SOUTH FLORIDA, January 30, 2014 — The 1990s closed with some spectacular offenses lighting up scoreboards in the Super Bowl. The 2000s began with some bone crunching defenses. As Super Bowl 48 pits the top offense in Denver against the top defense in Seattle, a little nostalgia allows for looking back at some of the great previous Super Bowls from the 1998 through 2003 NFL seasons.
This is Part VI of an eight-part series.
Super Bowl XXXIII, 1998 – The Minnesota Vikings’ offense torched the league to a 15-1 record with a revived Randall Cunningham throwing bombs to rookie receiver Randy Moss. A lock to finally win the big one, they collapsed in the NFC Title game.
The Atlanta Falcons trailed 20-7, but fought back. With time running out, Minnesota still led 27-20, with Gary Anderson attempting a 40-yard field goal to lock up the game. He had not missed all year, going 40 for 40, an NFL record. He missed this one, stunning the crowd. Atlanta tied the game, and even though Minnesota got the ball first in overtime, it was Morton Anderson who kicked the winning field goal for the 30-27 overtime shocker. Coach Dan Reeves was taking his second team to the Super Bowl. It was the first trip for the Falcons.
In the AFC, the Broncos cruised during the regular season, but faced a tough Jets team led by Bill Parcells in the AFC Title game. Parcells was trying to take a third team to the Super Bowl. The Jets blocked a punt and led 10-0 in the third quarter, but the Jets could not overcome six turnovers as the Broncos won 23-10.
Super Bowl XXXIII was not close, as the Broncos coasted to their second straight Super Bowl win. Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan took delight in beating Reeves, who fired Shanahan as an assistant in Denver. John Elway retired after the game. 34-19 Broncos
Super Bowl XXXIV, 1999 – The St. Louis Rams, formerly of Los Angeles, had been terrible for a decade, but when Trent Green went down in the preseason with a knee injury, former supermarket checkout clerk Kurt Warner became a legend. For the next three years, the Rams offense was the “Greatest Show on Turf.”
Dick Vermeil had returned to the Super Bowl after a 19-year absence. Vermeil retired from the Eagles in 1982, citing burnout, only to return to the league with the Rams in 1997. Marshal Faulk was the star running back, and offensive coordinator Mike Martz was a mad scientist calling plays.
The Rams struggled in the NFC Title Game, but a late touchdown defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-6. Twenty years earlier, the Rams had defeated the Bucs in the NFC Title Game, 9-0. The Tennessee Titans, formerly the Houston Oilers, were led by Buddy Ryan disciple Jeff Fisher and represented the AFC.
The Rams led 16-0, but the Titans fought back and tied the game at 16-16 with two minutes left. One play later, Super Bowl XXXIV MVP Kurt Warner threw a 73-yard bomb for the go-ahead touchdown. He passed for 414 yards on the day.
Steve McNair led the Titans back to within striking distance with five seconds left. McNair’s pass to Kevin Dyson fell one yard short when Mike Jones made “The tackle.” Vermeil retired after the game. The Rams avenged a 24-21 regular season loss to the Titans in a thriller. 23-16 Rams
Super Bowl XXXV, 2000 – The Vikings were again cruising when a late-season collapse cost them home field. They reached the NFC Title Game, but were throttled by the New York Giants 41-0. Back to back home losses had the Giants reeling at 7-4 when Coach Jim Fassell made a bold prediction. He was considered laid back, but told the press that “this team is going to the playoffs.”
The AFC featured a Baltimore Ravens team with one of the greatest defenses in history. Cocky coach Brian Billick, defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, and fearsome defensive standout Ray Lewis backed up the talk. They knocked out Tennessee’s Steve McNair from a brutal Divisional round game in Nashville that was tied 10-10 in the fourth quarter with Tennessee lining up for the go-ahead field goal. The Ravens blocked the kick and returned it for a touchdown. Then a pass to Eddie George was ripped out of his hands by Ray Lewis for the interception return to seal the 24-10 win.
The Ravens then went on the road and knocked out Rich Gannon from the AFC Title Game, eliminating the Oakland Raiders. The Ravens had almost no offense, going five straight games during the season without an offensive touchdown. Quarterback Trent Dilfer was considered a stiff by many.
In the Super Bowl, Dilfer threw an interception to Jason Sehorn for a touchdown, but it was called back by a penalty. The Ravens led, 10-0, at the half. An interception returned for touchdown put the Ravens up 17-0. This was followed by a kickoff return for a touchdown by the Giants. The Ravens then took the next kickoff for a touchdown. There were three touchdowns in less than a minute and the Ravens were up 24-7.
