Tonight will be the 23rd Super Bowl I will have watched since I was seven years ago, and, to the horror of most people who know me, I will be begrudgingly rooting for the New England Patriots to defeat the Atlanta Falcons. While I have no love for the New England Patriots, particularly the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick duo has kept the Steelers from going to the Super Bowl, first shockingly in 2002, then bitterly in 2005, and then in 2017, just a couple weeks ago, I nonetheless recognize it makes the Steelers look better, and given how they have dominated the Steelers for 15 years now, I’ve decided it makes logical sense to essentially root for them to have something to show for it, and, like it or not, Tom Brady is on the cusp of truly making history.
In spite of my being less than thrilled about this Super Bowl featuring the Patriots instead of the Steelers, I’ve realized I have witnessed some Super Bowls with terrible results and at the very least, this should be a good game. Thus, I thought it would be fun to rank the quality of Super Bowls that I’ve watched. I haven’t missed one since I started watching it in 1995. Below are my rankings, from #22, to #1. My rankings are based on a combination of some attempts to objectively evaluate the quality of games, with the games’ significance, or lack thereof, to me.
Poor – These games were just awful in every facet, with almost no redeeming value.
#22 – Super Bowl XXXV (2001) – Baltimore Ravens 34, New York Giants 7 – So much was wrong with this game. It was absolutely dominated by the hated Baltimore Ravens, who admittedly had among the greatest defenses of all time. They had one of the most subpar quarterbacks to ever win a Super Bowl. From almost the beginning of the game, it was never even close, and to have it dominated by my team’s most hated rival was less than ideal. And the MVP award was won by a guy who just a year before may have gotten away with murder. Combined with my trying to cope with 7th grade blues at the time, this was a very forgettable affair.
#21 – Super Bowl XLVIII (2014) – Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8 – So, SO much about this game didn’t live up to the hype. It was supposed to be a chance for Peyton Manning to win his second Super Bowl and go out on top. The matchup of Denver’s offense against Seattle’s defense was to be the ultimate unstoppable force versus immovable object matchup. Denver’s offense, quarterbacked by Peyton Manning and protected by a stellar offensive line, was filled with flashy passing targets such as Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, and Andre Caldwell. Yet it ended up being horrifically lopsided. As I was hoping at least for a good game and especially for Peyton Manning to be able to go out on top, this was a disappointment.
#20 – Super Bowl XXIX (1995) – San Francisco 49ers 49, San Diego Chargers 26 – I was only seven years old at the time and don’t know why I even watched this. The Chargers had just pulled off one of the most improbable upsets in history, in which they bested my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game, causing me to sob in hysterics. I’m really surprised that game didn’t jade me from watching football forever, particularly since it was the first Steelers game I had watched from start to finish. I angrily rooted for the 49ers because of my bitterness, not realizing the thrashing they took made the Steelers look even worse than they already did. The only thing that prevents this from being the very worst on this list is that my mother cooked Stromboli that night, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
#19 – Super Bowl XXXVII (2003) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Oakland Raiders 21 – Oakland was favored in this game as their high-powered offense, marshaled by Rich Gannon, was considered especially stellar. The major storyline was Rich Gannon’s matchup with his former head coach Jon Gruden, who through the previous season was the Raiders’ head coach and was in his first season with Tampa Bay. Gruden’s knowledge of Gannon proved too much for Oakland to handle, and it was a blowout. A socially inept 9th grader, I believe I also mocked a girl at the party for being ignorant of the game. This game was not a keeper.
#18 – Super Bowl XXXIII (1999) – Denver Broncos 34, Atlanta Falcons 19 – In 5th grade at the time, I was in a bit of a daze, and to date, it’s been the only Super Bowl in which I was in and out of the living room through the entire game. It was the first time in seven seasons that the Steelers didn’t even make the playoffs, which was unheard of to my 11 year-old self, as I had begun watching football less than seven years before. It simply wasn’t the same. It was sad to look at the face of Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Reeves, who had lost multiple Super Bowls with John Elway at the helm, only to see him win two in a row with another team, the second time against Reeves. While it wasn’t exactly a blowout, there was never much doubt about the eventual winner. It was nice to see John Elway finish on top with two consecutive Super Bowl wins, but otherwise I pretended that entire postseason didn’t exist.
Fair – While not outright blowouts, they were not particularly close games, often with either one team totally dominating, or lots of miscues.
