Remember When: Iconic Super Bowl Showdowns Staged In Arizona

Written By C.J. Pierre on January 27, 2022 - Last Updated on February 14, 2022
New York Giants New England Patriots Super Bowl

Super Bowl LVI in Inglewood, California, is on the horizon. And it won’t be long before the baton is handed off to Arizona for Super Bowl LVII, which will take place in 2023.

It won’t be the first time the NFL championship will set up its stage in the Grand Canyon State. The Super Bowl has made three previous trips to Arizona.

And the biggest game in all of sports has not disappointed when it gets played in the desert.

Let’s look back at those legendary games.

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Jan. 28, 1996: Super Bowl XXX – The First In Arizona

For a still-record third time, the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers squared off in a battle for the Lombardi Trophy. Unlike the previous two meetings, however, the Cowboys got the last laugh with a 27-17 victory for the franchise’s fifth — and, so far, last — league title.

Background

Super Bowl XXX was played at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, a game that was years in the making. Tempe was initially selected to be the host city for the Super Bowl three years prior. However, the NFL reneged after joining a nationwide tourist boycott to protest the state’s refusal to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Once Arizonans voted to adopt the federal holiday in 1992, Tempe was put back onto the table as a potential Super Bowl host city.

The first Super Bowl played in Arizona featured two of the NFL’s blue-blood franchises. Most remember this game as the beginning of the end of the Cowboys’ dynasty of the 1990s. It was the final Super Bowl for “The Triplets”: quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and receiver Michael Irvin.

Meanwhile, this was also the first time the Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl since winning their fourth back in 1980. And it was the first league championship appearance for now Hall of Fame coach Bill Cowher.

Dallas was walking into Tempe as heavy favorites, as sportsbooks listed the Cowboys as 13.5-point favorites.

The Game

Dallas built an early 13–0 lead before Pittsburgh scored with 13 seconds left in the first half to make the score 13–7. Midway through the 3rd quarter, though, Dallas cornerback Larry Brown intercepted a pass from Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell. The pick helped set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Smith to increase Dallas’ lead to  20–7.

Things picked up in the fourth quarter. After a Pittsburgh field goal cut the lead to 20-10, the Steelers caught the Cowboys off guard by executing a successful onside kick. Pittsburgh took the ball and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Bam Morris.

With the score 20-17, the Cowboys were forced to punt on their next drive, and Pittsburgh got the ball back with about four minutes left in the game. However, it was not too long before Brown intercepted another O’Donnell pass. This pick also set up a touchdown run from Smith, helping the Cowboys secure a 27-17 win. For his part, Brown became the first cornerback to take home the Super Bowl MVP.

Super Bowl Dallas Cowboys Pittsburgh Steelers
AP / Susan Ragan

Feb. 3, 2008: Super Bowl XLII – The Helmet Catch

No team before and no team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins put together an undefeated season complete with the Super Bowl championship. It appeared the New England Patriots were on their way to joining that elite fraternity. Yet the New York Giants stunned the world, defeating New England 17-14 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale to become the first NFC wild card team to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

Background

Over 10 years after hosting its first Super Bowl, Arizona finally returned to the NFL spotlight. And it was the site of one of the biggest upsets in the history of professional sports. It is also viewed as one of the greatest Super Bowl games of all time.

The Patriots entered the game as 12-point favorites. After record-breaking seasons by QB Tom Brady and receiver Randy Moss, New England was trying to complete the perfect season by going 19-0 and keep in the cork in the ’72 Dolphins’ champagne bottle.

On the other side, the Giants had become the third team ever to make it to the Super Bowl after winning three road playoff games. New York’s journey included a 23–20 overtime win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game, which stood as the third-coldest game in NFL history and ended up being Brett Favre’s last in a Packers uniform.

The Game

The game was tight throughout, with both defenses dominating the action, as shown by both teams combining for just 10 points through three quarters. Once again, things picked up in the fourth, which saw a Super Bowl-record three lead changes.

David Tyree caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to put the Giants ahead 10-7. New England then drove down the field to take a 14-10 lead with 2:42 to play after Brady and Moss connected for a touchdown.

