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It was another postcard-perfect night for the Super Bowl in Arizona.
The skies were clear, the temperatures started in the 70s and ended in the 60s, Rihanna’s halftime show was eye-popping, and the game became the third in the state’s history of championship classics.
Arizona does Super Bowls right.
Hopefully, that will be enough to convince the NFL to keep State Farm Stadium in its regular Super Bowl rotation. Five state-of-the-start stadiums have opened in the past decade in the Bay Area, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Nevada and Los Angeles, and Nashville will have one soon. Per a spokesperson, the Valley’s organizers will continue to bid on future Super Bowls, but the competition is greater than it has ever been. Securing future games is anything but guaranteed.
Much has changed since the Valley hosted its first Super Bowl between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers at Sun Devil Stadium on Jan. 28, 1996. Tempe Town Lake didn’t exist. State Farm Stadium didn’t exist. The Coyotes and Diamondbacks hadn’t played a single season, and the metro area’s population, now nearly 5 million, was about 2.5 million.
As the Valley has grown into the nation’s 10th largest metropolitan population, its event organizers have become some of the nation’s greatest experts at hosting big bashes. The Valley has hosted college football national championships, the NCAA Final Four, the World Series, the NBA Finals, a one-of-a-kind golf tournament and yes, three memorable Super Bowls in Glendale.
It’s hard to decide which of those three games is the best. Before the Chiefs beat the Eagles, 38-35 on Sunday, some outlets ranked the past two Super Bowls in Arizona as the two best in the game’s 57-year history.
To put a local spin on the rankings, I enlisted the help of four local media members who have been in the Valley to witness all four games. They are:
azcardinals.com writer and my former colleague at the East Valley Tribune, Darren Urban
Former East Valley Tribune and Arizona Republic columnist Scott Bordow, with whom I worked at the Tribune and The Athletic.
Former Channel 12 anchor (for 34 years) Bruce Cooper.
All four offered a numerical ranking of the four games (so did I), along with their thoughts on each game.
After tabulating the votes, two games were tied at No. 1. I don’t like ties so I brought in a closer to break the tie; longtime Arizona Republic columnist Paola Boivin, who is now the director of the Cronkite New Phoenix Sports Bureau and recently sat on the College Football Playoff selection committee.
Boivin was not a part of the greater panel (I asked) because she had little to no memory of the 1996 game, but she broke the tie for the top Super Bowl in Arizona history by choosing Super Bowl XLIX.
“The game was a microcosm of everything we love about sports,” she wrote. “Greatness. Brady winning his third MVP. Drama, oh my God, Russell, why did you throw that interception? Overcoming adversity. All season long, the Seahawks battled injuries and controversial reports about their locker room. That Super Bowl gave it all to us in one nice package.”
Here are the panel’s composite rankings.
No. 1 Super Bowl Super Bowl XLIX
The teams Patriots (14-4) vs. Seahawks (14-4)
The score: New England 28, Seattle 24
Halftime show: Katy Perry, featuring Lenny Kravitz, Missy Elliott and the Sun Devil Marching Band
Urban: “The Seahawks and the Legion of Boom were in their prime and they had dismantled the Broncos in the Super Bowl the year before. The Patriots were an excellent team but they didn’t seem to be on the Seahawks’ level. Still, it was one of those rare Super Bowls where it felt like the right two teams (read: the best two) made it to the end. Deflategate had become a topic in the two weeks before the game (interesting since one of the big Spygate Patriots stories had broken during Super Bowl week the last time the Patriots were in an Arizona Super Bowl), but the game overshadowed it. The Seahawks had control until the Patriots rallied, but then the Seahawks made their last drive, which had to be painful for Cardinals fans watching. What I can’t get out of my head is that Jermaine Kearse should have been the hero with that crazy falling-down catch at the end of the game to put the Seahawks inside the 5; one of the best plays I’ve seen period and certainly in a Super Bowl (David Tyree vs. Kearse – who ya got?). But then that got obliterated with the Malcolm Butler interception of Russell Wilson on the goal line, truly a ‘what did I just witness?’”
Somers: “The Patriots should be oh-for-Glendale. When the Seahawks passed the ball instead of handing it to Marshawn Lynch, everyone in the press box (I took a poll, it was everyone) looked at each other and asked, ‘What the hell are they doing?’ It highlighted Bill Belichick’s meticulous preparation. He had Malcolm Butler ready for that play in almost that exact situation. They had repped it a day or two before in practice.”
