Not all Super Bowl losses feel the same.
Sure, they’re all horrible to deal with. The players and coaches start in July at training camp and work until February for a goal, and come up one step short. The fanbase wonders if they’ll ever get a chance to make it back. But some losses are more painful than others, to the point that they stick to a franchise forever.
I’m here to find the worst of the worst.
As I type that, I know there are fans in the great cities of Buffalo and Atlanta who immediately thought “I already know what the worst was!” and instantly scrolled down to the rankings.
But for those of you still with me here, let’s introduce the scoring system for how I’m judging this. This system was developed through extensive trial and error with David Howell as we tried to apply mathematical reasoning to emotional moments. After a few hours in the lab, we came up with a system or grading the pain of a loss that breaks down into three sections.
– Was the team expected to win?
One of the ways a game can be painful is if it’s an upset. If a team went into the Super Bowl thinking it had a great chance to win, and then lost a game where the other team probably had less talent.
I will take the final point spread of the game at kickoff for the first number. This will take on a x2 multiplier if it goes past a touchdown, and x3 if it’s past 14 points. The bigger the favorite, the more painful the loss. Then I will multiply that number by the regular-season win differential, and that will determine the score for this category, unless the teams finished with the same regular-season win total or the team favored in the Super Bowl actually had fewer wins, in which case the number from the point spread will stand alone.
For example, if a team was favored by eight points, that score becomes 16. Then if the team won two more games than their Super Bowl opponent, the score becomes 32. This can also go into negatives if a team was a heavy underdog in the game, which is the idea. If the other team is way better, there wasn’t as much of a chance to win, and the loss is a little bit less painful.
The only exceptions come with the first four Super Bowls, where the NFL and AFL were separate leagues that sent their champions to face each other in the Super Bowl. It’s unfair to use a regular-season win differential multiplier for two teams who were not even in the same league, so this part of the equation will kick in with Super Bowl V.
Betting line history is courtesy of Vegas Insider’s Super Bowl history.
– How long has it been since the team won?
If you won the Super Bowl last year, it’s infinitely easier to handle the loss than it is if you haven’t won one in 30 years. The idea here is to add points to teams with fan bases that have suffered a long time with a factor that steadily increases the further it goes.
If a team’s drought is under 20 years, the score will just be a flat 0. Starting at 20 years without a championship is one point, then it will add 0.5 points for every year without a title up until it reaches 40 years, where it will add a full point for every year. And in the one instance on this list where a team had a 60+ year championship drought, that will be two points for every year past 60.
For example, if a team’s championship drought is 35 years when you lose the Super Bowl, that’s 8.5 points.
Droughts will be taken from the year of the season, not the game played. So a team who was founded in 1966 would get 50 points for playing in the Super Bowl of the 2016 season, not 51 because the game was played in February of the following year.
And for these purposes, championships before the Super Bowl era will count for both the NFL and the AFL.
– What happened in the game itself?
The nature of the game itself is ultimately what makes a loss painful, so this is the most valuable category and also the most complicated. Bear with me for a minute.
The first factor is a blown lead. I will take whatever a team’s largest lead was at any point in the game, and find the last clean minute when they had that lead. For example, if their largest lead was 10 points, and then it was cut to seven with 8:42 to go in the game, the minute taken will be 9:00 left in the fourth. Minutes will be given a number 1-60, based on how many have elapsed, so in this case the number would be 51.
That minute number will be divided by 10, and then squared. That total will be multiplied by the margin of the lead. So 51/10 is 5.1, which squared is 26.01; multiply that by 10, you get 260.1. You can see how this could get out of hand.
Then if you had the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie the game or take the lead, further bonuses will be added for whichever of the following came at the latest point:
Had the ball down one possession or tied in the 4th quarter: 10 points
Had the ball down one possession or tied with under 10 minutes to go: 25 points
Had the ball down one possession or tied with under five minutes to go: 50 points
Had the ball down one possession or tied after the two-minute warning: 100 points
Then within those drives, even more bonuses can be added based on how close the team was to scoring:
Had the ball past midfield in that drive: one point for each yard past midfield.
Double the above if a field goal would tie the game or give the team the lead
Missed a field goal: One extra point for each yard inside 60, an extra two points for each yard inside 50, double if the kick was to win.
