I Can’t Believe What I Just Saw
When undrafted, rookie free agent cornerback Malcolm Butler sealed the Patriots Super Bowl 49 victory with 20 seconds left in the game, I felt for those agonizing fans who were on the wrong side of the scoreboard. No, not the bandwagon Seahawks fans who stole the name “The 12th Man” from Texas A&M and others (unless 12th man stands for the last Seahawks’ fan to enter Ford Field before Super Bowl XL.) I was referring to ALL fans of teams who have experienced last minute crushing defeats in Super Bowls, a trend that has picked up steam after the big game experienced 31 years of mostly lopsided contests.
Below is a list of the top 10 heartbreaking Super Bowl losses, a non-scientific study that took into account players and fans of teams who may still be simmering to this day. Preferential treatment was given to teams who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, or who lost due to unbelievable plays or drives. A team’s historical success also played a role.
Honorable mention: Green Bay Packers Super Bowl XXXII Jan. 25, 1998
In a game that brought back balance and stability to the NFL’s biggest stage, the significant underdog and undersized Broncos upset the Packers, culminating with a crushing hit (will find another video that works, but youtube it to refresh your memory) by Steve Atwater that would have been penalized immediately in today’s game as he knocked out himself and two others. With the Broncos missing two defensive backs on the 4th down play, Brett Favre threw a pass behind his receiver who was covered by a much slower linebacker. Moments before this drive, the Packers defense purposely let the Broncos score the game winning touchdown, which actually allowed the drama to unfold.
10: Carolina Panthers Super Bowl XXXVIII Feb. 1, 2004
In one of the most entertaining Super Bowls (and the most talked about halftime “show” of all-time), both teams combined for 24 points over the last 3:05 of the first half, and combined for 37 points in the 4th quarter. The last three points were scored with 4 seconds left on a 41-yard Adam Vinitari field goal, leaving the Carolina franchise now 20 years without a Lombardi Trophy.
9: New England Patriots Super Bowl XLVI Feb. 5, 2012
The Giants did it to the favored Patriots again as another miracle catch followed by Ahmad Bradshaw’s uncontested 6-yard game winning touchdown with less than a minute remaining, left the Patriots shaking their heads in disbelief for the second time in five years. Allowing a team to score an uncontested TD when up by three or more points is a questionable maneuver at best, and it backfired.
8: San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl XLVII Feb. 3, 2013
A 4-down goal-line stance stopped what would have been the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, as Colin Kaepernick threw three straight incompletions, the last of which sent a third of Jim Harbaugh’s hair into the air as he screamed for an interference call. If the 49ers did score a game-winning touchdown, the Ravens would have ended up in the top three on this list. Falling just short is much easier to take as a fan than watching a team collapse, especially when that team already has five Super Bowl rings under its belt.
7: Cincinnati Bengals Super Bowl XXIII Jan. 22, 1989
The Bengals kicked the go-ahead field goal with 3:20 remaining in the 4th. Joe Montana then started with the ball at his own 8 yard line down 16-13 with 3:10 on the clock and marched 92 yards, throwing a TD pass to John Taylor with :34 left in the game. 49ers won 20-16, and the Bengals haven’t been close to a Super Bowl since. This ranking could be higher but it isn’t due to the fact that San Francisco responded immediately to all of the Bengals second half scoring drives, and the Bengals left so much time on the clock.
6: Tennessee Titans Super Bowl XXXIV Jan. 30, 2000
The Titans were down 16-0, scored the game tying TD with 2:12 to play, only to have the Rams throw a 73-yard bomb to take the lead back. The Titans had nearly two minutes to mount a game-winning touchdown drive, and it looked as though this game was heading to overtime, but Titans WR Kevin Dyson was tackled one yard short of the end-zone as time expired. The Titans/Oilers franchise has yet to win a Super Bowl, with 18 of those years in Nashville.
5: Saint Louis Rams Super Bowl XXXVI Feb. 3, 2002
During the game, The Rams out-gained the Pats 427-267 but had three costly turnovers. Despite their offensive issues, the Rams tied the game at 17 with 1:30 left in the game, but Tom Brady led a drive that resulted in a 48-yard field goal as time expired. The result alone would place this game in the bottom of the top 10, but Rams players (and fans) still complain to this day about the Patriots ability to check their defense precisely to counter plays that have never been seen in public before. This ongoing cheating allegation is worth at least 5 spots, especially in the today’s climate.
4: Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl XLVIII Feb. 1, 2015
In a contest that seemed to be all but over when Seattle took a 10-point lead with the best defense in the NFL over the past two years, they watched the Patriots score 14 straight points and were down by 4 with 2:02 left in the game. Seattle marched down the field on yet another late-game miracle catch against a Patriots defense, before a coaching disaster struck with :20 on the clock. Instead of handing the ball off to their running back who averaged 4.25 YPC and had only 2 no-gains out of 24 attempts, despite being the focal point of the Patriots defense, Seattle decided to throw a 1-yard slant into a congested middle of the field, which resulted in an interception and sealed New England’s victory.
3. New England Patriots Super Bowl XLII Feb. 3, 2008
The heavily favored Patriots were going for NFL immortality by joining the 1972 Dolphins as the only other undefeated team in the Super Bowl era. Someone forgot to tell David Tyree and Eli Manning as they connected on a miracle catch leading to a game winning drive with :35 remaining on the clock. This game may be ranked #1 by some, especially because the team just missed out on an all-time 19-0 record, but NE has won four other Super Bowls and had plenty of breaks go their way over the years.
2. Arizona Cardinals Super Bowl XLIII Feb. 1, 2009
This game comes in at #2 based on not one, but two half or game ending miraculous plays that would have changed the outcome. The first was an improbable 100-yard James Harrison interception return that looked like it would be stopped no fewer than five times, and seemed to take 30 seconds. The second came after Arizona, trailing by 13, reeled off 16 straight points in the 4th quarter to take the lead with 2:37 left in the game. Arizona brought out their “prevent defense”, which naturally allowed what it’s designed to prevent- a 40-yard catch and run, to the Cardinals 6 yard line with 49 seconds remaining. The Steelers scored the game winner 2 plays and 14 seconds later as Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes connected on a touchdown-of-inches from all aspects: three defenders, a receiver’s finger tips, and sideline chalk. This game could easily be the number one heart-breaker based on those two scores plus the added Rahim Moore-like defensive breakdown on the 40-yard catch.
1. Buffalo Bills Super Bowl XXV Jan. 27, 1991 This game changed the course of Bills history as Scott Norwood missed a last second 47-yard field goal wide right. The collective fans of the AFC slumped in unison as the conference had lost the previous six Super Bowls, and would go on to lose another six in a row. Although a 47-yard field goal is no gimme, especially in 1991, this #1 ranking was based what the Bills have done in their history, what happened during their following three super Bowl attempts, and how Scott Norwood went from NFL kicker/Super Bowl hero/Buffalo icon, to insurance salesman based on the result of that one field goal attempt.