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Ranking all 52 Super Bowl games: Patriots played in 5 of top 10

What's the greatest Super Bowl of all time?

That's what I've endeavored to answer here, with the help of former Dallas Cowboys personnel guru and analyst Gil Brandt. You'll see his recollections in some of the game descriptions. As for the other analysis, well that's mine.

I took this list seriously, but not so seriously that I can't take some guff. Hit me up @HarrisonNFL if you think I missed the mark on one -- or many -- of these Super Bowls.

Gil Brandt's take: "The 55-10 game in New Orleans might have been the worst. The Broncos just didn't match up with the 49ers. They couldn't stop them."

Uh, ditto. If the Pleiadians or some other alien race finds our planet in 200 years and discovers NFL Films, let's hope this isn't the one film canister they discover. Super Bowl XXIV was brutal from start to finish. Really, it was never a game. It was 27-3 at halftime. Get excited.

Gil Brandt's take: "I was not expecting that kind of dominance by the Seahawks. That said, based on the display of strength I saw, I do think that Seattle team could match up well against almost any past Super Bowl winner in history, including the 1977 Cowboys."

You got an ominous feeling the moment you saw the shotgun snap whiz past Peyton Manning and into the end zone that it wasn't going to be the Broncos' day. To be perfectly frank, it wasn't the Super Bowl's day, either. The Seahawks' 43-8 pasting of Denver was even more of a blowout than the score indicates. To say the Broncos were out of sync is like saying Pete Carroll would get a wee bit buzzed when Marshawn Lynch ran through three guys ... or when Kam Chancellor stopped three guys.

Any drama in this game was stepped on and sprinted past the moment Percy Harvin took the second-half kickoff to the house. Suddenly, a 22-nuthin' nail-biter was 29-zip. Your serve, Peyton!

Gil Brandt's take:"That wasn't a very good game. It was played in old Tulane Stadium. It was not an exciting game and the Chiefs killed them. Everyone remembers that Kansas City's head coach, Hank Stram, was mic'd the whole time."

Keep "matriculating the ball down the field, boys," Stram would say for the NFL Films crew. Now that's some football talk right there.

Gil Brandt didn't really like this game, and nor do I. It was the Vikings' last stand, and it was ugly. They were really never in the game. The final tally was 32-14, but it really wasn't that close. Hall of Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff was named game MVP, but really, the Raiders' ground attack dominated the Vikings' famous front four ... 266 rushing yards is no joke.

This Super Bowl is also famous for the NFL Films sound, "Old man Willie!" The Hall of Famer took one to the house, 75 yards for the 36-year-old Raiders corner.

This Super Bowl felt like the Who's-gonna-be-the-sacrificial-lamb-to-the-winner-of-the-Cowboys-49ers-NFC-Championship-Game Bowl. It was.

 **Gil Brandt's take:** "That 
 Chargers club got off to a slow start and really shouldn't have even been there." 

No, they shouldn't have. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young and offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan went over all 300 plays beforehand and knew they were ready. Young's line: 24-36 for 325 yards and six touchdowns. That would indicate he was probably ready to play.

Miami ran Larry Csonka counter to the flow of traffic, making the impact of the knifing Alan Page -- the Minnesota Vikings' Hall of Fame defensive tackle -- almost negligible. Csonka ran for 145 yards, and quarterback Bob Griese threw seven passes all game. This was pretty much awful.

For you lovers of fun facts out there: Super Bowl VIII was played at Rice Stadium. You know, the Rice Owls, a Division I powerhouse. Who would've thought?

The Steelers' momentous franchise victory -- their first NFL championship in 40 years as an organization -- came at the expense of fans. What a snoozer, made up for by the fact there was no offense. And when I mean no offense, I mean no offense. The Vikings' 10,000 lakes offense* -- the precursor to the West Coast offense -- racked up 119 yards. Franco Harris rushed for 158 by himself. Uh, no offense intended, Vikings fans.

  • The Vikings offense wasn't really called that. I needed something for this lousy game, and that's all I had.

Awful conditions in a game that featured Rex Grossman at quarterback. Peyton Manning shot a commercial with a colleague of mine after this Super Bowl and told him the Colts "could've scored 70 that game." I believe it. The Bears' Cover 2 scheme left Reggie Wayne open by about a dozen yards on his 53-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.

