Sports Nut

One of the Worst Super Bowls Ever

The Denver Broncos win a grim, tedious, maddeningly ugly football game.

Peyton Manning

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning fumbles the ball during the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl 50 was a grim, joyless, maddeningly ugly football game. As far as I was concerned, it was over in the first quarter, after Denver put up a quick 10 points; only three teams in Super Bowl history have overcome a 10-point deficit to win the game, and it was clear early on that the Carolina Panthers weren’t going to be the fourth. In the end, Denver won by the comfortable score of 24–10.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the league MVP, played like Mr. Bean: tentative, befuddled, and constantly falling down—Newton was sacked six times. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who is basically an old bag of dust at this point, was himself sacked five times. Even when he was upright, he wasn’t making anything happen: Manning threw for a mere 141 yards on 13 completions Sunday night.

The game was sloppy and slow—neither team could convert on third down to save their lives—and, worse, it was aesthetically depressing, featuring a handful of ugly turnovers and what seemed like 300 pointless 2-yard runs from scrimmage. Even the commercials were terrible! (You know the Super Bowl was lackluster when its most memorable commercial starred an anthropomorphic intestine. By which I mean Drake.) So, yeah, Super Bowl 50 was a bad game. But it wasn’t even close to the worst Super Bowl of all time.

I spent the past two months watching every Super Bowl ever for Slate, and my primary takeaway was that most Super Bowls are terrible. There have only been a handful of Super Bowls over the years that have been exciting, close games. And it just so happens that a lot of those games have been played over the past decade. This recent stint of exciting Super Bowls has skewed the modern viewer’s perspective. Tonight was a classic Super Bowl, because it sucked, and most Super Bowls suck. 

There are two types of bad Super Bowls, basically: blowouts and grinders. Sunday’s bad Super Bowl was a grinder: a game in which neither team can establish any offensive momentum, thus keeping the score close enough to sustain at least minor viewing interest. A grinder game is far preferable to a blowout, in my opinion. A blowout requires a significant offensive imbalance, with one quarterback having a great game and the other having a terrible game. 

Neither Newton nor Manning had all-time terrible games—they minimized interceptions, after all, and they didn’t do anything spectacularly stupid. Newton did not display his MVP form Sunday night, no, but he did at least throw for 245 yards and only one interception. Peyton Manning didn’t do anything memorable, but, then, neither did he do anything memorably bad, like toss a preventable pick-six to Tracy Porter to clinch his team’s defeat, as he did as a member of the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. 

Super Bowl 50 was a really bad game, but let’s put it in perspective. In Super Bowl XII—which I’ve ranked as the worst Super Bowl of all time—Broncos quarterback Craig Morton threw four interceptions and completed exactly one pass that didn’t immediately lead to a turnover or go for negative yardage; Cowboys kicker Efren Herrera, for his part, missed three field goals in the second quarter. In Super Bowl XXXVII, Rich Gannon threw five interceptions. Super Bowl XXVII featured 11 turnovers: four interceptions and an astounding seven lost fumbles.

Sunday night was a tedious football game, yes, but when viewed against the cavalcade of suck that characterizes Super Bowl history, Super Bowl 50 doesn’t even come close to the bottom. I’ll call it the 11th-worst Super Bowl in history: slightly worse than Super Bowl XXXIII, in which the Falcons’ Chris Chandler threw three interceptions in the course of losing to John Elway’s Broncos, and not as bad as Super Bowl XXVII, in which the Cowboys beat the Bills 52–17. The game was just a really, really, really bad grinder. Come next year, we won’t even remember it.