As Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons prepare to take on the favored New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51 (also known as Super Bowl 2017 or Super Bowl LI), we’re taking a moment to look back at the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.
Some of these games are from as far back as the 1960s; some are quite recent. Some of the key players were grizzled veterans, and some were up-and-coming young stars. The one thing all these games have in common is this: one team was heavily favored (by more than 10 points), and each time, the underdog defied the odds to become NFL Champions.
5. Super Bowl XXXII: Denver 31, Green Bay 24
Date: January 25, 1998
Location: San Diego, California
Point Spread: Green Bay -11.0
The 1997 Green Bay Packers, led by quarterback Brett Favre, looked like too big an obstacle for Denver as they met in Super Bowl XXXII. Quarterback John Elway was 37-years-old, and despite a 12-4 regular season record, the Broncos were not given much of a chance against mighty Green Bay. However, led by running back Terrell Davis’ 157 rushing yards and late touchdown plunge (as described by the Boston Herald), Denver won a 31-24 thriller over the Packers in a very memorable Super Bowl clash.
4. Super Bowl IV: Kansas City 23, Minnesota 7
Date: January 11, 1970
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Point Spread: Minnesota -12.0
Led by the legendary Purple People Eaters defense, the Minnesota Vikings were expected to crush the upstart Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. The Chiefs shocked everyone by taking a commanding 16-0 halftime lead, and they held on for a 23-7 triumph over quarterback Joe Kapp and the Vikings. Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson had a very effective performance against the vaunted Minnesota pass rush, and Pro Football Reference reports that Dawson took home Super Bowl MVP honors as a result.
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3. Super Bowl XLII: NY Giants 17, New England 14
Date: February 3, 2008
Location: Glendale, Arizona
Point Spread: New England -12.5
The New England Patriots had a dream season in 2007, blasting through their schedule undefeated going into their Super Bowl XLII match-up against the New York Giants. The Giants had already defied the odds by getting this far in the playoffs, and they were expected to be easy fodder for the dominant Patriots. Wide receiver David Tyree’s incredible drive-saving catch, along with quarterback Eli Manning’s touchdown pass with 35 seconds left propelled New York to this very improbable Super Bowl victory, which was rated by USA Today as the best Super Bowl of all-time.
2. Super Bowl XXXVI: New England 20, St. Louis 17
Date: February 3, 2002
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Point Spread: St. Louis -14.0
The New England Patriots have built an NFL dynasty in recent years, and because of that, many people forget that they were overwhelming underdogs in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams, per SB Nation. In 2001, St. Louis had one of the best offenses in NFL history, earning the nickname The Greatest Show on Turf. New England found a way to slow down quarterback Kurt Warner and company, and gutted out a 20-17 win on Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal as time expired.
1. Super Bowl III: NY Jets 16, Baltimore 7
Date: January 12, 1969
Location: Miami, Florida
Point Spread: Baltimore -18.0
The upset of all upsets. The Baltimore Colts were so good in 1968, they were considered virtually unbeatable. The AFC’s New York Jets, on the other hand, were thought to be no challenge whatsoever to Baltimore’s impending Super Bowl title. The New York Daily News discusses how brash young quarterback Joe Namath publicly guaranteed that his Jets would defeat the heavily-favored Colts. They say it’s not bragging if you can back it up, and Namath and his teammates certainly did, dismantling Baltimore 16-7 in a game New York controlled from beginning to end.
[Featured Image by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images]