By Curt Macysyn
The big game previously went through a stretch of blow outs in the 1980s, but some of the more recent contests have been compelling battles. Do you remember any of these Super Bowl nail biters? The answers are sure to stir up some debate, especially in the Big Apple.
10. Super Bowl XV
What was supposed to be a victory by the Philadelphia Eagles became an Oakland Raiders rout, 27-10, behind two Jim Plunkett touchdown passes, including an 80-yard score by running back Kenny King. The Eagles were established as a modest three-point favorite behind the league’s best defense with Claude Humphrey, Charlie Johnson, Bill Bergey and Herman Edwards. But the Tom Flores-led Raiders had other ideas, as journeyman Plunkett garnered the game’s MVP award, and the Eagles’ Dick Vermeil could not get his elusive title in the City of Brotherly Love. The Raiders became the first Wild Card team to win an NFL title.
9. Super Bowl XLVII
In a rematch of Super Bowl VII, which took place a decade earlier, the results were very different this time as the Washington Redskins beat the Miami Dolphins after the strike-shortened 1982 season. Odds makers must have been reminded of the team’s perfect season a decade earlier, as Miami was installed as a three-point favorite. The Redskins had veterans like quarterback Joe Theismann, running back John Riggins and receiver Art Monk on whom they could rely, in what would be Joe Gibbs’ first Super Bowl title. The aging Riggins ripped off a 43-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, and Theismann hit Charlie Brown with a six-yard touchdown pass later in the same frame as the Redskins turned a 17-10 halftime deficit into a 27-17 victory at the Rose Bowl.
8. Super Bowl XXII
Another players strike altered the 1987 season as Week 3 games were cancelled, and Weeks 4- 6 were played with replacement players. When the dust finally settled, the Denver Broncos faced off against the Washington Redskins in the title game. The betting line saw the Broncos as a three-point favorite, and it would have been a solid prediction if the game ended after the first quarter, when Denver held a 10-0 lead. But then a tidal wave of 35 points scored by the Redskins in the second quarter proved how wrong the experts were. Running back Timmy Smith had 204 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the affair, and the Redskins won going away 42-10. Smith won the MVP award, and Washington quarterback Doug Williams became the first African American quarterback to win the big game.
7. Super Bowl XLVII
Vegas must have thought that Jim Harbaugh was a better coach than his brother John, so the San Francisco 49ers were installed as a 4.5-point favorite over the Baltimore Ravens in the 10th Super Bowl played in New Orleans. The Ravens raced to a 21-6 halftime lead on the strength of three touchdown passes by Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco. That lead was pushed out further by Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard return of the second half kickoff for a touchdown; the longest play in Super Bowl history.
In an additional historic twist, play was halted for 34 minutes when a power outage blackened the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. When play resumed, the 49ers roared back with a 17-point outburst and they pulled within two points after a 15-yard touchdown run by quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the fourth quarter. The ensuing two-point conversion failed, however, and the Ravens added a field goal to make the game 34-29. The 49ers then moved the ball right down the field to the Ravens’ 7-yard line, but were stopped cold by Baltimore. From there, the Ravens literally ran out the clock with punter Sam Koch taking a safety, putting the cap on a 34-31 victory. It was the first-ever defeat for San Francisco in the title game.
6. Super Bowl XXV
The New York Giants had a solid defense through the late 1980s led by linebackers Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks and Pepper Johnson, while the Buffalo Bills pushed the gas pedal with Jim Kelly’s no-huddle offense. Curiously, odds makers established the Bills as a seven-point favorite, despite the fact that the Giants ended the San Francisco 49ers opportunity for a Super Bowl three-peat. These two teams met in an earlier contest, won by Buffalo 17-13, but the Giants lost starting quarterback Phil Simms to a foot injury in that game.
The Bills held a 12-10 halftime lead thanks to Bruce Smith’s safety of Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler in the end zone. The Giants pulled ahead in the third quarter behind game MVP Ottis Anderson’s one-yard plunge to take a 17-12 lead. The Bills regained the lead on a 31-yard touchdown run by Thurman Thomas, but the Giants’ Matt Bahr kicked another clutch field goal to put the G-Men ahead for good. Scott Norwood missed a potential game-winning 47-yard field goal in the waning seconds to hand Big Blue its second Super Bowl championship. The game was noteworthy because neither team committed a turnover and the Giants more than doubled the Bills in time of possession (40:33 to 19:27).
5. Super Bowl XXXII
The Denver Broncos were a four-time Super Bowl loser and qualified for the 1997 NFL playoffs as a wild card. On the other hand, the Green Bay Packers were defending world champions with a three-time league MVP at quarterback in veteran gun slinger Brett Favre. Las Vegas must have thought this was the 1980s version of the Broncos and called the Pack an 11-point favorite.
