Not all Super Bowl champions are created equal. The name and year of some Super Bowl winners rolls off the tongue like “the ’85 Bears” or “the ’72 Dolphins.”
Then there are years when it’s hard to remember who won the Super Bowl because the team that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy was good, just not great.
No. 10: 2010 Packers
Only two No. 6 seeds have won the Super Bowl and only four 10-6 teams have won it. The 2010 Packers fall into both categories.
The 2005 Steelers also won the Super Bowl as a No. 6 seed, but they’re excused from this list because they were 11-5 and to get to the Super Bowl they had to go to Indianapolis and beat Peyton Manning and the Colts, who started that season 13-0.
The Packers? They went to Atlanta and hammered the top-seeded Falcons 48-21 in the divisional round, but that was before Matt Ryan knew how to win a playoff game.
In the NFC championship game, all the Packers had to do was beat Jay Cutler. By the end of the game, it was the immortal Caleb Hanie who stood between the Packers and Super Bowl XLV because Cutler left the game with a knee injury. The Packers won that game 21-14 and went on to beat the Steelers 31-25 in the Super Bowl. The Steelers were no slouch. They won the Super Bowl two years earlier and led the league in points allowed in 2010, and beating them makes the Packers the “best” among the 10 worst Super Bowl winners.
No. 9: 1980 Raiders
It’s not unheard of nowadays for a wild-card team to win a Super Bowl, but it was in 1980.
The Oakland Raiders became the first wild-card team to win a Super Bowl, beating the Eagles 27-10 in Super Bowl XV. In those days, there were three divisions in each conference and there was just one wild-card game played between the two non-division winners with the best records.
Of the 50 Super Bowl winners, 34 won at least 12 games in the regular season. The 1980 Raiders were one of three 11-5 teams to be crowned and therefore are looked at with a bit of a raised eyebrow.
Cornerback Lester Hayes was the Defensive Player of the Year. But his 13 interceptions, and five more in the postseason, were Stickum-aided. Hayes was particularly fond of the adhesive substance that players plastered on their hands and uniforms. It was banned the following year.
Two of Hayes’ interceptions in the 1980 playoffs came in the Raiders’ 14-12 win at Cleveland in the divisional round. The Browns missed two field goals on that windy day and had so little confidence in kicker Don Cockroft that quarterback Brian Sipe took a shot at the end zone even though the Browns were in field goal range trailing by two. Mike Davis intercepted the pass to seal the win for the Raiders.
This was the second of three Super Bowls the Raiders won in an eight-year span between 1976 and 1983, so they’re a better Super Bowl champ than some of the one-offs that rank higher on this list. But they didn’t really dominate that era. Their run was more like a bridge between the Steelers of the 70s and the 49ers of the 80s.
No. 8: 2002 Buccaneers
The 2002 Buccaneers deserve a tip of the cap for going 12-4 and learning how to win in cold weather.
Going into the 2002 season, Tampa Bay never won a game in temperatures below 40 degrees. The Buccaneers did it for the first time in their 26-year history in Week 17 of the 2002 season, winning 15-0 at Chicago in 38-degree weather. But the Bears were 4-12 that year.
To get to their first Super Bowl, the Bucs had to win at Philadelphia, where it was 26 degrees. That’s just what they did, 27-10.
In Super Bowl XXXVII, the Buccaneers routed the Raiders 48-21. Head coach Jon Gruden coached the Raiders the year before, and was “traded” to Tampa Bay for draft picks. It’s hard to believe he wasn’t privy to some kind of Raiders tendency that he could exploit.
The Buccaneers were making their fourth straight postseason appearance. They held the explosive Rams offense to 11 points in the 1999 NFC championship game and by 2002 led the NFL in points and yards allowed.
Brad Johnson was a Pro Bowl quarterback in 2002, with 22 touchdown passes and six interceptions. But the Buccaneers couldn’t accompany their 2002 title with another one and they didn’t come close. They missed the playoffs the next two years. The only two times they’ve made the playoffs since their championship were wild-card losses in 2005 and 2007.
No. 7: 2001 Patriots
A cloud of suspicion will hover over all the Patriots’ championships, especially the three they won before Spygate was exposed. At least when the Patriots won Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004, they were an established dynasty. That 2001 team, however, had a lot of help.
