South Florida, January 31, 2014 — For most of the first three decades, the Super Bowl trophy belonged to football royalty. The Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, and Pittsburgh Steelers won all won multiple Super Bowls. After the millennium, new franchises finally reached the big game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won it all in 2002 and the Carolina Panthers reached the big game one year later. The end of the decade would see that trend continue as the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints finally reached the Super Bowl. Only one of them would be celebrating as the other suffered a gut-wrenching loss.
This is part VII of an eight-part series on the history of the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLIII, 2008 – The entire season was crazy. Records meant nothing. Tom Brady went down for the season in Week 1 with a knee injury. The Patriots went 11-5, but missed the playoffs. The 12-4 Colts entered the playoffs having won nine straight, but lost their wild card game to the 8-8 Chargers. The top three NFC seeds, the 12-4 Giants, 11-5 Panthers, and 10-6 Vikings all lost.
The top AFC seeded 13-3 Tennessee Titans, were led by Kerry Collins, who took over in Week 1 from an injured Vince Young. Three teams reached the playoffs with rookie head coaches, with the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens also possessing rookie quarterbacks. The 2007 1-15 Dolphins improved to 11-5 Dolphins under team President Bill Parcells. Nobody went 16-0, but the Detroit Lions became the first team to go 0-16.
The AFC Title Game saw a brutal defensive bone lock between the Pittsburgh Steelers and their arch nemesis Ravens, who had knocked off Tennessee in a head-crusher 13-10. The Steelers led, 16-14, late when Troy Palomalu ran an interception back 40 yards to ice the game.
The NFC Title Game featured a pair of nine-win teams. The 9-7 Cardinals finished 2-4 down the stretch before shocking the Falcons at home and the Panthers on the road. The Eagles were 5-5-1 before surging and finishing 9-6-1. They beat the Vikings and stunned the defending champion Giants, both on the road. In the NFC Title Game, the Cardinals led 24-6, the Eagles came back to lead 25-24, and the Cardinals finished the scoring for a gritty 32-25 win.
The Cardinals benched Matt Leinart before the season and Kurt Warner led the Greatest Show in the Desert. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was passed over for the Pittsburgh job in favor of the current coach Mike Tomlin. The Cardinals made their first Super Bowl appearance, and the Steelers wanted to be the first team to win six rings. On the last play of the half, with the Cardinals going in for a touchdown, Warner had a pass intercepted and returned 100 yards for a touchdown.
Warner rallied the Cardinals with a slant pass to Larry Fitzgerald that went for a 64-yard touchdown. Fitzgerald looked at himself on the jumbotron as the Cardinals had the lead 23-20 with under three minutes to play. Big Ben Roethlisberger rallied the Steelers. With about one minute to go, Roethlisberger fired to the corner to the end zone over three defenders. Santonio Holmes made a ridiculous ballet catch where he somehow got both feet down in bounds. The Cardinals had one final shot, but Warner was hit and fumbled. Mike Tomlin became the youngest head coach to win a ring at age 34. 27-23 Steelers
Super Bowl XLIV, 2009 – This was the first year since 1993 where both top seeds made it to the show. It was also the first time where two teams started 13-0. In the NFC, the Saints lost their final three games to finish 13-3. The AFC Colts got to 14-0 before benching players and finishing 14-2. Colts President Bill Polian deliberately decided not to chase 16-0, preferring to ignore history and get players healthy.
In the AFC, the 9-7 New York Jets under Rex Ryan shocked the 13-3 San Diego Chargers and Norv Turner 17-14. The Jets led 17-6 in the AFC Title Game before Peyton Manning and the offense got going as the Colts won 30-17.
In the NFC, Kurt Warner and the Cardinals beat the Packers 51-45 in an overtime thriller. The Saints dispatched the Cardinals 45-14 and faced off against Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Title Game. The Gunslinger and his offense outplayed the Saints, but costly turnovers killed the Vikings. In overtime, the Saints won 31-28 after some very controversial calls.
The Saints and Drew Brees were a feel-good story centered around Hurricane Katrina. Sean Payton was coaching his first Super Bowl. The Colts were a corporate machine. Rookie head coach Jim Caldwell stuck with the successful Tony Dungy model. Manning was looking to be the greatest quarterback of all time. The Colts took a 10-0 first quarter lead and led 10-6 at halftime.
Sean Payton called an onside kick to start the second half, the first time an onside kick had been called in a Super Bowl before the fourth quarter. Payton was rewarded for his bold move. From the Saints’ 42, Brees quickly got it done, hitting Marquis Colston for a 16-yard touchdown and a 13-10 Saints lead.
