The one thing you realize pretty quickly when you start ranking Super Bowls is that people watching football in recent years have been really blessed. There have been a few stinkers, but we’ve gotten some incredible Super Bowls over the past 20 years.
In fact, I assumed it might be my modern bias pushing them up this list, but the reality is the way the game is played, both with parity and with modern passing attacks, we end up getting exciting games. Comebacks feel more likely and, with some exceptions, no lead is safe. There were plenty of rousing come-from-behind victories in the older days, but teams just couldn’t put up points as frequently as they can now.
More good news for the 2017 Super Bowl: the New England Patriots have been involved in a LOT of the drama high on this list, which could mean some serious action when it comes to the Patriots-Falcons matchup in Super Bowl LI.
Without ado, onto the list. You might love it, you might hate it — if you have questions or complaints holler at me on Twitter @WillBrinson.
50. Super Bowl XXIX
San Francisco 49ers 49, San Diego Chargers 26
Steve Young threw six touchdown passes and the Niners nearly hung a 50 burger in a Super Bowl, demolishing the Chargers in a game that didn’t even feel this close.
49. Super Bowl XLVIII
Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8
Start to finish the Seahawks defense absolutely dominated Peyton Manning and the favored Broncos’ historic offense. An absolute bludgeoning that no one saw coming.
48. Super Bowl XXIV
San Francisco 49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10
An absolute blasting that was out of hand by halftime (27-3) as an utterly dominant Niners squad that was loaded on both sides of the ball just beat up on an overmatched Broncos team. Dominance is fun but not when you want an epic game. The Broncos were actually the top defensive team in football here.
47. Super Bowl XXXV
Baltimore Ravens 34, New York Giants 7
The Giants had the tables turned on them after demolishing the Minnesota Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship Game, getting completely snuffed out by the Ravens in the title game. I always think about the alleged $20,000 preseason bet Phil Mickelson put on the Ravens to win it all when I think of this game.
46. Super Bowl XXXVII
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Oakland Raiders 21
The Jon Gruden Bowl sent the Raiders spiraling (they wouldn’t return to the playoffs until 2016!) following a devastating blowout. The Bucs’ defense suffocated the powerful Raiders offense. It’s not fair that Rich Gannon and that offense is remembered by this game. They were incredible.
45. Super Bowl XXII
Washington Redskins 42, Denver Broncos 10
Doug Williams became the first African-American quarterback to start, and after trailing 10-0 in the first quarter, the Redskins responded with an absurd 42 unanswered points, 35 in the second quarter. This was not a thriller in the second half.
44. Super Bowl XXVII
Dallas Cowboys 52, Buffalo Bills 17
This game should have been 59-17 except for Don Beebe chasing down Leon Lett late in the game to stop the Cowboys from scoring again. Otherwise it was a depantsing that featured Jim Kelly getting hurt (Frank Reich replaced him) and Troy Aikman going 22 for 30 for 273 yards and four touchdown passes to kick start the Cowboys dynasty of the ’90s.
43. Super Bowl IV
Kansas City Chiefs 23, Minnesota Vikings 7
Hank Stram’s Chiefs handled the Vikings, snuffing out the rushing attack in a game with pretty sloppy weather. Friendly reminder that Len Dawson is amazing.
42. Super Bowl VIII
Miami Dolphins 24, Minnesota Vikings 7
Bob Griese completed over 85 percent of his passes in this game, completing six of his seven attempts. The Dolphins fed Larry Csonka the ball 33 times for 145 yards and led 24-0 going into the fourth quarter.
41. Super Bowl XII
Dallas Cowboys 27, Denver Broncos 10
The Broncos were never really any closer than 10 points in this game and Craig Morton’s 4-for-15, 39-yard, four-interception performance kind of summed up Denver’s effort.
40. Super Bowl I
Green Bay Packers 35, Kansas City Chiefs 10
Bart Starr completed 16 of 23 passes for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and the combo of Zeke Bratkowski/Jim Taylor rushed for another three scores in a game that was never close. But it did start a delightful tradition.
