The Best Super Bowls Ever Played
These were some truly epic matchups.
The Super Bowl is as close to a must-watch television event as live TV has anymore. It’s happened every year since 1967, growing from humble beginnings to America’s unofficial sports holiday. Many people who go to Super Bowl parties couldn’t care less about the actual football being played, but when the game is close and exciting, it makes the whole night even better.
There have been plenty of terribly dull Super Bowl blowouts — like pretty much every one played in the ’80s — but there have been some truly great games as well. Whether it was back-and-forth scoring, huge comebacks, iconic plays or a combination of them all, we’ve rounded up the best Super Bowls ever played and ranked them in reverse order of greatness. These were the matchups that truly lived up to the hype of the big game.
25. Super Bowl VII (1973)
Miami Dolphins def. Washington Redskins, 14-7
This was a game where the final score is a bit deceptive of how close the contest actually was, Super Bowl VII was a shutout for the Dolphins until about the 2-minute mark in the fourth quarter when the Redskins finally got on the scoreboard. But this game remains historic because the winning Dolphins, as of at least 2019, are the only NFL team to ever finish a season as undefeated Super Bowl champions. Despite being played in 84-degree January weather in Los Angeles, Super Bowl VII still has the lowest combined score of any Super Bowl.
24. Super Bowl V (1971)
Baltimore Colts def. Dallas Cowboys, 16-13
Anyone who watched Super Bowl V will probably laugh at it being on a list of the best games, but it was a nail-biter that was five seconds from going to overtime, which is more than most Super Bowls can say. The play was ugly as could be — the Colts and Cowboys combined for 11 turnovers, which is still a Super Bowl record — and Johnny Unitas got hurt in the second quarter, robbing the game of its biggest star.
However, the Colts used a 10-point comeback in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning field goal to seal it up. Another crazy storyline from this game? Super Bowl MVP honors were given to a player on the Cowboys, likely representing the last time a losing player will ever win that award.
23. Super Bowl XLIV (2010)
New Orleans Saints def. Indianapolis Colts, 31-17
Super Bowl XLIV saw one of the greatest quarterback matchups in history, with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees facing off. They ended up combing for more than 600 yards passing, three touchdowns and just one interception in a game many thought would have a higher score.
The Saints pulled off one of the riskiest and most memorable play calls in football history when they successfully surprised the Colts with an onside kick to start the second half, leading them to dominate by a score of 25-7 in the final two quarters. That epic play and the comeback of the feel-good Saints, who won their first Super Bowl ever, were enough to make this an all-time great.
22. Super Bowl XIV (1980)
Pittsburgh Steelers def. Los Angeles Rams, 31-19
The atmosphere for Super Bowl XIV was truly epic, with 103,985 people filing into the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, giving it the largest attendance of any Super Bowl to date. It was essentially a home game for the L.A. Rams, who led 19-17 heading into the fourth quarter. But the Steelers would find a way to win their fourth Super Bowl in six years.
21. Super Bowl XLV (2011)
Green Bay Packers def. Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25
The never-quit attitude of the Steelers made this a great game after the Packers were dominating 21-10 at halftime. With 7:34 left in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh made it a thriller, trailing 28-25. But the Packers, unlike the Arizona Cardinals a couple years before, shut down the Steelers’ comeback and won Green Bay its first Super Bowl since 1996. As of 2018, this still represents Aaron Rodgers’ only Super Bowl win and his only appearance in the big game.
20. Super Bowl III (1969)
New York Jets def. Baltimore Colts, 16-7
This was the first time the game was actually called the Super Bowl — it had been called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game for the first two years — and it presented an epic storyline.
Super Bowl III is perhaps the ultimate underdog story in NFL history, with the Baltimore Colts being heavy betting favorites over the AFL’s New York Jets. A plucky quarterback named Joe Namath guaranteed his Jets would win and made good on that promise, becoming one of the Super Bowl’s first breakout stars. The game actually wasn’t as close as the score would indicate, with the Jets dominating until late in the fourth quarter, but Super Bowl III remains unforgettable in football lore.
19. Super Bowl XLI (2007)
Indianapolis Colts def. Chicago Bears, 29-17
There was a lot of interesting history made during Super Bowl XLI: It saw the first Super Bowl meeting between two black head coaches, it saw Peyton Manning finally playing in his first Super Bowl and it saw two historic franchises making a long-awaited return to the championship game.
The game started with the opening kickoff being returned for a touchdown by the Bears, who ended up trailing 22-17 heading into the fourth quarter. The Colts held the Bears off in the fourth quarter, winning Manning his first Vince Lombardi Trophy in an already storied career. The halftime show, featuring Prince performing in the rain, is also the stuff of legend.
18. Super Bowl XXX (1996)
Dallas Cowboys def. Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-17
The third Super Bowl meeting between two legendary franchises saw the Cowboys finally top the Steelers, giving Pittsburgh its first Super Bowl loss in five tries.
Super Bowl XXX ended up being the highest-rated sporting event in American TV history at the time and the millions of viewers saw a great game. With 6:36 left in the game, the Cowboys had just a three-point lead until a turnover led to the game-sealing touchdown. It would be the third Super Bowl win in four years for the Cowboys and marks the last time the franchise has played in the big game to date.
