by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

We remember the many years in the 1980s and early-to-mid ‘90s when the Super Bowl was hardly a fitting climax to many NFL seasons. The games often turned into mismatches and routs, with few offering much in the way of drama. So disappointing were many of those games that the wagering public eventually demanded that a heavy premium be placed on the favored team; hard as it is to believe, the biggest pointspread of the entire 1994 NFL campaign came in Super Bowl XXIX, when the 49ers closed a staggering 18-point favorite (after the number had risen as high as 19) over the Chargers. And when the 49ers had no trouble covering that spread in a 49-26 romp (a scoreline which indeed flattered underdog and early blowout victim San Diego), many wondered if we would ever see another compelling Super Bowl.

In the nearly two decades since, however, there have really only been a few non-competitive Super Bowls (Denver over Atlanta in XXXII, Baltimore over the Giants in XXXV, and Tampa Bay over Oakland in XXXVII), while several of the battles have turned into true white-knucklers. Including Sunday’s 34-31 thriller won by the Ravens over the 49ers at the Superdome, which we rank highly in our all-time Super Bowl list (more on that in a minute).

Aside from perhaps Super Bowl I, and maybe Joe Namath’s “guarantee” Super Bowl III two years later, few other finales matched the intriguing storylines attached to the just-completed XLVII, especially the rare Harbaugh brother vs. brother coaching matchup on the sidelines. Along with the Ravens’ wild ride through the playoffs (including a miracle finish in the Division Round at Denver on Jan. 12), the various headlines attached to new media magnet Ray Lewis (including new accusations of performance-enhancing drugs), both sides becoming involved (inadvertently, perhaps) in the gay rights debate during game week, the emergence of Colin Kaepernick at QB for the 49ers, and the fact the “Supe” was returning to New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, provided no shortage of topics for the media in the run-up to XLVII.

Amazingly, the action in the Superdome might have surpassed the hype, complete with a dash of the bizarre when half of the lights went out inside of the dome early in the third quarter, necessitating a 34-minute delay and, effectively, a second halftime. And while the game appeared to be heading toward a Baltimore blowout as the score reached 28-6 when Jacoby Jones returned the second-half kickoff a record 108 yards for a TD just before the blackout, the extra break seemed to energize the 49ers, who quickly began to dominate the game thereafter and cut the deficit (in quick order) to 28-23 before the 3rd Q ended, setting up a grandstand finish.

In the end, those who like to point to the “little things” determining the outcome of the big game will have plenty of ammunition from SB XLVII, as in almost each of those instances, San Francisco mistakes and miscues, while seemingly minor at the time, ended up costing it dearly. On the very first play of the game, a 20-yard Kaepernick to Vernon Davis completion was wiped out by an illegal formation. Backed up to their own 15, San Francisco became conservative and provided the Ravens with good field position after a punt. On a crucial 3rd-and-9 at the 18, an offside on the 49ers wiped off an incompletion and allowed Raven QB Joe Flacco another 3rd down try, which he completed to Anquan Boldin for a 13-yard TD and a 7-0 lead. That first-play penalty, and third-down offside call, effectively changed the dynamics of the opening sequence and allowed the Ravens a chance to immediately set the tempo for the first half.

On the subsequent drive, Kaepernick smartly moved the 49ers inside of the Ravens’ 10, but a second-down pass that appeared to be intended for an open Randy Moss in the back of the endzone was instead tipped off course by intermediate target Michael Crabtree, to whom the pass might not have been intended. Instead of 7-7, the score would be 7-3 moments later after a David Akers field goal. And early in the 2nd Q, as the 49ers seemed to be capturing the momentum, a lost fumble by San Francisco rookie RB LaMichael James on the Raven 25 triggered a Baltimore resurgence that lasted the remainder of the half. It was the Ravens’ best stretch of the game and allowed them to take a commanding 21-6 lead into the break.

In retrospect, a couple of other seemingly-innocent developments also turned into crucial matters as the game progressed. After the blackout, and just as the 49ers began their climb back into the game in the 3rd Q, Kaepernick wasted a valuable timeout near midfield. Which the 49ers could have ended up using in the final two minutes when just one extra stoppage of the clock could have given them a legit chance to steal the game in the last minute. Jim Harbaugh also burned another timeout on a 3rd-and-five at the Raven five in that late 49er drive that threatened to put them on top when trailing 34-29.