Perhaps my least favorite Super Bowl, made worse by Steven Tyler doing a halftime show with Britney Spears. This game was saved, at least from an entertainment standpoint, when three touchdowns were scored on three straight plays: The Baltimore Ravens scored a touchdown, the New York Giants' Ron Dixon brought the kickoff all the way back, and then Ravens kick returner Jermaine Lewis answered.

Dallas' second Super Bowl win was an unexciting game, with the Cowboy defense dominating throughout. Gil Brandt recalled safety Randy Hughes' performance, and laments that a player with such potential had his career ruined by shoulder injuries.

Hughes and the secondary played well, but co-MVPs Harvey Martin and Randy White were downright suffocating for the Denver Broncos quarterbacks, who combined to go 8-25 for 61 yards and four interceptions.

After much reflection on this game, I came up with this: Rich Gannon played poorly, the Tampa 2 did not. This Super Bowl made football America aware of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

For a relatively close game, this one was not liked, on any level, by anyone I've spoken with. This Super Bowl featured a horrific uni matchup, bad calls by the refs and a storyline that centered on Jerome Bettis finishing his career in his hometown of Detroit. Yippee.

Other than Thurman Thomas misplacing his helmet prior to the game, causing him to miss the start, this Super Bowl was devoid of excitement. The 37-24 loss was the first of three consecutive awful losses for Marv Levy's Buffalo Bills, and perhaps the only time anyone thought the Washington Redskins' Mark Rypien might be the best quarterback in the NFL. Come on, somebody did.

Gil Brandt's take: "The Packer receivers, Boyd Dowler and Max McGee, were in the old locker rooms there at the L.A. Coliseum before the game. McGee says to Dowler, 'Hey, you can't come out of the game. I can't play today. I was out all night and got in at 7 a.m.' Well, of course Dowler gets knocked out and McGee comes in and catches that slant for a big touchdown."

McGee would go on to catch seven passes for 138 yards, and added a score.

 **Brandt:** "We lost in the championship to the 
 Packers that year because a lineman we traded for, Jim Boeke, jumped offsides when we had first-and-goal from the 2. Don Meredith ended up having to try to pass to get the touchdown and threw the interception to Tom Brown." 

Leon Lett's non-touchdown fumble return has been a teaching video for literally a million junior high football players, courtesy of former Buffalo Bills wideout Don Beebe. Who sprints that hard to stop a 52-17 game from being 59-17? Beebe did.

Oakland Raiders linebacker Rod Martin intercepted the ball three times. It's hard to win when the other team's linebacker gets three picks. This 27-10 ballgame was mostly a snoozer, although Philadelphia was in the game up until the Raiders dominated the fourth quarter.

Gil Brandt's take: "The Vikings might have been the best team that year but, you know, they missed the field goal. [Gary] Anderson missed it. But it was more than just that kick. Remember, Atlanta's Chuck Smith came around the end and forced the fumble. That led to a touchdown (right before halftime.) Minnesota didn't need to be throwing in that situation."

The Vikings had a 20-7 lead with just over a minute left in the first half, and the ball at their own 18-yard line. Brandt has a point.

"In the Super Bowl, I remember the kid (Darrien Gordon) they got from San Diego got a big interception in that game, a really important play. He was a first-round draft pick of the Chargers."

While the media circus centered around quarterback Doug Williams being African-American, perhaps some reporter should've noticed his quick release and 80 yards worth of arm strength. A record 35-point second quarter served notice in the Washington Redskins' 42-10 beatdown of the Denver Broncos.

Gil Brandt's take: "There's always a few plays that alter the outcome. If you go back and look at games where a team gets a quick touchdown right before halftime, that team usually wins. Joe Theismann threw that little pass out in the flat, and No. 58 (Jack Squirek of the Los Angeles Raiders) intercepted and scored. That was a big factor in the game."

People forget that the 1983 Washington Redskins were considered almost unbeatable. Their turnover differential that season was an absolutely mind-boggling plus-46. Still, I would say a 38-9 loss constitutes a beating.

