The 25 Biggest "What Ifs?" of the Last 25 Super Bowls
As we head into this weekend's much anticipated Super Bowl match-up between the Pats and Giants, it is hard not to catch the highlight videos of Super Bowls past.
Many of these games had key turning points, others had players who turned in a once-in-a-lifetime performance. But what if?
What if Scott Norwood hadn't been wide right?
What if Neil O'Donnell hadn't thrown a bad ball?
What if a few calls would have gone the Seahawks' way?
All good "what ifs" as we look at the biggest of the would-have-beens and could-have-beens over the last 25 Super Bowls.
Super Bowl XXI
N.Y. Giants 39
Denver Broncos 20
Here was a game that basically got away from Denver in the span of a few minutes.
You could argue that a botched 23-yard field goal was the big "what if," but that would mean you didn't watch what was to ensue.
With 3 minutes left in the half, John Elway hit Clarence Kay for a 25-yard reception. The officials ruled it incomplete, but replay was used for the first time in Super Bowl history. The ruling on the field would stand, but CBS cameras had better angles showing that it was indeed a catch.
On the ensuing play, George Martin sacked Elway in the end zone for a safety.
While the Broncos would lead 10-9 at half, the momentum had swung, and the Giants would score 24 unanswered.
What if that had been a catch? Would it have lead to a scoring drive? Would the Broncos had been able to keep the game close and ultimately win it?
George Martin's safety gets the "what if" of Super Bowl XXI.
Super Bowl XXII
Washington Redskins 42
Denver Broncos 10
For the second straight year, the Broncos had advanced to the Super Bowl, and for the second straight year they would get out to a good start, only to be dismantled during the final three quarters.
Trailing 10-0, Redskins quarterback Doug Williams went down with a possible leg injury, and backup Jay Schroeder was forced to come in. This was short-lived as Williams would come back to start the second quarter. Williams would throw for over 220 yards and four scores in just the second quarter.
So "what if" Doug Williams would have stayed down?
Could Jay Schroeder have engineered a comeback win?
Would unknown and seldom-used tailback Timmy Smith still have gone for over 200 yards on the ground with Schroeder leading the attack?
The toughness of Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams was the "what if" of the big game in 1988.
Super Bowl XXIII
San Francisco 49ers 20
Cincinnati Bengals 16
In a game that will be forever remembered as Joe Montana's finest hour, there could be many "what ifs?"
A Bengals fan could question if they would have been tougher up front of it weren't for losing nose tackle Tim Krumrie early in the game.
49er fans could question if they would have needed a game-winning drive if Mike Cofer would have hit his field goals.
Here was the "what if" moment that ultimately cost the Bengals the game.
With the Bengals ahead 13-6 early in the fourth quarter, Joe Montana dropped back to pass from the Cincy 10 and threw it right into the hands of Bengal corner Lewis Billups. He dropped it. On the next play the 49ers scored to tie it at 13-13.
What if Billups would have caught it?
Would that have been the momentum stealer the Bengals needed to steal one from San Fran?
Lewis Billups' dropped INT gets our "what if" from SB 23.
Super Bowl XXIV
San Francisco 49ers 55
Denver Broncos 10
The 49ers earned their second straight title with a beating of the Denver Broncos, who had now lost three of the last four Super Bowls.
The Niners were up by 38 before Denver even reached the end zone. The Broncos were outgained 461 to 167 in yardage, and were nearly doubled in time of possession.
So what could have changed and gave the Broncos a "what if" scenario?
How's this one, what if the 49ers wouldn't have shown up?
Simply put, this one was what the score said it was, a bloodbath.
Super Bowl XXV
New York Giants 20
Buffalo Bills 19
January 27, 1991 saw not only one of the best renditions of our National Anthem by Whitney Houston, but it also saw on the greatest games in NFL history.
It was a contrast in styles. Buffalo was high scoring, fast paced, and quick. The Giants, methodical, tough, and well coached. However neither offense or defense would be on the field at the end for this obvious choice for the "what if" of the game.
