Worst Choke Jobs in Super Bowl History
The Super Bowl wasn't just made for heroes. It's also been the place where some of the best football players in the world have cemented their legacies by making the biggest mistakes of their careers.
In the history of the Super Bowl, for every player who ends up in a parade, there's another player who ends up alone in a hotel room after the game, wondering what went wrong. Sometimes, those mistakes have been so big that they've continued to be points of debate for decades after the game took place.
Forgoing off-the-field stuff and focusing just on what happened on the field, here's a look at the worst choke jobs in Super Bowl history.
15. Leon Lett, DT, Dallas Cowboys (Super Bowl XXVII)
Date: Jan. 31, 1993 (Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California)
Final score: Dallas Cowboys 52, Buffalo Bills 17
Bottom line: You have to screw up pretty royally to make this list off a team that won the Super Bowl, but Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett found a way.
While the Cowboys were leading Buffalo by 35 points in the fourth quarter, Lett recovered a fumble by Buffalo quarterback Frank Reich and was cruising to what looked like a 64-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Lett began showboating around the 5-yard line, and Buffalo wide receiver Don Beebe came flying in to force a fumble and a touchback.
Lett played 11 seasons in the NFL, won three Super Bowls, made two NFL All-Pro Teams and was a three-time Pro Bowler. Nobody ever mentions any of those things when his name comes up.
14. Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams (Super Bowl LIII)
Date: Feb. 3, 2019 (Mercedez-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia)
Final score: New England Patriots 13, Los Angeles Rams 3
Bottom line: Widely considered the worst Super Bowl of all time, neither team scored a touchdown during the first three quarters — a Super Bowl first — but it was the ineptitude of the Los Angeles Rams offense in a loss to the New England Patriots that sealed the game.
No one was more inept on this day than Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who set a Super Bowl record by guiding eight consecutive drives that ended in punts.
Goff finished the day 19-of-38 passing for 229 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception for a 57.9 passer rating. He wasn't the only one who was bad for the Rams that day, but when you're the quarterback, them's the breaks.
13. Everybody but Two Dudes, Kansas City Chiefs (Super Bowl LV)
Date: Feb. 7, 2021 (Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida)
Final score: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Kansas City Chiefs 9
Bottom line: The strangest Super Bowl in history was played in front of a sparse crowd of just under 25,000 fans (due to the pandemic) and was the first time the team that won played in its home stadium, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers routing the Kansas City Chiefs.
What true football fans understand is that the Chiefs limped into the Super Bowl, decimated by injuries but being willed to an AFC Championship by quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce.
Few quarterbacks in NFL history have an incomplete pass entered into the discussion of their greatest throws, but a pass attempt by a scrambling, diving Mahomes that hit Darrell Williams in the end zone but was dropped is in the discussion. Mahomes finished 26-of-49 passing with no touchdowns and two interceptions, while Kelce had 10 receptions for 133 yards.
12. Garo Yepremian, K, Miami Dolphins (Super Bowl VII)
Date: Jan. 14, 1973 (Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California)
Final score: Miami Dolphins 14, Washington Redskins 7
Bottom line: The second of two players to make this list despite their team winning the game, Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian committed an all-time blunder in Super VII that almost cost his team the only undefeated season in NFL history.
Leading 14-0 with 2:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, Miami attempted a 42-yard field goal to seemingly seal the win, but the kick was blocked, and instead of jumping on the ball, Yperemian decided to attempt a forward pass that was batted out of the air, intercepted by Redskins cornerback Mike Bass and returned 49 yards for a touchdown.
Thankfully for his teammates, the Dolphins still held on to win. Yepremian, who died in 2015, never lived it down.
11. The Superdome (Super Bowl XLVII)
Date: Feb. 3, 2013 (Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana)
Final score: Baltimore Ravens 34, San Francisco 49ers 31
Bottom line: The only inanimate object to make this list is The Superdome, which lost power for 34 minutes with 13:12 remaining in the third quarter of the Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.
The cause of the power outage ended up being newly installed relay switches that malfunctioned. You would have to have been watching the game to understand the sheer panic the lights going out caused across the world. To their credit, fans in the stadium itself were said to have been generally calm. Trailing 28-6 when the lights went out, the 49ers came storming back to make it close, but the Ravens hung on for a 34-31 win.
10. Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots (Super Bowl XLVI)
Date: Feb. 5, 2012 (Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana)
Final score: New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17
Bottom line: Over 12 seasons in the NFL, Wes Welker crafted a reputation as one of the game's most reliable wide receivers, which is why dropping a pass in the biggest game of his life shocked everyone.
Leading the New York Giants 17-15 with just over four minutes remaining in the game, a wide-open Welker dropped a pass from Tom Brady that would have set up 1st-and-10 at the Giants' 20-yard line. The Patriots were forced to punt, and the Giants responded with a drive for the game-winning touchdown. Welker's reputation added to the shock — it's obvious the pass from Brady wasn't totally on target and behind Welker, who still managed to get both hands on it.
9. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers (Super Bowl LIV)
Date: Feb. 2, 2020 (Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida)
Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 31, San Francisco 49ers 20
Bottom line: With just minutes left and trailing the Kansas City Chiefs 24-20 with the chance to mount a game-winning drive, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw three consecutive incompletions from the Kansas City 49-yard line and then took a sack on a fourth down.
The most egregious of the incompletions was when Garoppolo overthrew Emmanuel Sanders by almost 10 yards as he was breaking open close to the end zone.