Gil Brandt's take: "They were a good football team because of their defense. However, in the Super Bowl we were able to get Nick Buoniconti blocked. Hell, we ran for 250 yards on them. Then, Larry Csonka fumbles the ball away. He hadn't fumbled in 300 some odd touches that year before the Super Bowl ... and then there was the big sack.

"That was our best Cowboy team. We just had a reunion. You look at our running backs in that Super Bowl: Duane Thomas, Calvin Hill, Walt Garrison, Dan Reeves. Who had four running backs like that? Our whole roster was like that. We had Mel Renfro and Herb Adderley at corner (both are in the Hall of Fame.) We also picked up Forrest Gregg and Lance Alworth (two more Hall of Famers) during that season!"

The Packers dominated the Raiders in Vince Lombardi's last game as Green Bay's head coach and most famous citizen. Brandt remembers the subtleties of how the Packers advanced to the Super Bowl.

 **Gil Brandt's take:** "We lost in the (NFL) championship in Green Bay, the Ice Bowl, at the end of the game. Their fullback, Chuck Mercein, made a couple of big plays on the game's last drive ... then Bart Starr scored the winning touchdown on the sneak. 

"Well, earlier that year we had lost a running back to injury, and so had Green Bay, so we both needed someone. I called Chuck, and he told me that the Packers had already called him, and he felt they had a good shot of making the Super Bowl, so he was going to sign with them. He made the plays down the stretch to beat us."

While Super Bowl 50 was the golden anniversary of pro football's biggest game, it was far from a shining reflection of the NFL's best product. The promise of a defensive slugfest in the first half morphed into are-the-Panthers-ever-going-to-mount-a-serious-drive in the second. ... Cam Newton's questionable effort in the late stages was followed by his much-maligned postgame demeanor. Juxtaposed with all of this was one of the all-time great quarterbacks walking off into the pizza sunset, Lombardi Trophy in hand.

The greatest offensive season in NFL history, namely Dan Marino's 5,084-yard campaign, came to a resounding halt against the 49ers' quartet of Pro Bowlers in the secondary. For one season, Eric Wright, Ronnie Lott, Dwight Hicks and Carlton Williamson were as elite as any back four in NFL history. Their play, along with Joe Montana going 24-35 for 331 yards and three touchdowns, won the day.

Gil Brandt's take: "The Cowboys lost 16-13 to the Colts on Jim O'Brien's field goal. We were a better football team, talent-wise. We had come so close the previous years, losing back-to-back championship games to the Packers, then in '68 in Cleveland and to the Browns again in '69. So, now we lost on a 32-yard field goal by O'Brien after he had missed an extra point earlier in the same game!

"Duane Thomas fumbled at their 1-yard line. I still remember Jack Fette's big fat butt running over and giving the ball to the Colts. Our center, Dave Manders, got up from the pile and handed him the football. He still pointed the other way and gave them possession! And then there was the tipped pass off their receiver Eddie Hinton's hands. It bounced right to John Mackey, and they got a touchdown!"

The Miami Dolphins complete the 17-0 season with a 14-7 win. It would have been 17-0 if Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian made a late field goal, rather than serving a volleyball up after catching his own blocked kick. The Redskins' Mike Bass plucked it out of the air and scored the Redskins' only touchdown.

Oh well, undefeated is undefeated.

A blowout, yes, but a demolition made fun by, well, the most fun team in league history. I asked Gil Brandt if the Chicago Bears defense was the most dominating he's seen in his six decades in the NFL.

 **Gil Brandt's take:** "The 
 Bears beat us 44-0 that year at Texas Stadium." Point made. 

Gil Brandt's take: "Tom Landry and I thought Bill Parcells had an excellent defense. We played them early in the year, in the opener, and beat them for a touchdown on a screen pass down the sideline. We won that game, and that was one of only two losses the Giants had that year. In the Super Bowl -- even though they were a defensive team -- offensively, Phil Simms (22-25, 268 yards and three touchdowns) really played over his head. That was the difference."

Simms' performance might have indeed been the difference, but defensive coordinator Bill Belichick ran a unit that would not let John Elway off the hook.

