Super Bowl History Offers Clues to What Will Happen in Sunday's Game
As the old saying goes, history has a tendency to repeat itself. I'm wondering if that might be true about the Super Bowl this year.
With two teams so seemingly well matched in Super Bowl XLVIII, picking a winner between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks feels harder than most seasons. Can the best defense in the game today stop one of the best offenses in history? Will the Seattle offense be able to outplay the Denver defense? Which of these two great teams is going to win on Sunday?
We can toil for hours studying film, breaking down each position battle and analyzing coaching strategies. Hell, we could put both logos on a board and throw a dart to pick a winner this year. Or, perhaps, we can take a look at history.
Can past Super Bowls tell us anything about this year's game? Can history tell the future?
On its face, the idea of looking at past games seems like a ridiculous premise when trying to prognosticate this year's contest. The Super Bowl is just a name given to a series of individual annual events—grand events they might be—and one game between Baltimore and San Francisco played in the Louisiana bayou should have no bearing on the result of a game between Denver and Seattle played somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.
Unless it might. It wasn't just a coincidence that from 1982 through 1997 the NFC won 15 of the 16 Super Bowls. It's not mere happenstance that five of the last six games were decided by just one score. The game has evolved, and the league has become more balanced. The rules have been written and rewritten a thousand times, to not only try to make the sport safer, but more entertaining as well.
The most entertainment comes when the biggest game of the year goes down to a final drive, not when the game is over by halftime and people talk more about the best commercials than the MVP.
So maybe history can't guarantee a Broncos blowout or a Seahawks squeaker, but looking at the past can definitely tell us something—a few somethings—about what might happen on Sunday.
AFC vs. NFC
Since the 1970 season, the Super Bowl has featured the champions from the AFC and NFC. In those 43 seasons, the NFC holds a slim 23-20 lead.
It's somewhat intriguing to look deeper into those numbers, given how each conference has gone on a decade-plus run of dominance during the Super Bowl era.
From Super Bowl V through Super Bowl XV—a span of 11 games—the AFC won nine championships. The following year, starting with Super Bowl XVI, the NFC took over the NFL in dominant fashion, winning 15 of the subsequent 16 titles.
That run stopped in Super Bowl XXXII when the Denver Broncos won the franchise's first world championship, leading to a run of eight titles in 10 years for the AFC. It's been like a see-saw of success.
Despite last year's victory for the Ravens, the NFC has won four of the last six Super Bowls. Is this the middle of another decade of conference domination?
It's really hard to say, as the scores of games over the last decade have been extremely close, especially when compared to some of the previous generations. Hopefully the NFL has figured out the balance much better and the recent run for the NFC isn't foretelling the results of the next decade. Nobody wants to go back to the '80s.
Super Bowl Scoring Margins
Along the lines of conference domination, there were far too many blowouts in previous Super Bowl eras.
Did you know: There have only been seven Super Bowls—out of 47 games—that were decided by three points or fewer, but five of those games have come in the last 12 years.
There have been 17 Super Bowls—just 36 percent—that have been decided by one score or under, but that includes five of the last six games.
Of the previous 47 Super Bowls, 32 have been decided by 14 points or fewer, which means there are nearly as many games that were decided by more than two scores than those most people would consider "close" games.
For years, the Super Bowl had seemed to lack the luster the event had in its infancy. That changed with this generation. The last 12 Super Bowls have had just one decided by more than two scores.
For this I credit the parity in the sport between teams and the way the game is officiated today. The rules have changed so much that this feels like less of a historical anomaly than some of the other trends.
Expect the game to be close, maybe really close.
(Note: I hope that didn't just jinx us. Sorry in advance if it did.)
The Most Valuable Player
It's hard to pick who is going to win the Super Bowl this year, but it's pretty doggone easy to guess who is going to win the MVP.
In the 47 previous Super Bowls, a quarterback has won the MVP 26 times. More than 55 percent of all the Super Bowl MVP trophies have been given to quarterbacks, including six of the last seven games.
No other position is even close. Next on the list is running back, but of the seven backs to be named Super Bowl MVP, none have come in the last 15 years.
Terrell Davis is the last running back to win the Super Bowl MVP award, which came in Denver's first of two back-to-back titles in January 1998.
When combining all the defensive positions into one category, a defender has won the MVP award seven times as well—eight players if you count the co-MVPs for Dallas linemen Randy White and Harvey Martin of Super Bowl XII as two, not one. The most recent honor given to a defender came in Super Bowl XXXVII, when Dexter Jackson won the award for Tampa Bay.
In the last 18 years, three defenders have won the award, with another going to an almost exclusive special teams player in kick returner Desmond Howard for his play in Super Bowl XXXI.
Of the remaining skill-position players, there have been just six wide receivers to win MVP, which makes sense considering a quarterback is responsible for getting a receiver the ball. That said, of the six honors, three have come in the last nine years.
If you're looking for someone other than a quarterback to win the award this year, the safe money is probably on a receiver. Though a running back certainly feels due.
First-Time Quarterbacks in the Big Game
One might think Super Bowl experience makes a difference, especially for the quarterback position. So much of the offense—and thereby the entire outcome of the game—depends on the poise and composure of the guy running the show.
It turns out there is no statistical significance to indicate a quarterback in his first Super Bowl might struggle. What is interesting, however, is just how many first-time Super Bowl quarterbacks there have been.
