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50 Greatest Super Bowl Moments

From pre-game to halftime to during the game, the most memorable events from football’s biggest event

Prince Super Bowl XLI

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As Super Bowl XLVIII fast approaches, a nation once again collectively wonders what scintillating plays will go down in NFL lore, which Seahawk or Bronco might spout off some retweetable post-game rant, what commercial will become watercooler fodder and if Bruno Mars will bring it at halftime. We don't know the answers, but we do know that there are unforgettable moments waiting to happen on February 2nd.

Super Bowl 2014: Rolling Stone's Complete Coverage

Before then, we've looked back at the 47, er, XLVII, prior editions of the Super Sunday gridiron spectacle,  and compiled 50 moments that, for better or worse or irrevocably, have defined why we tune in. As you'll see, what happened between the sidelines is only a part of what goes down in Super Bowl history.  

By Kenny Herzog

Packers

The First ‘World Championship Game’ Touchdown

Super Bowl I, January 15th, 1967

America's most-watched sporting event wasn't officially decreed the Super Bowl until two years later, but for all intents and purposes, this inaugural clash (the "World Championship Game") between AFL and NFL superpowers (eventually re-assigned as the AFC and NFC) is regarded as SB I. And its very first points were tallied when little-used Green Bay Packers receiver Max McGee − an in-game sub for injured Boyd Dowler − snagged a touchdown pass from Bart Starr, one of the pair's two TD hookups that day en route to a victory over Len Dawson's Kansas City Chiefs. 

Super Bowl I Kansas City Chiefs Green bay Packers

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NBC’s Halftime Gaffe, Super Bowl I

January 15th, 1967

Before arena blackouts and other anomalies befell the big game (more on that later), there was Super Bowl I's infamous halftime kickoff snafu. Both NBC and CBS were broadcasting the showdown between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs live (the former owned AFL TV rights, the latter the NFL's). While an NBC correspondent was interviewing comedian Bob Hope, the network neglected to switch back to the game and missed the second half's opening moments. Consequently, the kickoff was whistled dead and Green Bay was forced to re-kick. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, it did nothing to reverse their fate, as the Packers won by a score of 35 to 10. 

vince lombardi super bowl II

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Vince Lombardi’s Hero’s Send-off, Super Bowl II

January 14th, 1968

Vince Lombardi has been immortalized on stage and screen, and is American sports' template for coaching excellence. (He also made the front-toothed gap en vogue decades before Michael Strahan.) The famously stern leader was all smiles when his players carried him off the Orange Bowl turf on their shoulders after Green Bay toppled Oakland to take their second consecutive Super Bowl win. It was Lombardi's last stand with the Pack, capping a nine-year run that featured seven collective titles. To this day, he's still symbolically hoisted overhead in triumph, as the Super Bowl trophy bears his name. 

Joe Namath

Joe Namath’s Guaranteed Victory, Super Bowl III

January 12th, 1969

When Jets QB "Broadway" Joe Namath casually rebutted a cocky Baltimore Colts fan by guaranteeing a win over the heavily favored opponents, his assurance put a sensational charge into Super Bowl III. But it's the image of Namath holding a solitary we're-number-one finger in the air as he ran off into the tunnel following his team's improbable 16-7 victory that drives otherwise long-suffering Jets fans into sweet reveries. 

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Baltimore’s Rebound Reception, Super Bowl V

January 17th, 1971

Kicker Jim O'Brien's field goal cinched the Colts' first Super Bowl win, 16-13, over the Dallas Cowboys. But as legendary Baltimore QB Johnny Unitas would certainly attest, they would have never been in that position if his early second-quarter pass hadn't fortuitously bounced off a defender's hands into the arms of tight end John Mackey, who brought it all the way home for a 75-yard score. 

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Duane Thomas’s Silent Treatment, Super Bowl VI

January 16th, 1972

Enigmatic Dallas running back Duane Thomas declared a vow of media silence in the days leading up to Super Bowl VI. Although when he did offer some insight into his Cowboys' contest versus the Miami Dolphins, it was a rhetorical gem worth the wait: "If it's the ultimate game, how come they're playing it again next year?" Fittingly, Thomas did his finest work sans words, as he rushed for 95 yards and a TD in Dallas' 24-3 cakewalk. After the game, he continued his wonderfully tight-lipped ways. CBS television announcer Tom Brookshier noted Thomas' speed and asked him, "Are you that fast?" Thomas's reply? "Evidently."

