With Super Bowl 50 on our doorstep, everyone is getting more nostalgic than usual about what advertisers have to refer to as "The Big Game", because they won't pay the outrageous fees necessary to use the term "Super Bowl" in their commercials.
So, I figured, since I've watched 41 of the first 49 live (I was in Mama's tummy during Super Bowl I), I'd wax poetic, too. Yes, I'll list some obvious things, the "Best" ones, the "Worst" ones, but some other thoughts and lists, too. Since January 14, 1973 and Super Bowl VII, I only missed watching one game live: Super Bowl XVIII, as I had to work while my Oakland....er.....then Los Angeles Raiders won, to date, their last Super Bowl.
They are all based on my personal experiences, and, while I try my best not to let biases influence (you'll note later none of my best Super Bowls mention the Oakland Raiders), sometimes life gets in the way (see "E")....
A) The Surprising Super Bowls (in no particular order) (NOTE: If you count historical perspective, Super Bowl III would top the list. But I'm going to ignore the NFL/AFL merger yadda yadda for the time being....)
--Super Bowl XVI: After San Francisco dealt Dallas the second blow to the end of its decade-plus run at the top of the NFC (Philadelphia got it started the year before) and Cincinnati took care of perennial bridesmaid San Diego, NFL fans collectively looked at their TV screens and said, out loud, "San Francisco and Cincinnati??". None of us could believe it. No Pittsburgh, Dallas, Oakland, even poor ol' Minnesota? A new era had dawned, and a great one at that.
--Super Bowl XLIII: First, the Cardinals were in. That was earth shaking enough. But I couldn't find many people outside of Steeler Nation fired up for Steelers/Cardinals. Then they put on a show. From James Harrison to Larry Fitzgerald to Santonio Holmes, it was an excellent game.
--Super Bowl XLVIII: On the flip side, there was Denver/Seattle. What a letdown, on so many, many levels. On Twitter that night, I had to explain to an entire generation that "this is what the Super Bowl used to be like year after year after year....".
B) We All Knew Who Was Going To Win.....also known as mostly "Poor Denver"....
--Super Bowl XII: I remember the mania that was "The Orange Crush". But they had no prayer against Randy White, Harvey Martin, and those hated Dallas Cowboys (I grew up with a Redskins fan for an older brother....). One of the best ledes in sportswriting history came from this game. I don't remember who wrote it (Google it, now!), but it went like this:
"All his life, Craig Morton dreamed of leading the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl win. On Sunday in New Orleans, he did."
Of course, Morton started for the Denver Broncos.
--Super Bowl XXIV: Denver should have won the toss and elected not to play. The only Super Bowl I've ever seen where you knew in the first quarter it was over. The only Super Bowl I can deem painful to watch. That 49ers team was a machine, but more about that later.
--Super Bowl XXIX: Stan Humphries versus Steve Young. How did these Chargers make the Super Bowl while Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow didn't??
--Super Bowl XXXIII: The shoe was on the other foot when Denver came in as defending champs only to find their former coach with the Atlanta Falcons and Chris Chandler. Credit to Atlanta for scoring 19 points. Funny thing is I can't remember how they scored. I just remember Elway on the ground in the end zone smiling.
C) Best Super Bowl Rivalry: Pittsburgh and Dallas
D) Worst Super Bowl Rivalry: Dallas and Buffalo
E) Failure To Launch: Most Disappointing Super Bowls (in order)
1) Super Bowl XIX: Everyone in the world went into the game talking about Dan Marino and the Dolphins. They had forgotten the 49ers went 15-1 in the regular season. By game's end, everyone had been reminded. It was supposed to be a titanic battle and the coronation of a new "best quarterback". Joe Montana snickered, and spoiled it.
2) Super Bowl XVIII: The year before, it was the highest scoring offense in NFL history, and defending champions, in Washington, battling the then Los Angeles Raiders, with our usual cast of misfits and outcasts from other franchises. People were split 50/50 in predictions. None of them gave a final score of "38-9". But that's what happens when you call for a screen pass just before the half that worked in the regular season. How Joe Gibbs couldn't think, "the Raiders may just have planned for that" is beyond me.
3) Super Bowl XX: I lived in Massachusetts in college when New England went on their improbable journey to their first Super Bowl, so I was around A LOT of excited people. And then The '85 Bears took the field. The most exciting thing about that Sunday ended up being the hoopla surrounding "The Silent Minute". I may have played a game of foosball in the adjoining room during the fourth quarter.