The last sequence of downs for the 49ers will haunt Jim Harbaugh and Kaepernick for years, as in fact the 49ers might have done themselves a favor by taking a delay-of-game and being pushed back five yards (to the 10 yard-line) on third down. Kaepernick’s penchant for improvisation, as well as ability to operate the read-option out of the Pistol formation, works a bit better with more room to operate; on their final sequence of downs, the 49ers used the Pistol only on first down from the seven. As on the previous scoring drive, Kaepernick’s running is more of a threat from the 10 to 20-yard line, from where he scored on a 15-yard scramble on the previous possession. From more conventional sets beginning on second down at the 5, the 49ers couldn’t score, wasting what looked to be developing as their best chance on the aborted third-down play that appeared to use the read-option but was instead whistled dead by a Jim Harbaugh timeout (which in fact might have prevented a delay-of-game call).

The 49ers can feel a bit aggrieved by the non-holding/pass interference call on CB Jimmy Smith when he was hooking Crabtree on the 4th-down fade pass, although the pass might not have been catchable, as it was lobbed by an under-fire Kaepernick. San Francisco also might have caught a bad break on a previous 2-point conversion try (that would have tied the game at 31 apiece) when a blitzing Ed Reed seemed to be offside on the snap and hurried Kaepernick into an incompletion. But no flag. Baltimore’s defense, however, was indeed executing better than San Francisco’s offense in the red zone on the final sequence.

As for the entire Super Bowl production, it was quite an event, although we think a time limit ought to be put on National Anthems at Super Bowls; Alicia Keys’ 2:36 version rewarded “over” bettors in the Las Vegas sports books and shattered Natalie Cole’s previous length-of-Anthem record at the game, but by us crossed the line on self-indulgence (I guess we picked that up from Simon Cowell). By us, we think a recording of Marvin Gaye’s National Anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star game at the old Inglewood Forum should be played at all major sporting events. Although we think it would be kind of neat for one year to have a good old marching band perform the Anthem as was done in the early days of the Super Bowl (when U of Michigan, Arizona, and Grambling bands took turns in the first Super Bowls).

As usual, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms provided a workmanlike play-by-play description of the proceedings for CBS, but we still believe Nantz is better suited to his former studio host role. We’ve been angry with CBS for a couple of years anyway for not promoting our favorite, Gus “Mr. Excitement” Johnson, to the top play-by-play spot before he bolted to Fox. While smooth of delivery and very competent, Nantz is still not in the same league as some of the long-ago iconic CBS play-by-play men like Ray Scott or Jack Buck, although the presence of Nantz as a validator of important sporting events of our time (a role Curt Gowdy once played at NBC) cannot be disputed. By us, of the current top play-by-play network lineup in the Super Bowl rotation (which for the moment excludes Mike Tirico at ESPN), NBC gets the slight nod with Al Michaels, with Joe Buck at Fox a close second, and Nantz third.

Having seen enough of Beyonce at major events in the last few years (including the Presidential Inauguration two weeks ago) and having heard all we needed to hear from CBS analysts Dan Marino, Shannon Sharpe, Bill Cowher, and Boomer Esiason throughout the season, we skipped the halftime show for the “Puppy Bowl” on Animal Planet instead. Which also meant we missed a few of the commercials. Of the ones we saw, the Budweiser ad with the Clydesdale reuniting with its breeder, the RAM truck ad highlighting the farmers with Paul Harvey's voiceover, and the Tide commercial featuring the divine “Joe Montana” stain on a 49er jersey, were our favorites. Amy Poehler’s clever Best Buy commercial also deserves high marks. Danica Patrick wins the most-exposed endorser award with appearances in two different GoDaddy.com spots; the one featuring supermodel Bar Refaeli and the “nerd” Walter was apparently generating the most buzz on social media sites. Although we were less amused and a bit more disturbed by that particular ad.