39. Super Bowl XXVI
Washington Redskins 37, Buffalo Bills 24
The Bills closed this game to a two-score affair, but the Redskins were blasting them 24-0 in the third quarter and 37-10 in the fourth. Fun fact: Millions of children demanded their parents change the channel during halftime from CBS to Fox to watch Jim Carrey appear as Fire Marshall Bill on a halftime version of “In Living Color.”
38. Super Bowl XV
Oakland Raiders 27, Philadelphia Eagles 10
The Raiders led 14-3 at half and a trio of Ron Jaworski interceptions were too much for Philadelphia to overcome, especially with Jim Plunkett tossing three touchdowns for an MVP-caliber game.
37. Super Bowl XXXII
Denver Broncos 34, Atlanta Falcons 19
Somehow Chris Chandler wasn’t able to stop John Elway from winning his final game as a pro? You don’t say. The world was robbed of seeing the Vikings and Broncos square off. The Falcons should be much better this time around.
36. Super Bowl XXI
New York Giants 39, Denver Broncos 20
John Elway and the Broncos would take a 10-7 lead into the second quarter, but the Giants ripped off 26 unanswered points behind Phil Simms, who lit up the Broncos for 268 yards and three touchdowns before promptly coining the “I’m going to Disney World!” phrase.
35. Super Bowl XVIII
Los Angeles Raiders 38, Washington Redskins 9
Two defensive touchdowns in the first half and a pair of Marcus Allen touchdown runs in the second half snuffed out the 16-win Redskins and Joe Theismann. Hey, Los Angeles can win a Super Bowl! This would be the last AFC title until the 1997 season.
34. Super Bowl VI
Dallas Cowboys 24, Miami Dolphins 3
Tom Landry’s Cowboys blistered Miami in this one, which is wild because the Dolphins were one season away from going undefeated. Miami managed one second-quarter field goal, while Dallas rumbled for 252 rushing yards.
33. Super Bowl XIX
San Francisco 49ers 38, Miami Dolphins 16
Dan Marino threw for more than 5,000 yards in 1984, his second season. He was supposed to end up with so many more chances to win the Super Bowl and he never returned.
32. Super Bowl XI
Oakland Raiders 32, Minnesota Vikings 14
A total of 17 Hall of Fame players or coaches were involved in this showdown, but John Madden’s Raiders easily waltzed away from Bud Grant’s Vikings.
31. Super Bowl IX
Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Minnesota Vikings 6
This was a “Your defense is offensive game” with a halftime score of 2-0. Two! Terry Bradshaw and Fran Tarkenton combined for 198 yards on 40 attempts, but the Steelers still won the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
30. Super Bowl II
Green Bay Packers 33, Oakland Raiders 14
Vince Lombardi left as the Packers coach a winner, walking away with a victory over the Raiders in this Super Bowl. Well, technically he was carried away by his team, but you get the point. A dominant Packers victory.
29. Super Bowl XX
Chicago Bears 46, New England Patriots 10
The Pats scored first, registering a field goal, and then didn’t put up any more points until it was 44-3 in the fourth quarter. That’s what happens when you run into arguably the greatest defense of all time. When William “Refrigerator” Perry is scoring touchdowns, you know it’s a blowout.
28. Super Bowl V
Baltimore Indianapolis Colts 16, Dallas Cowboys 13
Known as the “Blunder Bowl,” this matchup featured 11 turnovers and a player on the losing team (Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley) winning the Super Bowl MVP. Oddly enough that sounds like an awesome time.
27. Super Bowl XXVIII
Dallas Cowboys 30, Buffalo Bills 13
The Bills, in their fourth straight appearance in a Super Bowl, led by seven points at halftime, so naturally Thurman Thomas immediately fumbled the ball in the third quarter, with James Washington scooping and scoring. The Bills wouldn’t score in the second half. Oof.
26. Super Bowl 50
Denver Broncos 24, Carolina Panthers 10
The legacy game for Cam Newton that never happened thanks to the Broncos defense destroying him. The Panthers were a one-loss team that looked sloppy on the big stage and got smoked by Von Miller and company, who let Peyton Manning ride off into the sunset with a second Super Bowl ring. Newton is more remembered for a business decision and a juvenile press conference.
25. Super Bowl XLI
Indianapolis Colts 29, Chicago Bears 17
Take away the Devin Hester kickoff return to open the game and this turns into a real ugly blowout. That’s what happens when you take horrible weather and pit Peyton Manning against Rex Grossman.
