Ranking the Top 10 Super Bowls in NFL History

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2019

Ranking the Top 10 Super Bowls in NFL History

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Super Bowl LIII is shaping up to be a good one. The Los Angles Rams and New England Patriots are fairly evenly matched, and Bill Belichick and Sean McVay are two of the most innovative coaches in the sport.

    After the last couple of Super Bowls, though, there is a lot to live up to. The back-and-forth battle between the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles last year was incredible. Even it, though, takes a back seat to New England's unprecedented comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

    The last two Super Bowls were great, but is their greatness a product of recency bias? It's a fair question, one that can only be answered by counting down the best of the 52 Super Bowls that have been played.

    These are the 10 best—based on historical significance, standout individual performances, memorable moments and overall drama—preceded by some honorable mentions.


Honorable Mentions

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    DAVID J. PHILLIP/Associated Press

    Super Bowl XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17

    This was a hard one to cut from the top 10. Super Bowl XXXVI marked the start of the Patriots' dynasty and essentially the end of the Greatest Show on Turf. The Patriots dominated for most of the game, though, and had Adam Vinatieri's now-legendary kick been missed, New England still would have had a chance to win in overtime.

    Super Bowl XLVII: Ravens 34, 49ers 31

    Super Bowl XLVII had plenty of memorable moments, the biggest of which being the 34-minute power outage that derailed the Baltimore Ravens' momentum. The San Francisco 49ers scored 17 unanswered points after the blackout. They also had a chance to win late in the fourth quarter, but the Ravens made a 4th-and-goal stop to escape with a victory. This game was also a matchup between head coaching brothers John and Jim Harbaugh.

    Super Bowl XXXVIII: Patriots 32, Panthers 29

    The second of New England's Super Bowl victories, this one was a tale of two (almost) halves. The Patriots and Carolina Panthers went scoreless for nearly 27 minutes before combining for 24 points inside the final four minutes of the first half. The back-and-forth continued until Vinatieri hit another game-winner with four seconds left. This game also features the infamous halftime "wardrobe malfunction."

    Super Bowl XXXII: Broncos 31, Packers 24

    Super Bowl XXXII was a close one throughout. The Green Bay Packers kept pace with the Denver Broncos up until Terrell Davis ran for the go-ahead touchdown with just under two minutes remaining in regulation. Davis won MVP honors, but this game is most notable for being the one that finally got the monkey off John Elway's back.

10. Super Bowl LII: Eagles 41, Patriots 33

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Super Bowl LII represented one of the best back-and-forth battles we've ever witnessed in the NFL postseason. There were 74 combined points in regulation, and the Patriots didn't even punt in the game.

    There were also wonderful moments throughout the contest, like the Philly Special and Brandon Graham's strip-sack of Brady that put the Philadelphia Eagles in position to win. Of course, most will remember this game because quarterback Nick Foles—who went on to win Super Bowl MVP—only started because Carson Wentz tore his ACL in the regular season.

    With Foles under center, the Eagles came in as underdogs to the Patriots. They came out carrying Philadelphia's first Lombardi Trophy.

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

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    There was no shortage of drama in Super Bowl XXIII. While 49ers receiver Jerry Rice dominated the Cincinnati Bengals defense throughout the game—he finished with 215 yards and a touchdown—the Bengals took a 16-13 lead with just over three minutes remaining.

    Joe Montana calmly moved San Francisco 92 yards in 11 plays and threw the go-ahead touchdown pass to John Taylor with just 34 seconds left.

    There were other notable moments in the game aside from the incredible final 49ers drive. Bengals defensive lineman Tim Krumrie (broken leg) and 49ers offensive tackle Steve Wallace (broken ankle) both suffered major injuries early in the first quarter.

    Super Bowl XXIII also marked the final time Bill Walsh would coach San Francisco.

8. Super Bowl XLIII: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    There was buildup abound for Super Bowl XLIII. The Pittsburgh Steelers were looking for their record sixth Lombardi Trophy. Quarterback Kurt Warner, in the twilight of his career, had led the Arizona Cardinals to their first championship game.

    The Steelers ended up winning on a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds remaining. This came after Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald scored a go-ahead 64-yard touchdown with less than three minutes remaining.

    Holmes' tightrope catch near the end of regulation is remembered as one of the top plays in Super Bowl history, as is James Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown with no time on the clock before halftime.

7. Super Bowl XXXIV: Rams 23, Titans 16

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    DAVE MARTIN/Associated Press

    Warner was nearing the end of his career when he took the Cardinals to the Super Bowl. He was just getting it started when he won one for the St. Louis Rams in XXXIV. Of course, he was never supposed to be the guy to do it.

    Warner took over only after Trent Green was lost for the season due to injury. The former Arena Football League standout went on to form the Greatest Show on Turf along with receivers Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Az-Zahir Hakim and running back Marshall Faulk.

    It would require every bit of Warner's 414-yard, two-touchdown MVP performance to beat the Tennessee Titans in one of the most competitive Super Bowls ever. Mike Jones' game-saving tackle on Kevin Dyson as time expired—now simply known as "The Tackle"—remains one of the top plays in championship history.

