baltimore, his heavily-favored Colts teams lost the 1964 NFL Championship Game and Super Bowl III. They were 11-0-2 in 1967 before losing a loser-stays-home regular season finale at Los Angeles. Then, with the Dolphins, there was Super Bowl VI.
Los Angeles’ coach in that 1967 Colts loss, George Allen, had resurrected Washington. Allen so obsessed about possible “distractions,” some of his players felt he became one. Also, after brutalizing hated rival Dallas 26-3 for the NFC title, Washington fought ecstasy comedown for the Super Bowl.
The Dolphins dominated. They smothered NFC rushing leader Larry Brown (72 yards on 22 carries) and plowed for 184 yards themselves. Larry Csonka rumbled for 112 on 15 carries, but the touchdowns came on Bob Griese’s 28-yard pass to Howard Twilley and Jim Kiick’s 1-yard plunge.
With just over two minutes left, the Dolphins lined up a field goal that would’ve given them a 17-0 win to close a 17-0 season. But, when the kick was blocked, kicker Garo Yepremian handled the ball like it was covered in ice. Washington’s Mike Bass came by, grabbed the ball and ran 49 yards for Washington’s touchdown.
The game fell short of 17-0. The Dolphins didn’t.
SUPER BOWL VIII
DOLPHINS 24, MINNESOTA 7
▪ Jan.13, 1974
▪ Rice Stadium, Houston
▪ MVP: Dolphins RB Larry Csonka, 145 yards rushing, one touchdown, total physical and psychological devastation of the Vikings.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Csonka.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 50th
Sparrows fluttered around Minnesota’s locker room shower Super Bowl week, one of the many complaints the Vikings had about their facilities at a local high school. Dolphins safety Jake Scott, a single man, complained that owner Joe Robbie took care of transportation and lodging for the married players’ wives but wouldn’t do the same for his mother.
By the third quarter, America might’ve complained that the Dolphins clearly had become too good for the rest of the NFL.
Longtime pro football writer Paul Zimmerman wrote in 1988, this was the one Super Bowl whose final score he had to look up, it was so lopsided and dull. The Dolphins took the kickoff and drove 62 yards to a touchdown. Minnesota, three plays, punt. The Dolphins marched 56 yards to a touchdown: 14-0, don’t forget your hat as you go.
Larry Csonka’s 145 yards rushing led a ground game so dominant, quarterback Bob Griese threw only seven passes. He completed six. The incompletion was one of his two mistakes on the day – he forgot the snap count before the Csonka touchdown that put the Dolphins up 24-0 in the third.
Being more dominant in the playoffs -- they scored on the first drive of each playoff game -- is just one reason several Dolphins feel the 15-2 1973 team was better than the 1972 Perfect Season team.
SUPER BOWL IX
PITTSBURGH 16, MINNESOTA 6
▪ Jan. 12, 1975
▪ Tulane Stadium, New Orleans
▪ MVP: Pittsburgh RB Franco Harris, 158 yards rushing and one touchdown.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Pittsburgh DT Joe Greene, one fumble, one interception, one Vikings running game trashed.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 41st
Again, the NFC produced Minnesota. In the AFC, the Steelers took the powerhouse baton, after 39 seasons without so much as a division title before 1972.
In 1974, the Steelers finished building their dynasty with the greatest draft ever – future Hall of Famers center Mike Webster, linebacker Jack Lambert, wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Rookie free agent safety Donnie Shell would have a 14-year career.
This was supposed to be the first indoor Super Bowl. The Superdome, however, wasn’t ready. Neither were the Vikings (again).
The Vikes got their only points on a fourth quarter blocked punt. The Steelers, their lead down to 9-6, drove 66 yards to a 4-yard touchdown pass to Larry Brown to put away the game.
Pittsburgh’s right defensive end, Dwight White, played after being hospitalized all week with pneumonia. During the game, the Steelers lost Lambert and right linebacker Andy Russell to injuries. Still, the Vikings repeatedly attacked the All-Pro trio on the other side: left defensive tackle Joe Greene, left defensive end L.C. Greenwood and left linebacker Jack Ham.
Stubborn? Stupid? Both. The Vikes managed only 17 yards rushing and 119 yards total offense. A fumbled handoff turned into a Pittsburgh safety. Greene grabbed a fumble and an interception. Greenwood humiliated Hall of Fame offensive tackle Ron Yary and blocked three passes when he wasn’t devouring the rush. After NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle said late in the 1975 NFL Draft, “Minnesota passes,” a fan shouted, “and L.C. Greenwood knocks it down.”
Once again, the Purple People Eaters got ground into Minnesota Manwich. Franco Harris kept on truckin’ for a Super Bowl record 158 rushing yards and the game’s first touchdown after Minnesota fumbled away the second half kickoff. Minnesota also fumbled inside the opponent 10, a failing feat they managed in three of their Super Bowl losses.
SUPER BOWL X
PITTSBURGH 21, DALLAS 17
▪ Jan. 18, 1976
▪ Orange Bowl, Miami
▪ MVP: Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh, four catches, 161 yards, one touchdown.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Swann.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 13th
Were this Super Bowl held in today’s concussion-wary environment, Pittsburgh wide receiver Lynn Swann might not be allowed to play.
Swann suffered a concussion when Oakland’s George Atkinson slammed his head off the rock hard Three Rivers Stadium turf during the AFC Championship Game. Dallas safety Cliff Harris, a concussive hitter, mused that Swann had to be thinking about the possibility of another head injury if he played.
Swann declared he’d go. For Dallas, he would be Excedrin headache No. 88 in the first Super Bowl game that matched the Super hype.
Dallas went up 7-0 early. But Swann made a leaping 32-yard sideline grab on which he seemed to change direction in midair, and Terry Bradshaw followed with a touchdown pass to Randy Grossman.
The most famous Swann grab, the double-catch 53-yarder over cornerback Mark Washington in the second quarter, led to only a missed field goal.
In the third quarter, Harris taunted Steelers kicker Roy Gerela after a missed field goal, prompting Jack Lambert to whip Harris to the turf.
Dallas led 10-7 in the fourth quarter when Pittsburgh’s Reggie Harrison blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety. What followed for Pittsburgh: a field goal after Dallas’ free kick, 12-10; a Mike Wagner interception that set up another field goal, 15-10; Bradshaw launching a 64-yard touchdown bomb to Swann just before Larry Cole blasted him into his own concussion, 21-10.
Dallas closed to 21-17 when former basketball player Percy Howard made his only career NFL reception, a 34-yard touchdown. The Cowboys attempt at reprising the “Hail Mary” that beat Minnesota in the divisional round tipped into the hands of Pittsburgh’s Glen Edwards as time expired.
SUPER BOWL XI
OAKLAND 32, MINNESOTA 14
▪ Jan. 9, 1977
▪ Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
▪ MVP: Oakland WR Fred Biletnikoff, four catches for 79 yards.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Oakland RB Clarence Davis, 137 yards rushing.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 41st.
Good, but not great or lucky enough described Oakland. Since making Super Bowl II, the Raiders suffered six AFL/AFC title game losses to the eventual Super Bowl champion and a 1972 divisional round loss to Pittsburgh on The Immaculate Reception.
In 1976, though, the waters parted for 13-1 Oakland. In the divisional round, the Raiders escaped New England, which plastered them in the regular season, on a last minute touchdown following some controversial officiating. Then, Pittsburgh came into the AFC title game with both 1,000-yard rushers, Franco Harris and Rocky Blier, out with injuries.
Oakland got one more break – Minnesota again from the NFC.
The same Vikings defense muscled aside by the Dolphins and Steelers had only aged. Raiders massive future Hall of Famer Art Shell shut out Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall. Oakland’s Clarence Davis ran for 137 yards – Minnesota allowed the three highest individual single-game rushing totals in the first 16 Super Bowls.
Working play action off the run, Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler found MVP Fred Biletnikoff four times for 79 yards. The Raiders got up 19-0 and cruised home. Willie Brown broke Herb Adderley’s record (see Super Bowl II) with a 75-yard interception return touchdown. Coincidentally, the score before Brown’s and Adderley’s touchdowns in each game was 26-7.
SUPER BOWL XII
DALLAS 27, DENVER 10
▪ Jan. 15, 1978
▪ Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
▪ MVP: Dallas DT Randy White, DE Harvey Martin
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Voters tried to go for the Dallas defense en masse, but were rejected.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 48th
Nobody outside the Metroplex mentions the 1977 Dallas Cowboys in Greatest Team Ever conversations. They’re overshadowed by the late 1970s Pittsburgh teams, against whom the Cowboys went 0-4, including a 28-13 regular season loss in 1977.
But few teams have been more dominant. With rookie running back Tony Dorsett adding his breakaway speed to NFC passing leader Roger Staubach, 12-2 Dallas had the NFL’s No. 1 offense to go with the No. 1 defense, “Doomsday II.”
The Orange Crush defense and former Dallas quarterback Craig Morton ignited Broncomania among Denver’s long-suffering fans. The never-nimble Morton came into the game with a hip problem. Dallas’ Cliff Harris, recalling Morton’s playoff struggles with Dallas, predicted his former teammate wouldn’t finish the game.
He didn’t. Morton threw four interceptions, half of Denver’s eight turnovers, before being yanked for mobile Norris Weese, who led Denver’s only touchdown drive. Both spent the day wearing Dallas’ defensive line.
Dallas’ play also had enough flaws for the bargain bin. The Cowboys fumbled six times, but lost only two. Butch Johnson dived, caught, rolled, then dropped a 45-yard bomb that officials somehow ruled a touchdown. The day’s best pass for either team might’ve been Robert Newhouse’s halfback option rainbow that ended at Golden Richards for a 29-yard touchdown.
NFL Films cameramen somehow were unprepared for the lack of light at the first indoor Super Bowl, so the official highlight film is the darkest in NFL Films history. Considering the game, some might feel it still had too much light.
SUPER BOWL XIII
PITTSBURGH 35, DALLAS 31
▪ Jan. 21, 1979
▪ Orange Bowl, Miami
▪ MVP: Pittsburgh QB Terry Bradshaw, 318 yards passing, four touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Bradshaw
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 14th
This was the last Super Bowl in the Orange bowl, which had returned to natural grass.
Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw had called almost all the Steelers plays through nine seasons and two Super Bowl titles. But Bradshaw’s Louisiana accent and “country” ways got him tagged as “dumb” early in his career.
