It is where dreams turn into bitter nightmares or everlasting enchantment. The Super Bowl has become football’s version of “American Idol,” where athletes get one shot at athletic immortality. Players are given four quarters to fulfill a destiny they have chased since their days in the park.
We all have played the role of hero or talented singer. The difference with the Super Bowl is there are no judges to persuade but rather an opponent to be slayed.
Every Super Bowl has told us a story. From Bart Starr and the tale of discipline-always-defeats- strategy to Doug Williams’ display of hard work and perseverance, every game has a tale. Living in that moment, there have been some tales that stand out more than others. There have been tales that leave you yearning for more or have left you disgusted in disappointment.
The characters or players we have so strongly believed in have lived up to our undying affection and delivered us the ultimate barbershop banter. That is the beauty of the Super Bowl—the finality of it all. No moment can be had back. Every second truly matters.
Here is a list of 11 of the more memorable Super Bowls. These all were extremely close. Some altered the history of the sport.
1976: PITTSBURGH STEELERS 21, DALLAS COWBOYS 17
The game began with a big kick return. A few series later, Roger Staubach threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson. Dallas’ success was short-lived, however, as the Steelers would respond and the game was afoot.
The Steelers defense was up to the task of getting after “the Dodger” and were able to sack the Dallas quarterback seven times. Lynn Swann would make this game his own personal muse, making three of the most majestic catches in NFL history.
In all, the fourth quarter would see the 'Burg score in a litany of ways. First was a safety that cut the Dallas lead to 10-9. Then two field goals would give the Steelers the lead for good. A 64-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw to Lynn Swann would seal the deal.
1982: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 26, CINCINNATI BENGALS 21
Tight is the best way to describe this game, from the players to even the one-point spread. In an effort to loosen things up, 49ers coach Bill Walsh dressed up as a bellhop and brought in his
players' luggage when they arrived in Motown. This was the first Super Bowl both participants.
The Niners took a 20-0 halftime lead and looked primed for a runaway win. However, the Bengals scored 21 points in the second half to make it interesting. Yet keeping with their tradition of “day late and dollar short,” the Bengals could not do enough to seize the crown.
Despite outscoring the Niners in the fourth quarter 14-6 and despite having two receivers go over the century mark (Cris Collinsworth, five catches, 107 yards, and tight end Dan Ross, 11 catches, 104 yards and two touchdowns), San Francisco walked away victorious and with this win kicked off one of professional sports' most famous dynasties.
1991: NEW YORK GIANTS 20, BUFFALO BILLS 19
Some have said football is a game of inches. This was never more evident than in the 1990-1991 Super Bowl. This game is known for the Scott Norwood “wide right” gaffe that cost the Buffalo Bills a well-deserved place among NFL immortality, but it was the entire Bills team’s inability to get the Giants off the field that kept the boys from Buffalo out of the winner’s circle.
The Bills led 12-10 at halftime, but proved to be their own worst enemy in the process. The Giants wanted to employ a ball-control strategy that would keep the high-powered AFC champion’s offense off the field. The Bills offense actually assisted with this by moving the ball down the field so quickly.
The third quarter was when the Giants exerted their physical prowess They opened the half with a nine-minute drive that included one of the most electrifying third-down conversions ever and ended with a one-yard Otis Anderson touchdown run.
In all, the Bills lost this game more than the Giants won it.
2002: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 20, ST LOUIS RAMS 17
This was the first Super Bowl to take place after the attacks of 9/11 and it was only fitting that America’s game be played by the Patriots. The Rams came in as 14-point favorites, and some did not think it would be that close. The Rams were believed to be unstoppable and their crowning imminent.
St. Louis' offense featured Hall of Fame-bound Kurt Warner, who was at the top of his game, Marshall “Mr. Versatility” Faulk and the mad genius of Coach Mike Martz. Despite narrowly beating the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game, the Rams were still viewed as a formidable opponent with an unstoppable offense.
Conversely, New England arrived to the Super Bowl surrounded by uncertainty. In the AFC Championship game, New England lost Cinderella story Tom Brady, who injured his leg in the first half and was replaced by Drew Bledsoe. While most of the media centered on Brady and Bledsoe, the Patriots defense flew under the radar.
