This Year’s Super Bowl is for Losers

So many recent Super Bowls have featured teams that have won multiple Super Bowls (namely the Patriots) that it occurred to me that this year’s (LVI) is something of an exception. The Bengals are winless in two trips to the Super Bowl, and the Rams have won only one of their four appearances. This led me to wonder if their combined 1-5 record is the worst among two teams appearing in a Super Bowl. I decided to dig into this, and in the process unearthed a bunch of equally trivial facts about Super Bowl performance.

Let’s start with the worst combined won-lost Super Bowl records of teams playing in a Super Bowl. If you limit yourself to a minimum of five games, then yes, the Bengals vs. Rams 1-5 record (0.167) is the worst, followed by the Broncos vs. Washington in Super Bowl XXII (1-4), Broncos vs. Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII (also 1-4), and Broncos vs. Panthers in Super Bowl 50 (2-6).

Honorable mention goes to the Raiders vs. Vikings in Super Bowl XI, who had a combined 0-4 record, the only time two winless teams had more than two total losses entering the game. This is also the only Super Bowl that has featured two winless teams with at least one loss.

The most combined losses for any two teams playing in a Super Bowl belongs to the Patriots vs. Rams in Super Bowl LIII, with 7, against 6 combined wins.

There have been twelve Super Bowls featuring two teams that had never won a previous Super Bowl. Unsurprisingly, six of the first seven Super Bowls and eight of the first eleven fall into this category, but there have been only four such Super Bowls since. The most recent one was Super Bowl XXXIV, Rams vs. Titans, and before that Super Bowl XXI, Broncos vs. Giants.

Now let’s pivot to the games featuring the teams with the best Super Bowl records. Leading the way is Super Bowl XLVII, 49ers vs. Ravens, who entered the game with a combined record of 6-0. This is also the only Super Bowl featuring two undefeated teams with at least one win. Next is Super Bowl XLIII, Cardinals vs. Steelers at 5-1, though as it was the Cardinals first (and only, to date) appearance that record belongs entirely to the Steelers. Third is Super Bowl XLV, Packers vs. Steelers at 9-2, which is also the most combined wins for any two teams.

Next, let’s talk about the performance of teams appearing in their first Super Bowls. There have only been four Super Bowls where both teams were making their first appearances: I (of course), Chiefs vs. Packers, III, Colts vs. Jets, XVI, Bengals vs. 49ers, and XX, Bears vs. Patriots. Those of you hoping for a Browns (or Jaguars, or Texans) vs. Lions matchup are probably going to be waiting for a while. The most recent NFC team to debut in the Super Bowl is the Saints, in XLIV; the most recent AFC team to debut is the Ravens, in XXXV. Coincidentally, both of them won, but prior to the Saints, the previous three NFC teams to debut had lost, and prior to the Ravens, the previous six AFC team to debut had lost.

Overall teams have a 9-19 record in the first Super Bowls. The AFC teams are 3-9, and the NFC teams are 6-10. Note that this includes the Colts in the latter category, since they were in the NFL when they made their debut in Super Bowl III. The records would be 3-10 and 6-9 respectively if you count the Colts as an AFC team.

Finally, let’s consider the Super Bowls featuring the longest drought since a previous victory by either team. It has been 22 years since the (then St. Louis) Rams’ sole Super Bowl victory in XXXIV, which is a long time, but only good enough for fourth longest drought. The three longer droughts are: 1) Super Bowl XXXI, Packers vs. Patriots, 29 years after the Packers’ last victory (at that point, the Patriots had lost their only previous appearance), 2) Super Bowl XL, Seahawks vs. Steelers, 26 years after the Steelers’ fourth Super Bowl victory of the 1970s, and 3) Super Bowl LIV, Chiefs vs. 49ers, 25 years after the 49ers’ last victory (and fifty years after the Chiefs’).

In the meantime, I’ll hold out hope that someday the Jets will face the Lions, or Cardinals, or Falcons, or Panthers, or Vikings, and smash this drought record. And for Super Bowl LVI this year, I’ll be rooting for the Bengals to become the 21st team to earn their first victory in the big game.

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