In less than a week, Super Bowl XLVIII will kick off at MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and New York Jets, in New Jersey. It’s touted as one of the most anticipated games in quite some time because the Denver Broncos, the National Football League’s top offense, will square off against the league’s top defense in the Seattle Seahawks. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning comes into the game trying to conclude a record-breaking season with the ultimate achievement — a Super Bowl title.
Come Sunday, what will happen is anybody’s guess. It might come down to Manning throwing a fade at Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman for the victory (something Sherman believes is ill-advised), a last-second Hail Mary, or just a dominant performance by any one player. With unlimited possibilities for the 2014 edition, here are five Super Bowls that impressed, shocked, and awed fans everywhere.
[Note: Photos may not match games described.]
5. Super Bowl XXIII, 1989
First up is a classic between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals. Playing at the home of the Miami Dolphins — what was then Joe Robbie Stadium — the 49ers ended up winning, 20-16. The game featured two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in San Francisco’s Joe Montana and Cincinnati’s Boomer Esiason. While Esiason was coming off of an MVP season (passing for 3,572 yards and 28 touchdown passes that year), Montana threw for a then-Super Bowl record 357 yards and two touchdowns, well outperforming Esiason.
It would be Montana’s teammate and favorite receiver, Jerry Rice, though, who took home the game’s most valuable player award for his 215 receiving yards and one touchdown. Sure, Rice grabbed the game’s MVP, but trailing by three points with three minutes remaining, Montana was the one who calmly led the 49ers 92 yards down the field. He hit John Taylor for a 16-yard touchdown with 34 seconds left, giving San Francisco the Super Bowl title and Montana the third ring of his career.
4. Super Bowl XLIII, 2009
Entering the game, nobody knew what to expect from the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cardinals, led by the duo of quarterback Kurt Warner and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, were seeking their first championship in more than 50 years. Super Bowl XLIII became a contest known for its momentum swings, the first of which came at the end of the first half, with the Cardinals in spitting distance of a touchdown and trailing by three. Instead of Arizona scoring and taking the lead, Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison intercepted a pass at the goal line and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.
After a late rally by the Cardinals and the Steelers trailing by three – the second momentum swing of the game – Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit wide receiver Santonio Holmes for a six-yard touchdown with 35 seconds remaining. Holmes was named the game’s MVP, but the game would ultimately be remembered for the continual back-and-forth play.
3. Super Bowl XLII, 2008
A year before the Steelers and Cardinals would battle it out for Super Bowl XLIII, this game between the New York Giants and New England Patriots had one of the crazier endings in Super Bowl lore. It was David versus Goliath – New England finished the regular season undefeated and the sure favorite to go all the way, whereas New York, at 10-6, was trying to become one of a handful of teams to win the Super Bowl as a wild card. With the Patriots leading by four points with less than four minutes to go, it all but seemed New England would win yet another title.
Enter David Tyree (the real David in this story). On a desperate third-and-five, Eli Manning heaved the ball deep down the field towards Tyree, who leapt and somehow brought down the ball using his helmet as support. The catch would generate many names in later weeks, but it was simply the helmet catch. New York’s 37-yard gain on the play all but stunned the Patriots, and Manning capped off the come-from-behind drive by throwing the winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining. Fans like to see an underdog win, and that’s exactly what they got at this game.
2. Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000
This championship game comes in so high on the list because it was one of if not the most stunning endings in the history of the NFL. The Saint Louis Rams and their high-powered offense came into the game as the favorites over the Tennessee Titans. After a second-half rally by the Titans that tied the game with just 2:02 left, the Greatest Show on Turf, as the Rams were nicknamed, struck when they needed it most: Quarterback Kurt Warner hit Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown.
But Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair feverishly led the Titans all the way to the 10-yard line with just six seconds remaining. Then, McNair completed his next and final pass to a crossing Kevin Dyson on the last play of the game. Dyson, who appeared to break free through the middle of the field after the catch, was tackled one yard short of the goal line as time expired. It was a heart-wrenching loss for Tennessee, but a memorable one either way.
1. Super Bowl III, 1969
By far the oldest game on this list, Super Bowl III between the American Football League’s New York Jets and the National Football League’s Baltimore Colts took place before the merger into one league. The AFL was considered to be far inferior to the NFL at the time of the game, so when the Jets defeated the Colts by a score of 16-7, it was momentous for the future of the league we know today. Quarterback and future Hall of Famer Joe Namath led the Jets to victory, most notably after he famously guaranteed a victory the week before.
Namath had a brash reputation, but on that Super Bowl Sunday a little more than 45 years ago, he lived up to his words. He finished with 206 passing yards and no touchdowns but also earned the game’s MVP. While Super Bowl III might not have been the most exciting on this list, it was instrumental in bringing forth the AFL and NFL merger — something worthy of the top ranking.