17. Super Bowl XLVII (2013)
Baltimore Ravens def. San Francisco 49ers, 34-31
This game featured a stadium power outage that caused a 34-minute delay and featured a historic coaching battle between two brothers. John Harbaugh’s Ravens edged out Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers in a tough game that saw both teams score in every quarter. The Ravens led it 21-6 at the half but, following that blackout in the third quarter, the 49ers would score 25 points in the second half, making this a tight one. Beyonce’s incredible halftime show was just the icing on the cake for people who watched this game.
16. Super Bowl XLVI (2012)
New York Giants def. New England Patriots, 21-17
This rematch of the legendary Super Bowl XLII — which we’ll get to in a bit — lived up to the large reputation of that previous matchup.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning put together a brilliant game despite only throwing for one touchdown, helping his team overcome a 17-15 deficit heading into the fourth quarter. It didn’t have the iconic catch of the other Giants-Patriots championship game or the massive underdog storyline, but this was still a close-fought game that relied on strong defense when it counted.
15. Super Bowl XVI (1982)
San Francisco 49ers def. Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21
After a decade of domination by just a few teams, Super Bowl XVI represented a changing of the guard, as both the 49ers and Bengals were making their first appearance in the big game. It was a tale of two halves that added up to one close contest.
The 49ers led 20-0 at the half, while the Bengals would outscore them 21-6 in the second half, setting up a failed onside kick with 20 seconds left that would decide the game. It would be the first of five Super Bowl wins for the 49ers over the following 13 years.
14. Super Bowl IX (1975)
Pittsburgh Steelers def. Minnesota Vikings, 16-6
You know it’s an old-school slugfest when the score at halftime is 2-0. Coming into Super Bowl IX, the Steelers and Vikings each had legendary defenses, and they proved their prowess in a low-scoring affair that yielded only two offensive touchdowns. There were 19 future Pro Football Hall of Fame members who would either play, coach or otherwise be involved in this game, including both starting quarterbacks.
It was the first Super Bowl appearance for the Steelers, who would go on to be the most dominant franchise of the late 1970s, winning four Super Bowls in six years — and it just so happens that all four of those games made it onto this list. If you like defensive football, this is about as good as it’s ever been.
13. Super Bowl XXXIX (2005)
New England Patriots def. Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21
The third Super Bowl win for the Patriots in four years was another nail-biting classic that came down to the final minutes to decide. Super Bowl XXXIX was tied 14-14 heading into the fourth quarter, when the Patriots took a 10-point lead. The Eagles would make it a 24-21 game with 1:48 left on the clock but couldn’t score again to overtake the lead. It would mark New England’s last Super Bowl win until 2015, and the Eagles would finally avenge this loss in 2018.
12. Super Bowl XIII (1979)
Pittsburgh Steelers def. Dallas Cowboys, 35-31
The second time the Steelers and Cowboys met in a Super Bowl, both were trying to become the first franchise to ever win the big game three times. This was another tight contest, with the Steelers holding a 21-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The two teams would combine for 28 points in the fourth quarter, making this the highest scoring Super Bowl until 1993. A total of 22 future Hall of Famers would be involved in this game.
11. Super Bowl X (1976)
Pittsburgh Steelers def. Dallas Cowboys, 21-17
The two most popular NFL franchises ever would meet for the first of three times so far in the 1976 Super Bowl — and it was a beauty. Iconic quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach faced off and Bradshaw’s Steelers found a way to win it. The Cowboys led 10-7 at halftime but the Steelers rallied and took control in a fourth quarter that saw 21 total points scored between the two teams. Staubach had a chance to win the game for Dallas on the last play of the game but threw an interception in the end zone that sealed their fate.
10. Super Bowl XXV (1991)
New York Giants def. Buffalo Bills, 20-19
This all-New York Super Bowl is still the only one to ever be decided by a single point. The game was tight from start to finish and saw both teams playing nearly to perfection, with no turnovers committed by either. The Bills had a chance to win the game with a 47-yard field goal in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, but the kick would infamously go “wide right,” crushing the souls of Buffalo fans. The Bills would go on to lose four straight Super Bowls including this heartbreaker, which was the only one that was actually a close game.
9. Super Bowl XLIII (2009)
Pittsburgh Steelers def. Arizona Cardinals, 27-23
The Cardinals almost pulled the upset but found themselves the losers of a heartbreaking classic with the Steelers in 2009. Pittsburgh led 20-7 heading into the fourth quarter, frustrating Arizona’s powerful offense, setting up what would be a breathtaking ending.
The Cardinals finally took their first lead, 23-20, with 2:37 left in the game, after scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter. But Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger led a game-winning drive 78 yards down the field in two minutes, winning the game with an iconic end-zone pass to Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes.
