From 1983 to 2000, winning teams won the Super Bowl by an average of 20 points, and only two of the 18 games ended with a score of six points or less. As you can see from our top 10, matches have become much more exciting since the late 1990s.
Green Bay Packers 24, Denver Broncos 31 (January 25, 1998)
Reigning champions, the Packers relied on the best player in the NFL, Brett Favre. The Broncos and John Elway had lost three Super Bowls in the 1980s and were trailing by 12 points. However, even though their top player, Terrell Davis, was bothered by a migraine, the Broncos won their first title to everyone’s surprise. The most memorable game was the eight-yard run for a first try by old Elway, who made “the helicopter” after being tackled by two players. At 37, Elway finally won the Super Bowl, while Favre was never going to play again.
St. Louis Rams 17, New England Patriots 20 (February 3, 2002)
Against all odds, the Patriots had won 11 games in the regular season, but were not given a chance against the mighty Rams, champions two years earlier. Especially not with a rookie like Tom Brady on watch… The Pats’ strong defense neutralized Marshall Faulk and the Rams’ receivers, and the Patriots led 17-3 in the fourth quarter. The Rams tied the game with two late touchdowns, but Brady and kicker Adam Vinatieri joined forces to help the Pats win their first Super Bowl. Vinatieri hit a 48-yard kick in the final play and that night one power was born and another died.
Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23 (February 1, 2009)
There was a little bit of everything in this game, including the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history, the 100-yard interception return from linebacker James Harrison. Harrison’s touchdown gave the Steelers a 10-point lead in the final game of a quiet first half, and the chances of the Cards collapsing in the second half looked good. Instead, they took the lead, 23-20, thanks to Larry Fitzgerald’s fourth quarter second touchdown. With less than three minutes left in the game, Ben Roethlisberger orchestrated an 88-yard push that ended with a spectacular catch by Santonio Holmes in the Cards’ end zone. The Steelers became the most successful team in the Super Bowl era with this sixth championship.
St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16 (January 30, 2000)
Dubbed “The Greatest Show on Turf”, the Rams’ attack got all the publicity during their memorable 1999 season. The defence, however, played very well in the shadows, too, and finally pulled off the key play of the 34th Super Bowl. The Titans’ defence was just as solid during that match, forcing the Rams to settle for three first-half placements despite a 294-yard field goal. The Titans scored 16 consecutive points to tie the game at 2:12, but Isaac Bruce then scored a 73-yard touchdown. Runner-up Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson at the Rams’ one-yard line on the last play of the game to preserve the win.
Buffalo Bills 19, New York Giants 20 (January 27, 1991)
It was because of the brilliant game plan of Bill Belichick – the Giants’ defensive coordinator at the time – that the Bills suffered the first of their four Super Bowl losses. The Giants held the ball for more than 40 minutes thanks to their ground play, keeping the Bills’ explosive attack on the sidelines. Belichick had convinced his defence that his chances of winning would be better if Thurman Thomas of the Bills amassed 100 yards on the ground – he got 135. The plan worked, except it was a failed 47-yard field goal attempt in Scott Norwood’s final seconds that sank the Bills. This game was the inspiration for the movie Buffalo 66 – a must see for fans of American independent film.
New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14 (3 February 2008)
The perfect 19-0 season seemed to be a formality when Randy Moss gave the Patriots a 14-10 lead with just over five minutes remaining. That was before the Giants pulled off the most unlikely game in Super Bowl history. After getting rid of two opponents clinging to him, Eli Manning threw a pass to David Tyree, who managed to keep the ball between one hand and his helmet as it fell to the ground. Plaxico Burress made the winning touchdown a few games later. A cruel defeat, which Bill Belichick clearly had trouble swallowing. He left the field before the last few seconds had passed, and he didn’t even bother to shake hands with Tom Coughlin…
Cincinnati Bengals 16, San Francisco 49ers 20 (January 22, 1989)
Several players from the 49ers admitted that the Bengals deserved to win this match. But Joe Montana had something else in mind. He brilliantly drove a 92-yard run in the final minutes, completing a touchdown pass to John Taylor with 35 seconds left on the clock. Montana crushed Dan Marino (1984) and John Elway (1989) in the Super Bowl, but when you think of the Niners’ quarterback, this is the game that comes to mind.
New York Jets 16, Indianapolis Colts 7 (January 12, 1969)
Joe Namath and the Jets allowed the AFL teams to be taken seriously by their NFL cousins with this victory. Neglected by 18 points, they shocked the Colts and all of America, and Namath became a legend. The quarterback lifted the Lombardi Trophy just days after predicting a win for his side.
Carolina Panthers 29, New England Patriots 32 (February 1, 2004)
As is often the case, the fourth quarter was the most exciting of the 38th Super Bowl with 37 of the 61 points scored. Five touchdowns were scored in the final quarter, but like two years earlier, it was finally an Adam Vinatieri kick in the dying moments that gave the Pats the win.
The trilogy between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers won the first two matches, at the end of the 1975 and 1978 seasons, earning them the title of the team par excellence of the 1970s. The rivalry between the two great organizations that divided America is recounted in the book The ones who hit the hardest. It took 17 years, but the Cowboys finally got their revenge by defeating the Steelers in the 30th Super Bowl, becoming the first team to win three championships in four years.