So, when loquacious Dallas linebacker Thomas Henderson joked Super Bowl week that Bradshaw “couldn’t spell “cat” if you spotted him the “c” and the “a,”” Henderson got laughs. Then, he and the rest of the Dallas defense got shredded by Bradshaw’s 318 yards passing and four touchdowns in a 35-31 Pittsburgh win.
Bradshaw had help. After Dallas’ Mike Hegman stripped Bradshaw for a fumble return touchdown and Dallas’ only lead of the day, 14-7, John Stallworth turned a 10-yard hitch pass into a 75-yard touchdown. Ground bound Rocky Blier used all his limited vertical leap to grab a 7-yard touchdown pass and a 21-14 halftime lead at the end of a two-minute drill. And maybe only Lynn Swann could fly to catch the 18-yard touchdown that put Pittsburgh up 35-17 in the fourth.
Swann also drew a pivotal pass interference penalty when he and Benny Barnes got their feet tangled on a deep pattern with the Steelers up 21-17 in the fourth quarter. The fuss surrounding that call inspired the “incidental contact” no-call you see today. That 33-yard penalty led to Franco Harris rumbling for a 22-yard touchdown.
Cowboys tight end Jackie Smith got the goat horns for dropping a third quarter touchdown pass. That drew attention from two key Dallas coaching mistakes. Though Dallas’ Tony Dorsett began the game running hot and eventually averaged 6.0 yards a carry, he got only 16 carries. Also, Dallas kept defensive tackle Randy White in the middle of the kickoff return team despite his broken thumb. White fumbled an accidentally squibbed kickoff after Harris’ touchdown, Pittsburgh recovered and Swann’s touchdown followed one play later.
And, that big dummy Bradshaw has spent the last 25 years making money by playing off his country boy persona in commercials and on Fox’s NFL coverage.
SUPER BOWL XIV
PITTSBURGH 31, LOS ANGELES RAMS 19
▪ Jan. 20, 1980
▪ Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
▪ MVP: Pittsburgh QB Terry Bradshaw, 14 of 21 for 309 yards, three touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Bradshaw, despite three interceptions.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 11th
The Los Angeles Rams finished 1979 at 9-7. Their quarterback, Vince Ferragamo, was a backup with only 7 starts. Halfback Wendell Tyler sometimes forgot the ball as he boogied about. One of their best defenders, defensive end Jack Youngblood, would be playing on a broken leg for the second consecutive game. Yet, after years of failing as NFC favorites, now the Rams were in the Super Bowl against mighty Pittsburgh.
That’s the Steel Curtain more than supported by the NFL’s No. 1-ranked offense. At least the Rams were somewhat at home, Pasadena’s Rose Bowl being in the Los Angeles metropolitan area with the Rams new home in Anaheim. Of course, Steelers fans overran the Rose Bowl and pregame ceremonies featured the unfurling of a giant Terrible Towel.
For three quarters, Ferragamo and Tyler played steady games devoid of turnovers throughout the most back-and-forth Super Bowl ever: 3-0, Pittsburgh; 7-3, Rams; 10-7, Pittsburgh; 10-10, then 13-10, Rams at halftime; 17-13, Pittsburgh on a 47-yard bomb to Lynn Swann; 19-17, Rams on a halfback option pass to Billy Waddy after Waddy beat Ron Johnson for a 50-yard bomb.
The Steelers were in trouble entering the fourth. Terry Bradshaw had thrown three interceptions and threw Swann into a concussion-causing hit. The physical Rams defense had snuffed the Pittsburgh running game.
So, of course, Bradshaw reached back and hit his remaining future Hall of Fame receiver, John Stallworth, for a 73-yard touchdown on 60 Prevent Slot Hook and Go. The play hadn’t worked all week in practice. And Jack Lambert picked off Ferragamo with the Rams moving toward another lead change. Reprising 60 Prevent, Bradshaw and Stallworth connected for 45 yards to set up Franco Harris’ clinching touchdown.
The final score masked that, start-to-finish, this was the best played Super Bowl of the first 20 and one of the most underrated Super Bowls.
SUPER BOWL XV
OAKLAND 27, PHILADELPHIA 10
▪ Jan. 25, 1981
▪ Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
▪ MVP: Oakland QB Jim Plunkett, 261 yards passing, three touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Oakland LB Rod Martin, three interceptions.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 32nd
Oakland quarterback Jim Plunkett proved that sometimes, it’s the company you keep that determines your success.
Battered behind bad offensive lines in New England and San Francisco, Plunkett spent his first 33 games in Oakland as a little used backup. Inserted after an injury to starter Dan Pastorini in the fifth game of 1980, Plunkett showed he still had the arm that made him 1971’s No. 1 overall draft pick out of nearby Stanford. The Raiders went from 2-3 to 11-5 and an AFC wild card playoff slot.
Plunkett fit as a Raider by reclamation not party reputation. Oakland had enough of those players already: linebacker Ted Hendricks, defensive end John Matuszak and several others spotted out in New Orleans during the wee hours. Meanwhile, Philadelphia coach Dick Vermeil promised to send home any Eagle who violated curfew.
Plunkett threw two touchdown passes to fast, cagey Cliff Branch. He looped a sideline throw just beyond leaping Eagles safety Herman Edwards that running back Kenny King turned into a Super Bowl-record 80-yard touchdown. A linebacker the Raiders drafted, waived, then got back after San Francisco cut him, Rod Martin, picked off Philadelphia quarterback Ron Jaworski three times. The Raiders line, which allowed eight sacks in a 10-7 regular season loss to Philly, allowed only one when Plunkett scrambled out of bounds for no gain.
The pregame festivities paid tribute to the end of the Iran hostage crisis, resolved five days earlier. A yellow bow 80 feet by 30 feet was attached to the outside of the Superdome.
SUPER BOWL XVI
SAN FRANCISCO 26, CINCINNATI 21
▪ Jan. 24, 1982
▪ Pontiac Silverdome, Pontiac, Mich.
▪ MVP: San Francisco QB Joe Montana, 157 yards and one touchdown passing, 18 yards and one touchdown rushing.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Montana
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 25th
Though this game matched the AFC and NFC No. 1 seeds, this could be called The Cinderella Super Bowl.
Host city Detroit, forever in recovery from the 1967 riots, still looked like it needed a fairy godmother. Each team rose as a power in 1981 after going 6-10 in 1980, an improvement on 1979 and 1978 (two 4-12s for the Bengals, two 2-14s for the 49ers).
Really, though, this was The Bill Walsh Super Bowl. The Bengals still ran most of the offense Walsh designed in the early 1970s as a Cincinnati assistant. Only when Walsh began winning in San Francisco with a 2.0 version of that offense would people start calling it “The West Coast Offense.”
Walsh opened the week by greeting his team at the hotel in a bellhop uniform and helped carry their bags off the bus. On Super Sunday, the 49ers team bus got caught in traffic on the way to the game. Walsh used the time to add a few more plays to what became known as “The Script,” the game’s first 25-30 plays.
The 49ers version of the West Coast offense, directed by Joe Montana, flummoxed the Cincinnati defense early as did Ray Wersching’s intentionally squibbed kickoffs. The Bengals fumbled one of those, helping the 49ers to a 20-0 halftime lead.
What’s still the highest rated Super Bowl ever – 49.1 rating, 73 share – found drama. The Bengals Dan Ross would finish setting a Super Bowl record with 11 catches. At 20-7, the Bengals reached the 1-yard line, first and goal. A goal line stand, highlighted by Dan Bunz tackling fullback Charles Alexander on the 1, kept Cincy out of the end zone until the next drive.
With that time and two more field goals, the 49ers confirmed the arrival of a new NFL powerhouse.
SUPER BOWL XVII
WASHINGTON 27, DOLPHINS 17
▪ Jan. 30, 1983
▪ Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
▪ MVP: RB John Riggins, Washington, 166 yards rushing, two touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Riggins.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 16th
This second Super Bowl rematch really wasn’t so. Unlike the Pittsburgh-Dallas games with similar casts, Dolphins guard Bob Kuechenberg was the only Super Bowl VII remnant on either roster.
Instead of No Names, the Dolphins league-leading defense got its nickname from names, The Killer Bs – Betters, Baumhower, Bokamper, Blackwoods, etc. Washington brought John Riggins running behind a hefty offensive line called The Hogs and quarterback Joe Theismann throwing to a receiver pack called The Smurfs. The offense celebrated touchdowns with a leaping group high five called The Fun Bunch.
Dolphins quarterback David Woodley wasn’t known for his arm nor wide receiver Jimmy Cefalo his speed. But they hooked up for a 76-yard first quarter touchdown. After an exchange of field goals and a Theismann touchdown pass, the Dolphins’ Fulton Walker raced 98 yards on the first Super Bowl kickoff return touchdown.
That put the Dolphins up 17-10 at halftime. Their 17-13 third quarter lead nearly got bigger when Dolphin defensive end Kim Bokamper chased down a blocked pass with only the end zone in front of him. Theismann hustled over to knock the ball away.
Then, to end a season that featured only nine regular season games because of a players’ strike, Washington threw the game back to a time when NFL teams played only nine scheduled games.
The Redskins pounded Riggins. On fourth and 1 from the Dolphins 43, Riggins rumbled through the left side, shed Dolphins cornerback Don McNeal like an unwanted coat and raced to a 20-17 Washington lead. Riggins finished off his 166-yard rushing day by carrying the load on another drive he finished off for a 27-17 win.
SUPER BOWL XVIII
LOS ANGELES RAIDERS 38, WASHINGTON 9
▪ Jan. 22, 1984
▪ Tampa Stadium
▪ MVP: Raiders running back Marcus Allen, 191 yards, one iconic touchdown
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Raiders cornerbacks Mike Haynes. With Lester Hayes, shut down Washington’s downfield passing attack through coverage and allowed the rest of the Raiders to stuff the run.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 36th
The Redskins returned, seemingly better. They’d scored an NFL-record 541 regular season points and overpowered the Rams 51-7 in the divisional round. But they needed an awful pass interference call to beat San Francisco in the NFC title game and 17 late points to beat Oakland 37-35 in October.
Since then, the Raiders had added future Hall of Famer Mike Haynes to Lester Hayes, giving them arguably the best cornerback pair in NFL history. Running back Marcus Allen also would make the Hall of Fame, but Raiders owner Al Davis still had greater affinity for Jim Plunkett-to-Cliff Branch bombs.
