Thrills, chills, upsets: Arizona's first 3 Super Bowls had it all

Super Bowl 57 in Glendale on Feb. 12 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles will be the fourth time the NFL championship game has been held in Arizona.

The previous three Super Bowls occurred one per decade since the 1990s, with the two in this century counted among the greatest all-time great endings in the game's history. ranked them No. 2 and No. 3 on their all-time list.

The state’s first Super Bowl celebrated a dynasty by American sports’ highest-valued franchise, and who could have known at the time it would be that team's last Super Bowl appearance, much less championship.

Here's a look back at Arizona's Super Bowl legacy:

Here's The Republic review of the first three Super Bowls in the Valley.

Super Bowl 30

When: Jan. 28, 1996

Where: Sun Devil Stadium

Result: Dallas Cowboys 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Attendance: 76,347

The Cowboys cemented their early-to-mid 1990s dominance at the first NFL title game played in Greater Phoenix, winning their third Super Bowl in four years — the first NFL team to do so. In the process they handed the Steelers their first loss in a Super Bowl after four victories.

This game is also noteworthy as last time the NFL ever held a Super Bowl on a college campus.

The matchup added to the storied Cowboys-Steelers rivalry, and in this third meeting Cowboys got a measure of payback for losing to Pittsburgh in 1976 and 1979.

Dallas and Pittsburgh entered the game each vying to win their fifth Super Bowl, the most by any team at the time. After the Cowboys managed the feat in this game, the Steelers went on to record six Super Bowl wins, which was equaled by the New England Patriots in 2019. The San Francisco 49ers also have five wins.

The heavily favored Cowboys had a multitude of future Hall of Famers, led by the so-called "Triplets" on offense in quarterback Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin. The roster also included Deion Sanders, Charles Haley and Larry Allen. The Steelers were led by quarterback Neil O'Donnell and had Hall of Famers Dermontti Dawson, Kevin Greene and Rod Woodson.

The Cowboys, favored by as many as 13 1/2 points entering the game, struggled to shake free from the Steelers much of the afternoon. Dallas only led 13-7 in the third quarter when the game turned thanks to the heroics of Larry Brown.

Near midfield, O'Donnell throw into the right flat was intercepted by Brown, Dallas' 12th round draft pick in 1991, who returned the ball 44 yards to the Steelers' 18. Shortly thereafter, Smith scored from the 1, pushing the Dallas lead to 20-7.

The Steelers did not flinch, and after kicking a field goal early in the fourth, surprised Dallas with a successful onside kick. That led to a Bam Morris 1-yard run, and suddenly it was a 3-point game.

Pittsburgh seemed poised to spring the upset, after forcing a Dallas punt and taking over on its 32 with 4:15 remaining. That's when the O'Donnell-to-Brown connection put an end to the Steelers' comeback bid. As with the first Brown interception, Dallas blitzed hard, and O'Donnell passed into the flat where no receiver seemed to be in the vicinity. Brown's pick led to a second short Smith touchdown run that sealed the outcome.

Brown became the first cornerback to win MVP honors in a Super Bowl.

Diana Ross makes her grand exit from the halftime show at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., during Super Bowl XXX Sunday Jan. 28, 1996.
Diana Ross makes her grand exit from the halftime show at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., during Super Bowl XXX Sunday Jan. 28, 1996.


—Diana Ross was the game's halftime performer, and she closed her show singing "Take Me Higher" — and then left the stage in a helicopter.

—Tempe originally was selected to host a Super Bowl three years earlier, but when the state refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday the NFL stripped the game. The holiday was approved by voters in 1992 and the NFL awarded this game during the annual owners' meeting the following March.

Super Bowl 42

When: Feb. 3, 2008

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium

Result: New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14

Attendance: 71,101

This Super Bowl, which is high on every list of the all-time greatest games, was defined by two things: The Patriots falling short in their bid to match the Miami Dolphins' undefeated season in 1972, and the stunning "Helmet Catch" in the final two minutes to set up the Giants' game-winning touchdown.

In the process, New York's win handed coach Bill Belichick and the Tom Brady-led Patriots their first Super Bowl loss after wins in 2002, '04 and '05.

The Patriots already were favored to win another championship heading into the 2007 season, especially after trading for one of the league's best all-time wide receivers in Randy Moss before the season. They cruised to a 16-0 regular-season record and took care of Jacksonville and San Diego in the playoffs.

The Giants entered the playoffs as the NFC's fifth seed after going 10-6 in the regular season, and made a remarkable run, including beating the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, which was the final game in Packers quarterback Brett Favre's 16 years with the team.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning earned Super Bowl MVP honors after he went 19-of-34 for 255 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, but there really was only one play that anyone talks about.

The game was low-scoring for three quarters as both defenses dominated. New England led 7-3 going into the fourth, but then Manning got rolling, connecting for 45-yards to tight end Kevin Boss, and completing the 7-play, 80-yard drive with a short touchdown pass to wide receiver David Tyree for a 10-7 lead.

