The Super Bowl turns 40 this year. Actually the AFL/NFL Championship turns 40, it was not called the Super Bowl until a couple of years later. My father was saying last weekend that he's seen all of them, and it's amazing how the game (football) and the game (the Super Bowl) have changed significantly. Some changes are bad, but for the most part, the changes have been improvements. I've been watching the Super Bowl since I was 1 month old when I watched the Steelers beat the Rams in a Steelers baby onesy (my uncle from pittsburgh gave me one). The first Super Bowl I vividly remember was the Bears/Patriots, Super Bowl 20. The Bears are my dad's team and the Pats were the local team, and it was murder. I remember the Bears just being intimidating on defense, making the Pats look scared with every play. I also remember the Fridge scoring and my dad wondering why they didn't give Walter Payton the ball for a TD in the Super Bowl. This all sticks in my mind as we hit the Super Bowl 20 years after that first Super Bowl memory. Today I'll recall my 5 favorite Super Bowls and the most vivid memories I had of those games. Before I get into the list, I'll discuss my favorite of Dallas' 3 Super Bowl wins in the '90s and least favorite Super Bowl.
Favoriate Dallas Super Bowl: Super Bowl XXVII Dallas 52-Buffalo 17
I remember cheering them on as they went 1-15, and 3 years later they're going for the Super Bowl. It was just shocking, but if you witnessed them beat the 14-2 redskins the season before you knew they're time would come. Aikman played his normal stellar and smooth game, Emmitt got his yards and the defense shut down the Bills K-Gun offense. It was not in the bag, and no I am not going to write about Leon Lett's brainfart which prevented the Cowboys from scoring 59 points. My favorite memory was seeing the Bills drive down the field while it was still either team's game and go for it at the goalline. Ken Norton Jr. came out of nowhere and stuffed Thurman Thomas. It sent a message to the Bills that the defense would not give in to the vaunted Bills offense (they forced 9 turnovers).
Least Favorite Super Bowl: Super Bowl XXIV San Fran 55-Denver 10
This game was so bad that I enjoyed the Bud Bowl ads more for their football than the actual game. The last good ad wasthe first ad of the 3rd Quarter and afterthat, I stopped paying attention and played some Super Mario Bros. It was also depressing watching my cousin (Broncos Fan) have his spirit crushed again in a Super Bowl. It was not an enjoyable game to watch, even for 49ers fans. Rice and Montana were just machines then, and those back to back championsip years were an amazing display of QB/WR synergy. A guy no one ever discusses but had some great years, good playoffs, and great running style is Roger Craig. He'll never make the Hall of Fame, but he was a modern RB before the modern RB arrived. He paved the way.
5. Super Bowl XXV NY Giants 20-Buffalo 19
The hype for the K-Gun offense was on par with the current love for Manning's Colt offense. It just destroyed teams. They manhandled the Raiders in the AFC Championship game and looked unstoppable. The Giants had started the season 10-0 and were a defensive juggernaut. It was a great battle of minds as Belicheck took on Marv Levy. The Giants executed a perfect game plan on defense (to be repeated by the Pats 11 years later) and ate up the clock with OJ Anderson. They controlled the clock and held off the Bills long enough. Thurman Thomas put up one of the best performances by a losing player ever (190 yards total, big TD late). It all came down to one kick. Later, the images of the Bills' struggles would be Thomas losing his helmet, Norwood's miss, and the first blow out vs. Dallas. People forget just how good they were.
Favorite Super Bowl XXV Memory: Watching the Bills march down the field and feeling the butterflies in my stomach as Norwood lined up for a 49 yard FG. People forget how long and tough that FG attempt was, 49 yards on grass. He missed by maybe 2 yards wide right, and it was so crushing. Who knew it was only the beginning for the Bills?
4. Super Bowl XXIII San Fran 20-Cincy 16
It's hard to imagine a Cincy team in the Super Bowl, but it happened twice in the 80s. There were kick returns, hot stuff rookies, Montana to Rice, and high drama late in the game. As you watched the game, you kept waiting for the 49ers to turn the jets on and build a 30 point lead. It happened late (a Montana drive) and cemented Montana's legacy. The first few SBs I watched were blow outs or just plain boring; this one had a lot of excitement. There was something about that drive, like you just knew he would find the open man on every down. I remember that with the Bengals having returned a kickoff for a TD earlier, the whole room was on the edge of their seat because maybe the Bengals could strike again. Just a hopeless feeling for Bengals fans that you had a lead late but were going up against the best WR/QB combo ever.
