Super Bowl LII was a corker. It began with a great storyline—a team that had never won a Super Bowl versus a team that seems to win every other year—and more than lived up to that promise. Tom Brady played the best game of his career and Nick Foles caught a touchdown pass. There were some big hits, some close calls, some flamboyant coaching decisions, some lead changes, and a bunch of missed kicks just to keep things interesting. The game was mostly free from turnovers and penalties. The outcome wasn’t certain until the final play. No doubt about it: Sunday night’s Super Bowl was a very, very good football game.
But how good was it in the context of every other Super Bowl that has ever been played? Reader, I am the man to answer that very valid question. Two years ago, in a ludicrous and unhealthy experiment leading up to Super Bowl 50, I watched and ranked every Super Bowl that had theretofore been played. I found that most Super Bowls are actually pretty bad football games, and that dramatic Super Bowls are historically few and far between. According to my comprehensive and scientific numerical ranking of every Super Bowl ever, Super Bowl XXII—in which Washington quarterback Doug Williams led the most impressive comeback in Super Bowl history—was the best Super Bowl ever. (Three Super Bowls later, that continues to be the case.) Super Bowl XII—in which the Broncos’ Craig Morton threw four first-half interceptions—was the worst.* (Also still true.) Where does Super Bowl LII fit into the all-time rankings?
Easy. Super Bowl LII was the sixth-best Super Bowl ever. It wasn’t quite as good as the fifth-best game, Super Bowl XXIII (49ers 20, Bengals 16), which featured an iconic late-game touchdown drive from the 49ers and Joe Montana. It was, however, a little bit better than the seventh-best game, Super Bowl XLIV (Saints 31, Colts 17), which also featured some great quarterback play and some stunning coaching calls. Sunday night’s game was a great game, but it wasn’t the best game. No. It was the sixth-best game.
You know what was a better Super Bowl than Sunday night’s Super Bowl? Super Bowl LI (Patriots 34, Falcons 28), from 2017, which I’ve currently got ranked as the third-best Super Bowl of all time. Super Bowl LI featured the first overtime period in Super Bowl history and the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. It was the biggest comeback, mind you, not the most impressive; I still say Doug Williams outplaying John Elway was a more extraordinary performance, which is why that Super Bowl maintains the top spot. Last year’s Super Bowl was a truly great game with a truly depressing outcome, which is the reason why it’s not ranked second-best either. Super Bowl XXXIV (Rams 23, Titans 16) was way more satisfying for way more people.
I will say that I’m ready to name Tom Brady the best Super Bowl quarterback of all time, given that he has started in six of the 15 best Super Bowls ever—Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, XLII, XLIX, LI, and LII.
Finally, as long as we’re ranking recent Super Bowls, Super Bowl 50 (Broncos 24, Panthers 10) was a very boring game, not memorable in the slightest. I have it ranked as the 42nd-best (or if you prefer, the 11th-worst) Super Bowl ever.* Jeers to Super Bowl 50, and cheers to Super Bowls LI and LII: two all-time classics and a truly extraordinary run of big games. If Super Bowl LIII next year meets those games’ high standards, I’ll be able to definitively say that we’re living in the Golden Age of Super Bowl Football.
*Correction, Feb. 5, 2018: This post originally misidentified Craig Morton as having played for the Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. He played for the Broncos. It also misidentified the 42nd-best Super Bowl as the 10th worst. It is the 11th worst.