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As the Super Bowl is arguably the largest possible athletic stage in the U.S., certain plays and players will never be forgotten, for better or for worse.

  • Super Bowl I: Fred "The Hammer" Williamson of the Kansas City Chiefs boasted before the game he would aim to take either of the Green Bay Packers' starting wide receivers out of the game with one of his trademark vicious hits. Ironically, Williamson himself would be carried off the field later after being inadvertently kneed in the head on the tail end of a short running play, and wouldn't return. Cameras on the Packers sideline would catch more than a few on the Packers bench snickering over this turn of events.
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  • Super Bowl III: The New York Jets defeating the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, whose quarterback Earl Morrall went from well-regarded player to laughingstock thanks a turnover laden performance (three interceptions himself, plus two other turnovers and several missed field goals) so bad that Johnny Unitas, still recovering from a preseason elbow injury, replaced him late in the game. Despite leading the Colts to victory in Super Bowl V, and a generally solid pro career otherwise, Morrall's still best-remembered as the guy who lost Super Bowl III.
  • Super Bowl VI: Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese ended up leading the Dolphins to two consecutive titles (in the games following this one), but he will always be best known for being pressured backwards by the Dallas Cowboys pass rush and being dropped by Bob Lilly for a playoff record 29-yard sack.
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  • Super Bowl VII: The Dolphins again, as kicker Garo Yepremian had his field goal attempt blocked and had the ball bounce back to him. He tried to pass, but the ball slipped out of his hand and was immediately picked off by the Redskins' Mike Bass and returned for a touchdown. The Dolphins would win the game to complete their undefeated season, and as it happened, Yepremian and Bass would go on to become good friends afterwards.note 
  • Super Bowl XIII: The Cowboys' Hall of Fame tight end Jackie Smith found himself wide open in the end zone, lost his footing, and dropped what would have been an easy touchdown pass. The Cowboys settle for a field goal, lose by 4 points in the end to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Smith is forever immortalized by Verne Lundquist's famously sympathetic call, "Bless his heart, he's got to be the sickest man in America!".
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  • Super Bowl XX: Patriots starter Tony Eason being the only quarterback in Super Bowl history to not complete a single pass — he was 0-for-6 before being replaced late in the second quarter by Steve Grogan.
  • Super Bowl XXV: Perhaps the single-most famous play in Super Bowl history, Scott Norwood of the Buffalo Bills barely misses a game winning 47-yard field goal wide right. This is the beginning of the Bills losing four straight Super Bowls, all the subsequent ones being complete blowouts. Norwood's career, ironically having been considered a clutch kicker, never recovers. It was so bad that the villain in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Buffalo '66 are loosely based on him.
  • Super Bowl XXVI: The Buffalo Bills' Thurman Thomas misplaces his helmet in the pre-game confusion and misses the first few minutes of the game. Teammate Bruce Smith was still teasing him about it at Smith's Hall of Fame induction 20 years later.
  • Super Bowl XXVII: Late in a completely one-sided blowout, the Cowboys force a fumble, which is picked up by star defensive tackle Leon Lett and run back for what should have been an easy score. However, 10 yards shy of the goal line, Lett slows down and begins to showboat his way into the end zone, sticking the ball carelessly out to his side. Bills wide receiver Don Beebe, one of the fastest men in the league at the time, hustles all the way up the field and slaps the ball out of Lett's outstretched hands just before the goal line, forcing a touchback and turning Lett into a cautionary tale about showboating and a national punchline. This play was number 9 in the NFL Films list of Top 10 Worst Plays, and was only that far down because the impact on the outcome was ultimately minimal.
    • Some years later, after the other flub play that Lett is famous fornote  he received a letter from a fan, telling him to not feel down, and describing some player in the Super Bowl, who got a sure touchdown knocked out of his hands while showboating... that someone, of course, was Lett.
  • Super Bowl XXXI: Drew Bledsoe throwing a staggering four interceptions. Despite matching Brett Favre in passing yards and completion percentage, the Patriots' singleminded focus on an aerial attack stymied their forward momentum after gaining the lead to end the first quarter. This skewed ball possession time in Green Bay's favor, allowing them to put up 17 points in the 2nd quarter. Things finally started to look up for New England as they cut the Packers' lead to six late in the third quarter, only for momentum to immediately swing back in the opposite direction with Desmond Howard's famous 99-yard kick return touchdown on the kickoff following that New England score.
