The Top 10 Super Bowls in NFL History

Nick Kostos@@thekostosContributor IJanuary 25, 2013

The Top 10 Super Bowls in NFL History

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    Once the dust settles on Championship Sunday and the AFC and NFC winners are crowned, I get Super Bowl fever. I watch all the game recaps on NFL Network and fully immerse myself in the pageantry of the historic event.

    The history of the game is so important, and knowing it allows for a much greater enjoyment and understanding of today's events.

    With 46 Super Bowls in the books and Super Bowl XLVII a little over a week away, let's determine the 10 best Super Bowls of all time.

    Here we go.

Honorable Mentions

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    Super Bowl XLIV: Saints 31, Colts 17

    This Super Bowl was full of incredible plays, from the Saints recovering an onside kick to start the second half to Lance Moore's twisting two-point conversion catch, ultimately culminating with Tracy Porter's game-sealing pick-six off Peyton Manning. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to crack the top 10.

    Super Bowl VII: Dolphins 14, Redskins 7

    This game is on the honorable mention list for one reason: The victory for Miami completed its 17-0, undefeated season. It also featured the funniest play in NFL history, with Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian losing a ludicrously hysterical fumble while attempting a pass, which threatened Miami's victory. The Dolphins held on, though, and the rest is history.

    Super Bowl XIV: Steelers 31, Rams 19

    The last of the Steelers' four Super Bowl victories in the '70s, Super Bowl XIV was almost a monumental upset. The Los Angeles Rams had finished the regular season 9-7 and had barely outscored their opponents in doing so. So when they led at halftime and regained the lead late in the third quarter over heavily favored Pittsburgh, it appeared that an upset of historic fashion was in the making.

    However, Terry Bradshaw's 73-yard bomb to John Stallworth in the fourth quarter put the Steelers ahead for good, but not before this game made its mark on NFL history.

10. Super Bowl XXXVIII: Patriots 32, Panthers 29

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    The 14-2 New England Patriots, two years after winning their first-ever Super Bowl championship, met the upstart 11-5 Carolina Panthers in this matchup.

    Despite featuring no scoring in the first and third quarters, the teams managed to rack up 61 points and 868 yards of total offense. 

    In my opinion, the Patriots were clearly the better team, and they were favored by a touchdown, so it was amazing that the Panthers hung around throughout the entire contest. With 1:08 to go in the fourth quarter, Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme hit Ricky Proehl with a 12-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 29.

    I remember thinking that Tom Brady wouldn't be denied, and like clockwork, Brady led the Patriots down the field, setting up Adam Vinatieri for yet another Super Bowl game-winning field goal. He drilled it, and the Pats claimed their second Super Bowl title in three years, cementing the legacies of Brady, coach Bill Belichick and Vinatieri as Super Bowl legends.

    You can relive the whole game here and here.

9. Super Bowl III: Jets 16, Colts 7

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    Arguably the biggest upset in Super Bowl history, the New York Jets of the AFL defeated the heavily favored Baltimore Colts of the NFL, 16-7.

    The result is a seminal moment in NFL history, a watershed event that shaped the league into the way it's constructed today, as the NFL and AFL merged to create the NFC and AFC.

    Jets quarterback Joe Namath famously guaranteed victory in the days leading up to the game, and his team delivered, suffocating a potent Baltimore offense en route to victory.

    Was the game played in a classic fashion? No, it was not. But its result is important enough to merit its inclusion on this list.

8. Super Bowl XXXIV: Rams 23, Titans 16

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    This Super Bowl was a thriller, but it didn't really pick up until the fourth quarter. After Tennessee tied the game at 16 with 2:12 left in regulation, Rams quarterback and eventual game MVP Kurt Warner connected with Isaac Bruce on a 73-yard touchdown pass, putting St. Louis in front again.

    From there, Titans quarterback Steve McNair led Tennessee down the field on one of the most dramatic drives in NFL history. The late McNair was majestic, showing off both the arm strength and agility that made him one of the league's best signal-callers. 

    As time waned, one play remained for Tennessee to tie the game.

    McNair struck receiver Kevin Dyson, who couldn't escape the vise-like grip of Rams linebacker Mike Jones. Dyson was stopped at the 1-yard line as time expired.

    One yard was all that prevented the first-ever overtime game in the history of the Super Bowl. Never before had the title bout truly been a "game of inches."

7. Super Bowl XXXII: Broncos 31, Packers 24

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    I believe this Super Bowl, despite its monumental matchup at quarterback (John Elway vs. Brett Favre), is underrated.

    The storylines were juicier than a Peter Luger's porterhouse. Favre and the Packers were going for their second consecutive Lombardi Trophy, and it would also be another chance for Elway to win a ring after losing three previous times in the big game.

    The game lived up to the hype and featured Elway's famous "helicopter" run, as he pinballed off several Packer defenders for a first down, setting up a touchdown by eventual game MVP Terrell Davis.

    Denver took a late 31-24 lead, and Favre tried to lead Green Bay for the tying score, but his fourth-down pass for Mark Chmura was incomplete.

    Finally, Elway had his Super Bowl ring, and he happened to obtain it in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played.

    You can watch the whole game here.

6. Super Bowl XLIII: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23

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    This Super Bowl presented perhaps the most interesting dichotomy in the history of the game. On one hand, you had the five-time Super Bowl champion Steelers, a team ripe with history and success. On the other, you had the Arizona Cardinals, who had mostly been a punching bag throughout their existence.

    Thanks to quarterback Kurt Warner and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, this iteration of the Cardinals was for real and very nearly escaped with a championship. Fitzgerald had a fourth quarter for the ages, catching six passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns, the second one putting Arizona ahead, 23-20.

