The New England Patriots may be able to lay claim to the title of “greatest team in NFL history” with a victory over the New York Giants on Sunday in Super Bowl XLII.
But the only team ever to be 18-0 in a season playing in the championship game is not even close to being the biggest favorite of all time.
New England opened as a 13 ½-point favorite over the Giants, but that number is down to 12 points with most oddsmakers. That in itself is somewhat remarkable, given that the Giants’ 10 regular-season wins are tied for second fewest by any Super Bowl team in a non-strike year.
The Patriots aren’t even in the neighborhood of being the biggest favorite ever in a Super Bowl. That distinction goes to the San Francisco 49ers, who closed as an 18 ½-point favorite over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX at the conclusion of the 1994 season. The Niners went on to justify that line by hammering the Chargers 49-26 to win their fifth Lombardi Trophy.
Prior to that, the biggest line was in the now famous Super Bowl III, where Joe Namath made good on his guarantee, guiding the 18-point underdog New York Jets to a 16-7 victory over the hallowed Baltimore Colts.
That game, of course, marked the first victory ever by an American Football League team in the Super Bowl. And oddsmakers a year later, still apparently believing that the AFL’s win was a fluke, installed the Minnesota Vikings as a 12 ½-point favorite over Kansas City, only to see the upstart Chiefs roll to a 23-7 upset.
Those two early AFL victories represent two of only four times in Super Bowl history that a double-digit underdog has bucked the odds enough to win the game. The only other times big underdogs have prevailed were in Super Bowl XXXII, where John Elway finally won the big game after three previous losses on Super Sunday, as his Denver Broncos overcame an 11 ½-point favored Green Bay Packers team to grab a 31-24 victory.
And the other time it happened? Some team called the New England Patriots, coached by a guy named Bill Belichick, who had finished an 11-5 season with a young quarterback named Tom Brady at the helm shocked the St. Louis Rams 20-17. At kickoff, the Rams were a 14-point favorite in Super Bowl XXXVI.
That win by the Patriots started the current New England dynasty that will be going for its fourth Super Bowl victory in the past seven years. Amazingly, each of the Pats’ three previous victories came by only a field goal.
Surprisingly, other teams who could legitimately lay claim as the best team of the Super Bowl era were not overwhelming favorites on Super Sunday either.
The 1985 Bears were only a 10-point favorite over the Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
The 1989 49ers, who crushed Denver 55-10, were only an 11 ½-point favorite in Super Bowl XXIV.
Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain teams of the ’70s were never more than 10-point favorite in any of their victories.
And the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who could have the Patriots join them in the exclusive unbeaten club if the Pats take care of business on Sunday? Vegas made them all of a 1-point favorite back in Super Bowl VII over the Washington Redskins.