Super Bowl 2012: New York Giants and the 10 Strongest Underdogs of All Time
It's a story of how an underdog team in the New York Giants met the challenge of winning not only three playoff games in a row on the road, but also defeating the then-undefeated Patriots.
Some underdogs in the Super Bowl were not up to the challenge that lay before them. Others have managed to beat the odds and win it all.
Here's a look at the 10 strongest underdogs in Super Bowl history.
1968-69 New York Jets
You can't talk about underdogs without mentioning the New York Jets.
Considered to be one of the greatest upsets in sports history, the Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III, despite being 18-point underdogs. The game is remembered for Joe Namath's "guarantee,'' and because the Jets became the first AFL team to beat an NFL team in the Super Bowl.
But there is more to the story.
In the 1968 regular season, the Jets won the Eastern Division of the AFL. They played the Oakland Raiders in a rematch of the infamous "Heidi Game" in the AFL Championship game on December 29, 1968.
Oakland had finished 12-2 and was the co-winner of the Western Division. The Raiders also boasted the league's best offense, scoring 453 points.
Nonetheless, the Jets prevailed 27-23 to win their first and only AFL title.
Meanwhile, the Colts finished 13-1, losing only to the Cleveland Browns 30-20. They succeeded despite the loss of star quarterback Johnny Unitas to injury for much of the regular season.
The Colts defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the Western Conference Championship game before exacting revenge against the Browns 34-0 in the NFL Championship game.
Naturally, with a team that appeared to be so dominating, it was expected that they would win the Super Bowl. In addition, many believed that AFL teams were inferior to their NFL counterparts. The Kansas City Chiefs had lost to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I, 35-10, and the Oakland Raiders had lost to to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II, 33-14.
But on January 12, 1969, the Colts came up short.
An interesting note: Joe Namath, who was the Super Bowl MVP, didn't throw a single touchdown pass in the game.
1969-70 Kansas City Chiefs
The 1969-70 Kansas City Chiefs proved that the AFL could go toe-to-toe with the NFL's best.
They won Super Bowl IV, beating the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings 23-7.
The Vikings were heavy favorites. They had a 12-2 record, the best in the NFL that season. They also led the league in points scored and points allowed. Their defensive line was so tough, they were nicknamed the "Purple People Eaters."
Minnesota beat the Los Angeles Rams for the Western Division title before crushing the Cleveland Browns 27-7 in the NFL Championship game.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs, led by quarterback Len Dawson, posted a 11-3 record, good for second in the Western Division. They beat the New York Jets 13-6, before winning the AFL Championship against the Oakland Raiders, who they had lost to twice in the regular season.
Several days before the Super Bowl, Dawson was linked to a Detroit federal gambling investigation. It was noted that the ensuing controversy cost Dawson both sleep and concentration during preparation for the game. Fortunately for him and the Chiefs, he was cleared of all charges.
1980-81 Oakland Raiders
The 1980-81 Oakland Raiders became the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl as a wild card, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in Super Bowl XV.
The Raiders finished 11-5 that season and finished tied in the AFC West with the San Diego Chargers. However, because they had lost to the Chargers in overtime in Week 2 of the regular season, they finished second in the division and were forced to play as a wild card.
They defeated the Houston Oilers in the wild-card round, followed by a 14-12 win against the Browns in the divisional playoffs. In the AFC Championship game, they were able to exact revenge, beating the Chargers 34-27.
With that victory, Raiders coach Tom Flores became the first minority coach to win the Super Bowl. He had served as an assistant with Buffalo and Oakland under John Madden.The first Hispanic quarterback in the NFL, Flores played for the Raiders, Bills and Chiefs.
He utilized the team's powerful defense (led by linebackers Ted Hendricks and Rod Martin, and defensive back Lester Hayes) and offensive line (led by Hall of Famers Gene Upshaw and Art Shell) to achieve success.
Then there was Jim Plunkett.
After achieving Rookie of the Year honors in 1971, Plunkett's career was in decline after inconsistent seasons with the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers.
However, everything changed upon joining the Raiders in 1978.
Until 1980, he was used only as a backup. However, after starting quarterback Dan Pastorini suffered an ankle injury, Plunkett stepped in.
Initially, he was very bad, including a five-interception game against the Kansas City Chiefs. However, he and the Raiders would go on to win nine of their next 11 games and reach the playoffs.
In the Super Bowl, Plunkett had a three-touchdown performance and won MVP honors.
1981-82 San Francisco 49ers
The 1981 season was Joe Montana's first full season in the NFL. Who would have believed back then that he would lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl win?
A year before his arrival, the 49ers were 6-10, but Montana's presence changed all that, as he threw for 3,565 yards en route to a league-best 13-3 record.
In addition, the 49ers had a young but solid defensive line, headlined by rookie defensive back Ronnie Lott, who would make seven interceptions and return three for touchdowns (an NFL record).
However, in order to win, they had to beat the Cincinnati Bengals.
Like the 49ers, the Bengals also had been 6-10 the year before. They were able to turn things around, thanks to quarterback Ken Anderson, who would post the highest QB rating that season and win the MVP.
In addition, the Bengals had a solid defense that included players such as linebacker Reggie Williams, and defensive ends Eddie Edwards and Ross Browner.
But that's didn't deter Montana. He threw for 157 yards and a touchdown, as well as running 18 yards for another score in a 26-21 victory over the Bengals.
1983-84 Oakland Raiders
Just three seasons after winning Super Bowl XV, the Oakland Raiders once again would play the underdog, this time to the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.
The Redskins were the defending Super Bowl champions, having beaten the Miami Dolphins the year before. Under Coach Joe Gibbs, the Redskins finished with a league-best record of 14-2. They also set a record for the most points scored with 541, a record that would not be broken until 1998 by the Minnesota Vikings.
