Analysis

2/6/23

16 min read

Ranking Every Super Bowl, Where Does This Year’s Game Land?

Feb 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, US; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) celebrates on the podium with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Some NFL championship games in the Super Bowl era have been, well, SUPER. Others have been duds – though fans of the winning teams would never admit that. Super Bowl LVII went down to the wire with the Chiefs defeating the Eagles 38-35. Where does this year’s Super Bowl stack up against some of the best of all-time?

Without consulting Clint Eastwood, The 33rd Team looks back at the good, bad and ugly of the 57 Super Bowls, rated on the quality of the game and, in some instances, adding its significance. From worst to first, here we go.

57. Super Bowl VI (1972): Cowboys 24, Dolphins 3

Dolphins fullback Larry Csonka never fumbled. Except when he did early on, the rout was on. Somehow, Roger Staubach earned MVP honors by going 12 for 19 for 119 yards, though with two touchdown passes. Duane Thomas, not exactly popular with the media that votes for the award, rushed for 95 yards.

56. Super Bowl XVIII (1984): Raiders 38, Washington 9

Whether representing Oakland or Los Angeles, the Raiders managed to make their Super Bowls one-sided – as winners or losers. Here, as LA’s team, the highlight was Hall of Famer Marcus Allen’s spectacular 74-yard dash to the end zone. Washington contributed nothing.

55. Super Bowl LIII (2019): Patriots 13, Rams 3

The Rams didn’t belong here. But thanks to one of the worst officiating non-calls in NFL history in the conference championship game against the Saints – don’t claim you can’t recall it – they arrived in Atlanta and disappeared against New England.

54. Super Bowl XXVII (1993): Cowboys 52, Bills 17

After this one, America probably was ready for the Bills to stop getting to the big game. Buffalo committed nine turnovers, though one of those became a standard “bloopers” video: Leon Lett being stripped by Don Beebe as the defensive lineman was about to close out a long touchdown return of a fumble.

53. Super Bowl XLVIII (2014): Seahawks 43, Broncos 8

The only Super Bowl staged outdoors in a cold-weather city wound up with temperatures near 50 and a romp from the first scrimmage play. That’s when a bad snap soared past Peyton Manning for a safety, the earliest score in the big game. It never got better for Denver – or viewers.

52. Super Bowl XXXV (2001): Ravens 34, Giants 7

Baltimore’s impenetrable defense made a shambles of this one with five takeaways, and New York’s only points came on a 97-yard kickoff return. At least the Ravens’ defense gave the game some cachet.

51. Super Bowl VIII (1974): Dolphins 24, Vikings 7

No perfection for Miami a year after going 17-0, but Larry Csonka ate up the Purple People Eaters, gaining 145 yards on 33 carries and scoring twice. It was over after the Dolphins took a 14-0 first-quarter lead.

50. Super Bowl V (1971): Colts 16, Cowboys 13

One of the sloppiest title games, the first Super Bowl after the completed AFL-NFL merger was won by rookie Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard field goal. Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley became the first — and still only — player from a losing team to take MVP honors thanks to his two interceptions.

49. Super Bowl LV (2021): Buccaneers 31, Chiefs 9

TB12 had double meaning: Tom Brady playing for Tampa Bay. And doing what he often did in Super Bowls: Proving he didn’t need Bill Belichick to win a ring. Brady won his fifth big game MVP award, though it was a defense that plagued Patrick Mahomes all night that set the tone. Even better for Bucs fans, the game was at Tampa, the first time a team hosted and competed in a Super Bowl.

48. Super Bowl XI (1977): Raiders 32, Vikings 14

John Madden’s only ring, with Minnesota managing to lose a fourth Super Bowl, not one of which was particularly close. Eventual Hall of Famers Fred Biletnikoff, Ken Stabler and Dave Casper led the way for Oakland.

