Every year the Super Bowl provides one of the greatest shows on Earth, full of drama, intrigue, heartbreak, wardrobe malfunctions and crazy commercials. Legends are born, villains are made and careers are defined, while more than 100 million fans watch on enraptured. The game does not always live up to the hype, but there have been dozens of classics over the years, and here are the top five of all-time:
5. Super Bowl XXIII: San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16
With three minutes left on the clock at the 1989 Super Bowl, the Bengals found themselves leading by a field goal after Jim Breech kicked from 40 yards. They were on the brink of avenging their Super Bowl defeat at the hands of the 49ers seven years earlier and fans were daring to dream. But then up stepped Joe Montana to break Cincinnati hearts once again by executing one of the greatest late drives in Super Bowl history.
Montana, the MVP at the 1982 showpiece, pulled off an 11-play, 92-yard drive and clinched victory with a game-winning touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left. His phenomenal composure under such intense pressure earned him the nickname Joe Cool and cemented his status as an icon. Jerry Rice caught three passes in the drive and made 11 receptions overall for 215 yards, earning him the MVP award, but Montana was also sensational in gaining a Super Bowl record of 357 yards. And it could all have been so different had Tim Krumie not broken his leg.
The Bengals competed valiantly after that cruel blow, contributing to a great Super Bowl, but ultimately could not resist Montana.
4. Super Bowl XLIX: New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24
In 2015 fans were treated to the most exciting Super Bowl match up on paper of all-time – and the game delivered. The Seahawks were the defending champions after annihilating Denver the previous year, while New England had not won the Super Bowl in a decade. It pitted the two teams with the best regular season records against one another, a rarity in the salary cap era, and there was a great deal at stake for both franchises. The teams were tied 14-14 at half-time, but Seattle seized the initiative in the third quarter and went into the fourth with a 10-point lead.
However, a late rally from New England saw it take a 28-24 lead with two minutes left on the clock. The Seahawks drove forwards and got all the way to the one-yard line with 20 seconds remaining, and the Pats were staring down the barrel of a third straight Super Bowl defeat, which would surely have tarnished the legacy of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick et al. However, the Seahawks made an inexplicable call to pass rather than run the ball: Russell Wilson tried to pick out Ricardo Lockette, but undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler made a game-saving interception in the biggest match of his life. Cue utter jubilation among the Pats and absolute despair for the Seahawks. It was a great game and Tom Brady delivered an exceptional second-half performance to vanquish the league’s best defense and win the MVP award.
3. Super Bowl XXV: New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19
Whitney Houston got the 1991 Super Bowl underway with a stirring rendition of Star-Spangled Banner, and the half-time show was not even televised in favour of a report on the Gulf War. But in between all that the Giants and the Bills served up a game for the ages, defined by New York’s ball-control offense. The Giants had the ball for a record 41 minutes and 33 seconds, but it still wound up the tightest Super Bowl fans had ever seen. Matt Bahr kicked a 21-yard field goal with 7:20 remaining to give the Giants a one-point lead and from then on they defended ferociously. However, the Bills were dogged and should have won it in the dying seconds, only for Scott Norwood to miss a 47-yard field goal with 0:04 left on the clock. As it sailed far right the Giants players stormed the pitch to celebrate their second Super Bowl win in five years.
2. Super Bowl XIII: Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31
An incredible 19 Hall of Famers took part in Super Bowl XIII: nine Steelers, three Cowboys, coaches Chuck Noll and Tom Landry, Steelers owners Art and Dan Rooney, and Cowboys president Tex Schramm. The game itself did not disappoint as the lead flip-flopped between either team, individual rivalries reached boiling point and moments of individual brilliance left fans agog. “It may have taken the NFL XIII years to come up with a totally thrilling Super Bowl, but they sure made up for it yesterday,” reported the New York Daily News at the time. It set five Super Bowl records: most total points, most passing yards by one player, most touchdown passes, longest play and the first time two receivers from the same team went past 100 yards.
There was a drop in the end zone, a game changing fumble, a strip sack for a touchdown and a controversial penalty call, among other madcap highlights. Terry Bradshaw threw for 318 yards, including a magnificent 75-yarder to John Stallworth, to claim the MVP, but his opposite number, Roger Staubach, was in equally inspired form and threw two touchdown passes in the final two-and-a-half-minutes as the Cowboys mounted a late comeback. It was too little, too late, however, and the Steelers gained an unprecedented third Super Bowl title.
1. Super Bowl LI: New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28
There have been some truly amazing Super Bowls over the years, but the 2017 showpiece stands out as the greatest of all-time for a multitude of reasons. No team had ever come back from being more than 10 points down in Super Bowl history, but the Pats were losing 28-3 with a mere 17 minutes remaining. Then Brady reminded everyone why he is considered the greatest QB of all-time by flipping a switch and driving his team to the greatest comeback ever seen. He threw a record 466 yards and landed a record 43 completions, but he was not even the most efficient QB on the pitch. That honour went to Matt Ryan, who had been neck and neck with Brady as the best in the business that season and finished Super Bowl LI with a freakish quarterback rating of 144.1.
On the sidelines, Bellichick and Kyle Shanahan played out a high-stakes game of chess, trading blows and counter-blows throughout. It looked all over for the Pats on so many occasions: when Atlanta took a 21-0 half-time lead, when they went ahead by 25 points in the third quarter and when a sensational catch from Julio Jones put the Falcons in field goal range with less than five minutes to play. But Brady kept coming up with answers and in doing so he killed the bookmakers. New England went into the game as the three-point favourite, but some bookies were offering a massive 16/1 on the Pats with 18 minutes to go. In-play bettors lumped on at those odds and the books were battered.
Check the NFL Super Bowl odds and you will see that the Pats are the clear favourites to win the Super Bowl again this year. But expect the bookmakers to proceed with more caution if New England finds itself in a tight spot, as Brady has proved he can defy even the most formidable odds to lead his team to victory.