Ranking Super Bowls is subjective folly, of course. To each his or her own — local and generational biases included. But this much is indisputable: The best decade for Super Bowls has been this one, which ends with No. 50 on Sunday.
And the best decade before that was the previous one — numbers 31 through 40. Yes, young readers, there was a time when Super Bowls widely were mocked for being all hype with no payoff. Given the number of duds in the early years it’s a wonder the event became an unofficial national holiday in the first place.
More recently, though, the big game has delivered the goods far more often than not, up to and including last year.
Back to the year-by-year rankings: We make no apologies for grading on a curve -- both positively and negatively -- when it comes to New York-related Super Bowls, because those are the ones that we feel most acutely around here. Thus we begin with the two worst on this list, which were awful by any definition but got additional demerits for messing with Gotham’s Super Bowl moment (XLVIII) and messing with Giants fans’ emotions (XXXV).
49. Super Bowl XXXV
Ravens 34, Giants 7, Jan. 28, 2001, Tampa.
Ray Lewis led one of top defenses in history in routing a team that won NFC title game, 41-0. Kerry Collins threw four interceptions. Giants' only TD was on a kickoff return.
48. Super Bowl XLVIII
Seahawks 43, Broncos 8, Feb. 2, 2014, East Rutherford, N.J.
Well, at least the weather was nice for the first outdoor Super Bowl in North. The first snap of the game whizzed past Peyton Manning and into the end zone for a safety.
47. Super Bowl XXIX
49ers 49, Chargers 26, Jan. 29, 1995, Miami
Steve Young threw six touchdown passes overall, and the 49ers took a 14-0 lead less than five minutes into game and were up 28-10 at halftime to win their fifth Super Bowl.
46. Super Bowl XXIV
49ers 55, Broncos 10, Jan. 28, 1990, New Orleans.
Interesting only as an illustration of greatness of that era's 49ers, with Joe Montana throwing five touchdown passes to win his fourth ring. It was 27-3 at halftime.
45. Super Bowl XXVI
Redskins 37, Bills 24, Jan. 26, 1992, Minneapolis
Joe Gibbs somehow won it all with Mark Rypien at quarterback. Bills fell behind 24-0; star back Thurman Thomas did not start because he could not find his helmet.
44. Super Bowl VIII
Dolphins 24, Vikings 7, Jan. 13, 1974, Houston.
Larry Csonka (145 rushing yards) and friends ate up Vikings' Purple People Eaters on ground. Winning quarterback Bob Griese attempted a total of seven passes. Seven!
43. Super Bowl XII
Cowboys 27, Broncos 10, Jan. 15, 1978, New Orleans.
Most people recall Butch Johnson's diving catch in end zone, but this one was about Doomsday Defense, with Randy White and Harvey Martin sharing MVP.
42. Super Bowl XV
Raiders 27, Eagles 10, Jan. 25, 1981, New Orleans.
Recent release of Iran hostages gave game a patriotic backdrop -- and a feel-good story in MVP Jim Plunkett. Rod Martin had three interceptions -- at linebacker!
41. Super Bowl VI
Cowboys 24, Dolphins 3, Jan. 16, 1972, New Orleans.
After many disappointments, Cowboys left no doubt, rushing for 252 yards, to build on budding America's Team brand -- even before NFL Films called them that.
40. Super Bowl XLI
Colts 29, Bears 17, Feb. 4, 2007, Miami. Peyton Manning earned his (so far) only ring in steady rain on worst weather day in Super Bowl history. Bears' Devin Hester opened game with 92-yard kickoff return for a TD.
39. Super Bowl XL
Steelers 21, Seahawks 10, Feb. 5, 2006, Detroit.
Jerome Bettis went out in style in his hometown in a game recalled for questionable officiating and a 43-yard TD pass from receiver Antwaan Randle El to MVP Hines Ward.
38. Super Bowl XXXVII
Buccaneers 48, Raiders, 21, Jan. 26, 2003, San Diego.
Jon Gruden beat his old team -- with Brad Johnson as his quarterback -- thanks to a dynamic defensive performance. Rich Gannon threw five interceptions (Dwight Smith returned two for TDs).
37. Super Bowl XI
Raiders 32, Vikings 14, Jan. 9, 1977, Pasadena.
Before he was a video game, John Madden was a coach. He won his only ring as Vikings' offense flopped again. Willie Brown's 75-yard interception return iced it.
36. Super Bowl II
Packers 33, Raiders 14, Jan. 14, 1968, Miami.
Packers thawed out two weeks after Ice Bowl and sent Vince Lombardi out in style in final game as their coach. Bart Starr threw for 202 yards -- 62 on a TD to Boyd Dowler.