On what is now seen as a legendary third down, Manning found himself in trouble as the Patriots’ pass rush got to him quickly after the snap. He miraculously evaded three New England defenders before launching the ball deep downfield. Tyree then outjumped Patriots safety Rodney Harrison and grabbed the ball. Tyree maintained possession as they fell to the ground by pinning the ball against his helmet as Harrison tried to rip the ball free. This 32-yard pass play is now known as “The Helmet Catch.”

As some may forget, though, there was still a lot of game left. Shortly after Tyree’s incredible reception, Manning found Plaxico Burress for the go-ahead touchdown. Brady had a chance to make a comeback, but a deep pass on fourth down was batted down, sealing the 17-14 upset victory for New York.

Super Bowl XLII was ranked fifth on NFL.com’s 100 Greatest Games, the highest-ranked Super Bowl game. Meanwhile, Tyree’s “Helmet Catch” ranks third on NFL.com’s 100 Greatest Plays.

AP / Gene Puskar

Feb. 1, 2015: Super Bowl XLIX – The Butler Did It

Should the Seattle Seahawks have run it with Marshawn Lynch? Or did Pete Carroll make the right play call, and the New England Patriots simply made the better play? That’s up for debate. What’s not: Malcom Butler intercepted a Russell Wilson pass at the goal line to halt Seattle’s potential game-winning drive and earn New England a 28-24 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Background

Brady returns to the scene of the crime. He and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick made their way back to Arizona for their sixth Super Bowl together. After losing the Giants in 2008 and 2012, New England was back for another crack at the apple. But this team, the Pats would face a new opponent.

The Seahawks, led by their “Legion of Boom” defense, made their second straight league championship appearance after winning Super Bowl XLVIII. As the defending champ, Seattle sought to become the first repeat winners since the Patriots in 2004.

After the AFC championship, an NFL investigation discovered many of the footballs the Patriots used were under-inflated. Brady and Belichick became targets, as talk about “Deflategate” swirled around during the lead-up to the Super Bowl. The controversy would drag on for nearly two years. Brady eventually received a 4-game suspension at the start of the 2016 season.

To add to the excitement, oddsmakers had no idea how the game would go. The Seahawks initially opened as 2.5-point favorites, but within hours, heavy betting on the Patriots moved the line to a pick-em at most sportsbooks. During most of the two-week lead-up to the game, the line held steady with the Patriots as slight 1-point favorites. But, a surge of large bets on the Seahawks the day before the Super Bowl pushed the line back to a toss-up.

The Game

Unlike past Super Bowls in Arizona, things started to heat up in the second quarter. Both teams scored two touchdowns and went into halftime tied at 14. Seattle took control in the third and carried a 10-point advantage into the fourth quarter. The Patriots responded by scoring 14 unanswered points to take a 28–24 lead with 2:02 remaining in the game.

On the ensuing Seahawks drive, Wilson threw a deep pass to Jermaine Kearse, who was being covered by Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler, who deflected the pass away. However, the ball fell right into the waiting hands of Kearse, who tipped it to himself and caught the ball while he was lying on his back. The play gained 33 yards and gave the Seahawks a chance to win.

Lynch ran the ball four yards to the 1-yard line on the next play. New England did not call a timeout, and the clock ticked down to 26 seconds. The Seahawks called a pass play that saw Wilson fling a pass toward Ricardo Lockette, but Butler beat him to the ball and intercepted the pass to seal the Patriots’ victory.

Butler’s interception is regarded as one of the greatest in NFL history. Meanwhile, Seattle’s decision to pass instead of run the ball is considered one of the worst calls.

AP / Kathy Willens

Arizona has held just three Super Bowls. All three, though, have stood the test of time, each seemingly topping the previous iteration with drama and excitement.

When the NFL championship arrives in 2023, online sports betting in Arizona will be over a year old. The Grand Canyon State will become the first Super Bowl host with legal mobile betting, likely, even, with a BetMGM retail sportsbook nearby.

Still, a fair warning for Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium:  Those three memorable games will be tough acts to follow.

Photo by AP / Gene Puskar
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C.J. Pierre

CJ Pierre is a multimedia journalist currently residing in the Phoenix-Metro Area in Arizona. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis and an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. CJ has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career. Most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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