The Super Bowl is one of the most celebrated spectacles in all of sports. It is the ultimate stage, the pinnacle where heroes shine and legends are made. Through 50 installments, no season finale has ever truly been a bust.
With Super Bowl LI right around the corner, let’s look at the Top 10 Greatest Super Bowls of all time.
Narrowing this list down to just 10 games was an impossibly difficult task. As such, here are three honorable mentions that are extremely memorable Super Bowls that fell just short of the top 10.
- Super Bowl XXXVI (New England Patriots vs St. Louis Rams)
Outside factors knocked this classic down a few pegs. Although the game is best remembered for head coach Bill Belichek engaging in “SpyGate” and possibly stealing some of the Rams’ plays, the fact remains that it was the first of many Super Bowls for Belichek and Tom Brady.
- Super Bowl XLVII (Baltimore Ravens vs San Francisco 49ers)
This game had it all. On one sideline, John Harbaugh coached his veteran quarterback in the midst of an elite season all the way to a championship, while his brother Jim Harbaugh patrolled the opponent’s sideline and was busy grooming his rookie quarterback into superstardom. In the end, big brother John and QB Joe Flacco got the last laugh, but Colin Kaepernick sure put up a fight, even knocking out the power in the stadium for 20 minutes.
- Super Bowl XXXIV (St. Louis Rams vs Tennessee Titans)
A Super Bowl that is best remembered for one play, it was the first and only Super Bowl that “The Greatest Show on Turf” Rams ever won. Poor Kevin Dyson of the Titans was just one yard short of tying the game before he was tackled, his outstretched arm mere inches away from paydirt. It was one of the most gut-wrenching endings to any Super Bowl.
10. Super Bowl III (New York Jets vs Baltimore Colts)
While this may seem like a low ranking for such a revered Super Bowl, hear me out. The game itself was not the most exciting Super Bowl ever played, and the game is best remembered for what happened off the field, being Joe Namath’s guarantee that his Jets would upset the heavily favored Colts.
Unlikely as it seemed, Namath and the boys delivered, even fighting off a late stab by Johnny Unitas off the bench. It was the victory that put the AFL on the map.
9. Super Bowl XXXII (Denver Broncos vs Green Bay Packers)
One of the most star-studded Super Bowls ever, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen put it best when he said “This one’s for John [Elway]”. In what would be Elway’s final game of his career, he played like a man possessed and captained the Broncos to a gritty victory over the Brett Favre-led Packers.
Running back Terrell Davis scored three touchdowns while battling off a possible concussion, and Elway famously helicoptered his way for a first down late in the game. It was the ultimate feather in Elway’s cap.
8. Super Bowl XLVI (New York Giants vs New England Patriots)
They always say that the sequel is never better than the original, and that statement is true for Super Bowls too. However, the second battle between Eli Manning and the underdog New York Giants and Tom Brady’s New England Patriots was a classic in its own right.
Once again, the Giants stopped Brady with a vicious pass rush and a little bit of luck. Justin Tuck collected 2 sacks and a safety, journeyman linebacker Chase Blackburn outjumped star tight end Rob Gronkowski for a key interception, Mario Manningham made a miraculous sideline catch, Ahmad Bradshaw reluctantly scored the winning touchdown, and Antrel Rolle batted down Brady’s last-ditch Hail Mary attempt to clinch another improbable Big Blue victory.
7. Super Bowl XXXVIII (New England Patriots vs Carolina Panthers)
The Super Bowl with the longest numeral abbreviation and the most controversial halftime show, Super Bowl XXXVIII was also an amazing game. The Patriots and Panthers traded touchdowns left and right, resulting in one of the highest-scoring Super Bowls ever.
But when Carolina kicker John Kasay’s late kickoff sailed out of bounds, it gave the Patriots and kicker Adam Vinatieri a chance to walk off the game on one kick. The 48-yarder cemented Vinatieri’s status as a Super Bowl legend.
6. Super Bowl XIII (Pittsburgh Steelers vs Dallas Cowboys)
In a matchup of the two best offensive teams of the 1970s, it was the Steelers who emerged victorious in one of the first high-scoring games in Super Bowl history. Just when it seemed as if the Steelers had a stranglehold on the game, the Cowboys came roaring back to make it a 4-point game with just 22 seconds to go.
However, the clock ran out on the Cowboys, and Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers came through with their third Super Bowl championship.
5. Super Bowl XXIII (San Francisco 49ers vs Cincinnati Bengals)
A rematch of Super Bowl XVI, Boomer Esiason and the Bengals were determined not to lose this one too. However, they were simply outplayed on offense by the 49ers, led by Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. The defensive effort of the Bengals kept the game close, even giving the Bengals the lead with 3:10 to go.
Of course though, Montana put together what is known as “The Drive”, eating up almost all of the remaining game clock before throwing the game-winning touchdown with just 34 seconds on the clock.
4. Super Bowl XLIII (Pittsburgh Steelers vs Arizona Cardinals)
Super Bowl XLIII was the most pass-heavy Super Bowl ever. The Steelers and Cardinals combined for the fewest rushing attempts and yards of any Super Bowl in history, leading to an aerial approach. James Harrison’s 100-yard pick-six seemingly turned the tides for the Steelers, but Larry Fitzgerald continued his record-setting postseason with 7 catches for 127 yards and a late 64-yard score. However, the Steelers had one more miracle left in them.
Just one year after David Tyree’s amazing helmet catch, Santonio Holmes matched Tyree’s effort with an insane catch in the corner of the end zone, barely keeping both of his feet in bounds. The catch clinched the Super Bowl for the Steelers, their NFL-best sixth triumph.
3. Super Bowl XXV (New York Giants vs Buffalo Bills)
How do you stop the best offense in league history (up to that time)? Call up the New York Giants. Head coach Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Bill Belichek devised a plan to keep the ball away from the high-flying Bills’ offense by primarily running the ball on offense and relying on the short passing game and not taking too many chances.
In the end, the strategy worked. The Giants held the ball for 40:33, easily a Super Bowl record. However, the Bills had scored 19 points in less than 20 minutes on offense, and had their all-star kicker Scott Norwood ready to kick the walk-off 47-yard field goal. Of course though, the field goal sailed “wide right”, and the Giants won yet another unlikely Super Bowl.
2. Super Bowl XLIX (New England Patriots vs Seattle Seahawks)
In a matchup that featured the two best teams in the league that season, the Patriots and Seahawks engaged in an offensive slugfest. Tom Brady had a record passing day, but it looked as though he would be beat yet again by another impossible catch, this time from Jermaine Kearse. Rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler saved the touchdown on the run after catch however, setting up first and goal for the Seahawks.
But instead of handing the ball off to All-Pro running back Marshawn Lynch, head coach Pete Carroll elected to call a pass, which Butler promptly intercepted, securing the victory for Brady and the Patriots. It was the most action-packed finish in Super Bowl history.
1. Super Bowl XLII (New York Giants vs New England Patriots)
There is simply no Super Bowl better than Super Bowl XLII. The buildup to the big game was unreal. The underdog Giants had made it all the way to the Super Bowl, where they would face possibly the greatest team ever assembled, the 18-0 Patriots.
But the Giants’ aggressive defense stifled Tom Brady all night long, Eli Manning earned his stripes, and David Tyree jumped into Super Bowl lore with his unbelievable helmet catch on a Manning third-down pass that would set up a Plaxico Burress touchdown. The Giants were America’s greatest comeback story, winning a Super Bowl that nobody thought was even remotely possible.