There Was Once a Super Bowl So Weird a Losing Player Won MVP

Not every Super Bowl is a gem. Fans who sat through the big games of the 1980s and 1990s know this well. Nine games in Super Bowl history have ended with a margin of victory of more than 25 points.

Super Bowl V, played in January 1971, wasn’t one of these games. In fact, it was decided on a field goal with less than ten seconds left. Despite this, the game has rightfully earned nicknames such as the “Blooper Bowl,” “Stupor Bowl,” and “Blunder Bowl.”

How the Colts and Cowboys got here

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Super Bowl V was the first championship game following the merger of the National and American Football Leagues. For both the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Colts, Super Bowl V was a chance to right past wrongs.

This was the second Super Bowl trip in three seasons for the Colts. Two years earlier, they fell victim to one of the most famous upsets in NFL history. The New York Jets backed up quarterback Joe Namath’s infamous “guarantee” with a 16-7 win at Miami’s Orange Bowl. In so doing, they became the first NFL team to lose the Super Bowl to an AFL team. Had the Colts won that game, that year’s team may still be recognized as one of the greatest of all time.

The Dallas Cowboys were making their first Super Bowl appearance, but not for lack of trying. In the first two years of the Super Bowl era, they fell one game short, both times losing to the Green Bay Packers in the NFL title game. The second of those games was the famous Ice Bowl game of 1967.

Ironically, after two straight years of upset wins by AFL teams (the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV the previous year), neither of the teams in the first post-merger Super Bowl were AFL transplants. The Colts were one of three NFL teams to transfer to the American Football Conference for the 1970 season.

The Colts and Cowboys don’t bring their A-game

Super Bowl V between the Colts and Cowboys
Tom Nowatzke of the Baltimore Colts gets tackled by Chuck Howley and Lee Roy Jordan of the Dallas Cowboys during Super Bowl V | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

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For two teams with a chip on their shoulder from past failures, they sure didn’t play like it for the first 59 minutes of Super Bowl V.

The Colts and Cowboys combined for 11 turnovers, still tied for a Super Bowl record. Five of those turnovers came in the fourth quarter alone. No quarterback had a completion percentage above 50%, while no ball-carrier exceeded 65 yards rushing.

Even the Colts’ only touchdown was, in a way, a mistake. Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas overthrew receiver Eddie Hinton, and the ball bounced off his fingertips. It then bounced off the hands of Cowboys defensive back Mel Renfro and into the grasp of Colts tight end John Mackey, who raced for a 75-yard touchdown. The Colts couldn’t let this moment pass without making a mistake, as the ensuing extra point was blocked.

While Baltimore committed seven of those 11 turnovers, Dallas made up for it by committing 10 penalties and giving away a Super Bowl record 133 yards. The last of Dallas’ four turnovers was the most costly, as quarterback Craig Morton threw an interception which Mike Curtis returned into field goal range.

With nine seconds left, kicker Jim O’Brien redeemed himself by nailing a 32-yard field goal to give Baltimore the win.

A consolation prize for Chuck Howley

Despite the Cowboys’ loss, one of their own came away with the game’s highest individual honor.

Linebacker Chuck Howley intercepted two passes in the game. As was the nature of the “Blunder Bowl,” however, neither pick amounted to anything on the scoreboard. Dallas wasted both of his interceptions, as the ensuing drives led to punts.

Despite this, Howley won Super Bowl MVP. He is still the only player from the losing side to win the award. For a long time, it was rumored that Howley refused the honor due to his team’s loss. As he told Vice in 2015, this was not accurate.

“I don’t refuse an award like that. Not at all,” he said. “I was quite, I guess, dumbfounded that I had won. It was just something that was hard to accept, winning and losing the ballgame. I would much rather have won the game and played as well.”

Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.