With the Super Bowl being played this weekend, I thought to myself, “What are my 10 most favorite Super Bowls of all-time?”
I’m talking about NFL championships that I personally witnessed. As an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan, obviously the Black and Gold will be among this list. As I began watching the NFL in 1972, that’s 47 years of Super Bowls and this year we are witnessing Super Bowl LIII. So I’ve missed just a handful.
As I review my 10 favorite or most memorable, I list them in no particular order or ranked in any fashion. Just 10 games that are either memorable to me for some reason, or a game that stood out in my mind, so with that said, I give you the 10 games I feel worth talking about.
Super Bowl IX
I list this title game between the victorious Pittsburgh Steelers and perennial Super Bowl losers, the Minnesota Vikings because it was my first Super Bowl ever to witness. The funny thing about this game is that I was 16 years old and had undergone hernia surgery. I was in the hospital for the game and I can clearly and vividly remember my late father telling me, “Don’t get to excited and jump up! You will tear your stitches!”
Well, I don’t think I jumped because while the final score was only 16-6, the Steelers were in control the entire game led by a stifling and scary defensive unit led by the infamous “Steel Curtain” defensive front line and a clock controlling offense with Franco Harris dominating the ground game.
It was Pittsburgh’s first ever NFL title and the beginning of a dominating decade capped off with Chuck Noll’s teams winning four Super Bowls in six years, the first team in the league to reach four Super Bowl victories. Minnesota’s Fran Tarkenton was harassed all day by “Mean” Joe Greene, Dwight “Mad Dog” White, L.C. “Hollywood Bags” Greenwood, and Ernie “Fats” Holmes as well as the rest of Pittsburgh ‘s defense all game. Unfortunately, from the front four defensive line, only Mean Joe remains alive today.
Super Bowl XXV
Anyone who has watched the Super Bowl prior to January 27, 1991 will remember this one. That’s because the Buffalo Bills were making the first of four consecutive trips to the big dance and had this one won as all they needed was a successful 47-yard field goal off the foot of kicker Scott Norwood. Had he made it, it would have been a 22-20 victory for Buffalo over the New York Giants and the Bills’ first-ever Super Bowl trophy. But Norwood’s attempt sailed right and the Giants were NFL champions and the Bills were on their way to four straight defeats in the big show of the NFL.
Some may say Norwood’s gaffe jinxed them for the next three years, while to this day, Norwood admits he has yet to cast off the demons of being the game and perhaps the city of Buffalo’s biggest goat ever. The missed kicked even earned a nickname thanks to game broadcaster Al Michaels, “Wide Right.” To read more about Scott Norwood’s continuing agony, check out this article at https://buffalonews.com/2016/02/20/scott-norwood-is-trying-to-hold-his-head-high-despite-pain-of-one-missed-kick.
For the Bills, they would spend the next three Super Bowls losing in Super Bowl XXVI to the Washington Redskins 37-24, XXVII to Dallas 52-17, and in Super Bowl XXVIII by another blowout score of 30-13 to the Cowboys again.
Super Bowl XXXV
The reason I chose this Super Bowl as one of my favorites or most memorable was not because I was rooting for or liking either team in the game, but rather because as I sat with a friend watching the game and the Giant’s Ron Dixon ran a kickoff back 97 yards for a touchdown to narrow the score to 17-7 in favor of the Ravens. On the ensuing kickoff I turned to my friend and said, “Watch, this guy for Baltimore is going to run this one back for a touchdown as well.”
Jermaine Lewis was the kick returner for Baltimore and just as I had predicted, he took the kickoff following Dixon’s score to paydirt, an 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and the Giants would not score again. Lewis would score again in the fourth quarter and Baltimore won the game going away 34-7.
I also remember that the Ravens came the closest of any team in Super Bowl history to mirror what might have been the greatest defensive Super Bowl team since the Super Bowl began, the 1985 Chicago Bears. Baltimore held the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV to just 66 net yards rushing and only 86 yards passing for an offensive output of only 152 yards.
While Trent Dilfer never became a great quarterback, because of his stifling defense, he was the winning quarterback for Baltimore. In fact, he played just one season with the Ravens and would move on to Seattle the following season and his career would be over six seasons later after being on the rosters of the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers. He is now the head coach at the Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. Lipscomb is a private Christian school that serves as a preparatory college institution.
