After the New York Giants shocked the world in Super Bowl XLII by knocking off the undefeated New England Patriots, sportswriters and pundits instantly debated whether the game was the greatest Super Bowl ever played. Now maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t but here at Past Interference we frown on such knee-jerk reactions. It’s too easy to get swept up in the hype and the immediacy of a big game or a great performance, especially when magnified by the non-stop fact-free bullroar too often emanating from our 24-hour sports-talk and cable stations (i.e., see this week's topic du jour: Is Fitzgerald better then Rice?). At Past Interference we prefer, no, we demand careful analysis before making any sweeping conclusions. So now that a year has passed since that historic upset, it is finally time to determine if in fact Super Bowl XLII was the greatest Super Bowl ever played. And we’ll do this by taking a look at every Super Bowl that might reasonably be nominated for that honor.
Super Bowl XIII
Pittsburgh 35 Dallas 31
No Super Bowl before or since matches this one for pre-game anticipation or expectations. Why? Because it was the one and only time a great NFL rivalry played out in a Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Dallas Cowboys. The Steel Curtain vs. America’s Team. Every Super Bowl features its share of pre-game hype but this one completely justified it all. Consider these factors.
--Prior to this game you could pretty much count one thing from the Super Bowl: it would suck! Super Bowl XIII wasn't only the first Super Bowl rematch, it was a rematch of the only good Super Bowl ever--Super Bowl X.
--The Steelers and the Cowboys had each won two Super Bowls in the previous six years. The Cowboys were defending champs. The Steelers owned the league's best record, 14-2. For once, without question, the two best teams in football were taking the field.
--The teams presented a fascinating contrast in styles. The Cowboys: a finesse machine designed and programmed by the computerized mind of the emotionless genius Tom Landry and led by Captain America himself, clean-cut Navy man Roger Staubach. The Steelers: Intimidating, hard-hitting defense and a big-play offense led by big-armed country boy Terry Bradshaw.
--And for a little extra juice, during Super Bowl week Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson told the press Bradshaw couldn't spell cat unless you spotted him the "a" and the "t".
All the pieces were in place for a classic football game and the teams didn't disappoint. The first half was about as great a half as one could have hoped for. Long drives, short drives, lead changes, big plays, questionable playcalling, a TD bomb and a defensive TD. When the dust settled, the Steelers took a 21-14 lead into halftime. It wasn't only the highest-scoring half in Super Bowl history, the teams had outscored the final score of 6 of the previous 12 Super Bowls.
The third quarter turned into a defensive struggle. Pittsburgh went three-and-out on its first two drives and Dallas mounted a potential game-tying drive that took them to the Steelers' ten-yard-line. And then, facing a third-and-three, Dallas' next play began a catastrophic series of events for Dallas that suddenly saw every conceivable break go Pittsburgh's way. Check it out:
a) Dallas sends in an extra tight end and shows run. The formation results in tight end Jackie Smith breaking wide open in the end zone. Instead of zipping the ball in to Smith however, Staubach throws the ball a little low and slightly behind Smith. Smith, one of the great tight ends in NFL history, slows up and either slips or goes low for the ball and he wound up dropping the less-than-perfect but still catchable pass. The Cowboys settled for a field goal.
b) On their first drive of the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh advanced the ball to their own 44. On second-and-four Bradshaw threw deep to Lynn Swann who was being covered by Benny Barnes. The ball hit the turf as did Swann and Barnes as they appeared to trip over each other's feet. Then field Judge Fred Swearingen threw perhaps the worst flag in Super Bowl history. Pass interference on Barnes.
c) The 33-yard phantom penalty sets up a 22-yard TD run by Franco Harris three plays later. Franco received some extra assistance from the umpire who managed to get himself in between Franco and a Cowboys safety Charlie Waters, preventing Waters from making a tackle.
d) And then the deathblow for Dallas. Steelers' kicker Roy Gerela slipped on his ass on the subsequent kickoff, so instead of a deep kick the ball bounced down the middle of the field toward the Manster, Cowboys DE Randy White. White, not exactly sure-handed at anytime, was playing with a cast on his left thumb. Why the hell he was on the kick return team in the first place I have no idea but he wasn't able to corral or lateral the ball and Pittsburgh recovered. On the very next play Bradshaw threw to Swann who made a beautiful over the shoulder catch to put away the Cowboys with 6:51 to play.
Well, not exactly. Staubach marched the Cowboys down the field for a TD but with Pittsburgh playing prevent the drive ate up 4 minutes and 24 seconds of clock. Dallas recovered an onside kick and incredibly Staubach led his team to yet another TD. But that drive used another two minutes. Only 22 seconds remained and when Pittsburgh recovered an onside kick it was all over.
Unparalleled pre-game excitement. A fantastic game between the best teams of the era. But the game is missing one essential ingredient to be considered the greatest Super Bowl ever. It didn't really come down to the wire. The Steelers properly traded points for time at the end. The game was not as close as the final score indicated. Plus, aesthetically the game was slightly marred by two things: the horrible PI call on Barnes and the fact the game's biggest and most memorable play was a dropped pass.
Still, those two great teams played one of the most memorable football games I have ever seen. Super Bowl XIII may have featured the greatest collection of talent ever assembled in a Super Bowl. Forget the "may". Bradshaw, Staubach, Dorsett, Franco, Swann, Stallworth, Pearson, Jackie Smith, Mean Joe Greene, Randy White, Lambert, Ham, Harvey Martin, Too Tall Jones, Mel Blount, Cliff Harris, Mike Webster, Rayfield Wright. What can you say? If you got to watch that game as it unfolded live you were one lucky football fan.
The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part I
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part II
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part III
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IV
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part V
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VI
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VII
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VIII
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IX
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part X
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Conclusion