The Super Bowl is the pinnacle of the American sports calendar.
The two best teams in the NFL duking it out in front of hundreds of millions of people to crown a champion. Eleven players on each side of the ball fighting as hard as they can to win.
Sure, sometimes the game ends up a dud. It was probably awesome for Seattle residents when the Seahawks demolished the Broncos 43–8 in 2014, even if the commercials were higher quality than the football being played—but more often than not, the matchups are entertaining and fun.
And the best of those matchups are the ones that aren’t decided until the fourth quarter—or the final seconds of the game. There’s nothing quite like watching a team put all their hopes and dreams on the line to gut out a win as time expires.
Here's a look at the most exciting Super Bowl games of all time:
Super Bowl LI, Patriots vs. Falcons, 2017
Well, it looks like we have a new “best Super Bowl of all time.”
The first Super Bowl to go into overtime didn’t disappoint. After going down 28-3 and appearing dead in the water, the New England Patriots stormed back, scoring 25 unanswered points to send the game into an extra frame before adding the game-winning touchdown on a run by running back James White.
Tom Brady orchestrated the comeback by throwing for over 400 yards and the Patriots buried some David Tyree demons (see below) by making an impossible looking catch of their own from Julian Edelman in the fourth quarter. The Falcons got an unbelievable catch from Julio Jones late in the game, but they weren’t able to add to their lead at all once they went up by 25, giving the Patriots the chance to chip away. Brady and Bill Belichick each now have five Super Bowl rings between them, an NFL record.
Super Bowl XLII, Giants vs. Patriots, 2008
The New England Patriots rolled into the Super Bowl with an 18-0 record and the chance to go down in the history books as the first undefeated team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to win a championship. Tom Brady and Randy Moss each had record-setting seasons for the Pats—Moss had 23 touchdown receptions, Brady 50 touchdown passes—but none of that mattered once the teams faced off at University of Phoenix Stadium.
After a not-so-exciting first three quarters that saw a combined 10 points for the two teams, things really started to heat up in the fourth quarter. The Giants took a 10-7 lead after a touchdown pass from Eli Manning to David Tyree (don’t forget that name) before the Patriots stormed back with a touchdown pass to—who else?—Moss, to take a 14-10 lead. With just over two minutes remaining, the Patriots' perfect season was within reach, but the Giants weren't done yet.
On 3rd-and-5 with the Giants' season hanging in the balance, Manning took the snap and immediately found himself hounded by three Patriots players. Jarvis Green and Richard Seymour each had a hand on Manning’s jersey, but the quarterback somehow broke free of the pressure and launched a deep ball towards Tyree for what many call the greatest play in Super Bowl history: Tyree made a one-handed catch and pinned the ball against his helmet, giving the Giants the first down. A few plays later, Manning hit Plaxico Burress in the endzone for what would be the game-winning touchdown. Perfect season over. Giants win.
Super Bowl XXXIV, Rams vs. Titans, 2000
The 2000 Rams offense was one of the best of all time. In the Super Bowl, “The Greatest Show On Turf” took a 16-0 lead on the Titans in the third quarter, looking as dominant as ever. But Steve McNair and the Tennessee offense battled back, eventually tying up the game with just over two minutes to play. Kurt Warner hit Isaac Bruce on a deep touchdown pass to take the lead, giving the Titans one last chance to even things up. The team drove down the field, and with just six seconds remaining, McNair hit Kevin Dyson with a pass at the 5-yard line—Dyson had some daylight, and for a second it looked like the Titans were going to tie the game and send it to overtime. Not so fast, though: linebacker Mike Jones hit Dyson as he stretched the ball towards the endzone, coming up just one yard short. “The Tackle," as Jones's hit was soon dubbed, sealed the Super Bowl victory for the Rams.
Super Bowl XLIX, Patriots vs. Seahawks, 2015
It must be something about University of Phoenix Stadium that brings the best out of NFL teams.
After the devastating loss to the Giants in 2008, the New England Patriots were back in Glendale, looking to exorcise their demons (a.k.a. David Tyree) against the defending champion Seattle Seahawks. The two best teams in the NFL that season battled back and forth into the final two minutes, with the Pats leading the Hawks 28-24.
Here it was, a chance to make up for the loss to the Giants in the same building it happened in—until Jermaine Kearse made an amazing, circus-like catch to set up the Seahawks in the redzone. Patriots fans everywhere were thinking: “We’ve seen this story before, here we go again, oh no.” Russell Wilson had the Seahawks on the 1-yard line, game on the line. You hand it off to Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch and win the game, right? Instead, Wilson tried to hit Ricardo Lockette on a slant pass, which was intercepted by linebacker Malcolm Butler, who sealed the game for the Patriots with one of the most exciting finishes in NFL history.
Super Bowl XLVI, Giants vs. Patriots, 2012
Giants-Patriots in the Super Bowl, round two—but the sequel is never as good as the original, right?