#17 – Super Bowl XXXI (1997) – Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21 – Few people realize the New England Patriots ever made it to the Super Bowl in the pre-Tom Brady era, yet this was a year in which the almost forgotten Drew Bledsoe led them to the big one. He was up against the young gunslinger Brett Favre (yes, Brett Favre was young once). While the Patriots kept it close at times, ultimately the Packers put the game away with Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kick return for a touchdown, at the time the longest play in Super Bowl history. As I was disappointed the Steelers didn’t return after losing the year before, the game had its good moments but was underwhelming.
#16 – Super Bowl L (2016) – Denver Broncos 24, Carolina Panthers 10 – In a span of two short years, the Broncos had transformed themselves from an offensive powerhouse to a stalwart defense, such that they were now the immovable object facing the unstoppable force of the Panthers’ offense. Peyton Manning was now showing signs of aging, and had even been sat in favor of Brock Osweiler for several games. Unfortunately, the game itself included poor performances by both offenses, multiple turnovers, and few flashy plays. While not announced, everyone effectively knew it was Peyton Manning’s final game, and it was nice to see him finish with a Super Bowl win.
#15 – Super Bowl XXX (1996) – Dallas Cowboys 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 17 – Ah, this game. My first time seeing the Steelers go to the Super Bowl. I was hyped up, truly believing they would win, in spite of the Cowboys having one of the greatest offensive lines in history, along with the famed triplets of Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Troy Aikman. I wore my Kmart-purchased Steelers uniform, with a statistics book in front of me. Although the Steelers kept it largely close, two phantom interceptions to Larry Brown proved too much. The second one, was particularly gut wrenching. The Steelers had forced a huge three-and-out against the Cowboys, which included a sack on Troy Aikman. It was now 1st and 10 on our own 32, with two timeouts left, trailing 20-17, with all the momentum in our favor. But it was not to be. A truly heartwrenching loss, I went to bed that night sobbing, and in retrospect, I’m glad I had no idea it would be ten long years of playoff hearbreaks and periods of mediocrity before I would see them finally win one for me. Let’s forget that one, shall we?
#14 – Super Bowl XLI (2007) – Indianapolis Colts 29, Chicago Bears 17 – Although this one started out looking like it would be a thriller, and the Bears led for some time, eventually Peyton Manning found his stride, and went on to win the MVP award. It was exciting to see Peyton Manning to finally win his first Super Bowl, but would have been nice to have a better second half.
#13 – Super Bowl XLV (2011) – Green Bay Packers 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 25 – With the Steelers appearing in their third Super Bowl in six years, in which they had won the previous two, I was much more relaxed about this than about their previous two. They were the underdogs, which didn’t bother me as much. This was a good thing, as the game started out looking like the Steelers would get routed, as there were Packers touchdowns right and left, an embarrassing pick six, and other terrible plays by the Steelers. Even when they started to come back, they shot themselves in the foot. They did have a nice bit of scoring towards the end, but unfortunately it turned out to be too little, too late. Aaron Rodgers was an absolute stud in that game, and I was by no means crushed by that loss. Still, given I was unemployed and had just moved to the DC area just a few weeks before, and was coming off severe disappointment in the dating arena, it sure would have been nice to have won that one.
Good – These ones had good back and forth, but didn’t QUITE have the big plays or legendary performances to put them at the next level.
#12 – Super Bowl XL (2006) – Truth be told, this one should be on the Fair list, or maybe even poor, but I simply had to have it higher because as a high school senior, I finally was able to witness my beloved Steelers win a Super Bowl, after over a decade of watching in hope. Unfortunately, this game was filled with penalties, though they were overblown, and three turnovers between the two teams, all three of which were sloppy, terrible red zone play by the Seahawks, multiple missed field goals by Seahawks kicker Josh Brown, and a complete Steelers inability to execute offensively in the first half. The Steelers, although they had played absolutely incredibly in the three playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl, looked absolutely flat. They were defined in this Super Bowl by their few and far between big plays, including a third and 28 conversion to get the ball to the 1, a Big Ben run to score their first touchdown, Willie Parker’s 75-yard touchdown run to set a Super Bowl record, and the first wide receiver to throw a touchdown in Super Bowl history. It was fantastic to send off Jerome Bettis with a Super Bowl win, but I wish my first witness to a Steelers championship had been a somewhat better game, but, it nonetheless added to an incredible senior year of high school I had.
