In honor of the recent Super Bowl, student writers Brett Tyndall and Zach Short chronologue and rank the highs and lows of NFL history.
Top Five Super Bowls
5. Super Bowl XXIII San Francisco 49ers beat Cincinnati Bengals
If for nothing else, this game holds a place in many people’s hearts solely because of the legendary performance from one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game: Joe Montana. It had been four years since the great’s last Super Bowl appearance, and the man was still dealing with pressures from a bad loss in the playoffs the year prior, in which he had performed so badly he had been removed from the game early.
Dealing with all that pressure to perform, it would have been understandable for Montana to have a psychotic breakdown, much less just play poorly. However, he secured the nickname “Joe Cool” for all eternity when he, down 16-13, took the ball from his own eight yard line with just over three minutes left in the game and scored the winning touchdown.
That drive started with Montana pointing into the crowd and shouting, “Hey, is that John Candy?”, letting his teammates know that the pressure was gone.
4. Super Bowl III New York Jets beat Baltimore Colts
It was this year that secured the legacy of the Super Bowl in American culture. The NFL-AFL championship game had only begun two years prior, but the future was unclear after back to back dominant wins by the NFL’s Packers. The NFL had only conceded to merging and having an interleague championship game because of the growing prominence of the AFL, and that prominence was starting to come under scrutiny. The partnership seemed almost doomed to a lopsided relationship heading into the third Super Bowl, the first to officially use the name, as the Colts were heavily favored over the Jets.
However, in one of the most legendary upsets of all time and to the shock of all spectators, the Jets defeated the Colts and promised a future of solid competition between what is now the two conferences.
Even better than that, Joe Namath promised the win in an interview three days before the Super Bowl, a move that made the future legend look absolutely insane compared to the predictions, but gave him the clout he needed to put his name in history books after the final whistle against the Colts.
3. Super Bowl XLIX New England Patriots beat Seattle Seahawks
To this very day, it remains the most watched Super Bowl in NFL history. The reigning champion Seahawks were arguably the most widely loved team in the NFL, save Broncos fans from the preceding Super Bowl, with fan favorite Russell Wilson and still controversial Marshawn Lynch, A.K.A. Beast Mode, serving a good cop/bad cop dynamic.
The Patriots, conversely, had Tom Brady making his sixth Super Bowl appearance and were widely regarded as the day’s antagonists everywhere but New England, but that made it all the more fun. Every good story has a good villain.
The game was close throughout, being tied at 14 at halftime, but the Seahawks looked ready to take home another victory heading into the fourth ahead 24-14. All of that came crashing down when the Patriots stormed back with two touchdowns of their own, and Russell Wilson was forced to take a quickly paced trip back down the field to try to reclaim the lead. He might have done it too, had it not been for the most controversial play call in Super Bowl history.
With the ball on the Patriots one yard line, the Seahawks elected to run a passing play in lieu of giving the ball to Beast Mode, ultimately having the pass intercepted by Malcolm Butler to put the final nail in the coffin. Even without the happiest ending, this remains one of the most iconic Super Bowls ever.
2. Super Bowl XIII Pittsburgh Steelers beat Dallas Cowboys
It was the first match-up of its kind in more ways than one. Not only were both teams competing to be the first to win their third Super Bowl, but it was the first time that two teams met for the second time in the Super Bowl, after the Steelers beat the Cowboys three years earlier.
Let that not belittle the success of the Cowboys though, who were making their (then highest) fifth appearance and were already establishing a powerhouse in Dallas. Both teams fielded legendary quarterbacks, the Steelers with Terry Bradshaw and the Cowboys with Roger Staubach, who would both go on to become Hall of Fame inductees, giving the game serious nostalgic value as time elapsed, being an incredible showdown between two greats.
Bradshaw was elected the game’s Most Valuable Player as well, beating Bart Starr’s first half passing yards record with 253 and tying Johnny Unitas’s longest Super Bowl pass record with 75, all following a career best season from the Louisiana Tech Alumnus.
1. Super Bowl LII, Philadelphia Eagles beat New England Patriots
The Patriots were arguably at or past their peak in the 2018 Super Bowl. They had won the Lombardi trophy two of the three preceding years, their last one being in dramatic and historical fashion.
The Eagles, with their back-up quarterback at the helm and underdog mentality, seemed absurdly outmatched against the football superpower. As it seemingly always is for the Patriots (such as it was for the Rams, Falcons, and Seahawks), it was the whole world against them. No one wanted them to win, but everyone secretly assumed they probably would. Then, the unthinkable happened. The Eagles started to look as though they might have a chance, and, with the now notorious Philly Special, it became clear that they had the momentum to do it.
Finally, with a shred of doubt in everyone’s hearts through the very last seconds, the Eagles actually beat the Patriots. For the entirety of the following offseason, it almost even appeared as though it was the death of the Patriots’ dynasty — the final nail in the coffin. If not great for the fantastic game or the initial elation of someone beating the Patriots, the euphoria that stayed in the following months over the apparent end of the Brady era cement this game in history.
Bottom 5 Super Bowl
5. Super Bowl XXII (1988)
Result: Washington Redskins 42, Denver Broncos 10
This game was over by halftime. After going down 10-0 in the first quarter, the Redskins responded with 35 unanswered points in the second quarter. One historic note is that Washington quarterback Doug Williams became the first African-American to start at quarterback in the Super Bowl. Subsequently, he became the first African-American QB to win it. A cool historical landmark for an otherwise boring game.
4. Super Bowl XXXV (2001)
Result: Baltimore Ravens 34, New York Giants 7
The Ravens had an amazing defense. Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Rod Woodson were running amok. Giants QB Kerry Collins was no match for them. A great defensive performance leads to lopsided and boring games. Fight me.
3. Super Bowl XLVIII (2014)
Result: Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8
Seattle had an elite defense seven years ago. This was a time when the Legion of Boom was still fully intact, meaning safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor were bullying people in the secondary. Richard Sherman was also a shutdown cornerback who had his famous outburst about Michael Crabtree in the NFC Championship that year. Denver’s QB Peyton Manning put up historic numbers in the 2013 regular season, throwing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns (both all-time records). Denver still holds the record for best scoring offense in NFL history, putting up 606 points over the course of the season (nearly 38 points per game on average); that insane mark may never be touched. Despite all this, Denver’s all-time best offense completely flopped against Seattle, putting up a measly 8 points. All that hype and it didn’t deliver. I like picking on the Broncos.
2. Super Bowl XXXVII (2003)
Result: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Oakland Raiders 21
I’ll be frank here. I didn’t — and still don’t — give a rat’s ass about either of these teams. Oakland had the better offense, but they fell flat against the Bucs’ defense. Jon Gruden got his lone Super Bowl win against his former team. The 2002-03 season was a weird time for the NFL. The Patriots weren’t good yet and Rich Gannon was a franchise quarterback. Strange times.
1. Super Bowl LIII (2019)
Result: New England Patriots 17, Los Angeles Rams 7
Yeah, recency bias yada yada yada … but it was truly awful on every facet. Defenders of this Super Bowl are either Patriots fans or have never watched football. If you enjoyed this disgraceful display but don’t fall into either of those categories, then you’re just wrong. The scoreboard would lead people who didn’t watch the game to say it was a defensive battle. Not so. It was an avalanche of complete ineptitude from both offenses. Tom Brady looked like a geriatric in the pocket and Jared Goff looked like a deer in headlights the entire game. This was the lowest scoring Super Bowl ever. That fact alone does not intrinsically define the game as the worst of all-time, but the actual game does. Plus the Patriots won for, like, the 400th time, so that part sucked, too.