  • Super Bowl XXXIII: Falcons star safety Eugene Robinson getting arrested the night before the game for soliciting a prostitute after winning the league's Bart Starr Award for high moral character earlier that same day. Robinson was able to post bail and play in the game, but the ordeal left him sleep-deprived, and he missed multiple key tackles that allowed the Denver Broncos coast to a second straight Super Bowl ring.
  • Super Bowl XXXV: The New York Giants, after reaching the Super Bowl with a versatile running game and quarterback Kerry Collins's breakout year, completely shit the bed against the Baltimore Ravens, with every single drive ending in either a punt or an interception. Combine that with the Ravens' conservative offense, and you get a game so dull that it actually made the 2001 incarnation of the XFL, which debuted the next week, look like it had a chance of success for a hot second.
  • Super Bowl XXXVI: Rams wideout Ricky Proehl declaring, "Tonight, a dynasty is born!" It was an Oracle of Delphi-esque prediction: the Patriots would win the game, win back-to-back Super Bowls two years later, play a perfect regular season in 2007, secure a playoff berth in fifteen of the seventeen seasons since 2001, appear in eight more Super Bowls, win three more and tie the Steelers for the record for most SB wins, in eleven more AFC title games (including eight consecutive appearances in the 2010s), become out-and-out the winningest team of the past twenty years, while the Rams would sink into mediocrity.
  • Super Bowl XXXVII: The Oakland Raiders go up against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad being led by their previous coach Jon Gruden. Having used Gruden's playbook to get this far, it never occurs to the team to change their offensive schemes. Gruden meanwhile has the Bucs practice while mimicking Raiders QB Rich Gannon on the practice squad, even down to Gannon's snap count cadence. Come game-time, the Raiders get manhandled by a Buccaneers defense that recognizes nearly every play Gannon calls out.
    • Rubbing salt into the wound, that Super Bowl loss led to a decade-long decline in the Raiders' fortunes where they suffered double-digit losing seasons for seven straight years and for nine out of ten years. It took almost fourteen years for them to finally break out of the slump and produce a winning season (and a playoff berth) in 2016... only to promptly lose in the Wild Card round and go right back to their losing ways the next season.
  • Super Bowl XXXVIII: People might not be tell you who was playing in the game itself (the Patriots and Panthers), or even what the outcome was (the Patriots won on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever). But what almost everyone remembers is the halftime show, where singer Justin Timberlake pulled on Janet Jackson's top, and briefly exposed her nipple. There was a months-long debate about broadcast standards, tons of complaints to the FCC, threats of arrest until it was made clear the entire thing was just an accident, and followed both Timberlake and Jackson for a long time. Hilariously, this was also a huge part of why YouTube came to be as Jawed Karim had trouble finding a clip of the event.
  • Super Bowl XL: Mostly remembered for its terrible officiating, which was so bad that Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren openly called the referees out after the game.
  • Super Bowl XLII: In a rare positive example, Manning to Tyree. On third-and-5, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning just barely manages to scramble away from three New England Patriots defenders, with one of them even tugging on his jersey, and launch the ball downfield. David Tyree caught the ball by pressing it into his helmet, giving the Giants a much-needed big yard gain. They would score the go-ahead touchdown two plays later. Called names such as "The Double Miracle", "The Great Escape", and "The Helmet Catch", it's arguably the greatest play in Super Bowl history, and made a legend out of Eli Manning, who many people often compared unfavorably to his older brother Peyton.
    • On the other side, the Patriots will never live down losing this game, since they were 18-0 going into Super Bowl XLII.
  • Super Bowl XLVI: With the Giants getting the ball first, the Patriots' defense manages to hold them back and force a punt, giving Brady and the Patriots' offense the ball... only for Brady to get flagged for intentional grounding in the endzone on the very first play of the possession, resulting in a safety, which gives the Giants two points and, potentially even more significantly, the ball back.
    • Given that this was touted by many as a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots will never live down losing to the Giants again.
