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(Reuters) - From Joe Namath raising his finger toward the sky to David Tyree’s “Helmet Catch”, the Super Bowl is a history book of indelible moments that lead to next Sunday's 50th edition.
When the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos face off in Santa Clara, California, the suspense will be palpable. Will we see a historic performance? A thrilling finish? A controversial mishap?
The sport's biggest show has produced all of the above. Created as a deciding crown between the National Football League and American Football League champions, in 1967, Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers captured the first two played, earning a place in lore and the famous coach’s name on thetrophy.
But it was Namath, the New York Jets quarterback with movie star bravado and good looks, who catapulted the event forward in 1969 when he guaranteed his underdog Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts, and then delivered a 16-7 triumph. The image of Namath running off the field with one finger raised endures, and the magic of the Super Bowl only heightened when the AFL and NFL officially merged in 1970.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins cemented their status as the standard by which all teams are measured, when they beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII to cap a perfect 16-0 season.
The undefeated campaign is a distinction nearly matched by the 2007 New England Patriots, who entered Super Bowl XLII at 18-0 before the New York Giants upended them 17-14.
Giants wide receiver Tyree pinned a catch to his helmet on the deciding drive to seal the fate.
But every ending has not been a fairytale one. Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood’s name was made infamous when he missed a 47-yard field goal that gave the New York Giants a 20-19 triumph in Super Bowl XXV, one of the greatest ever played.
San Francisco QB Joe Montana lived up to his “Joe Cool” nickname in 1989 when he led a final-minute game-winning drive to lift the 49ers past Cincinnati 20-16.
Montana, who is tied with Tom Brady and Terry Bradshaw with a record four Super Bowl wins at QB, was said to be so calm during the last drive that he pointed out to his teammates the late actor John Candy in the stands.
Not all of the lasting Super Bowl performances have been produced by players, either. Late singer Whitney Houston delivered a tear-jerking national anthem in 1991 while U.S. troops were at war in the Persian Gulf.
Singer Janet Jackson had a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ too revealing for television audiences in 2004, and the annual Super Bowl television ads have become a gamesmanship of shock and creativity.
“Kind of as a fan, just sitting home and watching (the Super Bowl), obviously it's always a bittersweet type of thing,” said Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.
“As much as you enjoy the Super Bowl, when you're a current player and you're not in it, you always have that 'I wish it was us' mentality.” Now Olsen, along with the Panthers and Broncos, have their chance to add a performance to the Super Bowl’s endless lore.
Editing by Andrew Both