Of the 94 quarterbacks who have started for their respective teams, 56 have been first-time guys. The overall record for first-time Super Bowl quarterbacks is 27-29.
Granted, with so many first-timers, many of them played against each other, potentially skewing a proper winning percentage.
Or potentially not. The first-time Super Bowl quarterbacks are 9-11 all time playing against a team that has a quarterback who had previously started in a Super Bowl.
Yes, the quarterbacks don't face off against one another like point guards in the NBA Finals, but it is interesting to note there is absolutely nothing to support a first-time Super Bowl quarterback will let the game get too big for him...or at least any more than a guy who has been there before.
This should please Russell Wilson fans. At the very least, it shouldn't scare them.
Third-Time Quarterbacks in the Big Game
What about quarterbacks in their third Super Bowl, like Broncos signal caller Peyton Manning?
Well, it's a small sample size, for one. There have only been 11 quarterbacks before Manning to start at least three Super Bowls.
Combined, those 11 players have a record of 23-15 in Super Bowls—24-16 if you include Manning's previous two. Having said that, the group is just 6-5 when tallying their respective third trips to the Super Bowl.
Bob Griese, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman and Tom Brady each won the Super Bowl in their third attempt. Fran Tarkenton, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger each lost.
On top of that, the quarterbacks in their third Super Bowl who faced big-game rookies are just 4-3 in those games.
Based on history, Manning should have no measurable advantage having been there—and been there twice—before.
Coaching the Super Bowl
If quarterback experience has little bearing on the projected outcome, maybe coaching experience does.
Or maybe it doesn't.
Of the 94 Super Bowl head coaches, 51 have been first-timers, and their collective record in the game is 25-26.
Fifteen times the Super Bowl had two first-time coaches, putting the record of first-timers against a coach with more Super Bowl experience at 10-11. Pete Carroll will look to level that record on Sunday.
Now, while it doesn't seem like much of a disadvantage for a first-year coach at the Super Bowl, it has proven to be an advantage for a coach, like John Fox, to get back to the game. Coaches leading teams into the Super Bowl a second time have a record of 13-7 in 20 attempts.
That's a rather impressive number, which bodes well for Fox. This, however, does not: Over the last 47 years, the coaches with more Super Bowl head coaching experience than those across the field are a combined 14-16.
Yes, coaches with more experience than their counterpart have actually lost more times than they've won. Thanks, Bud Grant and Marv Levy! (Note: The other 17 Super Bowls featured coaches with the same number of head coaching appearances.)
I have to admit, I really believed that experience in the Super Bowl for both a quarterback and a coach would have more impact on the records.
That's what makes this one so humorous, because this—the success of the franchise in the Super Bowls—has nothing to do with anything. Seriously.
Denver will be making its seventh trip to the Super Bowl, while Seattle is making its second appearance. In the previous 47, the franchise with the greater number of appearances is 26-15, with just six games—including Super Bowl I—in which teams had the same number of appearances.
Is there any merit to this record? Do franchises that have been there before have a front-office pedigree of success that permeates teams across generations? Of course they do. To an extent.
The Buffalo Bills made four consecutive Super Bowls and didn't win any, but in each game they faced a franchise that had been there more often. The Giants were making their second Super Bowl appearance in Buffalo's first loss. Washington was making its fifth and the Cowboys were making their fifth and sixth, respectively.
When Denver beat the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXIII, that was the Broncos' sixth trip to the big game and just the fourth for the storied Packers.
Maybe there is something to this. Or...maybe there's not.
In the last seven Super Bowls, the franchise with more experience (only counting the Colts' appearances while in Indianapolis) has just one win to six losses. "Been there" doesn't always add to "done that," it seems.
Have you heard the news? It's cold in New Jersey. That's because it's February.
Every year the league floats a rumor about expanding the regular season to 18 games, but the NFL calendar already begins around Labor Day. This year, the season ends on Groundhog Day. Are we holding out hope for a Valentine's Day Super Bowl soon?
It didn't used to be this late. When the regular season was shorter, the Super Bowl would be held in mid-January, but over time the game has gotten later and later. Over the last 12 seasons, the Super Bowl has been held in February 11 times.
Thanks to more moderate temperatures around the southern and western areas of this great and vast land of football lovers, a few of the games were even held outdoors.
This Sunday will mark the third time in the last six years the Super Bowl will be held outdoors. (Note: Some of the recent venues have retractable roofs which have been closed during game time.)
The big game has become a predominantly climate-controlled event, which is what will make this cold-weather Super Bowl so fascinating. While just six of the first 27 were held indoors, 11 of the last 20 have been under a roof, including six of the last eight.
Of the last nine outdoor games, six were held in Florida, two in San Diego, Calif., and one in Tempe, Ariz.
And now New Jersey.
This year's game is a throwback to the old NFL Championship contests that predated the glitz and glamour of the Super Bowl. In the last 47 years, the Super Bowl has only been held in a relatively cold-weather city four times, including twice in Detroit and once each in Minneapolis and Indianapolis.
Having said that, Atlanta has hosted the game twice, and the entire city shut down this week because of snow. Who knows anymore, which is usually why the NFL opts for indoor Super Bowls.
As for the cold, it's anyone's guess which team it favors on Sunday evening. Maybe the winning team will create a new historical trend. You know, for the next time the Super Bowl is played on a glacier.