The Biggest Upsets in Super Bowl History
Sure, the New England Patriots have opened as a reasonable three-point favorite to win Super Bowl LI. But, even as well as they performed this past Sunday, few people outside the southeast part of the United States truly believe the Atlanta Falcons can win the Super Bowl.
But what if they end up pulling off the upset?
No matter which ethnic or cultural background a person comes from, the idea of a “David” defeating a “Goaliath” rings true to all of us. The idea of overcoming insurmountable odds is the basis of one of the most fundamental human emotions we have: hope.
The same is true in sports. The thrill of victory is only amplified when the odds are stacked against a team to win, only for them to pull off the improbable. It’s the type of stuff that myths and legends are written about, and forever discussed. Over the past 50 Super Bowls, we’ve seen plenty of lopsided blowouts, where the clearly superior team makes short work of their over matched opponents. But in that same generation of Super Bowl games, we’ve witnessed not only some of the greatest instances of the underdog pulling off the win in NFL history, but perhaps in sports history overall.
Here is our list of the four greatest upsets in Super Bowl history, in reverse order:
#4: Denver Broncos over the Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl XXXII: This upset wasn’t so much about an underdog defeating a team that was heavily favored, but more so about how this game redefined the history of one team. Sure, Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers were the reigning Super Bowl champions, entering this game as 11-point favorites over the Denver Broncos. And sure, this would be the Broncos fifth Super Bowl appearance, but the franchise had lost in their previous four appearances, with the last two of those losses coming in rather embarrassing fashion. But in the first highly-competitive Super Bowl in over the better part of a decade, Broncos running back Terrell Davis ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries, including the go-ahead touchdown with 1:45 left in the game. His efforts helped John Elway, who had lost his last three attempts at winning the Super Bowl, finally get to hold the Vince Lombardi trophy, with the Broncos winning 31–24.
#3: New England Patriots over the St. Louis Rams, Super Bowl XXXVI: When the St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots squared off in Super Bowl XXXVI, almost nobody would have ever thought this game would even be a close one. The Rams had two of the best offensive players in the league in quarterback Kurt Warner (who won league MVP for the second time in three years) and running back Marshall Faulk (the league MVP the year before). Conversely, the New England Patriots were led by a first-year, largely-unheralded quarterback named Tom Brady. But after the Patriots defensed battered and bullied the Rams skill position players all game long, Brady led the Patriots to a game-winning field goal attempt, completing one of the most shocking upsets in Super Bowl history to date.
#2: New York Jets over the Baltimore Colts, Super Bowl III: This was never supposed to be a close game. The Baltimore Colts, who represented what everyone believed to be the vastly-superior conference in the NFL (back before it was called the NFC), had only lost one game all season. Their defense was overseen by the legendary Don Shula. They were facing the New York Jets, who only got to the Super Bowl after pulling off an upset over the Oakland Raiders. But, then, Joe Namath and “the guarantee” happened. Namath famously quipped “The Jets will win. I guarantee it.” From there, it was history in the making. Namath and the Jets built a 16–0 lead through the fourth quarter, and picked off Colts quarterback Earl Morrall three times, en route to the 16–7 win. To this day, many people believe this is the greatest upset in Super Bowl history, and you’d be hard pressed to disagree.
#1: New York Giants over the New England Patriots, Super Bowl XLII: If Super Bowl III wasn’t the greatest upset in Super Bowl history, this was. In fact, the New York Giants pulled off what could be described as the greatest overall upset in NFL history. Coming into the game as 12.5-point underdogs, they were all that was left standing between the Patriots and the first perfect season by an NFL team since the Miami Dolphins’ effort 1972. The Giants defense harassed Tom Brady all-game long, and thanks in large part to the miraculous “helmet catch” by Giants wide receiver David Tyree, the Giants ended up winning the game by a 17–14 margin.