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The Greatest Super Bowl Games of All Time

January 24th, 2011 by Aaron Schatz Creator, FootballOutsiders.com

Each weekday until Super Bowl Sunday, Hulu and Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz are counting down the 10 best Super Bowl games in history with the help of NFL Films. Check our Spotlight page every day to see the latest pick.

What makes for a great Super Bowl? It isn’t necessarily about great teams. Some of the greatest teams in NFL history finished their seasons with particularly boring Super Bowls. If you grew up in the 80s and early 90s, you may have thought that Super Bowl blowouts were actually mandated by NFL rules.

Unless you were a 49ers fan, San Francisco’s 55-10 victory over Denver in Super Bowl XXIV put you to sleep. The same is true for Chicago’s 46-10 dismantling of New England in Super Bowl XX, or one of Dallas’ back-to-back blowouts of the Buffalo Bills in 1993 and 1994.

There’s also a big difference between a “great” Super Bowl and a “legendary” one.

Super Bowl III, the Jets’ upset of the Baltimore Colts, was one of the most important games in NFL history, but it would have been a subpar game during the regular season. It had no lead changes, and most of the scoring came on field goals. Super Bowl VII, which capped off an undefeated season for the 1972 Miami Dolphins, was completely one-sided; it only ended up 14-7 because Washington scored a touchdown after Miami botched a fourth-quarter field goal attempt. The two teams combined for a sleep-inducing total of just 192 passing yards.

So when picking out this list of the ten greatest Super Bowls, I had a pretty simple goal: Football fans want to be entertained.

Super Bowl Sunday is basically a national holiday at this point, and after we’ve served up all that food to friends and family, we want a good game. In fact, we want a good game that stays a good game for all three hours,
instead of just slowing to dump-offs to runningbacks and grinding as one team starts running out the clock before the fourth quarter even starts.

Heck, by that point, even the commercials aren’t very good.

This list of great Super Bowls is based on the factors that make games entertaining. We wanted games that ended close–either with lots of lead changes along the way, or a big comeback by one team in the second half. We wanted offense because — let’s be honest — unless the defense gets a huge sack or picks off a would-be touchdown in dramatic fashion, scoring is more entertaining than not scoring. And we wanted great players making great plays, whether they were impossible catches or big-time defensive touchdowns.

Before we start things off with Super Bowl number ten, here are some honorable mention Super Bowls that just missed making our list:

Super Bowl V (Baltimore 16, Dallas 13)
Super Bowl X (Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17)
Super Bowl XVI (San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21)
Super Bowl XLIV (New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17)

Onto the first entry on our list.

No. 10: Super Bowl XIV — Pittsburgh 31, Los Angeles Rams 19
The Los Angeles Rams managed to hang with the three-time champion Steelers despite being labeled as huge underdogs. The Rams were 9-7 but managed to sneak into the playoffs as champions of the mediocre NFC West. (Some things never change.) Still, they beat Dallas and Tampa Bay to earn a trip, well, home. The Super Bowl was played at the Rose Bowl in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena.

The score of this game went back and forth all day long, with a Super Bowl-record seven lead changes. The Rams led 13-10 at halftime and 19-17 after three quarters, but Pittsburgh finally took the lead with a momentous 73-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw to John Stallworth. The Steelers then cemented the win with a 70-yard touchdown drive after a Jack Lambert interception, winning Super Bowl XIV in dramatic fashion, and securing No. 10 on our list.

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