47. Super Bowl XXXVII (2003): Buccaneers 48, Raiders 21

A spicy storyline that wound up without much taste: Jon Gruden, who left Oakland to coach Tampa Bay for the 2002 season, defeating his former club. Had the Raiders protected the ball – the Bucs had five picks, three returned for touchdowns – it might have been a game.

46. Super Bowl II (1968): Packers 33, Raiders 14

Not much here because the Mad Bomber, Daryl Lamonica, couldn’t solve Green Bay’s defense. Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley had a 60-yard pick-6 in the final game Vince Lombardi coached for the Packers.

45. Super Bowl IX (1975): Steelers 16, Vikings 6

The first score, appropriately with the Steel Curtain on the field, was a safety when Dwight White sacked Fran Tarkenton in the end zone. In chilly conditions at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, the Vikings never got going offensively, and Pittsburgh had its first NFL title.

44. Super Bowl XXXIII (1999): Broncos 34, Falcons 19

Now this is how you make a grand exit: John Elway was the MVP in his final game, securing a second straight ring. Darrien Gordon was the defensive standout with two picks against the Dirty Birds.

43. Super Bowl XV (1981): Raiders 27, Eagles 10

This was one of those title games decided before the teams took the field. Under coach Dick Vermeil, the Eagles were wound so tight they had no chance against the relaxed and super confident Raiders. Linebacker Rod Martin had three picks yet wasn’t voted MVP; QB Jim Plunkett was for throwing three touchdowns.

42. Super Bowl XX (1986): Bears 46, Patriots 10

Even though outmatched New England took a 3-0 lead, this never was in doubt. Notable was the Bears’ famed 46 Defense being matched by the offense as Chicago put 46 points on the board. Fittingly, Hall of Fame DE Richard Dent was the MVP.

41. Super Bowl XXVI (1992): Washington 37, Bills 24

The second of Buffalo’s four consecutive flops, this started ignominiously when NFL MVP Thurman Thomas couldn’t find his helmet to start the game. Not too much later, Washington was ahead 24-0. The Bills had four turnovers and Washington coach Joe Gibbs had his third title in 10 seasons – with three different quarterbacks.

40. Super Bowl VII (1973): Dolphins 14, Washington  7

A yawner in many ways, though the first (and still only) undefeated/untied season was achieved by Miami. The No-Name Defense was impenetrable, and if not for placekicker Garo Yepremian’s aborted pass, perhaps the lone shutout in the big game would have occurred.

39. Super Bowl XII (1978): Cowboys 27, Broncos 10

The intrigue here was former Cowboys quarterback Craig Morton, whom Dallas coach Tom Landry demoted years earlier for Roger Staubach, was with Denver. But the Cowboys squished the Orange Crush thanks to their Doomsday Defense as, for the only time, two players shared the MVP award: DT Randy White and DE Harvey Martin.

38. Super Bowl XXII (1988): Washington 42, Broncos 10

Denver actually led this one 10-0. Then Doug Williams went to work, becoming the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl. This game was over at halftime after Washington scoring 35 consecutive points in the second quarter.

37. Super Bowl XXIV (1990): 49ers 55, Broncos 10

The most lopsided of them all, but not a complete dud because watching the Niners’ West Coast Offense at its very best was captivating. Well, maybe not for Broncos fans who were wondering if Denver ever would get a Super Bowl right.

36. Super Bowl L (2016): Broncos 24, Panthers 10

Peyton Manning’s final game, though it was Von Miller and the Broncos’ latest version of the Orange Crush that decided matters. For the 50th edition of the big game, it was not particularly enticing.

35. Super Bowl XL (2006): Steelers 21, Seahawks 10

The wild-card Steelers rode The Bus from Pittsburgh to Detroit – and to the top of the NFL. In what seemed like a home game for the Steelers, Jerome Bettis’ finale in his hometown featured wideout Hines Ward’s TD pass. After the Rolling Stones performed at halftime, Steelers fans could paint Motown black and gold.