A blocked punt and a 12-yard touchdown pass to Branch got the Raiders up 14-0. With seconds left in the first half and the Raiders up 14-3, Raiders defensive coordinator Charlie Sumner remembered a screen pass Washington ran in a similar situation back in October. He rushed linebacker Jack Squirek out specifically to watch for that screen. Squirek did, picked off a poorly thrown pass and his momentum carried him the 5 yards to the end zone.
Allen’s 74-yard change of direction touchdown run came during garbage time, but his 191 rushing yards got him the MVP award.
This game was the first of the nuclear blowouts that came to define the Super Bowl for a decade. The commercial for Apple’s new Mac set off the era of big production Super Bowl commercials.
It also ended two eras. The Raiders produced the AFL/AFC’s 12th win in the last 16 Supers, but this would be the last one for 14 years. And, the official highlight film would be the last narration for NFL Films defining voice, Philadelphia anchorman John Facenda, who died in 1984.
SUPER BOWL XIX
SAN FRANCISCO 38, DOLPHINS 16
▪ Jan. 20, 1985
▪ Stanford Stadium, Stanford, Calif.
▪ MVP: QB Joe Montana, San Francisco, 331 yards and three touchdowns passing, 59 yards and one touchdown rushing.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Montana.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 39th
A cursory comparison predicted an epic Super Bowl shootout that could go either way.
The 14-2 Dolphins brought the NFL’s No. 1 offense ignited by NFL passing leader Dan Marino setting records for yards (5,084) and touchdowns (48) that would stand for two decades. The 15-1 San Francisco 49ers had the NFC’s leading passer, Joe Montana, guiding the NFC’s No. 1 offense.
But a serious breakdown revealed a Dolphins team that couldn’t run vs. the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense. That defense had furious pass rushers in Fred Dean and Gary Johnson supporting safety Ronnie Lott and one of the great secondaries ever. On the other side, Montana would be taking the NFL’s well-balanced No. 2 scoring offense against a banged up defense that allowed 28 points against pedestrian Pittsburgh in the AFC title game.
New conclusion: San Francisco would score as often as it had to for the win.
That’s pretty much what happened. Scoring on five consecutive possessions, the 49ers turned a 10-7 deficit into a 38-16 third quarter lead. In this game, San Francisco and its quarterback had the stunning numbers: 390 yards total offense for Montana, three touchdowns for backup running back Roger Craig, 537 total offensive yards.
The 49ers sacked Marino, taken down only 14 times in 18 games, four times and picked him off twice. San Francisco shut out the Dolphins in the second half. That seemed as unbelievable as the idea that Marino would be shut out of future Super Bowl appearances.
SUPER BOWL XX
CHICAGO 46, NEW ENGLAND 10
▪ Jan. 26, 1986
▪ Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
▪ MVP: Chicago DE Richard Dent, one and a half sacks, two forced fumbles, one blocked pass.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Any Chicago defensive lineman or linebacker.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 21st, on awesome peak excellence from one of the most fun teams ever.
“We are The Bears Shufflin’ Crew/Shufflin’ on down, doing it for you/ We’re so bad, we know we’re good/Blowing your mind, like we knew we would/You know we’re just, struttin’ for fun/Struttin’ our stuff for everyone/We’re not here to start no trouble/We’re just here to do The Super Bowl Shuffle.”
No team stampeded across pop culture while rampaging across the NFL the way the 1985 Chicago Bears did. Books, commercials, movie references, they defined “ubiquitous.”
Back when MTV played videos and rap scared adults the way rock and roll once did, the Bears recorded a charity video, “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” the day after they suffered their only loss, to the Dolphins.
In an increasingly faceless NFL, the Bears collected characters: tough, swaggering helicopter-mooning quarterback Jim McMahon; temperamental head coach Mike Ditka; noble, brilliant running back Walter Payton; fat rookie defensive tackle/short yardage fullback William “The Refrigerator” Perry; crusty, cocky defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan; fierce middle linebacker Mike Singletary; and the rest of a defense whose ultra-aggressive “46” blitz alignment smothered the run and caused some opposing quarterbacks to fear for their health.
They shut out the Giants and Rams in the NFC playoffs to face New England, the first team to reach the Super Bowl by winning three consecutive road playoff games. They lost their shutout -- a Payton fumble turned into a 3-0 Patriots lead – then wrought record destruction.
The deluge of Chicago points came by offense, defense, defensive players on offense (Perry), special teams, everyone except, sadly, Payton. By halftime, the Patriots trailed 23-3 and had minus 19 yards of offense. They would finish with 7 yards rushing and only 123 total yards. Quarterback Tony Eason became the only starting quarterback in Super Bowl history who didn’t complete a pass (zero for six).
Near game’s end, several Bears defenders begged management to do anything to keep Ryan, who was leaving to be Philadelphia’s head coach. The Bears then set a record for most coaches carried off when they ferried both Ditka and Ryan off the field.
SUPER BOWL XXI
NEW YORK GIANTS 39, DENVER 20
▪ Jan. 25, 1987
▪ Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
▪ MVP: Giants QB Phil Simms. 22 of 25 passing (88 percent!), 268 yards, three touchdowns
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Simms.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 35th
With the “46” defensive scheme leaving Chicago with Buddy Ryan, most preseason publications picked the Giants in the NFC and Denver out of the AFC.
Good call, although Denver needed The Drive, a 98-yard touchdown march, to take Cleveland into overtime in the AFC Championship Game. The Giants, who beat Denver 19-16 during the regular season, improved their already excellent defense. In the playoffs, they blasted San Francisco 49-3 and held Washington without a third down conversion during a 17-0 win in the Meadowlands gusts.
Denver’s John Elway and the Giants’ Phil Simms staged a scintillating duel in the first half, surprisingly so considering the Giants ran a ground-bound offense. Up 10-7 in the second, Denver had first and goal at the New York 1. Three running plays and a missed chip shot field goal later, the score remained 10-7. The Giants scored the game’s next 26 points, plowing over the Broncos smallish defense when Simms took a break from scorching it with 22-of-25 passing for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
Simms postgame “I’m going to DisneyWorld!” exclamation launched an iconic advertising campaign.
SUPER BOWL XXII
WASHINGTON 42, DENVER 10
▪ Jan. 31, 1988
▪ Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego
▪ MVP: Washington QB Doug Williams. 340 yards passing and four touchdown.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Williams.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 22nd, on that mind-blowing, laser-shooting unicorn of a second quarter. The rest of the game would be 51st.
Of all the questions Doug Williams patiently answered that Super Bowl week about being the first black starting Super Bowl quarterback, the most famous one actually never was asked.
Testimony from several media folks at that media day assert that Williams never was asked, “How long have you been a black quarterback?” but rather that Williams misunderstood a question and in trying to clarify said, “How long have I been a black quarterback?”
Ironic: The last NFL team to dress a black player would be the first to reach the Super Bowl with a black starting quarterback.
Appropriate: In a season of games populated with replacement players during a four-week players’ strike, no team stayed together as a group like Washington. No regular players returned to play in the three replacement games. And Replacement Washington went 3-0 to help Real Washington get home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Denver returned, again after beating Cleveland, this time after The Fumble. When the Broncos struck for a 56-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Nattiel on their first play, then followed with a field goal for a 10-0 lead, another Super Bowl rout seemed in the offing. Especially after Williams twisted his knee just dropping back to pass.
A rout was in the offing, all right. But not of the team down 10-0. In the second quarter, Washington didn’t just ignite – they laid a mushroom cloud: an 80-yard bomb to Ricky Sanders; a 27-yard throw to Gary Clark; a 58-yard run by rookie Timmy Smith; another bomb, 50 yards, to Sanders; and an 8-yard toss to Clint Didier. In only 18 plays, Washington rolled up 357 yards and 35 points.
The rest of the game defined “superfluous.” Williams threw for 340 yards, Smith ran for 204 on 22 carries and Sanders had 193 yards on nine catches, all yardage records. Williams, whose 12-year pro football career would end just over a year later, inspired a generation of African-American quarterbacks with his performance.
SUPER BOWL XXIII
SAN FRANCISCO 20, CINCINNATI 16
▪ Jan. 22, 1989
▪ Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami
▪ MVP: Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco, 11 catches, 215 yards, one touchdown.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Rice.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 15th
NBC telecast this Super Bowl, which resembled a two-part episode of NBC’s Miami Vice.
From their hotel, the Bengals could see Overtown burning from yet another race riot, this one sparked by a police officer shooting a black motorcyclist. The night before the game, the Bengals found fullback Stanley Wilson sitting on a hotel room floor, indulging in cocaine.
That was all before the game, during which Cincinnati nose guard Tim Krumrie broke his leg in the first quarter. Ickey Shuffle choreographer and rookie running back Ickey Woods ran wild until a gunshot-sounding hit from San Francisco safety Ronnie Lott made him much more docile. A defensive struggle sat at 6-6 with 50 seconds left in the third after a 49ers field goal.
Suddenly, the game ignited. Stanford Jennings streaked straight downfield on a 93-yard kickoff return touchdown. In answer, the 49ers drove to a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice. Jim Breech’s third field goal of the game put the Bengals up 16-13 and a penalty on the kickoff put the 49ers on their 8 yard line.
After spending the TV timeout doing some celebrity spotting – “Hey, that’s John Candy,” 49ers quarterback Joe Montana said, pointing at the comedian in the stands – Montana treated Uncle Buck and the TV audience to the greatest late game drive in Super Bowl history to that point: 92 yards in 11 plays. Rice had the biggest catch, a 27-yarder on second and 20. John Taylor had the last catch, a 10-yard touchdown.
SUPER BOWL XXIV
SAN FRANCISCO 55, DENVER 10
▪ Jan. 28, 1990
▪ Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
▪ MVP: Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco, 22 of 29, 297 yards, five touchdowns
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Montana.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 51st. Everybody knew what was going to happen and it did.
Denver was to the 1980s what Minnesota was to the 1970s – the team too good for the weaker conference to keep out of the big party but punk fodder for the powerhouses from the stronger conference.
Before Denver loomed the defending champion’s massive arrays of talent on both sides of the ball. The 49ers two-year NFC playoff aggregate score: 133-28.
What followed, surprised no one. Joe Montana rained five touchdown passes on the Broncos while the defensive penetration disrupted Denver’s offense. Jerry Rice caught touchdown passes of 20, 38 and 28 yards. The 49ers didn’t let up after taking a 27-3 halftime lead, scoring 14 points in each of the final two quarters.