Whatever. Back by popular request are our TGS Super Bowl rankings, presented in inverse order, and including this year’s Super Bowl XLVII between the Ravens and 49ers; where do you think Baltimore-San Francisco should rate on our list? We begin with our 47th and lowest-ranked Super Bowl game, and work our way to number one.

Remember, we’ve been publishing for them all!

47-XXXV, Baltimore 34 - N.Y. Giants 7 (at Tampa)...An exceedingly drab game with little or no drama, dominated by the Ravens defense, which rendered the Giants offense helpless while holding it without a score. Indeed, the only fireworks in XXXV came in bang-bang-bang succession in the 3rd Q, with TDs on successive plays by Baltimore’s Duane Starks (interception), New York’s Ron Dixon (kickoff return), and the Ravens’ Jermaine Lewis (yet another kickoff return). Otherwise, XXXV threatened to put Sominex out of business.

46-XXVII, Dallas 52 - Buffalo 17 (at Pasadena)...The Bills’ capitulation was particularly onerous because they simply didn’t seem so overmatched in this game. But their almost-comical nine turnovers precluded this from becoming the competitive affair most envisioned. Buffalo’s only highlight was WR Don Beebe streaking downfield to slap the ball out of Leon Lett’s hand before the latter would have scored one last TD for the rampant Cowboys.

45-XXVI, Washington 37 - Buffalo 24 (at Minneapolis)...More one-sided than the final might indicate, with the outcome settled early as the Redskins enjoyed 24-0 & 37-10 leads before a couple of garbage-time Buffalo TDs made the final more respectable. Thurman Thomas forgetting about his helmet at the start of the game summed up a dispirited Bills effort.

44-XV, Oakland 27 - Philadelphia 10 (at New Orleans)...A disappointing showing by the Eagles, who were down 14-0 before the 1st Q ended, contributed heavily to an absolute lack of drama in XV. Three TD passes by Jim Plunkett and 3 picks by Raider LB Rod Martin highlighted the surprisingly one-sided proceedings.

43-XXII, Washington 42- Denver 10 (at San Diego)...This one ceased to be a competitive affair about midway in the 2nd Q, when the Redskins were in the midst of the most-devastating stanza in SB history. The startling 35 points (including four Doug Williams TD passes) in that period required only 18 plays in the five TD drives and set a one-quarter SB scoring record that will be hard to top, and it was all the more amazing because Denver had looked ready to score an early KO of its own when it jumped to a quick 10-0 lead. When the carnage was complete, Washington had amassed a SB record 602 yards, and heretofore obscure RB Timmy Smith gained a SB-record 204 yards rushing. We still can’t figure out if XXII was simply one of the great efforts by one team in a title game, or, in Denver’s case, one of the most feeble and humiliating.

42-XXIX, San Francisco 49 - San Diego 26 (at Miami)...Though the final margin wasn’t as large as some other famous SB beatings, this game was every bit as one-sided as the worst of them, as the 49ers appeared capable of scoring whenever they pleased before easing up in the 2nd half. Complete mismatch.

41-XII, Oakland 32 - Minnesota 14 (at Pasadena)...The Vikings were simply manhandled in a battle that lacked much intrigue after the Raiders moved easily to a 16-0 halftime lead and cruised home. Oakland’s dominance was reflected in a then SB-record 266 yards rushing, with vet DB Willie Brown’s 75-yard interception return TD a nice capper in the 4th quarter.

40-XXXIII, Denver 34 - Atlanta 19 (at Miami)...Denver finally got to enjoy an easy Super Bowl win in a contest that lacked any sustained drama, with the Broncos up by as much as 31-6 in the 4th Q. In the aftermath, there would be a nice “feel good” factor as John Elway, in what would be his final game, was named MVP following his 336-yard passing night.

39-XXVII, Dallas 30 - Buffalo 13 (at Atlanta)...Even when the favored Cowboys seemed to sleepwalk through the 1st half, trailing 13-6 at intermission, there seemed to be an inevitablity about XXVII that the Bills would again find a way to lose, as they had done in the three previous Super Bowls. It took James Washington’s 46-yard fumble return for a 3rd Q TD to finally turn the tide, and Dallas never seemed in danger thereafter, with Buffalo providing little resistance in the 2nd half and surrendering meekly in the end.