#11 – Super Bowl XXXIX (2005) – New England Patriots 24, Philadelphia Eagles 21 – I have never rooted so hard for a Philadelphia team in my life, as I was bitter about the Patriots ending the Steelers’ 15-game winning streak for that year and ruining Roethlisberger’s otherwise dream rookie season. The storyline primarily involved the Patriots trying to match the Cowboys’ feat of winning three Super Bowls in four years, and the antics of the notorious prima donna Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens (TO). Scoring started slowly, with the teams playing neck and neck, but with the Patriots pulling away towards the end and the Eagles scoring their final touchdown too late in the game. The game isn’t higher due to Terrell Owens’ obnoxiousness, rumors of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb playing sick, and the Steelers not being there. Ben Roethlisberger was in a great commercial, though.
#10 – Super Bowl XLVII (2013) – Baltimore Ravens 34, San Francisco 49ers 31 – As a Steelers fan, I hated my decision to root for the hated Ravens, but I selfishly wanted the Steelers to remain the only team with six Super Bowl wins, which the 49ers threatened. The Super Bowl storylines were the fact the head coaches were brothers, it was a chance for the Raven’s Ray Lewis to retire with a second Super Bowl ring, and the emergence of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (before his protests). While the Ravens dominated early, the 49ers mounted a comeback effort, which some conspiracy theorists argue was due to a blackout. The ending was thrilling. I hated seeing the Ravens win a Super Bowl, but at least it meant no more having to face Ray Lewis!
#9 – Super Bowl XLIV (2010) – New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17 – This was the first Super Bowl in nearly two decades in which both #1 seeds made it. In fact, both teams were making bids for undefeated records late in the regular season, which was disappointing to see fall short. It was a matchup between Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, two juggernaut quarterbacks. There was plenty of great gameplay from both teams, and with the Colts trailing by seven late in the game, Saints cornerback Tracy Porter came up with a huge pick six to seal the deal. It was great to see what this meant to the city of New Orleans, less than five years removed from Hurricane Katrina.
#8 – Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004) – New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29 – I was in 10th grade during this Super Bowl, and this was when most of us fully came to the realization of ‘Oh my goodness, I hate the Patriots a lot.’ It began as one of the longest periods before the first score in a Super Bowl, but it came alive in the second half, with great plays by both teams. As the Patriots’ previous Super Bow, it ended on a clutch Adam Vinatieri field goal. The only reason this game is not on the Excellent list is because of a blunder that made the Patriots’ last drive easier.
Excellent – These games had tremendous gameplay by both teams, with very close finishes.
#7 – Super Bowl XLVI (2012) – New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17 – This game had a cool storyline as it was a rematch of a Super Bowl four years before, with the same starting quarterbacks and the same head coaches. Though the Giants had pulled off a shocking upset four years before, most seemed to assume the Patriots would take them more seriously this time and exact revenge. With the Giants jumping out to a fast start, the Patriots came roaring back. As usual, the matchup featured an insane catch by a Giants wide receiver, a weird go-ahead touchdown by the Giants, and a thrilling Hail Mary that nearly was successful. It was a truly thrilling game, and add bonus points for Gisele’s tirade.
#6 – Super Bowl XLIX (2015) – New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24 – The Seahawks were favored to repeat as champions, and the game proved exciting. It appeared the favorite would seal the deal when they made an insane catch with less than 90 seconds remaining. However, a stellar interception by a rookie saved the day for the Patriots. It was a truly memorable Super Bowl, with Brady becoming a champion for the first time in a decade, and the Patriots turnaround that season had begun with the famed ‘We’re on to Cincinnati’ utterance.
#5 – Super Bowl XXXII (1998) – Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24 – The Packers were heavily favored, by double digits in fact, to win a second consecutive Super Bowl. In 4th grade at the time, I rooted for the Broncos as I thought it would make the Steelers look better, who had lost to them in the AFC championship. It was a final chance for John Elway to win a Super Bowl. Brett Favre continuously hit his favorite target, running back Dorsey Levens. It became essentially clear the Broncos would win once John Elway energized the team with his helicopter run. When the Broncos won, they broke a 13-year streak of the NFC winning the Super Bowl. Game MVP Terrell Davis likewise had an outstanding game, WITH A MIGRAINE.
#4 – Super Bowl XXXVI (2002) – New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17 – It’s hard to believe there was a time when Tom Brady was a lovable underdog, but this game was just that. Having absolutely shocked the heavily favored Steelers in the AFC championship, they were heavy underdogs against the Rams’s high powered offense, known affectionately as the Greatest Show on Turf and run by Kurt Warner. However, the Patriots shockingly built a 14 point lead, which the Rams subsequently came back and tied. With the game tied and only a minute and a half left with the Pats deep in their own territory, John Madden infamously said Brady should take a knee; however, Brady efficiently drove them down the field and Adam Vinatieri sealed the deal with his inaugural Super Bowl-winning field goal. It was one for the ages, and sure made me feel better about the Steelers losing to New England.