SUPER BOWL XXV
NEW YORK GIANTS 20, BUFFALO 19
▪ Jan. 27, 1991
▪ Tampa Stadium
▪ MVP: RB Ottis Anderson, Giants
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Anderson.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: Third
The Gulf War brought extra security and patriotism to the Super Bowl. Whitney Houston surged through a version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” so rousing, pop radio stations later played it as a single.
Coincidentally, each team’s color scheme was red, white and blue. And the game matched Houston’s anthem in the “rousing” category.
Buffalo came in firing the fast-paced “K-Gun” offense with Jim Kelly distributing the ball to wide receiver Andre Reed, James Lofton and all-purpose back Thurman Thomas. In place of injured starter Phil Simms, career backup Jeff Hostetler handled the Giants offense, mostly by handing the ball to Ottis Anderson, an NFL rookie when Thomas was in junior high. The Giants brought a big, physical defense, the NFL’s hardest to score on, in contrast to Buffalo’s athletic, dynamic one. New York’s canny defensive coordinator, Bill Belichick, figured he’d sacrifice pass rush to punish Buffalo’s receivers, limiting yards after catch and inducing a few drops from receivers who didn’t have time for the pain.
Up 12-3 after Bruce Smith sacked Hostetler for a safety, Buffalo’s drive toward the score that would’ve jerked the Giants out of their time-consuming, possession-limiting run game stalled when Reed dropped a third down pass. A Stephen Baker touchdown catch ended the half 12-10, then the Giants opened the second half with a march that took 9:29 and put them up 17-12 on an Anderson touchdown. Twice, linebacker Darryl Talley missed third down tackles that would’ve ended the drive. Counting halftime, Buffalo’s offense hadn’t been on the field for a real possession in over an hour.
Thomas raced 31 yards to shove Buffalo back into the lead, 19-17. Matt Bahr’s field goal gave the Giants the lead again. As time ran down, Buffalo got to the Giants’ 30 for a tough game-winning field goal attempt – 47 yards, off grass. Right-footed Scott Norwood’s kick off the right hash never curled toward the middle, staying wide right.
Afterwards, Talley and Reed consoled Norwood by saying but for their miscues, he wouldn’t have been in that position. The Giants, having left what they had left on the field, left the stage. Coach Bill Parcells retired for the first time. Lawrence Taylor, Anderson and many others reached the gloaming of their careers.
SUPER BOWL XXVI
WASHINGTON 37, BUFFALO 24
▪ Jan. 26, 1992
▪ Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minn.
▪ MVP: Washington QB Mark Rypien, 292 yards passing and two touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Rypien.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 45th
Familiar uniforms showed up in Minnesota. The Bills weren’t as dominant as the previous year, but still too good for the AFC. Washington, off a 14-2 regular season, made its fourth Super Bowl trip in Joe Gibbs 11 seasons. This year’s starting quarterback was Mark Rypien.
Thurman Thomas missed Buffalo’s first two offensive plays while searching the sideline for his helmet. That seemed to set the tone for the Bills offense. When Buffalo’s wide receivers didn’t make Washington pay for blitzing, the Redskins kept doing it and forcing Thomas to be a blocker.
Washington stressed pass protection anyway, even more so with Buffalo’s Bruce Smith as a threat. Kept upright, Rypien completed 18 of 33 for 292 yards and two touchdowns. Washington’s Kurt Gouveia intercepted a pass on the first play of the third quarter to set up another Gerald Riggs’ touchdown and a 24-0 lead.
Several Buffalo players believe this Washington team was the best of the four NFC teams that beat the Bills on Super Bowl Sundays. Several Washington players believe this was the best of Joe Gibbs’ Super Bowl teams.
Like the 1977 Cowboys and 1984 49ers, it’s definitely one of the most underrated, dominant single season teams in NFL history.
SUPER BOWL XXVII
DALLAS 52, BUFFALO 17
▪ Jan. 31, 1993
▪ Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
▪ MVP: Dallas QB Troy Aikman, 22 of 30 passing, 273 yards, four touchdowns
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Aikman.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 43rd
You could see Jimmy Johnson adding pieces each year – Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, a huge offensive line, a fast, nasty defense. Sports Illustrated saw it well enough to declare before the season that Dallas would be the NFL’s Team of the 1990s. And the Cowboys went 13-3 with the NFL’s No. 1 defense and a near-perfect offense.
Buffalo didn’t win the AFC East this time, but escaped the Wild Card round by pulling off the largest comeback in NFL history against Houston. By now, the Bills felt as old and familiar as Michael Jackson, who performed at halftime. Dallas performed in the first half as Jackson’s opening act, then kept overwhelming Buffalo in the second half.
Buffalo actually led 7-0 late in the first quarter. Then came Buffalo’s Super Bowl record nine turnovers: a James Washington interception, leading to an Aikann touchdown pass; a fumble that defensive lineman Jimmie Jones grabbed while falling into the end zone; a Thurman Thomas fumble sandwiched by Aikman touchdown passes to Michael Irvin.
When Buffalo got to within 31-17 in the second half, Dallas reeled off 21 points in 2:33. They would’ve set a Super Bowl record for points but for Buffalo wide receiver Don Beebe running down Dallas defensive lineman Leon Lett as Lett celebrated just before crossing the goal line with a fumble.
There was a new sheriff in town.
SUPER BOWL XXVIII
DALLAS 30, BUFFALO 13
▪ Jan. 30, 1994
▪ Georgia Dome, Atlanta
▪ MVP: Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith, 132 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 30 carries.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Smith
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 28th
At halftime, the first back-to-back Super Bowl rematch definitely wasn’t a rerun.
Buffalo, which had taunted football fans with “We’re back. Deal with it, America,” after winning the AFC title again, led Dallas 13-6. Steve Christie kicked a field goal on the last play of the half and a Super Bowl-record 54-yarder earlier.
But, like their distant Super Bowl-losing cousins, the Vikings, the Bills never could avoid the fatal fumble. Just 55 seconds into the half, Dallas’ James Washington scooped up a Thomas fumble, raced 46 yards to the end zone and deflated Buffalo worse than overseas manufacturing.
The Emmitt Smith Show followed. He carried seven out of eight plays on a 64-yard drive that ended with his 15-yard touchdown. Early in the fourth, a Washington interception set up Dallas at the Buffalo 34. Smith accounted for 25 yards on this touchdown drive, including the final yard: 27-13, 9:50 left.
The Bills haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since.
SUPER BOWL XXIX
SAN FRANCISCO 49, SAN DIEGO 26
▪ Jan. 29, 1995
▪ Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami
▪ MVP: San Francisco QB Steve Young, 325 yards passing and six touchdowns, a game-high 49 yards rushing.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Did you not see “six touchdown passes and led the game in rushing?”
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 44th
San Francisco fans still wanted Joe Montana. No matter Steve Young’s passing titles. No matter that these weren’t the 1980s 49ers defensively. No matter Dallas’ rise blunting the 49ers. Joe had four Super Bowl titles, Steve had none, they wanted Joe.
But in 1994, the 49ers retooled their defense. They brought in cornerback Deion Sanders, who would win NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and raided Dallas for linebacker Ken Norton Jr. Meanwhile, Young won another passing title, this time with a 112.8 passer rating that broke Montana’s 1989 record. They outlasted Dallas in the NFC Championship Game hours after San Diego shocked “Blitzburgh” in the AFC Championship Game.
On the same field that saw Montana’s last NFL game four weeks earlier, Steve Young had possibly the greatest Super Bowl any quarterback, maybe any player, has ever had: 24 of 36 passing, 325 yards, six touchdowns and a game-high 49 yards rushing. The 49ers got up 14-0 after seven plays and won easily. As the game wound down, Young bent over, shouting to teammates, “Somebody take this monkey off my back!”
Sanders would head for Dallas the next season. The 49ers have never won a Super Bowl without a Hall of Fame quarterback or a Hall of Fame defensive back.
SUPER BOWL XXX
DALLAS 27, PITTSBURGH 17
▪ Jan. 28, 1996
▪ Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
▪ MVP: Dallas CB Larry Brown, two second half interceptions.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Brown, in a game without a lot of individual standouts.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 26th
Satisfied the state showed rightthink on the Martin Luther King holiday, the NFL restored the Super Bowl removed earlier in the decade when Arizona voters rejected the holiday.
The matchup, Pittsburgh vs. Dallas, lacked the mythic quality of the franchises’ 1970s showdowns. Dallas regained greatness during its 1990s renaissance, yet clearly already were fading. Still, Pittsburgh, despite a typically rock-ribbed Steelers defense, just seemed an Opponent, as in boxing.
The Cowboys jumped out to a 13-0 lead, yet led only 13-7 in the third with the Steelers nearing field goal range. That’s when Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O’Donnell, via miscommunication with a receiver, hit Larry Brown right in the numbers with an interception that Brown returned to the Steelers’ 18.
The Steelers rebounded from the ensuing Emmit Smith touchdown and trailed only 20-17 with 4:15 left in the game. Yet, O’Donnell, the NFL career leader in fewest interceptions per attempt, put the ball right into Brown’s torso in a shockingly similar play to the earlier interception. This set up the clinching Smith touchdown.
Just months earlier, Brown’s infant son, Kristopher, died 10 weeks after his premature birth.
After the game, Brown said: "I just thank God. He gave me the strength to get through this year. It was tough with the team and the players and the way they supported me through all of the hard times, I've just got to give them credit.”
SUPER BOWL XXXI
GREEN BAY 35, NEW ENGLAND 21
▪ Jan. 26, 1997
▪ Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
▪ MVP: Green Bay KR-PR Desmond Howard, 244 return yards, 99-yard kickoff return touchdown.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Green Bay QB Brett Favre, two timely touchdown bombs, one touchdown run.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 18th
Baby Boomers rejoiced. One of their own had just been re-elected President. The stock market beefed up retirement portfolios. Viagra restored sex drives and Brett Favre, Mike Holmgren and Reggie White had done a Viagra job on the Green Bay Packers.
The franchise Boomers thought of as consistent winners had returned to the Super Bowl for the first time since Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and Vince Lombardi might’ve been the nation’s three most inspirational figures.