38-XXXVII, Tampa Bay 48 - Oakland 21 (at San Diego)...This game was almost more interesting for its ironies (none greater than HC Jon Gruden, in his first year with the Bucs after leaving Oakland) than any action on the field. The Raiders made it mildly interesting in the 4th Q, cutting a 34-3 deficit to 34-21, before the Bucs capped the game with a pair of exclamation points in the form of two interception TDs in the last two minutes, their 2nd and 3rd such scores of the contest. Ten years later, XXXVII was back in the news when Raider WR Tim Brown accused HC Bill Callahan of sabotaging the game plan; while the notion is far-fetched, Oakland might as well have been guilty, so thorough was the domination.

37-VI, Dallas 24 - Miami 3 (at New Orleans)...Although the outcome was still in doubt at halftime, when Dallas led only 10-3, the Cowboys quickly took control in the 3rd Q, and Miami didn’t threaten thereafter. The enduring memory of this game was RB Duane Thomas’ famous one-word answer (“evidently”) to a long-winded question from CBS broadcaster Tom Brookshier on the postgame show as Jim Brown stood alongside both, acting as a sort of intermediary between the eccentric Thomas and the media. Classic.

36-XII, Dallas 27 - Denver 10 (at New Orleans)...What shaped up as an intriguing matchup failed to materialize as expected, as Denver self-destructed with 6 turnovers and QB Craig Morton was banished to the bench in the 3rd Q. Although the Broncos rallied briefly behind backup QB Norris Weese, the Cowboys’ arsenal of weapons was too much, with a couple of spectacular TDs (Butch Johnson’s acrobatic 45-yard TD catch from Staubach, and an option pass from RB Robert Newhouse to WR Golden Richards) sealing the outcome in the 2nd half.

35-XVIII, L.A. Raiders 38 - Washington 9 (at Tampa)...Another good-looking matchup that failed to materialize, the outcome essentially decided by Jack Squirek’s 5-yard interception return TD off an ill-advised Joe Theismann screen pass just 5 seconds before halftime. Indeed, the Raider dominance was somewhat startling, with CBs Mike Haynes & Lester Hayes blanketing the Skin wideouts. A number of highlight-reel runs by Marcus Allen (en route to a then-SB record 191 yards rushing) provided some excitement after the outcome was decided.

34-VIII, Miami 24 - Minnesota 7 (at Houston)...A surprisingly non-competitive game, as most figured the Vikings, with Fran Tarkenton back at the controls, rated a good chance. Instead, the outcome was never in doubt past the 1st Q, with the Dolphins practically disdaining the pass (Bob Griese only threw the ball 7 times!) and instead bludgeoning the Vikes behind Larry Csonka’s 145 yards rushing. A more impressive Miami win than in the Super Bowl vs. the Redskins the previous year.

33-II, Green Bay 33 - Oakland 14 (at Miami)...The Super Bowl concept was still enough of a novelty in January of 1968 that just seeing AFL and NFL teams on the same field was something special. Unlike the previous year vs. the Chiefs, however, Green Bay was in control from the outset against the Raiders and was never seriously threatened. This SB would eventually gain more notoriety for being Vince Lombardi’s last game as Packers HC.

32-XXI, N.Y. Giants 39 - Denver 20 (at Pasadena)...This was a bit more competitive than the Broncos’ other one-sided SB losses, as Denver performed ably in the first half and even led at intermission, 10-9. But the game became a runaway before the 3rd Q ended when the Giants erupted behind Phil Simms’ deadly accuracy (he completed 22 of 25 passes!) en route to a then-SB one- half record for points (30 of ’em!).

31-XIX, San Francisco 38 - Miami 16 (at Palo Alto)...Unless you were a 49er fan, this one was a disappointment, as it failed to live up to its much-hyped, “shootout” billing. The San Francisco defense, however, made sure there was no drama by muffling Dan Marino and his record-setting Dolphin offense, while Joe Montana & Co. toyed with an overmatched Miami stop unit.

30-XXIV, San Francisco 55 - Denver 10 (at New Orleans)...The biggest-ever SB blowout lacked any drama whatsoever. But San Francisco’s dominance was so complete, and, indeed, breathtaking, that we felt almost privileged to watch such excellence.

