USA TODAY Sports Weekly
RANKING THE SUPER BOWL WINNERS
As the NFL hits its 50th Super Bowl, the sports world has been taking a look at the history of America’s biggest, and greatest, game. For The Win’s Chris Chase ranked each Super Bowl-winning team from best to worst (regular-season record in parentheses):
THE TOP 12
No. 2, let alone No. 1? For as great as Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense was (61 turnovers), it didn’t set marks for fewest points allowed or turnover margin, and the offense was solely dependent on Walter Payton. Then, in the team’s biggest game of the year (not the Super Bowl, against a mediocre New England Patriots team, but the famed Monday night battle against the Dolphins), the Bears fell into a 31-10 halftime deficit. Neither of the top two ranked teams faced a larger deficit all season.
4. 1989 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (14-2)
People rate this team as the best ever because of its dominant postseason (126-26 overall, 55-10 in Super Bowl). But quality (or lack thereof ) of Super Bowl opponent makes not for greatness. The ’87 Redskins beat the same Denver Broncos 42-10. The ’86 New York Giants beat them 39-20. It’s great that this team had Charles Haley, but the defense finished third in points allowed. The ’84 team finished first.
5. 1978 PITTSBURGH STEELERS (14-2)
The third of Chuck Noll’s four Super Bowl teams was the pinnacle, with 10 future Hall of Famers (nine players and Noll). Their two losses were by a combined 10 points and they won a tight Super Bowl battle with the reigning champs — the Dallas Cowboys — with some history on the line. Whichever team won would be the first franchise to have three Super Bowl titles. They were the first back-to-back AFC champs in almost two decades and sent John Elway out as a winner. This team started 13-0, then lost two games after clinching home-field advantage. A Super Bowl matchup with the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings would have been a dream, but beating the “Dirty Bird” Atlanta Falcons wasn’t exactly a preordained victory.
7. 1992 DALLAS COWBOYS (13-3)
A soft schedule kept the Cowboys from showing how good they could be (a 4-2 record against teams at .500 or above didn’t help), but knocking off a 14-2 49ers team in the NFC Championship Game and routing a Bills team that was beginning to realize it was destined to become a Super Bowl punching bag helped.
8. 2004 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (14-2)
The best Patriots team (2007) doesn’t appear on this list because of its Super Bowl loss to the Giants. Of the four title teams under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the 2004 team takes the cake, with its loss to a 15-1 Steelers team and a division loss to the Dolphins, coupled with a playoff run that was easy until Donovan McNabb had the ball with a chance to tie or win in the final minutes.
9. 1996 GREEN BAY PACKERS (13-3)
One of the most overrated teams in NFL history. Brett Favre and Reggie White led the Packers to top rankings on offense and defense (a rarity), but they were 5-3 against teams over .500 (and they weren’t narrow losses). The Packers needed Desmond Howard’s kickoff return to put away a mediocre Patriots team in the Super Bowl.
WHERE THEY RANK
10. 1973 MIAMI DOLPHINS (12-2)
Yeah, the 1973 team with two losses was better than the undefeated ’72 team. The stats weren’t as gaudy, but the ’73 team rolled through the playoffs and played a far more difficult schedule en route to the title.
11. 1972 MIAMI DOLPHINS (14-0)
The Dolphins played the easiest schedule of any Super Bowl team (winner or loser) and won each of their three playoff games by seven points or fewer. Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris had 1,000-yard seasons, though, and the NoName Defense was spectacular. But the team’s two starting quarterbacks — Earl Morrall and Bob Griese — combined to throw for fewer than 2,000 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
12. 1999 ST. LOUIS RAMS (13-3)
The Rams were 4-12 in 1998 but got Trent Green from the Redskins and had high hopes with Dick Vermeil on the sideline. But Green got hurt, and it became one of the most fortuitous injuries in NFL history, because Kurt Warner emerged from nowhere to become one of the great quarterbacks of the past two decades.
THE BOTTOM THREE
You have to forget about what they became and remember what they were — a team with an unknown quarterback that needed miraculous field goals to get to the Super Bowl. But Belichick came up with a brilliant scheme to stop Rams running back Marshall Faulk, Adam Vinatieri hit a big kick and the Patriots dynasty was born.
48. 1970 BALTIMORE COLTS (11-2-1)
If unwatchability was the deciding factor, this team would rank something like 75th out of 49. Super Bowl V was perhaps the worst-played Super Bowl in history, with the Colts committing seven turnovers before getting the first winning field goal in the game’s history. The Colts had one of the easiest schedules a Super Bowl team has ever had, and they were 1-2 against teams above .500
49. 2011 NEW YORK GIANTS (9-7)
Just think how we would be regarding the Patriots if they had lost last year’s Super Bowl, with a record of 3-3 in Super Bowls and no wins since the 2004 season. And it all would have been because of this Giants team that lost twice to the 5-11 Redskins. This paean to mediocrity goes down as the worst Super Bowl winner in history.