34. Super Bowl XXVIII (1994): Cowboys 30, Bills 13

The very best of the Triplets: Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, all Hall of Famers. Smith was league MVP and then ran over and through Buffalo to win game honors with 132 yards and two scores.

33. Super Bowl IV (1970): Chiefs 23, Vikings 7

No guarantees from Hank Stram or Len Dawson like Joe Namath made the previous year. Still, it was an AFL whooping of the NFL champion, with the Chiefs forcing five turnovers. Just ahead of the full merger, AFL quality no longer was in question.

32. Super Bowl XXX (1996): Cowboys 27, Steelers 17

Sometimes it isn’t a star player who gets the accolades. Even with the Triplets on hand for Dallas, it was cornerback Larry Brown taking MVP honors with two interceptions. Barry Switzer was coaching what really was Jimmy Johnson’s team that won, at the time, an unprecedented third championship in four seasons.

31. Super Bowl XIX (1985): 49ers 38, Dolphins 16

Joe Montana against Dan Marino should have been a championship matchup throughout the decade. Instead, this was the only Super Bowl that Marino got to … and Miami never was a factor. Playing down the road at Stanford Stadium, the 49ers got three touchdowns from Roger Craig, a Super Bowl first.

30. Super Bowl I (1967): Packers 35, Chiefs 10

Dubbed the AFL-NFL Championship, the first meeting of the AFL and NFL was more about storylines than sizzling football. The Packers’ dynasty rolled in the second half, responding to all of the pressure from within the league and outside to handle the interlopers.

29. Super Bowl XLIV (2010): Saints 31, Colts 17

This was memorable for the matchup of Peyton Manning against Drew Brees, though it was Tracy Porter’s interception return touchdown that secured the victory for the former Aint’s. No paper bags on the heads of New Orleans fans any longer.

28. Super Bowl XLI (2007): Colts 29, Bears 17

An historic achievement as Tony Dungy became the first Black head coach to win an NFL championship. Peyton Manning got his first ring, though things started poorly for Indy when Devin Hester had the first opening kickoff return touchdown in Super Bowl history, 92 yards. Oh yeah, it rained for the first time at an outdoor Super Bowl, which was perfect for Prince’s “Purple Rain” at halftime.

27. Super Bowl XXIX (1995): 49ers 49, Chargers 26

One of the most entertaining if not competitive Super Bowls. Steve Young got his title as a starter with six touchdown passes, including a 44-yarder to Jerry Rice out of the gate that saw San Diego covering the greatest all-time receiver with a linebacker. San Francisco became the first franchise to win five Super Bowls.

26. Super Bowl XXXI (1997): Packers 35, Patriots 21

Back when a player could rip off his helmet on the field in celebration, Brett Favre’s joyous jaunts to congratulate Andre Rison and Antonio Freeman on long TD passes stand out. So does MVP Desmond Howard’s 244 return yards, including a 99-yard kickoff runback.

25. Super Bowl XXXIX (2005): Patriots 24, Eagles 21

New England’s third title in four seasons, matching Dallas in the 1990s. A close enough game punctuated by two wideouts: Deion Branch taking MVP honors with 11 catches for 133 yards, and Philadelphia’s Terrell Owens’ courageous performance coming off a broken leg (nine receptions, 122 yards). No team has repeated as champions since.

24. Super Bowl XXI (1987): Giants 39, Broncos 20

Yes, New York trailed at halftime and yielded 20 points overall. But a key defensive stand at the end of the first half turned the tide, and Phil Simms (22 for 25, 268 yards, three TDs) had the best game of his career on the biggest stage.

23. Super Bowl XVII (1983): Washington 27, Dolphins 17

One of the Super Bowl’s most iconic plays: Hall of Fame running back and nonconformist John Riggins’s 43-yard spurt for the winning score on fourth-and-1. It was Washington’s first title since 1942.