Cooper: “The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks Legion of Boom defense was truly all of that and then some. I was expecting the Seahawks to make it back-to-back Super Bowl championships with a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. I was composing a TV stand-up in my head pertaining to such. How stupid of me. You never count out Tom Brady. And boom, boom, just like that Brady and the Patriots had a 28-24 lead with two minutes left in the game. Brady had done it again! I was walking down from my seat to the field area to better position myself for postgame interviews and mercy! Talk about your major swings. The Seahawks were on the Patriots 1-yard line with under a minute left. I saw on the jumbo screen a shot of Brady sitting on the bench with his head down. Brady was about to go 0-2 in Super Bowls in AZ. I’m still in shock with what happened next, but not nearly as shocked as Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman. Call it stupidity, arrogance or a brain malfunction by the Seahawks coaching staff, but Malcolm Butler’s goal-line interception was iconic, memorable and capped a game full of major swings of emotions.”
Bordow: “What in the world was Pete Carroll thinking? That’s all anyone will remember — unless you’re a big Patriots and Malcolm Butler fan. If Carroll just gives the ball to Marshawn Lynch at the Patriots’ 1-yard line, the Seahawks probably win the game, and Tom Brady has six Super Bowl rings instead of seven. What I remember from that week, aside from that botched play call: the hysteria around Deflategate. That’s all anyone wanted to talk about. The game was second to the controversy. Oh, and the roof was open. When you’ve been to as many Cardinals games as I have, that’s an eye-opener.”
No. 2 Super Bowl XLII
The teams: Giants (13-6) vs. Patriots (18-0)
The score: New York 17, New England 14
Halftime show: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Somers: “The Patriots going for the undefeated record puts this one at No. 1 for me. Oh, and Eli Manning, not the most agile guy, spinning away from sacks. And David Tyree pinning the ball against his helmet. What sometimes is overlooked is what a great job the Giants defense did. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had a great game plan and the Giants were able to put constant pressure on Tom Brady.”
Bordow: “It’s hard to remember anything about the game and the build-up that week other than David Tyree’s helmet catch of an Eli Manning throw that enabled the New York Giants to beat the New England Patriots and end the Patriots’ dreams of an undefeated season. It’s funny, though. The game itself wasn’t that great until the dramatics of the final couple of minutes. It was 7-3 Patriots after the third quarter and had it been a regular-season game, people would have changed the channel. But Manning, Tyree and three fourth-quarter lead changes changed the narrative forever. It’s ranked third, ahead of Super Bowl XLIX, because New England had a chance to make history and failed.”
Cooper: “Wow! No Freaking Way! Are you kidding me? Those words literally came out of my mouth after watching David Tyree make one of the more iconic plays in Super Bowl history. Leaping up in the air while being tightly defended, pinning the ball against his helmet as he fell to the ground to complete an improbable third-down catch late in the game. That catch kept the drive alive leading to a Plaxico Burress game-winning touchdown in the final seconds to beat Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Bill Belichick and the Patriots, denying them a chance at history. We’re talking about the 18-0 Patriots who were a two-touchdown favorite against the overmatched Giants. I lost money on this one. But this game had it all. Drama, iconic plays and the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. I give this Super Bowl a 1-rating.”
Urban: “The Patriots were a juggernaut. They were undefeated. I mean, the Giants were good (and gave the Patriots a battle in the regular-season finale) but it felt like the Super Bowl was going to be a coronation and a final blow to the 1972 Dolphins claiming the only undefeated season in NFL history. But then it wasn’t. The one thing the Giants had was a fearsome four-man pass rush, and it really underscored how defense wins championships. Tom Brady was at the height of his powers, Randy Moss was ridiculous. I remember that week, Plaxico Burress, the Giants receiver, predicting the Giants were going to win by a score of 23-17 and Brady was incredulous, given the high-powered nature of the offense. “We’re only going to score 17 points?” Brady said, and I know I wondered what Burress was thinking. But the Patriots only got 14 after all that. And it was Eli Manning somehow escaping a sack and finding David Tyree – David Tyree? – for the famous helmet catch to set up the game-winning touchdown. I remember seeing Plaxico Burress haul in the final score and thinking, ‘Oh my, this is going to happen.’ The end was exciting; I’m not sure most of the game was. But the fact that the tension built from the second quarter on when it was clear the Patriots weren’t just going to roll was memorable enough.”
No. 3: Super Bowl LVII
The teams: Chiefs (16-3) vs. Eagles (16-3)
The score: Kansas City 38, Philadelphia 35
Halftime show: Rihanna
Bordow: “I didn’t cover this one in person, but I consider this the best Super Bowl of the four played in Arizona. Sure, the David Tyree catch was unbelievable, and the Seahawks not running the ball late in Super Bowl XLIX was unbelievably stupid, but this game had everything. An incredible performance from Jalen Hurts. The courage of Patrick Mahomes. Andy Reid’s brilliant calls. The holding penalty that was holding but given the situation, probably shouldn’t have been called. I watched with several family members who aren’t huge football fans, but they were riveted all game. It was simply a fantastic football game. I do have just one lingering question: How in the world can an $800,000 football field be so slippery?”
