Ugly Super Bowls: why upsets can make the “Big Game” small

By Sterling Pingree


Upsets in sports are generally great because I think fans watch sports to root for their teams but also to be surprised. That’s why we love March Madness; we want the shocking upsets and the dramatic finishes. Upsets are great in the NCAA Tournament, but you know where they aren’t as welcome? The NFL Conference Championship games.

Why is this bad you ask? Because two great teams, seemingly on a collision course to the big game all season gets wiped out just because Stan Humphries and Natrone Means got hot for two games. (More on them in a minute.) There are a lot of things that contribute to a bad Super Bowl: your team isn’t in it, the halftime show features someone too old (too young?) or the game becomes a blowout. The frustrating thing is that in most cases, blowouts could have been prevented if a plucky little upstart didn’t upset a favorite in the conference championship game. Here are 3 examples of Super Bowl match ups that would have been better if they hadn’t been spoiled with an upset in the AFC or NFC Championship games.

  • Super Bowl XX, Bears 46- Patriots 10

It’s hard to put the Patriots on this list, but unfortunately this one has to make the list. It’s hard to believe that anybody could beat the vaunted “85 Bears” but there was a blemish on Chicago’s resume and that was the Miami Dolphins. Miami was only one year removed from playing in the Super Bowl themselves and in week 13 on Monday Night Football, the Dan Marino led Dolphins handed the Bears their only loss of the season. Would the Bears still have won Super Bowl XX had the Patriots not upset the Dolphins in the AFC Championship game? Probably they would have, but the build for the rematch of the Dolphins and the “Super Bowl Shuffling” Bears would have been pretty interesting. More so than Raymond Berry trying to decide if it would be Tony Eason or Steve Grogan who would get decapitated by the “46 Defense” first.

  • Super Bowl XXIX, 49ers 49- Chargers 26

Like the 1985 Bears, the 1994 San Francisco 49ers were loaded. They finally broke through after two years of getting bounced in the NFC title game by Dallas. Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Ricky Watters and Brent Jones led an incredibly dynamic offense and this season was the one known as “That Year Deion Sanders played for San Francisco.” This game was an all-time dud from the gun; Young hit Rice seconds into the game for a touchdown and the rout was on. This Chargers team seemed okay at the moment, but looking back how did this team make the Super Bowl? Their offense was led by the aforementioned combination of Stan Humphries at quarterback and Natrone Means at running back. Hell, their head coach was Bob Ross! (Not the painter, but still, it’s striking just to see that in print right?) The Chargers upset the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. The Steelers were a good solid defense with an uninspiring offense led by Neil O’Donnell, who astoundingly enough led Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl the following season. A 49ers-Steelers match up might not have been that much better of an on field product, but as of Super Bowl 29, these two franchises combined to own 8 of 28 Lombardi Trophies. Here it is over 20 years later and we’ve still never seen these two legendary franchises hook it up in the Super Bowl.

  • Super Bowl XXXIII, Broncos 34- Falcons 19

This Super Bowl is remembered by Broncos fans as John Elway’s farewell game and it’s remembered by Falcons fans as “That time Eugene Robinson got arrested soliciting a prostitute the night before the Super Bowl.” But you know what, Eugene should never have been put into that situation. He should have been arrested in Atlanta for soliciting a prostitute not in Miami while he “prepped” for the Super Bowl. The 1998 Minnesota Vikings were 15-1 and had one of the great offenses of all-time, led by Cris Carter and a rookie wide out from Marshall named Randy Moss. Instead what happened? Gary Anderson missed a field goal that would have made the NFC Championship a 10-point game. Missing the field goal gave Atlanta the ball with enough time to tie the game up before Morton Anderson (no relation) kicked the game winner in overtime. Did I mention that Gary Anderson had made 46 field goals in a row and that he hadn’t missed a kick in over two years? TWO YEARS! Vikings and Broncos was the Super Bowl we deserved, instead we had to see John Elway smile and there aren’t sunglasses big enough to block the glare off those chompers.

What have we learned from this ghost of Championships games past? It’s that the match up we’re all dying to see doesn’t always happen. It’s that the match up that seems destined to take place, doesn’t always happen. Without upsets, sports would be boring but in this case I’ll take the boring favorites this weekend, if it means a more exciting game two weeks from now in Houston.


Sterling Head ShotSterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.