5 Best Super Bowl Games of All Time, Ranked
All anyone ever asks for, really, is for the Super Bowl to be a good game. For the first 35 years of the Super Bowl, just getting something remotely competitive was apparently asking for too much. At best, maybe five or six games could be considered worthy of all the hype.
In the past two decades, however, we have finally been privy to games that have been truly Super. On our list of the five best Super Bowls ever played, only one came from the first 37. Three have come in the past 15 years. We’re finally making the superior Super product.
With apologies to John Taylor, Scott Norwood, Mike Jones, and J.R. Redmond, here is our list of the five best Super Bowls ever played:
5. Super Bowl 38: New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29
Winning one Super Bowl might have been a fluke. Driving the Patriots downfield to the winning field goal might have been a one-time thing. But when Tom Brady did it again two years after the classic upset of the St. Louis Rams, the young quarterback went from quarterback curiosity to GOAT-in-training.
After a somewhat lackluster first three quarters, with the Patriots leading 14-10, Super Bowl 38 became a classic in the fourth quarter, with five touchdowns scored and the lead changing hands four times in the final seven minutes.
The Panthers erased an 11-point deficit with a pair of Jake Delhomme touchdown passes, the latter an 85-yard strike to Mushin Muhammad to give Carolina a 22-21 lead with 6:53 left. Brady responded right back, throwing a 1-yard touchdown pass to his linebacker, Mike Vrabel, to regain the lead at 29-22.
Then in a wild case of déjà vu, Ricky Proehl, who caught the tying touchdown with 1:21 left in Super Bowl 36, only to have Adam Vinatieri kick a walk-off field goal, scored for the Panthers to tie the score at 29-29 with 1:08 left in Super Bowl 38 … only to have Brady march the Patriots downfield for Vinatieri to win the game again with a walk-off field goal.
4. Super Bowl 13: Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31
Another back-and-forth affair, at least for a half. Then it appeared to become a rout, only to see the Cowboys rally from 18 points down in the final five minutes to throw an enormous scare into the Steelers.
The game featured two teams with two Super Bowl victories on their resumes, adding an extra layer of drama to the first rematch in Super Bowl history. The winner of this game would become the first three-time winner in the Super Bowl era.
The two teams traded big-play touchdowns before the Steelers scored just before the half for a 21-14 lead. Then Jackie Smith became the sickest man in America by dropping a sure touchdown, and Steelers used the turning point as a springboard to score two quick touchdowns for a 35-17 lead.
But Roger Staubach, befitting his title of Captain Comeback, led Dallas on two furious touchdown drives in the final minutes to make it 35-31, before a final onside kick attempt landed in the arms of a Steelers rookie named Tony Dungy, securing the coveted third Super Bowl title.
3. Super Bowl 49: New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24
A Super Bowl filled with wild plays and circus catches would come down to a single pass from the 2-yard line that went down as one of the most controversial decisions in NFL history.
Played under the shadow of the “Deflategate” scandal over whether Tom Brady was illegally taking the air out of footballs in the AFC Championship Game, the Super Bowl was a brilliantly-played game that the Seattle Seahawks appeared to have sewn up when Jermaine Kearse made a 33-yard reception reminiscent of the famous David Tyree helmet catch that beat the Patriots in Super Bowl 42.
This catch, with Kearse laying on the ground and securing a deflected ball with 1:05 left and the Seahawks trailing 28-24, put the ball five yards from the end zone.
On first down, the Seahawks ran the ball, as one would expect, with Marshawn Lynch gaining four yards to the Patriots’ 1-yard line.
But on second down, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll decided not to go back to his powerful running back to finish the job, instead having quarterback Russell Wilson try a quick slant pattern to Ricardo Lockette.
But Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler read the play before Wilson snapped it and when Wilson threw for Lockette, Butler stepped in front of the receiver and made the game-clinching interception, arguably the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history alongside Mike Jones’ game-saving tackle for the Rams in Super Bowl 34.
2. Super Bowl 43: Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23
Just prior to the final play of the first half, this game could best be described as a good Super Bowl. Then Kurt Warner threw a pass into the end zone to try to give the Cardinals the lead, and suddenly the game was on its trajectory to becoming the best Super Bowl ever played that ended in regulation.
That final play became the longest interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history, as Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison picked off Warner’s pass at the goal line, then rumbled the length of the field, barely getting the ball over the goal line as he was tackled down in what felt like a slow-motion chase across the 100 yards.
But the play gave Pittsburgh a 17-7 halftime lead and they increased it to 20-7 before the Cardinals, a 9-7 team in the regular season, roared all the way back on the strength of Warner and star receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who competed the 16-point eruption with a 64-yard touchdown, running alone down the middle of the field to give the Cardinals a 23-20 lead with 2:37 left.
But Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers had the final answer, driving downfield before Big Ben found game MVP Santonio Holmes in the back corner of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left and a 27-23 lead. Holmes remarkably tapped the tips of both feet down just inside the side of the end zone to make the legal catch, in one of the greatest examples of body control in Super Bowl history.
1. Super Bowl 51: New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28 (OT)
This was truly a Super Bowl that had it all. There was a record-setting comeback, there were tremendous catches by star receivers on both teams. There were controversial play-calls that changed the course of the game. And, for the first and only time in the first 55 Super Bowls, there was overtime.
Trailing 28-3 with 2:12 left in the third quarter, Brady, running back James White and receiver Julian Edelman led the Patriots on a furious comeback, outscoring the Falcons 31-0 the remainder of the game.
After White scored a touchdown and later added a two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 28-20 with 5:56 left, the Falcons appeared poised to salt the game away after Julio Jones made a remarkable, acrobatic sideline catch to give Atlanta a first down on the Patriots’ 22-yard line with 4:40 left.
But instead of bleeding the clock and forcing the Patriots to burn their final timeouts by running three times before kicking the field goal that would have given them an 11-point lead, the Falcons inexplicably called a pass play on second down and quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss.
Now forced to pass on third down, the Falcons were called for a holding penalty which stopped the clock and took Atlanta out of field goal range. Another incompletion forced the Falcons to punt, allowing New England to get the ball back down eight with 3:30 left.
Edelman then erased the memories of Tyree and Kearse with a twisting, juggling, second-effort catch that came within inches of hitting the ground. Instead, the drive continued and White scored, setting up the game-tying two-point conversion and the first overtime in Super Bowl history.
And it was White again in the extra session, scoring on a short run for the fifth Super Bowl title in the Brady-Bill Belichick era.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference