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Was Super Bowl XLII the greatest upset in Super Bowl history?

by Thomas Jensen on Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

Was Super Bowl XLII the greatest upset in Super Bowl history?As the hoopla from Super Bowl XLII winds down (and, frustratingly, the focus on “Spy Gate” painfully marches on), football fans will begin trying to put the New York Giants' 17-14 win over the New England Patriots into historical context. The most commonly debated angle? Was New York's win the biggest upset in Super Bowl history?  BetOnline.com had the NY Giants as +12 point underdogs.

Many have already anointed the Giants' victory as history's greatest Super Bowl upset. Those are the same people who give you “John Elway, Brett Favre and Petyon Manning” when asked “Who are the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history?” Fans and even most “professional” observers tend to focus on recent history, either on players or games they've witnessed themselves or based on memories their fathers passed on to them.

Elway, Favre and Manning are all-time greats, no doubt, but what about Sid Luckman, Jonny Unitas or Otto Graham? Most people aged 18-40, even if they're the most diehard of fans, have probably never even heard the troika.

And because of our short-term memories, Super Bowl III has swept aside as casually as Michael Strahan batting down a Tom Brady swing pass. Just because the game occurred nearly 40 years ago doesn't mean its impact on the game is any less significant. In that game, the Baltimore Colts (yes, the Baltimore Colts. The team relocated in the '70s) were heavily favoured to throttle the upstart New York Jets.

The 13-1 Colts had dominated the NFL, finishing second in points scored and first in points against. The Jets, meanwhile, were a lowly AFL squad; the league was considered extremely inferior. Looking for a modern day comparison? Imagine if this year's Super Bowl Giants squared off against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Canadian Football League's reigning champion. Who do you think would win? That's how poorly the Jets were regarded in Super Bowl III.

We remember  Jets quarterback Joe Namath's guarantee of a win, but it's easy to forget Baltimore was favoured by 18 points – a number some felt should be higher. Of course, the Jets prevailed 16-7 and Namath went down in history.

Sunday's championship was one for the ages. The Giants and Patriots gave us a hell of a game. But if you're going to debate the greatest upset in Super Bowl history, try researching a little farther back than the past 10 or 15 years. You might be surprised at what you find.

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