Nothing beats a close, down-to-the-wire Super Bowl.
Not the NBA Finals, not the World Series and not the BCS National Championship Game (or now, the College Football Playoff) — at least, when your favorite team is not involved. The World Cup is much more popular worldwide, but at least in the United States, the Super Bowl currently reigns.
With the nonstop hype that builds up the Super Bowl for two long weeks beforehand, the game could easily let us down. Before 2005, there had never been back-to-back Super Bowls decided by nine or fewer points. The first 37 Super Bowls had an average margin of victory of 16.3 points. The Super Bowl tended to be a one-sided affair more often than not.
However, before the Seahawks and the Broncos squared off on Sunday, five of the previous six Super Bowls, and seven of the last 10, had been decided by six or fewer points. You might expect this, given that the Super Bowl is supposed to be played between the two best teams in the National Football League.
In 2004, an estimated 89 million viewers watched the Panthers and Patriots combine for 37 points in the fourth quarter alone and saw Tom Brady lead a game-winning fourth-quarter drive, capped off by Adam Vinatieri’s deciding field goal with four seconds left.
In 2008, the undefeated Patriots marched into the Super Bowl as 12-point favorites over Eli Manning and the Giants. With 1:15 remaining, trailing by four and facing a third-and-5 from the New York 44-yard line, Eli Manning escaped a sure sack and fired up a prayer that was answered by David Tyree — a 32-yard catch made with one hand and a helmet. The Giants finished the drive and upset the Patriots 17-14 in arguably the greatest Super Bowl of all-time.
How could that Super Bowl possibly be followed up? After falling behind 20-7 in Super Bowl XLIII, the Cardinals responded with 16 straight points, including a 64-yard touchdown pass with 2:37 remaining to take a 23-20 lead. However, the Steelers were up to the task, marching 78 yards down the field and scoring on one of the greatest catches of all time, with Santonio Holmes reaching way over his head and snaring Ben Roethlisberger’s pass in the corner of the end zone between three defenders with just 35 seconds left on the clock.
In that span of 10 Super Bowls, there had also been a pick-six to seal a Super Bowl for New Orleans just a few years after Hurricane Katrina, a six-point victory for the Packers three years removed from Brett Favre, yet another Eli Manning game-winning drive against the Patriots and a goal-line stand by one of the greatest linebackers of all time, Ray Lewis, to win the Super Bowl in his final game, to mention a few of the best.
And that is why this Super Bowl was so unexpected.
The Broncos ruined not only this streak of stellar games but also this Super Bowl. Over 100 million people watched as Peyton Manning and the Broncos made mistake after mistake for four quarters. Despite the potential for one of the greatest games ever, with the most prolific offense in history taking on the league’s best defense, the game instead made a mockery of the Broncos.
What happened? The first play of the game really told the whole story — everything that could go wrong for the Broncos went wrong. Manning’s throws were off, the Broncos’ defense couldn’t get off the field on third downs and the Broncos’ special teams left a lane so wide for Percy Harvin you could drive a semi-truck through it. Maybe the pressure got to the Broncos, but there is no doubt that the Seahawks were by far the best team on the field and in the NFL on Sunday.
Unfortunately for fans of the 31 teams other than the Seahawks, the Super Bowl was over just 15 seconds after halftime when Percy Harvin returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown.
After so many amazing Super Bowls, it’s safe to say that the Broncos let us down Sunday. We became spoiled watching game-winning drives and historic plays year after year for the last 10 years to the point where I kept expecting Peyton Manning to pull off the spectacular comeback. But on this occasion, the Super Bowl reverted to blowout form, and it really wasn’t all that exciting to watch beyond the first half.
Hopefully, future Super Bowls can again be the spectacular showings we have come to assume they would be — all-out battles between the two best teams for football’s ultimate prize that have our gazes fixed and hearts racing for a full 60 minutes. Football is at its finest when the best and most exciting moments of the season are saved for last.
Michael Peterson, along with other Stanford students who chose to watch the Super Bowl instead of studying, is bitter that he wasted three hours of his weekend. Tell him how to make up for lost time at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @mpetes93.