With Denver driving late in the game, Packers coach Mike Holmgren directed his defense to allow the Broncos to score, and Terrell Davis obliged with a 1-yard plunge to edge Denver ahead with 1:45 left. Favre tried to rally the troops, but Steve Atwater knocked out wideout Robert Brooks, as well as his teammate Randy Hilliard, on the final drive as Orange Crush won one for Elway 31-24.
4. Super Bowl IV
The last Super Bowl before the NFL-AFL merger saw the Minnesota Vikings take on the Hank Stram-led Kansas City Chiefs at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. Believing that the previous year’s Super Bowl victory by the New York Jets was a fluke, the Vikings were made a 12-point favorite. For the most part, the Chief defense dominated the contest forcing three Joe Kapp interceptions and three fumbles during the game.
Meanwhile, Stram, who also served as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, dialed up an Otis Taylor 46-yard TD reception and a Mike Garrett 5-yard touchdown scamper, as steady rain deteriorated the field conditions as the game wore on. The Chiefs 23-7 win tied the AFL with the NFL at 2-2 in Super Bowls, as the contest turned to an intra-league affair after the following season. Stram was also on hidden microphone for NFL Films, which made for some interesting in-game commentary.
3. Super Bowl XXXVI
Before Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were “Brady and Belichick,” few remember that the New England Patriots were a 14-point underdog to the St.Louis Rams in the title game after the 2001 season. Behind a potent offense led by quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk and wide receivers Torry Holt and Issac Bruce, the Rams were the “Greatest Show on Turf.” On the other hand, Brady started the 2001 season as Drew Bledsoe’s back-up before the New York Jets’ Mo Lewis changed history by felling Bledsoe with a chest injury. Brady took over permanently at quarterback, and the Pats have never looked back, as Belichick and company won their first championship at the Superdome in New Orleans.
The Rams actually captured the statistical battle (427 total yards v. 267 total yards), but two interceptions by Warner put St.Louis behind the eight ball and they trailed 14-3 at halftime. The Rams came roaring back and tied the game at 17-17 with 1:30 left in the game. With less than a minute and a half left before overtime, Brady and the Pats went for the win. Kicker Adam Vinatieri booted a 48-yard field goal as time expired for the New England 20-17 victory.
2. Super Bowl III
First a piece of history for you: The first championship game officially called a Super Bowl was Super Bowl III. In Super Bowls I and II, the Green Bay Packers coasted to victories over the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, while exerting the dominance of the old guard NFL against the upstart AFL. In 1969, NFL representatives, the Baltimore Colts, exemplified the established league with black high-top football cleats and crew cuts. On the other hand, AFL representatives, the New York Jets, were led by their brash young quarterback, Broadway Joe Namath, who “guaranteed” a victory.
The Colts were deemed an 18-point favorite over the Jets before a sold-out crowd at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The pesky New Yorkers intercepted Baltimore starting quarterback Earl Morrall three times and Johnny Unitas once en route to a 16-0 fourth quarter lead. The Colts finally scored with 3:19 left in the contest, as Namath and the Jets did a masterful job of preserving their lead throughout the game. New York did not attempt a single pass play in the fourth quarter, as Weeb Ewbank handed Don Shula his first Super Bowl loss. The 16-7 Jets victory shocked the sports world, and it validated the AFL as a league on par with the NFL in advance of the league merger that would become official in 1970.
1. Super Bowl XLII
Some will argue that Super Bowl III was a bigger upset, and strictly by the point spread, they would be correct. But consider this: Only twice has a Super Bowl participant come into the big game undefeated, and in Super Bowl VII, the Miami Dolphins were able to complete a perfect season with a 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins. For the record, the New York Giants (10-6) were only a Wild Card entry, while the New England Patriots (18-0) went through the regular season like a hot knife through butter, so the odds makers installed the Pats as 12-point favorites.
In a back-and-forth affair, the Patriots took a 14-10 lead on a Tom Brady to Randy Moss touchdown with 2:42 left in the contest. The Giants refused to go quietly, and an Eli Manning 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left in the game sealed the deal for New York. The game-winning drive was memorable for an incredible pass play from Manning to journeyman David Tyree.
On third down and five yards to go with just over a minute left, the Patriots pass rush swarmed Manning, who somehow escaped the pressure of Jarvis Green and Richard Seymour, who both had a hold of Manning’s jersey. Somehow, the Giants’ quarterback escaped the sack and launched a ball that was caught by Tyree against his helmet as he was being defended by Rodney Harrison for a first down deep in Patriots territory. The combination of the undefeated season and the Tyree catch makes this game the most memorable Super Bowl upset in history.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past four seasons for Examiner.com, and he is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Born and raised in New Jersey, Curt attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, N.J. and is a graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick. Follow him on Twitter @CurtMac23 for the latest NFL and New York Giants news.