50 Greatest Super Bowl Moments – Rolling Stone
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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

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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). 

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Whitney Houston Amazes, Super Bowl XXV

January 27th, 1991

Whitney Houston had her share of iconic moments, but Grammy and American Music Awards performances aside, the late diva's signature in-concert moment came while bedecked in a patriotic tracksuit and headband. Opening up Super Bowl XXV with a soul-stirring "Star Spangled Banner" that doubled as homage to our troops engaged in Operation Desert Storm, she truly, indisputably moved a nation with her talent. 

NKOTB

New Kids Break New Ground, Super Bowl XXV

January 27th, 1991

1991's halftime show didn't quite have the gravitas of Whitney's national anthem, but it is a landmark Super Bowl memory. After decades of marching bands and family-oriented musical numbers that had most of the audience vying for bathroom breaks, the telecast's producers got (sort of) hip and hired New Kids on the Block to deliver "Step by Step." OK, they were still surrounded by dancing toddlers and castle floats, but Donnie Wahlberg brandishing a big-ass gold chain was, till that point, as edgy as the affair had ever been.

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Wide Right, Super Bowl XXV

January 27th, 1991

There was one final standout occurrence in Super Bowl XXV, and this one pertained to the actual outcome of the game. Poor Bills kicker Scott Norwood invoked Bill Buckner-worthy ire from Buffalo fans, and even partially inspired the plot of Ace Ventura, when he narrowly hooked a potential game-winning 47-yard field-goal wide right. The Giants consequently walked away with a breathtaking 20-19 victory, as Norwood hung his head (unfairly, if you ask many) in shame. Worse yet, the miss begat a Super Bowl losing streak for Buffalo, with Norwood's error still remembered as a symbolic bad omen. 

Thurman Thomas super bowl xxvi

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Thurman Thomas Loses His Head, Super Bowl XXVI

January 26th, 1992

Thurman Thomas has little to apologize for when looking back at a Hall of Fame career. He ticked off eight consecutive 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons for Buffalo in the 1990s, and was all but anointed Super Bowl XXV MVP (if the Bills had won). Alas, we all have brain farts, and at the outset of Super Bowl XXVI against Washington (which would become Buffalo's second of four straight such defeats), Thomas couldn't locate his helmet and actually missed the opening pair of plays, giving new urgency to that adage about keeping your head in the game.

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Michael Jackson’s Magic, Super Bowl XXVII

January 31st, 1993

The King of Pop was still in world-domination mode more than a year after Dangerous when he stormed the Rose Bowl in full pseudo-tsarist regalia. He appeared mid-field amid a plume of smoke after deking out onlookers via a bevy of MJ impersonators atop the stadium's scoreboards. Sure, he started out with "Jam," but before long was running through "Billie Jean" and setting "Heal the World" against a crowd-participation stunt that has to be seen to be believed. Jackson's SB XXVIII production showed why, at the time, he still seemed capable of anything.

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Crystal Pepsi Dates Itself ‘Right Now,’ Super Bowl XXVII

 January 31st, 1993

If two words were ever synonymous with forward thinking, they figured to be some combination other than Sammy and Hagar. Alas, the soft-drink giant's ad agents deemed Van Halen's broad pro-everything ballad "Right Now" the perfect soundtrack to a breathless ad introducing the "natural," preservative-free and, most crucially, translucent drink, Crystal Pepsi. This minute-long spot remains a quintessential, if oft-chided, marker of instant obsolescence.

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Leon Lett’s Hotdogged Humbling, Super Bowl XXVII

January 31st, 1993

One takes nothing away from Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett's physical strength, but in SB XXVII, Buffalo Bills receiver Don Beebe swiped both the ball and some pride from Lett's fingers. Late in the midst of an eventual 52-17 beating, Buffalo QB Frank Reich fumbled in Dallas territory on fourth down. Lett picked up the ball and ran it back, only to slow down and showboat at the goal line, where Beebe caught up and knocked the ball loose and through the end zone for a touchback. Thankfully for the big guy, this was before social media. Shockingly, it wasn't his only in-game blunder.

