For the first three decades of the NFL's existence, the Super Bowl was lousy. Almost every game was a blowout, with the Steelers, 49ers, Cowboys and Packers doing most of the dominating.
But over the last 15 years, something strange has happened: The game has actually gotten good. No, scratch that. The games have been awesome. Ten of the last 15 Super Bowls have been decided by just one possession.
The New England Patriots are most responsible for this trend, given that every Super Bowl they've played in under Bill Belichick has been decided by four points or fewer. Since they've been in six Super Bowls since 2002, they skew the numbers a bit. But they're far from the only team that's given fans plenty to watch besides gaudy advertisement campaigns and glitzy halftime shows.
Peyton Manning's clubs are not on this list, as all three Super Bowls he's played have decided by more than 10 points –– perhaps most infamously, the Broncos' 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVII. But given the odds, this year's matchup between the Broncos and Carolina Panthers should be much more competitive than that. They have a lot of good acts to follow:
Super Bowl XXXIV: Rams 23, Titans 16 (Jan. 30, 2000)
This Super Bowl is remembered for two things: The proliferation of "dot-com" ads and the lone championship triumph for the Greatest Show On Turf. The Rams led 9-0 at halftime and jumped out to a 16-0 lead before the Titans came roaring back to tie it up with 2:12 left in regulation. But then Kurt Warner, who threw for a Super Bowl-record 414 yards, connected with Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard game-winning score.
Super Bowl XXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17 (Feb. 3, 2002)
The first Super Bowl since 9/11 featured a poignant halftime performance from U2 and one of the greatest championship game finishes in NFL history. The Rams out-gained the Patriots 427-267 in total yards, but a physically unremarkable sixth-round pick named Tom Brady and opportunistic defense pushed the Patriots out to a 17-3 lead.
The Rams tied the game up at 17 with 1:30 remaining, which set the stage for Brady's first of many signature playoff moments. He led the Patriots down the field without any timeouts and then handed the ball off to Adam Vinatieri, who nailed a 48-yard field goal with time expiring to give New England its first ever Super Bowl victory.
In 2008, this game became memorable for a different reason: Alleged Patriots subterfuge. The Boston Herald's John Tomase wrongly reported a member of Belichick's video staff taped the Rams walkthrough earlier in the week. Though the Herald eventually apologized for the story, former St. Louis running back Marshall Faulk still says he thinks the Patriots cheated to win.
Super Bowl XXXVIII: Patriots 32, Panthers 29 (Feb. 1, 2004)
Much like the Patriots' Super Bowl win two years earlier, this one came down to Vinatieri's right foot. With four seconds left, Vinatieri booted a 41-yard field goal to clinch the game for the Pats. It was the culmination of a wild fourth quarter that saw the two teams combine for a Super Bowl record 37 points. Brady played perhaps his best playoff game ever, completing a record-setting 32 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns. Jake Delhomme came close to matching him, finishing with 323 yards and three TDs.
In addition to its thrilling finish, this game included the infamous Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction," which is why bands like Coldplay play during the halftime show now.
Super Bowl XXXIX: Patriots 24, Eagles 21 (Feb. 6, 2005)
Another Patriots Super Bowl win and another game-winning kick from Vinatieri. This time, he only had to hit a 22-yard chip shot for the victory.
New England's defense forced four turnovers and wide receiver Deion Branch was named MVP after his 11-catch (Super Bowl record), 133-yard performance. Branch narrowly outperformed Terrell Owens, who battled through a torn ligament in his right ankle to play in all but nine offensive snaps and catch nine passes for 122 yards.
Though Owens' performance will always be remembered fondly in Philadelphia, Andy Reid's horrid clock management still stings. With the Eagles down by 10 points with less than six minutes remaining, they bled the clock to under two minutes before scoring a touchdown. It was a harbinger of his strategy against the Patriots two weeks ago in the Divisional Round, when the Chiefs didn't take a single timeout in their final drive despite being down two scores.
Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14 (Feb. 3, 2008)
The Patriots' pursuit of a perfect season was stopped by a dominant Giants pass-rush that sacked Brady five times. But yet, with 2:42 remaining, Brady connected with Randy Moss in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Patriots a 14-10 lead.
But then the Giants stormed back, largely thanks to one of the most improbable catches in NFL history. Somehow, Eli Manning evaded several Patriots rushers on a third-and-5 with 1:15 left and was able to hurl the ball downfield to David Tyree. Tyree miraculously caught the ball on the tip of his helmet, setting up a game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress.
Super Bowl XLIII: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23 (Feb. 1, 2009)
For the second consecutive year, the Super Bowl included a manic finish and unbelievable catch in its final minutes. The Cardinals stormed back from a 20-7 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter and took the lead on a 64-yard Larry Fitzgerald touchdown catch with 2:37 remaining in regulation.
But then the Steelers took over the football and put together a game-winning touchdown drive that culminated in Santonio Holmes stretching himself out in the back of the end zone to reel in a pass from Ben Roethlisberger. It was the exclamation point on a remarkable night for Holmes, who won MVP honors after catching nine passes for 131 yards –– including four receptions for 73 yards on the Steelers' final possession.
Super Bowl XLV: Packers 31, Steelers 25 (Feb. 6, 2011)
This Super Bowl between two of the winningest franchises in NFL history didn't disappoint, as the result was up in the air until the game's final drive. The Packers took control in the first half, enjoying a 21-10 lead as the third quarter began. But the Steelers pulled within three points midway through the fourth quarter when Roethlisberger connected with Mike Wallace in the end zone.
Green Bay eventually sealed the victory, though, when Mason Crosby hit a 23-yard field goal to pad their lead to six just before the two-minute warning. Aaron Rodgers won the MVP, completing 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns.
Super Bowl XLVI: Giants 21, Patriots 17 (Feb. 5, 2012)
For the second time in five years, a relentless Giants pass-rush largely shut down Brady and a high-scoring Patriots offense. The Giants recorded five sacks against Brady, with Justin Tuck bringing him down twice. (Brady was also flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone on the first play of the game, which resulted in a safety.)
The Patriots were positioned to seal the victory with 4:06 left to play when Brady attempted to connect with Wes Welker down the field. If Welker came down with the catch, the Patriots would've probably shredded at least another two minutes off the clock and would've been in a spot to stretch their two-point lead. But the ball went right through Welker's hands, and Eli Manning led the Giants on a game-winning 88-yard drive on the ensuing possession. Mario Manningham made an acrobatic grab before Ahmad Bradshaw rushed the ball into the end zone for the game-deciding score.
Super Bowl XLVII: Ravens 34, 49ers 31 (Feb. 3, 2013)
The debate over whether Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback will likely rage on for the rest of time, but he certainly played like one in this game. Flacco took home the MVP trophy, completing 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. This was also the last game of Ray Lewis' career, which was soaked in controversy because of his alleged use of deer antler spray to recover more quickly from a triceps injury he had suffered a few months earlier.
In addition to that, this was also the first Super Bowl that featured two brothers (Jim and John Harbaugh) coaching against each other and a massive blackout that halted play for more than 30 minutes.
Super Bowl XLIX: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24 (Feb. 1, 2015)
The Patriots' most recent Super Bowl victory may have been their most remarkable. With DeflateGate accusations swirling throughout the two weeks leading up to the game, Brady was a perfect 9-for-9 in a game-winning touchdown drive that propelled the Pats ahead with 2:02 to go. (Brady was 37 for 50 for 328 yards and four touchdowns to win his third Super Bowl MVP.)
But then the Seahawks drove back down the field, with Jermaine Kearse coming down with a Tyree-like catch at the New England five-yard line with 1:14 remaining. Seattle was in prime position to score and Marshawn Lynch carried the ball down to the one-yard line on the following play. But Lynch never touched the ball again. Wilson threw the ball on 2nd-and-goal, which undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler picked off to win the game. It was maybe the most exciting finish to a championship game ever.