Biggest Super Bowl Upsets
Shocking Super Bowl upsets are becoming harder and harder to come by.
Parity cloaks the National Football League these days. The disparity between the top and the bottom teams in the league has never been smaller. And because of the preferred style of play - high scoring, high-octane, and pass-happy - it is harder for teams to simply overpower their opponents.
Perhaps the best indicator of this parity can be found in the Super Bowl spreads. The last Super Bowl with a spread of a touchdown or more was in 2009 (Pittsburgh vs. Arizona). And since the turn of the century there have only been two Super Bowls with double-digit spreads. By comparison, 20 of the first 36 Super Bowls had spreads of 7.0 or more and 12 of the first 32 had spreads of 10.0 or higher.
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Those traditional "David vs. Goliath" matchups are becoming increasingly rare. And the drawback is that we, as fans and bettors, are robbed of the opportunity to witness the truly amazing spectacle of an incredible upset. Upsets have always been an enticing feature of the Super Bowl. And some of the most memorable moments in NFL history have come while watching a historic upset.
Here's a short list of the Most Shocking Upsets in Super Bowl history:
New York Giants 20, Buffalo 19 - Super Bowl XXV
Not only was this one of the biggest upsets of all-time, but also one of the best games of all time.
The spread on this game was only seven points. But the consensus heading into this game was that Buffalo, fresh off a 51-3 win in the AFC Championship, was going to win this game in a rout and begin a dynasty.
The Bills utilized a revolutionary attack, the no-huddle offense, and their offensive approach was years ahead of its time. But the Giants went old school. They relied on the tried-and-true method of pounding the football on the ground and playing punishing defense. The Giants kept the ball for 40 minutes and they simply kept the Bills offense off the field. Also, Scott Norwood's game-ending missed 47-yard field goal remains one of the biggest chokes in NFL history.
Kansas City 23, Minnesota 7 - Super Bowl IV
Kansas City was an afterthought in this game, posted as a 12-point underdog against the Purple People Eaters. Instead, they blasted Minnesota and the 28-point difference between the spread and the actual result qualifies this game as the second-biggest upset in Super Bowl history.
This game doesn't get its just desserts, historically speaking, because it was played the year after Joe Namath and the Jets pulled off their miraculous win over the Colts. The sportsbooks and the wise guys thought that Jets game was an aberration. And they didn't think there was any way that a team from the upstart AFC would beat a team from the NFC two years in a row.
However, Kansas City dominated the first half and took a 16-0 lead into the break. Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson (12-for-17, 142 yards and a touchdown) shook off allegations that he was consorting with big-time gamblers to post an MVP performance.
Denver 31, Green Bay 24 - Super Bowl XXXII
I think that is one of one of the most underappreciated upsets in pro football history. The NFC had absolutely dominated the AFC in the Super Bowl from the late 80's throughout the 90's, winning an astonishing 13 straight titles. Most of the championship games during that time were completely and total blowouts and that period gave way to the belief that "the commercials were better than the game".
Green Bay had won the Super Bowl in a rout the year prior and that win over New England marked the sixth straight year in which the NFC won by double-digits. This game between Denver and Green Bay was the fifth straight year where there was a double-digit spread going into the game, too, with the defending champion Packers posted as a hearty 11-point favorite.
But John Elway, who had watched his previous Super Bowl squads get outscored 158-50 in his first three championship appearances, was able to exorcise some demons. With some help from Terrell Davis (30 carries, 157 yards, 3 TD's) the Broncos snapped the NFC's winning streak and denied Brett Favre a second ring.
New England 20, St. Louis 17 - Super Bowl XXXVI
I remember telling my college roommates that I had absolutely no interest in watching this game because it was destined to be a complete and total blowout. New England had fluked out two playoff wins, including the infamous Tuck Rule game in which the Patriots beat a clearly superior Raiders squad.
The Rams, on the other hand, had run roughshod over the NFL in 2000-01. The Greatest Show on Turf was absolutely throttling people, winning by an average of two touchdowns per game.
But Bill Belichick, a coordinator on the Giants team that slowed down the Bills in the Super Bowl a decade years earlier, devised a game plan that kept the Rams offense off the field and kept the Patriots in the game. Mike Martz's refusal to adjust his scheme doomed the Rams. And Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal capped this stunner and finished the first chapter in Tom Brady's epic career.
New York Giants 17, New England 14 - Super Bowl XLII
Brady has the unique experience of being on the winning end and the losing end of two of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. Six years earlier he led the Pats to their shocking win over the Rams as 14-point underdogs. And in 2008 he was on the wrong end of this game against the Giants despite being a 14-point favorite.
Heading into this game, New England had devastated its previous 18 opponents by an average score of 37-17. They had broken just about every conceivable offensive record and many were dubbing this Pats team The Greatest of All Time. At 18-0 they were just one win away from joining the 1972 Dolphins as the only undefeated teams in NFL history.
But history seemed to repeat itself - for the Giants. Much like the 1991 team that topped a high-powered Bills team, New York was able to avenge a regular season loss with a surprise win in the Super Bowl. The lead changed hands twice in the final three minutes of the game and when the G-Men scored with just 35 seconds left they completed one of the most memorable upsets in all of sports history.
New York Jets 16, Baltimore 7 - Super Bowl III
What can I say about this game that can't already be said? This is the game that changed the entire trajectory of professional football in this country.
The Jets opened as 18-point underdogs for this game. Think about that! And beyond that, the line actually steamed to 20 by kickoff because everyone was pouring money into the Colts. When you consider how much lower-scoring pro football was in that era that spread would be similar to a 27- or 28-point spread in today's NFL.
In spite of that, cocky quarterback Broadway Joe Namath came out beforehand and guaranteed victory in the face of those remarkable odds. And not only did the Jets cover - but they won outright! It was truly an upset for the ages and the standard by which all others will be measured in the NFL.
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