Emmitt Smith

Emmitt Smith carries the ball against the Buffalo Bills during Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta, Georgia on January 30th, 1994.

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The Buffalo Bills’ Four-Peat of Failure, Super Bowl XXVIII

January 30th, 1994

Whatever face Buffalo saved the year prior by denying Leon Lett that last humiliating score was soon obscured. On Jan. 30, '94, the Bills came out on the wrong side of a fourth straight Super Bowl, losing handily once again to Dallas, 30-13. With it, the Hall of Fame legacies of coach Marv Levy and quarterback Jim Kelly were invariably blemished, and the city of Buffalo was left out in the cold for yet another sports season. The Bills would make the playoffs four of the next five years, but not since that run of semi-respectability. And that ain't all on Scott Norwood.

Reggie White Green Bay Packers Super Bowl XXXI

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Reggie White’s Trophy Run, Super Bowl XXXI

January 26st, 1997

Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return was Super Bowl XXI's big play, but the lasting image is of late, great defenseman Reggie White running around the Superdome, Lombardi Trophy in hand, like the proverbial overgrown kid. White had waited 14 years to grasp that commemorative statue, and earned it too: He set a then-SB record with three sacks of Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe. 

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John Elway Goes Flying, Super Bowl XXXII

January 25th, 1998

With the game against Brett Favre's Packers knotted at 17 in the fourth quarter, John Elway and the Denver Broncos faced a third down at their opponent's 12-yard line. After taking the shotgun snap, Elway ran toward the first-down marker. Two defenders sandwiched the 37-year-old QB, who leapt, and spun around helicopter-style before crashing to the turf with possession of both the ball and the first down. A rushing TD ensued, as did Elway's first of two straight Super Bowl wins.

pets.com

The Dot-Com Advertising Era Begins, Super Bowl XXXIV

January 30th, 2000

Now it's a given that online monoliths like E*Trade and GoDaddy fight for prime Super Bowl advertising space with the Cokes and Pepsis of our planet. But that's a distinctly post-Y2K phenomenon. In fact, SBXXXIV is often dubbed the "dot-com" bowl by marketing gurus. Several bubble-ready URLs, flush with investor capital, made a splash that night, including the aforementioned E*Trade, HotJobs and, notoriously, the ephemeral Pets.com. In retrospect, the deluge signified a watershed of viral creativity but stands as emblematic of Web-monetization's early hubris. But at least we got this.

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The Titans Come So Close, Super Bowl XXXIV

January 30th, 2000

The Tennessee Titans lost to Kurt Warner's St. Louis Rams by seven points, but the final gap between the two teams was really only a single yard. Titans receiver Kevin Dyson was tackled by Mike Jones a yard shy of the end zone after corralling a pass by Steve McNair on the final play of regulation. Had he crossed the goal line, the Titans would've needed only a point-after kick to force overtime.

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U2 Leave It All on the Field, Super Bowl XXXVI

 February 3rd, 2002

It may have seemed strange for an Irish quartet to perform a 9/11 tribute at the subsequent Super Bowl. But few bands with U2's global influence and admiration have demonstrated such kinship with America's potential and possibility. Still riding the wave from 2000's comeback album All That You Can't Leave Behind, the band's halftime show crested with emotion when Bono and Co. played "MLK" as the names of victims scrolled behind them, and soared with an incredible "Where the Streets Have No Name," giving voice to the feelings of grief and resilience that had lingered after the terrible tragedy.

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Adam Vinatieri Kicks Off Patriots Dynasty, Super Bowl XXXVI

February 3rd, 2002

"That's the way you should win a Super Bowl," decreed John Madden. It's hard to fathom the Tom Brady-driven Patriots as upstart or underdogs, but they were both heading into that year's game against Kurt Warner's high-octane St. Louis Rams. But when New England kicker Adam Vinatieri − fresh off a miracle OT field goal in the snow against Oakland a few weeks earlier − sailed a 48-yarder through the uprights, marking the first time that the Super Bowl was won on the game's final play, a nation rejoiced for David's mythical overtaking of Goliath, even if the Pats soon assumed the latter role.

