Ranking every Super Bowl is a fool’s errand. But as any regular Slate reader knows, I’m nothing if not a fool. After having spent the last two months watching every single Super Bowl, here are my own completely unscientific, totally foolish rankings of every single game, based on my own idiosyncratic and nonsensical criteria.
1. Super Bowl XXII: Washington 42, Broncos 10. The most significant Super Bowl ever played. The most unlikely comeback from the most unlikely quarterback, Doug Williams, who led his team to score 35 points in the second quarter: a single-quarter Super Bowl scoring record that still stands! I know that nobody else would ever put this game at the top of his or her Super Bowl rankings. Well, you’re all wrong. This is the best Super Bowl ever.
2. Super Bowl XXXIV: Rams 23, Titans 16.
3. Super Bowl XIII: Steelers 35, Cowboys 31.
4. Super Bowl XXIII: 49ers 20, Bengals 16.
5. Super Bowl XLIV: Saints 31, Colts 17. I’m biased against latter-day Super Bowls, but this contest between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts was a hell of a game, much better than the final score would imply. First, coming as it did five years after New Orleans was flooded in Hurricane Katrina, the Saints’ victory actually mattered. Saints coach Sean Payton made one gutsy call after another: going for the touchdown on fourth and 1 at the goal line with less than two minutes remaining in the first half (it didn’t work); calling a completely unexpected onside kick at the beginning of the second half (it worked). Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was his usual impeccable self right up until the end of the fourth quarter, when Saints cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted him for a touchdown. And the Saints’ Lance Moore made an all-time great play to score on a late-game two-point conversion.
6. Super Bowl XXV: Giants 20, Bills 19.
7. Super Bowl XLIX: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24.
8. Super Bowl X: Steelers 21, Cowboys 17.
9: Super Bowl XXXII: Broncos 31, Packers 24. A notable game for many reasons. It was John Elway’s first Super Bowl victory after multiple attempts. It featured one of the most brutal hits I’ve ever seen, on the game’s second-to-last play, delivered by the Broncos’ Steve Atwater, leveling both Packers receiver Robert Brooks and Atwater’s teammate Randy Hilliard. (Atwater and Hilliard both had to leave the game.) And it had this delightfully bizarre fun fact about Broncos running back Terrell Davis as narrated by Paul Maguire during the fourth quarter: “First time we met him, let me tell you, folks … Dick Enberg likes to ask all of these players: ‘What is your hobby? What do you like to do?’ You know what his hobby is? You’ve never heard it before, you’re gonna hear it: He loves to sleep.” There you have it!
10: Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14.
11. Super Bowl XLIII: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23.
12. Super Bowl XXXVIII: Patriots 32, Panthers 29.
13. Super Bowl XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17.
14. Super Bowl XVI: 49ers 26, Bengals 21.
15. Super Bowl III: Jets 16, Colts 7. Jets quarterback Joe Namath famously guaranteed victory before this game was played, and then, defying all expectations, he delivered on his promise. The game itself isn’t all that great—Namath didn’t win the game as much as Colts quarterback Earl Morrall lost it—but it’s a significant moment in the history of professional football, and it’s entertaining enough to merit this ranking. Namath won Super Bowl MVP, but if you ask me, the honor should’ve gone to Jets defensive back Randy Beverly, who logged two interceptions.
16. Super Bowl XIV: Pittsburgh 31, Rams 19.
17. Super Bowl XL: Steelers 21, Seahawks 10. If only for Antwaan Randle El’s touchdown pass. Love that play.
18. Super Bowl XLV: Packers 31, Steelers 25.
19. Super Bowl V: Colts 16, Cowboys 13.
20. Super Bowl XVII: Washington 27, Dolphins 17. This game is another one that was much better than the final score would imply. Super Bowl XVII capped off a strike-shortened season, and, as a result, the players seemed much better rested than usual, and the game was much more energetic than some of its predecessors. Washington running back John Riggins, 33 years old, ran for 166 yards. It’s also notable for referee Jerry Markbreit getting confused by the weird commemorative coin they were using and botching the coin toss. “Tails is the call,” says Markbreit as the coin hits the air. The coin falls. “Heads,” he says. “No, it’s tails, it’s tails,” everyone says. Markbreit takes a closer look. “Whoop!” he says, bending down. Finally, the verdict: “Tails!” “So some confusion over what is heads and what is tails,” Dick Enberg says. This is one of the funniest moments in Super Bowl history.