The Raiders still had head coach Tom Flores and quarterback Jim Plunkett, but the biggest offensive impact was made by running back Marcus Allen. In just his second season with the team, Allen rushed for 1,014 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also had 68 reception.
He would score the final two touchdowns of the Super Bowl, earning MVP honors, as the Raiders crushed the Redskins 35-9.
1990-91 New York Giants
Yes, it may seem funny now, but back in the early 1990s, the Buffalo Bills were one of the best teams in the NFL.
In the first of four straight but unsuccessful Super Bowl appearances, the Bills entered as seven-point favorites. With Jim Kelly as their quarterback and utilizing a no-huddle offense, the Bills posted a 13-3 record and won the AFC East.
They had the NFL's best offense in the regular season, and continued to excel offensively in the playoffs, including a 51-3 win over the Raiders in the AFC Championship game.
The New York Giants, coached by Bill Parcells, also posted a 13-3 record and won the NFC East. They had the league's best defense (which, by the way, was coordinated by Bill Belichick), allowing a league-low 211 points, and committed the fewest turnovers with 14 (an NFL record that lasted until 2008).
However, during Week 15 of the regular season, ironically against Buffalo, quarterback Phil Simms went down with an ankle injury and was lost for the season. Taking the helm was Jeff Hostetler, who in seven years as backup to Simms had only started two games.
Despite this, Hostetler and the Giants managed to win the final two games of the regular season. They then went on to crush the Chicago Bears 31-3 in the divisional playoffs, before managing a narrow two-point victory against the two-time defending Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
In Super Bowl XXV, the Giants beat the Bills 20-19 in what is now known as the "Wide Right Game."
In the final seconds of regulation, Bills kicker Scott Norwood 47-yard field-goal attempt went wide right.
As for Hostetler, he threw for 222 yards and a touchdown. But it was Giants running back Ottis Anderson who earned MVP honors, rushing for 102 yards and a touchdown.
1997-98 Denver Broncos
However, there was one one thing missing on his resume. A Super Bowl ring.
Before the showdown against the Green Bay Packers, he had appeared in three Super Bowls but had lost them all (XXI, XXII, and XXIV).
The Packers, meanwhile, were ready to defend their Super Bowl championship from a year ago with a still in-his-prime Brett Favre at quarterback. In addition, an NFC team had won the last 12 straight Super Bowls.
The stars seemed to be perfectly aligned...for all that history to be thrown aside.
Elway finally managed to win a Super Bowl, but wasn't the main reason for winning it (though he did have a touchdown run). Instead, it was Terrell Davis, who ran for 157 yards and three touchdown en route to a 31-24 victory.
Elway would go on to win the Super Bowl the following season, then retire.
2001-02 New England Patriots
Nowadays, football fans have seen how great Tom Brady is. He is one of the greatest quarterbacks of not only this generation, but of all time.
However, back in the 2001-02 season, Tom Brady wasn't the prolific quarterback that we know and love (or hate) today. Back then, he seemed to be just a sixth-round draft pick who was filling in for Drew Bledsoe, who was injured in a game against the New York Jets in the first game of the regular season.
Then Brady took the starting job, threw for nearly 3,000 yards and led the team to a 11-5 record.
In order to win Super Bowl XXVI, though, the Patriots had to face the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.
The team's prolific offense, known as "The Greatest Show on Turf," led the NFL in scoring and total yards for the second straight year. Quarterback Kurt Warner and running back Marshall Faulk were a dangerous combination that had produced a Super Bowl victory the year before.
In addition, the Rams defense had greatly improved, from second-worst in points allowed to seventh-best.
As such, the Rams were 14-point favorites.
However, the Patriots came out on top, thanks to forcing three turnovers on defense and a 48-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri in the final seconds.
2007-08 New York Giants
By now, we should all know about the underdog Giants 17-14 upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
Thanks to some solid defense and timely passes to David Tyree (the "Helmet Catch") and Plaxico Burress (who caught the game-winning touchdown), the Giants, who were 12-point underdogs, were able to win it all for the first since 1990.
The Patriots, as we all know, entered the Super Bowl looking to become the first team to have a perfect season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. In addition, by this point in 2008, the Patriots were considered by many to be a dynasty that couldn't be stopped, having won Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVII, and XXXIX, and six of the last seven AFC East titles.
As for the Giants, they had to go through a tough stretch to even make it to the Super Bowl.
Despite the retirement of running back Tiki Barber, injuries to new starting running back Derrick Ward and tight end Jeremy Shockey, and Eli Manning's inconsistency as quarterback, the team managed a 10-6 record and earned a wild-card berth.
Somewhere, Mercury Morris is smiling.
2009-10 New Orleans Saints
For decades, the New Orleans Saints were looked upon as losers in the NFL.
Up until winning Super Bowl XLIV, the team had never won an NFC Championship, let alone a Super Bowl. Since 1992, they had only made two postseason appearances (2000 and 2006).
The Colts, who had finished at the top of the AFC with a 14-2 record, were five-point favorites. Peyton Manning was coming off a season in which he threw for 4,500 yards and earned his fourth NFL MVP.
They defeated the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets quite handily in their two playoff games, and Indianapolis fans were ready to win another Super Bowl.
Not so fast.
The New Orleans Saints, despite still feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing recovery, had led the league in scoring and finished at the top of the NFC with a 13-3 record. Quarterback Drew Brees, who was signed in 2006 after being dumped by the Chargers, threw for 4,388 yards and had an NFL-record completion percentage of 70.62,
That level of performance would continue in Super Bowl XLIV. Brees completed 32 passes (which tied the record for most in a Super Bowl) for 288 yards and two touchdowns, and earned the MVP in the Saints' 31-17 victory.
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