For the casual fan, Super Bowls are most interesting for their commercials.
For football fans, Super Bowls are some of the most memorable events in sports.
As we count down to Super Bowl XLVI and the so-called rematch between Eli Manning's New York Giants and Tom Brady's again-favored New England Patriots, I've compiled my Top 10 Most Memorable Super Bowl games.
These games aren't necessarily all close contests, high-scoring games or games decided on the last play—although I did include several such games. These are simply good games that you will remember and recognize more than other Super Bowls for one reason or another.
Several Super Bowls didn't make the cut, though they certainly had their moments.
For example, the Miami Dolphins' win in Super Bowl VII capped off a perfect season, but the game itself was anti-climatic as the Dolphins—and thus their undefeated season—were never seriously threatened.
What are the most memorable Super Bowls?
Date: Jan 12, 1969
Final: New York Jets 16, Baltimore 7
Baltimore had lost only once in 16 games all season. Yet Joe Namath famously guaranteed his team would win against Baltimore.
When Namath and the Jets actually did pull off the upset, it shocked the football world. The AFL was not inferior after all, and the upset led to the NFL-AFL merger.
While the game itself was not a thriller, the amazement that the Jets were actually in control over Baltimore and the suspense of whether Namath's Jets could hold on to its early lead and truly beat Goliath—capped by the actual stunning outcome—made this game a memorable one indeed, even if most of us were not alive to witness it.
Date: Feb 2, 2004
Final: New England 32, Carolina 29
With an odd final score that only gamblers in 'squares' pools could love, the score reflected the odd scoring nature of the game itself.
With just 3:05 remaining in the first half, neither team had scored yet. Then a flurry of scoring ensued. In the end, 868 yards of combined offense were amassed by both teams.
Tom Brady threw a five-yard touchdown to Deion Branch after Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme fumbled.
Delhomme made up for his miscue with a 95-yard drive capped by a 39-yard touchdown to Steve Smith with 1:07 left in the half.
Brady drove the Patriots back downfield and hit David Givens for a score from five yards out with 18 seconds til halftime.
Carolina kicker John Kasay hit a 50-yard field goal as time expired to cut New England's lead to 14-10 at the half.
The third quarter, like the first quarter, was scoreless. Then an avalanche of scoring rumbled through the fourth quarter—37 combined points, the most ever in a quarter.
Antowain Smith's two-yard touchdown run put New England up 21-10 but Carolina fought back. DeShaun Foster's 33-yard touchdown run brought Carolina to within 21-16 before a two-point attempt failed.
The Patriots drove down to the Carolina 9 but Reggie Howard picked off Brady in the end zone, and Delhomme hit Muhsin Muhammad for an 85-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a 22-21 lead. Carolina's two-point attempt again failed.
Brady hit Mike Vrabel for a one-yard touchdown pass to retake the lead, and the Patriots converted their two-point attempt to lead 29-22 with 2:51 left.
Delhomme marched the Panthers back downfield before hitting Ricky Proehl with a 12-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 1:08 remaining.
Thanks to a kickoff that went out of bounds, Brady led the team to the Carolina 29 to set up Adam Vinatieri for the game-winning kick. Earlier, Vinatieri missed from 31 yards out and also had a 36-yard attempt blocked, but he nailed this 41-yard field goal with four seconds remaining to win the game.
This game was perhaps even more memorable for its halftime show, with the so-called "wardrobe malfunction" between Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson.
Date: January 21, 1979
Final: Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31
Two of the most successful teams of that decade: Pittsburgh (already won two Super Bowls) vs. Dallas (also won two Super Bowls, and had lost two others).
Quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw living up to the hype (three touchdowns and four touchdowns, respectively).
Running backs Tony Dorsett and Franco Harris facing arguably the best defenses of their era.
A total of 17 Hall-of-Famers on the field.
Two heavyweights trading punches early. Dallas scored two touchdowns in the final six minutes to come back late but was unable to recover an onside kick with 17 seconds to seal the Steelers' win.
Another memorable Super Bowl that was played before many of today's football fans were born.
Date: Feb 3, 2008
Final: New York Giants 17, New England 14
Not only was this one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, but the way in which it happened was just as unbelievable.
The Patriots were undefeated (18-0) coming into the Super Bowl while the Giants were a Wild Card team.
Yet the Giants managed to keep the game close, trailing only 7-3 by the end of the third quarter.
The Giants actually took the lead on a five-yard touchdown reception by little-known David Tyree.
But with 2:42 remaining, Goliath responded when Tom Brady hit Randy Moss for a six-yard touchdown to give the Patriots their lead again.
Backed up on their own 17-yard line, the Giants drove down the field, this time helped by an improbable leaping catch by Tyree, who pinned the ball to his helmet to make the 32-yard reception after quarterback Eli Manning—who appeared to be in the grasp—made a desperation heave on third-and-5.
Four plays later, Plaxico Burress caught the winning touchdown.
Brady had one last chance, but from his own 26-yard line, he was sacked once and threw three incompletions.
The only reason this game wasn't ranked higher is that (1) prior to that final quarter, the game wasn't very memorable, and (2) watching the play in real-time, the magnitude of what just happened on "the Tyree play" didn't really sink in.
