5. VI (No. 6, Jan. 16, 1972) Dallas 24, Miami 3 Don Shula’s Dolphins would win the next two Super Bowls, but they weren’t even in this game as the Cowboys, lead by Roger Staubach easily stuffed them. It could just as easily been 45-3. There was only one thing memorable about the telecast: after the game, CBS’s Tom Brookshire asked Dallas’s Duane Thomas, who had run all over the Dolphins’s D, “Are you really that fast?” Thomas glared at Brookshire for a split second and then replied, “Evidently.”
4. V (No. 5, Jan 17, 1971) Baltimore 16, Dallas 13 This was the first Super Bowl after the two leagues emerged, and it was an exciting game if you’re reading a recap. On the field it’s yet another example on how a close game can still be a snooze. It was so filled with penalties, bad punts, interceptions and dropped passes that it’s gone down in history as the “Blunder Bowl.” There was one truly astounding play: Johnny Unitas threw a short pass to Eddie Hinton, it went off his hands like a stone skimming over the water, Dallas defensive back Mel Renfro touched it but couldn’t catch it, and it landed in the hands of the astonished tight end, John Mackey, who went for a 74-yard touchdown.
The Colts Jim O’Brien won the game with a short field goal with five second on the clock. Historical note: O’Brien became the last athlete to take a bow on the Ed Sullivan Show.
3. XXVIII (No. 28, Jan 30, 1994) Dallas 30, Buffalo 13 This was a virtual repeat of the previous year’s game except the Cowboys weren’t quire as fired up. All I can remember about it is a camera shot in the second quarter in which Jim Kelly sat staring at the ground—in the second quarter.
2. XXVII (No. 27, Jan 31, 1993) Dallas 52, Buffalo 17 Buffalo was so outclassed in this game that I walked out before halftime. That’s all I can remember about it.
1. XXXV (No. 35, Jan 28, 2001) Baltimore 34, NY Giants 7 In losing 34-7, the Giants were so bad in this game that there was practically no glory in even having won the NFC. The only consolidation was that the Ravens might have had the greatest defense in NFL history.
THE TOP FIVE BEST SUPER BOWLS IN REVERSE ORDER
5. XIII (No. 12, Jan. 21, 1979) Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31 Pretty much everything I could say about this game I said about Super Bowl X (next entry) except this one had nothing comparable to Lynn Swann’s catch. The only blotch on my memory is that it’s more remembered as a game the Cowboys lost than as a game the Steelers won—because, of course, Jackie Smith’s drop of Roger Staubach’s pass in the end zone.
But I swear, to this day it still looks to me a bit like the ball was thrown slightly behind him.
4. X (No. 10, Jan, 18, 1976) Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17 Great match-up, great rivals, a roster-full of Hall of Fame players, two great coaches in Chuck Noll and Tom Landry, two great quarterbacks, Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach, fine balance between offense and defense, and one of the truly astonishing catches in pro football history—surely the greatest ever made by a black Republican.
Once, at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, NJ, I told Steve Sabol that I would love to see that play again. He immediately summoned up the film and ran it for me three times. “Lynn Swann,” he said with a shake of his head, “could catch a snowflake in a wind tunnel.”
3. XXIII (No. 23, Jan. 22, 1989) San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16 The only thing that keeps me from ranking this one even higher is that, truth to tell, the Forty-Niners were much superior to the Bengals and should have put the game away some time in the third quarter. But you’ll never see Joe Montana lead a better drive than he did on the winning touchdown march in the game, never see Jerry Rice make greater clutch catches, nor see the vastly underrated John Taylor (the guy who lined up on the other end of the formation from Rice) make a bigger grab. With 39 seconds left and down 16-13, Montana, from the ten-yard line, takes three quick steps and fires. It was Taylor’s only catch of the day. (BTW, during the off-season, Taylor’s day job was selling used cars for Reggie Jackson.)
2. XXV (No. 25, Jan, 27, 1991) NY Giants 20, Buffalo 19 Top to bottom, for its tightness, balance between offense and defense, and non-stop suspense until, literally, the last play, this might be the greatest game ever played. I’d pick it after Super Bowl XLII only because of the momentous importance of that upset.
The only bad thing about this game was the “choke’ label hung on Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood for missing a 48-yard field goal try with eight seconds on the clock. I bet during his whole career Norwood missed six field goals at that distance for every four he made—and it was snapped to him with the laces out, as you can see.
1. XLII (No. 42, Feb. 3, 2008) NY Giants 17, New England 14 More than the Colts-Giants sudden death game in 1958, more than the Packers-Cowboys Ice Bowl in 1967, this has credentials as the greatest football game ever played. It was a bigger upset than the Joe Namath Jets victory over the Colts 1969—we really didn’t know back then whether the Colts were really better than the Jets, we were just guessing. But we knew for sure that, on the evidence of the regular season, the 2007 Patriots were better than the Giants.
No underdog ever made more big plays on both sides of the football, and from Eli Manning’s amazing refusal to go down—and during the regular season wouldn’t a referee been likely to call him in the grasp?—to David Tyree’s grab—you still have to see it in order not to believe it—that play was the greatest I’ve ever seen. I’m not even Giants fan, but I treasure my “18-1” T-shirt.
Birmingham native Allen Barra writes about sports and culture for numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, American Heritage and The Los Angeles Times.