SOUTH FLORIDA, January 31, 2014 — Peyton Manning of the Colts and Tom Brady of the Patriots were torching the league, and the 2004 NFL Draft was added three star quarterbacks. The San Diego Chargers with the top pick drafted Peyton’s younger brother Eli Manning, who refused to play for them. Eli Manning was traded to the San Diego Chargers for several picks, one of which was used to draft Philip Rivers. Rivers in San Diego led the Chargers getting rid of Drew Brees two years later. Brees went to the New Orleans Saints. The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger. More than ever, the NFL was going to be a quarterback driven league. Super Bowls held from 2004 through 2007 reflected star quarterbacks at their best.
This is Part VII of an eight-part series on the history of the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXXIX, 2004 – The New England Patriots with Bill Bellichick and Tom Brady returned to the big dance for the second straight year and the third time in four years. In the NFC, the Andy Reid’s Philadelphia Eagles finally made it over the top in their fourth straight NFC Title game, and third consecutive one at home, by defeating Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons.
The Super Bowl was tied 7-7 and 14-14, but the Patriots had a 24-14 lead late in the game. Donovan McNabb launched a furious rally, cutting the gap to three points. The Eagles did get the ball back, but ran out of time well short of field goal range. New England’s third Super Bowl win in four years made them a dynasty, with each win coming by three points. 24-21 Patriots
Super Bowl XL, 2005 – The Pittsburgh Steelers were 7-5 and on the verge of playoff elimination before running the table. They would play all of their playoff games on the road. After dispatching division rival Cincinnati Bengals, next came the Indianapolis Colts. Indy was led by calm coach Tony Dungy and megastar quarterback Peyton Manning. This year the Colts started 13-0, secured home field, and avoided archrival New England Patriots. The Colts were stunned at home by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers jumped to a 21-3 lead. The Colts closed to 21-18, when Jerome Bettis, aka “The Bus,” was rumbling near the goal line for the final touchdown. He was hit, and fumbled. The Colts picked up the ball and were racing down the field for what appeared to be a miracle touchdown of their own. Ben Roethlisberger made the touchdown saving tackle at midfield. On the final play, Mike Vanderjagt missed the tying field goal. He simply choked, saving Bettis from becoming the goat.
The game was also perspective for Dungy, who tragically lost his son a few months earlier. The Steelers easily dispatched Denver in the AFC Title Game. The Steelers played in Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks, who were in their first one. They were led by Mike Holmgren, trying to win with his second team.
The game itself had several controversial calls, and with the Steelers leading 14-10, Willie Parker ran for a 75-yard touchdown to ice the game. Coach Bill Cowher, after 15 seasons, finally had his ring. The Steelers had their fifth in six tries. Cowher would retire a year later. 21-10 Steelers
Super Bowl XLI, 2006 – The Colts finally got rid of the demons, throttling the Patriots in the regular season, and defeating them in one of the greatest AFC Title Games in history. From Raiders and Steelers to Cowboys and 49ers, the league was now Colts vs Patriots.
The San Diego Chargers were 14-2, but like previous Marty Schottenheimer coached teams, the Chargers melted in the playoffs against the Patriots. An interception for a touchdown had the Patriots up 21-3 against the Colts, and it looked like the Colts were collapsing again. Manning throwing the ball was not getting it done, but Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes on the ground were chewing up yardage.
Time consuming drives wore down the New England defense. The game was tied at 21-21, 28-28, and 31-31. The Patriots took the lead 34-31, but this time Peyton Manning finally lived up to his legacy. Keeping the ball on the ground, Addai ran it in for a touchdown with exactly one minute left. Tom Brady led the final drive, as Manning watched. Brady had won their playoff games. Not this time. He was intercepted, and the Colts won 38-34.
Indianapolis played the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. The NFC was awful that year, and any of the top four AFC teams would have been favored. Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman was the most criticized at his position since Trent Dilfer in 2000. The Bears had the most electrifying return man in the history of the game in Devon Hester. Not since Billy “White Shoes” Johnson had a return man been so celebrated.
Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and the Bears led 7-0 seconds into the game. Tony Dungy and Manning stayed patient, and led 22-17 in the fourth quarter. Grossman had critical interceptions in the fourth quarter, with the last one being returned for a touchdown to ice the game. Played in Miami rain, mud did not stain Dungy and Manning’s ring. Culturally, Dungy and Bears Coach Lovie Smith offered the first Super Bowl with two black head coaches. The men embraced after the game. 29-17 Colts
Super Bowl XLII, 2007 – The preordained AFC Title Game was again supposed to be the Patriots and Colts. The Patriots regained the upper hand by adding Randy Moss to their potent offense. In the regular season, the Colts led 20-10 in the fourth quarter but the Patriots fought back and won 24-20. In the playoffs, Norvelous Norv Turner, backup quarterback Billy Volek and the Chargers stunned the Colts 28-24. The Chargers lost to the Patriots.
The NFC featured even bigger shocks by the New York Giants. Led by no-nonsense coach Tom Coughlin and Peyton’s brother Eli Manning, Big Blue stunned superior opponents. The Giants defeated the 13-3 Cowboys 21-17, intercepting Tony Romo in the end zone on the final play. The Packers were also 13-3, and Brett Favre was favored to get back to the Super Bowl. The Giants defeated Green Bay 23-20 in overtime after Favre’s final pass as a Packer was intercepted.
The Giants and Patriots played in the regular season finale in New York. The Patriots won a thriller 38-35. The Giants finished 10-6. More shockingly, the Patriots finished 16-0 and looked to make history. The 1972 Miami Dolphins nervously held their champagne bottles, knowing that their status as the only undefeated team in history at 17-0 was tenuous. The Patriots, thanks to a schedule lengthened in 1978, were shooting for 19-0. The Giants were looking to shock the world. An expected offensive shootout was a defensive slugfest.
Unknown David Tyree was the Giants’ fourth receiver. When Manning found him for a five-yard touchdown pass, the Giants led 10-7 with 11 minutes remaining in the game. Brady was getting hit on every play, but led the Patriots 89 yards, eating up over eight minutes of clock.
On third down and goal, a touchdown pass to Moss put the Patriots up 14-10 with 2:42 remaining. The Giants took over at their own 17 yard line. On fourth and one from their own 37, battering ram Brandon Jacobs got the first down, and the Giants called their first timeout with 1:28 left. On third and five from the Giants 43 with 1:15 left, the NFL witnessed what may have been the greatest play in Super Bowl history. Manning was caught in the pocket. Two or three Patriots had a shot, and one had him by the Jersey for a certain sack. Manning somehow spun out, and heaved the ball deep before being hit.
This was only half the miracle play that should forever be known as “the Scramble.” His Fran Tarkenton impersonation was fabulous, but the reception was even more spectacular. Tyree, with Rodney Harrison defending him perfectly, caught the ball against his helmet one-handed. Harrison tried to pry it loose, but somehow Tyree kept the ball lodged between his hand and his helmet. Going to the ground, the ball never touched the ground or came loose.
From the New England 14, Manning lobbed an end zone pass to Plaxico Burress. Burress faked out Ellis Hobbs, who had intercepted Manning earlier. The touchdown with only 35 seconds remaining saw history smashed, obliterated, and poured upside down. It was sweet vindication for Coughlin, who was almost fired before the season, and for defensive standout Michael Strahan, who contemplated retirement before the season. Strahan retired after the game. 17-14 Giants