29-XX, Chicago 46 - New England 10 (at New Orleans)...Although this game was absolutely no contest, it was a bit more entertaining than other Super Bowl blowouts simply because the Bears were such a colorful (and absolutely dominating) bunch.

28-VII, Miami 14 - Washington 7 (at Los Angeles)...Added significance because it was the final installment of the Dolphins’ perfect 17-0 season. But the game was mostly a bore after the Dolphins took control in the 1st half, with the “No-Name” defense throttling the Skins for most of the day. Became mildly interesting in the 4th Q after Garo Yepremian’s infamous flubbed FG and Mike Bass’ subsequent TD return, but that was about the only drama of the afternoon.

27-XL, Pittsburgh 21 - Seattle 10 (at Detroit)...Although there was considerable drama for a time well into the 4th quarter, XL was a mild disappointment and hardly a shining hour for the referees, whose series of questionable calls (ironically almost all favoring the Steelers) at crucial moments of the game distorted the proceeedings. Pittsburgh did capitalize when presented with opportunities, however, and used big scoring plays by Willie Parker & Hines Ward to shift the momentum in the second half.

26-XLI, Indianapolis 29 - Chicago 17 (at Miami)...Arguably the best 1st quarter in SB history, featuring the first-ever opening kickoff returned for a TD (Chicago’s Devin Hester going 92 yards). But another SB first, an entire game played in a deluge, slowed the contest thereafter and exacerbated a feeble performance by Bear QB Rex Grossman. Although Peyton Manning and the Colts dominated the statistical battle, Chicago gamely hung around until Kelvin Hayden’s 56-yard interception TD return in the 4th quarter finally gave Indy some breathing room.

25-IX, Pittsburgh 16 - Minnesota 6 (at New Orleans)...A taut affair (with a 2-0 halftime score!) dominated by LB Jack Lambert and the Steel Curtain defense, which held the Vikes to a SB-low 117 yards. Indeed, Minnesota’s offense didn’t score, but Matt Blair’s blocked punt and recovery by Terry Brown for a TD early in the 4th Q did get the Vikings within 9-6 and suggested a possible dramatic finish before game MVP Franco Harris (a then-SB record 158 yards rushing) put the game away.

24-XXXIX, New England 24 - Philadelphia 21 (at Jacksonvile)...The final score of the only Jacksonville SB suggests it might warrant a better ranking. But the game never had a real flow to it, there were few memorable plays, and indeed the enduring memories of XXXIX are the Eagles taking their sweet time in a late drive that demanded more urgency, and Terrell Owens’ harsh post-game complaints about Donovan McNabb. Hardly a classic.

23-IV, Kansas City 23 - Minnesota 7 (at New Orleans)...There was always a delightful symmetry attached to this surprising result, as it evened the AFL-NFL ledger at 2 wins apiece before the merger and shut up the numerous “NFL supremacists” once and for all. More entertaining than the score suggests, with the brilliant and creative game plan of Hank Stram immortalized by NFL Films
22-I, Green Bay 35 - Kansas City 10 (at Los Angeles)...Historically, perhaps the most-important Super Bowl of them all. No one knew what to expect, and the fact the underdog AFL Chiefs were definitely in the game at halftime, trailing the powerful Packers only 14-10, opened more than a few eyes (we know, we were there!). This one was a lot more interesting than many historians would lead you to believe.

21-XXXI, Green Bay 35 - New England 21 (at New Orleans)...Plenty of big plays, including a then-Super Bowl-record 99-yard kick return TD by Green Bay’s Desmond Howard (game MVP) that effectively ended the upstart Patriots’ upset hopes in the 3rd Q. But the Packers always appeared in control, and the only late drama surrounded Green Bay’s attempts to cover the 14-point spread (a late missed FG by Chris Jacke kept the final margin at 14).

20-XXX, Dallas 27 - Pittsburgh 17 (at Tempe)...The Steelers made this a more-compelling game than many anticipated, rallying from an early 13-0 deficit to close within 20-17 in the 4th Q, and might have pulled the upset had Cowboy DB (and game MVP) Larry Brown not made the second of his two picks deep in the 4th Q, setting up Dallas’ clinching TD.

