Despite its standing as the biggest annual game in the U.S. sports calendar, the Super Bowl has had a long history of not living up to its reputation. There have been some epic blowouts over the last 49 years—including San Francisco’s 45-point rout over Denver in Super Bowl XXIV, the worst drubbing in the game’s history. However in recent history, the competition has become more fierce. In the last 10 years, the Super Bowl has been decided by an average of only 9 points. On the brink of the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl, we look back at five of the closest Super Bowls in history.
Super Bowl V (1971)
Baltimore beats Dallas 16-13
Super Bowl V has been nicknamed the “Blunder Bowl” because it was sloppy play—and not necessarily strong competition—that led to the tight game. The two teams combined for 11 turnovers, including a staggering seven by the Colts. Baltimore’s rookie kicker Jim O’Brien—who pulled double duty as a wide receiver—booted the 32-yard game-winning field goal with five seconds left to play.
Super Bowl XXV (1991)
New York Giants Sneak by the Buffalo Bills 20-19
Perhaps it was only fitting in the saga that was the Buffalo Bills string of Super Bowl losses, there was an absolute heartbreaker punctuated by the words “wide right.” Despite the Giants controlling the ball for 40 minutes and 33 seconds—a Super Bowl record—the Bills had a chance to win on their last drive. Jim Kelly spiked on the ball on the 29 yard line with 8 seconds left to play, leaving kicker Scott Norwood with a 47-yard field goal—right on the edge of his length range. The kick was up and…”No good,” said Al Michaels from the announcer booth. “Wide right.” It was a bad omen, as the Bills lost the next three Super Bowls and haven’t been back since.
Super Bowl XXXVI (2002)
New England defeats St. Louis 20-17
The great underdog story of Kurt Warner—from grocery store bagger to NFL quarterback—reached its peak in February 2002 when Warner’s St. Louis Rams met the Patriots, led by second-year upstart Tom Brady. The Rams came back from a 17-3 deficit to tie the game with 1:30 left, but then Brady began to do what he has become known for—performing in the clutch. He marched his team down to the Rams 30-yard line and let ace kicker Adam Vinatieri put the ball through the uprights to kickstart the Patriots recent dynasty.
Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004)
New England overcomes Carolina, 32-29
The Patriots returned to the title game two years later, but the real star of this year’s Super Bowl was the Janet Jackson / Justin Timberlake halftime concert gone awry in the form of a “wardrobe malfunction.” Like the 2002 game, this one also came down to the final seconds when the normally steel-nerved Vinatieri—who had missed two earlier field goals, including a blocked kick—sealed the deal with four seconds remaining. In total, the two teams combined for 27 points in a Wild West showdown of a fourth quarter. “It was a tough game to coach,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “I was having a heart attack out there.”
Super Bowl XLII (2008)
New York Giants win over New England, 17-14
The Patriots entered the game with a lot on the line. They had a perfect season hanging in the balance and were still suffering the PR fallout from “Spy Gate.” They had to win this game to prove their regular season victories were real. But it was the Giants who provided the fireworks. On the last drive of the game, Eli Manning scrambled away from four Patriot defenders and narrowly escaped a sack on a third down at midfield to loft the ball to wide receiver David Tyree, who sandwiched the ball against his helmet for a completed pass. A few plays later Manning hit Plaxico Burress for the game-winning, 13-yard touchdown. “We usually are on the better side of those 3-point wins,” Brady said after the game.
Super Bowl XLIX (2015)
New England over Seattle 28-24
By every possible measure, the Seahawks were going to win this game. They were trailing by four points with 26 seconds to go, but had the ball on the Patriots one-yard line. All the Seahawks had to do was punch the ball into the end zone using the workhorse Marshawn Lynch, and yet Pete Carroll called a pass play. What unfolded was one of the most bone-headed moments in sports: Russell Wilson threw an interception to Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler, who saved the game for his team. “It was the worst result of a call ever,” said Carroll. “The call would have been a great one if we catch it. It would have been just fine and nobody would have thought twice about it.”