Oddly enough, it was the Pats D that secured this win. New England took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter on a pick six off Warner by Pats cornerback Ty Law.
The Pats defense negated the long pass plays that made the Rams such a force during the regular season. The Rams' longest play from scrimmage was 30 yards and did not come until the fourth quarter.
2004: NEW ENGLAND 32, CAROLINA 29
It was a game of two quarters. The Patriots were returning to the big game after a year hiatus and were the favorites. The Panthers were a surprise team that had taken the playoff by storm, bullying the Eagles in the NFC Championship game.
Neither team scored in the first quarter, but both teams came alive offensively in the second quarter, with the Pats taking a 14-10 lead at the half. When the smoke cleared, it had taken a Super Bowl-record 26 minutes and 55 seconds before the first points were scored.
After a scoreless third quarter, the teams combined to score a Super Bowl-record 37 points in the fourth quarter, which ended with the Pats hoisting their second Lombardi Trophy.
2000: ST. LOUIS RAMS 23, TENNESSEE TITANS 16
The 1999 St. Louis Rams came out of nowhere to win the NFL crown. They started the season with former Washington Redskins quarterback Trent Green as their starter and quietly had this belief he was something special.
But the cold wind of repeated failures blew hard through St. Louis during a preseason game. All the plans St. Louis envisioned were eliminated once Green was injured and lost for the season, or so they thought.
Exit the dark past and enter the bright future. Kurt Warner rescued the Rams and in the process became an American dream.
The Titans were highly favored going into the Super Bowl and had actually performed a “Miracle.” Armed with one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in NFL history, they were up to the challenge of competing against destiny. Tennessee came to Atlanta led by Pro-Bowl running back Eddie George and multi-talented quarterback Steve McNair. The matchup would not disappoint.
Atlanta was ice-cold Super Bowl week, but the day of the game the Georgia Dome was red-hot. The Rams jumped out to a 9-0 halftime lead, as there were few first-half fireworks.
The Rams would take a 16-0 lead before the Titans began a furious comeback that would eventually fall short.
2009: PITTSBURGH STEELERS 27, ARIZONA CARDINALS 23
The Arizona Cardinals were one of the worst Super Bowl teams to play in the big game record-wise. Still, a 2008 season that was filled with strife and conquest culminated in the Super Bowl for the Cardinals
They were left for dead after a tragically pathetic week-16 performance against the New England Patriots. Arizona never showed up, allowing 514 yards in a 47-7 defeat.
Most of America felt the Cardinals' admission into the postseason was an inconvenient truth about the suspect playoff system the NFL has in place. At 9-7, they were supposed to be one- and-done.
The 12-4 Steelers were led by the immaculate Ben Roethlisberger, but had nothing else on offense to speak of. They were again stout on defense. They were 12-4 and were dealing with the historical ramifications of playing in this Super Bowl.
Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin would become just the third African-American head coach in Super Bowl history, having been preceded by Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith. All had worked on the same staff in Tampa Bay under Dungy, who was the first ever. Pittsburgh also was playing in a record eighth Super Bowl, a distinction the Steelers shared with the Dallas Cowboys.
The game was full of explosive plays. Steelers linebacker James Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown right before halftime, giving the 'Burg a 17-7 lead. The third quarter was a wash, with Pittsburgh scoring the only three points.
The fourth quarter was when the fireworks took place. After two Larry Fitzgerald touchdown receptions, it seemed Arizona had its mitts on its first Lombardi Trophy.
However, a terrific pass and immaculate reception later, Pittsburgh would again place the crown on its head.
1979: PITTSBURGH STEELERS 35, DALLAS COWBOYS 31
In the Steelers media guide, it refers to Super Bowl XIII as “more than the first rematch in Super Bowl history.” Oh, how right they are.
This was the beginning of a new dynasty in professional football. One of these teams was going to walk away not just a champion but as a symbol of excellence.
Both the Cowboys and Steelers had won two championships at that time, making the winner of Super Bowl XIII the team of the decade. Both clubs had premier defenses, and many thought it would be a defensive struggle. But that was not the case.