24. Super Bowl VII
Miami Dolphins 14, Washington Redskins 7
Don Shula and Miami wrapped up the only undefeated season in NFL history. You might have heard but they like to drink champagne sometimes. Pretty wild that an undefeated team was basically a pick ’em in this game at the books. Vegas was a little off on this one — the Redskins didn’t find the end zone until the fourth quarter on a fumble return after a botched field goal. Larry Csonka carried the ball 15 times for 112 yards.
23. Super Bowl XL
Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Seattle Seahawks 10
Marred by horrific officiating that still draws the ire of Seahawks fans to this day (wouldn’t want to bring this game up to Matt Hasselbeck ), this was an ugly game with some fun plays (hello Antwan Randle-El). Did anyone know Jerome Bettis was from Detroit?
22. Super Bowl XVII
Washington Redskins 27, Miami Dolphins 17
This season is best remembered for a kicker (Mark Moseley) winning the MVP, so it should probably be eradicated from history. Still, the Redskins dominating down the stretch, coming back from down 17-10 to shut out the Dolphins in the second half, is an impressive feat.
21. Super Bowl XVI
San Francisco 49ers 26, Cincinnati Bengals 21
This game is a reminder that even the greats don’t always play great in huge games. Joe Montana is undefeated in Super Bowls but he went just 14 of 22 for 157 yards and a score here. But you couple this win with The Catch and there’s a lot of lore to build on.
20. Super Bowl X
Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17
The Steel Curtain locked down Roger Staubach in the second half, only allowing seven points to the Cowboys after the break, and Terry Bradshaw/Lynn Swann teamed up for some gorgeous deep balls to mount an epic comeback.
19. Super Bowl XXXI
Green Bay Packers 34, New England Patriots 21
The Patriots and Drew Bledsoe had closed the game to 27-21 in the third quarter when Desmond Howard ripped off an electric 99-yard touchdown on the kickoff return that snuffed out the comeback. This Packers team was stacked on both sides of the ball and the stars (Brett Favre, three total touchdowns, and Reggie White, three sacks) produced.
18. Super Bowl XXXIX
New England Patriots 24, Philadelphia Eagles 21
The score makes this look a little closer than it was, with the most memorable things for the Eagles coming when Donovan McNabb puked his guts up in the huddle and Terrell Owens playing like a man possessed despite coming off a broken leg. After this game it felt like the Patriots would win 10 straight Super Bowls.
17. Super Bowl XXX
Dallas Cowboys 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 17
An epic comeback by the Steelers, featuring an onside kick and a Bam Morris touchdown run, fell short thanks to the second interception of the game for Super Bowl MVP Larry Brown, who almost returned both picks to the house. Jerry Jones has since claimed he made a deal with The Big Guy to never win a Super Bowl if Barry Switzer and Co. won this one. So, maybe want to remember that moving forward.
16. Super Bowl XLVI
New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17
Revenge wasn’t on the menu this time around, with Eli Manning and the Giants front four pulling off the upset once again. The only difference this time was Mario Manningham making the miraculous catch.
15. Super Bowl XLV
Green Bay Packers 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 25
An absolute shootout between two guys — Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger — operating at the peak of their primes. Rodgers shook the absurd “playoff struggles” narrative with the Packers’ run as a wild card and hit Greg Jennings on an all-time throw to convert a third down late (2:43 here) to help salt the game away.
14. Super Bowl XLIV
New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17
This game ended up as a two-score win for Drew Brees and Co., but it was a lot closer. Tracy Porter’s late pick-six of Peyton Manning ran up the score. Sean Payton onside kicking to start the second half is one of the biggest onion hangs in Super Bowl history.
13. Super Bowl XLVII
Baltimore Ravens 34, San Francisco 49ers 31
An oddly thrilling game in the Superdome featuring a terrifying power outage, two brothers coaching against one another (the Harbaughs) and a compelling comeback by the 49ers that fell just short when Colin Kaepernick couldn’t hit Michael Crabtree on a late fourth down.