The Giants had lost their first Super Bowl. The Ravens were the former Cleveland Browns, and Art Modell ignored the death threats, moved his team, and had his first trophy. Due to controversy surrounding Lewis, Dilfer got the Disneyland commercial. It did not matter, as Dilfer became the first winning Super Bowl quarterback to be traded before the next season. 34-7 Ravens
Super Bowl XXXVI, 2001 – The Rams returned for the second time in three years, exploding to a 14-2 record. They were facing a Patriots team who started the season with Drew Bledsoe and finished with Tom Brady. The Patriots had defeated the Oakland Raiders in overtime in a blizzard in a controversial game that would forever be known as the “Tuck Rule” game.
The Rams were led by Mike Martz, and the Patriots were led by Bill Bellichick, who was determined to escape the shadow of his mentor Bill Parcells.
The Rams defeated the Patriots 24-17 in Foxboro in a regular season game that was not that close. Yet Super Bowl XXXVI featured a Rams team that perhaps was overconfident.
Ty Law returned an interception for a touchdown and a 7-3 Patriots lead. The Patriots led, 17-3, in the fourth quarter when the Rams finally woke up. With under two minutes left, the Rams had tied the game 17-17. The Patriots defense was out of gas, but Tom Brady had 90 seconds with which to work.
Brady had only 75 yards passing up to that point, but on the last play of the game, a 48-yard field goal attempt by Adam Vinatieri was dead center. Perhaps the biggest upset since the Jets in Super Bowl III had taken place. 20-17 Patriots
Super Bowl XXXVII, 2002 – The Raiders, who had relocated back to Oakland from Los Angeles several years earlier, were seeking to avenge their disputed playoff heartache from a year earlier. They had difficult playoff wins over the Jets and Titans. The Raiders started 4-0, fell to 4-4, and finished 11-5. Rookie head coach Bill Callahan led the team, replacing Jon Gruden, who left to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The entire 2002 NFC was full of shockers. The 12-4 Packers had never lost a playoff game at home, but were stunned by the Atlanta Falcons, who were led by young sensation Michael Vick. The Buccaneers played the NFC Title game at the heavily favored Eagles, who had beaten them six straight times. The Eagles led 7-0 one minute into the game, but this time the Bucs stunned the Eagles. Ronde Barber’s 92-yard interception returned sealed the 27-10 win, and sent Gruden to face his old team.
The Raiders intercepted a pass on the third play of the game and led 3-0. The Bucs then crushed them, with a 34-3 lead. The Raiders fought back with a blocked punt for a touchdown and were within 34-21 with 2 1/2 minutes remaining. However, NFL MVP Rich Gannon was intercepted for a touchdown.
On the game’s final play, another interception was returned by Tampa Bay for a touchdown. The Bucs intercepted five Gannon passes, returning three for scores. Jon Gruden exclaimed, “How ’bout those Tampa Bay Buccaneers?”
The team who started 0-26 and wore orange pants were now pewter wearing champions. Tampa Bay won the battle of pirates. “Chucky,” the nickname for the scowling Gruden, knew the entire Raider playbook in advance. As John Lynch said, “we saw these plays in practice.” Lynch, Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp delivered the win. 48-21 Buccaneers
Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2003 – The Patriots finished 14-2, and faced the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers, who were led by Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben was 14-0 as a starter. The Steelers crushed the injured Patriots during the regular season. The healthy Patriots were favored in the rematch and won handily 41-27 in the AFC Title Game.
In the NFC, the Eagles were in their third straight NFC Title Game, determined to avenge their shocker from the previous year. They were at home against the Carolina Panthers, a 1995 expansion team who reached the NFC Title Game in 1996. The Panthers injured Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in the game, although he played. Carolina won 14-3, and Philly had lost again.
Super Bowl XXXVIII was a thriller. The first quarter was scoreless, the Patriots led 14-10 at the half. After a scoreless third, the fourth quarter was an aerial show. Tom Brady and Jake Delhomme rained bombs, and Delhomme tied the game at 29-29 with little time left.
The Panthers would have been ahead by three, but they failed on three two-point conversion attempts. Coach Jon Fox regretted calling them afterwards. The kickoff after the tying touchdown went out of bounds, allowing the Patriots to start at their own 40 yard line. For the second time in three years, Adam Vinatieri nailed a 48-yarder on the final play of the game for the win. 32-29 Patriots