And last but not least, for the two Super Bowls where the losing team scored on its last possession and then lost without receiving the ball again, they will both be given 100 points.
It’s a lot, but you’ll get the idea as we go along, starting right now with #53 and working all the way up to the most painful Super Bowl loss of all-time.
53. Super Bowl XXIX — San Diego (-104.5 points)
It feels wrong to say a team went into a Super Bowl with no chance to win, but it’s hard to feel like the Chargers ever had a shot in this one. They were 18.5-point underdogs against Steve Young and the 49ers, the largest spread in Super Bowl history. Young hit Jerry Rice for a score just 1:24 in, and San Francisco never looked back en route to a 49-26 victory.
52. Super Bowl XX — New England (-75.75 points)
The ‘85 Bears finished 15-1 and might be the greatest team in NFL history. The ‘85 Patriots finished third in their own division before sneaking into the Super Bowl as a wild card. New England never had a chance here. They got a few pain points for the brief 3-0 lead they held, but Chicago ripped off 44 unanswered to end any chance of an upset.
51. Super Bowl XXIV — Denver (-66.5 points)
49ers 55, Broncos 10. Another team that never had a prayer of stopping the San Francisco machine.
50. Super Bowl XXXI — New England (-36 points)
It’s weird to think of the Patriots as underdogs, but that’s exactly what they were before the 2000s. The Packers were favored by 14 points and won 35-21. New England cut the deficit to six late in the third quarter and had a chance to make it a game, but they never climbed the hill. Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return restored the two-score advantage for the Packers, who brought the Lombardi Trophy home for the first time since the days when Vince himself was patrolling the sidelines.
49. Super Bowl XXI — Denver (-31.13 points)
John Elway and the Broncos were squarely in this game for a while, even holding the lead at halftime. But a second half avalanche from Phil Simms and the Giants’ offense saw New York score 30 points in just over 20 minutes to turn the game into a blowout.
48. Super Bowl I — Kansas City (-14 points)
As I alluded to earlier, the pre-merger Super Bowls were heavily lopsided on paper. Lombardi and the Packers were favored by 14 and easily covered in a 35-10 rout over Hank Stram’s AFL champions from Kansas City. The cost of a 30-second commercial on this day was a mere $42,000, and the game itself wasn’t even a sellout. We’ve come a long way in 53 years.
47. Super Bowl II — Oakland (-13.5 points)
Wash, rinse, repeat. One year later the NFL champions from Green Bay showed up, dominated an overmatched AFL team from wire-to-wire, and returned to Wisconsin with another championship in tow. This game was almost identical to the one played a year prior, and came out almost identical in the scoring.
46. Super Bowl XI — Minnesota (-8 points)
The most recent of Minnesota’s four Super Bowl losses was the least painful one, at least according to my metrics. The Vikings were not expected to beat an Oakland team that finished the season 13-1, and it unfolded that way as the Raiders raced out to a 19-0 lead and coasted to their first title by a score of 32-14.
45. Super Bowl VIII — Minnesota (-6.5 points)
And here we have the second time the Vikings came up short in the Super Bowl. The Vikings actually held the Dolphins to just 259 yards of total offense, but Fran Tarkenton and the offense never got things going as Miami won 24-7 to win a second consecutive title.
T-43. Super Bowl VI — Miami (-6 points)
Before the Dolphins established a mini-dynasty under Don Shula, they lost a Super Bowl to Tom Landry and the Cowboys. Miami finished the game with just 185 yards of offense, and a young Mike Ditka caught the final touchdown for Dallas to put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter.
T-43. Super Bowl XII — Denver (-6 points)
I promise you I did not design a system with the intention of minimizing the pain of Denver Broncos fans, even if it looks like it with three appearances outside the top 40. I promise, we’ll move on to some happier memories soon. But this was another instance where the Broncos were just overmatched. They were six-point underdogs and never had a lead at any point in the contest as the Cowboys defeated them 27-10 in the Superdome.
42. Super Bowl XXXIII — Atlanta (-4.37 points)
See Denver fans? I told you it would get better for you soon! The Falcons had a 3-0 lead early, but after that it was all about Elway and an amazing Denver team completing another Lombardi-winning season. In short, this Super Bowl was infinitely less painful for the Falcons than the other one they made it to. But we’ll get to that.