Eight seconds were on the clock. The ball rested on the Giants 29-yard line, setting up a 47-yard field goal for Buffalo's Scott Norwood.
What if the kick had not been wide right?
Would this single change in trajectory have changed the next four years of big-game heartbreak for the Bills?
Fans in Buffalo have been thinking about this for decades now, but one thing is for sure, without the wide right, Buffalo would have avoided a record four straight Super Bowl losses.
Super Bowl XXVI
Washington Redskins 37
Buffalo Bills 24
It was a match-up of the NFL's two highest scoring teams. Buffalo had been in the big game the year before, being victimized by "wide right," while the Redskins had won the big game four years prior.
The Redskins offense was as good as advertised putting up 37 points and over 400 yards of offense. The difference may have been due to the fact that Buffalo did not protect the ball.
"What if" Jim Kelly had not thrown four interceptions in this game?
Sure they were down 24-0 at one point, but a lot of that can be put on the arm of Jim Kelly. His misfire on the second half's first possession was the nail in the coffin as the Skins were able to capitalize and get to that 24-point advantage.
So if he doesn't throw the picks, do they stay in the game?
Could the Bills have been in a better position than their 37-10 deficit entering the final six minutes?
Jim Kelly and the turnover bug gives us 26th's "what if" moment(s) times four.
Super Bowl XXVII
Dallas Cowboys 52
Buffalo Bills 17
Once again the Bills were in the Super Bowl, and once again they were defeated, this time in embarrassing fashion.
The Bills turned it over nine times, while Troy Aikman threw for four scores and Emmitt Smith ran for over a hundred yards in a laugher.
So what is our "what if" from this blowout?
Here is a mind twister.
A few weeks earlier, Frank Reich had stepped in for an injured Kelly during their AFC wild card game versus Houston. All Reich did was engineer the NFL's greatest comeback, a 41-38 win after being down 32 in the game. Reich would follow that up with a road win the following week in Pittsburgh before handing the reins back over to a rusty Jim Kelly.
What if Frank Reich had started?
You probably can't do any worse than nine turnovers as a team, and granted, Reich was not great in relief of the re-injured Kelly, but wouldn't the prep have helped him out?
Another what if, Frank Reich getting the start, would it have helped the Bills offense, or would we have still saw a Cowboy blowout?
Super Bowl XXVIII
Dallas Cowboys 30
Buffalo Bills 13
The nightmare would finally come to an end for Bills fans as they lost their fourth consecutive Super Bowl to the Cowboys in 1994. It still is the last time they made the big game.
To their credit, the Bills actually looked good during the first half, leading 13-6 at the half.
But we all know what was to happen.
So "what if" Thurman Thomas had not fumbled leading to the James Washington scoop and score to tie it at 13-13?
Could the Bills have marched down the field and taken a two-score lead?
Would they have finally gotten the monkey off of their back?
James Washington's return off the Thurman Thomas fumble, the "what if" that might have changed Buffalo culture.
Super Bowl XXIX
San Francisco 49ers 49
San Diego Chargers 26
San Francisco scored early and often as Steve Young "got the monkey off of his back," in the Niners 23 point win in Super Bowl XXIX.
Young threw for a Super Bowl-record six touchdowns and the Niners racked up more than 450 yards.
So how could have this one changed?
"What if" Natrone Means could have controlled the game a little bit more. I know this a stretch, but this was a pretty significant beat-down.
If Means can pace the offense, keep the ball away from Young, and eat the clock, who knows, maybe the game would have been shortened and kept closer.
A stretch as it may be, Natrone needed to Mean more business in our "what if" from Super Bowl XXIX.
Super Bowl XXX
Dallas Cowboys 27
Pittsburgh Steelers 17
It was the game that Dallas corner Larry Brown will never forget, and the game Pittsburgh QB Neil O'Donnell would love to forget.