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The Wardrobe Malfunction, Super Bowl XXXVIII

February 1st, 2004

What can be said that hasn't already? And has it already been 10 years since Justin Timberlake ripped off Janet Jackson's bodice to culminate "Rock Your Body" and the SB XXXVIII Halftime Show, exposing her breast and launching months of conservative outrage and network backpedaling? "Nipplegate" has since ceded spotlight to M.I.A.'s flip-off and other planned/not-quite-planned scandalizing incidents, but for one glorious, panicked period of time, Janet's display drove the national discourse.

Nipplegate: 10 Years Later

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We’re Going Streaking! Super Bowl XXXVIII

February 1st, 2004

While overlooked amid Janet's flash dance, there was more on-field nakedness to be had during a weirdly tawdry Super Bowl XXXVIII. Just as the second half was about to kick off, British streaker Mark Roberts took the field posing as an official, only to strip down to a G-string and Golden Palace advertisement scrawled across his torso. TV cameras panned out, but Pats special teams member Matt Chatham zeroed in, tackling Roberts before security hauled him away.

Tom Brady Super bowl XXXIX

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Tom Brady’s Sneaky Pass, Super Bowl XXXIV

February 6th, 2005

For the second straight year, versatile Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel pulled in a Super Bowl TD pass from Tom Brady, although this time the two-yard score came at a crucial point in the third quarter with the score tied 7-7 (New England eventually topped the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21). Not only did Vrabel set the Patriots' third championship in four years on its course, but he even rang up a monster sack on Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, forever enshrining himself in Pats lore as Foxboro's favorite two-way player.

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The Rolling Stones Rock Detroit, Super Bowl XL

February 5th, 2006

With Super Bowl producers still skittish after Nipplegate a couple years prior, they'd been playing it safer with veteran acts like 2005's Paul McCartney and, this time around, the immortal Rolling Stones. Truth was, Mick and the guys bashed it out at Detroit's Ford Field with the verve of teenage boys, with Jagger in particular looking lean and possessed as they ripped through "Start Me Up" and "Satisfaction" atop a stage in the shape of their lips and lolling tongue logo. The game was won by the Pittsburgh Steelers, by the way. The Black and Gold beat the Seattle Seahawks by a final score of 21-10.

Prince Super Bowl XLI

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Prince Reigns in the Rain, Super Bowl XLI

February 4th, 2007

Much like the Stones, Prince proved a perfect compromise between established artist and slightly racy unpredictability. For the most part, Mr. Rogers Nelson brought family friendly medley mojo to the halftime extravaganza, spanning vintage hits ("Let's Go Crazy") and covers suited to his virtuosity ("All Along the Watchtower"). But when time came for the iconic "Purple Rain" solo, a fortuitous aligning of his irregularly shaped guitar's shadow against a flowing sheet formed some, let's say, suggestive imagery.

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Danica Patrick’s Beaver Teaser, Super Bowl XXLII

February 3rd, 2008

Domain-provider GoDaddy gets flack for what some say are witless, misogynistic Super Bowl spots, but their 2008 campaign was clever on a couple levels. The initially submitted ad−featuring spokeswoman/female auto racer Danica Patrick and an actual beaver in a spoof of the tabloid craze over paparazzi crotch shots − was vetoed by FOX, who was airing the game. So GoDaddy simply threw together a low-wattage teaser for the very same ad and its exclusive availability online, and of course, got more buzz for doing so. 

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David Tyree’s Miracle Catch, Super Bowl XLII

February 3rd, 2008

The New York Giants were massive underdogs to the as-yet-undefeated Patriots when they got the ball down 14-10 with just over two minutes left in the game. Running back Brandon Jacobs converted on a fourth down early in the drive, and on a third-and-five a few plays later, quarterback Eli Manning shook off numerous tackles, planted his feet and heaved one into double coverage towards receiver David Tyree, who miraculously secured the ball with his hands and helmet, never let go and landed safely in Pats territory. One TD fade to Plaxico Burress later and the Giants were kings, 17-14.

