The Pro Football Notebook

February 2, 2011 8:39 AM

The Best Super Bowls Ever

TyreeCatch.jpgThe Super Bowl has been in a Golden Age of sorts for the better part of the last decade. Not just in terms of popularity, but in how good the games have been. A list of the best Super Bowls ever played has a decidedly recent flair to it. In Super Bowl history nine games have come down to the final possession, and four of those have been in the last ten years. Eight of the nine came starting in 1988. Other than 1970, when the Baltimore Colts beat Dallas on a last-play field goal by Jim O'Brien, you have to look to recent history for great Super Bowls. Here's a look at The Great Eight. I've broken them into three groups and in ascending order of importance...

We start with four games in the seven-year period from 1997-2003. All four of those were tied very late in the game before finally being settled. They don't rise to the top tier because the team driving for the winning score already had overtime in the bank. In chronological order:

1997: After being buried in his first three Super Bowl appearances John Elway finally gets his ring. The Broncos, a double-digit underdog were tied with the Packers late in the fourth quarter when Terrell Davis rushed in from a yard out. Denver held off a last Green Bay drive and won 31-24.

1999: St. Louis led Tennessee 23-16 when the late Steve McNair led the Titans on one final drive. On the games final play a pass was completed to Kevin Dyson near the goal line. He reached...and came up a yard short.

2001: The Rams were back and this time as a heavy favorite over the mostly unknown Patriots and their unproven coach of Bill Belichick, who'd made the tough decision to start Tom Brady over the more established Drew Bledsoe. New England led most of the way, St. Louis rallied to tie it and then Adam Vinateri won it for the Patriots with a last-play field goal, 20-17.

2003: New England does it again. Everyone knows who Tom Brady is and he and Carolina's Jake Delhomme hook up in a shootout. In light of Delhomme's decline it can be easy to forget how good he could be at his peak, and Carolina's Super Bowl run was an example. With the score tied 30-30, Carolina kicked off out of bounds. Set up at the 40, Brady moved his team into field goal range for another Vinateri last-play special.

Moving up to Level 2, we have two games where the winning team trailed by three and drove for the winning touchdown. The fact there was a reversal in the team leading elevates them above the previous four, but the fact the driving team had at least moved into position to tie the game keeps it off the top level.

1988: Trailing 16-13, Joe Montana drove San Francisco down the field against Cincinnati, looking to win his third Super Bowl ring. The Bengals were led by current CBS commentator Boomer Esiason after his first crown. Montana hit John Taylor on a simple crossing route over the middle with under a minute left to win the game for Frisco.

2008: Pittsburgh coughs up a 20-7 lead to Arizona, as Kurt Warner leads the Cardinals on a furious rally to lead 23-20. With under two minutes left, Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers down the field, with a huge screen pass setting them up in field goal range. Big Ben finished the job with a pass to Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone, a spectacular catch against good coverage, where the ball went the one place it could go, and Holmes managed to get both feet down.

Finally we come to the best two Super Bowls ever played, where a team drove down the field on the final possession in a win-or-lose spot. If you're a New York Giants fan, you've earned your last two championships with some serious cardiac arrest in the process...

1990: Bill Parcells' Giant team controlled the ball for about 40 minutes, but Buffalo still trailed only 20-19. Jim Kelly got the Bills in position for a final field goal for Scott Norwood from 47 yards out. The ball hooked just wide right.

2007: The greatest Super Bowl ever played because it combined last-drive reversal with huge historical context. New England led the Giants 14-10 as the Patriots tried to finish off a perfect season. In his own territory, Eli Manning looked like he was about to be sacked. He escaped and threw a desperation pass down the field that somehow stuck to David Tyree's facemask in traffic. A few players later the Giants scored the game-winner and had a stunning upset.

For this year's game, linesmakers have set Green Bay as a 2.5 point favorite with an Over/Under of 45-46 depending where you look. That would set up a final score of, for example, 24-21. Will the Packers and Steelers add to this list?

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on the NFL playoffs and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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