Spot On: 4 Greatest Championship Games of the Super Bowl Era
Russell S. Baxter
Spot On: 4 Greatest Championship Games of the Super Bowl Era
By Brandon Fazzolari
Special to Pro Football Guru
With the Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers fighting for the opportunity to play in Super Bowl LIV, let’s take a look back at the four greatest championship games of the Super Bowl Era.
4. 2009 NFC Championship: Saints 31, Vikings 28 (OT)
There are things that we remember and things that we have forgotten about this classic. I will start with the obvious. Brett Favre took a beating from the Gregg Williams-coached defense, but gamely hung in there. In the end, though, he blew it.
Other than fumbling a lot, the Vikings played an outstanding football game. They outgained New Orleans by over 200 yards and Adrian Peterson scored three touchdowns. But, the opportunistic Saints were more than happy to take advantage of those errors. Drew Brees threw for 197 yards and three touchdowns. He hit Reggie Bush with 12:39 remaining to give the Saints a 28-21 lead. After the Vikings tied it, they forced a punt and marched into long field goal range. At the 33-yard-line, they got called for a too many men in the huddle penalty, an egregious error on its own. However, on 3rd down, Favre made the costliest mistake of his illustrious career. He rolled to the right and seemed to have enough room for a short run. Instead, he passed right down the center of the field. Tracy Porter who eventually became a Super Bowl hero, picked the pass off and the game went to overtime.
In the extra frame, Minnesota committed another critical error with a pass interference penalty. New Orleans made them pay as Garrett Hartley knocked home the NFC Championship-clinching field goal.
3. 2018 AFC Championship: Patriots 37, Chiefs 31 (OT)
We don’t need to go deep into the annals of history to reminisce about our third greatest conference championship game. Last season, the Patriots and Chiefs treated us to an absolute beauty. Things didn’t start well for the home team as New England drove to a touchdown on their first possession with excellent play calls and tremendous run blocking.
On their second drive, the Patriots got inside the five, but Tom Brady was intercepted. Still, the record-breaking Chiefs offense piloted by Patrick Mahomes was stagnant over the first 30 minutes leading to a surprising 14-0 Patriots lead. New England focused on stopping Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. And it worked.
But, things got insane in the fourth. The teams traded positive plays, points aplenty, and pivotal penalties. Mahomes was unstoppable focusing on Sammy Watkins and Damien Williams. The 41-year old Brady battled in the clutch and was superb on third down. Trailing 28-24 late, Brady threw high for Rob Gronkowski and was intercepted off the deflection. It was not to be, however, as Dee Ford was lined up in the neutral zone. The Patriots scored a touchdown on that drive. Kansas City struck back with a field goal and it was on to overtime.
It took the GOAT one drive and three third-and-10 conversions to get the Pats into striking distance. From there, Rex Burkhead plowed in for the win.
2. 2014 NFC Championship: Seahawks 28, Packers 22 (OT)
This game defies description, but here goes nothing. The Packers thoroughly dominated the Seahawks in one of Russell Wilson’s worst performances of his career. Yet, they somehow only led 16-0 midway through the third quarter.
Seattle finally scored on a successful fake field goal when Jon Ryan connected with Garry Gilliam (not exactly Montana to Rice).
The Pack led 19-7 when Wilson was picked off for the fourth time on the night. This one went to Morgan Burnett who had open field in front of him, but chose to safely slide down. The Seahawks got the ball back with about four minutes to go and Wilson finally put together a solid drive resulting in a 1 yard run of his own for the score. The Seahawks then recovered an onside kick thanks to a misplay by reserve tight end Brandon Bostic. Just a few plays later and the incomparable Marshawn Lynch bolted home for the lead. Wilson then completed an impossible two-point conversion to Luke Willson to make the score 22-19.
One thing we’ve learned about Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is his team is never out of it. He gallantly led his team to a tying field goal by Mason Crosby.
In overtime, though, Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse on consecutive passes, the second of which was the NFC championship-clinching touchdown.
1. 1981 NFC Championship: 49ers 28, Cowboys 27
The greatest championship game in NFL history pitted the great rivals from San Francisco and Dallas. The Cowboys had owned all the big wins in this series to that point, eliminating the Niners three straight seasons in the early 1970’s.
The 49ers announced that 1981 would be different early in the season when they crushed the Cowboys at Candlestick. They had a tremendous young defense coordinated by George Seifert, a dynamite offensive scheme taught by Bill Walsh and one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Joe Montana. Still, many thought they would be up against it when they faced Tom Landry’s veteran-laden Cowboys in the championship game.
San Francisco kept shooting themselves in the feet, turning the ball over six times. Thus, they trailed 27-21 with time running out. Walsh orchestrated a masterful plan on their last offensive series mixing short passes with sweep plays and a reverse.
They got to the Cowboys’ 12-yard line when Montana missed an open Freddie Solomon on first down. On second down, Lenvil Elliott ran left for seven yards. On third and three, it happened.
Montana rolled to his right and while under intense pressure from Ed “Too Tall” Jones, lofted a high pass to the back of the end zone. His favorite target Dwight Clark leapt to snatch the pass over Everson Walls and came down with it in a play so famous, we simply call it “The Catch.”
The 49ers survived a desperate Cowboys comeback attempt and went on to defeat Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI.
Brandon Fazzolari (@spot_bills) is a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan and a Vegas sports reporter for Vegas the Network.