4) Super Bowl XXVII: This isn't higher because, by the time Buffalo made their third straight Super Bowl appearance, we all entered the evening wondering if they actually could do it. When it quickly became apparent they would even become the team that supplanted Minnesota as most disappointing in Super Bowl history, I can't say America wasn't surprised. It's a shame. That Buffalo team was excellent, but just couldn't win the big one. Fran Tarkenton, Chuck Foreman, and the Purple People Eaters were excellent, too. Go figure.
F) Super Bowls That Surpassed Expectations (in order)
1) Super Bowl XXXIV: The Rams hadn't been to the Super Bowl in 20 years, the Titans (ex-Oilers) had never been, and could argue THEY should have played the Rams 20 years earlier (but there was no instant replay for Mike Renfro....). Grocery bagger turned MVP Kurt Warner and the "Greatest Show on Turf" vs. Eddie George. The Rams should have won by 14 points or more. The Titans played very well, and as we all know, they came up one yard short. All in an ice storm in Atlanta.
2) Super Bowl XVII: This game gets forgotten. It was the first strike year. The NFL turned the playoffs into a 16-team "tournament" to get to Pasadena. Miami and Washington did. The Dolphins score on a long TD pass, a Fulton Walker 98-yard kickoff return. And, while the iconic comeback play was John Riggins on fourth and one for a touchdown, how many of you remember Joe Theismann batting down his own batted pass to prevent an interception near the goal line in the second half? He saved the game on that play. The only disappointing part of the game? When it ended and I realized I still had homework to do at 10pm on a Sunday night.
3) Super Bowl XIV: No one gave the 9-7 Los Angeles Rams a chance against defending, and three-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh. But Vince Ferragamo and company (quick! name a wide receiver!) led into the fourth quarter. While the Steelers ended up doing what we all expected, they had to scratch and claw to do it. Kudos to Ray Malavasi, and to Jack Youngblood on essentially one leg.
G) If I Need a Game-Winning Field Goal, I Go With: Adam Vinatieri (2 times)
H) If I Need a Game-Saving Interception, I Go With: Rod Martin (SB XV)
I) If I Need a Game-Saving Sack, I Go With: Reggie White (SB XXI)
J) My Super Bowl Voices (in order)
1) Pat Summerall and John Madden
2) Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen
3) Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier
K) Worst Super Bowl MVP's
1) Larry Brown, Super Bowl XXX: Brown should have shared the car with Neil O'Donnell, who essentially threw two passes right to him. He got a fat contract with, of course, my Raiders, and never did anything ever again.
2) Dexter Jackson, Super Bowl XXXVII: Let's face it, under special circumstances, Jon Gruden should have been awarded MVP because he knew everything the Raiders would do on offense. I think I could've had at least one pick in that game.
3) Eli Manning, Super Bowl XLII: I'll catch it for this one. I know he miraculously got out of harm's way to set up David Tyree, and hit Plaxico for the game-winner. But the Giants defense held the highest scoring team in NFL history to 14 points. The impetus was the front four. Randy White and Harvey Martin shared the award once, why couldn't the Giants defensive line? The NFL could afford four cars. Their pounding of Brady in desperation at game's end was a work of art if you love good defense (which I do).
L) My Iconic Super Bowl Plays (in chronological order; I witnessed all but the first two...)
