By Sam McPherson
Before the next big moments arrive at Super Bowl 50, it’s time to look back at the 10 most memorable Super Bowl moments of the last 49 years and remember what it was like to witness those signature events as they happened. Here are the top 10 most memorable Super Bowl moments of all time.
10. Super Bowl V: O’Brien, Lilly & Howley
This game between the Baltimore Colts and the Dallas Cowboys was not football at its finest, as the two teams combined for 11 turnovers—including a whopping seven by the winning team. The Colts completed a fourth-quarter comeback with five seconds left in the game as rookie kicker Jim O’Brien hit a 32-yard field goal to give Baltimore a 16-13 win. The Cowboys had led 13-6 at halftime, and when O’Brien nailed his game winner, Dallas defensive tackle Bob Lilly pulled off his helmet and threw it far down the field in disgust. This defining moment was made even more memorable when Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley was named the game’s Most Valuable Player—the only time in Super Bowl history that a member of the losing team was voted the game’s MVP.
9. Super Bowl VII: Perfection Isn’t Always Pretty
The Miami Dolphins completed the first and only perfect season in modern NFL history when they beat the Washington Redskins, 14-7. However, the game itself wasn’t without a blemish. With just over two minutes remaining and the Dolphins leading by 14 points, Miami kicker Garo Yepremian attempted a field goal. The Redskins blocked the kick, and Yepremian’s subsequent attempt to recover the ball and throw a pass became Super Bowl legend. He failed miserably as Washington’s Mike Bass returned the floating ball for a touchdown. Watching this play unfold never gets old for any NFL fan, and every time there’s a special-teams blunder by a kicker or a punter, Yepremian’s name is invoked.
8. Super Bowl XXIV: The 49ers’ Devastating Dominance
John Elway was back for his third Super Bowl start, but he had the misfortune of running into Joe Montana and the 1980s San Francisco dynasty in its finest form. Montana finished his career 4-0 in Super Bowls, and he never threw an interception in those four title games. The 49ers’ 55-10 victory over the Denver Broncos still stands as the biggest blowout in Super Bowl history. No QB can top Montana’s perfection in Super Bowl play—not even New England’s Tom Brady even if he were to win another one this year.
7. Super Bowl XXII: Washington’s Second-Quarter Explosion.
Quarterbacks dominated the pre-game focus when the Denver Broncos faced the Washington Redskins. Denver’s Elway was starting his second straight Super Bowl, and Washington’s Doug Williams was the first African American QB to start a Super Bowl. When the Broncos took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, the game looked like it may go their way. However, Williams engineered five TD drives in the second quarter—three of them on scoring plays of 50 yards or more—to give the Redskins an insurmountable lead on their way to a 42-10 blowout victory. No Super Bowl team has ever scored more than the 35 points Williams’ Redskins did in one quarter.
6. Super Bowl III: Morrall Doesn’t See Orr On Flea-Flicker Play
There’s no better story than a brash, young upstart guaranteeing a win over the established, more experienced favorite—and then actually delivering on the promise. New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath got all the attention when his team beat the Baltimore Colts, 16-7, to shock the sport. However, Namath & Co. might not have won the game if Colts QB Earl Morrall had been able to find a wide-open Jimmy Orr for a late first half touchdown that would have tied the game and changed the game’s complexion. Instead, Morrall threw an interception, and New York preserved its 7-0 lead at the half. The whole game—and perhaps the future of the NFL—may have been different if Morrall had been able to get the ball to Orr for a score on that flea flicker. “Broadway Joe” would not have the same resonance as it still does today, 47 years later.
5. Super Bowl XXXII: Elway Finally Wins The Big One
Perhaps the most dynamic QB of the 20th century, Elway had experienced some bad Super Bowl luck. He’d carried average Broncos teams to three Super Bowls, only to lose all three in spectacularly ugly fashion. His moment finally came in 1997 against the defending champion Green Bay Packers. Elway laid it all out on the line, and Denver won its first championship with a 31-24 victory—highlighted by Elway’s willingness to sacrifice his own body for the win. Elway and the Broncos won the Super Bowl again the following season, and as Denver’s current GM, Elway has another championship win on his mind as the Broncos have home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs this year.
4. Super Bowl XIV: Bradshaw Comes Through In The Clutch
The first four-time Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers completed their quartet of 1970s titles at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California over the surprising Los Angeles Rams. However, the Steelers needed a fourth-quarter comeback to do so. Trailing 19-17, oft-maligned Pittsburgh QB Terry Bradshaw threw a 73-yard TD pass to wide receiver John Stallworth that put the Steelers up for good. The play was a thing of beauty to behold under the Rose Bowl lights as Rams defensive back Rod Perry just missed batting the ball away. Bradshaw and the Steelers added another late TD to ice the game, 31-19, and cemented their legacy as the Team of the 1970s.
3. Super Bowl XXVIII: Buffalo’s Inconsolable Misery
Only one NFL franchise has made four straight Super Bowl appearances, and yet those 1990-93 Buffalo Bills lost all four games. They are among both the greatest and sorriest of all Super Bowl teams. So when the Bills lost their fourth straight, 30-13, to the Cowboys, their misery was absolute and complete. They were up 13-6 at halftime and had the ball to start the second half, but a fumble return for a TD gave Dallas new life and eventually the victory. Buffalo has never made it back to the championship game, while Dallas won its third Super Bowl in four seasons—and fifth overall—to earn The team of the 1990s’ distinction.
2. Super Bowl: XLIII: Steelers For Six
The best franchise in the history of the Super Bowl is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team has played in eight championship games overall and has won six of them. The Steelers’ sixth Super Bowl win was a close one against the upstart Arizona Cardinals, who were playing in their first Super Bowl. Two plays defined this game for Pittsburgh: An interception return for a TD right before halftime and the go-ahead score with just 36 seconds left that sealed the 27-23 win. Will Pittsburgh be able to win a seventh Super Bowl this postseason? Only time will tell.
1. Super Bowl XXXIV: One More Yard
The 1999 St. Louis Rams may have been “The Greatest Show On Turf,” but the Tennessee Titans had them on the ropes late in Super Bowl XXXIV. The Rams had blown a 16-0 lead, and after re-taking the lead on a long TD pass, they were struggling defensively against the Titans as the game clock wound down in the fourth quarter. Tennessee had one last play to tie the game in regulation, when St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones made perhaps the biggest single tackle in Super Bowl history—stopping Titans WR Kevin Dyson on the one yard line as time expired. This remains the Rams’ only Super Bowl championship and one of the best defensive finishes of any playoff game ever played.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.