Whether you’re playing or spectating, any sport can be a delicate tango of superstitions, a little luck and a whole lot of talent. So just imagine the hype surrounding the most super event of all.
Various football fanatics have duly noted all those intricacies for today’s game—but most importantly the first-ever brother against brother coaching matchup in what’s been dubbed the “HarBowl.”
With anticipation for tonight’s kickoff, we take a look back at Sports Illustrated magazine‘s best Super Bowl covers.
1. Jan. 20, 1969, “Super Hero, Super Joe”: Take one look at this cover, and it looks like New York Jets QB Joe Namath never once doubted his brash guarantee that his underdog squad would upset the Baltimore Colts. They did, 16-7, and Namath was named the game’s MVP, despite throwing for zero touchdowns.
2. Feb. 5, 1990, “Joe Knows Super Bowls”: Four Super Bowl championships, three Super Bowl MVP awards, back-to-back titles. San Francisco 49ers QB Joe Montana saved his best performance for the Bay Area for last in this dominant 55-10 victory over the Denver Broncos. It’s no wonder No. 16′s jersey was retired. He did know Super Bowls.
3. Feb. 8, 1993, “Ride ‘Em Cowboy”: Completing 22-of-30 for 273 yards and four touchdowns, Dallas Cowboys QB Troy Aikman was close to perfect in his MVP-winning performance in this 52-17 win over the hapless Buffalo Bills—the first of the three Super Bowl titles he’d bring home to Dallas, making this cover headline nearly prophetic.
4. Feb. 2, 1998, “Sweet Redemption”: After leading the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl three times in four years and losing—then waiting another eight years to get back—QB John Elway got redemption for those first three losses, but it wasn’t pretty. Despite his non-MVP performance—50 percent pass completion, one touchdown pass and an interception—he brought the Mile High City its first league championship.
5. Feb. 9, 2004, “The Hero (Again)”: Then-two-time Super Bowl Champ and MVP New England Patriots QB Tom Brady looks authentically jubilant on this cover. In what could be the “greatest Super Bowl ever”—at least according to Sports Illustrated writer Peter King—Brady and the Patriots narrowly defeated the Carolina Panthers 32-29 on a final drive that set up the 41-yard, game-winning field goal with four seconds left on the clock.
6. Feb. 12, 2007, “Colt Heroes”: One of the most decorated NFL players and only one Super Bowl victory to his credit, Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning helped engineer a come-from-behind—and MVP-winning—performance to beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 for the franchise’s first league championship since moving from Baltimore in 1984. Colt heroes, indeed.
7. Feb. 15, 2010, “Heart and Soul”: One of the most poignant Super Bowl wins deserves this heartfelt moment of New Orleans Saints QB and game MVP Drew Brees celebrating with his young son and wife. And in bringing home the first-ever league championship to the perennial lovable losers, Brees endeared himself to the Who Dat Nation and the Big Easy forever.
8. Feb. 13, 2012, “They Must Be Giants”: The most-watched Super Bowl (so far) between the New York Giants and New England Patriots saw little brother Eli Manning emerge from big brother Peyton’s long shadow over the sport. The Giants’ QB led his team to its second Super Bowl win with him at the helm, and in the process, he earned MVP honors for a second time for his victorious performance—and all in Lucas Oil Stadium, what used to be Peyton’s backyard.