--Max McGee's one handed catch with a hangover in Super Bowl I
--"65 Toss Power Trap" by Mike Garrett, Super Bowl IV
--Garo Yepremian's "pass" that led to the Redskins' only TD in Super Bowl VII
--Lynn Swann's midfield acrobatic catch in Super Bowl X
--Willie Brown's Pick Six for Oakland in Super Bowl XI
--Plunkett to Kenny King for 80 yards (before YAC was a statistic) in Super Bowl XV
--Riggins' 4th and 1 AND Theismann's bat down in Super Bowl XVII
--Wide Right: Super Bowl XXV
--Don Beebe doesn't quit on Leon Lett, Super Bowl XXVII
--John Elway's helicopter ride in Super Bowl XXXII
--David Tyree's Helmet Catch, Super Bowl XLII
--James Harrison's 100-yard interception return, Super Bowl XLIII
--The Onside Kick: Super Bowl XLIV
--Mario Manningham's Catch, Super Bowl XLVI
--Malcolm Butler intercepting what should have been a Marshawn Lynch running play, Super Bowl XLIX
M) Worst Winning Super Bowl Quarterbacks
1) Trent Dilfer, Super Bowl XXXV
2) Morrall/Unitas, Super Bowl V
3) Brad Johnson, Super Bowl XXXVI
N) Best Super Bowl Quarterback Performances
1) Steve Young, Super Bowl XXIX
2) Joe Montana, Super Bowl XXIV
3) Joe Montana, Super Bowl XIX
4) Doug Williams, Super Bowl XXII
5) Phil Simms, Super Bowl XXI
6) Jim Plunkett, Super Bowl XV
O) Where I've Watched The Super Bowl
At Home In Glen Allen: 17
At Home In Beaverdam: 11
At My Mama's House in Louisa: 5
At A Friend's House: 3
At A Hotel: 2
At College: 1
At Work: 1
At My Parents Apartment After Moving Home From College: 1
P) My Super Bowl Tidbits and Anecdotes
--I watched Super Bowl XI during a snowstorm in Beaverdam.
--I watched Super Bowl XIII in the Days Inn in Ashland because an ice storm knocked out power in Beaverdam for 48 hours starting the night before the game.
--I watched Super Bowl XIX, my last in Beaverdam, during a huge snowstorm with some of the coldest temperatures I've ever dealt with. It was the arctic blast that drove President Reagan's Second Inauguration indoors the next day.
--I got married on the day of Super Bowl XXII (January 31, 1988). I did not see the pregame show, nor did I see the third quarter. :)
--For five straight years, we had a tradition of going to my Mama's to watch the game. I sure miss that.
--I missed the start of Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000 driving home from WRVA in Church Hill during an ice storm. I had a shift on the school closing phones that afternoon, then gingerly made my way back to Glen Allen.
--I surprised my brother for Super Bowl XLII. He's a Giants fan, so am I, so I drove down that Sunday afternoon. My sister-in-law knew I was coming. He did not. It's impossible to catch my brother in a surprise and speechless. But I did it that day when I walked through the door. Then the Giants blessed us with a miracle win. It doesn't get better than that.
--On the flip side, it hurts more to watch your child's favorite team lose a Super Bowl than it is to watch your own. I learned that three years ago when Robbie's 49ers fell short in New Orleans.
Q) Worst, Most Forgettable Super Bowls (They Were Just Bad Games....)
1) Super Bowl V: Yeah, it had a game-winning field goal. That didn't save this game. Turnover city, baby. I'm glad I was too young to remember. Reading up on it and watching the highlights were brutal.
2) Super Bowl XXVII: Couple Buffalo's third straight loss with the avalanche of how it happened. Yikes.
3) Super Bowl XXIV: It was only a fun evening for 49ers fans. Nobody else took joy in their dismantling of the Broncos and John Elway.
4) Super Bowl XLVIII: When Denver's first offensive snap went awry, we should have known. But us old-timers fell into the trap of thinking, "the old days of Super Bowl blowouts are gone, right"?
R) Most Underrated Super Bowl Quarterbacks (Beyond Montana, Bradshaw and Brady...)
1) Jim Plunkett: He was a Heisman Trophy winner, then a bust in both New England and San Francisco. Only a broken leg to Dan Pastorini gives Plunkett a shot in Oakland in what turned out to be a Super Bowl year in 1980. First wild-card team to win it all. Plunkett's passer rating in Super Bowl XV? 145.0. Three years later, they win it again.
2) Bob Griese: He gets Miami to Super Bowl VI, gets creamed, learns from it, brakes his leg the following season, heals in time for Super Bowl VII, and the end of the perfect season, and gets them back in Super Bowl VIII. He managed the game. Quarterbacks weren't expected to throw for 350 yards and three touchdowns every week in 1973 and 1974. You were expected to give Csonka and Kiick the football and find Warfield every now and then. Two championships for a franchise that wasn't even 10 years old yet. You think Jacksonville or Houston would like to have done that?
3) Jake Delhomme: Yes, Jake Delhomme. He only completed half his passes, but he found six different receivers, threw three touchdowns and no picks and matched Tom Brady in a frantic final quarter. The team with the ball last won. That he couldn't control.