35. Super Bowl XVIII
Raiders 38, Redskins 9, Jan. 22, 1983, Tampa.
Not a memorable game, but with a memorable play: Jack Squirek picking off a Joe Theismann pass and returning it five yards for a TD. Marcus Allen rushed for 191 yards.
34. Super Bowl XXII
Redskins 42, Broncos 10, Jan. 31, 1988, San Diego
Denver led by 10 after one quarter, then trailed 35-10 after two. Tim Smith rushed for 204 yards and Doug Williams became first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
33. Super Bowl VII
Dolphins 14, Redskins 7, Jan. 14, 1973, Los Angeles.
Snoozer completed Dolphins' perfect season. Game was imperfect, though: Miami allowed a TD when Mike Bass ran back kicker Garo Yepremian's awkward pass.
32. Super Bowl XXXIII
Broncos 34, Falcons 19, Jan. 31, 1999, Miami.
John Elway originated role Peyton Manning hopes to play Sunday: aging Broncos quarterback who rides off into sunset a champ. He threw for 336 yards and was MVP.
31. Super Bowl XXVII
Cowboys 52, Bills 17, Jan. 31, 1993, Pasadena.
Troy Aikman threw four TD passes and Buffalo had nine turnovers. Yet this one is recalled for Bills' Don Beebe hustling to swat ball from Leon Lett late in a lost cause.
30. Super Bowl XXVIII
Cowboys 30, Bills 13, Jan. 30, 1994, Atlanta.
Bills led 13-6 at halftime of their fourth consecutive Super Bowl .
29. Super Bowl XIX
49ers 38, Dolphins 16, Jan. 20, 1985, Palo Alto, Calif.
Playing near home, Niners' Pro Bowler-stacked secondary denied Dolphins QB Dan Marino in his only Super Bowl. Joe Montana had no trouble with Miami defense.
28. Super Bowl IX
Steelers 16, Vikings 6, Jan. 12, 1975, New Orleans.
OK, it was boring. But the Steelers' first NFL title also illustrated the Steel Curtain's magnificence. The Vikings, who trailed only 2-0 at halftime, rushed 21 times for 17 yards.
27. Super Bowl IV
Chiefs 23, Vikings 7, Jan. 11, 1970, New Orleans.
Not a good game, but historically important. It validated AFL Jets' win in 1969 as no fluke and is recalled for NFL Films' groundbreaking sidelines audio of coach Hank Stram.
26. Super Bowl XX
Bears 46, Patriots 10, Jan. 26, 1986, New Orleans.
A blowout, for sure, but more compelling than most, including extracurricular drama such as William (Refrigerator) Perry scoring a touchdown -- not Walter Payton.
25. Super Bowl I
Packers 35, Chiefs 10, Jan. 15, 1967, Los Angeles
This one gets extra love for its historical significance, but also because it was more competitive than most recall. Packers led only 14-10 at halftime, then pulled away.
24. Super Bowl XXXI
Packers 35, Patriots 21, Jan. 26, 1997, New Orleans.
Brett Favre hit Andre Rison for a 54-yard TD pass on second play, Reggie White had three sacks, Desmond Howard returned a kickoff 99 yards. Favre's only ring.
23. Super Bowl XVI
49ers 26, Bengals 21, Jan. 24, 1982, Pontiac, Mich.
San Francisco led, 20-0, but Bengals rallied to make it a game before Niners secured first title in what remains highest-rated Super Bowl at 49.1 percent of homes.
22. Super Bowl XXX
Cowboys 27, Steelers 17, Jan. 28, 1996, Tempe, Ariz.
Larry Brown became an unlikely MVP thanks to two easy interceptions of Neil O'Donnell passes in what remains Cowboys' most recent Super Bowl appearance.
21. Super Bowl XVII
Redskins 27, Dolphins 17, Jan. 30, 1983, Pasadena.
Washington won in strike-shortened season, led by John Riggins' 166 rushing yards, famously including a 43-yarder on fourth-and-1 to put Skins ahead in fourth.
20. Super Bowl XXXIX
Patriots 24, Eagles 21, Feb. 6, 2005, Jacksonville.
Deion Branch had 11 catches for 133 yards as Patriots won third ring. Eagles oddly took their time on last scoring drive, during which Donovan McNabb was sick to his stomach.
19. Super Bowl XLV
Packers 31, Steelers 25, Feb. 6, 2011, Arlington, Texas.
Packers stormed to a 21-3 lead, but Steelers mounted a late comeback. Speaking of storms, ice problems -- and ticket problems -- made it a rocky week for NFL.
18. Super Bowl V
Colts 16, Cowboys 13, Jan. 17, 1971, Miami.