The game, which was back and forth, saw a huge momentum swing when Steelers head coach Bill Cowher called an onside kick which Pittsburgh recovered. The Steelers would move down the field and score to cut the lead to 20-17.
The Steelers would get the ball back with just over four minutes remaining, still down three.
"What if" Neil O'Donnell had not just given Larry Brown one of the easiest INT's in Super Bowl history?
Could Pittsburgh have drove down the field to win it? The momentum was definitely on their side.
Would the Steelers had kicked a game-tying field goal to send the Super Bowl into OT for the first time ever? Or would another "wide right" have occurred?
One thing is for sure, Brown can credit the pick to both his MVP award, and the huge contract he was given in the offseason by the Raiders.
The "what if" from Tempe in 1996: what if Neil O'Donnell had thrown the ball to the team wearing black?
Super Bowl XXXI
Green Bay 35
New England 21
When you look at the stats on this one, it would have appeared that Green Bay dominated this Super Bowl, but that really wasn't the case.
In a tight game, it took a Desmond Howard kickoff return to thwart off the momentum the Pats had gained after cutting the Packer lead to six on a Curtis Martin touchdown.
So how could the Pats have won this one?
Is it better tackling, perhaps tackling of Desmond Howard?
"What if" they would have protected and blocked up front better?
Drew Bledsoe was under pressure all day. Reggie White got to him three times, including two on back-to-back plays late. The pressure forced Bledsoe to throw four interceptions, and the Packer run defense only allowed Curtis Martin to run for a mere 41 yards.
If they blocked and protected better, could it have meant a more efficient offense?
Could Curtis Martin have been a bigger factor in this game?
Our "what if" from SB 31 is a better performance up front by the Patriot "Big Uglies."
Super Bowl XXXII
Denver Broncos 31
Green Bay Packers 24
Terrell Davis ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns to guide the Broncos to their first Super Bowl title. The game itself was a tightly contested battle that saw a batted-away pass on a fourth down late seal the Denver win.
So what would be the "what if" in this game?
Each team made their share of plays and mistakes, but when you look at the deciding factor that won it, it was TD himself.
So "what if" the Packers would have been able to figure out the zone-blocking scheme of the Broncos?
Would Terrell Davis been able to control the game, and if not, could John Elway have won it with his arm?
Zone blocking gets the "what if" for this highly competitive Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXXIII
Denver Broncos 34
Atlanta Falcons 19
This was a game that easily could have been worse, had it not been for a few Jason Elam field goals. John Elway threw for 336 and a score in earning MVP honors.
At one point it was 31-6. Tim Dwight was a bright spot for the Falcons with 210 return yards, including a 94-yarder to cut the score to 31-13.
But, if you look at how close it could have been had it not been for a few mistakes, and that it what we are doing here, the Falcons could have been in this game down the stretch.
"What if" Chris Chandler hadn't thrown back-to-back picks to Darrien Gordon?
The score was 17-6 and the Falcons were moving in Denver territory when Chandler threw the first. Put points on the board there and you have a one-score game.
Even if you take away the next pick, which also occurred in Denver territory, and put up points, it is either 24-9, or possibly 24-13.
Games change with takeaways, and when you force three interceptions, all on drives that were in some cases deep in Denver territory, it kills the morale of a team.
Chris Chandler's back-to-back Christmas gifts to Darrien Gordon are the "what if" plays of Super Bowl XXXIII.
Super Bowl XXXIV
St. Louis Rams 23
Tennessee Titans 16
The Tennessee Titans needed a miracle to get here. In fact they needed a "Music City Miracle" to reach this year's Super Bowl. Unfortunately, they came up one yard short of sending SB 34 to the big game's first overtime in history.
The game was a low-scoring defensive battle early, seeing the Rams struggling in taking the 16-0 lead. Then the Titans got rolling with back-to-back touchdown runs by Eddie George, making it 16-13.
An Al Del Greco field goal with just over two minutes left tied it at 16-16.
However, on the first play of the ensuing drive Kurt Warner hit Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard score to regain the lead at 23-16.
