The Super Bowl is the richest prize in football and the most famous championship in North America. With an NFL season being just 16 games and the playoffs being single-game elimination, that leaves room for some surprises, or flukes if you will; opportunities for teams to shock the world and take home the Lombardi Trophy.
A mediocre regular season can be redeemed come playoff time. Of the 48 Super Bowl champions, we have some teams that don’t quite measure up to some others. The teams that don’t seem to belong on the list of champions along with the early Green Bay Packer teams, the Steelers of the 70s, the 49ers of the 80s or the Cowboys of the 90s.
Anything can happen in sports, and this list proves that. Don’t be offended if you find your team on this list. They won the Super Bowl, so there’s no reason to be angry, right? It’s just in relation to the other 38 Super Bowl champions.
10) 2012 Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens were reeling heading into the playoffs a couple of years ago. They had changed offensive coordinators late in the season, going from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell, Joe Flacco was playing himself out of Baltimore and the Ravens’ once formidable defence was showing their age. They lost four of their last five games, including a blowout loss to Denver in Week 15. They clinched the AFC North with a convincing 33-14 win over the defending champions, the New York Giants the following week. Still, many didn’t give the Ravens much of a chance going into the postseason. Their best opportunity to win seemed to have passed them by when Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field goal against New England 11 months earlier.
Then, Ray Lewis announced it would be his last ride and everything clicked. The Ravens suddenly found their old form on defence, and Joe Flacco began to get comfortable with Jim Caldwell’s balanced, yet aggressive play-calling. They put the Colts away in the wild card round, to meet the no.1 seeded Denver Broncos. They allowed two return touchdowns to Trindon Holliday, but their defence kept them in the game. Down 35-28 in the final minute, Flacco sailed a pass over Rahim Moore to Jacoby Jones to tie the game. A Peyton Manning interception in overtime led to a Ravens win in double overtime.
Baltimore got their revenge on New England in the AFC Championship to meet the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. The 49ers were the more talented team, but the Ravens showed character, going up 28-6 before a blackout halted their momentum and got the 49ers back in the game. The Ravens held on, fittingly with a defensive stand, to win the Super Bowl. They missed the playoffs the following season, due to sweeping changes to the roster. The Ravens of the years before were actually better than the 2012 version, at least on paper. This also gave Joe Flacco a six-year, $120 million contract.
9) 2007 New York Giants
The team started 0-2, then went on to win 10 straight road games, including three in the playoffs, to reach the Super Bowl against the undefeated New England Patriots. Sure, this team had a formidable pass rush, with Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Fred Robbins, but the team had many holes. Plaxico Burress was their only true receiving threat and Eli Manning still hadn’t quite proven himself as a top tier quarterback.
Their 10-6 season wasn’t all that impressive, with their 10 wins coming against teams with a combined record of 60-100 (.375). What made it all change was a close loss in Week 17 to New England, as the Giants hung with the perfect Pats for a 38-35 loss. Instead of resting starters, Tom Coughlin used the game as a measuring stick for his team and the close loss gave the team an added sense of confidence heading into the playoffs.
They proceeded to knock off Tampa Bay, a top-seeded Cowboys team (the Tony Romo-coming-off-a-vacation game) and then the Packers in overtime in the NFC Championship. The Super Bowl came along and Plaxico Burress predicted a 23-17 Giants win. Many scoffed at the idea that New England would only score 17 points. Instead, they scored fewer in a shocking 17-14 Giants win. David Tyree’s helmet catch and Burress’s late winner ended New England’s perfect run and the Giants pulled off the biggest upset in Super Bowl history.
8) 2000 Baltimore Ravens
What? Ray Lewis‘s defence on this list? Blasphemous, right? Well, no actually, this is rather a ringing endorsement to how good that defence was. Yes, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens arguably had the best defence of all time, but that was pretty much all they had. They weren’t well rounded as a team, relying on the defence to steal games for them. Luckily the unit was so good, they did! The Ravens’ offence was so inept at one point, they went five straight weeks without scoring a touchdown! Even in the playoffs, their defence carried them to victories.
After a 24-3 win over Denver, the Ravens faced the top seeded Tennessee Titans. They defeated the Titans 24-10, with only one offensive touchdown. Tied at 10 going into the fourth quarter, the Ravens returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown, and Ray Lewis sealed it with a 50-yard interception return. Shannon Sharpe’s 96-yard touchdown reception from Trent Dilfer was all the Ravens needed in a 16-3 win over Oakland, then came the Super Bowl.
Their 34-7 victory in the Super Bowl was again, a result of their dominant defence, with a couple of plays thrown in by the offence. The Ravens intercepted Kerry Collins four times, recovered a fumble and added a touchdown on a kickoff return. The defence pitched a shutout, with New York’s only score coming off a kick return of their own. This team was all about the defence.