Most of the pregame yak about the Patriots concerned not their chances of winning in their first Super Bowl trip since the Bears destruction in the same Superdome, but the chances of Coach Bill Parcells remaining with the team. As it turned out, better for the former than the latter.
Though the Pack hurled lightning when Favre whistled a 54-yard touchdown to Andre Rison on Green Bay’s second play, the Patriots led 14-10 at the quarter pole on two Drew Bledsoe touchdown passes. Just 56 seconds into the second, Favre to Antonio Freeman for 81 yards put The Pack back in front 17-14.
New England closed to 27-21 in the fourth when Desmond Howard won the MVP award with a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown that crushed New England spirits.
Parcells left for the Jets with assistant Bill Belichick. That second Bill would be back.
SUPER BOWL XXXII
DENVER 31, GREEN BAY 24
▪ Jan. 25, 1998
▪ Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
▪ MVP: Denver RB Terrell Davis, 157 yards rushing, 5.2 yards per carry, three touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Davis.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 12th
AFC teams had lost 13 consecutive Super Bowls. The three Denver losses in that run saw the Broncos take drubbings by an average of 30.7 points per game. The Pack was back as defending champions with the first three-time NFL MVP, quarterback Brett Favre.
And when the Packers streamed 76 yards to a touchdown in 4:02 on the game’s first possession, everybody settled in for another Mile High Super Spanking.
Yet Denver answered with its own touchdown drive, running back Terrell Davis getting the first of his three rushing touchdowns. Davis would leave the game with migraines in the second quarter, but Denver took a 17-14 lead into halftime. As Denver’s running game pounded away, several Packers defenders, notably 360-pound Gilbert Brown, got noticeably winded.
On a third and six in the red zone with the game tied at 17 in the third quarter, Elway took a quick drop, then ran and leaped for the first down over two Packers as a third hit him into a helicopter spin. Several Broncos pointed to Elway’s effort, which led to another Davis touchdown and a 24-17 advantage, as the moment they knew they would somehow win.
The teams traded touchdowns, the Packers seemingly letting Davis score from the 1 with 1:45 left to give themselves time to tie. When John Mobley knocked down a fourth down Brett Favre pass, Elway’s career resume was complete.
SUPER BOWL XXXIII
DENVER 34, ATLANTA 19
▪ Jan. 31, 1999
▪ Pro Player Stadium, Miami
▪ MVP: Denver QB John Elway, 336 yards passing, one touchdown pass, one touchdown run.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Elway
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 30th
Now, he could retire in peace.
John Elway made the exit fans wish for their favorites, a 336-yard passing day and Super Bowl MVP award as his team won another championship.
The night before the game, Atlanta safety Eugene Robinson, recipient of an award earlier in the day that honored his character, got arrested for soliciting prostitution after allegedly offering an undercover cop money for sex.
Atlanta trailed 10-3 after Denver dumped Jamal Anderson for a 2-yard loss on fourth down near field goal range and a missed field goal. Elway struck immediately after the miss, firing a beautiful 80-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith (behind Robinson). The Falcons never got closer than 11 after that.
The Broncos Darrien Gordon had two interceptions he returned for a total of 102 yards to set up touchdowns. But this was Elway’s night, the first time a future Hall of Fame quarterback would exit holding the Lombardi Trophy in a Denver uniform.
But not the last.
SUPER BOWL XXXIV
ST. LOUIS RAMS 23, TENNESSEE 16
▪ Jan. 30, 2000
▪ Georgia Dome, Atlanta
▪ MVP: St. Louis QB Kurt Warner, 414 yards passing, two touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Warner
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 10th
The Transplant Bowl. Tennessee, the former Houston Oilers, were in their first year with the new “Titans” nickname and new uniforms. The Music City Miracle got them out of the Wild Card round against Buffalo and they dumped Indianapolis and Jacksonville. The Titans’ tough, physical team identity was epitomized by running back Eddie George and quarterback Steve McNair.
The Rams, last seen nationally before this season in Los Angeles (where they moved from Cleveland in 1946), brought The Greatest Show on Turf. They hired offensive coordinator Mike Martz, traded for running back Marshall Faulk, drafted wide receiver Torry Holt and discovered backup Kurt Warner after Trent Green got injured during preseason. They went from scoring 17.8 points per game to 32.9 with an offense featuring downfield passing that opened spaces for the run game.
This was Ali vs. Frazier, football version. Stylish Ali popped jabs and combinations with ease: the Rams moved inside the Tennessee 20 on their first five drives. All that got were three field goals, a missed field goal and a fumbled field goal snap. The Rams connected with a big punch in the third on a touchdown pass to Holt for a 16-0 lead.
On the verge of being TKO’d, football’s Frazier came alive and the body punching Tennessee offense began wilting the Rams. Two drives over seven minutes in length ended in George touchdowns. A missed two-point conversion meant Al Del Greco’s field goal with 2:12 left only tied the game, 16-16.
On the next play from scrimmage, Warner fired downfield to Fort Lauderdale Dillard man Isaac Bruce and Bruce did the rest for a 73-yard touchdown with 1:54 remaining.
This wasn’t Manila. Frazier could come out for the last round. McNair drove Tennessee downfield to the Rams 10. With no timeouts and six seconds left on the clock, McNair hit Kevin Dyson, in stride, on a slant. Rams linebacker Mike Jones made a textbook tackle of Dyson to keep him a yard short.
“Winner and new world’s champion…”
SUPER BOWL XXXV
BALTIMORE 34, NEW YORK GIANTS 7
▪ Jan. 28, 2001
▪ Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
▪ MVP: Baltimore LB Ray Lewis, five total tackles, four blocked passes
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Anyone off the Ravens defense.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 37th
Defense and Lewises took over Super Bowl XXXV.
Baltimore’s defense, led by linebacker Ray Lewis and coordinated by Marvin Lewis, set a 16-game record by allowing only 165 regular season points and was so good, it didn’t matter the offense went weeks without a touchdown during one stretch. After an injury to Priest Holmes, the Ravens offense centered around rookie running back Jamal Lewis.
As Super Bowl week began, the spotlight focused on Lewis, R., who had been involved in a murder during Super Bowl week the previous year. Lewis eventually plead guilty to obstruction of justice. Defense again: Ravens coach Brian Billick defended Lewis by drawing the media ire on himself.
The Giants were back in Tampa 10 years after their Super Bowl win there. Only the city was the same, however.
With Baltimore up 10-0 in the third quarter, Miami Beach High graduate Duane Starks ran an interception back 49 yards. New York’s Ron Dixon blazed 97 yards with the ensuing kickoff. And Jermaine Lewis, whose punt return set up the first Ravens touchdown, answered Dixon’s TD by blowing 84 yards with that kickoff: three touchdowns in 36 seconds.
A Ravens defense with land masses Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa up front and speed everywhere else stonewalled the Giants to 152 yards of total offense.
SUPER BOWL XXXVI
NEW ENGLAND 20, ST. LOUIS 17
▪ Feb. 3, 2002
▪ Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
▪ MVP: New England QB Tom Brady, 16 of 27, 145 yards passing, one touchdown, one game-winning drive.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: New England CB Ty Law, interception return for a touchdown, defused football’s most explosive receivers.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: Seventh
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, patriotism painted the Super Bowl.
St. Louis’ Greatest Show on Turf brought the stars while New England brought the red, white, blue and Patriots. They also brought head coach Bill Belichick, the Giants’ defensive coordinator when they held Buffalo’s K-Gun to 19 points in Super Bowl XXV.
U2’s halftime show closed with a scrolling of the fatalities in the Sept. 11 attacks. Toward the end, lead singer Bono pulled open his black leather jacket to reveal its American flag lining.
The Patriots refused to be introduced individually, instead ran out as a team. As the game started, the Patriots pass rushers hit running back Marshall Faulk on their way to Kurt Warner to disrupt the Rams’ timing. Ty Law jumped an Isaac Bruce out route and raced to a 47-yard interception return touchdown that gave the Patriots a 7-3 lead. Another turnover, a Terrell Buckley fumble recovery, set up the 8-yard Tom Brady-David Givens touchdown pass that gave the Pats a 14-3 halftime lead.
But the potentially crushing turnover, a 97-yard touchdown fumble return by Tebucky Jones with New England up 17-3 in the fourth, got nullified by a defensive holding penalty. The Rams scored on that drive and on a 26-yard pass to Ricky Proehl to tie the game with 1:30 left.
Though out of timeouts, instead of playing for overtime, New England’s staff trusted Brady to drive the Patriots’ 53 yards to the Rams’ 30. Adam Vinatieri nailed a 48-yard field goal as time ran out.
One potential dynasty had been aborted by a true dynasty rising.
SUPER BOWL XXXVII
TAMPA BAY 48, OAKLAND 21
▪ Jan. 26, 2003
▪ Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
▪ MVP: Tampa Bay safety Dexter Jackson, two interceptions.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Tampa Bay safety Dwight Smith also had two interceptions, returned both for touchdowns and the first ended the competitive phase of the game.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 38th
The subplots for this game easily trumped the plot.
Subplot No. 1: Cartoon-intense John Gruden replaced placid, still-beloved Tony Dungy, who coached Tampa Bay from joke to almost-juggernaut from 1996-2001. Gruden would be coaching against the Oakland team he had coached for four seasons until being fired after the 2001 season.
Subplot No. 2: Raiders center Barret Robbins disappeared the Saturday before the Super Bowl, a victim of his depression. Upon reappearance, Robbins was suspended for the game and spent game day in the hospital.
He spent a month in a treatment facility for bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse. In 2005, he was shot and wounded in a confrontation with Miami Beach police.
In the game, Oakland actually scored first, a field goal set up by a Charles Woodson interception. By the time the Raiders scored again, the score was 34-3 and Tampa Bay’s excellent defense had taken over the game. Boosted by Gruden’s extensive knowledge of the Raiders’ passing game, the Buccaneers intercepted five passes and returned three for touchdowns. Ironically, MVP Dexter Jackson picked off the two that weren’t returned for touchdowns. Dwight Smith ran back two, the second with two seconds left in the game, and linebacker Derrick Brooks ran one back with 1:18 left.
Michael Pittman ran for 124 yards on 29 carries for Tampa Bay.
SUPER BOWL XXXVIII
NEW ENGLAND 32, CAROLINA 29
▪ Feb. 1, 2004
▪ Reliant Stadium, Houston
▪ MVP: QB Tom Brady, New England, 32 of 48 for 354 yards and three touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Brady.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: Second
The “wardrobe malfunction” of the halftime show starring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake as well as the bawdiness of some commercials overwhelmed national conversation for months after the game.