McNair's ability to avoid being taken down allowed the Titans to set up for one final chance.
Ten yards from the end zone, six seconds left, was another miracle in the works?
"What if" Mike Jones had missed the tackle on Kevin Dyson?
The slant pass was caught at the 5, Jones had Dyson wrapped up around the 2 1/2, and Dyson could not reach forward.
If he would have gotten in, would the Titans had gone for the win? Would they have won it in overtime with momentum on their side?
Perhaps the greatest "what if" on this list comes from the final play in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Super Bowl XXXV
Baltimore Ravens 34
New York Giants 7
The Ravens crushed the Giants in this one, only allowing a shade over 150 yards of offensive and not allowing an offensive score.
Overall, both teams combined for the lowest combined total yards in SB history.
In a game that was dominated by the Ravens defense, was there a "what if" moment that could have changed the G-Men's fortune?
Jessie Armstead had a 43-yard pick-6 that would have tied the score at 7-7. "What if" that play had not been called back for holding?
At 7-7 it is a different game, a different mindset for both teams. Trent Dilfer, having made a crucial mistake, may have hung his head, while the Giants defense could have been inspired to make more plays.
On the other hand keeping the score tight would also have taken the game off the shoulders of Giants QB Kerry Collins, who threw four interceptions.
So the hypothetical "what if" from this beating is a pick-6 that was not to be.
Super Bowl XXXVI
New England Patriots 20
St. Louis Rams 17
It will go down as one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history as the Patriots nudged the Rams in SB 36.
The Patriots took a 14-3 lead into the half, and were up 17-10 until Kurt Warner led the Rams down the field to tie it with about a minute and a half left.
The Patriots had no timeouts left. The commentators were calling for them to play for overtime. Coaches were calling for Brady to take care of the ball, while Drew Bledsoe was telling him to sling that damn thing down the field and win it.
We could have many "what if" for the Rams centered around their turnover problems, or a Jeff Wilkens missed field goal, but here is the real "what if."
"What if" Tom Brady and the Patriots had played it conservative?
Could the Pats have beaten the almighty Rams in overtime? Would they have fumbled with back J.R. Redmond? If they had lost, would we have seen a "Patriots Dynasty" during the 2000's?
All are good "what ifs" but we all know Brady drove them down the field and Adam Vinatieri won it with a 48-yarder.
The "what if" centers around strategy via Belichick.
Super Bowl XXXVII
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48
Oakland Raiders 21
The Gruden Bowl, saw the current team from Tampa handily defeat his old mates from Oakland in one of the more lopsided games in recent memory.
The Bucs defense forced five Rich Gannon interceptions, three of which were returned for scores. Oakland trailed at one point 34-3.
So how do you get a "what if" from this stinker?
Well, all week Bucs head coach Jon Gruden had played the part of Rich Gannon on their scout team, since he in fact did know the Raiders offense inside and out.
"What if" Jon Gruden had not been the prior head coach of the Raiders?
Had the Bucs not known the Raiders offense in depth, would they have been so dominant in this game?
It is a stretch, but the "what if" is all about the seed of Chucky and his prior tenure in Oakland.
Super Bowl XXXVIII
New England Patriots 32
Carolina Panthers 29
Many of the participants in this Super Bowl have said that all you have to do is fast forward it to the fourth quarter and skip the rest of the game. How right they were.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Antowain Smith scored, giving the Patriots a 21-10 lead. But Carolina would no die. Jake Delhomme lead the Panthers on a drive that ended on a 33-yard TD run by DeShaun Foster, cutting it to 21-16.
Brady then drove down the field but was intercepted deep in Panthers territory. The ensuing possession saw Delhomme throw an 85-yard strike to take a 22-21 lead.
Then it was Brady's turn. He would march the Pats right back down the field and find Mike Vrabel on a one-yard score. It was 29-22 after the conversion.
Now it was Delhomme's turn, and he turned to the man who had tied the Super Bowl up just two years prior in Ricky Proehl, for a 13-yard score.
