Where Does Tampa’s Win Rank in the Pantheon of Super Bowl Upsets?

NFL | February 12, 2021

New York’s upset of Baltimore in Super Bowl III stands as the greatest Super Bowl upset of all time until further notice. It would take a circumstance such as an XFL team defeating the reigning NFL champions to match the historical gravitas of what J-E-T-S! pulled off in 1969.

But where does Tampa Bay’s upset of the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55 rank among the best Super Bowl upsets in history?

First, we can eliminate any Super Bowl in which the point spread was handicapped closer than (-3). The difference between a (-1) favorite and a (+1) underdog can be quirky, especially in the NFL’s championship game. For an underdog to score a genuine Super Bowl upset, bookmakers must expect the club to lose by at least a field goal.

Let’s gauge how many upsets have been more dramatic, historic, or noteworthy than Tampa Bay’s 31-9 win, and begin by ranking Super Bowl 55 at the bottom of that list.

#11 – Super Bowl 55: Tampa Bay 31, Kansas City 9

Apologies to Jon Gruden and Terrell Davis for leaving-out the HC and RB’s upset Super Bowl victories. But Davis’ legacy goes far beyond a single championship game, and the referees managed to screw up 2003’s big game almost as badly as last weekend’s.

It’s not the mundane score that keeps Buccaneers-Chiefs from ranking higher, nor the thin (-3) point spread. Joe Montana’s “I’m going to Disneyworld!” came after a lopsided Super Bowl. Super Bowl 55 was significant for its pair of QBs, the old lion Tom Brady against the young, reigning NFL champion Patrick Mahomes. Bruce Arians vs Andy Reid also made for a fascinating battle of head coaches.

But the referees in Tampa were overbearing and inconsistent for four quarters, hamstringing the Kansas City defense with ticky-tack contact fouls and not giving Mahomes a fair shot to mount a comeback. 2021’s Super Bowl is very historically relevant, but not a classic game.

#10 – Super Bowl 47: Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31

Colin Kaepernick raced the 49ers through the 2012-13 NFC playoffs and came close to earning a Lombardi Trophy, but the Ravens’ upset win cemented Baltimore’s rep as an analytics-driven powerhouse.

#9 – Super Bowl 52: Philadelphia 41, New England 33

In arguably Brady’s darkest moment in a Super Bowl, the icon fumbles in the 4th quarter to lose an NFL crown to the upstart Eagles.

#8 – Super Bowl 15: Oakland 27, Philadelphia 10

Philly was a field-goal favorite before suffering an upset loss of its own in 1981. But the best thing about Super Bowl 15 was the presence of Jim Plunkett at QB for the Raiders, one of the best NFL comeback stories ever.

#7 – Super Bowl 50: Broncos 24, Panthers 10

A different match-up of young lion vs old lion at QB, the Peyton Manning vs Cam Newton battle is another historical win for old guys.

#6 – Super Bowl 44: New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17

An upset Super Bowl win that helped heal disaster-ravaged Big Easy.

#5 – Super Bowl 36: New England 20, St. Louis 17

The win that put Tom Brady and the “Brady Bunch” Patriots on the map.

#4 – Super Bowl 42: New York Giants 17, New England 14

New York’s heartrending comeback spoils a perfect W/L record for Brady and the Patriots, and the 1973 Dolphins enjoy another toast.

#3 – Super Bowl 25: New York Giants 20, Buffalo 19

The NFL considered cancelling its games when the United States went to war in the Persian Gulf. But a classic Super Bowl was played instead, ending with a surprise Buffalo loss when Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard FG try.

#2 – Super Bowl 4: Kansas City 23, Minnesota 7

Don’t overlook that the AFL-representative Chiefs were nearly as steep an underdog as the (+18) Jets in the previous Super Bowl. Hank Stram’s club knocked out the NFL’s Vikings in a fashion that few thought possible, while turning the words “65 toss-power trap” into an iconic catch-phrase.

#1 – Super Bowl 3: New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7

Joe Namath’s called shot made more history than any pro pigskin upset before or since.

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Kurt Boyer

Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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