No sooner had Tom Brady deflated Atlanta than talk of the Patriots' comeback began soaring toward the crest of Super Bowl lore. Perhaps the only thing more stunning than New England's rally was that #GreatestSuperBowlEver didn't immediately trend on Twitter, the hub of kneejerk reactions. Instead of recklessly proclaiming the Pats' 34-28 overtime triumph No. 1, we took 36 hours to collect ourselves, backtrack a bit and draw some rational conclusions.
Here's our Super Bowl top five, based on two simple criteria: excitement and entertainment value.
1. Super Bowl LI: New England 34, Atlanta 28 (OT)
Yep, after thinking it through, this one's the new gold standard. Kind of hard to believe we'd never seen overtime in a half-century of previous Super Bowls. Even harder to fathom is this analytic: Atlanta had a 99.8 percent chance of winning with 21 minutes to play, when it led 28-3. Another 50 years may elapse before we see a title game performance like the one Tom Brady delivered down the stretch (five consecutive scoring drives), or a catch like the one Julian Edelman managed (with a Falcon draped on him). By game's end, 24 Super Bowl records were established, including greatest comeback. That's good enough for us.
2. Super Bowl XLIII: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23
Until Sunday, the unofficial Greatest Super Bowl title belt rested on our mantel. Minutes before Bruce Springsteen hit the makeshift stage at the center of Raymond James Stadium, Steelers linebacker James Harrison intercepted Kurt Warner in the end zone and returned it 100 yards to end the first half. Turned out, it was a prelude to the mesmerizing fourth quarter, in which Arizona scored 16 to rally from a 13-point hole. When Warner found Larry Fitzgerald in stride on a post route for a 64-yard touchdown, Arizona had a 23-20 lead with 2:37 to play. But after starting with a first and 20 from the 12, Ben Roethlisberger orchestrated the drive of his life, finding outstretched receiver Santonio Holmes in the right corner of the end zone for the decisive 6-yard TD with 35 seconds remaining.
3. Super Bowl XLII: New York Giants 17, New England 14
Today, many are hailing Brady as the greatest quarterback ever, but he's still not perfect. Eli Manning and David Tyree saw to that on a surreal night in Glendale, Ariz. Down by four to the 18-0 Patriots with 1:15 to go, Manning made NFL Films immortality when he somehow escaped the grasp of Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green and heaved a wobbly third-and-5 pass downfield to Tyree. To this day, physics majors are still trying to understand how the ball landed between Tyree's right hand and helmet. Four plays later, Manning found Plaxico Burress for the winning 13-yard touchdown with 35 seconds to play. (Footnote: That legendary catch turned out to be the last of Tyree's career.)
4. Super Bowl XLIX: New England 28, Seattle 24
Forever stuck in the nation's consciousness — and Marshawn Lynch's craw — is Seattle opting for a pass (instead of a handoff to Lynch) on second and goal from the Patriots 1 with 26 seconds to go, and Russell Wilson getting picked by Malcolm Butler (left) in the end zone. But before the goal-line hubbub, this was a tense game featuring a 14-all halftime tie. Seattle scored the first 10 points of the second half, allowing Brady to engineer what was then the largest fourth-quarter comeback (10 points) in Super Bowl history.
5. Super Bowl XXXIV: St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee 16
The Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" came an inch or two from being upstaged in this turnover-free game. The Rams and their record-breaking offense took a 23-16 lead on Kurt Warner's 73-yard touchdown strike to Isaac Bruce with 1:54 to play, but Steve "Air" McNair moved Tennessee to the Rams 6-yard line with 10 seconds remaining. After using his final timeout, McNair found Kevin Dyson across the middle on a slant. Linebacker Mike Jones brought Dyson down by the legs as he stretched the ball toward the end zone — inches shy of the plane — as time expired. Mostly forgotten is the previous play, where McNair somehow escaped the grasp of two Rams and flung a 17-yard strike to Dyson on third and 5.
And the five worst
1. Super Bowl XLVIII (Seattle 43, Denver 8): Broncos fumbled in their end zone on the first play … then it got worse
2. Super Bowl XXIV (San Francisco 55, Denver 10): Still the most one-sided Super Bowl ever
3. Super Bowl XXII (Washington 42, Denver 10): Broncos built 10-0 lead, then watched Doug Williams and Co. score 42 unanswered points
4. Super Bowl VI (Dallas 24, Miami 3): A year after this putrid Super Bowl, the Dolphins would achieve perfection
5. Super Bowl XXXV (Baltimore 34, New York Giants 7): Giants offense failed to score against tarnished game MVP Ray Lewis