iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — There have been a lot of amazing, nail-biting match-ups over a half-century of Super Bowl games, with the New England Patriots, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers involved in ones sports fans will remember forever.
The “wide right” kick in Super Bowl XXV, the upset in XXXVI that started a dynasty and the catch in XLII that thwarted a perfect season; all will live on in football lore.
These is by no means an exhaustive list of the classic contests in Super Bowl history, but here are nine, unranked games that are unforgettable.
Super Bowl XLIX – New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks
Looking for their first Super Bowl title since 2004 — an eternity for New England fans — the Patriots looked to be dead in the desert. The Seahawks had just completed an unbelievable circus catch and were on the verge of back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
Enter Malcolm Butler, an undrafted rookie free agent out of tiny West Alabama. With second-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Seahawks inexplicably chose to pass and Butler promptly jumped Russell Wilson’s throw, securing the interception, giving the Patriots their fourth Super Bowl title since 2002. It was a coaching decision that will go down in infamy and a play that will be remembered as one of the greatest in Super Bowl history.
Super Bowl III – New York Jets vs. Baltimore Colts
It was the third Super Bowl and the upstart AFL had yet to win a championship over the old guard NFL. The Colts were highly favored against the Jets, but days before the big game, future Hall of Famer Joe Namath made a guarantee that his team would win. This was unheard of and laughed at during this time period. Baltimore was 13-1, the Jets just 11-3. This seemed like a lock for the Colts.
But Namath came through on his promise and led the team to an amazing 16-7 upset victory. It wasn’t even that close, as the Jets were up 16-0 in the fourth quarter and gave up a touchdown towards the end of the game. Namath threw for 200 yards and was named MVP, and classic footage of him wagging that No. 1 finger in the air would be shown for year and years to come. The AFL, soon to be AFC, had arrived and deserved respect.
Super Bowl XXXVI – St. Louis Rams vs. New England Patriots
Before they were the NFL’s version of the “Evil Empire,” the Patriots were the underdog team heading to Super Bowl XXXVI, led by their 6th round pick out of Michigan, Tom Brady. The St. Louis Rams or “The Greatest Show on Turf” as they were known, were looking to get two Super Bowl titles in three years. On paper, the gamed seemed like a total mismatch, with the Rams 14-point favorites.
On the field, the Patriots proved to be a worthy match. With a game plan that limited Rams star Marshall Faulk, the Patriots entered the fourth quarter with a 17-3 lead. But Kurt Warner led two touchdown drives to tie the game, and it seemed the safe play for the Patriots would be to play for overtime. But as NFL fans have seen regularly time and time again, coach Bill Belichick and Brady rarely settle for the conventional. Brady came out firing, and got the Patriots into field goal range at the Rams 30-yard line, setting the stage for Adam Vinatieri to attempt a game-winning kick. Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal went right down the middle, giving the Patriots their first title and completing one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.
Super Bowl XXV – Buffalo Bills vs. New York Giants
In the Empire State showdown, the Bills breezed through the playoffs, crushing the Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship to make it to the big game looking to cement their place in history as one of the great all-time NFL teams. But the gritty Giants, led by former backup QB Jeff Hostetler, were up to the challenge and the five future Hall of Famers the ’91 Bills boasted at the time, including Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith and Andre Reed.
The Bills took an early 12-3 lead and looked to have the game in hand, before the Giants scored right before the half. In the end, the game was decided by a missed Scott Norwood field goal, which went wide right, helping the Giants top the Bills 20-19 in the closet game in championship history at the time. The Bills would represent the AFC in the next three Super Bowls, only to fall short each year. But their run is still impressive and started against New York.
Super Bowl XXIII – San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
This was the game that really solidified Joe Montana as “Mr. Clutch.” The 49ers took home their third Super Bowl win on the back of Montana and MVP Jerry Rice. The Bengals had actually finished the regular season with a better record than San Francisco behind an impressive running game, featuring the likes of Ickey Woods and Boomer Esiason.
But after leading the game 13-6 heading into the fourth quarter, Montana and Rice showed why they were one of the best duos in football history. Down 16-13 with 3:20 left in the game, Montana drove the team 92 yards down the field for the game-winning touchdown with just 39 seconds left.
Super Bowl XLII – New York Giants vs. New England Patriots
It was a game billed as the culmination for the Patriots, who were to be crowned the NFL’s greatest all-time team. The Pats were looking to finish their season 19-0, joining the 1972 Dolphins as the only other team to complete a perfect season. But the Giants, who finished their regular season 10-6, were ready.
The G Men stifled the explosive Pats offense all game long and were down 14-10 when New York QB Eli Manning threw to David Tyree on fourth down, with Tyree making an incredible one-handed catch with only moments left to go. The Giants eventually scored on a pass to Plaxico Burress to take the lead and the game 17-14.
Super Bowl XIII – Dallas Cowboys vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Two of the NFL’s flagship franchises battled at the Orange Bowl in Miami as they tried to become the first franchise in league history to win three Super Bowls. In a high scoring game that featured fourteen future Hall of Famers, the Steelers, led by Terry Bradshaw’s four touchdown passes, prevailed in a 35-31 victory.
However, the lasting image from Super Bowl XIII would come from Cowboys tight end Jackie Smith. A Hall of Fame player who spent all but one year of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, Smith was playing in his first Super Bowl. With his team down by seven in the third quarter, Smith dropped what would have been a game-tying touchdown pass in the end zone, a highlight that has been replayed for years. The team settled for a field goal, as Smith and his teammates were left to wonder how the game would have turned out had he caught Roger Staubach’s pass.
Super Bowl XXXIV – St. Louis Rams vs. Tennessee Titans
After Kurt Warner stepped in for injured starting QB Trent Green, the future Super Bowl MVP led the Rams to a surprising 13-3 regular season record. The Titans finished with the same record behind Steve “Air” McNair and their stingy defense.
With the Titans trailing late in the game, they had one final shot with six seconds to go from the Rams’ 10-yard line. McNair hit one of his favorite targets — wide receiver Kevin Dyson — who looked to be on his way for a last-second score to tie the game. But linebacker Mike Jones tackled Dyson at the 1-yard line, ending in a 23-16 win for the Rams.
Super Bowl XXXII – Denver Broncos vs. Green Bay Packers
Broncos quarterback John Elway was a future Hall of Famer but a multiple Super Bowl loser heading into the 1997 season. But led by running back Terrell Davis, the Broncos ended the regular season 13-3 and looked primed to head back to the big game. The Packers were the defending champs, led by another iconic QB — Brett Favre.
The game was a classic. Elway’s determination to win his first championship was shown in one epic play where he helped his team regain the lead early in the second half, running for a first down and jumping in the air, only to get hit and be spun around like a helicopter. The game was later tied with a few minutes to go until Davis scored the go-ahead touchdown, leading the Broncos to a 31-24 win.
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