Cooper: “Super Bowl LVII is the first Super Bowl played in Arizona that I did not attend. Instead, I watched it with family and friends at a Super Bowl party. Pizza, wings, chips, dips, desserts, and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) were all part of a nice first-half party of football. But the highlight of the first half was the Eagles’ 24-14 halftime lead. Yes, I had 4-4 in my Super Bowl squares pool which netted me $375. Yes! As for the game, what a thrilling second half of football. The drama and excitement is what we’ve come to expect of Super Bowls played inside State Farm Stadium. Tie game at 35 with five minutes left in the game with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on offense with the ball. The league and game MVP led the Chiefs on a drive that ate up all but eight seconds of the clock before Harrison Butker split the uprights on a game-winning field goal. Wow! Great game!
Somers: “What a comeback. Down 10 points at half, the Chiefs scored 24 points in the second half and held the Eagles to 11. I don’t know the last time I saw a Super Bowl in which the second half was so different from the first. I’m sure it’s happened. The Chiefs won with Patrick Mahomes passing for only 182 yards. They ran for 158. Again, it was Steve Spagnuolo’s defense that won’t get enough attention. The Eagles had 270 yards in the first half and just 147 yards in the second. Plus, Spags’ defense scored a touchdown in the first half, which turned out to be pretty important.”
Urban: “It should be considered a great one, judging by the score and the performances of the quarterbacks. But the lead-up to the game wasn’t anything memorable – you can only hear so many stories about the Kelce brothers. These were the best two teams in the league, the best QB in Patrick Mahomes and one of the best in Jalen Hurts. And they played like it, even with Mahomes gimpy on his ankle. Even with some of the big plays though – the punt return, the fumble return, the A.J. Brown TD – it doesn’t rank with a couple of the others (which just tells you the memorable level of the Super Bowls in this state.) The ending didn’t help. I’m not complaining about the late holding penalty, but to have the game end on a couple of kneel-downs and a short field goal doesn’t spice up the historical factor, even with the games Mahomes and Hurts provided.”
No. 4: Super Bowl XXX
The teams: Steelers (13-5) vs. Cowboys (14-4)
The score: Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 17
Halftime show: Diana Ross
Cooper: “It’s the first-ever Super Bowl in Arizona. It came three years later than expected because of the fallout over the state’s reluctance to recognize MLK as a national holiday. In terms of hype and interest it doesn’t get much better than the Dallas Cowboys (a huge Valley favorite) and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cowboys had all the star power (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Prime Time, Deion Sanders ) but it was little known Larry Brown stealing the headlines and MVP honors with a pair of big, second-half interceptions. The Sun Devil Stadium press box was unable to accommodate most of the media so a giant overflow media tent was erected in an area now known as Tempe Town Lake. I was one of the lucky media members to take in the game from this setting. The game wasn’t decided until the final few minutes.”
Urban: “The fact that this game was even being played was memorable since the Valley had already been awarded the Super Bowl and lost it after the MLK holiday controversy. It was also one of the last Super Bowls played strictly because of where it was; it wasn’t long after that any new stadium built was earning a Super Bowl as a reward for that city. The game was OK, but it felt like it played out exactly how you’d think, given the QB matchup was Hall of Famer Troy Aikman vs. Neil O’Donnell. This wasn’t a replay of those two other classic Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowls of the 1970s. Mostly, it felt like the Valley — which had not seen any success from the Cardinals up until that point — was now on the NFL stage going forward.”
Somers: “Pretty boring game, but it was cool having the Super Bowl in town for the first time. Diana Ross arrived or left in a helicopter, I can’t remember which. Dallas cornerback Larry Brown intercepted two passes and was named the MVP. At the press conference the next day, his agent campaigned for Brown to get paid in free agency. A veteran NFL reporter shouted, ‘but all he did was catch two balls thrown right at him!’ Brown did get paid; by the Raiders.”
Bordow: “I remember the lede I wrote: Now that was a Triple X feature worth watching. I also recall how often during the week leading up to the game people were saying the Super Bowl was a gift to Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, and Arizona would never get another game until a new stadium was built. Which, of course, was the case. Stadiums with bleacher seats don’t get multiple Super Bowls. But it’s ranked second here because, well, it was a first for Arizona. As for the game itself, two words: Larry Brown.
Top photo of State Farm Stadium during the Super Bowl LVII halftime show via Getty Images