41. Super Bowl XIV — LA Rams (-3.44 points)
This was actually a pretty painful loss for the Rams, but they were such heavy underdogs going into the game that the final point total slid just into the negatives. They were 10.5-point underdogs against the Steelers, which with the multiplier is counted as 21 points. Multiplied by three for the regular season win gap, you get -63 points, and that just outweighed the 59.56 points from the championship drought and the game.
But the Rams had the lead in the fourth quarter of this game, and even had the ball in Pittsburgh territory with 5:53 remaining and a chance to regain the lead. But Jack Lambert intercepted a Vince Ferragamo pass to set up the game-sealing touchdown drive for the Steelers, punctuated by Franco Harris’ 1-yard run with 1:52 to go.
T-38. Super Bowl XXXV — NY Giants (-3 points)
The Ravens only surrendered 16 total points in three playoff games to reach this Super Bowl, and the Giants had about as much success as those teams before them. Baltimore blasted New York 34-7, giving the franchise a championship just five seasons after moving from Cleveland.
T-38. Super Bowl IX — Minnesota (-3 points)
Speaking of great defenses, here’s the Steel Curtain. The Vikings were within three in the fourth quarter, but never got the ball back with a chance to win the game as the Steelers went on an 11-play drive that covered 66 yards and ate 6:47 off the clock, culminating in a Terry Bradshaw touchdown pass to Larry Brown that put Pittsburgh up by the eventual final score of 16-6.
T-38. Super Bowl XXVI — Buffalo (-3 points)
The Bills fell behind 24-0 in the second of their four consecutive Super Bowl appearances and never got back in the game as Joe Gibbs won his third and final championship with Washington.
37. Super Bowl XVI — Cincinnati (-1 points)
I have to admit, I feel really bad about this one. These Bengals really found a way to completely beat the scoring system. David and I came up with three ways to define a painful loss; blowing a lead, having a chance to win it late, and scoring on the last possession only to lose on a last-second score. Despite losing their first ever Super Bowl by just five points, the Bengals did none of the three.
Cincinnati fans, this is not a comment on your pain, but rather a comment on your team’s almost uncanny ability to lose a painful 26-21 game without actually fitting any of the categories. So congratulations on the most unique Super Bowl loss on this list, I guess.
36. Super Bowl XLVIII — Denver (2.5 points)
Into the positives we go, and it’s fitting that we start ramping up of this list with a game that was doomed right from the start. The defining image of this Super Bowl came on the opening snap, as the ball sailed over Peyton Manning’s head for a Seattle safety. That set the tone for a 43-8 Seahawks victory that only registered points in the system because the Broncos were favored by 2.5 going in.
35. Super Bowl XXVII — Buffalo (3.33 points)
This was the only time through this entire process where I considered making up a category for points on the fly. I opted against it for the integrity of the scores, but the Buffalo Bills turned the football over nine times in this game. Yes, that’s nine turnovers. In the Super Bowl. Four interceptions and five fumbles. And they had three other fumbles they fell back on top of. It could’ve been 12!
They only get 3.33 pain points for the brief 7-0 lead they held, but nine turnovers is worthy of a segment of its own. Congratulations, Buffalo. You made me question my entire scoring system.
34. Super Bowl XV — Philadelphia (4 points)
Compared to the last game on this list it doesn’t look so bad, but the Eagles had four backbreaking turnovers in their first trip to the Super Bowl. The takeaways helped the Raiders pull off the 27-10 upset in the Superdome.
33. Super Bowl XXXVII — Oakland (5.47 points)
This wasn’t planned, but we have definitely reached the turnover portion of our program. This was the Super Bowl of the pick six, with Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon throwing three of them in the second half. The Buccaneers forced two more turnovers to make it a total of five on the way to a 48-21 domination in the Gruden Bowl.
32. Super Bowl XVIII — Washington (6 points)
Washington was favored by a field goal and had two more regular season wins, so there’s six points. Outside of that? Nothing. This was total domination by the Los Angeles Raiders behind 191 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Marcus Allen.
31. Super Bowl XIX — Miami (6.22 points)
This was supposed to be an instant classic with Montana and the 15-1 49ers matching up against Dan Marino and the 14-2 Dolphins. But the drama never materialized, and it was Montana’s night with a 38-16 victory. The only points for the Dolphins came from the brief lead they held early in the second quarter.