  • Super Bowl XLVII: In the middle of the third quarter, after the Ravens had taken a significant lead, the lights in the New Orleans Superdome went out for over a half-hour. Pretty much everyone involved was mocked over this, from the hapless announcers, who had to blather about nothing before the largest audience in the world to the commissioner himself who was accused of shutting off the lights on purpose by the winning Ravens. McDonald's built an entire ad campaign around Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick (the starting QBs) hanging out after the game, and the blackouts keep occuring.
  • Super Bowl XLVIII: Denver's very first snap flew by Peyton Manning and into the end zone for a safety. The Broncos never recovered and eventually wound up losing 43–8.
    • Before that, in the closing minutes of Super Bowl XLIV, Peyton Manning threw a pick six against the Saints' Tracy Porter, essentially sealing the game for the Saints, who won 31-17.
  • Super Bowl XLIX: With the number one rushing offense in the NFL and powerful running back Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch, the ball at the one-yard line on second down after an amazing David Tyree-esque catch by wide receiver Jermaine Kearse and a four-yard rush by Lynch, twenty-six seconds left on the clock, and one timeout left, the Seahawks had a huge opportunity to take the lead back from the Patriots. Instead of rushing it, quarterback Russell Wilson attempted to make a touchdown pass to wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, only for Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (an undrafted rookie who brought down Kearse but failed to stop said amazing catch) to make the game-saving interception for his team. #WorstCallEver trended on Twitter moments later, and even color commentator Cris Collinsworth made a scathing comment on live television that had him saying "I can't believe the call" several times.note  The Seahawks would shortly thereafter cause two penalties for encroachment and instigating a brawl afterwards, which not only gave Patriots quarterback Tom Brady enough space (twenty extra yards worth) to make a quarterback kneel to run the remainder of the clock, but also lead to cries that the Seahawks were Sore Losers. Several other analysts and former NFL players called it one of the worst calls in Super Bowl history, with the NFL's all-time leading rusher, retired running back Emmitt Smith, going as far to call it the worst play call in the history of football.
    • Note that this last play is highly controversial, and several websites, such as the Boston Globe itself, Slate, and others have pointed out the merits of the last play, and contested that it was a bad call. Some point out that the immediate situation did favor the pass: Seattle had its passing offense on the field, and that the Patriots had their running defense on the field. To run it in with less blockers while the Patriots had more blockers would have been difficult. As well, the clock had 26 seconds left; meaning that in order for the Seahawks to put more blockers in for the run, they would have had to call their last timeout, killing the clock and allowing the Patriots to see that they were going to try a run. Others point out that Marshawn Lynch had only one successful Touchdown run from the one-yard line that season, out of five attempts. Still others suggested that the best call would have been to fake a handoff to Lynch to confuse the Patriots defense and then pass the ball when they wouldn't be prepared to respond to it. Statistically, the odds favored the Seahawks as well, as out of 109 passes from the one yard line, this was the only one to be intercepted. Regardless, this play will forever be a YMMV case. Like many other controversial plays, even if one side is proven without a doubt to be correct, the play will remain to be controversial.
    • Another element often overlooked for the play was Patriot coach Bill Belichick's clock management. After Lynch carried the ball to the 1, the clock continued to run. Normally in this case, the Patriots would call one of their two timeouts to preserve as much time as possible to try a Hail Mary after the Seahawks scored, especially since the Patriots only needed to get into field goal range to tie the game. But Belichick did not call the timeout, somewhat confusing the Seahawks and putting pressure on them to either hurry up and run a play (which as the previous paragraph pointed out, favored the pass), or use their last timeout, putting them in trouble if Lynch were unable to get in on a subsequent play.
    • As a Medal of Dishonor, Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin became the first (and so far only) player to be ejected from the Super Bowl in the game's history, as he was put the blame for instigating the brawl as he threw a closed fist punch to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
  • Super Bowl 50: Down by six points in the fourth quarter with four minutes left, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fumbles the ball and tries to pick it up while standing up, allowing Broncos safety T.J. Ward to dive underneath him and recover it. The Broncos proceeded to score a touchdown on the ensuing drive, sealing the win. After the game, Newton was so distraught by the loss that he left in the middle of the press conference, causing everyone to label him a Sore Loser.