It was 29-29 with just over a minute left.
But then it all went wrong for the Panthers.
John Kasay's kick went out of bounds, putting the Pats at the 40. Flash forward to the end and Adam Vinatieri wins it again.
"What if" John Kasay's kick had not gone out of bounds?
Would the Patriots gone for it like they did two years prior? Could the Panthers have forced and ultimately won in overtime?
Special teams wins and loses games, and it gets our "what if" scenario for Super Bowl 38.
Super Bowl XXXIX
New England Patriots 24
Philadelphia Eagles 21
For the first time in history, the Super Bowl had gone into its final quarter tied.
Tied at 14-14, Tom Brady and his offense got it going with a nine-play, 66-yard scoring drive to take a 21-14 lead. The Eagles would try to answer right back, driving into Patriots territory, only to see a Tedy Bruschi INT end the drive.
The Pats added a field goal and found themselves ahead 24-14.
With 5:40 left in the game, the Eagles took over at their 21. They drove down the field and McNabb hit Greg Lewis for a 30-yard strike cutting it to 24-21. After a failed onside kick, the Pats were able to force Philly to use their timeouts and ultimately put the game out of reach.
The Eagles final scoring drive took nearly 4 minutes.
"What if" the Eagles would have gone no-huddle on that possession? Would they have gotten the ball back with more than just 46 seconds left? Would the Patriots have changed their game-plan with more time left on the clock?
Questionable time management may have cost the Eagles in this "what if" from SB 39.
Super Bowl XL
Pittsburgh Steelers 21
Seattle Seahawks 10
Antwaan Randle-El became the first WR in Super Bowl history to throw a touchdown as the Steelers added one for the thumb with its 21-10 win over the Seahawks.
The real story in this one was the officiating. Several key calls went against the Seahawks, including a phantom holding call that cost them a potential touchdown, which would have made it 14-10.
Another play that was in question was the Ben Roethlisberger touchdown run, since many angles showed that he may not have gotten the ball over the plane of the end zone. Take away the 6 and put up the 3, and it would have been a whole new ball game.
"What if" the officiating had been decent?
Honestly, the two biggest calls went against the Seahawks, but there were calls that went against the Steelers as well. Plus, Seattle had their chances to win the game, they just let Pittsburgh win it.
But "what if" those calls went the Seahawks way? Would they have prevailed? Would Pittsburgh squeaked one out?
We will never know, as shaky officiating gets the "what if" mark from the Motor City Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLI
Indianapolis Colts 29
Chicago Bears 17
It was a rain-soaked event when the Bears took on the Colts in SB 41 and fumbles and mistakes were aplenty, none bigger than the one by Rex Grossman in the fourth quarter.
The Bears started of faster than anybody in big-game history as Devin Hester took the opening kickoff for a score. The Bears would build a 14-6 lead before mistakes started costing them.
A Cedric Benson fumble lead to an Indy field goal, cutting it to 14-9. Then after a three-and-out, Peyton Manning took over and took the Colts down the field and to a 16-14 halftime lead.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter, it's 22-17 and the Bears have the ball at their own 20 with just over 13 minutes left.
"What if" Rex Grossman doesn't throw a pick-6 to Kelvin Hayden four plays into the drive?
Thomas Jones ran for over 100 yards; why not run the ball down the throat of a team that had struggled with stopping the run?
What if the Bears had scored a TD on the possession? Does Manning join Joe Cool in leading a last-minute, game-winning drive?
Sexy Rexy, "what if" you didn't throw interceptions period!
A pick-6 may have changed and put a nail in the coffin of this game and is the "what if" thought of Super Bowl XLI.
Super Bowl XLII
New York Giants 17
New England Patriots 14
No team had done it before, 16-0. Then again, no team had ever put up the video game-like numbers the 2007 Patriots did.
Heading into this game, it was a match-up of David vs. Goliath, as the Giants had had to win back-to-back road playoff games to get here.