Too bad. Few Super Bowls exceeded this one as a Sunday night thrill ride.
It was two games, but not broken down as they usually are. The first and third quarters hearkened back to the defense-dominated 1970s Super Bowls, which seemed logical after each team’s defense won its respective conference championship game. No points, few first downs, tense waiting for the big bang.
That came in the second and fourth quarters with plays big and wild. With 3:30 left in the first half, the game sat 0-0. At halftime, the Patriots led 14-10. Crammed into that short span were a Tom Brady-Deion Branch touchdown pass; a 95-yard Carolina drive to a 39-yard Jake Delhomme-Steve Smith touchdown pass; a Brady-Branch 52-yard connection setting up a Brady-David Givens score; and a 50-yard John Kasay field goal.
In the fourth, the Patriots extended their lead to 21-10, but DeShaun Foster’s 33-yard run and Mushin Muhammad’s 85-yard touchdown catch put Carolina up 22-21. Linebacker Mike Vrabel caught a touchdown pass from Brady (32 of 48 for 354 yards). A two-point conversion gave the Pats a 29-22 lead with 2:51 left.
Carolina needed only 1:43 to tie it on a Ricky Proehl touchdown catch. But, Kasay booted the kickoff out of bounds, giving New England the ball on the 40. That made a game-winning drive almost too easy for the Patriots. As was the case two years earlier, Proehl’s game-tying touchdown catch was followed by Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal, this time from 41 yards.
SUPER BOWL XXXIX
PATRIOTS 24, EAGLES 21
▪ Feb. 6, 2005
▪ Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville
▪ MVP: New England WR Deion Branch, 11 receptions for 133 yards.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Branch.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 24th
New England had more challengers in the AFC than Philadelphia did in the NFC, but, in the end, this was the matchup most commonly anticipated from August forward. There was the predictable result, too: Patriots by three, as in their two previous Super Bowl wins. Linebacker Mike Vrabel caught a pass for a touchdown, as he did the previous year. The Patriots went from 7-0 down to 14-7 up by scoring on their last drive of the first half and the opening drive of the second half, a trademark that remains today.
Wide receivers provided the break from the foreseen. From a receiving corps known for not having a true No. 1 guy, the Patriots’ Deion Branch broke out with 11 catches for 133 yards. But Philadelphia’s Terrell Owens almost cornered the drama market with a gritty performance.
A broken ankle suffered late in the season on the play that inspired the “horse collar tackle” rule put Owens out for the regular season and first two Eagles playoff games. He proved to be tougher, more determined than anybody thought and not only did he play in the Super Bowl, he caught nine passes for 122 yards.
Down 24-14, the Eagles took possession with 5:40 left. But with quarterback Donovan McNabb looking like a NyQuil commerical in the huddle and a curious lack of urgency, it took them 3:52 and 13 plays for a 79-yard touchdown drive.
The Patriots recovered the onside kick. On the sidelines, Patriots coach Bill Belichick shared a group hug with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, headed for Notre Dame’s head coaching job, and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who would be the head guy in Cleveland. They knew they may never have it this good together again.
SUPER BOWL XL
PITTSBURGH 21, SEATTLE 10
▪ Feb. 5, 2006
▪ Ford Field, Detroit
▪ MVP: Pittsburgh WR Hines Ward, five catches for 123 yards and a touchdown, blocking that helped the Steelers running game.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Ward.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 46th
Most fans believe penalty flags are yellow. Since this Super Bowl, Seattle fans believe they’re gold, as in Pittsburgh black and gold. Several questionable calls went against the Seahawks, who always seemed to slip on a zebra’s hankie during an uphill climb.
Hines Ward’s five catches for 123 yards included a 43-yard catch of a flanker reverse pass from wide receiver and former Indiana University quarterback Antwan Randle El. Pittsburgh’s Willie Parker ripped off the longest touchdown run in Super Bowl history, 75 yards.
Those sweet interruptions in a bland game couldn’t overcome the bad taste of the calls that dominated postgame conversation. Seattle’s Darrell Jackson caught a 16-yard touchdown pass, but got flagged for pass interference for a light push off that’s almost never called if it’s even noticed. Seattle settled for a field goal. An 18-yard catch by tight end Jerramy Stevens at the Steelers 1 got wiped out by a borderline holding call that held up a Steelers player who actually was offside (but not flagged). On and on it went to the disbelief of the Seattle sideline.
“We knew it was going to be tough going against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts as well,” quipped losing coach Mike Holmgren.
The Pittsburgh win sent Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, a Detroit native, into retirement with a championship.
SUPER BOWL XLI
INDIANAPOLIS 29, CHICAGO 17
▪ Feb. 4, 2007
▪ Dolphin Stadium, Miami
▪ MVP: Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning, 25 of 38 for 247 yards passing and one touchdown.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Indianapolis RB Dominic Rhoades, 113 yards rushing, 5.4 yards per carry, zero fumbles.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 29th
Every rule has an exception.
Rule: South Florida is dry, sunny and warm in the winter. Dome teams don’t fare well in weather games. Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning find ways to flop in the postseason.
Exception: The Deluge Super Bowl
Steady rain turned Super Bowl XLI as swampy as Manning’s native Louisiana. The downpour began before the game started and lasted long after Colts coach Tony Dungy lifted the Lombardi Trophy as the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl. The Colts’ win denied that honor for Chicago head coach and former Dungy assistant, Lovie Smith.
In reaction to complaining wet corporate suits, a campaign began to put some kind of cover on the stadium, which eventually resulted in the recent improvements to the stadium Dolphins owner Stephen Ross paid for himself.
Even the halftime performer, Prince, got into the act. “Purple Rain,” never blended so well with a setting more fitting.
As for the game itself, it was close, although not terribly well played (six fumbles, five lost, three interceptions). For all those turnovers, it lacked the entertainment value, even from comedy, than, say, Super Bowl V.
Indianapolis never seemed to want to acknowledge their annually lousy kickoff coverage, so what happened on the opening kickoff shouldn’t have surprised anyone. The Colts kicked off to Bears return savant Devin Hester and the University of Miami man ran it back 92 yards for the first game-opening kickoff return touchdown in Super Bowl history.
The Colts scored on a 53-yard bomb when a Chicago mixup left Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne more open than the nearby Walmart parking lot. Most of the game, Peyton Manning took the short, nibbling passes the Bears gave him. Running back Joseph Addai would lead the Colts in receiving with 10 catches, but for only 66 yards.
Still, Indianapolis made the most of turnovers and Adam Vinatieri’s dependable kicking to take a 16-14 halftime lead. They led 22-17 late when Kelvin Hayden intercepted Bears quarterback Rex Grossman and returned it for a 56-yard touchdown with 11:44 remaining.
The Super Bowl championship was the first for the Colts since they relocated from Baltimore to Indianapolis.
SUPER BOWL XLII
NEW YORK GIANTS 17, NEW ENGLAND 14
▪ Feb. 3, 2008
▪ University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
▪ MVP: New York QB Eli Manning, 19 of 34 passing, 255 yards, two touchdowns
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Someone off the Giants front four, such as Justin Tuck, who had one and a half sacks and caused a drive-ending fumble.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: Fifth
The 1972 Dolphins remain as unique as they were perfect.
The 2007 Patriots loaded up on wide receivers – deep threat Randy Moss, slot receiver Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth – began firing on the first possession of the season and didn’t stop until the last. Added angry fuel seemed to come from accusations of cheating in during the 2001 playoffs, the Spygate controversy. On their way to a record 589 points, Brady threw a record 50 touchdown passes and Moss caught a record 23 of them.
Those records fell as they finished off a 16-0 regular season with a come-from-behind 38-35 win against the Giants. But the Giants took confidence from how they’d pressured Brady with their front four and had led most of the way. That confidence carried them through playoff wins at Tampa Bay, Dallas (the last playoff game in Texas Stadium) and Green Bay (Ice Bowl II, the third coldest game in NFL history).
The Patriots cruised into the Super Bowl, but didn’t look the obliterating Death Star they’d been during the regular season. Starting with an opening drive lasting 9:59, this year’s model of the Giants shortened the game as their predecessor had against Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV. And after New England took a 7-3 first quarter lead, the Giants pass rush, led by defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, began knocking around Brady like a piñata.
Despite five sacks and numerous post-pass hits on Brady, the Patriots still led 7-3 until Eli Manning hit David Tyree with a 5-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth. Brady answered three drives later with an 11-yard touchdown to Moss: Patriots, 14-10 with 2:42 left.
The Giants survived a fourth-and-1 when immense Brandon Jacobs plowed for 2 yards. But it was a third-and-5 conversion that would be the play of the game, maybe the decade and one of the most instantly iconic catches in NFL history.
Quarterback Eli Manning, who had forever scuffled in the shadow of big brother Peyton, wiggled out of a sure sack and then essentially threw a pass up for grabs. With safety Rodney Harrison yanking on the ball securing arm, Tyree pinned the ball between his hand and his helmet and went to the ground without it coming loose. A few plays later, Manning hooked up with Plaxico Burress on a 13-yard touchdown pass, and the epic upset was complete.
It was the Patriots’ first Super Bowl loss in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick Era, snapping a three title-game winning streak. Brady threw the ball 48 times, but completed just 29 of the passes for 266 yards and one touchdown.
SUPER BOWL XLIII
PITTSBURGH 27, ARIZONA 23
▪ Feb. 1, 2009
▪ Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
▪ MVP: Pittsburgh WR Santonio Holmes, nine receptions, 131 yards and a touchdown, four catches for 73 yards and a TD just on the final drive.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Holmes
▪ Super Bowl Rank: First
How epic, awe-inspiring and just plain crazy was this game? The longest scoring scrimmage play in Super Bowl history probably wasn’t even the second-most exciting play of the night.
Linebacker James Harrison’s record-breaking 100-yard interception return for a touchdown, which closed out the first half and gave the Steelers a momentum-grabbing 17-7 lead, was nearly an afterthought a couple hours later.
That’s because all the good Pittsburgh had done through three quarters to build a 13-point advantage got slimed by a fourth-quarter meltdown.
