20 Most-Watched Super Bowls of All Time

Matt King@TheRealMattKingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2013

20 Most-Watched Super Bowls of All Time

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    You watched the Super Bowl last year. Do you know how I know? Because just about everybody in America did.

    The Super Bowl is, year after year, the most-watched event on television. In fact, the past three have been the most-watched events in history. If the trend keeps, this coming Super Bowl will set a new record as well.

    Viewership data courtesy of TV by the Numbers.

20. Super Bowl XIX (1985)

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    Viewers: 85.5 million

    A game with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks duking it out. Two teams with 14-2 and 15-1 records, respectively. This probably should have been a lot closer.

    It didn't hurt for offense. Both Dan Marino and Joe Montana threw for over 300 yards, and the teams set a then-record with 851 total yards of offense. However, the outcome was never in question with the 49ers outscoring the Dolphins 31-6 after going down 10-7 in the first quarter.

19. Super Bowl XXXIX (2005)

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    Viewers: 86.1 million

    Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were going for their third Super Bowl victory in four years, the makings of a dynasty. Donovan McNabb finally got to the Super Bowl after previously losing three straight NFC Championship Games.

    It was a close game throughout, but the Pats were just too much in the second half, winning 24-21.

18. Super Bowl XXXVI (2002)

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    Viewers: 86.8 million

    Tom Brady's first Super Bowl win was an upset of Kurt Warner and "The Greatest Show on Turf" St. Louis Rams.

    The Rams tied the game after being down 17-3, but the Patriots took the ball with 1:30 remaining and no timeouts and drove the field to set up the game-winning Adam Vinatieri field goal as time expired.

17. Super Bowl XXI (1987)

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    Viewers: 87.2 million

    Bill Parcells took his powerhouse Giants to their first Super Bowl to face John Elway and the Denver Broncos.

    The Broncos led 10-9 at halftime, but the Giants would score the next 24 points to take a commanding lead and cruise to the 39-20 victory.

16. Super Bowl XXXI (1997)

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    Viewers: 87.9 million

    Brett Favre won his only Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, but it was Desmond Howard who stole the show with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

15. Super Bowl XXXIV (2000)

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    Viewers: 88.5 million

    In one of the most exciting finishes in Super Bowl history, the St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans 23-16 when Titans receiver Kevin Dyson came up less than a yard short of scoring the potential game-tying touchdown as time expired.

14. Super Bowl XXXVII (2003)

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    Viewers: 88.6 million

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made easy work of the Oakland Raiders, as Jon Gruden defeated his former team 48-21. The Bucs set a Super Bowl record by intercepting Raiders QB Rich Gannon five times.

    The game has recently come into the news again, as Raiders receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice have criticized coach Bill Callahan for changing the game plan at the last minute, even going so far as to suggest he may have thrown the game due to his dislike of the team.

13. Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004)

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    Viewers: 89.8 million

    The second of the Patriots' three Super Bowl wins was another closely contested game where Tom Brady had to once again drive his team down in the closing minute for a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal for the win.

    The game was largely overshadowed by the halftime controversy over Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction."

11. (tie) Super Bowl XXVIII (1994)

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    Viewers: 90 million

    The poor Buffalo Bills lost their fourth straight Super Bowl and their second consecutive to the Dallas Cowboys.

    The Bills led 13-6 at halftime, and it looked as if their losing streak might finally come to an end. Unfortunately, they were outscored 24-0 in the second half to lose 30-13. Emmitt Smith carried the 'Boys with 132 yards and two touchdowns.

11. (tie) Super Bowl XXXII (1998)

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    Viewers: 90 million

    The Denver Broncos beat the Green Bay Packers 31-24, as John Elway finally got his long-awaited Super Bowl win after being on the losing end three times before.

    It was Broncos running back Terrell Davis who did the most damage, overcoming a second-half migraine to go for 157 yards on the ground and a record three rushing TDs.

10. Super Bowl XL (2006)

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    Viewers: 90.7 million

    This Super Bowl was relatively uneventful. The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in a game that many Seahawks fans still feel was officiated unfairly against their team.

    Hines Ward had 141 total yards and a TD and was named the game's MVP.

9. Super Bowl XXVII (1993)

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    Viewers: 91 million

    In the third-largest Super Bowl victory of all time, the Dallas Cowboys crushed the Buffalo Bills 52-17. The Cowboys led 28-10 at the half and never looked back.

    The Bills were done in by committing a record nine turnovers (four interceptions and five lost fumbles). 

8. Super Bowl XX (1986)

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    Viewers: 92.6 million

    The 1986 Chicago Bears are considered by many to be one of the greatest teams of all time, winning 15 regular-season games and outscoring their opponents 456-198.

    They trounced the New England Patriots 46-10, the second-largest margin of victory ever for a Super Bowl.

7. Super Bowl XLI (2007)

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    Viewers: 93.2 million

    Peyton Manning finally overcame his reputation as a great regular-season quarterback who couldn't win the big one when his Colts defeated the Chicago Bears 29-17.

    Manning was efficient, passing for 247 yards and a touchdown, but it was the Indianapolis defense that ruled the day, forcing five turnovers.

6. Super Bowl XXX (1996)

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    Viewers: 94.1 million

    In a matchup of two of the most storied franchises in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys came out on top of the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-17.

    The game was a defensive battle, with Cowboys CB Larry Brown recording two crucial interceptions in the second half that each set up a Dallas touchdown.

5. Super Bowl XLII (2008)

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    Viewers: 97.4 million

    The New England Patriots had just completed a perfect 16-0 regular season and were looking to cap it off with a Super Bowl win. The 12-point underdog New York Giants squeaked into the playoffs as a wild card. Nobody expected the Giants to come away with the victory.

    Aided by the incredible helmet catch by David Tyree on the Giants' game-winning drive, that's exactly what they did, defeating the powerhouse Pats 17-14.

4. Super Bowl XLIII (2009)

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    Viewers: 98.7 million

    The Pittsburgh Steelers finally emerged victorious over the Arizona Cardinals after a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback by Kurt Warner's team.

    Trailing 20-7 in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals scored 16 straight points in five minutes to take the lead with 2:37 to go. But Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers down the field and found Santonio Holmes in the back of the end zone for an awesome tip-toe catch with 35 seconds to go that won the game by a final of 27-23.

3. Super Bowl XLIV (2010)

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    Viewers: 106.5 million

    The first Super Bowl to break 100 million viewers saw the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17.

    It was especially sweet for the Saints, just four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated their city. 

2. Super Bowl XLV (2011)

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    Viewers: 111 million

    Aaron Rodgers cemented his status as one of the greats in the game as his Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.

    The Packers led from start to finish, feeding off the performance of Rodgers, who threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns.

1. Super Bowl XLVI (2012)

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    Viewers: 111.3 million

    The most-watched Super Bowl in history was a rematch of the epic upset from four years earlier. The New York Giants were once again a wild-card underdog to the New England Patriots—and yet again, they pulled out a victory, winning 21-17.

    Trailing 17-15 in the fourth quarter, Eli Manning drove his team to New England's 6-yard line, where the Giants took the lead on an Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown run with 57 seconds left on the clock. 

    Unlike their previous Super Bowl defeat, Brady was able to get a Hail Mary pass into the end zone on the final play of the game, but it fell incomplete as New York prevailed.