Biggest Comebacks in Super Bowl History

Professional American football has been in existence since 1920, nearly 100 years ago, when the formation of the APFA (American Professional Football Association) came to be in Canton, Ohio, later known as the National Football League. The Super Bowl – the championship game of the NFL – significantly shorter. The very first Super Bowl was played as a result of the later formation of the AFL (American Football League). Due to a national competition over bringing players into the league, the NFL and AFL were in contention with each other since the advent of the AFL in 1960. Eventually, the two leagues challenged each other in what the late Lamar Hunt, founder of the AFL and owner of the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, would jokingly call the Super Bowl. Initially dominated by the NFL-representing Green Bay Packers, the AFL made up its ground in the following two years to show they were a competent football league by comparison. In 1970, following Super Bowl IV, the AFL-NFL merger had come to fruition, forming one larger National Football League.

These days, the excitement surrounding the Super Bowl is unparalleled. Featuring pre-game media availability for many of the players, scintillating half-time shows, and wallet-breaking premium for commercial air time, the Super Bowl is less of a sporting event and more of a national holiday. And many of the games have lived up to the hype by providing exciting finishes and some historical comebacks. I am surprised that the Philadelphia Eagles are not somewhere on this list. 

Perhaps one of the most thrilling last-second finishes in Super Bowl history belongs to the New York Giants, who faced the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. Down by as much as 9 points in the first half, the Giants orchestrated a comeback that ultimately ended with the defense on the field. A first-half safety had given the Bills a promising 12-3 lead with a chance to enter halftime with an even larger one. But, the Bills were forced to punt and the Giants managed what could have been as much as a 14-point swing. So, instead of Buffalo entering the half up by as much as 19-3, the Giants managed to shave the lead down to 12-10. The teams managed to exchange touchdowns in the second half before Giants’ kicker Matt Bahr gave New York the slimmest of leads, 20-19. And what is likely one of the famous moments in Super Bowl history, Bills’ kicker Scott Norwood kicked the football wide right, narrowly missing a game-winning 47-yard field goal, as the game’s final seconds ticked away. 

Another moment involves one of the most questionable calls in Super Bowl history, a more recent showdown between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Down by as much as 10 points, the Patriots trailed Seattle by a score of 24-14 with a famed defense called the Legion of Boom called upon to hold the lead. However Brady managed to score two touchdowns in the final quarter to give New England a 28-24 lead with just over 2 minutes remaining. Seattle had managed to drive all the way to the New England 1-yard line with a very healthy and very effective Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. Everyone expected a run play. But, Russell Wilson dropped back to pass the ball, throwing an interception to Patriots’ cornerback Malcolm Butler. Butler managed to return the ball far enough to secure another Super Bowl win for the New England Patriots.

But, without a doubt the most dramatic comeback in Super Bowl history also features the only Super Bowl ever to have gone into overtime to this point. The New England Patriots squared off against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, and the Falcons looked as if they would run away with it. More than halfway through the 3rd quarter, they led the Brady-headed Patriots by a score of 28-3. Before this point in history, the greatest deficit a Super Bowl-winning team had overcome was 10 points (also the Patriots). The game looked so bleak for New England that the odds of Atlanta winning the game were an astounding 99.5 percent. But, following five drives into the closing minutes of regulation and holding Atlanta to no scoring from that point, New England had scored three field goals and two touchdowns, both followed by successful two-point conversions. The Patriots had tied the game, 28-28. In overtime, it only took 7 plays for the Patriots to find the end zone and end the game with a touchdown to complete – by far – the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

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