This Super Bowl rematch from the prior season wasn't as bad a game as everyone remembers. In fact, Buffalo led 13-6 at halftime. But talent decided the day in the second half, as well as some costly Bills turnovers. The Cowboys shut out the Bills 24-0 in the second half to win their second straight Super Bowl under Jimmy Johnson.

The better team won, on the strength of special teams. Desmond Howard's kick return put the game away in theory; Reggie White and the defense ensured it. White wrapped up the Patriots' Drew Bledsoe three times while the Brett Favre-led offense did enough to keep control of the game, and ultimately prevail, 35-21.

Donovan McNabb's puking habits became all the rage in the media after Terrell Owens let the world in on his interpretation of why Philadelphia failed late: McNabb's conditioning could use the NordicTrac. Watch this game again, if you happened to DVR it back in February of 2005. The Eagles looked awfully lethargic getting in and out of the huddle, despite trailing 24-14 with five minutes left.

If there is a Super Bowl that no one remembers, it's Super Bowl XVII. The Dolphins quite possibly had the worst starters in Super Bowl history at the skill positions, with quarterback David Woodley hitting the immortal Jimmy Cefalo for a touchdown early. Still, this game wasn't decided until the Diesel (John Riggins) got going in the fourth quarter.

Neil O'Donnell to Larry Brown. That's all this Super Bowl will be remembered for. Pittsburgh laid some wood in the second half but was let down by two bad throws, or bad routes, depending on your perspective, of course. Either way, Dallas won its fifth Lombardi Trophy with the 27-17 victory. The franchise has only won three playoff games since.

Standing on the catwalk of Lucas Oil Stadium, at about the 35-yard line of the Giants, I had a perfect view of Eli Manning's 38-yard completion to Mario Manningham to set up Ahmad Bradshaw's go-ahead touchdown run ... er, fall. Bradshaw tried to stop himself from scoring and fall on the one-foot line, so as not to give the Patriots any time to mount a comeback.

It didn't matter. New England's last-gasp drive didn't get far. Meanwhile, the lasting memory of this game was Manning's picture-perfect throw, dropped perfectly over Manningham's shoulder nearly 40 yards downfield. It was a gutsy call on first down -- and the play that won a second ring for Tom Coughlin's Giants.

Put the seat debacle aside for a moment. The Packers- Steelers Super Bowl in Dallas turned out to be a competitive game. Aaron Rodgers capped off a tremendous postseason with an incredible performance in the biggest game of his career to that point. That said, it was a defensive play that underlined the Packers' win: Clay Matthews' jarring hit on Rashard Mendenhall, which caused the Steelers tailback to cough up the football and led to the decisive touchdown.

Another very underrated Super Bowl. Don't let the final score (31-17) fool you; this was a close contest that might have swung on Sean Payton's gamble to onside kick to start the second half. Tracy Porter's late pick exemplified true mastery of the cornerback position, jumping the route to Reggie Wayne and, ultimately, giving a beleaguered city its first Lombardi Trophy.

Gil Brandt's take: "We had a guy we drafted in the ninth round, Mike Wilson out of Washington State, who made a big catch for San Francisco on the sideline in the second half. Otherwise, their offense couldn't squeeze a drop the whole second half.

"We were disappointed to not be there, of course. The final drive of the (NFC) Championship Game, they beat us utilizing their backs, Ricky Patton and (Lenvil) Elliott. Bill Walsh was smart. He saw us playing with five defensive backs and ran the ball. It was the right thing to do. Then you saw the play Eric Wright made on Drew Pearson, pulling him down from behind ... or he was gone. But they won the game, and then the Super Bowl."

A solid if not incredible game, Super Bowl XVI kicked off the 49ers' dynasty.

Well, if two hot quarterbacks with polar-opposite styles, a 34-minute power outage and nearly a 22-point, second-half comeback don't interest you, maybe a faceoff of two head coaches who just happen to be brothers and a fourth-and-goal stop essentially settling the game will.

 Super Bowl XLVII makes it into the top 15 by virtue of having one of the most exciting second halves ever. The final stretch was spectacular, and it included a little controversy on that late four-down stop. (Was 
 Michael Crabtree interfered with, or was it a good no-call?) 