The Patriots were 11-5 and the No. 2 seed in the AFC, but they would have lost to the Raiders in the AFC divisional playoffs at New England if it weren’t for the Tuck Rule, which was abolished in 2013. The in the AFC championship game, the Patriots won 24-17 at Pittsburgh. Two of their touchdowns were scored on special teams. Troy Brown made it 7-0 on a 55-yard punt return in the first quarter and Antwan Harris increased the Patriots’ lead to 21-3 with a 49-yard blocked field goal return in the third quarter.
Bill Cowher-coached Steelers teams in the days before Ben Roethlisberger were 1-3 in AFC championship games at home. They’d have lost all four if Aaron Bailey could have held on to Jim Harbaugh’s Hail Mary at the end of the 1995 AFC title game.
The Patriots beat Kurt Warner and the Rams 20-17 on Adam Vinatieri’s last-second field goal in Super Bowl XXXVI. But that wasn’t exactly the hardest dynasty to overthrow.
No. 6: 1999 Rams
The 1999 Rams went 13-3. Their offense led the NFL in yards and points scored. Their defense was fourth in points allowed and sixth in yards allowed. They were led by NFL MVP Kurt Warner.
Those all are elements of a legitimate Super Bowl champion. But the Rams lose some cred because they were the first indoor team to win a Super Bowl. Winning a playoff game, or any game, in cold weather at some point in the season is a badge of honor for any Super Bowl champion. But the lowest temperature in which the 1999 Rams won was 55 degrees, according to Pro Football Reference.
The Rams earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but as luck would have it, Super Bowl XXXIV was played at the Georgia Dome. So the Rams never had to go outside in the postseason. To win their only championship they beat the Tennessee Titans 23-16 in the Super Bowl, but there was something surreal about that matchup.
“St. Louis” Rams never sounded right, and the Titans were the Houston Oilers re-branded with new uniforms after moving to Tennessee two years earlier. Watching this Super Bowl was like watching a video game where you could create the name and helmet logo for each team.
That Rams offense, dubbed “The Greatest Show on Turf,” was just about unstoppable. But that, too, was video game-like. The old adage says that defense wins championships. In 1999, offense won the championship, and that’s hard for football purists to swallow.
No. 5: 1982 Redskins
The 1982 Redskins make this list almost by default. They were tied for the best record in the NFL in 1982, but that record was 8-1. The 1982 season was reduced to nine games because of a players strike.
Redskins kicker Mark Moseley was the league MVP that year, for crying out loud. He’s the only kicker to win the award. How proud can a team be to be the best team in NFL in a season when a kicker is the league’s best player.
Joe Theismann quarterbacked the 1982 Redskins to a 27-17 win over the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII. It was the first of three Super Bowls Joe Gibbs won as Redskins coach. Each of those titles was won with a different quarterback. Gibbs even won a Super Bowl with Mark Rypien in 1991.
Speaking of quarterbacks, these were the pre-Dan Marino Dolphins that the Redskins beat. David Woodley was the Dolphins’ starting quarterback and was frequently relieved by Don Strock.
The Redskins returned to the Super Bowl the next season, and another title would have lent some credence to this one, but they were obliterated by the Raiders 38-9.
No. 4: 1970 Colts
The Colts, who played in Baltimore from the franchise’s inception through 1983, are known more for losing to Joe Namath and the Jets in Super Bowl III than they are for beating the Cowboys in Super Bowl V.
That was a forgettable Super Bowl and the 1970 Colts were forgettable champions.
An aging Johnny Unitas, who threw 14 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions, was the Colts’ quarterback that year. The 37-year-old completed just three of nine passes with a touchdown and two interceptions before leaving Super Bowl V with an injury. Even on his touchdown pass Unitas didn’t look like he hit his intended receiver. The ball bounced off Eddie Hinton’s hands before John Mackey caught it for a 75-yard touchdown that tied the score 6-6 in the second quarter.
The Colts committed seven of the Super Bowl-record 11 turnovers in this game but won it on Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard field goal with nine seconds left.
This was the year of the merger. The Colts went from the NFL to the AFC, joining the upstart AFL franchises. They finished 11-2-1 that year, but they might have been aided by a downgrade in competition.
