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NFL’s season-ending showpiece: Top Five Super Bowls

The Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will contest Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday. Here we select the top five games from the previous 49 editions of the NFL’s season-ending showpiece.

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5. Super Bowl XXIII (January 22, 1989) San Francisco 49ers 20 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Having been beaten by the 49ers seven years earlier, the Bengals shut down one of the best offenses in NFL history through three quarters to hold a 13-6 lead going into the final 15 minutes. However, quarterback Joe Montana hit Jerry Rice for a 14-yard touchdown to tie things at 13-13. A field goal put Cincinnati back in front with just over three minutes left, with the 49ers needing to drive 92 yards on the subsequent series to win the game. Montana, though, lived up to his nickname of ‘Joe Cool’ and secured his legacy, pointing out the presence of actor John Candy in the stands to calm his team-mates down before leading the Niners down the field and capping the drive with a perfect pass to John Taylor in the back of the end zone. That clinched San Francisco’s third Super Bowl title and their last under legendary head coach Bill Walsh, although two more would follow under successor George Seifert.

4. Super Bowl XXXIV (January 30, 2000) St. Louis Rams 23 Tennessee Titans 16
Led by quarterback Kurt Warner – who had taken over from the injured Trent Green and enjoyed an incredible season at the helm of an offense known as ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ – the Rams won their first and only Super Bowl representing St. Louis. The Rams led 16-0 in third quarter but two Eddie George touchdown runs and a field goal saw the Titans pull level. Warner found Torry Holt for a 73-yard touchdown pass to restore the Rams’ advantage with under two minutes left. But a tired Rams defense was unable to stop Titans quarterback Steve McNair, who escaped pressure to find Kevin Dyson at the 10-yard line with six seconds left. On the last play McNair found Dyson again, but Rams linebacker Mike Jones stopped the wide receiver one yard short to seal victory. Dyson’s desperate unsuccessful stretch for the goal line remains one of the most famous images in Super Bowl history.

3. Super Bowl XXV (January 27, 1991) New York Giants 20 Buffalo Bills 19
In a game now simply referred to as ‘wide right’, the Giants – having ended the 49ers bid for a ‘three-peat’ in the NFC Championship – held a 20-19 lead with just over two minutes remaining of a frenetic encounter in Tampa in which they successfully managed to slow down the Bills’ prolific no huddle offense and rally from a 12-3 second-quarter deficit. Bills quarterback Jim Kelly drove Buffalo down to the Giants’ 29-yard line, setting up a 47-yard field goal to win the game. Television images showed the Giants players praying on the sideline prior to the kick and those prayers were answered as Scott Norwood’s attempt sailed to the right of the posts, enabling New York to run out the clock and seal their second Super Bowl triumph.

2. Super Bowl XLIX (February 1, 2015) New England Patriots 28 Seattle Seahawks 24
After nearly a decade without a Super Bowl win, the Patriots banished the demons of their two losses to the Giants with a pulsating triumph over the defending champion Seahawks. Having levelled at 14-14 late in the second quarter, Seattle built a 10-point lead on the back of a Steven Hauschka field goal and a second Russell Wilson touchdown throw. However, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady – perhaps further motivated by the uproar over the Deflategate scandal that dominated Super Bowl week – responded by orchestrating two touchdown drives to give New England a 28-24 advantage with a little over two minutes left. Yet it looked as if the Patriots would be denied again as cornerback Malcolm Butler deflected a deep Wilson pass into the hands of Jermaine Kearse as the Seahawks receiver fell to the ground. But, with Seattle poised on the New England goal line, Butler redeemed himself, capitalising on the Seahawks’ inexplicable decision not to run the ball with Marshawn Lynch by brilliantly intercepting Wilson’s pass to Ricardo Lockette to preserve victory.

1. Super Bowl XLII (February 3, 2008) New York Giants 17 New England Patriots 14
The Giants pulled off perhaps the biggest shock in Super Bowl history by ending the Patriots’ bid for a perfect 19-0 season with a game-winning drive defined by a play now known as ‘the helmet catch’. New York had lost 38-35 to New England in Week 17 and trailed 14-10 late in the fourth quarter after Brady hit Randy Moss for a six-yard touchdown. On the subsequent drive Eli Manning – faced with a 3rd-and-5 from his own 44-yard line, appeared set to be sacked but escaped the grasp of three Patriots defenders to roll out and find the unknown David Tyree, who made a leaping one-handed catch – pinning the ball to his helmet for a 32-yard gain. Soon after Manning found Plaxico Burress in the end zone as the Patriots fell at the final hurdle in their bid for immortality.

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