  • Super Bowl LI: The Falcons became the first team in Super Bowl history to blow a 25 point lead, as the Patriots rallied from 28-3 to win 34-28 in overtime. Prior to this, the largest lead to be "blown" was 10 points. Even worse, no team had ever before lost a postseason game if they began the fourth quarter with a 19+-point lead (teams with a 19+ lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter were 93-0). Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan was widely mocked for his strategy of only running five running plays after going up by 25 points and giving the Patriots enough clock stops and game time to mount their comeback.
    • Naturally, when Shanahan made it back to the Super Bowl three years later as head coach for the San Francisco 49ers, only for the Niners to blow a ten-point fourth quarter lead to the Kansas City Chiefs to lose 31-20, comparisons to the Falcons' loss began cropping up.
  • Super Bowl LII:
    • The NFL's official Facebook page ran a contest to win tickets to the Super Bowl. The promotional image featured the Patriots vs. the Vikings. This post was published before the NFC Championship game even started, causing cries of the games being rigged for quite a period of time afterward.
    • There's been a lot of speculation from Patriots fans and sports analysts as to why Bill Belichick had Malcolm Butler - the cornerback who saved Super Bowl XLIX for the Pats - sit on the sideline for the entire game. Butler was allegedly told he wouldn't be playing by Belichick during the national anthem, just minutes before the game was going to start. With the Eagles offense marching up and down the field the entire game, as well as Belichick's refusal to discuss why he benched Butler, it's been a source of confusion in NFL circles.
    • Tom Brady will never live down screwing up a trick play the team attempted by dropping a pass that was thrown to him by his wide receiver. To add insult to injury, the Eagles later ran an almost identical play and Eagles QB Nick Foles did catch the ball, converting a fourth and goal for a touchdown.
    • Nor is anyone going to forget the image of Tom sitting on the field, arms folded and pouting after a fumble recovery in the last few minutes of the game that sealed the Eagles' victory.
    • And on the Eagles side, the fans will probably never live down that they drunkenly smashed up half a city. Or that one fan that ate horse crap for some reason.
  • Super Bowl LIII is mostly known for its score and halftime show.
    • It was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in football history. The Patriots defeated the Rams 13-3, which saw only a single touchdown scored with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Whether the game was "a defensive battle for the ages" or "a slow and boring game" is largely a matter of personal opinion.
    • The halftime show was widely panned. Maroon 5 headlined a show that many saw as trite, boring, and way too safe (considering the controversies regarding the NFL's handling of Colin Kapernick that led to several artists passing on performing in the halftime show).
    • In addition, the show saw a brief tribute to Stephen Hillenburg of SpongeBob SquarePants. Keyword being brief; it lasted about ten seconds and was only used to introduce Travis Scott to the stage with his hit "Sicko Mode". SpongeBob fans criticized it for how it was handled, especially since were also expecting the show to include "Sweet Victory", to the point that they saw it as an insufficient—and for some, even disrespectful—tribute to Hillenburg.
  • Super Bowl LIV is remembered not so much for what it was — a decent if unremarkable Super Bowl where the Kansas City Chiefs came back from a late 10-point deficit against the San Francisco 49ers — but remembered instead for being one of the last big events just before the COVID-19 Pandemic really started to hit the United States. In a bizarre twist of fate, the Chiefs may have inadvertently saved hundreds of lives by winning for this reason, as the game occurred just as cases of COVID-19 were starting to hit San Francisco, which would end up getting hit hard by the virus. Had the 49ers won the game, the resulting celebrations in San Francisco would've very likely caused the city to become even more of a massive hotspot for COVID-19. The disease hadn't yet spread to Kansas City at the time of Super Bowl LIV, meaning the celebrations there didn't pose the same health risk.
    • As far as what actually happened on the field, what's most remembered about the game isn't the gameplay itself but the controversial officiating, with the referees making no less than three questionable decisions (one iffy penalty call and two very blatant no-calls), all of them in Kansas City's favor. Had even one of those decisions gone the other way, there's a decent chance that the 49ers could have turned things around. (Then again, given the previous point, as crushing as it was for 49ers fans, this might have ended up being for the best.)

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