It’s just one guy’s opinion. Just like most of the stuff written on this site, Elliott Harrison’s recent post on NFL.com (“Ranking the previous 45 Super Bowls, from XIII to XXIV”) isn’t the rule of the sports-observing land. It’s just a set of rankings Harrison came up with.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t throw a Niners-centric tantrum about the rankings, either. Am I right? JOE MONTANA RULEZ!
To be fair, two of the 49ers’ five Super Bowl wins came in lopsided games that were decided by halftime, and another one (Super Bowl XIX against the Dolphins) wasn’t in doubt after the third quarter.
(Side note: is it just me who finds it crazy that the Niners and Dolphins have only played each other 11 times, including that Super Bowl? I know they’re in different conferences, which means the 49ers only play AFC foes once every four years these days, but both teams have been around quite a while.)
The 49ers have played in two pretty darn good Super Bowls, including Super Bowl XXIII (49ers/Bengals, Part II) that I remember being called “the best Super Bowl of all time” in the hours and days that followed. Then again, that might have been because that was the first Super Bowl that was decided by fewer than 10 points since the 49ers beat the Bengals seven years earlier.
Here are how the 49ers’ Super Bowls ranked. “Gil’s takes” are 2-cent doses from Gil Brandt, who pitched in on these rankings. Then I follow with my take.
5. XXIII: 49ers 20, Bengals 16 (This game barely made the “Super Six” category, marking the best Super Bowls in history)
Gil’s take: “The second of the Bengals-49ers Super Bowls was one of the best games. Of course there was the Montana play, but Tim Krumrie broke his leg, which changed the game. It was close throughout.”
Krumrie’s injury allowed San Francisco to run the ball, but overall defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s unit kept the Niners in check most of the day … until it really mattered.
BASG’s take: Mentioning Montana-to-Taylor and Krumrie is a requirement when talking about this game, but it doesn’t capture the suffocating tension this game featured from start to finish. The 49ers were the hottest team in the league as the season drew to a close. However, the Bengals’ ability to hold San Francisco to two Mike Cofer field goals over the first three quarters made Niners fans everywhere wonder if the franchise’s perfect Super Bowl record was truly in jeopardy. Then Montana and Rice took over. I was 11 at the time, and I’m pretty sure I hyperventilated during the fourth quarter.
13. XVI: 49ers 26, Bengals 21 (Nos. 7-14 on this list were deemed “The Very Good” Super Bowls)
Gil’s take: “We had a guy we drafted in the ninth round, Mike Wilson out of Washington State, who made a big catch for San Francisco on the sideline in the second half. Otherwise, their offense couldn’t squeeze a drop the whole second half.
“We were disappointed to not be there, of course. The final drive of the championship game, they beat us utilizing their backs, Ricky Patton and [Lenvil] Elliott. Bill Walsh was smart. He saw us playing with five defensive backs and ran the ball. It was the right thing to do. Then you saw the play Eric Wright made on Drew Pearson, pulling him down from behind … or he was gone. But they won the game, and then the Super Bowl.”
BASG’s take: Sounds like Brandt has a severe case of Sour Grape Syndrome after his Cowboys got knocked out in the NFC Championship Game. Not even a mention of Dan Bunz or the best goal line stop in Super Bowl history? Typical, at least on this list. Also, Montana went 14-for-22 for 157 yards and a TD. GAME MANAGER!
25. XIX: 49ers 38, Dolphins 16 (Nos. 23-29 were in the “Less Than Super” category)
The greatest offensive season the NFL had ever seen — Dan Marino’s 5,084-yard campaign — came to a resounding halt versus San Francisco’s quartet of Pro Bowl defensive backs. For one season, Eric Wright, Ronnie Lott, Dwight Hicks and Carlton Williamson were as good as any back four in history.
BASG’s take: Ever notice how every non-Niners fan in the country’s still a little bit insulted by this game? As if it were Marino’s birthright to have a Super Bowl win, even though he threw tons of interceptions and spent more time in an average season yelling at his teammates than Peyton Manning (a serial screamer at offensive linemen) has in his entire career?
There were some interesting milestones in this game. Montana, who also ran for 59 yards and a TD, threw for a Super Bowl record 331 yards and 3 TDs. Not all that crazy. What was weird was the Dolphins’ 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter marked the most points ever scored in the opening quarter of a Super Bowl up to that point. The NFL has changed just a tad, no?
42. XXIX: 49ers 49, Chargers 26 (The first of two Super Bowl wins for the 49ers that fell into “The Bottom Five”)
The ultra-hyped NFC title clash between the 49ers and Cowboys really felt like the Super Bowl. Turns out it was.
Gil’s take: “That Chargers club got off to a slow start and really shouldn’t have even been there.”
BASG’s take: Not a great game, as the Chargers and Stan Humphries were overmatched. However, with the offensive execution displayed by Steve Young, Rice and the rest of the 49ers, this game certainly displayed better football than any of the seven Super Bowls that came directly before this one on their list. Was this the only Super Bowl where one team had three quarterbacks (Young, Bill Musgrave and Elvis Grbac) attempt a pass? I’m too lazy to check.
45. XXIV: 49ers 55, Broncos 10 (The worst Super Bowl in history, according to these guys)
Gil’s take: “The 55-10 game in New Orleans might have been the worst. The Broncos just didn’t match up with the 49ers. They couldn’t stop them.”
BASG’s take: Okay sure, this was a blowout. It was also the key piece of evidence any Montana backer needs to shut up the huge contingent of people who say John Elway’s the best QB of all time (really?).
Montana: 22-for-29, 297 yards (it drove me crazy as a kid that he didn’t hit 300 yards in this game; on a related note, the 1980s 49ers spoiled us all), 5 TD, 0 INT
Elway: 10-for-26, 108 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
I know Elway had less to work with. I know the 49ers’ defense was really, really good in ’89. But if you watched both quarterbacks in their primes and you came away thinking Elway was the better QB, you were suffering from altitude sickness.
One last thing: how in the hell is this Super Bowl 13 spots below the Cowboys’ 52-17 blowout over the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII? It couldn’t possibly be due to Don Beebe’s infamous strip of Leon Lett, could it? Wait…
Assigned such a monumental task, I needed to enlist some help. So I asked legendary Cowboys personnel exec Gil Brandt to weigh in with his thoughts. Below, you’ll find the all-time rankings, from No. 1 to No. 45. Gil provided his top six and bottom five, and then I decided the pecking order on the rest.
Now, Brandt was with the Cowboys organization for 29 years, so his memories often emanate from the Dallas perspective. (Just sayin’…) Ironically, though, the greatest Super Bowl in his mind was a Dallas loss.
Oh, how big of Gil. His No. 1 choice couldn’t possibly have been due to the fact that the Cowboys’ four Super Bowl wins were about as exciting as a trip to the post office. No wonder two of the 49ers’ Super Bowl wins found their way into the bottom five and Super Bowl XXIII couldn’t break into the top three.