At the end of the day, the Ravens' win might not be up there with Super Bowl X, but it's not far behind, while being one of the better Super Sundays of relatively recent vintage.

Gil Brandt's take: "Mark Washington had good coverage on the (Lynn) Swann plays. But really, the amazing thing about that game was the fact that only one player on both teams ever played for another team. One guy! It was Preston Pearson, who we picked up before the season. So out of 86 players on the field, or whatever, one had not been with that team his whole career. And here's the thing about that: the team Preston played for was Pittsburgh, the team we were playing. Can you imagine that happening today?"

 Super Bowl X was perhaps the first fiercely contested Super Sunday, with Art Rooney getting his second Lombardi Trophy in two seasons after 40 with nary a championship. 

Who could forget John Elway getting hammered -- upended -- in mid-air? This Super Bowl will always be remembered for Elway's heart, and for him finally winning the big one. But there were so many big plays. Watching Steve Atwater lay out the Packers' Robert Brooks and teammate Randy Hilliard -- and himself -- on one pass over the middle in the fourth quarter was football in the 1990s. Not anymore.

"Spygate" has marred what was an exciting contest. New England halted the unstoppable -- a.k.a., "The Greatest Show on Turf" -- in perhaps the greatest team victory in Super Bowl history. St. Louis could not get its offense going in the first half but put together impressive drives in the second half to tie the game at 17. That's when Bill Belichick decided to trust first-year starter Tom Brady with 1:21 left on the clock. The future Hall of Famer moved the team 53 yards in eight plays to set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal in the 20-17 win.

Another fantastic Super Bowl of relatively recent vintage. The Santonio Holmes catch in the corner of the end zone to give the Pittsburgh Steelers a 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals is burned in the mind's eye of anyone who recalls this game. What a performance by the Cardinals. What if Kurt Warner had more time at the end, a la Staubach in Super Bowl XIII? Look out.

I ran into Eddie George, an old colleague of mine from our time at Fox, at Super Bowl XLVI. A lot of people were asking him his thoughts on Super Bowl XLVI, but it was hard to forget his goal-line surge in Super Bowl XXXIV, one of the key plays in the Titans' comeback from a 16-point deficit.

 Steve McNair was a beast late in the game, rolling out and just not letting the 
 Rams bring him down. Kordell Stewart used to say McNair was "country strong." No joke. It's sad to think one of the starting quarterbacks in such a great 
 Super Bowl is gone. 

Gil Brandt's take: "The Patriots- Panthers Super Bowl had a slow first half and a great second half. Neither team could get going in the first half. But in the second, each team exchanged touchdowns and put up a lot of points. And, of course, then the Panthers kicked off and it went out of bounds ... that was a huge play."

I can still see Jake Delhomme rolling to his left and uncorking a long touchdown pass -- pure streetballin'. An exquisitely entertaining game.

Gil Brandt's take: "The Super Bowl after we played them in XIII was one of the better games. They played it in Pasadena, and the Rams were able to get a halfback option pass from Lawrence McCutcheon for a touchdown on Pittsburgh. We thought we were in good position that year to play them. We had a good team ...

... but of course, we were beaten on the Billy Waddy catch in the playoff versus the Rams. Aaron Kyle, who I drafted to play corner for us in '76, had him covered, but just didn't have any ball skills. He'd be right there tracking ... tracking ... but then as Waddy was coming down with the football, Kyle was jumping up."

(Gil shook his head, putting his hand over his eyes. Something tells me that one still hurts.)

If there's a forgotten great Super Bowl, this is it.

How will Super Bowl LII be remembered?

As the Nick Foles fairy tale? Tom Brady's 500-yard bad dream? The Super Bowl that reads as if it is saying you are a loser with added emphasis?

Eagles- Patriots is a tough one to rank. It was an exciting game, certainly one of the most entertaining ever. Yet, as my esteemed editor noted, there wasn't too much premier defense to go with the league's premier teams. Other than Brandon Graham's clutch strip-sack, defense was hardly at a premium. It was as if both teams were replicating the Falcons' second-half defensive act from the prior year's Super Bowl.