From the get-go, the Pats should’ve known this game was going to be a wild one after they got off to a very inauspicious start—after the Giants punted deep, Tom Brady was flagged for intentional grounding in the endzone, giving New York a safety and a 2-0 lead. After the Giants went up 9-0, the Patriots got to work, scoring 17 straight points—but they wouldn’t add to the scoreboard again.
After two field goals from the Giants brought the team within two points at 17-15, that’s when the fireworks started happening. With less than four minutes remaining in the game, the Giants were pinned deep in their own zone at the 12-yard line, meaning they would need a lengthy drive to win the game. Manning wasted no time moving the chains—his first pass was a 40-yard bomb to Mario Manningham, who somehow found space between two defenders and made a fantastic catch along the sidelines, mimicking what David Tyree did against the Pats in the Super Bowl four years earlier.
For Patriots fans, it was deja vu all over again. A Giants wide receiver making a fantastic catch as the team drives down to try and win the Super Bowl? This time would be different, right? Wrong. Ahmad Bradshaw scored the winning touchdown with less than a minute left and the Giants won the Super Bowl after Brady’s last-second Hail Mary heave to Rob Gronkowski fell to the turf.
Super Bowl XLIII, Steelers vs. Cardinals, 2009
Just one year after the amazing comeback by the Giants over the Patriots in 2008, the Steelers and Cardinals put on one of the most entertaining—and thrilling—Super Bowl matchups ever. The game featured a 100-yard interception return by Steelers linebacker James Harrison, a dominating performance from Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald, and a fantastic, toe-tapping game-winning touchdown catch from Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes. Fitzgerald helped the Cardinals take a late lead after a 64-yard TD catch with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers refused to give up. Holmes made his TD grab with 35 seconds left, helping Pittsburgh win their sixth Super Bowl.
Super Bowl III, Jets vs. Colts, 1969
Even before this game started, there was plenty of intrigue. The New York Jets were considered heavy underdogs because they were an AFL team, but quarterback Joe Namath didn’t care about that. “Broadway Joe” made a victory guarantee three days before the game and he backed it up—the Jets opened up a 16-0 lead and only allowed a fourth quarter touchdown by backup quarterback Johnny Unitas on their way to victory. This was technically the first “Super Bowl"; previous title games were called the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.” As of the 2015 season, this remains the only appearance for the Jets in the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXV, Giants vs. Bills, 1991
If you want to torment a Buffalo Bills fan, just say the words “Wide Right.”
After scoring 51 points the previous week, the Bills came up against a strong Giants defense, run by then-defensive coordinator Bill Belichick. New York bottled up Jim Kelly and the Bills, but Buffalo was in position to win the game, down 20-19 with four seconds left. Kicker Scott Norwood came out for a 47-yard field goal attempt, but his kick sailed wide right, giving the Giants the victory and the Bills a heartbreaking loss. Buffalo would go back to three straight Super Bowls following this one, losing all of them.
Super Bowl XXXVI, Patriots vs. Rams, 2002
NFL fans know Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots as perennial Super Bowl contenders, but back in 2002, the team was a heavy underdog against Kurt Warner and Rams. Stunningly, the St. Louis offense—known as the “The Greatest Show on Turf” after leading the league in total offense, passing yards, and passing touchdowns—was mostly shut down by the Patriots defense. The Rams were trailing 17-3 in the fourth quarter, but Warner battled back, leading the Rams on two scoring drives to tie the game 17-17 with less than two minutes remaining. The Patriots, with zero timeouts left, drove down the field to set up a game-winning field goal attempt from Adam Vinatieri, who pushed through the 48-yard kick as time expired to give the Pats their first Super Bowl championship.
Super Bowl X, Steelers vs. Cowboys, 1976
The Pittsburgh Steelers came into the Super Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys looking to win back-to-back titles behind their "Steel Curtain" defense. Steelers wideout Lynn Swann was expected to miss the game after suffering an injury in the previous round of the playoffs, but he battled through pain to make four catches for 161 yards, including a legendary 64-yard acrobatic catch that he pulled in as he was falling to the ground. The Steelers were leading 21-17 when Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach tried to drive the team down the field for a game-winning touchdown. On third down with less than 30 seconds left, Staubach attempted to hit Percy Howard for a score, but the ball was tipped and landed in the hands of Steelers defender Glen Edwards, sealing the victory for Pittsburgh.
Super Bowl XXXVIII, Patriots vs. Panthers, 2004
The matchup between the Patriots and Panthers was a high-scoring, offensively entertaining affair—the teams combined for over 800 yards of offense and 61 points despite neither side scoring in the first and third quarters. The Panthers were in the Super Bowl for the first time and were underdogs to Tom Brady and the Patriots, but scrappy quarterback Jake Delhomme kept things close, tying the game 29-29 with a 31-yard touchdown pass to receiver Ricky Proehl.
With just over a minute left to play, it looked like this would be the first Super Bowl game to go into overtime—but Brady had something to say about that. The quarterback drove the Pats down the field, setting up Adam Vinatieri for a game-winning 41-yard field goal with less than 10 seconds left, giving the team their second championship in three years with the 32-29 victory.