We are less than a week out from Super Bowl XLVI, but we’ve technically already seen this game before, so what’s the fun in talking about it?
Instead, let’s talk about the best Super Bowls that never happened.
Talking hypothetical is one of my favorite things to do because there is really no right or wrong answer, because we don’t and will never know. What would have happened if Mark Brunell won a Super Bowl? Would there have been a belief that left-handed quarterbacks were the future of football?
I could have even gone the route of writing hypothetical Super Bowls between the Seattle Seahawks and the Saskatchewan Rough Riders, because I’m sure in some alternate universe (like after hypothetical Super Bowl XVII) that it could have happened.
Rather than getting all crazy and doing that, let’s just stick with teams that actually qualified for the playoffs during the year of said Super Bowl. It’s a lot easier that way.
1. Super Bowl X – Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Drew Pearson pushed off (go to the 2:00 mark). I don’t know how anyone can say he didn’t. The first Hail Mary was a fraud people. It’s about time we finally admitted it. The Vikings went 12-2 in 1975, were the top seed in the NFC, and lost because of a blown call by the referees. Not cool, Drew Pearson. Not cool at all.
2. Super Bowl XVI – Dallas Cowboys vs. Cincinnati Bengals
I do not like the Cowboys at all, but I do have to say they got robbed of a Super Bowl appearance in 1982 courtesy of the 49ers and “The Catch”. It would be the first of five Super Bowl wins for the 49ers, four of them behind the arm of Joe Montana.
If Dwight Clark didn’t make that catch, the West Coast Offense would have been passed off as a phase and a gimmick, Bill Walsh would have retired as the head coach at Washington State, and Joe Montana would be wearing ShapeUps that he had to buy with his own money.
3. Super Bowl XVII – Detroit Lions vs. Cleveland Browns
The playoffs leading up to Super Bowl XVII might be my favorite thing in the history of professional sports (other than a hypothetical Vikings Championship, of course.)
Because of the players’ strike during the 1982 season and the resulting nine-game regular season, the NFL decided to allow eight teams into the playoffs (instead of the usual four) from each conference. This was subsequently named the “Super Bowl Tournament” and included the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns who both had records of 4-5, marking the first time any team had made the postseason with a losing record.
How great would it have been to have a Super Bowl played between two No. 8 seeds? The sixth seed from the AFC, the New York Jets, advanced to the Conference Final before losing to the Dolphins, but we’ve seen a sixth seed win the Super Bowl before thanks to the Wild Card.
The NFL had one chance to have an eighth-seeded team with a losing record become a Super Bowl Champion and they blew it. What would have happened if the Browns or Lions would have actually made it to the big game, let alone won it?
Would the NFL have been attacked by critics for allowing their players to strike, which lead to a shortened season that ended with a sub-.500 team winning the Super Bowl, therefore tarnishing the reputation of anyone involved with the NFL? All of this allowing the USFL to step in and be a legitimate competitor, forcing another merger and leave the National Football League of America with too many teams that they would eventually have to contract teams instead of grow in popularity and expand. Would that have happened?
If this Super Bowl would have happened, we never would have had the Jaguars or Texans or Panthers. Jim Kelly would have never lost four Super Bowls with the Bills. Steve Young would probably never be a Hall of Famer. Hershel Walker would be the greatest running back of all time, and the Vikings would have never handed the Cowboys three Super Bowl rings on a silver platter.
For all we know, the National Football League of America could have failed miserably and become a low-rate professional sport right next to jai hali and SlamBall.
4. Super Bowl XXI – New York Giants vs. Cleveland Browns
The Drive. I feel bad for Cleveland Browns fans. I knew they were terribly unlucky and everything, but then I started doing research for this article. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose multiple playoff games the way they did, and have the team they lost to go on to get absolutely killed in the Super Bowl.
I wrote down 15 hypothetical Super Bowls. The Browns appeared in six of them. I think I’m going to start being a Browns fan out of pity. I feel bad for them. As a Vikings fan, I’m here for you and know your pain. Speaking of the Vikings and Browns…
5. Super Bowl XXII – Minnesota Vikings vs. Cleveland Browns
I had to do this one. Vikings vs. Browns. The two unluckiest franchises in NFL history squaring off a Super Bowl? The Vikings got knocked out of the playoffs after Darrin Nelson dropped a fourth-down pass late in the fourth quarter against the Redskins. The Browns lost on “the fumble” to the Broncos.