So where does it stand? Perhaps Super Bowl LII should be viewed through the lens of entertainment. Frankly, that is ultimately what professional sports are all about. That's why this game lands in epic territory. Philadelphia winning its first championship since pulling it off at Franklin Field in 1960 was a nice bonus, too.

Oh, and we forgot the Philly Special.

Gil Brandt's take: "The second of the Bengals- 49ers Super Bowls was one of the best games. Of course there was the Montana play, but Tim Krumrie broke his leg, which changed the game. It was close throughout."

Krumrie's injury allowed San Francisco to run the ball, but overall, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's unit kept the 49ers at bay most of the day ... until it really mattered. John Taylor caught the game-winner, and a piece of NFL history.

Gil Brandt's take: " Super Bowl III has to be one of the best because of what it meant. It changed the perception about the American Football League and the merger. That game was about the impact it had."

This game, in my mind, put NFL Films on the official map.

Gil Brandt's take: "The Giants winning on the 'Wide Right' field goal. They basically played a 2-5 (defense) so as to try to stop the Buffalo offense. You know, the Giants played them earlier in the season and stifled Buffalo's offense ... now, that was a really good game, too. Jim Kelly got hurt, and (Frank) Reich had to come in."

Re-watching the broadcast of Super Bowl XXV, I can back up what Gil was saying. Here the Giants were, playing two down linemen with five linebackers moving around. Man, Bill Belichick was ahead of the game as a defensive coordinator.

Undoubtedly, there will be many people who disagree with this ranking. The Patriots crawling back from a 28-3 deficit, first slowly, then at a frenetic pace, puts this Super Bowl near the top. The question is whether it was as high in quality as the other games in this echelon -- like Super Bowl XLIX or Super Bowl XXV -- from start to finish. And legacy-wise, can it compete with Super III?

With respect to Gil's opinion, I still feel that XLIX was a better game from start to finish, while XLII (first 16-0 team loses) and XIII (battle between the 1970s' two premiere teams) were equally entertaining games and carry more historical weight.

 **Gil Brandt's take:** "I think this one has to go at the top of the charts. We'd never had overtime before. Between that and the epic comeback, my feeling is, LI was the best I ever watched -- and the most exciting." 

This presented what might become the rarest of things in the salary-cap era: a title bout between the certifiable two best teams. Was it the greatest ever? Time will tell, but as of right now, it slots here. Aspects will be long remembered, like Jermaine Kearse's circus catch and the How do you not give it to Beast Mode? goal-to-go sequence at the end. Let's take a historical view of Malcolm Butler's interception to seal the win. Below, the most-clutch defensive plays in Super Bowl history:

5) Tracy Porter robs Peyton Manning, Super Bowl XLIV. 4) Jack Squirek's pick-six, Super Bowl XVIII. 3) Mike Jones' tackle of Kevin Dyson, Super Bowl XXXIV. 2) James Harrison's 100-yard interception return, Super Bowl XLIII. 1) Butler's interception. His instant read-and-react to Ricardo Lockette's underneath route, coupled with his catch, won the third-greatest Super Bowl in history. Enough said.

"So many small plays in a game can change a game," Gil Brandt says. "What if they had called in-the-grasp on Eli (Manning)? What if (David) Tyree doesn't trap the ball against his helmet? What if Asante Samuel doesn't worry about getting his feet down and catches the (interception)?"

I would only add that New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo showed us all how rotating a good front four could win a game.

The great ones never lose, they just run out of time. That's what happened to Roger Staubach in Super Bowl XIII, who overcame the most famous drop -- Jackie Smith's in the end zone -- in NFL history.

This 35-31 contest had so many moments ... a strip-sack for a touchdown, Terry Bradshaw's MVP performance, the Smith drop, a big pass-interference call on the Cowboys' Benny Barnes, and a special-teams fumble that turned the game around.

 **Gil Brandt's take:** " 
 Super Bowl XIII, in my mind, was one of the most memorable 
 Super Bowls. Those were two great football teams. We (the Dallas Cowboys) made mistakes. We had Randy White on the return team with a cast on, and then he fumbled the kickoff ... which really hurt us. Even though we lost, I would say 
 Super Bowl XIII was among the greatest Super Bowls." 
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