It was a game of fire and return fire, with Dallas missing most if not all of the kill shots. There were dropped touchdown passes, poor coverage and a costly pass interference call. Where Dallas failed,
The Steelers took advantage of all of Dallas’ miscues and marched to victory. On the way, the teams set a record for points scored in a Super Bowl, and the Steelers became the first team to win three Lombardi trophies.
1989: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 20, CINCINNATI BENGALS 16
Ten years and nine Super Bowls after the Steelers became the first modern-day dynasty, the 49ers were now looking to become the second. With two championships already in tow, Joe Montana and Bill Walsh wanted the trifecta.
Standing in their way was a familiar foe, the Bengals, who had played the role of second chair in the Joe Montana and Bill Walsh-led orchestra.
The Cincinnati Bengals lost 26-21 to these same 49ers in Super Bowl XVI, which had been the last competitive Super Bowl.
What happened before the final 190 seconds in this game is irrelevant. All that matters is what Money Joe did in those final career-defining moments.
Montana took the 49ers 92 yards. Instead of playing it safe and going for the field goal to send the game into overtime, the man that all quarterbacks are measured against went for the touchdown. Just for good measure, Montana went away from Super Bowl MVP Jerry Rice, who caught 11 passes for 215 yards, and hit South Jersey’s own John Taylor for the go-ahead touchdown.
Taylor had one catch that fateful evening and it just happened to be the biggest. Montana’s performance in that game was legendary. It distanced him from his predecessors as the greatest to ever do it.
1998: DENVER BRONCOS 31, GREEN BAY PACKERS 24
This was the Super Bowl in which we all watched John Elway elevate and Brett Favre disappear.
The Green Bay Packers were 11-point favorites, most of all because they had God dressed up as Favre on their side. Favre, who always has been a turnover waiting to happen, was the media darling all season.
Someone forgot that John “freaking” Elway was standing opposite Favre. You know John “The Drive” Elway. You know the man who carried the Broncos to 76 Super Bowls and lost all of them by 89 points, or so it had seemed.
This was a different Elway, though, a more determined and less skilled man. Elway no longer had the eye-popping talent that he had flashed so regularly, leaving him with a desire to walk off the field celebrated for his championship achievement rather than his championship effort.
As the game began, it became obvious that Denver was going to run no matter what the situation, and the Packers needed to adjust. However, the Packers did not, and Denver running back Terrell Davis finished with 30 carries for 157 yards and three touchdowns. Only one Bronco had more than four receptions—Shannon Sharpe with five—and none had more than 100 yards receiving.
This game will be remembered for one play and one play only. It was third-and-six at the Green Bay 12, and the game was tied at at 17. Elway dropped back., and with no receiver open, the 74-year-old QB took off with the speed of a three-legged turtle. He raced down the middle of the field, then headed toward the sideline.
However, instead of running out of bounds, he took on All-Pro safety Leroy Butler, who hit him low. Elway then was hit high by another defender and spun around like a helicopter. Where is Petey Pablo when you need him?
Elway picked up eight yards on the scramble and a first down. And from that moment forward, it was the Broncos game to lose and they would not relinquish it.
2008: NEW YORK GIANTS 17, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 14
It was an improbable run that ended in an even more improbable victory. When the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, they stopped history.
The Patriots were still reeling from Spygate and were headed toward redemption with an undefeated season all but complete. That was until the Giants walked in the door.
The Giants were not supposed to be in the Super Bowl, yet alone win it. After going 6-2 the first half of the season, they went 4-4 the rest of the way.
New York did not play a single playoff game at home, which worked perfectly for them since they had a better road record (7-1) than home record (3-5). In fact, when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was told what Giants’ wide receiver Plaxico Burress predicted the final score would be (a 23-17 Giants victory), he scoffed at the notion that the Pats would not score a lot of points. As a 12-point underdog, no one expected the Giants to win. Then the game started and something crazy happened.
It was evident Big Blue was up to the challenge, especially the Giants defense. The Patriots had not scored fewer than 20 points all season, but only managed 14 that Sunday.
Even more telling was the total yards. The Giants held the New England to 274 yards, its second-lowest total of the season. Brady’s longest pass completion of the day was 19 yards to Wes Welker.
The G-Men were able to dominate with pressure from their front four and how physical they were.