S) Most Exciting Stretches In Super Bowl History
1) Super Bowl XXXVIII, The Fourth Quarter: 37 combined points, two bad decisions on two-point conversions, an 85-yard touchdown pass and a chance for Adam Vinatieri to kick his SECOND Super Bowl-winning field goal, which he did. Just may be the best 15 minute sequence of football of all time, if defense is not your thing.
2) Super Bowl XVI, The Second Half: It was 20-0 San Francisco at halftime, and nothing had made us think Cincinnati would make it a game in the second half. But they did. The 49ers' goal line stance in that second half was, arguably, the best four defensive downs put together in Super Bowl history.
3) Super Bowl XXV: Opening Drive of Second Half: The Giants get the football, down 12-10. To beat the hurry-up, high-powered Bills, you keep their K-Gun offense off the field. Ottis Anderson does just that, helping power a nine minute, 29-second drive (over HALF the quarter), a drive with four straight third down conversions. By the time Jim Kelly got the football back, there's less than six minutes left in the third quarter and the Bills hadn't run an offensive play that mattered in over an hour of real time.
4) Super Bowl XLIII: The Fourth Quarter: Trailing 20-7, the Cardinals catch fire and score 16 unanswered points, taking the lead with less than 2:30 remaining. The Steelers calmly march the field, and take it in the end on the Santonio Holmes catch for the ages.
T) Best Catches In Super Bowl History
1) David Tyree, Super Bowl XLII: Nothing can top this. Eli Manning should never have been in a position to throw it, Tyree had had problems catching balls all week in practice, Rodney Harrison is all over him, it's a mini "Hail Mary". Then, to beat all, he uses his helmet to hold it down and gain possession? Miracle. Plain and simple. The unbeatens go down.
2) Lynn Swann, Super Bowl X: Nope, not a game winner, but let's face it, whether you like the Steelers or not, Lynn Swann, before Jerry Rice, changed the perception, and the utilization, of the wide receiver position. You could use balance, yes, even grace, to win the battle over the defender and catch the football. His other memorable catch from that game, tapping two feet inbounds down the right sideline, is almost as good. Remember, the Super Bowl we know today didn't exist in 1976. It played in the afternoon. CBS showed golf after the game. It wasn't in prime time. But teams like the Steelers and Cowboys and performances like Swann's helped push it all in that direction.
3) Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl XLIII: Yes, this did win the game. Perfect pass over three defenders, and the work of the feet to stay inbounds. Unbelievable.
Honorable Mention: Jermaine Kearse, Super Bowl XLIX. That was just sick. :)
U) Best Super Bowl Commercial Of All Time: Reebok: Terry Tate, Office Linebacker, 2003
V) My Super Bowl Starters:
K: Adam Vinatieri
P: Ray Guy
KR/PR: Devin Hester
QB: Joe Montana
RB: Marcus Allen
RB: John Riggins
WR: Lynn Swann
WR: Jerry Rice
TE: Mark Bavaro
C: Mike Webster
OL: Jerry Kramer
OL: Joe Jacoby
OL: Gene Upshaw
OL: Art Shell
DE: Reggie White
DE: Michael Strahan
DL: Randy White
DL: Joe Greene
LB: Rod Martin
LB: Mike Singletary
LB: Nick Buoniconti
DB: Ronnie Lott
DB: Mel Blount
DB: Jake Scott
DB: Richard Sherman
Special Teams: Steve Tasker, Reyna Thompson
W) Best Super Bowl Decisions
1) Move It To Prime Time: I wish they'd push it back to a 6:05 kick rather than 6:30, but I know it's because of the West Coast. East Coast kids, get your homework done Saturday this coming weekend! :)
2) Cold Weather Sites: I personally believe the Super Bowl should be held in Lambeau Field every year, unless the Packers qualify. Then the game would move to Soldier Field in Chicago. I applauded the New Jersey game two years ago and want more of them. Domes suck. Why do you think Minnesota hasn't been to a Super Bowl since leaving Metropolitan Stadium for the now-defunct Glad Trash Bag Dome??
3) Postgame Outside: Why give your ultimate trophy to a team in a cramped locker room? Bring it outside and let the fans enjoy. Also a nice touch to let a former champion bring it to you.
4) Keeping the Game on Over-The-Air TV: Don't know how much longer this will last, but it's been the right move.