7) 1990 New York Giants
This Super Bowl win was a result of brilliant coaching by Bill Parcells. An injury to quarterback Phil Simms saw the Giants led into the Super Bowl by Jeff Hostetler. Simms was injured in a Week 15 loss to Buffalo. Sure the Giants had a great defence and solid running game, but they weren’t scaring anybody through the air. No receiver had more than 30 catches on the season!
Their playoff run included a resounding 31-3 victory over Chicago, thanks to a dominating 40 minutes of ball possession and their four man front generating pressure on Chicago’s offence. They followed it up with a narrow 15-13 victory in a defensive struggle over the San Francisco 49ers, essentially ending the Bay Area’s dynasty. Five Matt Bahr field goals gave the Giants the win.
The Giants entered Super Bowl XXV as underdogs to the explosive, up-tempo offence of the Bills. However, thanks to a strong performance by Ottis Anderson, the Giants held onto the football for 40:33, limiting Buffalo’s chances on offence. Still, the Bills had a chance to win in the end, but Scott Norwood’s kick sailed wide right, giving Parcells his second Super Bowl.
6) 1970 Baltimore Colts
The Baltimore Colts were not the same team they had been two years before when they were upset by the New York Jets. Johnny Unitas was now 37 years old and coming off a long-term injury, leading to inconsistent play throughout the season. In fact, he recorded more interceptions than touchdowns. Despite all this, the Colts were 11-2-1.
Perhaps it was more of an indictment against the AFC that season. In unspectacular fashion, the Colts made a run through the playoffs, thanks to Bubba Smith leading the way on defence, as well as Mike Curtis, Ted Hendricks, and Jerry Logan in the secondary. Their dominant defence carried them to a 17-0 shutout over Cincinnati, then a 27-17 win over Oakland.
The Colts won Super Bowl V, in what is known as the “Blunder Bowl”, perhaps the worst Super Bowl ever played. The Colts and Cowboys combined for a whopping 11 turnovers, with the Colts committing seven themselves. Earl Morrall replaced an injured Unitas midway through the game. The Colts’ only touchdown came on a pass that ricocheted right to John Mackey. Baltimore won on a late field goal by Jim O’Brien. The Colts played so bad that the MVP trophy went to Cowboys’ linebacker Chuck Howley. It’s baffling how the Colts won this game.
5) 2011 New York Giants
Much like they got the big play from David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII, Mario Manningham’s sideline catch gave the Giants the big play they needed in Super Bowl XLV. The Giants once again proved to be the mighty Patriots’ kryptonite in a 21-17 win.
After missing the playoffs in 2010, the New York Giants squeaked into the 2011-12 playoffs at 9-7, winning three of their last four games, including a 31-14 win in the season finale over the Dallas Cowboys. At 9-7, they had won their division and opened the playoffs at home, to a 10-6 Falcons team. The Giants squeaked in only due to a putrid NFC East, but like in 2007, reached their peak in January. They dominated the Falcons in a 24-2 victory at the Meadowlands, before going on the road to take on the 15-1 Packers, who were also defending champions. The Giants handed the Packers a 37-20 loss, on a day where the Packers uncharacteristically dropped six passes after dropping only 30 the entire season.
The Giants then beat the 49ers in overtime in the NFC Championship, thanks to Kyle Williams muffing two punt returns, including one in overtime, to give New York a 20-17 win. Once again, they got the better of New England, shutting them out in the fourth quarter.
Ironically their winning touchdown came on a play when the Patriots allowed Ahmad Bradshaw to score, electing to give Tom Brady one last chance with the ball. That kind of wraps it up nicely; they were given the chance to score the winning touchdown. If there’s one thing the Giants have taught us, it’s that you shouldn’t let them sneak into the playoffs.
4) 1980 Oakland Raiders
The 1980 Oakland Raiders were the NFL’s first wild card team to win a Super Bowl. That has happened more often in recent years, but the original belongs on this list. The 1980 Raiders finished 11-5, second in the AFC West behind San Diego. Jim Plunkett kept finding ways to win, despite throwing 16 interceptions to 18 touchdowns. He was called off the bench in relief for Dan Pastorini, who broke his leg in a Week 5 matchup with Kansas City.
Plunkett threw five interceptions in a 31-17 loss, but would go 9-2 the rest of the way. The Raiders would go on to defeat the Oilers, Browns and Chargers in the AFC playoffs, setting up a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles who playing in their first Super Bowl. The Eagles had one of the league’s best defences, allowing the fewest points in the 1980 season. In fact they had defeated Oakland 10-7 during the regular season, sacking Plunkett eight times.
