5 Worst Super Bowl Upsets in NFL History
Congratulations to the Philadelphia Eagles on winning Super Bowl LII over the weekend. But now that a champion has been crowned, we’re officially in the dreaded time of the year without any football whatsoever. Fear not though, because there’s almost always reasons to talk about the NFL during the offseason–including right now!
In light of the Eagles’ upset of the New England Patriots on Sunday, let’s look back at five of the worst Super Bowl upsets of all time.
Super Bowl XXXVI
New England Patriots Defeat St. Louis Rams 20-17
It may be hard to remember, but there was a time when the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick Patriots weren’t favored heading into a Super Bowl. On February 3, 2002, the Patriots–led by second-year QB Tom Brady–headed to New Orleans as 14-point underdogs. Kurt Warner’s Rams were essentially a lock for a championship, but the fledgling dynasty of New England wasn’t going down without a fight.
On paper, the stats showed that the Rams should have won this game easily, outgaining the Patriots by 160 total yards. However, turnovers proved costly and helped New England amass a 17-3 lead heading to the fourth quarter. Even after a comeback to tie the game at 17, TB12 led the Pats down the field and set up a game-winning Adam Vinatieri field goal.
Super Bowl III
New York Jets Defeat Baltimore Colts 16-7
You’ll often hear this game referred to as the original Super Bowl upset because, well, it truly is. In just the Big Game’s third iteration – its first under the “Super Bowl” moniker – future Hall-of-Famer Joe Namath and the New York Jets met the favored Baltimore Colts at the Orange Bowl in Miami, FL. The loud, brash Namath famously made a media appearance a few days before the game and guaranteed a victory for his underdog squad.
When the game got going, he and the rest of the Jets backed up his words, building up a 16-0 lead in the fourth quarter. Baltimore’s QB Earl Morrall disappointed on the field, throwing three interceptions and ended up being replaced by Johnny Unitas, who got the Colts on the board. However, it was too little too late.
Super Bowl XXII
Washington Redskins Defeat Denver Broncos 42-10
Despite being just three-point favorites heading into the game, nearly everyone expected John Elway and the Denver Broncos to emerge victorious. Through the first quarter in San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium, it looked like that would be the case. Elway led Denver to a quick 10-0 lead before Washington and quarterback Doug Williams put up a record-breaking 35 points in the second quarter. They tacked on another TD in the fourth quarter, ending the game with 42 unanswered points and a convincing upset of the Broncos.
Something of note: Doug Williams was the first African-American starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl and helped set the record for most points in a Super Bowl quarter.
Super Bowl IV
Kansas City Chiefs Defeat Minnesota Vikings 23-7
A year after the original Super Bowl upset came the second Super Bowl upset, when the Kansas City Chiefs met the 12-point-favorite Minnesota Vikings in New Orleans. With a highly praised defense that allowed just 133 points all season, the Vikings were led by its defensive line, famously known as the Purple People Eaters. Meanwhile, the Chiefs had a tough road to the Super Bowl, dealing with an injury to starting QB Len Dawson throughout the season. Yet, much like the Vikings, the Chiefs relied on a staunch defense that allowed the fewest points in the AFL season.
In a wet, rainy Tulane Stadium, it was the Chiefs’ defense that prevailed, allowing just a single third-quarter touchdown on a four-yard run from fullback Dave Osborn. It was the Vikings’ only success all game, as the Chiefs held them to just 67 rushing yards and forced three interceptions as well as two fumbles. Len Dawson managed a wonderful game under center, throwing for 142 yards and a touchdown. His performance led to a Super Bowl MVP and one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.
Super Bowl XLII
New York Giants Defeat New England Patriots 17-14
Even if you’re a bit on the younger side, you surely remember this amazing upset. It’s regarded as one of the most amazing upsets in sports history. Entering the game as 12 point favorites, the Patriots were shoe-ins to win after posting the first perfect regular season since the Dolphins in 1972. On the other side, the Giants finished the year 10-6 and slipped into the playoffs in the fifth seed wild-card spot. Despite inspired performances against Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Green Bay, no one expected the underdog Giants to have any chance against the mighty Patriots.
However, once the game got started, it was clear that the Giants’ defense wasn’t willing to bow to Tom Brady’s greatness. Only 10 total points were scored in the first three quarters, with New England taking a 7-3 lead into the fourth. After both teams found the endzone in the fourth, New England had a 14-10 lead, and that’s when one of the most iconic drives in NFL history happened.
With 2:39 left, Eli Manning marched his team down field after starting at their own 14 yard-line. The most memorable play came when wide receiver David Tyree made a miraculous 32-yard catch, pinning the ball with one hand against his helmet. Canonically known as the Helmet Catch, this play set up the game-winning TD from Manning to Plaxico Burress.
(Cropped image courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.)