8. Don Shula, Head Coach, Baltimore Colts (Super Bowl III)
Date: Jan. 12, 1969 (Miami Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida)
Final score: New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7
Bottom line: Baltimore Colts head coach Don Shula made the fateful decision to start Earl Morrall in the Super Bowl instead of star quarterback Johnny Unitas, who had been injured but was healthy for the game. It was an all-time lineup blunder, as Morrall threw three interceptions but was pulled late in the game for Unitas, who led the Colts to their only touchdown.
The result was arguably the greatest upset in NFL history and the game you have to credit with inventing the modern NFL. Don't feel too bad for Shula — he went on to win two Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins, including the only undefeated season in NFL history in 1972.
Shula, who died in 2020, is still the NFL's winningest head coach with 347 wins.
7. Neil O'Donnell, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl XXX)
Date: Jan. 28, 1996 (Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona)
Final score: Dallas Cowboys 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 17
Bottom line: Few quarterbacks have played as badly in a Super Bowl as Pittsburgh's Neil O'Donnell did in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys when he went 28-of-49 passing for 239 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions for an abysmal 51.3 passer rating.
It wasn't just how many picks O'Donnell threw — it was how he threw them. Two interceptions went to Dallas cornerback Larry Brown, who became the first cornerback to win Super Bowl Most Valuable Player honors. Brown was standing at least 5 yards from anyone on the Steelers when the balls floated into his arms both times. Truly bizarre mistakes by O'Donnell.
6. Donovan McNabb, QB, Philadelphia Eagles (Super Bowl XXXIX)
Date: Feb. 6, 2005 (Alltell Stadium, Jacksonville, Florida)
Final score: New England Patriots, 24, Philadelphia Eagles 21
Bottom line: Anyone who watched Donovan McNabb's play in a Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots could sense something was off. The six-time Pro Bowler went a disastrous 30-of-51 passing for 357 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Known as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks of his generation, McNabb only attempted one rush for zero yards.
What happened next was messy. Star wide receiver Terrell Owens accused McNabb of being hungover during the Super Bowl and said he puked in the huddle in the fourth quarter — something McNabb has denied, but two other teammates have confirmed.
5. Jackie Smith, TE, Dallas Cowboys (Super Bowl XIII)
Date: Jan. 21, 1979 (Miami Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida)
Final score: Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31
Bottom line: Four-time NFL All-Pro tight end Jackie Smith was coaxed out of retirement by Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry to join the team in September 1978. Smith wound up playing in his first Super Bowl that year — something he never even sniffed during 15 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Trailing the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-14 in the third quarter, a wide-open Smith dropped a third-down pass in the end zone that hit him in the hands and chest before falling to the ground. The Cowboys settled for a field goal and eventually lost by four points.
Smith told Sports Illustrated in 2016 that the drop "almost ruined my life," and that for decades, he was subject to calls and harassment over the mistake. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994 and is still considered one of the NFL's greatest tight ends of all time.
4. Scott Norwood, K, Buffalo Bills (Super Bowl XXV)
Date: Jan. 27, 1991 (Tampa Stadium, Tampa, Florida)
Final score: New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19
Bottom line: The Buffalo Bills lost four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s and never came closer to winning than during the first one when a 47-yard field goal attempt by Scott Norwood sailed wide right with just seconds left in the game.
The heartbreaking thing about the kick was that it had plenty of distance but was just about 1 foot wide of its mark, which may have been caused by holder Frank Reich incorrectly positioning the laces of the ball.
It's the most famous missed field goal in football history, and the city of Buffalo still hasn't won a championship in any of the four major North American professional sports since 1965.
3. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks (Super Bowl XLIX)
Date: Feb. 1, 2015 (University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona)
Final score: New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24
Bottom line: We will probably never get the truth about the play call the Seattle Seahawks made with the ball on the New England Patriots 1-yard line with under 30 seconds left in the Super Bowl and trailing 28-24. The main thing is that the Seahawks decided not to give the ball to All-Pro running back Marshawn Lynch, and instead, Russell Wilson threw an underneath pass that was intercepted by Malcolm Butler — one of the greatest plays in football history.
Over the years, both Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Norvell and head coach Pete Carroll have tried to shoulder the blame for the play call. History has told us that this might have been the most "Let Russ Cook" moments of all time. This one's on Wilson.
2. Eugene Robinson, S, Atlanta Falcons (Super Bowl XXXIII)
Date: Jan. 31, 1999 (Pro Player Stadium, Miami, Florida)
Final score: Denver Broncos 34, Atlanta Falcons 19
Bottom line: As we said to begin this, these Super Bowl miscues only pertain to what happened on the field, but when it comes to Atlanta Falcons safety Eugene Robinson, what happened off the field and on the field seemed to go hand in hand.
On the night before the Super Bowl and just hours after receiving the Bart Starr Award for outstanding character and community service, Robinson was arrested on charges of soliciting an undercover Miami police officer for sex.
Robinson, who was married with two children, played the next day on little to no sleep and got burned for an 80-yard touchdown from John Elway to Rod Smith and missed a key tackle on Terrell Davis that set up another touchdown for the Broncos in a 34-19 loss.
1. Everyone on the Atlanta Falcons (Super Bowl LI)
Date: Feb. 5, 2017 (NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas)
Final score: New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28, OT
Bottom line: No one on the Atlanta Falcons standing on the sideline that day gets off the hook here — that's because it takes a total team effort to blow a 28-3 lead with just eight minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Falcons did it, though, defying what were 99.8 percent odds that they would win the game when they went up 28-3 … and wound up losing 34-28.
It was the first overtime game in Super Bowl history, and the game is widely known as "28-3" — just try saying that score to any football fan, and they'll know exactly what you're talking about.