8. Super Bowl XXXIV (2000)
St. Louis Rams def. Tennessee Titans, 23-16
The first Super Bowl of the new millennium was one for the ages. It’s hard to believe Super Bowl XXXIV started out pretty boring, with a 9-0 Rams lead at halftime, built entirely on field goals. Eventually, the game would be tied 16-16 with 2:12 left in the fourth quarter before the Rams, aka “The Greatest Show on Turf,” took the lead. The Titans, led by quarterback Steve McNair, drove the field and ended up one yard short of tying the game, when wide receiver Kevin Dyson was tackled at the one-yard line as time expired. Anyone who saw that final tackle will never forget it.
7. Super Bowl XXIII (1989)
San Francisco 49ers def. Cincinnati Bengals, 20-16
In the second Super Bowl meeting between these two franchises, Bengals fans had their hearts ripped out and stomped on by Joe Montana in the final seconds. The game was tight throughout, with the score tied 13-13 in the fourth quarter. The Bengals led 16-13 with 3:20 left in the game before Montana led the 49ers on a 92-yard drive that ended with a game-winning touchdown with 34 seconds left. It marked the last time the Bengals would play in a Super Bowl to date, and the team’s fans still haven’t gotten over the sting of that drive.
6. Super Bowl XXXII (1998)
Denver Broncos def. Green Bay Packers, 31-24
Despite the Packers being favored by 11 points coming into the game, the Broncos finally won a Super Bowl after four unsuccessful tries in the big game previously. The quarterback matchup is as epic as they come, with Brett Favre facing off with John Elway, who won his first title at 37 years old.
The game was close all the way through and was tied 24-24 until late in the fourth quarter, when Broncos star running back Terrell Davis scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:45 left. If you judge Super Bowls by their QB pairings, you’d be hard pressed to find a better one than this.
5. Super Bowl XXXVI (2002)
New England Patriots def. St. Louis Rams, 20-17
Tom Brady’s first Super Bowl would set the precedent that almost every one he’d play with New England would be a great game. The Rams were heavy favorites, expected to win the game by 14 points — showing that Las Vegas oddsmakers clearly didn’t see the Patriots juggernaut that was on the horizon.
It was tight from beginning to end, tied 17-17 with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter before the Patriots would win with a field goal as time expired. Brady’s numbers — only 145 passing yards and one touchdown — would only improve as he’d become arguably the greatest player in Super Bowl history. Oh, and this game also happened to feature our pick for the greatest halftime show in Super Bowl history.
4. Super Bowl XLIX (2015)
New England Patriots def. Seattle Seahawks, 28-24
This game still ranks as the most-watched TV program in American history and, chances are, most viewers were glued to their screens until the final whistle.
After the Patriots were down 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter, the team rallied to take a 28-24 lead that would survive an unthinkable final drive by the Seahawks. Seattle managed to get to the Patriots’ one-yard line with 26 seconds left and one of the best running backs in football before trying a pass play that would result in an interception that sealed the game for New England.
That play call is still debated as possibly one of the worst in football history. It was the second Super Bowl appearance for Seattle, a team that hasn’t been back to the big game since.
3. Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004)
New England Patriots def. Carolina Panthers, 32-29
Beyonce sang the national anthem and Janet Jackson stole every Monday-morning headline due to the infamous halftime show, but somehow, the football played in Super Bowl XXXVIII was still the highlight of the evening.
Tom Brady’s Patriots would win their second Super Bowl in three years, both ending with game-winning field goals. The Patriots and Panthers proved to be a perfect match for one another, scoring back and forth all game long, including scoring a combined 37 points in the fourth quarter. The Panthers tied it at 29-29 with 1:08 left in the game before Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri did his job with just four seconds left.
2. Super Bowl LI (2017)
New England Patriots def. Atlanta Falcons, 34-28 (OT)
It took more than 50 years, but a Super Bowl finally went to overtime in 2017, and it was one of the most improbable championship games ever played. The underdog Falcons were absolutely dominating the Patriots for the entire game, leading 28-3 in the third quarter and all but coasting toward their first Super Bowl victory. But the Patriots ignited an insane 25-point comeback to tie the game with less than a minute left, including two touchdowns and two-point conversions in the final six minutes. In the end, the Patriots scored the game’s final 31 points en route to the biggest comeback victory in Super Bowl history and an unfathomable collapse from the Falcons.
It was the only Super Bowl so far to go to overtime, but we say there was still one game that topped the insanity of Super Bowl LI.
1. Super Bowl XLII (2008)
New York Giants def. New England Patriots, 17-14
An instant classic, Super Bowl XLII was the NFL’s ultimate David-vs.-Goliath matchup, with the little guy stunning the giant. The Giants came in as 12-point underdogs with the Patriots looking unbeatable, trying to cap off the NFL’s first perfect season since 1973.
The Patriots led 14-10 with 2:42 left in the fourth quarter before Giants quarterback Eli Manning led an 83-yard drive that would win the game. That drive became the stuff of NFL legend thanks to a miraculous 32-yard catch by Giants wide receiver David Tyree, who caught the ball sandwiched between his hands and the top of his helmet. This game defines the old football cliche about “any given Sunday.”
Yes, you read that correctly: the New England Patriots played in all of the top five best Super Bowls ever. Say what you want about that franchise, but they almost always give you an amazing game to end the season.