Two Larry Fitzgerald touchdown receptions bookended a safety, and with 2:37 left in regulation, the historically awful Cardinals led for the first time, 23-20. Fitzgerald’s second score, a seam route that turned into 64-yard touchdown as he raced with dreadlocks flying away from defenders, looked like one of those eternally replayed NFL Films visions fans take to their graves and kids emulate.
But with an eight-play, 78-yard drive that took just 2:02, Ben Roethlisberger secured his place among the league’s elite quarterbacks, and Santonio Holmes assured his spot in NFL history.
Roethlisberger quickly moved the Steelers to the Arizona 6 by completing six of eight passes, including a 40-yard catch-and-run to Holmes. Then on third-and-goal, Roethlisberger wanted to go Holmes again.
With three defenders surrounding him, Holmes did what Casey Kasem asked his listeners to do each week -- keep your feet on the ground, keep reaching for the stars -- to snag a sizzler thrown by Roethlisberger to the back right corner down with 35 seconds left.
“I never thought we could have topped last year's Super Bowl, " NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said after the game. "We might have just done it."
They might have topped every Super Bowl played before and after.
SUPER BOWL XLIV
NEW ORLEANS 31, INDIANAPOLIS 17
▪ Feb. 7, 2010
▪ Sun Life Stadium, Miami
▪ MVP: New Orleans QB Drew Brees, 32 of 39 for 288 yards passing and two touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Brees.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 17th
Of course the Colts and Saints would meet in a Miami Super Bowl. It seemed the will of the cosmos. One team’s symbol means good luck, the other team is named after a heavenly being: The Supernatural Super Bowl teemed with parallels and connections.
For one thing, the Colts only played in Miami Super Bowls, two while in Baltimore (III and V), now two since moving to Indianapolis (XLI and XLIV). To spread a little odd on that weird, they’d done so with four different head coaches (Don Shula, Don McCaffrey, Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell).
Also, the two teams regular seasons paralleled each other. Each beat the Dolphins in wild games at Sun Life Stadium while threatening to reel off an undefeated regular season. With Drew Brees completing over 70 percent of his passes, the Saints got to 13-0 before losing their last three games. The Colts made it to 14-0 before deciding to sit starters while leading the Jets. Indianapolis lost its last two games.
But, really, the magnetism between the Colts and Saints carried the name “Manning.” After the Saints drafted Archie Manning No. 2 overall in 1971 behind Jim Plunkett, Manning suffered the same fate Plunkett did in New England – being a great talent destroyed by a terrible surrounding cast. The season Plunkett and the Raiders resurrected each other, Manning toiled for the 1-15 “Aints.” In the offseason, Plunkett testified that had his draft brother gone to a different organization, everybody would know how good he was.
But Archie Manning and his family remained beloved in New Orleans, where he still lived and had raised his kids, one of whom was Indianapolis’ All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning. And Peyton started the game as if to mercifully end the Saints’ dream quickly, driving Indy to a 10-0 lead on the first two possessions.
A field goal response from the Saints seemed inadequate to stave off destruction as the Colts whooshed down the field again. Third down and Manning found Pierre Garcon on a deep cross for a first down and, depending on the yards after the catch with open space behind him, possible touchdown and 14-point lead…
Garcon dropped it. Possibly the most pivotal Super Bowl drop since some of Andre Reed’s in Super Bowl XXV.
The Saints got the Colts lead down to 10-6 at half, then got gutsy. New Orleans coach Sean Payton ordered an onside kick to start the second half. The team with the religious name, followed zealously by more than a few real nuns got divine help. The kick went straight to a Colts’ wide receiver, Hank Baskett, but Baskett still bumbled it to the Saints’ Chris Reis.
The Saints scored to take the lead, as the teams traded touchdowns by Pierre Thomas, Joseph Addai and Jeremy Shockey throughout the second half. The Saints defense came up with one more parallel with New Orleans up 24-17.
In October, Tracy Porter clinched the Saints’ win against the Dolphins with an interception return for a touchdown. Here, he did it again, popping up on a short Reggie Wayne route to pick off Manning and run 74 yards.
As Porter ran downfield with arm extended, New Orleans biggest Super Bowl Sunday party ever truly began.
SUPER BOWL XLV
GREEN BAY 31, PITTSBURGH 25
▪ Feb. 6, 2011
▪ Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
▪ MVP: Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, 24 of 39 for 304 yards passing and three touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Rodgers.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 20th
All season, the football gods kept taking things away from Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Running back Ryan Grant, coming off a pair of 1,000-yard seasons? Season-ending injury. Beautifully talented tight end Jermichael Finley, a matchup nightmare? Season ending injury. The Packers still finished 10-6 and won three road games to reach the Super Bowl as Rodgers carried the offense and the defense allowed the second fewest points in the league.
During the Super Bowl itself, the Packers lost wide receiver Donald Driver, safety Sam Shields and future Hall of Fame cornerback Charles Woodson, who still gave an impassioned halftime speech.
The receivers also lost their hands -- they set an unofficial record for Super Bowl drops, putting an astounding glaze on Rodgers’ amazing MVP performance cake. Even Jordy Nelson, who caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown, had three drops. But Nelson did pull in one of Rodgers touchdown passes, a 29-yarder, to open the scoring. Speedy Greg Jennings caught 8-yard and 21-yard scores as well as a 31-yard third down laser in the fourth quarter when Pittsburgh shrunk Green Bay’s early 21-0 to 28-25.
A field goal after Jennings’ catch forced Pittsburgh to go 87 yards in the final 2:07. The Steelers made it 20 before running out of downs.
The least mythic of championship teams in Green Bay history claimed the title because of perhaps the most mythic season-long performance by a quarterback in Green Bay history.
SUPER BOWL XLVI
NEW YORK GIANTS 21, NEW ENGLAND 17
▪ Feb. 5, 2012
▪ Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
▪ MVP: Giants QB Eli Manning, 30 of 40 for 296 yards passing and one touchdown.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Manning.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: Eighth.
The general rule in Super Bowl rematches with similar casts: what you’ve seen is what you’ll get.
Pittsburgh over Dallas by four through the air in Super Bowls X and XIII. Dallas over Buffalo with turnovers being pivotal in Supers XXVII and XXVIII. Maybe that’s why, though the Patriots entered Super Bowl XLVI as betting line favorites, the buzz in Indianapolis around the official hotels and media centers slightly favored the 9-7 Giants.
Each key side subtracted a future Hall of Famer: no more Randy Moss running long for the Patriots, no more defensive end Michael Strahan chasing quarterbacks for the Giants. But the Patriots still lived by the pass and the Giants lived to kill the pass. Besides, the Giants beat the Patriots 24-20 in the regular season.
Retellings of this game usually center around fourth quarter events. The momentum swings of the first three quarters deserve notice.
The Patriots found themselves fighting to stay in the game after an early 9-0 deficit, then did that Patriots thing: close the first half with a touchdown, a 4-yard Brady-to-Danny Woodhead pass at the end of a 96-yard drive, and open the second half with a touchdown, Brady to Hernandez for 12 yards and a 17-9 lead.
A pair of New York field goals had cut the lead to 17-15 when the aforementioned late game events started. Wes Welker failed to make a twisting, but achievable catch of a deep ball with four minutes left. A punt two plays later left New York on the 12, not buried, but definitely not at street level. On the first play, Manning launched a bomb up the left sideline that sliced down between defenders to a feet-dragging Manningham and, boom, New York was at the 50.
Futilely challenging Manningham’s catch cost the Patriots one timeout. They spent another as the Giants moved inexorcably into gimme field goal range. Once the Giants reached second and goal at the Patriots’ 6 with 1:03 left, the timeout-poor Patriots were helpless to stop New York from running down the clock to a field goal with minimal time left. Unless they gave the Giants a touchdown.
Bradshaw burst through the given hole, then realized too late what he was doing. He spun himself while trying to brake, but still fell backwards into the end zone.
The Patriots got the shot they needed. They moved close enough for a Hail Mary heave to reach the end zone...and fall incomplete.
SUPER BOWL XLIV
BALTIMORE 34, SAN FRANCISCO 31
▪ Feb. 3, 2013
▪ Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
▪ MVP: Baltimore QB Joe Flacco, 22 of 33 passing, 287 yards, three touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Flacco
▪ Super Bowl Rank: Ninth
The Super Har-Bowl.
Taking sibling rivalry beyond Bobby and J.R. Ewing but short of Cain and Abel, this Super matched the ultra-competitive Brothers Harbaugh as head coaches: John in his fifth year with Baltimore vs. Jim in his second year with the 49ers.
John still had the same starting quarterback, Joe Flacco, as when he ascended from Eagles special teams coach to Ravens head coach. After dropping the ball in the previous year’s AFC Championship Game at New England, Baltimore hung on against Denver in the Divisional Round with a ridiculous 70-yard Flacco-to-Jacoby Jones bomb behind two bumbling Broncos defensive backs with 31 seconds left in regulation. An overtime win sent the Ravens to New England, where they wore down the Patriots 28-13.
Jim didn’t have the same starting quarterback that he did in September. When veteran dual threat quarterback Alex Smith suffered a concussion, second-year dual threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick played as if Smith should forget about the job no matter the state of his memory. When both were healthy, Harbaugh stayed with Kaepernick, who gashed Green Bay and Atlanta in the playoffs with his right arm and both legs.
The final game for linebacker Ray Lewis, the franchise’s greatest player in its Baltimore incarnation, started like a 1980s Superdome Super Bowl blasting. When Jones, Baltimore’s expert at scoring from afar, returned the second half kickoff 108 yards to go with his 56-yard touchdown catch, the Ravens held a 28-6 lead.
Minutes later, the building went metaphor. The Superdome lights on the half of the building with the 49ers sideline went as dark as San Francisco’s chances. If felt like the building was saying, “New Orleans didn’t put me back together after Katrina for another Bears-Patriots butt-kicking. Party over.” The game stopped for 34 minutes. The Ravens stopped for much longer. Or, as Atlanta and Green Bay would argue, San Francisco’s offense was too good to keep down the whole game.
The 49ers began ripping off gains by the yard – backyard, front yard, Harvard Yard. Kaepernick would average 10.8 yards per pass and 18.9 yards per completion for the game. Running back Frank Gore ran for 110 yards at 5.79 yards a pop. A pair of touchdown drives and a field goal chopped Baltimore’s lead to 28-23 before the fourth quarter started. A Ravens field goal got countered with a 15-yard Kaepernick touchdown run.
