10. Super Bowl XLII – New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14 – Feb. 3, 2008
It was close and exciting and it contained quite possibly the most remarkable play in NFL history, but for 55 minutes this was a mediocre game. It might be the most memorable game of all time, but it certainly wasn’t the best.
9. Super Bowl XIII – Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31 – Jan. 21, 1979
The first real wild Super Bowl featured 28 fourth-quarter points (14 apiece), six turnovers (three apiece) and seven touchdown passes between eventual Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach. Big plays, lots of points and a relatively close finish. This game was before its time.
8. Super Bowl XXIII – San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16 – Jan. 22, 1989
At the time, this may have been the greatest finish in Super Bowl history, with Joe Montana leading the 49ers down the field in the final minutes before throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to John Taylor. Cincinnati led 13-6 and 16-13 in the fourth quarter, but San Francisco found a way.
7. Super Bowl XXXIV – St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16 – Jan. 30, 2000
Everyone talks about the fact this game ended in such thrilling fashion with Mike Jones tackling Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line to preserve a seven-point Rams victory, but don’t forget that the game was tied 16-16 with just a few minutes remaining before Kurt Warner connected with Isaac Bruce on a 73-yard touchdown. It was a back-and-forth thriller, with the heavy underdog falling excruciatingly short.
6. Super Bowl XLVI – New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17 – Feb. 5, 2012
In terms of the storyline, this is as good as it gets. A rematch of an unforgettable Super Bowl between the same two teams from only four years prior. And again, David slayed Goliath in the final moments, thanks mainly to one particularly clutch 38-yard sideline completion from Eli Manning to Mario Manningham to spark the game-winning drive.
That play, that finish, these teams, and another upset? Although the first half was a little slow, this game has to be viewed as one of the best ever.
5. Super Bowl XLIX – New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24 – Feb. 1, 2015
Whenever a Super Bowl is decided on one final play in the dying seconds, it’s a classic. And Malcolm Butler’s game-clinching interception in the New England end zone will forever be one of the most talked-about plays in NFL history.
But don’t overlook the performance Tom Brady put together in the fourth quarter of last year’s Super Bowl. Remember, the Pats trailed this game 24-14 with eight minutes to play, but Brady completed 13 of 15 passes for 124 yards in the fourth quarter alone, throwing two touchdown strikes to put New England ahead in what would be his record-tying fourth championship. The word epic is overused, but it works here.
4. Super Bowl XXXVI – New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17 – Feb. 3, 2002
Yes, six of the top 12 Super Bowls involve Brady, Belichick and the Patriots. But their first was the best of them all.
At this point, Brady was still a relative nobody and the Pats were a 14-point underdog against one of the most dominant offenses in NFL history. But then there was that Ty Law pick-six, a brave performance from Brady, a stellar defensive effort and a walk-off field goal from Vinatieri.
3. Super Bowl III – New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7 – Jan. 12, 1969
All that really matters is the Jets won — with swagger, no less — as an 18-point underdog, holding a Colts offense that averaged 28.7 points per game in the regular season to just seven. Plus, there’s that whole guarantee thing from Joe Namath.
2. Super Bowl XLIII – Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23 – Feb. 1, 2009
I fear history is already beginning to overlook this classic, possibly because the winning quarterback — Ben Roethlisberger — did not put together an MVP performance, but it might also have something to do with the fact it was wedged between David Tyree’s helmet catch in 2008 and and an epic battle between Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in 2010. At around this time, we were spoiled by great Super Bowls, and I think Pittsburgh-Arizona lacked the glamour contained by some of the games surrounding it.
But consider what this Super Bowl had. A juggernaut favorite pushed to the brink, two incredible fourth-quarter touchdowns (a 64-yard Larry Fitzgerald catch-and-run and a last-second toe-tapper from Santonio Holmes) to put each team ahead, and that unforgettable, game-changing 100-yard James Harrison pick-six at the first-half buzzer. Seriously, Super Bowl XLIII might have been the complete package.
1. Super Bowl XXV – New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19 – Jan. 27, 1991
I could go on and on about why the NFL’s silver anniversary Super Bowl was probably its most special. The emotion with the nation fresh at war, that goosebump-inducing Whitney Houston anthem, an incredible game plan executed to perfection by Bill Belichick’s defense, a nail-biting finish and a tragic missed field goal in the deciding moment.
The 25th Super Bowl was the closest, most emotionally-jarring game in NFL history, and it permanently inserted Scott Norwood’s name into the national sports lexicon while creating a pop culture archetype.