Super Bowl XXIX
This game goes down as on this list only because this should have been the Pittsburgh Steelers representing the AFC and not the San Diego Chargers. Instead the ‘Bolts beat Pittsburgh in the AFC title game and then would go on to the title game only to get smashed by Steve Young and the San Francisco 49ers 49-26.
I say the Steelers should have been playing in the Super Bowl simply because in the AFC championship in Pittsburgh, the Steelers held a 13-10 lead with under 10 minutes to play. After giving up a 43 yard touchdown pass from Stan Humphries to Tony Martin, the Steelers had one last shot at winning the game and advancing to the Super Bowl.
On the kickoff after the Chargers touchdown, there was 5:13 left on the clock and starting at their own 17, Neil O’Donnell marched the offense downfield. With a little over one minute left in regulation and down by four, the Steelers offense reached the San Diego 10 yard line and had a first down. Pittsburgh had four opportunities to reach paydirt and get a shot at the One for the Thumb Lombardi Trophy. On first down, Barry Foster lost a yard trying the middle of the Chargers’ defense. For the next play, O’Donnell went to the air and missed on an attempt to Eric Green.
Third down and again O’Donnell took to the air and a completion put the ball on the three yard line but it was now fourth down. It was score or stay home. From the three yard line, reminiscent of the Pete Carroll call in the Super Bowl for Seattle a few years ago when Marshawn Lynch could have won the game the for Seahawks, Carroll instead called for a pass play that failed. Bill Cowher attempted the same thing and a pass attempt to Barry Foster was broken up by Dennis Gibson and the Steelers would have to wait another year to get back to the big dance.
On their own turf in Three Rivers Stadium, fans in attendance and those watching on television watched as did the Black and Gold players a San Diego celebration that would not last long because they were no match for San Francisco. To this day I believe the Pittsburgh Steelers would have faired much better.
Super Bowl X
I chose this championship as a favorite because not only was it the Steelers’ third in five seasons, but it had a moment that will be remembered forever. It was little known that in the first half of this game between Pittsburgh and Dallas that Steelers kicker Roy Gerela was forced to make a tackle on Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson on a kick return and in the process, he bruised his ribs.
Unable to properly kick the rest of the way, the Cowboys held a 10-7 lead in the third quarter when Gerela missed his second field goal of the game and Dallas cornerback Cliff Harris made the ill-fated decision to tap Gerela on the helmet in a sarcastic manner and without words gesturing a "way to go nice kick."
BAD MISTAKE. Trying to remove himself from Harris and his taunting, Jack “The Count” Lambert saw the goings on and made his way over to Harris where he slammed the Cowboy to the ground. It’s been a viral video ever since and it turned the momentum of the game to the Steelers in a big way.
Lambert became a beast on defense basically taking over and finishing with 14 tackles. The offense came alive and scored 14 unanswered points while Lambert and his crew on defense kept the Dallas offense limited to four punts and an interception the next five times they had the ball.
With seven sacks of Roger Staubach on the day, six of those came from L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White. Following the Steelers third Super Bowl victory, Jack Lambert was asked about his altercation with Cliff Harris which he responded with, “We're the Pittsburgh Steelers. We're supposed to be the intimidators.” WOW. Where have those days gone?
The game included one of the most memorable receptions in Super Bowl history by Lynn Swann...
Super Bowl XIII
In a rematch of Super Bowl X, the Dallas Cowboys had a shot at revenge against the team that had beaten them a few years earlier. But now the Steelers offense was more potent and the defense remained stout. That same near hero from Super Bowl X, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson decided to be the mouthpiece heading into the rematch.
Henderson loved to talk smack and even compared himself to Muhammad Ali at the time by saying “He’s the greatest, I’m the latest.” So prior to Super Bowl XIII, Henderson went public by declaring that Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw “Was so dumb he couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the c-a.” Bradshaw fired back with:
“This isn’t nuclear physics, it’s a game. How smart do you have to be?”
The game was a battle and close with the Steelers coming out on top again 35-31 and it obviously grounded Henderson because in his post-game remarks he said “Right now I’m on the verge of a heart attack. I hurt. I gave it all I could, and the team gave it all.”
