New Orleans • The Super Bore era is over.
The Super Bowl is genuinely worthy of its name. The game is worth watching and not only for the commercials.
With a series of dramatic catches and memorable endings, recent Super Bowls have entertained viewers from start to finish. That's a big change from the period when, as ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said, "There was such a discrepancy of scores."
Dilfer played in one such game 12 years ago, the last time the Baltimore Ravens appeared in the Super Bowl. Baltimore beat the New York Giants 34-7. The Ravens' opponent in Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII is San Francisco, which itself produced a series of routs in the previous century.
Now that these teams are coming together, can they live up to the drama of recent years? That's asking a lot. But it's also true that in this era of pro football, dominating a Super Bowl is more difficult than ever.
In each of the last nine games, one team has had the ball while trailing by one score in the fourth quarter. In the last five Super Bowls, the Giants have staged two comeback victories, Pittsburgh and Arizona traded go-ahead touchdowns in the last three minutes, an interception returned for a touchdown clinched New Orleans' win over Indianapolis and Green Bay held off Pittsburgh at the end.
Those games have featured famous catches by David Tyree, Santonio Holmes and Mario Manningham, great throws by Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger and a clutch interception by Tracy Porter. The outcomes hinged on one or two classic plays.
It was not always like this. Of the 20 games from 1984-2003, 14 were decided by 13 or more points, including some outlandish margins: 45, 36, 35, 32, 29 and 27. But lately, the Super Bowl has delivered good stuff. Why now, and not then?
Four theories behind the phenomenon:
The best teams are often missing
By definition, the Super Bowl champion is the NFL's best team. The ultimate winner can from just about anywhere in the playoff seeding, though. Depth promotes good competition.
In the old days, "There was an odds-on favorite, and they usually got there," said Steve Mariucci, an NFL Network analyst and former coach.
In three of the past five seasons, the No. 1 seeds from both the AFC and the NFC including Denver and Atlanta this season have failed to win conference titles.
Getting hot is good
By winning two recent championships, the New York Giants became a perfect example of a team that barely made the playoffs, yet was good enough to win a Super Bowl. The Giants twice knocked off New England teams that enjoyed much more successful seasons, notably the 2007 Patriots who took an 18-0 record into the Super Bowl.
An overachieving, peaking team such as the Giants almost ensures that the Super Bowl will be closely contested.
Dynasties are extinct
The existence of powerful franchises like San Francisco in the 1980s and Dallas in the 1990s is a thing of the past. The 49ers and Cowboys were responsible for some of the biggest mismatches in Super Bowl history, because they were decidedly better than their opponents.
Free agency and the salary cap have changed everything. Nobody reigns anymore. Beginning with the 2001 season, 11 (of 16) teams have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl, including the 49ers this year. "That's what the NFL wants," Mariucci said. "It wants every city to stay alive."
Parity basically means no team is capable of building itself to a point of dominating a Super Bowl.
The great quarterbacks keep coming
The list of quarterbacks who have won recent Super Bowls is impressive. So is the list of losers. In other words, Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers may lose, but they're going to keep their teams in the game.
The unknown of Super Bowl XLVII is how Baltimore's Joe Flacco and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick will perform on this stage. Neither should be overwhelmed which means another Super Bowl will be worth watching.
Down to the wire
Past five Super Bowls, beginning with the 2007 season:
Game Site Score
XLII Glendale, Ariz. N.Y. Giants 17, New England 14 Eli Manning 32-yard pass to David Tyree
XLIII Tampa, Fla. Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23
Ben Roethlisberger 6-yard TD pass to Santonio Holmes
XLIV Miami New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17 Tracy Porter 74-yard interception return for TD
XLV Arlington, Texas Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25 Fourth-down stop on Steelers' final drive
XLVI Indianapolis N.Y. Giants 21, New England 17 Eli Manning 38-yard pass to Mario Manningham