The Worst Teams in NFL History to Win a Super Bowl
Contributor III January 23, 2013 Comments Comment Bubble Icon
The Worst Teams in NFL History to Win a Super Bowl
Not every team epitomizes greatness and dominance when it is victorious in the Super Bowl.
Winning close games and narrowly escaping the agony of defeat is one way to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, and while that path may not be the most exciting or exhilarating, it has been traveled on multiple occasions.
So, which teams have won it all, but look inferior to their championship brethren in retrospect?
It is not that these teams were not deserving of a Super Bowl, but rather that they do not stack up when compared to the greatest units the NFL has ever seen.
Let’s start in the 1980s, with a team led by Hall of Famers like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young.
10. 1988 San Francisco 49ers
For a franchise that was so consistently dominant in the 1980s, the 1988 version of the San Francisco 49ers sure seems mediocre.
Of course, it is impossible to label a Super Bowl-winning team as average, but this 49ers team was certainly not up to par with others.
This was the year that Joe Montana and Steve Young alternated starts at quarterback until eventually Montana firmly took the reins down the stretch. San Francisco finished the regular season at just 10-6, and the leading receiver was none other than Roger Craig.
That’s right, a team with Jerry Rice had a running back gain more receiving yards.
Putting that unbelievable anecdote aside, the 49ers stumbled into the Super Bowl against the Cincinnati Bengals, and Montana did what Montana seemingly always did.
He saved the team from the clutches of defeat and led a game-winning fourth-quarter drive.
9. 2000 Baltimore Ravens
Ah, the iconic image of Trent Dilfer hoisting his arms in victory.
Wait, Dilfer isn’t iconic. In fact, he is widely regarded as one of the worst starting quarterbacks to ever win a Super Bowl.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens featured one of the most stifling defenses ever assembled, allowing only 970 rushing yards all season and five rushing touchdowns.
What puts Baltimore on this list is the lack of offensive prowess. The aforementioned Dilfer-led passing game ranked only 23rd in the regular season (in fairness to Dilfer, he did replace Tony Banks midway through the year), and the only time the chains seemed to move was when rookie Jamal Lewis barreled forward for three or four yards.
8. 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers
Let us first acknowledge that four future Hall of Famers were drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1974 (Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster).
Now, by most accounts, the Steelers were great in 1974. Pittsburgh sent six men to the Pro Bowl, went a decent 10-3-1 in the regular season and, of course, won the Lombardi Trophy.
However, like most teams on this list, the Steelers had one glaring deficiency: the passing game.
It seems odd to think of Terry Bradshaw as a problem, but in 1974 he took over for Joe Gilliam. Bradshaw would go on to complete just 67 passes for 785 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions in his limited action.
In the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh managed just 16 points and won a defensive slugfest 16-6.
This may not be the worst championship team of all time, but these Steelers were barely a taste of the greatness that was to come in the following years.
7. 2007 New York Giants
Yes, the New York Giants knocked off the 18-0 New England Patriots. They took down what was supposed to be the greatest team in NFL history and instead became one of the least likely Super Bowl champions in recent memory.
It all makes for a nice story, but the fact remains that the Giants were not a superb team. Reeling off 11 straight road wins was impressive, and so was beating the top two seeded teams in the NFC en route to the title game (Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys).
However, New York went just 10-6 in the regular season. Osi Umenyiora was the team’s only starting Pro Bowler and the Giants trailed in every postseason game they played.
New York had to scrap its way to the Super Bowl.
Is this a bad thing?
No, but it does not exactly make for one of the most dominant championship teams of all time.
6. 1970 Baltimore Colts
It was called the “Blunder Bowl” for a reason. Super Bowl V between the Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys is often considered the worst Super Bowl ever played simply because of the terrible play from both teams.
The eventual champion Colts committed seven, count them, seven turnovers. There were 11 total turnovers in the game and the Cowboys took it one step further with a Super Bowl-record 10 penalties.
Baltimore has a unique spot on this list because its inclusion is not based on mediocre talent (it had players like Bubba Smith and Johnny Unitas) or that it struggled to win games (the Colts went 11-2-1).
Instead, Baltimore is here due to how poorly it played in its Super Bowl win.
The game was so bad that the MVP award did not even go to a member of the winning team. Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley was awarded that honor (one that he refused to accept).
5. 1990 New York Giants
Wide right. wide right. wide right.
When thinking about the 1990 season, it is hard to conjure up images of anything other than Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood missing a potential Super Bowl-winning kick.
But we are going to look past that kick for just a minute. The team that benefited from Norwood’s egregious error, the New York Giants, was not particularly exceptional.
Star quarterback Phil Simms was injured during the playoffs, no player had more than 30 catches during the regular season and the team was carried by a great defense that allowed only 13.2 points per game.
Granted, having Simms on the field would have undoubtedly bolstered the Giants offensive attack in the postseason, but this is not a countdown of “what ifs” and “should have beens.”
The New York team that was crowned champion was far from elite. There were great pieces, but the team was not performing at its peak.
4. 2001 New England Patriots
The year the legend was born.
We have all heard this “Cinderella story” one too many times, but it’s worth going over for the purposes of this piece.
Sixth-round draft pick Tom Brady took over for the injured Drew Bledsoe at quarterback and led the Patriots all the way to the Super Bowl title.
It truly is a remarkable tale, but the Patriots were nothing special on the way there.
An 11-5 record was good enough for first place in the AFC East, yet New England was 5-5 through 10 games.
The defense ranked just 24th in the league that year, and a questionable call known as the “Tuck Rule” against the Oakland Raiders in the divisional round helped the Patriots reach the Super Bowl when many believed they did not belong.
3. 1980 Oakland Raiders
Teams that barely squeak into the playoffs with a wild-card berth have become frequent commodities on this list, so it only feels appropriate to include the first wild-card team to ever win the Super Bowl.
This 11-5 Oakland Raiders team finished second in the AFC West in an era when there were only three divisions. Jim Plunkett, a 33-year-old signal-caller at the time, was plucked off the bench early in the season and was the catalyst for the team making the playoffs, but even he only threw 18 touchdowns compared to 16 interceptions.
1980 was also the final year of “Stickum” being allowed in the NFL, and cornerback Lester Hayes used it to his full advantage, reeling off 18 interceptions in 20 games.
2. 1968 New York Jets
Joe Namath may have guaranteed a Super Bowl III win over the Baltimore Colts, but he didn’t say anything about being the best team of all time.
There was a reason the Colts were heavily favored going into the big game: The Jets were not all that good.
New York’s passing attack was somewhere between awful and mediocre. “Broadway Joe” completed just 49.2 percent of his passes during the season and threw two more interceptions (17) than he did touchdowns (15).
This contest was more important than nearly any other as it asserted the AFL’s legitimacy as a league and proved it could contend with the NFL year in and year out. The Jets just didn’t look all that good on their way to the mountaintop.
1. 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
Quick, use one word to describe Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
A game remembered more for trick plays and bad refereeing than the actual quality of either team, the Pittsburgh Steelers emerged victorious in their effort to send Jerome Bettis off into the sunset in style.
Bettis got his ring before retirement and the Steelers greatly overachieved in the process.
Pittsburgh was just 7-5 through 12 games. In the playoffs, Indianapolis Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt had to have a meltdown of epic proportions to send the Steelers to the Conference Championship and cover up for Bettis’ fumble earlier in the contest.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. The 2005 Steelers are a prime example.