12. Super Bowl XXXII
Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24
An epic showdown between two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in John Elway (seeking his first Super Bowl win) and Brett Favre (coming off his first Super Bowl win). The Broncos finally shook off a Super Bowl losing streak thanks to Elway helicoptering for a first down late and setting up a Terrell Davis touchdown.
11. Super Bowl XIV
Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Los Angeles Rams 19
Terry Bradshaw won the Super Bowl MVP award despite throwing three interceptions, largely because of his clutch fourth-quarter play that resulted in a pair of Steelers touchdowns that were the difference in a close game. The first one was a beautiful bullet deep, a 73-yard strike from Bradshaw to give the Steelers their fourth Super Bowl victory in six years.
10. Super Bowl XXXVI
New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17
The title that kicked off the Patriots dynasty and a very similar victory to the Giants beating the Pats twice. The Patriots defense suffocated the Greatest Show on Turf, and the Rams still probably feel like Spygate robbed them of a title. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick started building their legacy here. The entire game felt like being punched in the gut with the way the Rams powerful offense was completely stifled. It was incomprehensible.
9. Super Bowl XXXVIII
New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29
This was a brutal game for Panthers fans, who watched Jake Delhomme create some playground magic and Steve Smith absolutely dominate, only to have John Kasay send a late kickoff out of bounds to set up a Tom Brady drive and an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Fun fact: I watched one of my roommates slap another roommate when the second guy started cheering for the Pats late in this one.
8. Super Bowl XLIII
Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23
Tons of epic plays in this game, from James Harrison ‘s wild interception touchdown return in the first half to the epic Ben Roethlisberger touchdown throw to Santonio Holmes in the end zone for the win. If you want to talk about greatest catches of all time, that one deserves consideration as much as the Tyree catch.
Look how little room he had back there. An all-time postseason by Larry Fitzgerald really went to waste here.
7. Super Bowl III
New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7
A pure homage to Joe Namath guaranteeing a victory and the ability of this Jets win to spark the NFL-AFL merger thanks to the AFL’s first victory in the matchup. The Jets only managed a single touchdown in this game but it was enough to topple an aging Johnny Unitas and the Colts.
6. Super Bowl XXXIV
St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16
The beginning of the Greatest Show on Turf culminated in Kurt Warner winning a Super Bowl MVP by throwing for more than 400 yards. It looked like the Titans would score and tie things up, but Kevin Dyson was stopped, almost frozen in time with his hand reaching out to the end zone. The world was 1 Yard Short from Jeff Fisher possibly winning a Super Bowl.
5. Super Bowl XXIII
San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16
Friend of the program Jim Breech banged home a trio of field goals (34, 43 and 40 yards) but it wasn’t enough for the Bengals to keep pace with the 49ers and Jerry Rice, who finished with 215 yards on 11 catches. Mercy. An unbelievable drive by Joe Montana against a Dick LeBeau defense to close this one out.
4. Super Bowl XXV
New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19
An incredible game between two great teams went back and forth, with the game ultimately coming down to Scott Norwood’s foot — the Bills kicker attempted the longest grass kick of his career (47 yards) and pushed it wide right.
3. Super Bowl XIII
Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31
Watch the highlights of this game and realize it’s exactly what we want with the Falcons and Patriots this year. Two really talented offensive teams lobbing up a ton of points with two great quarterbacks. Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw combined for seven touchdowns in this one.
2. Super Bowl XLII
New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14
The undefeated Patriots strolled into this game as massive favorites, until the Giants provided the formula to beat Tom Brady: pressure with a four-man front. There are more technically proficient and athletic catch-and-throws than The Helmet Catch, but there aren’t many that are more miraculous and on a bigger stage. It was a mini-Hail Mary with Eli Manning scrambling to avoid pressure followed by David Tyree pinning the ball to his helmet as he fell to the ground. The stuff of legends.
1. Super Bowl XLIX
New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24
This game had everything. There was controversy coming in (Deflategate had just begun) and it was a battle of the two best teams in football. The defending champion Seahawks came out gunning, the Patriots responded and took over the game and then Russell Wilson and Seattle tried to steal it back with one of the wildest catches by Jermaine Kearse you will ever see.
Malcolm Butler promptly took it right back with arguably the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / 2017 Super Bowl: Ranking all 50 of the NFL title games, worst to best