The Saints held the ball for 12 1/2 minutes in the second quarter and the beginning of the third quarter. A see-saw game saw the Colts up 17-16 when Indianapolis missed a very long field goal. In the fourth quarter, Brees hit Jeremy Shockey for the two-yard touchdown as the two-point conversion put the Saints up 24-17.
With 3 1/2 minutes to go, the Colts faced third and five from the Saints 31. Manning was destined to tie the game 24-24. Perhaps the Super Bowl would go to overtime for the first time. Manning was about to create a Super Bowl memory. Unfortunately for him and Colts fans, it was a bitter one.
Manning was intercepted by Tracy Porter. Manning tried to make the tackle, but unlike a two-time Super Bowl winner who made one in 2005 to preserve a win and beat the Colts, Manning is not a tackler. Porter was off to the races, pumping his fists as the French Quarter erupted in celebration. The only turnover of the game had the Colts needing a miracle.
Manning rallied the Colts, but on fourth and goal from the five, his pass to Reggie Wayne at the goal line was dropped. MVP Brees finished a ridiculous 32 for 39 for 288 yards. The 32 completions tied a Super Bowl record. The Saints first championship lifted up the entire Gulf region. 31-17 Saints
Super Bowl XLV, 2010 – The early preseason favorite Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings collapsed and their coaches got fired. Brett Favre did not repeat the magic carpet ride of the previous year as his 20th and final season was brutal. Favre’s understudy, Aaron Rodgers, flourished in Green Bay. Despite devastating injuries, the Packers closed strong to finish 10-6 and make the playoffs as the lowest seed. The Seattle Seahawks were the first team to win their division with a losing 7-9 record. The Seahawks won their opening playoff game when they eliminated the defending champion New Orleans Saints, but fell to Chicago. Green Bay became the first sixth seed in the NFC to ever win three road games. They intercepted Michael Vick with seconds to play to beat the Eagles 21-16. They throttled the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons 48-21. They beat their archrival Chicago Bears 21-14 in an NFC Title Game not as close as the score indicated.
In the AFC, the New England Patriots continued their winning tradition by finishing 14-2. The Indianapolis Colts struggled but finished strong to barely make the playoffs at 10-6. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens split a pair of defensive head knockers, both finishing 12-4 with Pittsburgh winning the tie-breaker.
The lowest seed for the second straight season was the New York Jets, and Rex Ryan insisted they would run the table on the road. The Jets backed up their talk, stunning the Colts and Peyton Manning in Indy on the final play 17-16. Then the Jets went to New England, where several weeks earlier they had lost 45-3. New York shocked the Patriots 28-21. For the second straight year the Jets reached the AFC Title Game.
New York played at Pittsburgh, who won another tough playoff battle over the Ravens 31-24. Several weeks earlier the Jets went into Pittsburgh and won 22-17. This time the Steelers jumped to a 24-0 lead and withstood a furious Jets comeback to hang on for a gritty 24-19 win.
With Vince Lombardi and Art Rooney in heaven, a pair of the most storied NFL franchises competed against each other. The 1960s Packers won five NFL Championships including two Super Bowls. The 1970s Steelers won four Super Bowls. The Packers won the Super Bowl in 1996 and lost it in 1997. The Steelers lost one in 1995, then won it in 2005 and 2008.
The Packers jumped to a 21-3 but only led 21-17 after three quarters. With the Steelers driving for the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter, Rashaard Mendenhall was blasted by Clay Matthews, resulting in a fumble that led to a 28-17 Packers lead. The Steelers closed to 28-25 and Aaron Rodgers tried to run out the clock. The Pittsburgh defense held Green Bay to a field goal. Roethlisberger had one final chance to be the hero. He led the winning drive three years earlier, but this time the two-minute drill went nowhere and the Packers held on defense.
Mike McCarthy joined Mike Holmgren and Vince Lombardi in having a street named after him. The MVP, Aaron Rodgers, escaped the shadow of Favre and etched his own legacy.
Charles Woodson played in the Super Bowl eight years earlier with a broken leg in a loss. This time he broke his collarbone in the first half and watched the second half from the sidelines. His fiery halftime speech was one part of a game that led him after 13 years to finally being a champion. He promised the Packers would go to the White House to visit the president, a Bears fan. With the win, the Packers got their trip to the Oval Office. 31-25 Packers