Favorite Super Bowl XXIII Memory: Jerry Rice got into the endzone by just getting inside the pylon in the fourth quarter. The image of him stretching out to get into the endzone is burned in my memory and is the perfect image to associate with such an awesome game; 11 catches for 200+ yards.
3. Super Bowl XXXVI New England 20-St. Louis 17
This game unfolded almost exactly as SB XXV. Juggernaut offense versus Belicheck's schemes. You kept waiting for the Rams to figure out the Pats' D, and it took them about 3 quarters to go to Marshall Faulk. I remember my mom calling me at halftime and saying "Can you believe they're winning!?!?" No, I couldn't, and to this day (even after reading the Belicheck book) I still don't understand how they won that game with that team. This was example #1 why playing a prevent defense prevents you from winning games. I think the Pats had to go for the win in regulation because the momentum was all on the Rams' side; you could tell that they finally figured out how to score on the Pats. Brady hadn't thrown deep all year and they gave him the underneath passing lanes where he nickel & dimed them to FG range. The party at my apartment wasn't bad, too many people for too small of an apartment, but it had tons of beer. I remember when they announced Brady as the MVP (very underwhelming), my native Brookline roommate screamed in a drunken rage, "How do you not give it to Adam Vina-phucking-tieri!?!?!?" He then booted and got back together with his girlfriend. They're getting married soon.
Favorite Super Bowl XXXVI Memory: Vinatieri's kick. I remember the whole room being dead quiet, and I dialed up my grandma's number. As the kick sailed through, I congratulated her. Prior to February 2002, she was one of the 10 Patriots fans in all of New England. I repeated the same call when the Sox got the last out of the 2004 World Series.
2. Super Bowl XXXVIII New England 32-Carolina 29
The game was becoming the worst Super Bowl ever, then Delhomme flicked a switch and started to hit bombs. This game appeared wrapped up two different times by the Pats, but still the Panthers clawed back. One of the most furious second halves I remember, and one of the biggest bonehead moves ever with John Kasay kicking the ball out of bounds, giving the Pats the ball at the 40. I'll point out that I hate Brady/Montana comparisons and here's my biggest beef: Brady always lead the Pats to the 25 and let Vinatieri do the dirty work. Montana drove teams 80-90 yards for TDs. Brady going 35 yards in 1 minute is way less impressive than Montana going 90+ in 2. Plus, Montana didn't throw INTs in the endzone to let teams back into games.
Favorite Super Bowl XXXVIII Moment: My friends came over for the SB at my apartment, and we watched the game in horror. It really was the lamest SB, then my friend Alex bellowed, "Worst... Super Bowl... Ever". Everyone was feeling it, and it kickstarted something. This happened just prior to Delhomme and Brady trading TD drives. I swear to this day that the USA owes Alex an award. If they did a Sportscentury about that game they could go to him and discuss that moment of disgust and why he yelled. Vinatieri, Delhomme, Brady, John Fox…then Alex.
1. Super Bowl XXIV St. Louis 23-Titans 16
This was a great matchup when you look back on it but going into the game it looked like a Rams cakewalk. It also was one of those great gambling endings where the point spread was exactly the difference in the game. From what I recall, the Rams were favored by over 7, but the action was so heavy on the Titans that it pulled the spread down and then settled on 7. When you watched the Titans, you thought they were the young dynasty emerging in the AFC similar to thinking the Rams would run the NFC for years. They looked so good, and executed so well on both sides of the ball. The game was a perfect ugget of what those two teams did in the playoffs that season. A 'dynasty' didn't happen for either team, as neither QB could remain healthy, Eddie George broke down from 858 carries in 2 years, and Mike Martz forgot that he had Faulk as his RB.
Back to the game, the Rams cruised in the first half and had a 16-0 lead. Their problem was not finishing drives with TDs. The Titans fought hard and scored in the second half putting the Rams on the defensive. Eddie George picked up tough yards as McNair got in a groove and took command of the offense. You could feel all of the momentum shifting to the Titans with the FG that brought then even with the Rams. Like a dagger through the heart, the Rams went for it all with that bomb on their first play of a drive; Warner to Bruce 70+ yards. Everyone expected a 2 minute drill to start, but Warner reared back and dropped a bomb. I remember the room going absolutely nuts when he caught it. I think this typified the Rams/Martz offense era, they would win and die by their down the field style of play. This would later be exploited by Belicheck in SB 36. McNair then lead the Titans down the field for one last chance. As time expired, Dyson was tackled at the 2, streched out his arm, but fell one yard short. It all came down to one play on one last great drive.
Favorite Super Bowl XXIV Memory: That last play. One man going for the ultimate prize to send it into overtime as time expired and he fell one yard short. Not even in a storybook could you write it so cheesy.