Other Worldly – These games had top-notch play from both teams, close scores, big plays, and absolutely fantastic finishes.
#3 – Super Bowl XXXIV (2000) – St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16 – After the Houston Oilers had mediocrity throughout the 90s, they moved to Tennessee in 1997, and subsequently changed their name to the Titans in 1999, in which they reached a new level of play. Their playoff run had included the Music City Miracle, upending rookie budding superstar Peyton Manning, and a third victory over the 15-2 Jacksonville Jaguars. Their offense was led by speedster quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George, and supplemented by receivers Derrick Mason, Frank Wycheck, and Kevin Dyson. The Rams high-powered offense was led by Kurt Warner, a grocery store clerk turned NFL quarterback, and included names such as running back Marshall Faulk, receivers Isaac Bruce, Az-Zahir Hakim, Ricky Proehl, and Torry Holt, and offensive lineman Orlando Pace. Though for a time the Rams appeared to have the game on ice, the Titans came roaring back, and with little time, McNair pulled an incredible scramble, and there was time for one more play. The Titans came only one yard short. Incredible gameplay by both quarterbacks, and unbelievable resilience made this game unforgettable.
#2 – Super Bowl XLII (2008) – New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14 – With the Patriots bidding for the first completely unbeaten season by a team since 1972, and their fourth Super Bowl win in seven years, they had attained a truly hated status at this point. A sophomore in college at the time, my dorm was seething with anti-Patriot sentiment, save two guys (bless their souls). The Patriots’ unstoppable offense had Tom Brady at quarterback and weapons such as Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, Kyle Brady, and most notably, Randy Moss, who had become the most potent receiver in the league. The Giants, quarterbacked by Eli Manning, were a nitty-gritty team with a good defense (though not with great stats) strict disciplinary environment thanks to head coach Tom Coughlin. Although Brady threw a touchdown to Randy Moss with less than three minutes left to take a 14-10 lead, the Giants weren’t done yet. Manning pulled off a double miracle on the ensuing drive, in which eluded a sack from three Pats defenders, and receiver David Tyree outjumped Rodney Harrison to make a catch via his helmet. Plaxico Burress caught the ensuing touchdown. While Randy Moss almost caught a pass for a potential touchdown, the Giants held them. Goliath had fallen, and all was right with the world.
#1 – Super Bowl XLIII (2009) – Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23 – Big plays by both teams. Superstar power. Close finishes to both halves. You name it, this game had it. Kurt Warner, back from the football dead, ran his offense with Edgerrin James at running back, and receivers Steve Breaston, Anquan Boldin, Pitt alumnus Larry Fitzgerald. The Steelers, in contrast, had an historically great defense. Their line included Aaron Smith and Brett “Diesel” Keisel at defense end, Casey “Big Snack” Hampton at defensive tackle, the outside linebacker pass rushing tandem of Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison, inside linebackers Larry Foote, James Farrior, and Lawrence Timmons, a stellar cornerback quartet of Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, William Gay, and Deshea Townsend, the hardest-hitting free safety in the league in Ryan Clark, and the super-human strong safety Troy Polamalu. At the end of the first half, with the Steelers in the lead 10-7, James Harrison brilliantly faked a blitz and dropped back into the endzone, intercepting a pass and returning it 100 yards for a touchdown, the longest play in Super Bowl in history. While the Steelers increased their lead to 20-7 and held that until about six minutes remained in the game, the Cardinals found new life and threw first a jump ball touchdown to Fitzgerald, then got a safety, and after getting the ball back, shocked all Steeler nation with a long touchdown catch and run by Fitzgerald. However, with two and a half minutes left, the Steelers weren’t done. The Steelers drove all the way from their own 12, and, with 35 seconds left, scored arguably the greatest touchdown catch in Super Bowl history. It was reviewed and upheld. The Steelers sealed the deal with a forced fumble. It was hands down the most satisfying Super Bowl I have ever watched, and I went to bed happier than I had in a long time. Troy Polamalu’s Coke commercial was a classic reboot of the famous Mean Joe commercial.
I hope you enjoyed this list, whether you agree or not. Here’s hoping the Super Bowl tonight will top all of these!