Literally anything could have happened. Imagine all the possibilities! It would be a contest to see which team could kill more fans in the span of three and a half hours.
To their credit, both teams deserve to make fake Super Bowls (the Vikings have four on this list, Browns have three). They probably wouldn’t have even won any of them anyway. Is it even possible for a team to lose seven Super Bowls? I don’t ever want to find out. Maybe it’s a good thing the Vikings and Browns will never make another real Super Bowl. It’s probably better that way.
6. Super Bowl XXVI – Detroit Lions vs. Buffalo Bills
I really only included this one because I feel we as Americans were cheated out of seeing Barry Sanders ever play in a Super Bowl. In 1991 the Lions went 12-4, were the No. 2 seed out of the NFC, and made it to the NFC Championship game before losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins.
7. Super Bowl XXXIII – Minnesota Vikings vs. Denver Broncos
I’ve written about this game a lot in the past, so I’ll just keep it short. Because if I don’t, it will end up being 5,000 words that eventually lead me to comparing my moral compass to the ending of a football game that I watched when I was 8 years old.
15-1 record. Best offense in NFL history. Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Jake Reed, Randall Cunningham, Robert Smith. Injuries, horrible coaching, and the worst kick of Gary Anderson’s career crushed Minnesota. And they’ve never recovered.
And the Dirty Bird was the dumbest end zone celebration ever.
8. Super Bowl XXXIV – Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Buccaneers lost in the NFC Championship game to the Rams by the oddest football score ever, 11-6, after the Rams scored a late fourth-quarter touchdown. It would take the Buccaneers another three years to finally reach the Super Bowl, and Kurt Warner became the greatest grocery bagger in NFL history.
The Jaguars were the No. 1 seed in the AFC in 1999 and put 62 points on the board in the division round against the Dolphins. They lost in the AFC Championship game to the Titans, who barely made it out of the first round, only doing so with a little play famously known as the “Music City Miracle.”
I have no idea what a Buccaneers-Jaguars Super Bowl would have been. I would have probably ditched the Vikings as my favorite team for the Buccaneers and would now have four different John Lynch jerseys in my closet. I suppose Fred Taylor would be a definite Hall of Fame running back and Tom Coughlin would now be the head coach of the Ravens.
9. Super Bowl XXXVI – St. Louis Rams vs. Oakland Raiders
The Tuck Rule. Super Bowl win number one for Tom Brady. Beginning of the end for Kurt Warner in St. Louis.
If the Patriots don’t win against Oakland, it is not inconceivable that Drew Bledsoe would have been reinstated as the starting quarterback in Boston, Tom Brady would have been traded to some team like the Chiefs or Texans, and Bill Simmons would have hopefully given up talking about football.
10. Super Bowl XLII – Green Bay Packers vs. New England Patriots
Brett Favre’s last pass as a Green Bay Packer was an interception in overtime which led the Giants to kick a game winning field goal to advance to Super Bowl XLII and spoil the Patriots chance at a perfect season.
Had the Packers beaten the Giants, one would have to believe that Favre would have retired after the season and actually stayed retired, Super Bowl win or not. Losing a Super Bowl to only the only team to win 19 games in a season is a much better ending than not even having the opportunity.
None of this happened of course, which helped set up Hypothetical Super Bowl No. 11.
11. Super Bowl XLIV – Minnesota Vikings vs. Indianapolis Colts
Can’t blame me for this one either. The Vikings were the best team in the league in 2009, thanks in part to Brett Favre playing the smartest (and arguably best) football of his life.
Unfortunately there was Brad Childress and his love for settling for 45-yard, game winning field goals. And then there was the Vikings getting flagged for having 12 men in the huddle RIGHT AFTER A TIMEOUT! Next play: Favre interception.
By the end of the game I was lying on my kitchen floor with my shirt over my face. Literally the worst night of my life.
I started writing for MSF two days later after comparing the Vikings-Saints game to lyrics by Hootie and the Blowfish. Weirdest thing I’ve ever written. At least something good came out of it.