A failed two-point conversion left the 49ers down 31-29. One more Justin Tucker field goal gave Baltimore a five-point buffer that could only be overcome by a touchdown. Big difference going into the 49ers final drive, especially after splash plays by Gore (33-yard run) and wide receiver Michael Crabtree (24-yard pass) got the 49ers to first and goal on the Ravens 7.
A 2-yard run. Then, incomplete and incomplete. The Super Bowl came down to a Kaepernick lob for Crabtree to the right sideline. Despite the wax-on, wax-off handfighting between Crabtree and Jimmy Smith and more jersey grabbing than a sports memorabilia store’s Going Out of Business sale, no flag fell as the pass fell beyond Crabtree’s reach.
The Ravens ran the clock down and took an intentional safety. They had their second Super Bowl title. Ray Lewis had his perfect career ending.
And John Harbaugh had bragging rights at every family dinner for the foreseeable future.
SUPER BOWL XLVIII
SEATTLE 43, DENVER 8
▪ Feb. 2, 2014
▪ MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
▪ MVP: Seattle LB Malcolm Smith. Nine tackles, one fumble recovered, 69-yard interception return for a touchdown.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Anybody off that defense.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 47th.
You knew from the first snap.
Denver set an NFL record for points in a season (606) while quarterback Peyton Manning broke single season records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55). The Broncos took turned the customary fast start of Manning-quarterbacked teams to ritual level, scoring on the first drive in most games.
Seattle’s big, athletic Legion of Boom secondary allowed the fewest yards, fewest points and caused the most turnovers. All that and Marshawn Lynch’s bludgeoning runs provided blanket warmth and security for second-year quarterback Russell Wilson.
Pregame discussion concerned the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold weather city and whether “thug” was an appropriate term to use for a Stanford graduate without an arrest record or whether it was just code for less socially acceptable words. The latter conversation started after Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman roared a trash-talking rant on live television after the NFC Championship Game. The former turned out to be, like wariness over Sherman’s rant, much ado about nothing. Game time temperature was 49. A winter storm arrived overnight after the game.
Too bad – it might’ve made the game more interesting.
Denver was a 2-point favorite, a tribute to the Peyton Manning name and the amateur bettor money the Super Bowl draws. Smart bettors know the book says No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense, jump on that D -- hard.
As Manning went through his well-known pre-snap adjustments before the first play, center Manny Ramirez suddenly snapped the ball. Denver running back Knowshon Moreno fell on the ball in the end zone for a Seattle safety: 2-0. When the No. 1 defense scores and hasn’t even hit anybody yet, it’s going to be a long day for the No. 1 offense.
Or, a short day, competitively. The Seahawks defense outscored Denver’s offense when Manning got blasted mid-throw by Cliff Avril and Malcolm Smith took the fluttering pass back 69 yards for a 22-0 second quarter lead. Percy Harvin returned the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown.
A young, mobile, mature quarterback. A young, strong defense. An old coach, Pete Carroll, who acted young. What could keep Seattle from being the Team of the Decade?
SUPER BOWL XLIX
NEW ENGLAND 28, SEATTLE 24
▪ Feb. 1, 2015
▪ University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
▪ MVP: New England QB Tom Brady, 37 of 50 passing, 328 yards, four touchdowns.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Brady
▪ Super Bowl Rank: Sixth.
What you might not remember about this game:
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson didn’t have a completion until the second quarter.
Tom Brady completed 74 percent of his passes against the NFL’s best defense, partially because the passes and routes at which he’s such an artiste don’t directly challenge Seattle’s secondary.
The teams scored three touchdowns in the last 2:16 of the first half, which ended 14-14. The last score, an 11-yard Wilson-to-Chris Matthews pass, paid off a characteristic gamble by Seattle coach Pete Carroll when most coaches would’ve settled for a half-ending field goal.
Down 24-14 in the fourth quarter and working the NFL’s best defense, Tom Brady drove the Patriots to two fourth quarter touchdowns. The Bradyesque show ended with trademark short pops to Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman.
On the final Seahawks drive, Jermaine Kearse made a catch that rivaled any Super Sunday grab by one-hit wonder David Tyree or Hall of Famer Lynn Swann. Kearse and Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler went up for a deep ball on the right sideline and Butler got his hand on it...but Kearse came down with it after double catching it, Swann style. Butler alertly finished the play, pushing Kearse out of bounds at the Patriots’ 5 after Kearse scrambled to his feet.
Marshawn Lynch manfully barged to the Patriots 1-yard line on the next play.
What everyone remembers:
Instead of pounding Lynch at a Patriots defense weary at the end of a frantic two-minute drill, the end of a game, the end of a long season, some near the end of careers, Seattle let the clock run down to 26 seconds and threw the ball.
It shocked everyone but the well-prepared Patriots. Butler and Brandon Browner recognized the formation and anticipated the route combination. When Seattle wide receiver Brandon Lockette moseyed through his route, Butler beat him to the spot for the interception.
No call in NFL history has been more questioned. Analytics geeks flung numbers describing why the play call was fine, Lockette’s route was soft. Most analysis kept it simple, as they felt the Seahawks should have -- near the end of the game, needing a yard to win the Super Bowl, you give it to power back Lynch and get that yard.
Seattle’s never been the same. The Patriots? They’ve been the same.
SUPER BOWL L
DENVER 24, CAROLINA 10
▪ Feb. 7, 2016
▪ Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
▪ MVP: Denver LB Von Miller. Six tackles, two and a half sacks, two forced fumbles, one of which was recovered for a touchdown, the other led to a 4-yard touchdown drive.
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Miller
▪ Super Bowl Rank: 30th
In contrast to the Broncos team that Seattle buried in the New Jersey swamp next to that guy from downtown (not to be confused with that other guy, from Queens), Denver’s defense made do with whatever the offense could scrap together each game before Manning’s arm went noodle. Adding outside pass rusher DeMarcus Ware to Von Miller and cornerback Aquib Talib to a solid secondary made the Broncos as perfect for the pass-happy NFL as the San Francisco defense was during the NFL’s first modern era turn to the pass in the 1980s.
Carolina could trample you with running back Jonathan Stewart, fullback Mike Tolbert and quarterback Cam Newton, three powerful runners. Or, the Panthers could go over you to tight end Greg Olsen, deep threat Ted Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery and Devin Funchess. All that offense, the NFL’s highest scoring, and a 15-1 regular season record put Super Bowl bettors into a swoon. The Panthers were 5.5-point favorites.
The smart money saw the No. 1 scoring offense vs. the No. 1 yardage defense and knew the more likely result. Which is what happened.
Though the Broncos managed only 195 yards of offense, they held Carolina to 315 while getting five sacks, three fumbles and an interception.
A Miller sack-fumble got recovered by Malik Jackson for a touchdown and 10-0 first quarter Broncos lead. Another one got recovered by T.J. Ward on the Carolina 4 and the offense nudged it into the end zone on Manning’s 2-yard pass to Bennie Fowler for the clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. Jordan Norwood’s 61-yard punt return turned into a field goal.
For the first and last time in his 18-season career, a defense carried Manning over the season. He got carried into retirement, emperor-style, as a champion.
SUPER BOWL LI
NEW ENGLAND 34, ATLANTA 28
▪ Feb. 5, 2017
▪ NRG Stadium, Houston
▪ MVP: New England QB Tom Brady, 43 of 62 for 466 yards passing and two touchdowns
▪ Should’ve Been MVP: Brady.
▪ Super Bowl Rank: Fourth.
Animation film buffs often note that in Daffy Duck vs. Bugs Bunny, Daffy’s just smart enough but insecure enough to keep talking until he outsmarts himself. Bugs is just smart enough but secure enough to let Daffy keep talking until he outsmarts himself.
This brings us to the little black-and-red birds from Atlanta and those Super Bowl-winning rabbits from New England.
Bucking (Buckheading?) the trend of what happens on Super Sunday when the No. 1 scoring offense meets the No. 1 scoring defense, the Falcons led 28-3 in the third quarter. The Falcons even got the first playoff pick six against Brady, an 82-yard interception return touchdown by Robert Alford.
But it was at 28-12 with 8:33 left, third and 1 on their own 35, that Daffy didn’t remember he could run.
The Patriots needed a short field, most likely from a turnover. Though they’d scored on consecutive possessions, the drives took 6:25 and 5:07. Atlanta just needed to keep the clock moving, avoid a turnover, blocked punt or long punt return and they’d come home eased up.
But with 8:33 left and third and 1 on their own 35, the Falcons came out in a shotgun formation with running back Devonta Freeman offset to quarterback Matt Ryan’s front right. They were throwing and not hiding it. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower shot by Freeman, who barely brushed him. Had Freeman even thrown a Lookout Block – whiff but turn and yell, “Look out!” – it would’ve been better for Ryan, who Hightower blindsided into a fumble. Alan Branch recovered for New England at the 25.
Considering the time, score, play call and formation call, it might’ve been more straightforward stupid than the Russell Wilson pass Malcolm Butler intercepted two years earlier (when Quinn was Seattle’s defensive coordinator – way to learn, Dan). The Patriots later called it the biggest play in the comeback.
Just 2:28 later, a 6-yard Amendola catch and a White conversion brought the Pats to within one score, 28-20, with 5:56 left.
A 39-yard reception by Freeman and a balletic toe tap sideline 27-yard catch Julio Jones seems too big to make put Atlanta on the Patriots’ 22, well within NFL scoring leader Matt Bryant’s dependability range. Only 4:40 remained. The Patriots had two timeouts. And Daffy tried to fly again. And the Patriots got another huge sack, a 12-yarder by Trey Flowers. A holding penalty on tackle Jake Matthews negated a completion and put Atlanta out of Bryant’s field goal range.
A punt and the Patriots had 91 yards to go, 3:30 to do it and two timeouts with which to do it. A 16-yard pass to Chris Hogan on third-and-10 got the drive going. On the most pivotal play, a pass Alford batted away wound up bouncing into Julian Edelman’s hands amongst a flock of Falcons for 23 yards. That’s when the feeling permeated the stadium, the crowd, the TV audience, maybe even the Falcons -- the Patriots would tie the game. The Patriots would win the game in overtime.
Which they did. White plowed over from the 1 with 57 seconds left. Amendola caught the two-point conversion. In overtime, the Patriots took the kickoff and moved inexorcably toward another championship. White got the final two yards on a pitch play for the game-ending, Super Bowl-winning touchdown.
That’s all, folks.