21. Super Bowl XLVII: Ravens 34, 49ers 31.
22. Super Bowl XLVI: Giants 21, Patriots 17.
23. Super Bowl XXXI: Packers 35, Patriots 21
24: Super Bowl XIX: 49ers 38, Dolphins 16.
25. Super Bowl XX: Bears 46, Patriots 10. Fine, this game probably doesn’t deserve to rank this high, because it was a blowout from the beginning. But I’d rather watch a high-scoring blowout than a game that is only close because neither team can move the ball enough to score. Plus, Mike Ditka’s Bears were the most entertaining Super Bowl team in history. I promise that the fact that I’m a lifelong Bears fan has nothing to do with any of my judgments here.
26. Super Bowl XXXIX: Patriots 24, Eagles 21.
27. Super Bowl XXX: Cowboys 27, Steelers 17.
28. Super Bowl XXVI: Washington 37, Bills 24.
29. Super Bowl XXVIII: Cowboys 30, Bills 13.
30. Super Bowl I: Packers 35, Chiefs 10. A bad game, but at least it was historically significant. The score was actually close at halftime, too. Finally, there were two dudes in rocket packs who flew around the stadium. I can forgive a lot of bad football as long as the game features two dudes in honest-to-God rocket packs.
31. Super Bowl VIII: Dolphins 24, Vikings 7.
32. Super Bowl XLI: Colts 29, Bears 17. Terrible game, but at least it was played in inclement weather.
33. Super Bowl VI: Cowboys 24, Dolphins 3.
34. Super Bowl XXIX: 49ers 49, Chargers 26.
35. Super Bowl VII: Dolphins 14, Washington 7. Washington’s offense was completely anemic here; its only points came after recovering the funniest turnover in Super Bowl history: Miami kicker Garo Yepremian’s hapless and impromptu attempt to throw a pass after his field goal was blocked late in the fourth quarter.
36. Super Bowl XI: Raiders 32, Vikings 14.
37. Super Bowl XXXV: Ravens 34, Giants 7.
38. Super Bowl IV: Chiefs 23, Vikings 7.
39. Super Bowl XXXIII: Broncos 34, Falcons 19.
40. Super Bowl XXVII: Cowboys 52, Bills 17. The Cowboys would have scored 59 points if Leon Lett hadn’t prematurely celebrated his impending touchdown after recovering a Frank Reich fumble near the end of the game, thus giving Don Beebe time to catch up with him, bat the ball from his arms, and force a touchback. In my notes for this game, for some reason I wrote, “The thing here is that the Bills are a really good team, and this game was closer than it looks.” I must have been drunk.
41. Super Bowl II: Packers 33, Raiders 14.
Also in Slate:
- “I Watched All XLIX Super Bowls in XLIX Days. Here’s What I Learned.”
- “The Worst Super Bowl Ad of All Time Is Smug, Creepy, and Illogical. What Was Apple Thinking?”
- “The Best Forgotten Moments in Super Bowl History”
- “From Jet Packs to O.J. Simpson: The Five Super Bowl Moments That Most Defined Their Eras”
44. Super Bowl XVIII: Raiders 38, Washington 9.
45. Super Bowl IX: Steelers 16, Vikings 6. This game probably doesn’t deserve to rank this low, but the Vikings in the 1970s really pissed me off. Say what you will about the Bills: The Vikings are the worst franchise in Super Bowl history. Minnesota went to the Super Bowl four separate times from 1970 to 1977 and didn’t score a single first-half point in any of those games. The Vikings had a really, really good defense, and their offense just kept on letting the defense down, game after game after game.
46. Super Bowl XLVIII: Seahawks 43, Broncos 8.
47. Super Bowl XXIV: 49ers 55, Broncos 10.
48. Super Bowl XXXVII: Buccaneers 48, Raiders 21.
49. Super Bowl XII: Cowboys 27, Broncos 10. This is the worst game in Super Bowl history. Broncos quarterback Craig Morton threw four interceptions in the first half and, honestly, ought to have been intercepted at least a couple more times. He completed four passes total in his two-and-a-half quarters of work, two of which were fumbled by the receivers, and one of which went for negative yardage. So, basically, he only had one completion that went for positive yardage and didn’t lead to an immediate turnover. And it wasn’t as if the Cowboys played all that well, either: Kicker Efren Herrera missed three field goals in the second quarter! Blowouts can at least be fun to watch sometimes. This game was nothing but pain.