Well their all was not good enough. They would get revenge in Super Bowl XXX when the beat the Steelers 21-17 thanks to several Neil O’Donnell interceptions. But in 1979 it was the Hollywood Henderson show and his talking cost him as Tom Landry released him from the team following the Super Bowl.
Henderson would go on to play for the Miami Dolphins but after breaking his neck during the preseason in 1981, Henderson turned to drugs and developed a cocaine addiction. He would become sober in 1983 but along the way ended up in prison for 28 months on a sexual assault charge. Fate would favor Henderson however as in 2001 he won the lottery weirdly enough for $28 million, the same number of months he served in prison. He would also win another lottery drawing of $20,000 later.
As for Super Bowl XIII, the Steelers would score all on touchdowns by John Stallworth who scored twice including a 75-yard bomb, Rocky Bleier on a surprise reception, Franco Harris who rumbled 22 yards to paydirt, and on a Lynn Swann reception.
The Cowboys’ scores came on three Roger Staubach touchdown passes, a fumble recovery for a score by Mike Hegman, and a field goal off the foot of Rafael Septien. For Bradshaw he didn’t need to worry about spelling CAT. He finished with 318 yards passing, four passing touchdowns, and a 119.2 QB rating. That was far better than Staubach’s 228 yard effort.
To their credit, if not for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys would have assuredly been considered the best team of the 1970s.
Super Bowl XX
As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan since 1972, I was brought up on the thought of a nasty defense that the Steelers put on the field in the 70s and again had some pretty rugged D’s in the 90s. But appreciative of a great defense, anyone who watched the 1985 Chicago Bears had to marvel at the defensive effort they put on that season.
In the 1985 season, Chicago nearly went undefeated winning every game up until December 2, a Monday night when the Miami Dolphins handed the Bears their only defeat of the season, a 38-24 upset, the most points Chicago had surrendered all season.
For the 16 games played in the regular season, the Bears scored 456 points and give up only 198 on defense. That’s just over 12 points per game yielded while the offense was averaging 28 ½ for a total of 456. In finishing 15-1, the Bears pitched four shutouts, two of them in the playoffs and held opponents to 10 points or less 11 times and if you count the playoffs and Super Bowl, they did it 14 times in 19 games played.
Following the Miami loss, the Bears won their final three games and on the final day of the season, December 22, 1985, Chicago spanked rival Detroit 37-17. This was a tune up leading to the Super Bowl as the New York Giants were no competition in the divisional round losing 21-0 and in the NFC championship, the Rams got shut out 24-0. That led to the Patriots embarrassing 46-10 loss in Super Bowl XX.
While the late great Walter Payton was held scoreless in his only Super Bowl appearance, New England was left red faced when they allowed William “Refrigerator” Perry to come over from his defensive line position to rush for a one yard touchdown run, of which some say angered Payton because he was not given the opportunity instead. Sir Walter was rush for 61 yards in the game.
The 1985 Chicago Bears were a colorful bunch but all the while perhaps the most intimidating defense in NFL history. Quarterback Jim McMahon was a nut and led the troops on the infamous “Super Bowl Shuffle” rap song/video. New England managed just 123 yards of total offense, just 12 first downs, and an incredible seven yards rushing.
Super Bowl XVII
Why have I listed this game that was won by the Washington Redskins over the Miami Dolphins 27-17? Simply because of one crazy running back named John Riggins.
I clearly remember “The Diesel” as he was known or perhaps you may remember him as “Riggo” and he was a tough and rugged runner in the mold of a Larry Csonka. Riggo would win the M.V.P. Award for Super Bowl XVII with 166 yards rushing and a touchdown that came on a 43-yard march downfield as he knocked defenders down along the way.
Riggins was fun to watch as a runner given his aggressive, “take no prisoners” style of running. But in a career that began in New York with the Jets in 1971, anyone knowing Riggins’ history remembers the time he sported a Mohawk. In Super Bowl XVII however, it was Riggins and wide receiver Charlie Brown who were the difference as Brown caught six passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Brown was a part of a Washington receiving corps that earned the nickname “The Fun Bunch” and that’s because when scoring touchdowns, these characters that was comprised of Art Monk, Virgil Seay, Brown, Alvin Garrett, Otis Wonsley, Rick Walker, and Don Warren would gather in the end zone for a celebrated “high five” which eventually led to new penalties for excessive celebrations.
