Last year’s Super Bowl featured a backup quarterback leading the underdog Eagles to a win over the mighty Patriots, with a trick play for the ages thrown in for good measure. The one before it saw New England come back from a 28-3 second-half deficit to win in overtime, and four years ago the Patriots won in thrilling fashion after the Seahawks decided not to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch with the game on the line.
Suffice to say, we’ve been a bit spoiled of late when it comes to exciting Super Bowls, but they haven’t always gone that way. Between 1969 and 1975, the losing team failed to put up more than seven points in six of seven Super Bowls, and between 1983 and 1999, the average margin of victory for the NFL’s championship game was a wholly noncompetitive 19.5 points, with only three games in that span decided by single digits.
And that is what concerns us today, because for every Philly Special there is a Garo Yepremian. Here, then, is the ironclad list of the five worst games in Super Bowl history.
Super Bowl 50: Broncos 24, Panthers 10
It was an anniversary game so special that it’s the only modern Super Bowl not to be denoted by Roman numerals, and the third-biggest television audience in U.S. history tuned in to watch Denver and Carolina slip all over the substandard turf at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The two teams combined for six turnovers, and the Broncos won despite getting outgained in both total yardage (315-194) and first downs (21-11), with Denver’s totals in those categories the lowest ever for a Super Bowl-winning team. The two teams combined to convert on just 4 of 29 third downs, the 13.8 percentage the lowest in Super Bowl history. Peyton Manning, playing in his final game, completed 13 of 23 passes for just 141 yards and an interception. Cam Newton wasn’t any better — 18 of 41, 265 yards, 1 interception — and he’s mostly remembered for storming off in a huff during his postgame news conference.
Super Bowl XLVIII: Seahawks 43, Broncos 8
The Peyton Manning Broncos make their second appearance on this list and wasted little time showing why:
Anyone who took a flier on the long-shot “will there be a safety” Super Bowl prop were thrilled to get paid out after the game’s first play from scrimmage, but the rest of us had to sit through a game in which the Seahawks led 36-0 late in the third quarter, as the expected close game between the two No. 1 seeds — just the third such game in Super Bowl history at that point — never materialized. At the stadium, the “first mass-transit Super Bowl” turned into a transportation nightmare, as fans who took the rails to the game at the Meadowlands — many of whom wanted to get far away from this dog as early as possible — packed the platforms for trains that didn’t start running until after the game had ended.
Super Bowl XXXV: Ravens 34, Giants 7
Apart from a brief spurt in the third quarter, when a kickoff return for a touchdown by the Giants' Ron Dixon was immediately followed by the same from the Ravens' Jermaine Lewis, there isn’t much to remember from this game apart from the Ravens' historically strong defense, which forced the Giants into a record 11 punts and intercepted Kerry Collins a record four times (he finished with a passer rating of 7.1). New York failed to record a touchdown on offense, as all but one of its possessions ended with a punt or interception. But it’s not like Baltimore’s Trent Dilfer-led offense did much better: The teams combined for just 396 yards, the lowest in Super Bowl history.
Super Bowl XXXVII: Buccaneers 48, Raiders 21
Tampa Bay opened up a 34-3 lead on Dwight Smith’s interception return of a Rich Gannon pass late in the third quarter, which became something of a theme: Gannon would throw two more pick-sixes before the night was done. And so, even though the teams combined for the most second-half points in Super Bowl history (46) and tied for the third-most overall points in a Super Bowl, we have a game that few beyond the participants and their fans remember all that fondly.
Super Bowl V: Colts 16, Cowboys 13
A Super Bowl won on a field goal with five seconds remaining would in most cases be considered a thriller. The first Super Bowl after the completion of the AFL-NFL merger . . . was not. Baltimore and Dallas combined for a Super Bowl-record 11 turnovers, with Cowboys quarterback Craig Morton throwing three interceptions in the fourth quarter alone. The second — a pass that went through Dan Reeves’s hands — set up Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard field goal that won it. The game’s other misfortunes included a game-ending injury for Baltimore quarterback Johnny Unitas in the second quarter, Dallas losing a fumble at the Colts 1-yard line even though a Dallas offensive lineman came out of the pile with the ball, and O’Brien’s 52-yard field goal attempt that fell far short and was allowed by the Cowboys to roll all the way to the 1, where the Colts downed it like a punt (as was permitted under the rules back then). A player from the losing team — Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley — was named MVP, probably because he didn’t finish with a turnover.
Super Bowl XLI (Colts 29, Bears 17): Prince’s halftime show was great. The four quarters of football sandwiched around it featured rain and eight turnovers.
Super Bowl XXIX (49ers 49, Chargers 26): San Francisco entered as the biggest point-spread favorite in Super Bowl history (18.5 points) and covered with ease in a game that wasn’t ever in doubt. Lame.
Super Bowl XXVII (Cowboys 52, Bills 17): The third of Buffalo’s four straight Super Bowl losses was its most dispiriting as the Bills committed a Super Bowl-record nine turnovers, had two fumbles returned for touchdowns and saw Jim Kelly go down with an injury in the second quarter.
Super Bowl XXIV (49ers 55, Broncos 10): Denver allowed an NFL-low 14.1 points per game during the 1989 regular season. San Francisco eclipsed that midway through the second quarter on its way to a historically dull rout.
Super Bowl IX (Steelers 16, Vikings 6): A game played in chilly temperatures on a slick field in a decrepit Tulane Stadium that would be torn down five years later. Minnesota registered only nine first downs and 119 yards.
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