X) I Won't Be Completely Satisfied With The Super Bowl Franchise Until....
1) Cincinnati finally wins one for Rachel.
2) San Francisco gets one more, one that Robbie can remember and enjoy.
3) Detroit and Cleveland get to appear.
4) The same with Jacksonville. Before they're no longer Jacksonville.
Y) How Did They Not Make The Super Bowl....
1) The 1979-1982 Chargers
2) The 1986-1987 Browns
3) Any Los Angeles Rams Team Between 1973 and 1978
4) The 1998 Minnesota Vikings
5) The 1985 Miami Dolphins (You lost to Tony Eason??)
Z) The Best Super Bowls Ever (in ascending order....)
5) Super Bowl XXXII: Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24: It was to be Brett Favre's king coronation with a second Lombardi trophy. Terrell Davis and his offensive line didn't get the memo. Davis, migraines and all, ran or decoyed his team to victory. John Elway showed heart and guts, and Denver's defense stopped Favre in the end in a physical final drive where Denver defenders were playing so hard, two of them violently ran into each other, forcing backups into key roles in the final plays of the game. Easily one of the most evenly matched Super Bowls in history, though we didn't think that way in the two weeks leading up to the game.
4) Super Bowl XLII: New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14: This game proved you could have a classic without a lot of points. As it was 17 years earlier, the Giants key to victory was slowing down a prolific offense. That they did. Fans who like 41-38 shootouts will never list this game, but I will. It was a test of strength, a test of wills. And, in the end, the Giants, who had lost a shootout to the Patriots a month earlier to end the regular season, learned from it, held the Patriots to just two scores, and answered their late one with the drive for the ages, thanks to Tyree and Burriss. No history, just an historic upset.
3) Super Bowl XLIII: Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23: I used to argue against this game being great, saying it's people using their recent memories to overblow a game's significance. I stand corrected. Kurt Warner's performance, save the James Harrison interception? Pretty darn good. The 16-point outburst to take the lead? Shocking. The Holmes catch over three defenders? Mindboggling. And it gave the Steeler franchise the record for most Super Bowl wins with six over a team so close to ending 61 years of frustration.
2) Super Bowl XIII: Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31: It's mindblowing when you think about it. How many Hall of Famers were on the Orange Bowl field that day? The defending champion Cowboys looking for back-to-back titles and revenge on Pittsburgh from three years earlier? I didn't do this, but there's no better Super Bowl quarterback rivalry than Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw. Big plays, back and forth action, then Pittsburgh gets the 35-17 lead, but Dallas roars back, gets one onside kick, but couldn't get another. Add the Jackie Smith "non-catch" and just how popular these two teams were in 1979, they, once again, kicked the image of the Super Bowl up to a new level just as they had in 1976.
1) Super Bowl XXV: New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19: This game is a work of art from start to finish. The underdog Giants, having ended the "three-peat" hopes of the 49ers, against the burgeoning new dynasty of Buffalo. New York doesn't even have their real starting quarterback, as Phil Simms was hurt the month before against....Buffalo. The Bills want to pile on points, the Giants want to hold onto the football. It's 12-10 Bills at the half, then the Giants put on the aforementioned 9:29 touchdown drive to start the second half. Save one touchdown, it helped put a crimp in the Buffalo offensive flow. They were able to set Scott Norwood up for a 47-yard field goal attempt. 47 yards wasn't "automatic" in 1991. It's much closer to automatic for most kickers now, a quarter-century later. He was wide right, and the Giants win a game with so much strategy and guts. Add the backdrop of the Gulf War and Whitney Houston's rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, and it was an unforgettable night, as well as an unforgettable, and unbelievably well-played game.
OH! Let's not forget.....
AA) The Greatest Super Bowl Teams
10) The 1976 Oakland Raiders
9) The 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers
8) The 1992 Dallas Cowboys
7) The 1966 Green Bay Packers
6) The 2004 New England Patriots
5) The 1973 Miami Dolphins
4) The 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers
3) The 1984 San Francisco 49ers
2) The 1985 Chicago Bears
1) The 1989 San Francisco 49ers
(Honorable Mentions: 2013 Seattle Seahawks, 2009 New Orleans Saints, 1999 St. Louis Rams, 1996 Green Bay Packers, 1986 New York Giants, 1977 Dallas Cowboys)