22. Super Bowl III (1969): Jets 16, Colts 7

Hardly an exciting or tight game, this is the most significant of all Super Bowls. Joe Namath and the Jets, uh, guaranteed that the AFL would at last get its proper recognition from the old guard with the biggest upset in championship game history.

21. Super Bowl LIV (2020): Chiefs 31, 49ers 20

In their first Super Bowl appearance since the fourth edition, the Chiefs were in trouble until Mahomes worked his magic. Kansas City scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns in completing its third rally from a double-digit playoff hole.

20. Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004): Patriots 32, Panthers 29

A weird sort of game in which all the points were scored in the second and fourth quarters. The other two periods were forgettable, but the halftime show made headlines with Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. Carolina tied it with 1:08 left, then Tom Brady guided New England to Adam Vinatieri’s 41-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. Sound familiar?

19. Super Bowl XXIII (1989): 49ers 20, Bengals 16

How John Candy found a place in Super Bowl lore, along with Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and John Taylor. Joe Cool spotted the actor in the crowd while driving the 49ers to the winning touchdown on a pass to Taylor with 34 seconds remaining in Bill Walsh’s final game coaching the 49ers.

18. Super Bowl XLV (2011): Packers 31, Steelers 25

An underrated Super Bowl featuring Aaron Rodgers in his only appearance (so far) and Ben Roethlisberger. Many headlines focused on the wintry mess in the Dallas area, but the Steelers charged back from a 21-3 hole before being done in by turnovers.

17. Super Bowl XLVI (2012): Giants 21, Patriots 17

Four years after their first epic meeting, these teams gave us another memorable, down-to-the-wire match. Déjà vu indeed. Eli Manning’s perfect throw to Mario Manningham set up the winning drive, capped by Ahmad Bradshaw’s touchdown with 57 seconds to go.

16. Super Bowl XLIX (2015): Patriots 28, Seahawks 24

Maybe the worst play call in Super Bowl history: Hey, Seahawks, give the ball to Beast Mode. Malcolm Butler’s goal-line pick preserved New England’s lead after Tom Brady rallied the Patriots back from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit.

15. Super Bowl X (1976): Steelers 21, Cowboys 17

In what became the best rivalry in Super Bowl annals, the first meeting between America’s Team and the Steel Curtain was decided by Pittsburgh’s defense. Lynn Swann’s graceful pass catching helped him to 161 yards receiving and a TD for MVP honors.

14. Super Bowl XXXVI (2002): Patriots 20, Rams 17

Tom Brady announced his emergence as a championship quarterback in just his second pro season. After the Rams charged back from down 17-3 against the Patriots’ rugged defense, a 53-yard drive in the final 1:30 led to Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard winning field goal and made for the first time Super Bowl-winning points came on the last play. Don’t forget U2’s mesmerizing halftime remembrance of 9/11 victims.

13. Super Bowl XIV (1980): Steelers 31, Rams 19

The Curtain dropped on the Steelers’ dynasty in a more entertaining matchup than many expected. The underdog Rams led in the fourth quarter, but Terry Bradshaw’s gorgeous 73-yard pass to John Stallworth gave Pittsburgh the lead for good.

12. Super Bowl XVI (1982): 49ers 26, Bengals 21

Bill Walsh’s 49ers began their dynasty of the 1980s by needing to walk the final portion of the snow-riddled bus trip to the Pontiac Silverdome. They survived a comeback by Cincinnati in the first Super Bowl staged in a cold-weather city.

11. Super Bowl LVI (2022): Rams 23, Bengals 20

A second consecutive host playing in the game – and a second consecutive win. NFL Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp made the difference in a highly competitive contest, scoring twice, including the winning touchdown with 1:25 to go. The Rams got seven sacks, two each by stars Aaron Donald and Von Miller.

