LOS ANGELES, January 30, 2013—Every Super Bowl features one team hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and the other one anguished. Some Super Bowl heartbreaks occur on winning teams, sometimes before the game is even played.
The 2009 Saints were barely edged from this list. They won it all, but saw their victory tarnished from the Bountygate scandal. With Paul Tagliabue vacating the suspensions Commissioner Roger Goodell implemented, their victory gains back some luster. So excluding them, here are the top ten Super Bowl heartbreaks.
10.) Walter Payton. The 1985 Bears crushed the Patriots 46-10. Yet it was bittersweet for Sweetness. He did not get to score a touchdown, as William “Fridge” Perry got the accolades. Coach Mike Ditka called it the worst decision he ever made, an honest oversight. Chicago assumed they would be back, but 1985 was it.
9.) Jermaine Lewis. The 2000 Ravens romped 34-7 over the Giants in the big game. Lewis had his moment of glory, returning a kickoff for a touchdown to put the game out of reach. Lewis’s heartbreak came earlier that season, when his newborn son was stillborn. He had several big returns that season, pointing skyward to his child after each touchdown.
8.) Jackie Smith. This longtime Cardinals standout finally made the Super Bowl with the 1978 Cowboys. In the third quarter the Cowboys trailed 21-14 and faced 3rd and 1 at the Steelers 10. A wide open Smith slipped in the end zone as the tying touchdown pass bounce off his hands. He was unfairly called the goat. Coach Tom Landry could have gambled on 4th and 1 rather than kick the field goal. The Cowboys fell behind 35-17 before rallying and still losing 35-31. Smith’s share of the blame for the loss is overdone.
7.) Minnesota Vikings. Four times they lost the Super Bowl. The 1969, 1973, 1974, and 1976 Vikings lost to four different AFC teams, all by double digits. The 1975 Vikings lost in the NFC Title Game on a disputed Hail Mary with seconds left to play, keeping them from four straight Super Bowls. The 1998 Vikings were perhaps the greatest team not to reach the Super Bowl, losing the NFC Title Game in an overtime shocker after leading late in regulation. They got clobbered in the 2000 NFC Title Game and in the 2010 NFC Title Game again lost in overtime.
6.) Barrett Robbins. The 2002 Raiders were a machine on offense anchored by Center Barrett Robbins. The Friday before the Super Bowl, he had an emotional meltdown and was scratched from the game. The Raiders were crushed by the Buccaneers. Robbins was diagnosed as bipolar, and after being shot by police and somehow surviving, attention slowly began to focus on football players and mental illness.
5.) Stanley Wilson. The 1988 Cincinnati Bengals running back struggled with drugs during his career, but was now clean and sober. The night before the game should have been routine. On the way to the final team meeting, Wilson told his teammates that he forgot his playbook in his hotel room. Twenty minutes later he was discovered on the bathroom floor in a drug-induced haze. Maybe he cracked under the pressure, but either way he was scratched from the game. The Bengals lost a heartbreaker to the 49ers, and Wilson never played football again.
4.) 2008 Cardinals. For over a century, the Cardinals have been sad sacks. They won their sole NFL Championship over half a century ago. The Twenty-first Century saw other losing franchises go from worst to first, including the 2002 Buccaneers and 2009 Saints. The 2008 Cardinals staggered to 9-7 to win a weak division. They got hot in the playoffs with former NFL MVP Kurt Warner running the Greatest Show in the Desert. Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald to put the Cardinals up 23-20 with only three minutes left in the Super Bowl. Yet the Pittsburgh Steelers rallied, and Ben Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes for a miracle touchdown catch to give the Steelers the 27-23 win. The Cardinals have been awful since.
3.) 1988 Bengals. The Stanley Wilson tragedy was a big deal, but the Bengals still led the 49ers 16-13 with three minutes left in the Super Bowl. The 49ers were pinned at their own eight yard line. Yet the 49ers had “Joe Cool” Montana, and he led perhaps the greatest drive in Super Bowl history. The Bengals dropped an interception that would have won the game. Instead, Montana found John Taylor with 34 seconds left in the game to give the 49ers the 20-16 win in Bill Walsh’s final game as 49ers coach.
2.) Scott Norwood. The Hollywood version had the 1984 Dolphins lose. Ray Finkle missed a 26 yard field goal, changed his name to Lois Einhorn, and kidnapped Dolphins mascot Snowflake, who was rescued by Jim Carrey in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” The real version was Scott Norwood, who had a 47 yard field goal try on the final play for the Bills against the Giants. The kick was no good, and the Giants won 20-19. The Bills would go to four straight Super Bowls, losing all four. Norwood was on the first two of those. That kick prevented a dynasty, although Buffalo was outplayed in all four losses.
1.) 1999 Titans. The Titans needed the Music City Miracle kickoff return to even get to the Super Bowl. They played the Rams, who they had beaten earlier that year. The Rams led 16-0, the Titans tied it 16-16 with two minutes left, and seconds later the Rams were up 23-16 when Warner went bombs away to Ricky Proehl. Tennessee mounted a final drive to tie the game.
With five seconds left, Tennessee had one chance from inside the Rams ten yard line. Steve McNair rolled out, avoided a sack, and fired to Kevin Dyson near the goal line. Mike Jones made “the tackle” at the one yard line to preserve the Rams win. Titans Coach Jeff Fisher got down on one knee after the game and whispered something in McNair’s ear. Fisher kept the moment private, most likely telling McNair he loved him. A few years later on July 4th, McNair was shot to death by a jealous woman. This was the final heartbreak for a team that had come so close to glory.
Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, and now living in Los Angeles, Eric Golub is a columnist, blogger, author, public speaker, satirist and comedian who is obsessed with the National Football League. There is no offseason. Every February he pretends to care about other sports while sobbing uncontrollably each Sunday until September. Eric is the author of the book trilogy “Ideological Bigotry, “Ideological Violence,” and “Ideological Idiocy.”
Follow Eric on Twitter @TYGRRRREXPRESS Eric Golub is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Eric at his TYGRRRR EXPRESS blog.
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