Patrick Daugherty

Super Bowl Specials

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Best Super Bowls

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Sports debate isn’t what it once was. That’s for reasons both good and bad. On the good end of the spectrum, analytics has demystified many previously-unanswerable questions. On the bad, shock jocks too often drag the art of give-and-take into the realm of crass, screaming performance art. The 1,000th shouting match about LeBron James’ legacy isn’t going to be any more enlightening than the 999th.


One debate I still enjoy is “best Super Bowl.” It’s ineffable. With so many close, memorable games to choose from, there’s no one right answer. It also doesn’t require the denigration of one in service of another. You’re simply talking about why you think certain games were great. That’s what I’ve tried to do here, counting down the 21st century’s 17 Super Bowls in order of the impression they’ve left behind. It’s been a good century for Super Bowls, with few blowouts and many razor-thin contests. The list does read a bit like a Patriots compendium, but that’s unavoidable in the age of a daunting dynasty. I’ve focused on the 21st century because that’s what I know. I’m sure Super Bowl III made quite an impression on those who lived through it. I was born 17 years after the fact, so I can’t pretend to have a strong opinion on it. Without further ado.


Note: This article is an updated version of a list I first put together in 2015. The original can be found here.


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


Ben Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl … by completing 9-of-21 passes for 123 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Super Bowl XL is mostly remembered for things tangential to the football. Jerome Bettis’ last game. Bill Cowher’s final playoff game. And the refs, oh my the refs. “I knew it was going to be tough going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers,” a raging Mike Holmgren said afterward. “I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts, as well." Two of Google’s suggested searches for the game are “rigged” and “bad calls.” At the heart of the controversy is a pair of (blown) fourth quarter calls that took the Seahawks from a would-be first-and-goal at the one to defending the Steelers at the 44, all in the span of eight game seconds. Antwaan Randle El (seriously) tossed a game-sealing touchdown moments later. Referee Bill Leavy came away haunted. "It left me with a lot of sleepless nights, and I think about it constantly," Leavy said a few years later. "I'll go to my grave wishing that I'd been better." Yikes. None of this is to say the Steelers did not deserve to win. They did. That does not mean a bad football game needs to be remembered as anything else.  

 

16. Super Bowl XXXVII: Bucs 48, Raiders 21 (2003)


Before Jon Gruden’s television sabbatical, they named a game after him. The “Gruden Bowl” is one the Raiders would like to forget. On the one hand, the Silver and Black persevered following the 2002 trade (lol) of their coach to Tampa Bay. They secured the AFC’s No. 1 seed with an 11-5 record, and reached their first Super Bowl since 1984. On the other … they barely changed any of their plays or audibles. It led to a Super Bowl-record five interceptions for Rich Gannon, and a performance so poor it caused some of the greatest players in league history (see Rice, Jerry and Brown, Tim) to believe coach Bill Callahan literally threw the game. In between was All-Pro C Barret Robbins disappearing and going to Mexico. If you managed to stick with the game through its 48-21 conclusion, you got to see Brad Johnson hoist a Lombardi and a safety take home MVP honors.


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


The Clash of the Titans. The No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense. One seed vs. one seed. Mismatch. That will be the legacy of Super Bowl XLVIII. When C Manny Ramirez sailed the first snap of the game over Peyton Manning’s head for a safety, he gave the Seahawks the fastest lead in Super Bowl history (12 seconds), one they would not relinquish. The Broncos scored an NFL-record 613 points during the regular season. They managed 1.3 percent of that in the Super Bowl, with their lone eight tallies “narrowing” the Seahawks’ cushion from 36 to 28 entering the fourth quarter. Russell Wilson nailed the door shut three and a half minutes later, finding Doug Baldwin for a 10-yard touchdown. It was a comprehensive dismantling, one that called to mind what the Ravens did to the Giants in 2001. The Ravens’ 152 yards allowed were 154 fewer than Seattle’s 306, but you could say Manning was stiffer competition than Kerry Collins. Seattle cemented its reputation as one of the top defenses of the passing age, while Manning once again failed to burnish a résumé missing only sustained postseason success.


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


As a competitive game, Super Bowl XXXV failed as miserably as any title game in any sport ever. As a showcase for one of the greatest units in NFL history, it was Citizen Kane. The 2000 Ravens didn’t play defense. They erased you from the face of the earth.  Coming off a regular season where they surrendered a record-low 165 points, the Ravens held the Giants to 152 yards of offense, forcing five turnovers in the process. The G-Men had 16 possessions. Of the four that didn’t end in picks, 11 ended in punts. The 16th was the clock hitting zero in the fourth quarter. (The Giants’ fifth turnover was a lost fumble on a kick return.) Kerry Collins averaged 2.87 yards per attempt. Super Bowl XXXV gets the nod over the 21st century’s other big-game blowouts by virtue of the Ravens’ awe-inspiring performance. The team named for Edgar Allen Poe etched its name into the history books with grisly efficiency. The football world won’t soon forget the 2000 Ravens.      


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


Super Bowl XLI — also known as “the Super Bowl literally started by Rex Grossman” — got off to an historic start. Devin Hester, arguably the greatest return man of all-time, staked the Bears to what was then the earliest lead in Super Bowl history with his game-opening score. What followed was sloppy, forgettable football as the teams combined for eight turnovers and only one lead change. The Bears scored three points in the game’s final 45 minutes. Peyton Manning, meanwhile, earned his first ring not in a blaze of glory, but a haze of short passes. His 6.5 yards per attempt were nearly two fewer than he averaged during the regular season. Just five of his 25 completions gained more than 10 yards. Two, more than 20. The Colts felled the Bears’ stout defense with paper cuts, not hammer blows. For nine years, Super Bowl XLI’s main function was preventing Manning from living in complete postseason infamy. With Manning riding off into the John Elway Sunset in 2016, XLI serves even less of a function in football fans’ memories.


12. Super Bowl 50: Broncos 24, Panthers 10 (2016)


Peyton Manning’s career capstone was an upset of a 17-1 Panthers team that was favored by 5.5 points. It was also a dull, dreary affair, one dominated by turnovers (six) and a complete lack of offense (509 total yards). The Super Bowl’s “Golden Anniversary” was most interesting for its central contradiction: A Manning-led squad won a title with just 194 yards of offense. No Super Bowl winning team has ever moved the ball less. This, two years after Manning piloted the highest-scoring club in NFL history. Flaccoville ended up the final destination on a road paved with one record-breaking offense after another. That’s some fine irony, but even in the golden age of irony, not enough to make Super Bowl 50 one of the greats.          


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


When it comes to the history books, Super Bowl XXXIX isn’t so much about the game that was played — good though it was — but the legacies that were cemented. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as the coach and quarterback of their era. Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb as the runners up of their era. Terrell Owens as a freak of nature. Adam Vinatieri as a perpetual Super Bowl-winning field goal machine. Not that Super Bowl XXXIX lacked memorable moments, the most indelible being what didn’t happen. Trailing 24-14, the Eagles got the ball back with 5:40 remaining. Not a lot of time, but definitely enough to turn the tables of impending history. Instead, they operated with shockingly little urgency, huddling up and taking 3:52 to score an ultimately futile touchdown. If this game cemented Reid and McNabb as the premier No. 2s of the 2000s, it also cemented the reason — baffling game management. When the dust settled, Owens had nine catches for 122 yards despite breaking his leg just 49 days prior, while Vinatieri provided the difference for the third time in as many Super Bowls. The result was not a surprise. As history has proven, neither was the process.    



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Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Patrick Daugherty



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