It was a contrast in style. The Pats could put up points lightning-fast, while the Giants were more methodical.
The game was low scoring, as the Giants were able to pressure Brady and keep the Pats offense at bay. Offensively, they made their biggest splash on a nearly ten minute drive that lead to a field goal.
Flash forward to the fourth quarter.
The Patriots have just taken a 14-10 lead with just over 2 minutes left.
It's 2nd and 5, Giants have the ball when Asante Samuel drops what would have been the game-ending interception.
On the next play with Eli Manning in the grasp of the defender, he flung one down the field towards David Tyree, who made a circus catch by using the side of his helmet.
A few plays later ,Plaxico Burress grabbed the game-winner in earning the Giants the victory.
So "what if" Asante Samuel had made the pick. Game over, right?
"What if" they would have whistled Manning in the grasp? Probably game over, right?
"What if" Tyree drops it?
Two plays, with three "what if" scenarios, in one of the best Super Bowls of all time.
Super Bowl XLIII
Pittsburgh Steelers 27
Arizona Cardinals 23
Nobody thought the Arizona Cardinals would make it to the Super Bowl. Not many thought they had a snowball's chance in hell to beat the favored Steelers. Goliath did get the better hand, but just barely.
The Cardinals fell down 20-7, but fought back to take a 23-20 lead late. Big Ben would go on to lead the Steelers on an 8-play, 78-yard scoring drive that ended with Santonio Holmes' outstanding touchdown grab.
But let's back up to the "what if" moment of the game.
With less than 20 seconds left, the Cardinals had a first and goal on the Pittsburgh one yard line. Warner dropped back to pass and was intercepted by James Harrison, who took it all the way to give the Steelers a 17-7 halftime lead,
"What if" Warner hadn't thrown the pick? It would have been a completely different game going into the locker room either ahead 14-10, or tied 10-10.
Could the Cardinals have taken the momentum into the second half and won a world title?
Would the Steelers had just dug their heels deeper?
A "what if" I am sure Warner and the Cardinals wish would have never existed.
Super Bowl XLIV
New Orleans Saints 31
Indianapolis Colts 17
It was the first match-up of top seeds in the Super Bowl in more than a decade. It would live up to the hype.
Indianapolis jumped out to a 10-0 lead early, but the Saints found a way to keep Peyton Manning and the Colts off the board and cut it to 10-6 at the half.
Then the two "what ifs" of this Super Bowl occurred.
Ambush occurred. An onside kick head coach Sean Payton had practiced all week during practice had worked, giving the Saints a possession.
It was a possession the Saints wouldn't waste as a 16-yard screen pass from Drew Brees to Pierre Thomas would give the Saints their first lead at 13-10.
Flash forward to the fourth quarter, the Saints are ahead 24-17, with the Colts driving late.
Peyton Manning went back to pass looking for Austin Collie when Tracy Porter broke in front of the ball for a 74-yard pick 6.
"What if" Manning hadn't been picked? Would the Colts had been able to tie it and force overtime?
Would the Saints had had enough time for a late drive to set up a game-winning field goal?
The "what ifs" of this game that proved to be the turning points in a Colts loss.
Super Bowl XLV
Green Bay Packers 31
Pittsburgh Steelers 26
The Packers were beaten up with almost as many guys on IR as they had on their roster. Still they had Aaron Rodgers pre-discount double check era.
The Packers would jump out to a 21-3 lead thanks in part to two Ben Roethlisberger interceptions. But the Steelers would battle back to get it as close as three points. But the Packers found a way down the stretch.
So what was the difference in this game?
Teams with a pick-6 are 11-0 in Super Bowls all time.
So how about this one. "what if" Big Ben hadn't thrown a pick-6 to Nick Collins in the first half?
Take away the points and the Steelers win, right? Would Pittsburgh had been able to run the ball more? Could the Packers have found a way to win without that huge turn in momentum?
Just another "what if" on a list of 25 thought provoking plays and chains of events that have helped determine past Super Bowl winners....
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