6. Super Bowl XXV: Giants 20, Bills 19

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    Super Bowl XXV was one of the most hotly contested championship games of the modern era. For Buffalo Bills fans, it's also one of the most painful.

    Buffalo had a chance to win in the end, but Scott Norwood's 47-yard field-goal attempt with eight seconds remaining went wide right. It remains the only potential Super Bowl-winning kick with under 10 seconds left from a team that was losing.  

    This game was great for other reasons besides the memorable miss, though. Thurman Thomas' 135-yard, one-touchdown performance in a losing effort was historic, as was the game itself. It marked the first of four straight title appearances—and losses—for Buffalo. It was the second Super Bowl victory for Giants head coach Bill Parcells and the second and the last for Bill Belichick as New York's defensive coordinator.

    Belichick was hired as head coach of the Cleveland Browns right after the Super Bowl and went on to join the Patriots years later. The rest, as they say, is history.

5. Super Bowl III: Jets 16, Colts 7

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    Associated Press

    Super Bowl III is a greater game for what it represented than what took place on the field. It's not that the 16-7 defensive battle didn't have its bright moments, but it wasn't really that close. Eventual MVP Joe Namath didn't even attempt a pass in the fourth quarter.

    However, this still represented one of the biggest upsets in sports up to that point. At the time, the NFL was perceived as a superior league to the fledgling AFL. Despite this, Namath's infamously guaranteed victory for the AFL's New York Jets.

    The Jets took a 13-0 lead over the Baltimore Colts into the fourth quarter. Down 16-0, the Colts scored a touchdown with just over three minutes remaining, but there was no two-point conversion at the time. Up two scores, New York was able to put the game away, and in doing so, the landscape of professional football was changed forever. A little more than a year later, the leagues officially merged into the modern NFL with two conferences.

4. Super Bowl XIII: Steelers 35, Cowboys 31

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    There was plenty of buildup to Super Bowl XIII. The Dallas Cowboys were the defending champions, and this was a rematch of Super Bowl X, in which the Steelers won.

    Pittsburgh pulled out the victory again this time, but there was a ton of drama along the way. The Steelers took a 21-17 lead into the fourth quarter and then scored 14 unanswered points. Dallas responded, though, scoring a touchdown, recovering an onside kick and then scoring again to pull back within four with just 22 seconds remaining.

    A second onside-kick attempt failed for Dallas, and Pittsburgh ran out the clock by kneeling.  

    There were a number of firsts in this game. It was the first Super Bowl rematch, the first time a defending champion lost in the title game and the first time a losing Super Bowl participant scored 30. It also led to the first of two Super Bowl MVP awards for Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns.

    This was a tremendous Super Bowl and an important one, but it lacked some of the true late-game drama of the next few on the list.

3. Super Bowl LI: Patriots 34, Falcons 28

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    Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

    All you have to do is utter the phrase "28-3" and most football fans will know you're referencing Super Bowl LI. That's the deficit the Patriots faced in the third quarter against the Atlanta Falcons before they stormed back to win in overtime.

    This game is memorable as either the greatest comeback in history or the greatest choke job of all time—depending on how you view it. The Falcons mismanaged the clock in the fourth quarter, but that shouldn't take away from the comeback led by Brady (466 passing yards) and James White (139 yards from scrimmage, three TDs).

    There were standout individual moments, too, like the amazing Julio Jones catch that should have sealed the game and the unbelievable diving Julian Edelman grab that kept New England's hopes alive.

2. Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14

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    Gene Puskar/Associated Press

    Who can forget Super Bowl XLII? It was supposed to be the year the Patriots produced a perfect season, as they went 16-0 in the regular season. The defensively driven Giants, however, had other plans. They harassed Brady throughout the game while holding Randy Moss to just 62 receiving yards and one touchdown.

    Still, it took some clutch play from Giants quarterback Eli Manning down the stretch to deliver the go-ahead score. With just over a minute remaining in the game, Manning miraculously broke free of the Patriots pass rush and launched a ball that David Tyree caught by pinning it against his helmet. Four plays later, Manning found Plaxico Burress for the winning score.

    This was a monumental upset, and the Tyree catch remains one of the most memorable plays in league history. However, it wasn't the play that sealed the win—unlike the memorable play from our final entry.

1. Super Bowl XLIX: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Super Bowl XLIX had just about everything you could possibly want from a title game—a place in history, a furious comeback and one of the most memorable sporting plays of all time.

    The Seattle Seahawks were looking to cement their dynasty with a second Super Bowl win. The Patriots were looking to prove theirs wasn't over by winning their first title since the 2004 season. When the Seahawks carried a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, it appeared they would come out on top.

    However, Brady and the Patriots racked up 14 fourth-quarter points. They then sealed the game when the Seahawks decided to pass from the 1-yard line instead of handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch.

    "When that play was called, and I saw the expression on the other 10 guys' faces in there. ... When they heard the call, they looked right at me," Lynch later told UNINTERRUPTED's Matt Barnes.

    Malcolm Butler picked off Russell Wilson's pass, and the Patriots ran out the clock to cap one of the wildest games of the modern era.