Dolphins

The Dolphins Complete Undefeated Season, Super Bowl VI

January 16th, 1972

The 2007 New England Patriots came oh-so close to joining Miami coach Don Shula's 1972 Dolphins in immortality, losing in the Super Bowl to finish 18 and 1. But alas, those Bob Griese-and-Jake-Scott-led fish remain the one and only NFL team ever go an entire season without tallying a loss, a feat they capped off with a gritty 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins and a signature shoulder-ride out of the L.A. Coliseum for Shula. Final record: 17 wins 0 loses.

Lynn Swann

Lynn Swann’s Leap, Super Bowl X

January 18th, 1976

There's rarely been a more aptly named athlete than Steelers receiver Lynn Swann, who was one of football's most graceful players. His talents ran amok in Super Bowl X, which kicked off a fierce, several-year rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys. While a fourth-quarter, 64-yard TD catch from Terry Bradshaw sealed an eventual 21-17 win, it was Swann's mesmerizing juggling act to snare a 53-year heave launched from the Steelers' own end zone just before halftime that the people of Pittsburgh still remember.

Jack Tatum

Jack Tatum Blows Up Sammy White, Super Bowl XI

January 9th, 1977

Though helmet-to-helmet collisions now elicit cringes and concern over players' well-being, it's hard not to be awed by the force of the impact when Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum barrelled into Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Sammy White at the apex of a crossing-route dart from Fran Tarkenton. White's helmet seems to sail in the air nearly longer than the football. Even more astoundingly, White held on for the first down. Sadly, his toughness went for naught, as the Raiders roughed up the Vikes on the way to a 32-14 win.

Tom Landry Super Bowl

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Gate-Crasher Dion Rich Hoists Tom Landry, Super Bowl XII

January 15th, 1978

Dion Rich is the proud, self-professed "world's greatest gate-crasher." He's managed to sneak into and photo-bomb Olympic events, Golden Globes ceremonies and, yes, the Super Bowl. That guy who looks a used-car salesman carrying off Dallas coach Tom Landry following Super Bowl XII? Yep, that's Rich, who would pose as team staff and/or wear disguises to worm his way onto the field each Super Bowl Sunday until he began actually paying for entry several years ago. As of this article's publication, he was still searching for a cheap ticket to Super Bowl XLVIII.

thomas hollywood henderson

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Hollywood Henderson Rips Terry Bradshaw, Super Bowl XIII

January 21st, 1979

For better or worse, Dallas linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson arguably propelled the modern art of smack-talk in sports to its current lofty plane. Witty and brash, Henderson told reporters just before SB XIII that Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw "couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the c and the a" (remarks for which he publicly apologized 17 years later). Of course, Henderson was the one left smarting when Dallas fell 35-31. 

Oakland Raiders Rod Martin Super Bowl XV

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Snatching Victory From Jaws, Super Bowl XV

January 25th, 1981

The majority of ESPN viewers likely know Ron "Jaws" Jaworski as a former Monday Night Football analyst first and erstwhile star Philadelphia Eagles signal-caller second. Jaws can partly thank Oakland linebacker Rod Martin for that, as the Raiders' speedy man on the edges snagged a record three interceptions during his squad's 27-10 domination. It was the first time a wild-card team had held the Lombardi Trophy.

Marcus Allen

Marcus Allen’s Outside-Inside Gallop, Super Bowl XVIII

January 22nd, 1984

The only thing more astounding in Super Bowl XVIII than the famous Apple ad that aired during the telecast (wait for it) was Raiders running back Marcus Allen's electrifying third-quarter score. Bouncing, spinning and brushing off Washington linemen like they were lint, Allen ran three-fourths of the field for a final nail-in-the-coffin touchdown, ratcheting the Raiders' lead to 35-9. 

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Apple’s Orwellian Ad, Super Bowl XVIII

January 22nd, 1984

Advertising, during or apart from the Super Bowl, doesn't get much more iconic than this spot that got tongues wagging following the L.A. Raiders' 38-9 evisceration of Washington. Directed by Ridley Scott and taking a page from George Orwell's 1984, Apple contrasted images of slack-jawed serfs obeying an omniscient leader (i.e. the computing masses) with a punky, sledgehammer-wielding woman (i.e. Macintosh) bent on destroying the oppressive machine. 