Plunkett got his revenge, throwing three touchdown passes and leading the Raiders to a 27-10 victory. He was named the game’s MVP. It all felt so fluky that the Raiders somehow pulled this off while in turmoil with the league and with Plunkett playing over his head.
3) 2001 New England Patriots
How different would the NFL have been if the controversial “Tuck Rule” didn’t exist? While Patriots fans may be tired of hearing about how Oakland was robbed of a playoff victory, Raiders fans have a point. Plus, you can’t blame them for being bitter considering where the two organizations went. The Patriots won three of the next four Super Bowls, and have won 11 AFC East titles since then. The Raiders have not had a winning season since 2002.
This run all started when Drew Bledsoe was injured in Week 2 of the season and a sixth-round pick by the name of Tom Brady took the reigns and led the Patriots to the Super Bowl, with that reprieve against Oakland. The Patriots won the AFC East at 11-5 despite being ranked 24th on defence heading into the playoffs.
The “Tuck Rule” was robbery and there’s no other way to put it. New England then took out a flat Pittsburgh team in the AFC championship and won Super Bowl XXXVI over St. Louis thanks to Bill Belichick out-coaching the polarizing Mike Martz, possibly with the help of video cameras. Nonetheless, they pulled off the upset and the team eventually built itself into a dynasty, not before the Patriots missed the playoffs the following year, indicating the 2001 version of the Patriots overachieved based on their talent level at the time.
2) 1968 New York Jets
It was the AFL’s first Super Bowl and it came on the heels of Joe Namath guaranteeing victory. Based on what the Jets did following this Super Bowl, it’s hard not to see the 1968 team as a fluke.
While Namath’s guarantee made him famous, he actually had a dismal season in 1968. He completed just 49.2 per cent of his passes, and threw for more interceptions than touchdowns (17 to 15). The Jets lost to the 1-12-1 Bills and 5-9 Broncos that season, but somehow still finished 11-3. Matt Snell, their leading rusher, totalled just 747 yards that season. However, the Jets would win the AFL championship with a 27-23 win over Oakland to meet the heavily favoured Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
The Colts were without star quarterback Johnny Unitas to start the game and fell behind 16-0. Namath went 17 of 29 for 195 yards in the game, with Matt Snell scoring the Jets’ only touchdown. The Jets added three Jim Turner field goals before Unitas came off the bench and led the Colts to their only touchdown drive, a one-yard run by Jerry Hill. It was a huge win for the AFL, as they asserted themselves as legitimate competition to the NFL, speeding up the process of a merger. If not for Namath’s guarantee, nobody would’ve remembered much of this team.
1) 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
Super Bowl XL was one of the sloppiest affairs in the game’s history, with the game being remembered more for terrible calls against the Seahawks and the gadget play from Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward than anything else. This was a team that played in way over their heads.
After a disappointing AFC Championship loss the year before, a year in which the Steelers went 15-1, Ben Roethlisberger convinced Jerome Bettis to stay one more year, promising a Super Bowl. The Steelers won their last four games to enter the playoffs as a wild card at 11-5. They got a big break right off the bat.
The Cincinnati Bengals had won the AFC North and hosted Pittsburgh in the wild card round, but on the game’s opening drive, Carson Palmer was knocked out of the game. The shellshocked Bengals couldn’t hold on and the Steelers ran away with a 31-17 win. The next week, the Steelers knocked off the top-seeded Colts, again scoring some big breaks. They jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but the Colts battled back, aided by a terrible call overturning a Troy Polamalu interception. Up 21-18 in the dying minutes, Bettis fumbled at the Colts’ goal line. A game-saving tackle by Big Ben kept the Steelers alive. The Colts marched into field goal range, but Mike Vanderjagt, who had been perfect at home in the playoffs, missed the 46-yarder.
They rolled over Denver in the AFC Championship to meet the Seahawks, who were in their first Super Bowl. Ben Roethlisberger had just about the worst game of any Super Bowl-winning quarterback, completing 9 of 21 passes for 123 yards and two interceptions. There’s still controversy as to whether he actually crossed the plane on his touchdown run.
The game also included a phantom offensive pass interference call on Darrell Jackson, nullifying a Seahawks touchdown. Willie Parker’s 75-yard touchdown run gave the Steelers a 14-3 lead early in the second half. Seattle cut the deficit with a touchdown pass to Jeramy Stevens. The Seahawks then were denied a first and goal from the one-yard line thanks to another terrible call, when the officials penalized Sean Locklear for holding. Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception three plays later.
Seattle never recovered, with the Steelers scoring on the famous gadget play and running the clock down from there. This Steelers team caught many breaks on their run, proving that luck is certainly a factor in a team’s championship run.