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Ratings Bonanza

A Veteran Super Bowl Observer Ranks the Big Games From I to XXXV


TAMPA, Fla. — Old-timers say that of the 3,000 reporters here for this week's game, only eight have covered all 34 previous Super Bowls.

As one of the eight, I have been asked to name the best and worst Super Bowls of all time. In order of quality or historic relevance, the 35--sure, let's include today's--could be lined up thus:

1. III, New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7 (Jan. 12, 1969, in Miami)--The most meaningful American football game ever played was won on the leadership of Jet quarterback Joe Namath, who, toppling a 17-point favorite--and making good on a pregame "guarantee"--instantly made the Super Bowl what it still is. In the national mind, the surprise victory by Namath and the Jets put the disrespected AFL on a par with the NFL.

2. XXXIV, St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee 16 (Jan. 30, 2000, in Atlanta)--A year ago, Kurt Warner's passes decided what I think of as the most interesting football game ever played, a game saved by Ram Mike Jones, who tackled Titan Kevin Dyson one yard short of the end zone on the last play in the last second. Although Warner drove the Rams into the red zone six times on their first six series, they only led at that point, 16-0, whereupon the Titans came back to 16-16 before an unforgettable 73-yard pass play, Warner to Isaac Bruce, won it in the last two minutes.

3. XXXII, Denver 31, Green Bay 24 (Jan. 25, 1998, in San Diego)--In one of the two most interesting games I've seen, Terrell Davis and John Elway ended a 13-year NFC Super Bowl winning streak on a day when Brett Favre kept the Packers constantly in contention.

4. XXIX, San Francisco 49, San Diego 26 (Jan. 29, 1995, in Miami)--Although this was a rout, starting with the 49ers' third play--Steve Young to Jerry Rice, 44 yards, touchdown--it was an unforgettable presentation of the West Coast offense at its all-time peak.

5. I, Green Bay 35, Kansas City 10 (Jan. 15, 1967, at the Coliseum)--The first game was important because it was the first arranged by Commissioner Pete Rozelle between NFL and AFL champions. Of the 17 named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame that first year, I lobbied for and voted for the only five who in my view belong in the charter class: Sammy Baugh, Red Grange, Don Hutson, George Halas and Bronko Nagurski.

6. IV, Kansas City 23, Minnesota 7 (Jan. 11, 1970, in New Orleans)--In Hank Stram's coaching masterpiece, this was the game that convinced some of us that the AFL had been superior from the start of a series in which Lombardi's uncanny coaching temporarily disguised NFL weaknesses. Eleven of 13 Super Bowls in this stretch were won by AFL or AFC teams.

7. XVI, San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21 (Jan. 24, 1982, in Pontiac, Mich.)--The Silverdome was new and apparently well loved when this game introduced 49er Coach Bill Walsh and the football-changing, pass-first West Coast offense to most of America. As an NFC team ended the AFL-AFC monopoly and began an NFC run of 15 wins in 16 Super Bowls, Joe Montana won the first of his four championships. All told, the 49ers were to win a record five Super Bowls in 16 years.

8. XXIII, San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16 (Jan. 22, 1989, in Miami)--In Walsh's last game as a coach, the 49ers won their third Super Bowl when, in the last 3:20, Montana drove 92 yards, throwing a 10-yard pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left in the most exciting Super Bowl finish until last year's.

9. XXXIII, Denver 34, Atlanta 19 (Jan. 31, 1999, in Miami)--Looking invincible in their second consecutive Super Bowl triumph, Mike Shanahan's Broncos seemed capable of winning three or four, and would have, I still think, if injuries hadn't cut down all their superstars, Davis and Brian Griese among them.

10. X, Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17 (Jan. 18, 1976, in Miami)--Proving Cowboy Hollywood Henderson wrong--Henderson had expressed doubt that Terry Bradshaw could spell cat if you gave him the C and the T--the Steelers won on two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the most memorable a 64-yard pass play, Bradshaw to Lynn Swann.

11. XIII, Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31 (Jan. 21, 1979, in Miami)--With the personnel to win six consecutive Super Bowls, Steeler teams did win four in this span (1975-80).

12. XXV, New York Giants 20, Buffalo 19 (Jan. 27, 1991, in Tampa, Fla.)--Starting a 0-4 run at the Super Bowl in consecutive years, the Bills would have won this one if Scott Norwood could have kicked straight.

13. XXVII, Dallas 52, Buffalo 17 (Jan. 31, 1993, at the Rose Bowl)--With teammates recruited by Coach Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman threw four touchdown passes, all on first-down plays, to win the first of his three Super Bowls in four years.

14. XXIV, San Francisco 55, Denver 10 (Jan. 28, 1990, in New Orleans)--The West Coast offense in full flower set the Super Bowl scoring record.

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