Ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl 55 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, MM has a retrospective look at the NFL’s greatest Super Bowls of all time.
The criteria for these rankings will based on the following: how good the game was, what it meant for the landscape of the NFL, the level of drama and whether there was a true fairy-tale ending.
Oh, and yes, Tom Brady will appear multiple times on this list…
No.5 – Super Bowl 32
Denver Broncos 31 Green Bay Packers 24
Quarterback John Elway and the Denver Broncos were no strangers to the big dance heading into Super Bowl 32. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons.
In their three previous Super Bowl appearances in 1987, 1988 and 1990, the Broncos were dismantled with ease by the New York Giants, Washington Football Team and the San Francisco 49ers.
Surely, in their fourth appearance in the big game something would have to change when they faced off against league MVP Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers?
Well, things did. Unlike those previous blowout loses, the Broncos had a new weapon in their backfield – a running-back named Terrell Davis.
Davis ran riot against Green Bay, running for 157 yards and scoring three touchdowns to help Denver to its first-ever Super Bowl title.
The win meant so much to the Broncos organisation that their late owner Pat Bowlen stood-up on the podium after receiving the Lombardi Trophy to proclaim – “This one’s for John!” in reference to their previous Super Bowl defeats.
No.4 – Super Bowl 51
New England Patriots 34 Atlanta Falcons 28
If there was one word you could use to describe Super Bowl 51, it would be momentum.
Midway through the third quarter, the Atlanta Falcons had just scored their fourth touchdown of the game to make it 28-3. The Patriots side-line looked stunned and the lead looked insurmountable.
While New England would go on to score a touchdown to make the score look more respectable, the game was all but over heading into the fourth quarter. But then Dont’a Hightower showed up.
On a crucial third down in the fourth quarter, linebacker Hightower breezed past running back Devonta Freeman, causing Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to fumble the ball which was recovered by the Patriots.
Minutes after the turnover, Tom Brady led the Patriots offence on a touchdown drive.
And then, after a quick three and out by Atlanta, Brady and the Patriots put together another touchdown drive with just over three and half minutes left to send the Super Bowl into over-time – the first in NFL history.
Having won the coin toss, New England received the ball needing a touchdown to win the game.
And after coming all the way back from 28-3 down, they were in no mood to slip-up like the Falcons had, with running back James White scoring the game-winning touchdown to hand New England the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
No.3 – Super Bowl 23
San Francisco 49ers 20 Cincinnati Bengals 16
Super Bowl 23 ranks in the top five because of how it defined one of the NFL’s greatest dynasty’s.
After winning titles in 1981 and 1984, the San Francisco 49ers were on the hunt for their third championship in eight years.
Against the Cincinnati Bengals, who they had previous defeated in Super Bowl 16, the star studded 49ers found themselves facing a four-point deficit late in the fourth quarter.
Backed-up deep in their own half, legendary quarterback Joe Montana and head coach Bill Walsh would need to put together a drive for the ages if the 49ers were to win.
But there’s a reason why Montana was nicknamed ‘Joe Cool’.
With just over three minutes left, Montana, alongside all-star receiver Jerry Rice, did just that, culminating in the former throwing a touchdown to John Taylor with just 34 seconds left on the clock.
Afterwards Walsh retired, which meant that his final offensive play call was a Super Bowl winning touchdown.
And while the 49ers would go on to win the Super Bowl the following year, Super Bowl 23 was memorable because it cemented Walsh and Montana’s legacy with their fourth-quarter heroics.
No.2 – Super Bowl 42
New York Giants 17 New England Patriots 14
Super Bowl 42 was a match-up of David v Goliath proportions. The Patriots, who were on the hunt to become the first team in the modern NFL era to go 19-0 surely couldn’t lose to the NFC six-seed Giants could they?
Well, there’s a reason why it’s second on this list…
While the game was a snooze-fest for the first three quarters, it jumpstarted itself late in the fourth when Brady threw a touchdown to future hall of fame wide receiver Randy Moss to give the Patriots a 14-10 lead.
With under two minutes left, all New England had to do was stop Giants quarterback Eli Manning from scoring a touchdown to complete the perfect season.
With the game on the line, Manning managed to somehow escape the Patriots pass rush, throwing up a prayer to wide-receiver David Tyree who hauled in the quarterback’s pass by catching the ball on the side of his helmet.
Tyree’s spectacular catch on third down moved the Giants into Patriot territory with under a minute left on the clock.
Seconds later, Manning threw a touchdown to Plaxico Buress in the back corner of the endzone to hand New York the biggest Super Bowl upset ever, sending shockwaves throughout the entire league.
No.1 – Super Bowl 49
New England Patriots 28 Seattle Seahawks 24
The storylines that surrounded Super Bowl 49 would have been enough for five let alone one.
The game pitted the defending champion Seattle Seahawks, who were seeking to cement their legacy as the NFL’s new dynasty, against the Patriots.
Heading into the break level at 14 all, the Patriots found themselves starring down the barrel of a 10-point deficit heading into the final quarter.
Against one of the greatest defences of all time, Tom Brady threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns, surgically dissecting the Seahawks, to hand New England a slender four-point lead with just over two minutes left.
However, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson managed to seamlessly orchestrate a drive that put his team at the Patriots one-yard line.
It looked to be all over for New England. Seattle would surely punch the ball into the endzone with battering ram Marshawn Lynch in the backfield.
But with the fate of the game on the line, the Seahawks opted to pass instead of run, and Wilson was intercepted by undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler, to hand New England the most dramatic of Super Bowl titles at the death.
You can check out all of MM’s Super Bowl LV coverage here.