As originally posted here.
The Super Bowl is the biggest game of the year, but it is not necessarily always the most competitive. The best games are the best because you have scrappy teams that do not believe in rolling over for that “team of destiny” despite what any would say about the strength of a division or conference. Here are five of the arguably biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. It’s hard to rank which is no. 1 because it is important to distinguish the era which these games are played in and the meaning of the seasons behind them.
5) Super Bowl IV – Kansas City Chiefs 23, Minnesota Vikings 7
Super Bowl IV was the fourth AFL-NFL World Championship Game and the second to officially bear the name “Super Bowl.” This was the final AFL-NFL championship game before the league merged. The match pitted the underdog Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) of the AFL vs. the 12-point-favored Minnesota Vikings (12-2) of the NFL.
The Purple People Eaters lead by Alan Page, Jim Marshall and Carl Eller couldn’t get to quarterback Len Dawson, who completed 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Dawson attacked the Vikings defense with short and medium ranged passes with Otis Taylor as his primary receiver. He would net 6 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. The combination of of Mike Garrett, Frank Pitts, Wendell Hayes, and Warren McVea combined for 133 yards in the ground and a touchdown.
Five turnovers hurt the Vikings as the combination of Joe Kapp and Gary Cuozzo threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles.
4) Super Bowl XXXII – Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24
The Denver Broncos (12-4) had an uphill battle and a new look going into the game, but the NFC won the last 12 contests in the Super Bowls. The Broncos were also losers of four different Super Bowls (XII, XXI, XXII, and XXIV). Quarterback John Elway was at the helm of three of those losses. Fortunes changed when Mike Shanahan took over head coaching duties in 1995 having served a prior stint under Dan Reeves.
Facing the Broncos were the Green Bay Packers (12-4) who won the prior Super Bowl beating the Drew Bledsoe-lead New England Patriots. The Packers were led by a peaking Brett Favre and a dominant defense led by the “Minister of Defense” Reggie White, Pro Bowl safety LeRoy Butler and safety Eugene Robinson who lead the team with 74 tackles.
The game went back and forth, but the Broncos were able to keep up with their ace-in-the-hole in running back Terrell Davis, who rushed for 157 yards and 3 touchdowns. He would go on to win Super Bowl MVP honors, but “This One’s for John.”
3) Super Bowl XXXVI – New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17
Most of the emotion from this Super Bowl stemmed from the events of 9/11. In a show of solidarity, the New England Patriots (11-5) were announced as a team to face the returning “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams (13-3). The Rams were coached under Mike Martz, who replaced Dick Vermeil and picked up where they left off dominating NFL defenses as heavy favorites into Super Bowl XXXVI led by the likes of Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce and Marshall Faulk.
Opposing them was a scrappy resourceful, and opportunistic team in the Patriots. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe was replaced early in the season due to a sheared blood vessel by second-year man Tom Brady, who only threw three passes the previous year.
The game went back and forth, but it was not the Rams out to an early lead, it was the Patriots. The Rams only scoring in the first three quarters of the game was a 50-yarder set up by Jeff Wilkins. From then on, the Patriots capitalized on Ram turnovers, the first was a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown from defensive back Ty Law from Warner. Another turnover stemmed from a usual reliable Rams’ receiver in Ricky Proehl, who fumbled the ball at the Patriot 40-yard line where New England defensive back Antwan Harris recovered it. Brady would cap off the drive with a 8-yard touchdown pass to receiver David Patten for a 14-3 halftime lead.
The Patriots would add a field goal before the Rams started mounting their comeback. Warner mounted two touchdown drives. The first could have been a potential game breaker for the Patriots since Warner fumbled and defensive back Tebucky Jones recovered for a 97-yard score. It was nullified with a holding call on linebacker Willie McGinest. Instead Warner ran in for a score to make it 17-10, Patriots. The second score would be from Warner to Prohl on a 26-yard completion. The final definitive moment came when kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal on the final possession of the game after Brady successfully completed three consecutive passes to running back J.R. Redmond to move to the Patriot 41-yard line.
Brady was named Super Bowl MVP.
1) Tie Super Bowl III – New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7
The shot call heard from around the world as “Broadway’ Joe Namath declared as his Jets would beat the Colts. As 18-point favorites, the Don Shula-led Colts had reason to laugh at the notion.
The AFL Champion Jets harassed Baltimore quarterbacks Earl Moore and Johnny Unitas all day intercepted him three times and Unitas once. Cool Joe completed 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards while running back Matt Snell battered the Colts defense for 121 yards on 30 carries and a score. George Sauer, Jr. led all receivers with 8 catches for 133 yards. Colts’ running back Jerry Hill would produce the only Baltimore points with 3:19 left in the game with a 1-yard touchdown finishing the game with 29 yards on 8 carries. The only presence on offense the Colts produced came from running back Tom Matte who rushed for 116 yards on 11 carries.
Namath won Super Bowl MVP honors.
1) Tie Super Bowl XLII – New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14
Super Bowl XLII was the definitive moment for Bill Belichick and the Patriots (16-0) as they set new offensive season records with Tom Brady and new acquisition receiver Randy Moss lighting the NFL scoreboard on fire. The Patriots were only the second team in NFL history to achieve a perfect regular season compared to the 1972 Miami Dolphins. To complete the modern era dominance, they would have to win this one.
In the way were the 12-point underdog New York Giants (10-6) led by former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin. Giants quarterback Eli Manning was finally able to step out of his brother, Peyton’s (of the Indianapolis Colts) shadow.
As many pictured the Patriots route for their perfect season, the Giants had other ideas. Most of the game had a makings of a prize fight of battling defenses, not the offensive showcase many had expected. The game was 7-3 Patriots all until the end of the third quarter. The Giants showed why they were there sacking Brady five times and recovering one fumble. However, the effort bore little fruit as the Giants only managed five first downs during that same span.
The game started unlike any other with the Giants consuming 9 minutes and 59 seconds after winning the initial coin toss to go 16-plays for 77 yards only to settle for a 32-yard field goal form Lawrence Tynes in the longest time-consuming drive in Super Bowl history. The Giants converted four third downs.
The Patriots responded engineering a 44-yard touchdown scoring drive marking the first time each team in Super Bowl history scored on their initial possession.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Manning engineered a 7-play, 80 yard touchdown drive to put the Giants ahead 10-7 with 11:05 left in the game. After consecutive three-and-outs, the Patriots finally responded capping off a 12-play 80 yard drive finishing with a 6-yard pass from Brady to Moss.
The final scoring drive of the game featured the 32-yard game-saving one-handed helmet catch from receiver David Tyree to keep the drive alive. Few plays later, Manning finished the drive lobbing a 13-yard pass to receiver Plaxico Burress for the game-winning score with 35 seconds left.
The Patriots still had all their timeouts left when they started their drive at their own 26 with 29 seconds left. They needed a field goal to tie, but the staunch Giant defense didn’t allow a single yard. With the end of the game, the Giants set a record with 11 consecutive victories away from home in a single season. They would also become the first NFC wildcard team to win the Super Bowl. Manning won Super Bowl MVP honors.