30. Super Bowl XXX — Pittsburgh (23 points)
In honor of Jameis Winston, we have a 30 for 30 here as #30 on the list is also the 30th Super Bowl. The Steelers never had a lead, but they had the ball trailing 20-17 with 4:15 remaining. But Neil O’Donnell threw a killer interception to Larry Brown, and the Cowboys turned that into another touchdown to put the contest out of reach.
This could’ve been higher on the list with the 50 pain points from the late possession, but the -27 points from the Cowboys being favored by 13.5 sent it down a few spots. The Steelers weren’t expected to keep it close, but they were right there in the fourth quarter.
29. Super Bowl XIII — Dallas (25.68 points)
Same teams, similar game, different result. The Steelers were expected to beat the Cowboys, but Dallas managed to keep the game very close before succumbing to a 35-31 defeat. They had a lead in the second quarter and a possession with a chance to take the lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Steelers survived in a game that featured a combined 25 future Hall of Famers.
28. Super Bowl IV — Minnesota (25.68 points)
The last Super Bowl before the merger was also the last one to feature the Chiefs, at least until Andy Reid’s team takes the field on Sunday. Kansas City pulled off a huge upset as a 13-point underdog, to date their only Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. Will that change soon?
27. Super Bowl XXII — Denver (30 points)
This one kind of sticks out like a sore thumb. The Broncos lost 42-10, but still rack up the pain points because they actually had a double-digit lead early in the game. This looked like the perfect recipe to finally win the big one with a 10-0 lead early, but a 42-point Washington onslaught crushed that dream.
This was one of only three Super Bowls where the losing team registered positive points in all three categories, as the Broncos had three points for the spread factor, 4.5 for the drought, and 22.5 for the game itself.
26. Super Bowl XLI — Chicago (30.42 points)
Over the hump now, and this game started with a bang on Devin Hester’s kickoff return. The Bears had a 14-6 lead after one quarter, but Peyton Manning and the Colts asserted their will as the game went on. Indianapolis clinched it with a 56-yard pick six by Kelvin Hayden in the fourth quarter, and the possession the Bears had with a chance to take the lead was enough to put them just a shade above the Broncos on the list.
25. Super Bowl III — Baltimore Colts (54 points)
“I guarantee it.” The iconic line from Joe Namath said before leading his New York Jets into battle as 18-point underdogs against the Colts in the third edition of the Super Bowl.
It was probably the first moment to truly enter Super Bowl lore, a stunning upset with a legendary quote. But the game itself lacked painful moments for the Colts. They get 54 points for being favored by 18, but regular season win totals are discounted pre-merger or this would have been higher. Baltimore never had a lead in the game and didn’t have a possession in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie or take the lead.
Despite being the biggest upset in Super Bowl history, it “only” registers 54 pain points.
24. Super Bowl XXVIII — Buffalo (57 points)
The final of the four falls of Buffalo was a game the Bills really had a chance in. They led by a touchdown at halftime and even after the Cowboys took the lead, they had the ball in the fourth quarter with a shot to tie it. But as always for the Bills, something went wrong. The Cowboys closed the game with 10 more points to win it 30-13, and Buffalo hasn’t been back to the Super Bowl since.
23. Super Bowl XL — Seattle (58.02 points)
After 29 years, the Seahawks finally reached the Super Bowl. After a rough start to the game, they clawed back to a four-point deficit with the ball. After the possession started at their own 2, it reached the Steelers 27. It was all set up for a dramatic comeback victory.
And then it fell apart. Ike Taylor picked off Matt Hassleback, and four plays Antwan Randle El completed a touchdown pass to Hines Ward to make it 21-10 Steelers. Just like that, the dream was dead.
The final tally was -4 points for the spread, 5.5 points for the drought, and 56.52 points for the game itself.
22. Super Bowl 50 — Carolina (67.5 points)
As bad as the Panthers were for a lot of this game, it was there for the taking. They got the ball back to Cam Newton down 16-10 with 4:51 remaining and a chance to finish the game in legendary fashion.
Cue Von Miller forcing a fumble on Newton, and cue 50 pain points for the Panthers not scoring on this opportunity to take the lead with under five minutes remaining. Add it to the one point for the 20-year drought and the 16.5 points for the spread factor of 5.5 points and the three-win gap in the regular season, and you have 67.5 on the board.
