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The history of the Super Bowl in a single chart

So, because it’s a relatively low-key event, some of you may not be aware the Super Bowl is this Sunday. Yeah, I know, it surprised me too; I hadn’t heard or seen any mention of it. But I checked the schedule and sure enough, the NFL’s championship game is this Sunday. Who knew?!

I’m somewhat of a Super Bowl nerd in terms of the actual games played. Name a year or a Super Bowl and I can recite more information about that game than I care to admit. And I was trying to think of how to capture the history of the game in the most concise way possible and I came up with the chart below (click the image to see a larger version).

You can go here for a full-size version.

I love this chart, but what does it mean? There’s four pieces of information shown for each team:

  1. The logo size represents the total number of appearances by a team. One SB appearance Tampa Bay? You get one tiny circle.
  2. The team’s overall SB record is noted in white; the Dallas Cowboys, for example have won five and lost three Super Bowls.
  3. The team’s winning percentage is noted on the X (vertical) axis; the higher up the chart the better a team’s overall SB performance record.
  4. The team’s average point differential is charted on the Y (horizontal) axis. Take a team’s total points scored and subtract that team’s total points allowed in Super Bowls, then divide that result by number of games plays ((total points scored - total points allowed)/number of games). Basically, if you’re a team that wins big you’re to the right, if you score about what you give up you’re in the middle and if you lose big you’re on the left (sorry Broncos fans).

So, there’s just so much going on....let’s note a few things:

Hey look, all the NFL’s great teams stand out: Yep, Steelers, Cowboys, 49ers, Packers, Giants all big circles up there in the “winning” quadrant, just like you’d expect. These five franchises have won 24 of the 51 Super Bowls played to date. The 49ers, Packers and Cowboys are also high up the points differential scale, which says something when you consider the number of SB games they’ve played in. This basically says these three teams play in a lot of SBs and generally win big:

  • Combined record: 14-5
  • Combined score: 548 - 356
  • Average SB involving 49ers/Cowboys/ Packers: 39-25 victory

Wait, where are the Patriots? Seems like they’re in every Super Bowl lately. Well, yes, they have played in eight of the last 17 SBs. And they’ve won 5 of them, but also lost two. Remarkably, each of their last seven Super Bowls basically ended on the last play of the game; their six-point overtime win in Super Bowl LI was the largest margin of victory. So while they’re in the SB a lot their games are all toss-ups without a single definitive victory (or loss). The Pats also lost two prior SBs, including a 46-10 shellacking in SB XX. Despite their recent success, the franchise’s overall SB record is pretty meh, with 5 wins and 4 losses. They also have a negative point differential because their five wins have come by a combined 19 points and their four losses by a combined 42 points.

Wait, how did the Redskins get in that upper-right “winners” quadrant? Believe it or not, the most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL was once a pillar of excellence. It’s hard to believe that when the 1991 Redskins finished dismantling the Buffalo Bills in SB XXVI they had just won their third SB in 10 years and were widely regarded as one of the most successful franchises of the Super Bowl era. (No, it’s true, really; you can look it up). Needless to say, things have changed (two playoff wins since). Speaking for all Cowboys fans - thanks Dan Snyder!

Where are the Raiders? I remember them winning a couple SB. Yes, in fact they won three from 1976 to 1983. Their 3-2 record, .600 winning percentage and 3.6 point differential makes their chart appearance almost identical to that of the Redskins (3-2, .600, 3.8). You can just make out the silver circle right next to/underneath the Redskins circle. It’s somewhat amazing how similar are the arcs for the Raiders/Redskins with both enjoying sustained success then becoming practically irrelevant.

So, four teams with perfect SB records? Yes. Mostly sad-sack franchises (Jets, Bucs, Saints) that won the only time they got to the the big game. So, kudos for winning when you got there! Too bad the clock struck midnight and your franchise turned back into a pumpkin. Admittedly, the relatively new Ravens have been twice, won both times and have had a number of high-quality teams; so there’s that.