Midway through the period Brady drove New England methodically downfield, and his 6-yard scoring toss to Moss with 2:42 left to play put the Patriots back on top 14-10.

What happened on the ensuing Giants drive is, simply, one of the greatest plays in NFL history.

Manning was in the shotgun formation on third-and-5 from the Giants 44 with 1:15 remaining. He was pressured by Hall of Famer Richard Seymour, Jarvis Green and Adalius Thomas. Green pulled down Manning's shoulder while Seymour grabbed the back of Manning's jersey. Manning somehow stayed on his feet to avoid the sack and heaved the ball downfield. Tyree and Patriots' safety Rodney Harrison tried to make a play for the ball, and somehow Tyree miraculously caught it with both of his hands and, while falling to the turf, pinned the ball against his helmet to secure the completion.

Six plays and 19 seconds later, Manning passed 13 yards to Plaxico Burress to put the Giants ahead with 35 second left.

The Patriots had one final drive, but the Giants defense pushed the back and ended the dream of a perfect season.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers play the halftime show at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ. The New Giants defeated the New England Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII in 2008.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers play the halftime show at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ. The New Giants defeated the New England Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII in 2008.


—Had the Patriots pulled out this win, their 19-0 record would have made them the winningest team in NFL history thanks to the expanded NFL schedule. Miami's perfect season was two games shorter. Interestingly, the Patriots had to beat the stubborn Giants 38-35 to complete their unbeaten regular schedule.

—Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers performed at halftime, and their performance of hits "I Won't Back Down" and "Runnin' Down a Dream" offered a bit of foreshadowing for what the Giants pulled off against the mighty Patriots.

Super Bowl 49

When: Feb. 1, 2015

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium

Result: New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24

Attendance: 70,288

The Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl battle between the conferences' No. 1 seeds will always be remembered for what's widely lauded as the greatest interception in the game's history — and arguably the worst play call ever in the same sequence.

New England was playing for its first Super Bowl title in 10 years, and Seattle looked to repeat as world champions. Both teams entered postseason with matching 12-4 regular-season records.

There were countless storylines going into the game, such as Seattle's third-year star quarterback Russell Wilson matched up against defensive genius Belichick; seasoned 15-year veteran Brady vs. Seattle's vaunted "Legion of Boom" defense; and could the Patriots stop the league's fourth-best rusher that season, Marshawn Lynch.

The Seahawks couldn't stop Brady. He completed a Super Bowl-record 37 passes for 328 yards, threw four touchdown passes (with two interceptions) and earned the game's MVP honors for the third time. That tied his childhood idol, San Francisco's Joe Montana, for the most awards; Brady later broke that record in Super Bowl 51).

In spite of all that, the the scoring margin remained within one possession through the first half, which ended 14-14. Seattle took a 10-point lead in the third quarter, then Brady threw for a pair of scores in the fourth, including a go-ahead, 3-yarder to Julian Edelman right before the 2-minute warning.

Down by four, the Seahawks answered with a long drive highlighted by Jermaine Kearse's circus catch of a pass deflected by New England's Malcolm Butler that Kearse caught for a 33-yard gain to the New England 5. On the next play, Lynch, known as "Beast Mode," carried for the 24th time in the game down to the 1, putting him over 100 yards for the day. There were 26 seconds left.

As an estimated 120.8 million viewers watched the late comeback bid, most believed the obvious call was for Lynch to bulldoze a walk-off touchdown. But the play called was a pass, and Wilson (12-of-21, 247 yards, two TDs, INT) threw a short pass intended for Ricardo Lockette. Butler, who was supposed to be screened off the play by Kearse, read the play perfectly, stepped in front of the Seahawks' receiver and made the interception that spelled doom for Seattle.

To this day people still wonder why the Seahawks didn't just put their faith in Lynch, especially since they had a time out left in case he came up short.


—Pop superstar Katy Perry's eclectic halftime show featured rock legend Lenny Kravitz, hip hop icon Missy Elliot, the Arizona State marching band as well as a bevy of cartoonish props and dancers.

—The Patriots still had to run out the clock after the Butler interception, and pinned against their 1 had few options. But Seattle jumped offside to open up some breathing room. After Brady took a knee, Seattle's Bruce Irving got overly physical, sparking a brawl and becoming the first player ever ejected from a Super Bowl for throwing a punch at Rob Gronkowski.

—Edelman was involved in a scary helmet-to-helmet collision with Seattle safety Kam Chancellor in the fourth quarter. He appeared to be woozy for several plays, and when he returned to the game there was a flurry of speculation of whether the Patriots and NFL bypassed their own concussion protocol. It was later reported that Edelman was examined according to the league's procedures, and of course went on to catch what proved to be the winning touchdown pass.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Thrills, chills, upsets: Arizona's first 3 Super Bowls had it all