Famously sloppy game ended on Jim O'Brien's 32-yard field goal with five seconds left. Hempstead's John Mackey caught a controversial 75-yard TD pass from John Unitas.
17. Super Bowl XXI
Giants 39, Broncos 20, Jan. 25, 1987, Pasadena.
Giants trailed, 10-9, at halftime, but took charge in second half behind Phil Simms' 22-for-25, 268-yard, three-TD day for Big Blue's first NFL championship since 1956.
16. Super Bowl XLIV
Saints 31, Colts 17, Feb. 7, 2010, Miami.
Peyton Manning was driving for tying TD when he threw a 74-yard pick six to Tracy Porter for the clincher with 3:12 left. Saints opened second half with successful onside kick.
15. Super Bowl X
Steelers 21, Cowboys 17, Jan. 18, 1976, Miami.
The best game of Super Bowl's first decade mostly is remembered for Lynn Swann's receiving acrobatics, which led to an MVP award after his four catches for 161 yards.
14. Super Bowl XLIII
Steelers 27, Cardinals 23, Feb. 1, 2009, Tampa.
Future Jet Santonio Holmes won it with one of best Super Bowl catches, from six yards out with 35 seconds left. Pittsburgh's James Harrison returned an interception 100 yards to end the first half.
13. Super Bowl XXXII
Broncos 31, Packers 24, Jan. 25, 1998, San Diego.
Underdog Broncos won John Elway his first ring behind Terrell Davis' running -- after Packers' Mike Holmgren lost track of downs and handed Denver winning TD.
12. Super Bowl XIV
Steelers 31, Rams 19, Jan. 20, 1980, Pasadena.
Biggest Super Bowl crowd (103,985) saw curtain fall on Steel Curtain era with see-saw struggle in which Terry Bradshaw threw two TD passes -- and three interceptions.
11. Super Bowl XLVII
Ravens 34, 49ers 31, Feb. 3, 2013, New Orleans.
Two Harbaughs as opposing head coaches, a Superdome power outage and a wild late rally by 49ers that fell excruciatingly short. That's a full Super Bowl day.
10. Super Bowl XLVI
Giants 21, Patriots 17, Feb. 5, 2012, Indianapolis.
With Mario Manningham playing the role of David Tyree and Eli Manning playing himself, the Giants beat the Pats again. Ahmad Bradshaw's accidental 6-yard TD run won it.
9. Super Bowl XIII
Steelers 35, Cowboys 31, Jan. 21, 1979, Miami.
Among few classics in Super Bowl's early years, this one had it all, including an infamous Jackie Smith drop in end zone. Steelers' Terry Bradshaw threw four TD passes.
8. Super Bowl XXIII
49ers 20, Bengals 16, Jan. 22, 1989, Miami.
Hey, isn't that John Candy? Yes, but more importantly Joe Montana saw John Taylor in end zone with 34 seconds left. Boomer Esiason watched helplessly from the sideline.
7. Super Bowl XXXVI
Patriots 20, Rams 17, Feb. 3, 2002, New Orleans.
Tom Brady once was a young unknown and his Patriots once were huge underdogs. It's true! Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal as time expired launched an era.
6. Super Bowl XXXIV
Rams 23, Titans 16, Jan. 30, 2000, Atlanta.
Greatest Show on Turf clinched it on defense, of all things, when on final play Steve McNair found Kevin Dyson, whom Mike Jones tackled one yard short of end zone.
5. Super Bowl III
Jets 16, Colts 7, Jan. 12, 1969, Miami.
Was it exciting? As a game, not particularly. As a historically important moment in both NFL and New York sports history? Well, yes, you could say that. We guarantee it.
4. Super Bowl XXXVIII
Patriots 32, Panthers 29, Feb. 1, 2004, Houston.
This underrated rollercoaster ride featured 24 points in final 3:05 of first half, then 37 points in fourth quarter. Janet Jackson made what proved to be a controversial appearance at halftime.
3. Super Bowl XXV
Giants 20, Bills 19, Jan. 27, 1991, Tampa.
In prequel to SB42, Giants used ball control to thwart a high-powered opposing offense and won it late -- when Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal try wide right.
2. Super Bowl XLIX
Patriots 28, Seahawks 24, Feb. 1, 2015, Glendale, Ariz.
Tom Brady threw four TD passes en route to his fourth ring, thanks to Malcolm Butler intercepting a Russell Wilson pass in the final minute as Marshawn Lynch could only watch.
1. Super Bowl XLII
Giants 17, Patriots 14, Feb. 3, 2008, Glendale, Ariz.
Giants stymied Tom Brady, David Tyree pinned a ball against his helmet, Plaxico Burress burned Bill Belichick for single-covering him. Perfection denied for Patriots (18-1).