21. Super Bowl LIII — LA Rams (70.5 points)
Get used to seeing the Patriots inflict pain, because there’s a lot more where this came from. The key play came with 4:24 and the Rams driving for the tying touchdown. Stephon Gilmore intercepted Jared Goff with Los Angeles just 27 yards away from the score, and in doing so secured New England’s sixth Super Bowl victory.
The Rams get 73 game points, 50 for the possession in the final five minutes and 23 for each yard past midfield. They were 2.5-point underdogs, bringing the tally to 70.5.
20. Super Bowl XXXVIII — Carolina (79 points)
Another one for the Patriots here. The Panthers tied the game at 29 apiece with 1:13 to go, but Tom Brady drove New England down the field. A 17-yard completion to Deion Branch set Adam Vinatieri up for the game-winning field goal as time expired.
The -21 points for the spread factor was the only thing that kept this one in double digits with the 100 points Carolina picked up for allowing the winning score as time expired.
19. Super Bowl XLV — Pittsburgh (97 points)
The Steelers nearly pulled off what would’ve been the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history at the time. They fell behind 21-3, but stormed back to get the ball down 31-25 in the final two minutes. Just two years earlier they won the Lombardi in similar fashion, but the Packers found one final stop to stave off the comeback and win it.
That last possession netted the Steelers 100 points, with three subtracted for the point spread.
18. Super Bowl VII — Washington (103 points)
Into triple digits we go! The Dolphins completed their perfect season, but it wasn’t without some nerves. They had their 14-0 lead cut in half with 2:07 remaining thanks to probably the most bizarre touchdown in Super Bowl history, and even gave the ball back to Washington with a chance to tie it late.
Four plays and -13 yards later, the Dolphins secured the victory and racked up all but three of the points on the board for Washington.
17. Super Bowl X — Dallas (103.67 points)
Despite being a full touchdown underdog and winning two fewer games in the season, Dallas had a chance here. The Cowboys had the ball down 21-17 in Steelers territory on the final play. They were 38 yards away from the comeback when Roger Stauabach’s Hail Mary was intercepted in the end zone, as Glen Edwards saved the day for Pittsburgh.
16. Super Bowl XLIV — Indianapolis (114 points)
Earlier in the list, the Colts won a Super Bowl in Miami thanks to a fourth-quarter pick six. This time they lost one the same way. Tracy Porter intercepted Peyton Manning and took it all the way back to the end zone with 3:12 remaining. The late interception combined with the 10-0 lead the Colts blew 20 minutes into the game gave them 109 pain points for the game, and five more were added for the spread.
15. Super Bowl XVII — Miami (118.72 points)
The Dolphins saw their largest lead of seven get dropped to four six minutes into the third quarter, so 3.6 * 3.6 * 7 = 90.72 pain points. They had a possession down by a field goal with under 10 minutes to go, putting another 25 on their tally. And they were favored by a field goal, leaving them with 118.72 pain points for what was ultimately a 27-17 loss. Meanwhile, the Bengals lost by half as many points the year before and had -1 points.
Sometimes the game itself is way more revealing than the final score.
14. Super Bowl LII — New England (136.49 points)
Nobody’s telling you to feel bad for the Patriots, but this loss had a lot of elements. They were favored by four, had a lead late in the fourth quarter, and even had a Hail Mary attempt to tie the game as time expired. This one was bad, but somehow not even the worst loss the Patriots have suffered in a Brady-era Super Bowl.
13. Super Bowl XXXIV — Tennessee (143 points)
One yard short. It’s how this Super Bowl will always be remembered. In the interest of everything being totally even I actually only counted 140 points for the Titans on the last drive because the final snap came from the Rams 10, but the image of Mike Jones tackling Kevin Dyson one yard short is what sticks out.
The Titans had 10 points to go with those 140 because of their championship drought dating back to the days of the Houston Oilers, but seven of them were taken off the board for the spread.
12. Super Bowl XXXII — Green Bay (146.67 points)
Finally, Elway got his ring. And it came under very surprising circumstances, as his Broncos were 11-point underdogs. Elway and Favre spent the day dueling, but it was Elway who struck the final blow as the Broncos took a 31-24 lead with 1:45 remaining. The last-ditch effort from the Packers made it to the Denver 31. But a fourth-and-6 stop clinched the game, and brought Elway to the summit of football after a career full of near misses.
