Defense returns to the forefront as great football minds create new dynasties in the NFL era of parity.
Super Bowl: New Challengers
The 1990s closed with the Denver Broncos taking two-straight Super Bowl victories, the first two in their history. An influx of new coaches and philosophies was taking root in the NFL, and perennial losers were being energized by fresh ideas from the young talent. The Tampa-2 defense would help shape the modern era of the NFL, and the incorporation of advanced passing attacks would break records like never before.
Super Bowl: The First
Few players would capture the hearts of fans with Super Bowl tickets like St. Louis Rams QB Kurt Warner, who went from bagging groceries to MVP. With offensive genius Mike Martz coordinating the offense, the St. Louis Rams jumped from cellar dwellers to perhaps the best offensive team in history. "The Greatest Show of Turf" featured Kurt Warner leading an offense including RB Marshall Faulk, and WRs Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce. The unknown offensive ferocity of the 1999 St. Louis Rams carved up the NFL on the road to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXXIV was an improbable matchup with the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans. The Tennessee Titans likewise had a history of futility and got to Super Bowl XXXIV on the freak play known as "The Music City Miracle". The two unknown teams went on to have one of the best Super Bowls ever, and the St. Louis Rams won in the last few seconds as Tennessee Titans WR Kevin Dyson was tackled a yard short of the goal line. This would set a trend for the 21st century NFL as four teams that had never seen the big game before would win the Lombardi Trophy.
Super Bowl: 2000 Ravens
The very antithesis of the St. Louis Rams would take over the NFL in 2000. The Baltimore Ravens punished opponents with one of the top defenses on record, with MLB Ray Lewis becoming the superstar. Utilizing unmatched talent and innovative defensive schemes, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens cruised to the Super Bowl. The New York Giants met them in XXXV, but the Baltimore Ravens crushed the G-Men easily 34-7. The first Super Bowl win in Baltimore Ravens history would mark the importance of defense after the offense-happy 1980s and 1990s.
Super Bowl: Brady & Belichick
As a disciple of Bill Parcells, New England coach Bill Belichick built his team around careful drafting and signing. With a deadly variation of the 3-4 defense, the New England Patriots slugged their way into the NFL Playoffs. After an injury to starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe, an unknown named Tom Brady took control of the offense. The New England Patriots reached Super Bowl XXXVI, against the St. Louis Rams. Defense and the kicking game got the New England Patriots the victory, the first in franchise history, but certainly not the last.
Super Bowl: Tampa-2
Defense would again be the story of the year in the NFL as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made their play for the Lombardi Trophy. Tony Dungy had created the Tampa-2 defense, and the team speed and complex zones made players like DT Warren Sapp and OLB Derrick Brooks even better. New coach Jon Gruden proved to be what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed to get over the top and the organization that had been a joke since its existence reached the Super Bowl. Jon Gruden defeated his old team, the Oakland Raiders, in Super Bowl XXXVII in convincing fashion.
Super Bowl: Patriots Dynasty
After a terrible season the previous year, the New England Patriots re-established themselves as the top team in football with a 14-2 record. QB Tom Brady and miracle-working kicker Adam Vinateri had both been gold in the postseason as well. Super Bowl XXXVIII saw the New England Patriots against the Cinderella Carolina Panthers. "The Cardiac Cats" hoped to be the fifth team to win their first Super Bowl in as many years and came close to the upset. However, fans with Super Bowl tickets saw Adam Vinateri drive in the game-winning field goal with four seconds left.
Two Super Bowl rings would not be enough for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. There were plenty of close calls in the NFL playoffs, but the Pats always remained a step ahead. With Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens leading them, the Philadelphia Eagles made a similar run and entered Super Bowl XXXIX looking for their first Super Bowl Trophy. As with the previous Super Bowl, the game came right down to the wire, with Tom Brady again making a game-winning drive. The 24-21 victory officially created the New England Patriots dynasty.
Super Bowl: Old-School
The trend of new blood winning the Super Bowl ended in 2006 as traditional powerhouse the Pittsburgh Steelers used their defense and power run game to reach the top. Fans with Super Bowl tickets saw the zone-blitzing defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers against the dynamic West Coast offense of the popular Seattle Seahawks. Even though second-year QB Ben Roethlisberger had a subpar game, the Pittsburgh Steelers picked up their fifth Lombardi Trophy, putting them in the annuls of NFL history and tied with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys.
Peyton Manning was already destined to the Hall of Fame and was considered the best quarterback in the NFL. However, a Super Bowl ring had eluded him and the Indianapolis Colts. Having won two Super Bowls in Baltimore, the Indianapolis Colts had been in the wilderness for decades. With a defense finally gelling to help the franchise quarterback and clutch kicker Adam Vinateri added to the roster, the Indianapolis Colts fought their way to Super Bowl XLI. Peyton Manning silenced all critics by winning the Super Bowl MVP in a close victory over the Chicago Bears.
Super Bowl: Best Ever?
With freak WR Randy Moss and slot WR Wes Welker added to the roster to compliment a new spread offense, the New England Patriots conquered the NFL with an undefeated 16-0 record. The New York Giants took a harder road to the Super Bowl, using one of the best pass rushes in the NFL to overcome quarterbacks like Tony Romo and Brett Favre in the playoffs. Still, pundits and critics gave the New York Giants no chance in Super Bowl XLII.
The following 60 minutes of football would produce perhaps the best NFL game of all time. The New York Giants crushed QB Tom Brady with their pass rush and short circuited the spread offense. QB Eli Manning followed in his older brother's footsteps and led the New York Giants offense down the field. In a legendary drive, Eli Manning took control of the game and ended the New England Patriots hopes of a perfect season. Super Bowl XLII and Eli Manning's drive will live in the memories of football fans for all time, especially the lucky few with Super Bowl tickets.