I’m in the process of writing a book about great 1980s Sports Moments and one event that is conspicuously underrepresented is the Super Bowl. Those of us that came of age in that decade remember Super Bowl Sunday primarily for the Five Dark Years (1983-87) where the game was an absolute massacre. But times have changed and if the 1980s was a decade that belonged to the NCAA basketball final, then the new millennium has been The Super Bowl Century.
In going through the first 50 years of Super Bowl history, I was breaking the games into different tiers based on excitement. We won’t go into the whole list here, but if you focus strictly on Tier 1 Super Bowls—games that were heart-stopping and came to the final moments, you see very few entries from the early years, with a strong flurry in the 21st Century. Here’s the rundown…
1970: Baltimore 16 Dallas 13—even the Super Bowl’s first great game, settled by a last-second field goal, was still turnover-marred and poorly played.
1988: San Francisco 20 Cincinnati 16—Joe Montana’s signature drive and Bill Walsh’s swan song, a game quickly recognized as the best in Super Bowl history at the time.
1990: NY Giants 20 Buffalo 19—Scott Norwood misses wide right. Buffalo got back here each of the next three years, but never got this close.
1997: Denver 31 Green Bay 24—Terrell Davis scores in the final two minutes, John Elway gets his long-sought ring.
1999: St. Louis 23 Tennessee 16—The Titans’ Kevin Dyson tackled on the one-yard line to end the game.
2001: New England 20 St. Louis 17—The unknown young quarterback named Tom Brady leads a late drive for the winning field goal.
2003: New England 32 Carolina 29—Another winning kick for Adam Vinateri on the final play.
2007: NY Giants 17 New England 14—David Tyree’s miracle catch denies Patriot perfection.
2008: Pittsburgh 27 Arizona 23—Big Ben’s clutch drive ends with a terrific catch by Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone.
2011: NY Giants 21 New England 17—A reprise of four years earlier. This time it’s Mario Manningham making the spectacular catch to key the final drive.
2012: Baltimore 34 San Francisco 31—Why didn’t the 49ers use Colin Kaepernick on a read-option instead of having him throw a couple meaningless fades into the end zone?
2014: New England 28 Seattle 24—Malcolm Butler saves Tom Brady from another heartbreak.
That’s twelve Super Bowls that have been truly spectacular and over half of them have been after 2000. Yes, it’s fair to say that so far we’re living in the Super Century.