19-XVI, San Francisco 26 - Cincinnati 21 (at Pontiac)...The early-version Bill Walsh 49ers didn’t yet have Jerry Rice or Roger Craig, but they did have Joe Montana and an underrated supporting cast that was in control of this entertaining game a bit more than the final score suggests. Credit the Bengals for making it a bit more interesting when rallying from a 20-0 halftime deficit, though a dramatic goal-line stand (and a big tackle on Pete Johnson by unsung 49er LB Dan Bunz) kept Cincy at bay. Another unsung hero was 49er PK Ray Wersching, who hit 4 FGs and helped the 49ers with his effective kickoffs that consistently put Cincy in poor field position.

18- XLV, Green Bay 31 - Pittsburgh 25 (at Arlington)...This one teased at becoming a memorable classic as the Steelers hinted at a dramatic comeback throughout the second half after looking up at an early 21-3 deficit, but in the end there would be no last-minute thrills as the Packer defense kept Pittsburgh far away from another last-minute miracle. Three costly giveaways including a poorly-thrown Ben Roethlisberger pass returned for a TD by Nick Collins late in the 1st Q put the Steelers in an early hole from which they could never escape.

17-XXV, N.Y. Giants 20 - Buffalo 19 (at Tampa)...Drama-wise, this one might deserve to rate a bit higher, as it wasn’t decided until Bills PK Scott Norwood shoved his last-second, 47-yard FG attempt a foot or so wide to the right. The Giants’ ball-control tactics were brutally effective (they controlled the ball for over 40 minutes) vs. the high-powered, favored Bills, but didn’t make for particularly exciting viewing in a rather tedious affair.

16-V, Baltimore 16 - Dallas 13 (at Miami)...Though perhaps the sloppiest Super Bowl with 11 turnovers (earning it the “Blunder Bowl” label instead), it nonetheless produced the first dramatic finish in SB history when Colts rookie PK Jim O’Brien nailed a 32-yard FG with only 5 seconds to play. Earl Morrall, one of the goats of SB III, relieved John Unitas at QB and performed admirably for the Colts, who still needed a couple of late picks by Rick Volk and, finally, Mike Curtis to set up the tying and winning scores deep in the 4th quarter.

15-XVII, Washington 27 - Miami 17 (at Pasadena)...An entertaining Super Bowl that seems to have been forgotten by many gridiron historians, except perhaps for John Riggins’ exploits that included a then-SB record 166 yards rushing and a memorable, 43-yard TD run on a 4th-down play with 10 minutes to play that finally put the Skins ahead for good. Miami didn’t do much offensively (only 176 yards of offense and a mere 4 pass completions combined between QBs David Woodley & Don Strock), but stayed close thanks to Jimmy Cefalo’s 76-yard TD reception and Fulton Walker’s then-SB record 98-yard kickoff return TD.

14-III, N.Y. Jets 16 - Baltimore 7 (at Miami)...For a long while, the historical significance of this one (first AFL victory after Green Bay wins the previous two years) demanded its inclusion in the top ten, although some recent thrillers have pushed Jets-Colts down the list a bit. This one made Joe Namath famous after his brash “guarantee” of victory before the game. The Jet defense, RB Matt Snell (121 yards rushing and scorer of New York’s lone TD), PK Jim Turner (3 FGs), and Colt sloppiness (5 TOs) also figured prominently in a game that seemed almost surreal as it unfolded, since few figured the 18-point underdog Jets had a chance to stay close, much less win!

13-XIV, Pittsburgh 31 - L.A. Rams 19 (at Pasadena)...We think this one has been a bit overlooked by Super Bowl historians, as it featured plenty of spectacular plays and a gutsy performance by the underdog Rams, who actually led after each of the first 3 quarters of play. A 25-yard HB-option TD pass from Lawrence McCutcheon to Ron Smith gave the Rams their final lead at 19-17. But XIV is remembered for the spectacular play of Steeler wideouts Swann and John Stallworth, the latter catching a 73-yard bomb from Terry Bradshaw to put the Men of Steel up for good at 24-19 and then effectively sealing the deal with another highlight-reel, 45-yard grab to set up Franco Harris’ late, clinching TD.

