By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - With record-setting quarterback Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos matched against the fierce defense of the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday's Super Bowl has the potential to join a long list of title game thrillers.
The last three National Football League championship games, in fact, have been nail biters with the Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and Green Bay Packers winning by a cumulative 13 points.
Denver, making their seventh trip to the Big Game, are back at the Super Bowl for the first time in 15 years, while a young Seattle team strive to win the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in the history of the franchise.
Manning set single-season records for most passing touchdowns and passing yards, while the Seattle secondary, led by NFL interception leader Richard Sherman, lifted the Seahawks to the top of the turnovers list.
The contrasting styles of the teams, who meet at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, could make for a classic, like these selected by decades since the inaugural Super Bowl that concluded the 1966 season.
Super Bowl 3 (January 12, 1969 - Miami)
New York Jets 16 Baltimore Colts 7
The game that put the Super Bowl on the map.
After Green Bay Packer blowouts in the first two Super Bowls, Jets quarterback Joe Namath and his team mates proved the quality of American Football League teams that were to merge into the NFL with a win that validated a poolside guarantee made earlier in the week by the charismatic New York signal caller.
Namath completed 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards and Matt Snell rushed for 121 yards, supported by a defense that intercepted Colts quarterback Earl Morrall three times in the first half. Johnny Unitas, who missed most of the season with a sore elbow, came off the bench and led Baltimore to their only touchdown.
Super Bowl 13 (January 21, 1979 - Miami)
Pittsburgh Steelers 35 Dallas Cowboys 31
A wild, high-scoring affair between NFL powerhouse teams was full of big plays and featured a quarterbacking duel between Terry Bradshaw, who fired four TD passes including a 75-yard bomb to John Stallworth, and Roger Staubach, who rallied Dallas back from a 35-17 deficit in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys, who missed a sure touchdown when wide open Jackie Smith dropped a pass in the end zone late in the third quarter, made a furious late charge. They scored on an 89-yard drive, recovered an onside kick and scored again with 22 seconds left but fell short as Pittsburgh recovered a last onside kick.
Super Bowl 23 (January 22, 1989 - Miami)
San Francisco 49ers 20 Cincinnati Bengals 16
Joe Montana cemented his image as "Joe Cool" by directing the Niners on a game-winning 92-yard, 11-play drive in the final minutes, culminating with a 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left after Cincinnati had taken a 16-13 lead on a 40-yard field goal with 3:20 remaining.
Montana was so relaxed with the game on the line that in the huddle before launching the do-or-die drive, he spotted the late comic actor John Candy in the crowd and pointed him out to team mates.
Super Bowl 34 (January 30, 2000 - Atlanta)
St Louis Rams 23 Tennessee Titans 16
The Super Bowl with arguably the most dramatic final play ended the 1999 season.
Tennessee battled back from a 16-point deficit to Kurt Warner and the fast-striking "Greatest Team on Turf", and put themselves in position to force a first-ever Super Bowl overtime when quarterback Steve McNair brought them to the 10-yard line with no timeouts and 10 seconds left.
McNair rushed to the line and hit receiver Kevin Dyson on a quick slant, but linebacker Mike Jones stepped up to make a game-saving tackle on Dyson, whose lunge left him one-yard short of the goal line as time expired.
Super Bowl 42 (February 3, 2008 - Glendale, Arizona)
New York Giants 17 New England Patriots 14
Another game of historical value as the longshot Giants denied the Patriots a perfect 19-0 season with a late touchdown drive that included one of the most famous plays in a Super Bowl.
After New England took a 14-10 lead late in the fourth quarter, Eli Manning led the Giants on a 12-play, 83-yard drive in the final minutes. The highlight came when Manning bounced away from pass rushers to launch a 32-yard heave that back-up receiver David Tyree pinned against the top of his helmet and kept there as he was tackled. Four plays later, Plaxico Burress snared the winning touchdown pass with 35 seconds left.
(Editing by Gene Cherry)