For years, the Super Bowl was known as a disappointment. Perhaps unavoidable for one of the most hyped events in any sporting year, there was a propensity for tight games or uncompetitive outbursts. That trend has delightfully reversed over the past decade, which explains the apparent recency of this list. But we start in the eighties:
10. Super Bowl XXIII: San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16 (1989)
Joe Montana’s third Super Bowl win, a tight game best remembered for his composure on the winning drive in the fourth quarter and the brilliance of wide receiver Jerry Rice. Hard on the Bengals, who were forced to play without their top running back Stanley Wilson – he had been caught using cocaine in his hotel room the night before the game.
9. Super Bowl III: New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7 (1969)
A huge dismay. The first Super Bowl won by a team from the presumably inferior American Football League, the forerunner of today’s American Football Conference. Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed the win ahead of time. Not many took him seriously, but his side controlled the game and a new competitive era in the league was born.
8. Super Bowl XXXIV: St Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16 (2000)
Mike Jones’ tackle left Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson short of a decisive touchdown on the final play. A dramatic conclusion to the Rams’ fairytale season. Led by quarterback Kurt Warner, they defied modest expectations. Warner won the MVP award and the Rams power offense he led was dubbed “the greatest show on turf.”
7. Super Bowl XLIII: Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23 (2009)
Pittsburgh led with 13 going into the fourth quarter, thanks in part to James Harrison’s Super Bowl-record 100-yard interception for a touchdown. The Cardinals fought back and held onto the lead with less than three minutes remaining. But the Steelers would not be denied and put together a 78-yard drive. A six-yard touchdown for Santonio Holmes sealed a thriller.
6. Super Bowl LII: Philadelphia Eagles 41, New England Patriots 33 (2018)
Best remembered for the daring “Philly Special” trick play, in which quarterback Nick Foles received a touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton. A journeyman quarterback, Foles briefly became world champions in the run-up to the Eagles’ first championship since 1960. He played in this thrilling high-scoring game, which unusually involved only one point from both teams.
5. Super Bowl XIII: Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31 (1979)
The moment the Super Bowl became a de facto national holiday for America. A rematch of Super Bowl X featuring two of the most dominant teams of the 1970s. After a turbulent first half, play tightened in the third quarter, with the defense on top. The Steelers went up 18 points in the last quarter and just about survived a spirited late comeback from the Cowboys.
4. Super Bowl XXV: New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19 (1991)
The coveted Bills were undone by a missed field goal by Scott Norwood in the closing seconds of the game. Still the only Super Bowl to be decided by one point, and the first with no turnovers by either team. A thrilling classic that would set off a torturous streak of four consecutive Super Bowl losses for the Bills.
3. Super Bowl LI: New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28 (2017)
The scandalous comeback that took Tom Brady to the next level. The Falcons led 28-3, but there was a sense of inevitability about their unraveling as the Patriots came alive towards the end. The scores were tied with less than a minute left, extending the Super Bowl for the first time. It took Brady one ride to get his fifth ring.
2. Super Bowl XLII: New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14 (2008)
The Patriots were undefeated all season and were heavy favorites, but the game was closer than expected. With 2.39 to go, the Giants trailed by four points, but in the deciding drive, David Tyree caught a 32-yard pass from Eli Manning with one hand on the ball and his helmet pinned him down. Leadership changed three times in a breathless fourth quarter.
1. Super Bowl XLIX: New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24 (2015)
Both teams perform, almost all the time, a truly memorable moment. This had it all. The Seahawks needed a touchdown from yards out with 26 seconds left. They had all-conquering running back Marshawn Lynch, who was sure to reel him in? They attempted a pass instead, it was read and intercepted by Malcolm Butler and the Patriots were champions. Again.