That final drive and the 19 yards past midfield gave the Packers 119 points, with the blown lead from the first quarter and the spread accounting for the other 27.67.
11. Super Bowl XLVII — San Francisco (149.5 points)
Five yards away from a comeback for the ages. The 49ers trailed the Ravens by 22 points, but after a furious rally and a little help from the questionable payment status of the electric bills in the Superdome, the 49ers had the ball second-and-goal at the 5, trailing 34-29. Three straight incompletions intended for Michael Crabtree ended the game.
Why didn’t they run Gore? Or Kaepernick? It’s a question that will be pondered for a while in San Francisco, but the Niners have a chance to put a lot of that to bed this Sunday in Miami.
10. Super Bowl XXXIX — Philadelphia (166.87 points)
The list is about to really ramp up now. The Eagles were underdogs in this game, but outside of that, every other box is checked. They had a 45-year championship drought. They held a lead until just before halftime. And they had the ball in the last minute trailing by just three points. All of it led to an excruciating 24-21 loss.
This one was made all the more brutal by the missed opportunities. Donovan McNabb threw three interceptions, including one in the red zone. The questions of wondering what could’ve been lingered in Philadelphia for 13 long years until the Eagles got their revenge over the Patriots.
9. Super Bowl XXXVI — St. Louis (197.23 points)
Nobody thought much of the Patriots’ chances going against the powerful Rams. Why the heck would you? The Rams were gunning for a second title in three years, and had an absolutely ruthless offense. The Patriots at this point were still the franchise incapable of winning the big game, and that showed up as the oddsmakers installed the Rams as 14-point favorites. They were 14-2 during the regular season, compared to the 11-5 record the Patriots sported.
14 points doubled is 28; * 3? That’s 84 points for the Rams right out of the gate.
The Rams briefly held the lead in the first quarter, but the Patriots stunned everybody by taking a 17-3 lead to the fourth quarter. Kurt Warner and the Rams tied it with 90 seconds remaining, giving Brady the last word. He took advantage, setting up Vinatieri for the game-winning kick.
And for our purposes, he added another 100 points to the Rams’ misery.
8. Super Bowl XLIII — Arizona (222.43 points)
As high as this score is, I was actually amazed at how low it ended up when I graded it out. On strictly the eye test, this game easily belongs in the top five. The score was hurt by the fact that the Cardinals had -27 points to start with from the spread, but that was made up for and then some by the whopping 33 points awarded for the franchise’s 61-year championship drought.
Six decades of waiting was just over two minutes from ending when Larry Fitzgerald put the Cardinals on top 23-20 with a 64-yard touchdown reception.
But the Steelers ripped out Arizona’s hearts when Santonio Holmes caught his iconic touchdown with 35 ticks on the clock. The Cardinals had the lead 59 minutes in. They had one more chance to score, and even made it to Steelers’ territory before a turnover killed the drive.
This was just excruciating. As bad of a loss as football can give you. It’s been more than a decade, and the Cardinals as a franchise still haven’t fully recovered. Their fanbase hasn’t either.
And somehow, there were seven Super Bowl losses that graded out as even more painful.
7. Super Bowl XLVI — New England (225.52 points)
Another one where the losing team had the lead after 59 minutes of football. The Patriots blew an eight-point lead in the third quarter, and the final blow came when Ahmad Bradshaw awkwardly and unintentionally crossed the goal line with 57 seconds to go.
The blown lead, coupled with the 100 points for the possession that followed it and the 10 from the spread factor, vaulted this score just above the Cardinals, although I’m sure a few in the desert might disagree with the scoring system in place.
6. Super Bowl XXIII — Cincinnati (235.75 points)
If the first time the Bengals lost to the 49ers in the Super Bowl didn’t score high, this one certainly did. It had very similar vibes to that of the Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl, with the Bengals needing one final stop against a future Hall of Fame quarterback to win their first ever Super Bowl.
They didn’t get it. Montana found John Taylor for a touchdown with 34 seconds to go to put the 49ers up by four. The dream was dead, and much like the Cardinals, the Bengals took a long time to move on from this one. They only made the playoffs once in the next 16 years, and have only won one playoff game in more than three decades since this loss.