My, those Broncos occupy a big space by themselves. Indeed they do. On the one hand, they’re tied for second (with Dallas and Pittsburgh) for the most SB appearances (8) in NFL history. Unlike Pittsburgh and Dallas, however, Denver hasn’t done well once they got there. They’re basically the opposite of the SF/Dallas /GB triumverate:

  • Most losses in SB history: 5
  • Total score in five losses: 206-58
  • Average score in those losses: 41-12
  • Can you imagine the number of times Broncos fans have sat down for the long-awaited big game only to be changing channels by halftime? Ugh.

What’s up with the Giants? How can they have an .800 win percentage and 0 point differential? Simple; the Giants are basically Super Bowl frauds. Okay, okay, fraud is a strong word. Bur some simple facts:

  • Three of the four Giants SB wins came by four, three and one point. Each of those games were basically decided on the last play. The franchise needed a helmet catch, a Wes Welker drop (how often does that happen) and an errant, last-second FG to win those three games. The Giants could very easily be 1-4 in SB games.
  • Two of the wins came from Giants’ teams that were lucky to even be in the playoffs, including one team sporting an unsightly 9-7 regular season record.
  • Meanwhile the team’s one SB loss featured a team that failed to score an offensive point. They lost 34-7 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated and the Giants’ lone score came on a kickoff return.
  • No, I’m not bitter at all about the Giants having four SB wins despite usually fielding teams that didn’t deserve to be in the SB let alone winning it.
  • In all seriousness, the 1986 team was legit, the 1990 team was also very good and prevented the 49ers from a potential three-peat (again, on a last-second play) and the 2007 team went on the road/into a neutral stadium and beat three teams with a combined record of 45-6 (no easy feat). Still, I would rank both the 2007 and the 2011 teams among the bottom four SB winners in history. Like I said, not bitter at all.

There sure are a lot of teams on the bottom; and how come their logos are cut in half? Yes, that’s because while 49 Super Bowl trophies have been awarded only 21 franchises have been on the receiving end. And if one of these 0-win teams want a full logo on this chart they can earn it by winning an NFL championship. Also, there’s a few teams completely missing from this chart because they’ve never, ever so much as participated in a Super Bowl (Cleveland, Detroit, Jacksonville and Houston).

Um, you haven’t said anything about the team with the most SB wins? What’s with that? Meh, it’s hard to talk about the Steelers. On the one hand, yes, they have the second most appearances and the most wins. And the franchise is pretty much a model for how to do things right in the modern sports world. And their SB wins are all pretty legit (well, except for that SB 40 robbery against the Seahawks when Bill Leavy should have donned a ski mask and escaped in a get-away car after what happened on the field). It’s just that two of those Steelers victories came over the vastly more entertaining and equally good Roger Staubach-led Dallas Cowboys and if justice had been served the Cowboys would be remembered as the team-of-the-70’s but nooo, Benny Barnes gets penalized for running down the field, Franco Harris gets a key block from the referee on a long TD run, freakin Randy White tries to field a kick-off with a cast on his arm and promptly fumbles and Jackie Smith drops a ball I could have caught and - let’s just say I don’t recall those games fondly so I’m gonna stop before this gets out of hand.

Finally, because I have to - how ‘bout them Cowboys! Eight appearances, tied for second most in NFL history. Five wins, tied for second. But the impressive thing is the performance in the games. Basically, when the Cowboys win, they blow the other team out and when they lose they lose in memorable, last-second fashion. Consider:

  • The team’s three losses were by a combined 11 points (3, 4, and 4).
  • The team’s five wins were by a combined 100 points (average score 32 to 12).
  • It is not the slightest exaggeration to say the Cowboys are three plays away from an 8-0 SB record, but I’ll take 5-3 (let’s not be greedy).

Anyway, I think it’s really interesting but, like I said, I’m kind of a SB nerd.

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