12-XXXII, Denver 31 - Green Bay 24 (at San Diego)...Breaking a 13-year run of NFC Super Bowl dominance, the underdog Broncos finally prevailed after four SB failures in an exciting game that might be best remembered for QB John Elway’s “helicopter” scramble that secured a key 1st down on a 3rd Q Denver TD drive. Yet it was RB Terrell Davis who ended up the game’s MVP with 157 yards rushing and 3 TDs, the last a game-winning 1-yard blast with only 1:45 to play.

11-X, Pittsburgh 21 - Dallas 17 (at Miami)...Though not regarded as highly as their Titanic battle three years hence, the “bicentennial” Pittsburgh-Dallas clash was a memorable one nonetheless if for no other reason than confirming Steeler WR Lynn Swann’s brilliance with a couple of unforgettable grabs (including a late 64-yard TD catch) en route to a then-SB record 161 receiving yards. No matter Swann’s heroics, this one turned out a bit closer than Pittsburgh fans would have liked due to Roger Staubach’s 34-yard TD pass to Percy Howard (Howard’s only career catch!) with 1:48 to play. After getting the ball back in the last minute, Dallas moved close enough for Staubach to bomb towards the endzone from inside the Steeler 40 in the final seconds, before DB Glen Edwards’ pick finally sealed the game on the last play.

10-XXIII, San Francisco 20 - Cincinnati 16 (at Miami)...Lots of drama, as despite being outgained by a near 2-to-1 margin, Cincy hung tough thanks to Stanford Jennings’ 93-yard kickoff return TD late in the 3rd Q and a couple of missed FGs by 49er PK Mike Cofer, and even held a late 16-13 lead thanks to a Jim Breech FG with only 3:20 to play. But the incomparable Joe Montana cemented his place in Canton by authoring perhaps the best winning drive in Super Bowl history, taking the 49ers 92 yards to the title, culminating with a 10-yard TD toss to John Taylor with just :34 to play.

9-XLVI-NY Giants 21 - New England 17 (at Indianapolis)...Eerily similar to their meeting four years earlier at Glendale, this one featured another grandstand finish that was also decided in the last minute by another long Giants TD drive led by Eli Manning, featuring another deep-ball circus catch by one of his wideouts (this time Mario Manningham, last time David Tyree). Tom Brady was bombing into the endzone on the final play, but the Patriots’ short-passing game and lack of big plays muffled the entertainment impact throughout.

8-XIII, Pittsburgh 35 - Dallas 31 (at Miami)...Long considered the standard by which great Super Bowls should be measured, this one featured great teams, great players, and great plays, though the most-enduring memory of XIII might be veteran Cowboys TE Jackie Smith dropping a sure TD pass that would have leveled the score in the 3rd Q. It was also an unofficial title bout for “team of the decade,” as each had won two Super Bowls in the ’70s prior to kickoff. All it lacked was a real down-to-the-wire finish, as a belated Dallas rally in the final few minutes narrowed a 35-17 Steeler lead to the 35-31 final margin, though the last TD, scored with 22 seconds to play, caused apoplexy for many wagerers and Vegas sports books, with the pointspread having bounced between 3½ - 4½ for much of the previous two weeks!

7-XLIV, New Orleans 31 - Indianapolis 17 (at Miami)...More compelling than the final scoreline suggests, as the underdog Saints were still trailing deep into the 4th Q and didn’t put the game away until Tracy Porter’s 74-yard interception return for a TD with 3 minutes to go. Although the game lacked some anticipated fireworks, it had sustained drama, with Porter’s interception and a nervy onside kick called by Saints HC Sean Payton to begin the second half ranking as highlights alongside QB Drew Brees’ near-flawless performance.

6-XXXVI, New England 20 - St. Louis 17 (at New Orleans)...Any Super Bowl decided on the final play (in this case Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard FG at the gun) deserves a high ranking. Though it took a while for this one to warm up after the underdog Patriots kept the high-powered Rams at bay until the 4th Q, when Kurt Warner rallied St. Louis from 14 points down to a 17-17 tie. Rather, however, than play for overtime (as TV analyst John Madden infamously suggested), New England went for the win, and Tom Brady led a dramatic drive that resulted in Vinatieri’s game-winning FG.