10. Super Bowl LI (2017): Patriots 34, Falcons 28, OT

Don’t ever mention 28-3 in the ATL. New England was down by that score in the third quarter before Tom Brady began a comeback for the ages in the only Super Bowl that went to overtime.

9. Super Bowl XXV (1991): Giants 20, Bills 19

We will always wonder whether Buffalo would have fared better in future Super Bowls had Scott Norwood not been wide right from 47 yards on a potential winning field goal at the gun. New York quieted the Bills’ K-Gun offense.

8. Super Bowl LVII (2023): Chiefs 38, Eagles 35

A game of flows, with the Eagles dominating early but the Chiefs unstoppable for much of the second half. The work in the trenches decided this one, with Kansas City’s offensive line controlling and, at times, dominating the formerly fearsome Philadelphia pass rush. That was particularly clear when Mahomes aggravated his ankle injury late in the first half but barely was touched in the second-half comeback. Kudos to Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts for his record-setting performance, including three rushing touchdowns. But Mahomes Magic was the difference.

7. Super Bowl XLII (2008): Giants 17, Patriots 14

Was there ever a more tense Super Bowl as New England sought a perfect season? Never intimidated by the Patriots, Eli Manning was MVP and a powerful pass rush stymied Tom Brady. And, of course, David Tyree’s “Helmet Catch” is among the greatest plays in Super Bowl history.

6. Super Bowl XLIII (2009): Steelers 27, Cardinals 23

With a play straight out of the playground, Pittsburgh prevailed after an Arizona rally from down 20-7 to take the lead. Santonio Holmes’ tip-toe catch in the back corner of the end zone with 35 seconds to go after Ben Roethlisberger’s scramble and pinpoint throw won it. Don’t forget Steelers LB James Harrison running out of gas as he reached the end zone on his 100-yard interception return touchdown.

5. Super Bowl XLVII (2013): Ravens 34, 49ers 31

The night the lights went out in the Superdome. In Ray Lewis’ final game, Baltimore nearly blew a contest it controlled. Some would say the officials needed more electricity on the Niners’ final play in the end zone that sure looked like pass interference. John Harbaugh beat brother Jim in the coaching matchup.

4. Super Bowl XXXIV (2000): Rams 23, Titans 16

In the first Super Bowl of the 21st century – thankfully, the ice storms in Atlanta were not a harbinger for future big games – “The Greatest Show on Turf” pulled one out after blowing a 16-0 lead. Mike Jones saved it with what St. Louisians call “The Tackle” on Kevin Dyson just short of the goal line. Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce connected on a 73-yard pass for the winning points just after Tennessee tied it.

3. Super Bowl LII (2018): Eagles 41, Patriots 33

Philly Special. Nick Foles outdueling Tom Brady. Doug Pederson and the gutsy Eagles fooling Bill Belichick and denying New England a second consecutive title. Big play after big play. Fly Eagles Fly.

2. Super Bowl XXXII (1998): Broncos 31, Packers 24

Finally, a championship for Denver, and a wild helicopter ride for John Elway. A classic matchup of quarterbacks Elway and Brett Favre that lived up to expectations, though Terrell Davis was the MVP in a seesaw contest. Green Bay even allowed Davis to score a late touchdown to get the ball back rather than lose on a final-second chip-shot field goal. The Broncos ended an NFC string of 13 straight Super Bowl wins.

1. Super Bowl XIII (1979): Steelers 35, Cowboys 31

Hall of Famers galore: Terry Bradshaw’s four TD passes beating Roger Staubach, memorable catches by Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, Franco Harris surging into the end zone, and an epic drop in the end zone by Dallas tight end Jackie Smith.

Barry Wilner was a sportswriter for the Associated Press for 46 years. He has covered virtually every major sporting event, including 14 Olympics, 9 World Cups, 34 Super Bowls, the World Series, and the Stanley Cup finals, and has written 75 books. Follow him on Twitter @Wilner88.

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