I do my best to be a “journey over destination” guy, so believe me, I don’t want to skip right over all the good times on the calendar we’re just now getting to, as in: Rivalry games and eating stuffing and bowl season and pie and stuffing and workplace-sanctioned day-drinking and gravy and stuffing…but I think never ending debates about things like which four teams belong in the college football playoff have finally broken my brain: I can’t fully focus on right now because I’m already looking ahead to which two pro football teams are gonna get the final gift of the season, those plane rides out to Phoenix.
If you haven’t noticed, the Football Gods have been a bit stingy with recent Super Bowl matchups: Rams/ Bengals was meh. Pats/Rams was worse than meh. In between, we got Brady’s Bucs benefitting from Mahomes playing behind an o-line composed of Twitter staffers. Here’s hoping, then, they give us the best possible matchup…y’know, something in the way of Dolphins/Niners, Chiefs/Cowboys, Bills/Eagles, things of that nature. Time is a flat circle, so I’m sure we’ll get back on track, but to make up for my look into the future, here’s a quick ranking of eleven past Super Bowls where the Football Gods left some meat on the bone…with ideas for alternative matchups that would’ve upgraded matters significantly, a retroactive wish list for games already played.
Warning: If you are a devotee of one of the teams being replaced here, please don’t read this standing up. I don’t want you passing out from outrage-borne vapors. (Also, this subjective list very likely won’t erase recorded history.)
11. Super Bowl XLVI: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS v NEW YORK GIANTS GREEN BAY PACKERS
Eli, Tyree and the Giants’ mighty pass rush ending the Pats’ 2007 bid for perfection was miraculous…and, with no slight to the exciting Indy sequel, 21st-century football fans missed out a showdown between the generation’s two best QBs, Brady v Rodgers in their respective primes, against 2011’s two worst Ds.
Final score: Pats 131, Packers 128
10. Super Bowl XII: DALLAS COWBOYS v DENVER BRONCOS OAKLAND RAIDERS
The 12-2 Cowboys – with the Doomsday Defense on one side and rookie fancypants Tony Dorsett elevating Roger Staubach’s offense on the other – were maybe Landry’s best squad, so they certainly would’ve been favored against Madden’s wildcard gang…but Snake & the bad-boy Raiders going for the repeat against America’s Team would’ve been way juicier than the overwhelmed Broncos…who, by the way, got all-time lucky in the AFC title game when the refs missed Denver FB Rob Lytle’s fumble before a TD that put the Broncos up double digits against the Silver & Black.
Final score: Cowboys 30, Raiders 23
9. Super Bowl XXI: NEW YORK GIANTS v DENVER BRONCOS CLEVELAND BROWNS
Elway deserves eternal praise for dragging the mostly mediocre Broncos to three Super Bowls in four years (sorry, Sammy Winder & Vance Johnson) but those locker rooms and flights back home must’ve included booze or something equally devilish because those teams still looked drunk two weeks later. Meantime, Schottenheimer’s best-in-conference Browns would’ve given Parcells & the juggernaut Jints a tougher test…and old-school fans a thrill seeing two O.G. franchises go head-to-head for the Lombardi. (This would also deliver some pigskin justice, considering Rich Karlis’ barefoot “winner” in OT sure looked no-good.)
Final score: Giants 33-24
8. Super Bowl XVI: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS v CINCINNATI BENGALS SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense v Air Coryell! I don’t know what Dan Fouts or Chuck Muncie did to offend the Football Gods, but it must’ve been bad. How else to explain San Diego’s unstoppable offense getting stopped four-straight times before the Super Bowl despite having perhaps the AFC’s best team between ‘79 and ‘82? A good case can be made Coryell’s battle-tested ‘81 gang only fell short because going from sweltering South Beach in an overtime Divisional Rd classic to arctic Cincy for the title game was just too severe a swing. One thing’s for sure: The Super Bowl era’s two greatest offensive innovators going head-to-head at the dawn of the Niners’ dynasty would’ve been electric stuff in Motor City.
Final score: Chargers 27, Niners 26
7. Super Bowl XXIX: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS v SAN DIEGO CHARGERS PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Maybe Stan Humphries did the Steelers a favor by throwing that 4th-quarter TD to upset Bill Cowher’s 12-4 Steelers: Steve Young and the loaded Niners, having already survived the NFC title game against the defending champs from Dallas, weren’t gonna lose to any AFC team that year…but the Blitzburgh D would’ve made sure we got a better game. And besides, just as it’s weird we never got to see Staubach/Stabler or Brady/Rodgers on the biggest stage, the 20th-century’s two greatest dynasties deserved the shared spotlight at least once.