5-XXXIV, St. Louis 23 - Tennessee 16 (at Atlanta)...Last plays don’t get much more dramatic than what we saw in XXXIV! And Ram DB Mike Jones hauling down Titan WR Kevin Dyson just short of the goal qualifies as at least the most-electrifying last-play in SB history. Much of this game didn’t suggest such a dramatic finish, however, as the Rams moved methodically to a 16-0 lead late in the 3rd Q before the Titans started to stir. But this game came alive in the 4th Q, as Tennessee rallied to tie before Kurt Warner’s 73-yard TD bomb to Isaac Bruce with just 1:52 to play proved to be the winning points and a prelude to some last-second thrills.

4-XLII, N.Y. Giants 17 - New England 14 (at Glendale, AZ)...A taut affair, with the 12-point underdog Giants flustering the undefeated Patriots with their defense throughout the first three quarters. Then, not unlike a 10,000-meter race at the Olympics, both broke into a sprint for the finish line, with three lead changes in the final quarter. In the end, however, it was the surprising Giants on top, with Eli Manning answering Tom Brady’s late TD pass with one of his own to Plaxico Burress to win it with 35 seconds to play. A circus catch by WR David Tyree on New York’s final drive (after a Houdini-like escape in the pocket by Eli) rates alongside Lynn Swann’s acrobatics a generation earlier among the best catches in Super Bowl annals.

3-XLVII, Baltimore 34 - San Francisco 31 (at New Orleans)...A little bit of everything in XLVII, including lots of intriguing storylines (HCs Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh, Ray Lewis’ pending retirement, QB Colin Kaepernick’s dramatic emergence), a record kick-return TD with Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones going 108 yards, an unprecedented (for a “Supe”) 34-minute power blackout in the Superdome, a wild rally by San Francisco after falling behind 28-6, and finally a heroic goal-line stand by the Raven defense in the last two minutes. That final series of 49er plays inside the Baltimore 5-yard line was a microcosm of a game in which a handful of what at the time seemed minor, but eventually proved to be crucial, San Francisco mistakes would cost the 49ers the game. And deny Kaepernick an MVP that instead went to a deserving Raven QB Joe Flacco, who completed a near-flawless postseason (when he didn’t throw a pick) with a 3-TD-pass performance.

2-XLIII, Pittsburgh 27 - Arizona 23 (at Tampa)...Although one of the chippiest SBs, big plays and a wild fourth quarter made XLIII one to remember. The Steelers appeared on the verge of a KO several times, first after dominating early action, then after LB James Harrison’s 100-yard TD interception on the last play of the first half staked Pittsburgh to a 17-7 lead at the break. The Cards’ defense grimly kept the Steelers within earshot until the Kurt Warner-led offense finally awakened in the 4th Q, and for a moment it appeared as if Larry Fitzgerald’s 64-yard TD catch with 2:37 to play would give the Big Red their first title in 61 years. But Ben Roethlisberger, who had been mostly muffled since the 1st Q, calmly drove Pittsburgh downfield for the winning TD pass in heavy traffic to Santonio Holmes with just 35 seconds to play.

1-XXXVIII, New England 32 - Carolina 29 (at Houston)...A rare Super Bowl slugfest with a dramatic finish. Though it took a while for this one to warm up (no scoring until late in 1st half), it turned into a real corker, especially a wild 4th Q (perhaps the best 15 minutes in SB history) that featured three lead changes and a total of 37 points. Carolina, which had rallied to take a 22-21 lead on an 85-yard TD pass from Jake Delhomme to Muhsin Muhammad with 6:53 to play, fell behind 29-22 on a Tom Brady-Mike Vrabel TD pass and Kevin Faulk 2-point PAT, only to level matters on a Delhomme-Ricky Proehl scoring pass with 1:08 to play. Brady then led a textbook game-winning drive, ending in Adam Vinatieri’s 41-yard FG at the final gun. Both defenses were spent by the end of the game, when the last team with the ball looked like it was going to win. And XXXVIII deserves to be remembered for the great game it was, rather than Janet Jackson’s malfunctioning wardrobe at halftime!

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