Refrigerator Perry

Refrigerator Perry Ices Bears’ Win, Super Bowl XX

January 26, 1986

Everyone's favorite "Superbowl Shuffle"-ing rookie defenseman, William "the Refrigerator" Perry, was often put into goal-line situations as a fullback by Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. And with his good-time squad up 37-3 on the lame-duck New England Patriots, Ditka let Perry rumble in from one yard out, tallying what would be Chicago's final TD in the lopsided shellacking. "That one registered a 3.8," the broadcasting booth aptly quipped as Fridge spiked the pigskin and iced the victory.

Gatorade

The Big Tuna’s Gatorade Bath, Super Bowl XXI

January 25, 1987

Though hotly debated (especially by Bears fans), it's typically acknowledged that the bone-chilling practice of dousing winning coaches in Gatorade caught fire after Giants linebacker Harry Carson was spied drenching Bill "The Big Tuna" Parcells on the sidelines of a national TV game in 1986. Later that winter, once the G-Men secured their 39-20 romp of the Broncos, they demonstrated proper dunking technique in front of a worldwide viewership, and no coach has been safe from electrolyte-rich hypothermia since.

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Phil Simms Punches a Ticket to Disney World, Super Bowl XXI

January 25th, 1987

One Super Bowl XXI factoid that's never been disputed is Giants QB Phil Simms' participation in the first-ever "I'm gonna go to Disney World!" post-game spot. The virtually real-time promo is now a rite of passage for the game's standout players. 

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Doug Williams’ 15 Minutes of Fame, Super Bowl XXII

January 31st, 1988

An outspoken and powerful athlete, former Tampa Bay QB Doug Williams had fled to the USFL after a contract dispute with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before Redskins coach Joe Gibbs snatched him up for the 1987 season. Good move. After starting quarterback Jay Schroeder went down with injury, Williams stepped in, led the 'Skins to the Super Bowl, and in a second quarter for the ages, completed 9 of 11 passes for 228 yards and four (!) touchdowns. He'd be named MVP and, was the first black quarterback to start in the Super Bowl.  

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Stanley Wilson’s No-Show, Super Bowl XXIII

 January 22nd, 1989

Former Cincinnati Bengals coach Sam Wyche still groans about it to this day. His stellar running back, Stanley Wilson, was a potential key cog if they hoped to overcome Joe Montana's juggernaut San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII. Sadly, Wilson missed a team meeting that morning and was later found in a hotel bathroom, having lapsed into a crack-cocaine binge. Wilson was scratched from the game, and San Fran edged out Cincy in a 20-16 thriller. 

Joe Montana Super Bowl XXIII

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Joe Montana Spies John Candy, Super Bowl XXIII

January 22nd, 1989

Most of us would crack under the pressure of Super Bowl contention, or at least demonstrate some kind of shattered focus. But then, there's a reason guys like Joe Montana are who they are. The eventual four-time champ was so non-plussed en route to his team's nail-biting win against the Bengals that, during San Fran's game-clinching drive, he turned to teammate Harris Barton and asked, "There, in the stands, standing near the exit ramp… Isn't that John Candy?" And the cooler head prevailed. 

Joe Cool

Joe Cool Comes Through, Super Bowl XXIII

January 22nd, 1989

Mere minutes after supposedly stopping to note John Candy's presence (see previous entry), Montana sealed Cincy's fate with an 11-yard TD strike to receiver John Taylor deep in the end zone. It was the climactic play not just of a terrific contest, but a remarkable 92-yard drive that commenced with just over three minutes to go and San Fran trailing by a field goal. Every quarterback since who's made a career of making it look easy (that means you, Tom Brady) had found their muse.

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The Bud Bowl’s First Draft, Super Bowl XXIII

January 22nd, 1989

The unheralded winner of SB XXIII was Anheuser-Busch, which launched its first Bud Bowl campaign. The concept was ingeniously simple, and kind of adorable: animate bottles of Bud and Bud Light and have them play out four quarters of football over several ads. Toss in color commentary about their crisp, delicious flavor, sprinkle cute copy like, "The cans go wild," and boom: A phenomenon is born. The last in-game Bud Bowl aired in 1997, but as recently as 2008, Anheuser's staged the occasional BB in host cities for old times' sake (and merch sales).