That’s a shame because that was an era of touchdown celebrations that made the game fun for fans a time when we also had Billy “White Shoes” Johnson’s touchdown dance and other performances like the “Ickey Shuffle” by Cincinnati’s Icky Woods. These days, the NFL has tried to loosen celebrations but players have taken advantage and truly do conduct excessive celebrations and tainted the original idea.
Super Bowl XLIII
Pittsburgh’s sixth and last Super Bowl title makes the grade not just because it set the record for most Super Bowl victories by one team, but because I was there. I had the fortune of purchasing a ticket for Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Florida and it was easy for me to get to the game since I live in Jacksonville.
The Arizona Cardinals were the NFC champions and came in as a surprise team forced to win three games to get to the big show. The began by beating Atlanta 30-24, then Carolina 33-13, and earned their spot in the Super Bowl by upsetting Philadelphia 32-25. They were the underdogs heading into the game against the Steelers and because of an ill-fated decision by their mascot to desecrate the Terrible Towel, their fate could have very well been predetermined before the game was even played.
As a send off for the Cardinals to the Super Bowl, the team mascot appeared with the Mayor of Phoenix and promptly wiped his armpit with a Terrible Towel. STUPID MISTAKE. Obviously, the person inside the costume did not do their homework and realize that players and fans who have used the towel in any negative fashion, their team has experienced misfortune at the hands of the Steelers.
So when Larry Fitzgerald seemed to break the hearts of Steelers Nation late in Super Bowl XLIII with a 64-yard touchdown and just 2:31 left in regulation, it seemed like the towel curse had failed on Pittsburgh. But with Santonio Holmes telling Ben Roethlisberger he wanted to be the hero, those two began a march downfield and capped it off with what is probably the greatest touchdown reception in the history of the Super Bowl, a toe tapping, perfectly thrown pass to Holmes for the winning score.
The game will also be remembered for the longest interception return for a touchdown in NFL title game history, a 100-yard scamper by James Harrison on the last play of the first half that gave the Steelers a 17-7 lead going into the locker room.
Super Bowl VII
Finally, I give you the “perfect” ending to this Super Bowl saga. Perfect I say because on January 14, 1973, the Miami Dolphins finished off the only perfect season in NFL history. Winning all 14 regular season games then knocking off the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, the Dolphins and Head Coach Don Shula would end the season a perfect 17-0 by beating the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII by a narrow score of 14-7.
The New England Patriots came close a few years back winning every regular season game and two more playoff games but their hopes of a 19-0 season were dashed when the New York Giants upset them in the Super Bowl. What stands out for me about this game and that season is that this was the year the Pittsburgh Steelers made the playoffs for the first time and got to the AFC championship game solely because of the “Immaculate Reception.”
Pittsburgh could have very well upset the apple cart with a victory over the unbeaten Dolphins, but Terry Bradshaw was not 100% in the game and Terry Hanratty spelled him for a time in the championship. That and a fake punt by Larry Seiple that resulted in a touchdown spelled Pittsburgh’s fate.
In the Super Bowl, the Dolphins nearly lost the game and an unbeaten season because of one stupid decision by their kicker, by Garo Yepremian. With just over two minutes left in the game and Miami leading 14-0, apparently the game in hand, a 42-yard field goal that would have certainly iced the game for the Dolphins was attempted. But Yepremian’s kick was blocked and as he was the first to get to the bouncing ball, he instead of falling on it, tried to throw it downfield.
The play was not just comical but costly. Now known as “Garo’s Gaffe,” Washington’s Mike Bass who played with Yepremian in Detroit at one time, picked off the pass by Garo and ran 49 yards in the opposite direction for a touchdown. Miami held off the Redskins for the final minutes to secure their place in history, but in what is easily the biggest bonehead play in Super Bowl history nearly cost them a prefect season.
The Redskins had one final shot with a little over a minute to play but after three consecutive incomplete passed by Billy Kilmer, he was sacked on the final play of the game by Bill Stanfill. If not for Gary Yepremian, the Miami Dolphins would have recorded the only shutout in Super Bowl history.