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It's Hard To Believe The Super Bowl Used To Suck

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  A young fan plays in the confetti after Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05: A young fan plays in the confetti after Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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We're now a full week removed from Super Bowl XLVI, but before we bury the NFL season, there's one final note that needs to be made, and that's that this generation has been unbelievably lucky when it comes to Super Bowls. We have seen more great Super Bowls since the turn of the century than in the previous 33 years altogether. It's possible that people in their teens and early twenties may have never known the Super Bowl to be unwatchable, but yes, the game has undergone a dramatic about-face in the last decade or so. Believe it or not, it was once justifiable to not watch the game because the score was usually insurmountable within a quarter or two.

In the first 33 Super Bowls, with Super Bowl XXXIII taking place in 1999, the average margin of victory was a little over 16 points. There were as many twenty-point blowouts during that span as there were single-digit affairs, and as many games decided by 25 points as there were games decided by less than a touchdown. And even though there were occasionally games with a relatively close score, they were hardly any that people would classify as "great." Super Bowl V was decided by a game-winning field-goal, but it featured so many turnovers and bad possessions that it's since been dubbed the "Blunder Bowl." Super Bowl VII saw a seven-point win for the Dolphins over the Redskins, but the overall score was 14-7, and the Redskins only got on the board thanks to a muffed field-goal attempt by the Dolphins kicker that would have made it 17-0. Super Bowl XIII ended with the Steelers beating the Cowboys 35-31, but the Cowboys had to finish with 14 unanswered points just to lose by four. The same is the case for Super Bowl XVI, where the Bengals outscored the 49ers by eight in the fourth quarter but still lost by five.

In essence, only three of the first 33 were what most sports fans would consider very good to great: Super Bowl X (where the Steelers beat the Cowboys by four), Super Bowl XXIII (capped by a game-winning Joe Montana touchdown throw) and Super Bowl XXV (where Scott Norwood missed the would-be game-ending field-goal.) But that's basically the list. That's a watchability rate of 9.1% through the first 33 years.

Contrast that with the 13 Super Bowls since 2000 and it's barely even comparable. Sure, there were a few duds; Giants-Ravens and Bucs-Raiders weren't even slightly competitive. On the whole though, it's been a steady stream of completely watchable, fun, exciting matchups. The average margin of victory during that period is 9.5 points, however, if you remove Giants-Ravens and Bucs-Raiders -- which were both 27-point slaughters -- the margin goes down to 6.9 points, and every matchup besides those two were decided by no more than two touchdowns, with eight of those eleven Super Bowls being decided by a touchdown or less. There have been more game-winning plays in the last 13 Super Bowls (five) than there were in the first 33 (two), and there have been as many games decided by seven or less in the last 13 than there were in the first 33.

Who knows how long this trend will last. There was a period from 1984 to 1995 where the average margin of victory in the Super Bowl was 23 points and there were twice as many thirty-point blowouts (four) as there were games decided by single-digits. For now, we need to appreciate how awesome it is to actually get good games on a regular basis. So much has been made about how many viewers have been tuning in to the Super Bowls lately, and how more people than ever before are watching them. Sure, the marketing and the cultural relevance of the NFL has a lot to do with it. But maybe the main reason is simply that the Super Bowl, since the year 2000, has actually been fun to sit through, which is a welcome change of pace from the first 33 editions.