Final score: Niners 28, Steelers 21
6. Super Bowl LIV: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTSKANSAS CITY CHIEFS v LOS ANGELES RAMS
Pats fans can’t complain too much here, given they were a Dee Ford offside penalty away from losing the title game to the mighty Chiefs. 20/20 hindsight also tells us almost any other matchup would’ve been better than the 13-3 snoozer we got in Atlanta. Of course, if not for the worst call of all-time, the Saints would’ve represented the NFC…but while Brady v Brees sounds juicy, running back that November’s 51-48 LA Coliseum shootout is too good to pass up.
Final score: Chiefs 52, Rams 49
5. Super Bowl XLV: GREEN BAY PACKERS CHICAGO BEARS v PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Caleb Hanie, who you may recall replaced (the actually-injured) Jay Cutler against the Packers in the NFC title game, would’ve had to start for CHI…and that would’ve been very, very funny. Two other amusing, or at least bemusing, questions here in the N-if-L: What if Rodgers never got to a Super Bowl? And if Roethlisberger had won his third Lombardi in six seasons, where would the already-surefire Hall of Famer rank on the mythical all-time QB list?
4. Super Bowl XXVIII: DALLAS COWBOYS SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS v BUFFALO BILLS KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
We certainly didn’t need to see the Cowboys dispatch the Bills again after the 52-17 Leon Lett game twelve months earlier…but more importantly, Steve Young’s Niners against Joe Montana’s Chiefs?! Three words: “Ooh,” “la” & “la.”
Final score: Chiefs 19, Niners 8
3. Super Bowl XIV: PITTSBURGH STEELERS v LOS ANGELES RAMS DALLAS COWBOYS
Had the Oilers (who were playing without starting QB Dan Pastorini, All-Pro RB Earl Campbell & WR Ken Burrough) not somehow upset the Chargers in the Divisional Round, San Diego would’ve gone to – and won – the Lombardi in January 1980. After all, the Bolts had already humiliated Chuck Noll’s dynasty, 35-14, in a November that wasn’t as close as the score…so an all-southern California is a fine option here, too, but – as we await non-regional rivals Notre Dame v USC this week – a third Super Bowl matchup in five years between pro football’s two titans is too good to pass up. What Celtics/Lakers were to the ‘80s, Steelers/Cowboys were to the ‘70s…and if Dallas got a win to close out the decade, the ‘Who was the greater dynasty?’ debates would persist to this day. (Spoiler alert: They wouldn’t have gotten a way.)
Final score: Steelers 31, Cowboys 30
2. Super Bowl XXXIII: DENVER BRONCOS v ATLANTA FALCONS MINNESOTA VIKINGS
A gem for the ages instead of the most forgettable Super Bowl of at least the last quarter century: Elway, having finally gotten his Lombardi the year prior (thanks primarily to Terrell Davis), was much better in ‘98..as were the 14-2 Broncos overall. History has been a bit unkind to the 13-3 Falcons, who weren’t a fluke…but who also wouldn’t have survived the 15-1 Vikes were it not for the fluke of Gary Anderson missing an important field goal.
Final score: Vikings 38-35 (in OT)
1. Super Bowl XX: CHICAGO BEARS v NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS MIAMI DOLPHINS
Kids out there may not believe it, but the Patriots were actually easy to root for last century. Specifically in 1985, Steve Neckroll Grogan and Champagne Tony Eason combined to take the Pats on a wildcard ride through the AFC playoffs, punctuated by one of the most consequential upsets of the Super Bowl era. Maybe Marino and company looked past upstart New England, maybe the Miami rain just plain made it hard to throw, whatever the cause… the title game stunner begat a wild mismatch in NOLA. What a shame we didn’t instead see the 15-1 Bears, led by the 46 D, getting another crack at their aqua kryptonite in #13. Chicagoland sports enthusiasts are rightly defensive of their one and only Lombardi team, but Marino solving the 46 on Monday Night Football a month or so before was no fluke – his quick release was the remedy to Chicago’s all-out blitz…and if he could do it in muggy Miami, just think what would’ve happened on the fast track of the Superdome.
Final score: Dolphins 38, Bears 24
I guess what I’m saying here is, we’re gonna watch no matter what but…come on, Football Gods! We’ve been nice this year. Okay, maybe not nice…but good enough that we deserve better than a 9-8 team in the big game. Whattaya say?
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