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Bruce Springsteen’s Power Slide, Super Bowl XLIII

February 1st, 2009

During the opening moments of the SB XLIII Halftime Show, Bruce Springsteen demonstrated his preternatural vigor by delivering a power slide . . . and careening crotch-first into a low-lying camera during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out." The Internet erupted with good-natured barbs at Springsteen's childlike enthusiasm and the inadvertent crotch shot, but for his part, all the legend could say was, "Too much adrenaline, a late drop, too much speed, here I come boom!" For an event that often feels over-planned, this was a delightfully out of control moment.

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The Steelers Get a Sixth, Super Bowl XLIII

February 1st, 2009

Aging Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner, who'd won a championship with the St. Louis Rams, almost had one more title in him. Too bad breakout Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes stood, ran and leapt in his path. After going down 23-20 with just over two minutes to play, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger connected with Holmes time and again. Finally, on second and goal from the five-yard line, Big Ben lasered a pass into the back corner of the end zone, where Santonio nimbly caught hold and kept his feet barely in bounds for the game-winning score as Cardinals defenders flanked him on all sides. It's the kind of play you can practice all week long and never execute with such perfection, and it gave the Steelers their record-breaking "one for the thumb" sixth Super Bowl victory.

Sean Payton

Sean Payton’s Big Gamble, Super Bowl XLIV

February 7th, 2010

New Orleans coach Sean Payton is known for some innovative offensive play calls, but few decisions in Super Bowl history rank riskier than commencing the second half of SB XLIV − down 10-6 to Peyton Manning's Colts − with an onside kick. Thomas Morstead provided the boot, the ball bounced off Colt Hank Baskett  and Saints safety Chris Reis recovered at the Indy 42. The ensuing Saints TD supplied Who Dat nation with a lead that they never relinquished en route to a 31-17 victory. 

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M.I.A. Flips Off America, Super Bowl XVLI

 February 5th, 2012

People forget that M.I.A. censored herself from rapping a designated "shit" while performing "Give Me All Your Luvin'" with Madonna during their halftime show. So maybe it was out of mild protest that she raised a defiant middle finger at the precise moment she would've otherwise let the curse word fly. Turns out, according to M.I.A., the gesture was an homage to Hindu music goddess Matangi's meditative pose. The NFL was not convinced, and sued her for $1.5 mil in damages for breach of contract. 

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Eli the Brady Killer, Super Bowl XLVI

February 5th, 2012

Four years hence from David Tyree's improbable grab, the Giants were up against it again, down 17-15 to the Patriots with four minutes to play, lodged deep in their own territory. On first down, Eli Manning didn't flinch at the four-man rush and lobbed one to receiver Mario Manningham on the sideline. Manningham saw the ball through both defenders and into his hands, all while tippy-toeing in bounds at the 50-yard line. The G-Men would cap things off with Ahmad Bradshaw's winning TD run, but it was that Eli-to-Mario mindbender that set the Pats spinning.

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The Harbowl, Super Bowl XLVII

February 3rd, 2013

Power outages aside, the real narrative of SB XLVII was about coaches John (Ravens) and Jim (49ers) Harbaugh facing off against each other, and marking the first times the two Super Bowl teams had ever been coached by brothers. When older brother John emerged the champ and met Jim at midfield, all eyes were watching as John shook his younger sib's hand, told him he loved him, and the two commended each other on a job well done. Even in the NFL, family matters.

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The Lights Go Out in New Orleans, Super Bowl XLVII,

February 3rd, 2013

Early in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII, with the Baltimore Ravens dominating San Francisco 28-6, the lights literally went out in the New Orleans Superdome and suspended play for nearly 35 minutes. When luminescence was restored, the 49ers roared back with renewed energy and made it a game, ultimately getting edged out 34-31. What caused the infamous blackout? Aptly, the culprit was a malfunctioning electrical-relay device designed to prevent power failures, an irony surely appreciated by the exasperated Ravens.

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