    But the Steelers were not to be denied, as Ben Roethlisberger connected with eventual game MVP Santonio Holmes in one of the best plays in NFL history, as Holmes got both feet down in the corner of the end zone, putting Pittsburgh ahead for good, 27-23.

    This game was also noteworthy for Steelers linebacker James Harrison's Super Bowl-record 100-yard interception return for a touchdown as the first half expired, which I consider the most underrated play in NFL history.

5. Super Bowl XXIII: 49ers 20, Bengals 16

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    Unfortunately for the Cincinnati Bengals, they were twice the victim of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana's magic, losing to him in two Super Bowls in the '80s.

    The second stung much more than the first, as the Boomer Esiason-led Bengals held a 13-6 advantage to start the fourth quarter and were up 16-13 late in the game.

    When Montana and the 49ers needed to drive 92 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown, they moved the ball down the field in methodical fashion, with Montana hitting eventual game MVP Jerry Rice several times on the possession.

    Montana eventually found John Taylor in the end zone, allowing the 49ers to win the game, 20-16, for their third Super Bowl championship of the '80s. After the game, the late, great Bill Walsh, who won three titles in San Francisco, retired, putting a punctuation mark on one of the most pulse-pounding Super Bowls ever.

4. Super Bowl XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17

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    I remember sitting down to watch Super Bowl XXXVI and thinking the Patriots had no chance to defeat the Rams. 

    It was clear early on that I, and many others, were dead wrong.

    This was a heart-stopper from start to finish, with clutch plays throughout.

    Heavy underdog New England built a 17-3 advantage on the strength of a Ty Law pick-six off Rams quarterback Kurt Warner and a Tom Brady touchdown to David Patten. But St. Louis roared back, tying the game with two late touchdowns, setting the stage for Brady to begin to author his legacy.

    Brady was surgical on the final drive, leading the Patriots into field-goal range. Then Adam Vinatieri made his first of two Super Bowl-winning field goals, giving New England its first Super Bowl championship.

3. Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14

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    Perhaps no Super Bowl in history contained more historical ramifications than Super Bowl XLII.

    The Patriots entered the game with an 18-0 record and were attempting to complete a perfect season. A win would have tied Tom Brady with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most Super Bowl titles by a quarterback with four, and it would have tied Bill Belichick with Chuck Noll for the most Super Bowl victories by a coach with four.

    All that stood in New England's way of achieving perfection were the heavy underdog New York Giants and quarterback Eli Manning, whose brother Peyton had faced his share of heartbreak at the hands of Brady.

    The reason that this game isn't No. 1 on this list is because it didn't really get going until the fourth quarter, but what a final stanza it was.

    Eventual MVP Manning hit David Tyree to put the Giants up 10-7, but then Brady found Randy Moss in the end zone, and the Patriots led 14-10 with 2:42 to go. They were one defensive stop away from perfection.

    It was then that Manning authored one of the most improbable drives in the history of the NFL, buoyed by the infamous "Helmet Catch" by Tyree and an outrageous throw down the middle by Manning. 

    Manning then threw the go-ahead touchdown to Plaxico Burress with just 35 seconds left, and the Giants defense closed out the game, giving New York its third Super Bowl championship and denying the Patriots perfection.

    Four years later, the Giants defeated the Patriots again in Super Bowl XLVI in a game that also contained significant drama, but nothing like the spectacle that was Super Bowl XLII.

2. Super Bowl XIII: Steelers 35, Cowboys 31

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    If you're a younger reader and have never seen Super Bowl XIII between the Steelers and Cowboys, do yourself a favor and seek this game out, as it's one of the very best in NFL history.

    The Steelers and Cowboys comprise one of the best rivalries in sports, and this game was the ultimate moment in their history.

    In addition to head coaches Chuck Noll and Tom Landry, Super Bowl XIII featured 14 players that would eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The talent level on the field was simply preposterous.

    The Steelers had beaten the Cowboys in Super Bowl X, and the winner of Super Bowl XIII would become the first three-time Super Bowl champion. The stakes were high.

    In the end, it was a drop by Cowboys tight end Jackie Smith in the end zone that swung the game, as Dallas ended up losing by four. Pittsburgh led 35-17 in the fourth quarter, but the Cowboys roared back, cutting the lead to 35-31. Yet they were unable to retake the lead, and the Steelers beat Dallas again.

1. Super Bowl XXV: Giants 20, Bills 19

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    Super Bowl XXV is arguably the cleanest Super Bowl ever played. Neither team committed a turnover, and from the start, the game was intensely contested.

    The Buffalo Bills were heavily favored, and after Bruce Smith sacked Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler for a safety to put the Bills up 12-3 in the second quarter, it appeared Buffalo was ready to pull away. However, Hostetler led the Giants to a touchdown before halftime.

    It was then that the Giants established their ball-control dominance, as they held the ball for over 40 minutes, a Super Bowl record. Their drive to start the third quarter stretched for over 10 minutes, culminating in a touchdown run by eventual MVP Ottis Anderson. 

    Bills running back Thurman Thomas scored on the first play of the fourth quarter, but the Giants went ahead late on a Matt Bahr field goal, 20-19, setting the stage for one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the league.

    Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly led the Bills down the field, and as emotions ran high and tensions rose, Bills kicker Scott Norwood trotted out to attempt the game-winner. No Super Bowl kicker had ever attempted a game-closing field goal in which the result of the kick determined the winner or loser. Norwood's kick sailed wide right, and the Bills experienced their first of four Super Bowl heartbreaks.

    Nick Kostos is the executive producer of the SiriusXM Blitz, hosted by Rich Gannon and Adam Schein, on SiriusXM NFL Radio. You can follow Nick on Twitter.