From a scoring perspective, it grades a touch higher than that of the Cardinals because they led by a touchdown at one point in the game, while Arizona never led by more than three.
5. Super Bowl XXV — Buffalo (260.19 points)
I know, I couldn’t believe it either. I really thought this one would score first or second, but the system surprised me. Let’s break it down.
The Bills were favored by a touchdown, and the regular season win total was the same. Seven points.
The Bills had a 25-year championship drought, good for 3.5 points on the drought scale. The total stands at 10.5.
Their largest lead of the game was nine points, and the last clean minute with it was the final one of the first half, so 29 had elapsed. 2.9 * 2.9 * 9 = 75.69. This brings the total to 86.19.
They had a possession inside the two-minute warning down by one, tacking on 100. That’s 186.19. The possession made it 21 yards past midfield, and that number is doubled because a field goal would win it, so there’s 42 points. The number stands at 228.19.
The attempted field goal was from 47 yards. It’s one point for every yard under 60, and then two points for every yard after that. There’s 16 points. The field goal was to win the game, not tie it, so double it. There’s 32, and that’s how you get 260.19.
And that’s how you get a fanbase in Buffalo that is now scarred for life by the sight of a field goal sailing wide right.
4. Super Bowl V — Dallas (290.28 points)
You’ve probably never heard of what happened in this Super Bowl, so it’s a good one to dig into. First of all, this was long before the Cowboys were a behemoth. Before fans in Arizona and Buffalo yell about being ranked below a team that has won five Super Bowls, they hadn’t won any at this point.
The Cowboys had a 13-6 lead after 52 minutes of play before the Baltimore Colts tied it up with 7:52 to go. Right there, the blown touchdown lead with eight minutes left is 189.28 points.
They were driving for a winning score in the last two minutes, getting as far as the Baltimore 48. That’s 104 points, getting us to 293.28. So where did it all go wrong?
An interception with 59 seconds to go. Quarterback Craig Morton was picked off by Mike Curtis, who returned it down to the Dallas 28. Two plays later, Jim O’Brien hit the game-winning field goal.
By the way, the intended receiver on the game-changing interception? Dan Reeves, who would later go on to become one of three coaches to lose four Super Bowls.
Football. It’ll kill ya.
3. Super Bowl XLII — New England (383.24 points)
Another one that had it all (except for a drought). The Patriots were favored by 12 and won six more games than the Giants, putting the spread factor at a whopping 144.
Then there’s the blown lead of 14-10 after 59 minutes for another 139.24 points, and of course the final possession bonus of 100.
Again, the Patriots already had three titles within the decade at this point and it was in the midst of the SpyGate investigation, so nobody was feeling sorry for them. But taking those emotions out of it, this was one of the toughest Super Bowl losses ever, and on top of everything else, it denied a 19-0 season.
2. Super Bowl XLIX — Seattle (419.4 points)
This was the only Super Bowl ever with a closing spread of a pick’em, and the Seahawks won the Lombardi 12 months prior. No spread points, no drought points. 419.4 game points. How did we get here?
Blowing a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter is as good a place as any to start. Even with one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, the Legion of Boom squandered a 24-14 advantage with eight minutes to go. That right there is 270.4 points.
Then Russell Wilson got the ball back down 28-24. WIth the help of Jermaine Kearse’s acrobatics, the ball moved down to the one. The Seahawks were 36 inches away from a dynasty.
You all know what happened next.
- Super Bowl LI — Atlanta (553 points)
Yeah. You knew where all of this was leading. I knew where it was going. I was hoping it wouldn’t as a Falcons fan myself, but I ran the data and it all checked out the way I thought it would.
There is just no comparison for blowing a 28-3 lead. There is no way around it or way to sugarcoat it. I don’t need to explain to you the optics of just how stunning this was. I don’t have a system for any other leagues, but I’m sure this would grade out as the worst championship loss in the history of organized professional sports. Let’s do the math.
Spread factor of -9, but a drought factor of 21 thanks to Atlanta’s 50-year wait. A 25-point lead after 42 minutes means the equation is 4.2 * 4.2 * 25. That’s 441 points. The total is now 453 points.
And of course, even after the 25-point comeback, the Falcons had the ball in the last minute with the game knotted at 28. They punted.
And again, you all know what happened next.