Date: Feb 3, 2002
Final: New England 20, St. Louis 17
Two years after St. Louis' celebrated offense was mostly MIA in a Super Bowl, the Rams hoped to show the world what it could do on the Big Stage.
And again, the Rams offense went mostly MIA.
After scoring a 50-yard field goal by kicker Jeff Wilkins in the first quarter, the Rams would not score again until the fourth quarter.
In fact, the Patriots' Ty Law picked off Rams quarterback Kurt Warner's pass in the second quarter and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown to give underdog New England a 7-3 lead in the second quarter.
And just before the half, the Patriots—led by backup quarterback Tom Brady, filling in for injured starter Drew Bledsoe—scored again, this time an 8-yard pass to David Patten to push the Patriots' lead to 14-3 at halftime.
After Rams wideout Torry Holt slipped at the line of scrimmage, the Patriots intercepted another Warner pass that led to Adam Vinatieri's 37-yard field goal in the third quarter, extending the Patriots' lead to 17-3.
But the Rams offense finally exploded in the fourth quarter.
Driving to the Patriots' 3-yard line, Warner fumbled on fourth down and Tebucky Jones raced down the field for a Patriots touchdown that would have put the game out of reach. But New England was flagged for defensive holding, negating the play. Warner then scored from two yards out to cut the lead to 17-10.
The Patriots went three-and-out in their next two possessions.
With the Rams at their own 45-yard line with 1:51 remaining in the game, Warner struck quickly—perhaps too quickly. He led the team to the end zone in just three plays and 21 seconds, hitting Ricky Proehl for a 26-yard score with 1:30 left in the game.
Brady had no timeouts to work with but led the Patriots down to the Rams' 30, and Adam Vinatieri hit a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give New England its first Super Bowl victory.
It was also the first time in Super Bowl history that the game was won on the final play.
Since a Vinatieri miss would have merely sent the game into overtime, and due to the disappointing offensive production (based on high expectations) for three quarters of the game, it ranks lower than other Super Bowls with close finishes.
Date: Jan 23, 1989
Final: San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16
The 49ers established themselves as the titan of the 80s after winning this Super Bowl—their third in that decade, and the first NFC team to win three Super Bowls.
San Francisco and Cincinnati traded field goals, and halftime was only 3-3—the first tie at intermission in Super Bowl history.
After another exchange of field goals, the Bengals took a 13-6 lead when Stafford Jennings ran the 49er kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown with 34 seconds left in the third quarter.
The 49ers responded swiftly, with quarterback Joe Montana driving the team 85 yards in just four plays, capped by Montana's 14-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice, who finished with 11 receptions for a Super Bowl-record 215 yards. The play tied the game at 13.
After Cincinnati was forced to punt, the 49ers drove down the field again but Mike Cofer's 49-yard field goal attempt to give San Francisco the lead sailed wide right.
From their own 32, the Bengals—led by quarterback Boomer Esiason and running back Ickey Woods—worked a 10-play drive. And with 3:20 left in the game, Bengals kicker Jim Breech hit a 40-yard field goal to give the Bengals a 16-13 lead.
Thanks to a San Francisco penalty on the kickoff return, the 49ers were backed up to their own 8 yard line. To calm his teammates in the huddle before the drive, Montana cemented his "Joe Cool" reputation when he pointed to the stands and said, "Isn't that John Candy?"
Montana—despite a Cincinnati defense that was playing anything but prevent—proceeded to lead the team on an amazing 92-yard, 11-play drive capped by a 10-yard touchdown strike to John Taylor with :39 remaining to win the game.
Date: Jan 30, 2000
Final: St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16
The Titans were a major underdog against the Rams' prolific offense.
Yet for the first half, the mighty Rams could not muster a single touchdown. Tennessee's defense rose to the challenge, holding "The Greatest Show On Turf" to a very pedestrian three field goals, including one missed field goal.
Yet the Titans were even more offensively-challenged, missing a field goal of their own, and being shut out 9-0 at the half.
When the Rams finally hit pay dirt in the third quarter on a nine-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kurt Warner to Torry Holt, pushing the Rams lead to 16-0, it appeared Tennessee was doomed.
Then Titans running back Eddie George ran for a one-yard score at the end of the third quarter. The Titans two-point conversion failed, so they trailed 16-6.
Later in the fourth quarter, George scored again—this time from two yards out—to bring the Titans to within a field goal at 16-13.
With 2:15 remaining, Titans kicker Al Del Greco booted a 43-yard field goal to make it a brand new ball game at 16-16.
The Rams immediately responded with a 73-yard touchdown from Warner—who finished with 414 yards passing—to Isaac Bruce with 1:54 to play.
Titans quarterback Steve McNair drove the team down to the Rams' 10-yard line with six seconds left. Without any timeouts, McNair hit a slanting Kevin Dyson at the Rams' 3 but Mike Jones brought Dyson—who stretched to break the plane—down at the one-yard line as time expired in the most dramatic final play in Super Bowl history.
Ironically, a team most known for its offense wins its only Super Bowl because of defense.