No. 3: 2012 Ravens
The Ravens weren’t the first 10-6 team to win a Super Bowl, and there are at least a dozen franchises that would sign on for 10-6.
But these Ravens were an average team. Their offense ranked 16th in yards and their defense ranked 17th in yards allowed.
That 10-6 record was good enough to win the AFC North, but the Ravens never had to face Ben Roethlisberger that year. Byron Leftwich replaced an injured Roethlisberger in Week 11, and the Ravens won 13-10 at Pittsburgh.
Two weeks later, the Ravens couldn’t beat 38-year-old Charlie Batch at home, falling 23-20 to the Steelers on a last-second field goal. It was Batch’s final career game and the first of three straight the Ravens lost in December.
In the playoffs, the Ravens beat rookie Andrew Luck and the visiting Colts in the wild-card round. Their 38-35 upset of the Broncos at Denver was a classic. Joe Flacco sent it into overtime with a game-tying 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 41 seconds left. But the Ravens benefited from Peyton Manning’s inability to win big games at that point in his career.
The Ravens won the AFC championship game at New England, but that was before the Patriots figured out how to get to the Super Bowl without Rob Gronkowski.
In Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens edged the 49ers 34-31 in the Harbaugh Bowl, but Jimmy Smith got away with holding Michael Crabtree on fourth down with two minutes left. It’s a play that probably gets mentioned during family cookouts.
No. 2: 2011 Giants
Sure, the 2011 Giants got hot at the right time and beat the mighty Patriots 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI.
But there’s something just not right about a 9-7 team winning the Super Bowl. The Giants are the only 9-7 team that’s won a Super Bowl, and according to Team Rankings they’re the only Super Bowl champs to be out-scored during the regular season. They scored 394 points and gave up 400. Their defense was 27th in yards allowed.
At one point in the 2011 season, the Giants lost four in a row, but they won three of their last four and took the NFC East.
After beating the Falcons 24-2 at home in the wild-card round, the Giants stunned the defending-champion Packers 37-20 at Lambeau Field. The Packers went 15-1 that year, but were last in yards allowed. The next week, the Giants punched their Super Bowl ticket by upsetting Alex Smith and the 49ers 20-17 in overtime in the NFC championship game at San Francisco.
Smith has never met a close playoff game he couldn’t lose, and the following year he lost his starting job to Colin Kaepernick.
Eli Manning, on the other hand, never has had to worry about keeping his starting job because of his ability to rise to the occasion when the Giants get to the playoffs. Just like he did four years earlier, he led the Giants from behind in the final two minutes to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
The foe they conquered to win their title is what keeps the 2011 Giants from being the worst team to win a Super Bowl.
No. 1: 2000 Ravens
The 2000 Ravens went 12-4 and their top-ranked defense allowed just 165 points in the regular season.
So how can a team with a defense like that be the worst to win a Super Bowl?
Because the Ravens put the “O” in October, as in zero touchdowns.
The Ravens didn’t score a touchdown in their five games that month. They still won two of those games, but they lost the last three in a row and it cost Tony Banks his starting quarterback job and Trent Dilfer took over.
Dilfer wasn’t that much better than Banks. He threw 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and the Ravens had 20 touchdowns and 19 interceptions from their quarterbacks that season. Dilfer completed just 43.7 percent of his passes in the postseason and the Ravens didn’t even re-sign him after winning the Super Bowl.
The Raiders had a huge edge at quarterback in the AFC championship game at Oakland. Rich Gannon threw 28 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions that year. But early in the second quarter, Tony Siragusa hit Gannon after he released the ball. Siragusa, all 300-something pounds of him, fell on top of Gannon and knocked him out of the game with a shoulder injury. That left it up to Bobby Hoying, and the Ravens won the game 16-3.
The Ravens then went on to beat the Giants 34-7 in a Super Bowl XXXV that was so lame that Ray Lewis was named the MVP. How many memorable Super Bowls have defensive MVPs?
This was the first of two Super Bowls the Ravens have won since the turn of the century. They’re one of just four teams to win multiple Super Bowls since 2000, but that gets lost in the shuffle since those were two of the worst Super Bowl champions of the century.