Date: Jan 26, 1986
Final: Chicago 46, New England 10
Full disclosure: I'm from Chicago, so I admit I'm biased.
But there are enough elements in this Super Bowl to rank it high even for those outside of Chicago.
There was diversity of offense (deep throws, short throws and solid running).
There was the comical sight of gap-toothed defensive rookie William "Refrigerator" Perry plunged in from the one-yard line to score a touchdown.
There was the sad realization that Walter Payton never scored. Head coach Mike Ditka, who called the goal-line score for Perry as well as another one for quarterback Jim McMahon, said not calling Payton's number at the goal was one of the biggest regrets of his life.
There was a defense so dominating it piled up seven sacks and six turnovers. It also limited the Patriots to an unheard-of negative-19 yards of total offense in the first half.
The Bears defense was in the backfield more than the Patriots offense.
The "46" defense also limited the Patriots to a record-low seven rushing yards.
Super Bowl MVP Richard Dent at one point literally shook running back Craig James until he fumbled the ball.
Altogether, it was compelling football to watch for practically the entire game (even backup defensive tackle Henry Waechter got in on the scoring with a safety in the fourth quarter).
So though the game was a blowout, it was arguably the most fun Super Bowl blowout ever—unless you were a Patriots fan.
What's more, this was the only Super Bowl where the events leading up to the actual game were also memorable.
For one thing, the Bears addressed media curiosity over the team's music video, a truly 80s-esque excess of Bears players rapping about being Super Bowl champs—taped in mid-season. The rap song was certified gold. The video's cheesiness and profits going to charity drew chuckles rather than consternation about arrogance.
Also in the weeks preceding the game, quarterback Jim McMahon mooned a news helicopter, dealt with false accusations of declaring "all the women of New Orleans sluts", and clashed with team officials over his personal acupuncturist.
This was one Super Bowl where the entire experience—not just the game itself—was memorable.
Date: Feb 1, 2009
Final: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23
The first half was close, with Pittsburgh clinging to a 10-7 lead. Arizona picked off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to give Arizona the ball at the Pittsburgh 34 with a chance to tie or take the lead.
Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner drove his underdog team down to first-and-goal at the Steelers one-yard line with 18 seconds left in the first half. But his pass intended for Anquan Boldin was intercepted by Jerome Harrison and returned 100 yards down the sideline as time expired for essentially a 14-point swing.
The Steelers appeared to be in a position to dominate with a 17-7 lead at halftime. And after a 21-yard Jeff Reed field goal, Pittsburgh boosted their lead to 20-7 at the end of the third quarter.
Later in the fourth quarter, Warner marched the Cardinals 87 yards, culminated by a one-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald to cut the Steelers' lead to 20-14.
After an exchange of punts, Arizona was awarded a safety when Pittsburgh was flagged for holding while Roethlisberger was in his own end zone.
Now Pittsburgh's lead was just 20-16.
After Arizona received the ensuing kick, Warner threw a short pass over the middle to Fitzgerald, who housed it for a 64-yard touchdown that gave Arizona the lead 23-20 with 2:47 to play.
From his own 22 yard line, Roethlisberger led the Steelers down the field, ending with Santonio Holmes's amazing, leaping, toe-tapping six-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone with 42 seconds left that was upheld by replay.
The Cardinals had one last gasp, and Warner drove the team from their own 23-yard line to the Pittsburgh 44-yard line with 15 seconds remaining. However, Pittsburgh forced a Warner fumble and then recovered it to preserve their victory.
Date: Jan 28, 1991
Final: New York Giants 20, Buffalo 19
The Giants were underdogs to Jim Kelly's Buffalo Bills. And initially, the game went the Bills' way.
Though the Giants struck first, the Bills scored 12 consecutive points, including a safety, to lead 12-3.
Backup Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler—playing because standout starter Phil Simms broke his foot in Week 14—tossed a 14-yard touchdown to Stephen Baker to cut the Bills' lead to 12-10 at halftime.
In the second half, Hostetler engineered a 14-play drive that chewed up a Super Bowl-record 9:29, capped by Ottis Anderson's one-yard touchdown. The drive not only gave the Giants a 17-12 lead, but also kept the potent Bills offense off the field for awhile.
In total, the Giants' dominated time of possession with a record 40:33.
The Bills nevertheless recaptured the lead when Thurman Thomas—who finished with a combined 190 yards from scrimmage—ran 31 yards for a score, staking Buffalo to a 19-17 lead.
With just over seven minutes remaining, the Giants' Matt Bahr kicked a 21-yard field goal to give the underdogs the lead, 20-19.
With 2:16 left and backed up to their own 10 yard line, Kelly and Thomas led the Bills down the field far enough with :08 remaining to give kicker Scott Norwood an opportunity to win the game on a 47-yard field goal.
The reason this Super Bowl was ranked #1 is because unlike other Super Bowls (like XXXVI and XXXVIII) where a missed field goal had the safety net of merely sending the game into overtime, a missed field goal here would directly lead to his team's loss. The outcome of the game hung entirely on his right leg.
Unfortunately for the Bills, Norwood's kick sailed wide right, saving the Giants' improbable upset.