The 50 Most Incredible Highlights in NFL Playoff History

Brian Wright@@BrianWright86Correspondent IIJanuary 3, 2012

The 50 Most Incredible Highlights in NFL Playoff History

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    NFL history is littered with great postseason moments. They are memories that will remain in each fan's consciousness for years to come.

    Since there are so many to recall, it makes it that much harder to narrow it down to just 50. It's even more difficult to rank them in order.

    Giving the best effort possible, here are the 50 events in playoff history that are sure to be long remembered.

50. Unitas Leads the Way

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    When Baltimore Colts kicker Steve Myhra tied the 1958 NFL championship game with the New York Giants at 17-17 with a late field goal, it led to the league's first usage of sudden death overtime.

    The Giants failed to gain on their first possession in the extra session. Johnny Unitas and the Colts did not fail when they had their chance.

    Unitas and the Baltimore offense embarked on this game-winning march starting from their own 20. Although only a field goal was needed for victory, the legendary quarterback went for six. Johnny U orchestrated a 13-play drive that was capped by a third-down goal-line run to pay dirt by running back Alan Ameche—concluding one of the most important games in the history of the NFL.

49. The Fumble

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    The play that probably hurts Cleveland sports fans the most came in the 1987 AFC Championship Game in Denver. The Browns were looking to enact revenge on a Broncos team led by John Elway that defeated them in this same spot last year with "The Drive."

    Momentum that was clearly on Denver's side thanks to a 21-3 Broncos advantage at halftime quickly swung the other way as Browns QB Bernie Kosar threw four second-half touchdowns. Cleveland came back to knot the score at 31 in the fourth period. The Broncos responded to take a 38-31 lead late.

    Cleveland answered and was on the verge of tying the game again. The ball was at the 8-yard line with 1:12 remaining. Running back Earnest Byner took a handoff and appeared to heading for a score.

    Just before Byner reached the goal line, Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille jarred the ball loose. Denver recovered and advanced to its second straight Super Bowl appearance.

48. Nick Harper's Near Miss

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    Pittsburgh's fifth Lombardi Trophy would have not been possible if not for what occurred in the AFC divisional encounter with the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts.

    Poised for an upset, the Steelers held a 21-18 lead with just over one minute remaining. On Pittsburgh's first-down play at the Indy 2-yard line, it attempted to punch it in with Jerome Bettis.

    "The Bus," playing in his final season, unbelievably fumbled. Colt defensive back Nick Harper recovered the ball and appeared to be running for a touchdown.

    However, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made a game-saving tackle at the Colts 42. Indianapolis advanced the ball in position to make a field goal, but the try was wide.

47. Super Bowl I's Unsung Hero

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    In the first-ever NFL-AFL championship game, better known as Super Bowl I, top Packer wideout Boyd Dowler came out with a shoulder injury.

    That forced head coach Vince Lombardi to call on Max McGee for more playing time—the same McGee who didn't expect to see the field much and spent the previous night breaking curfew and throwing down a few too many alcoholic beverages. 

    Hungover or not, McGee was superb in Dowler's place. His first reception was a one-handed catch that wound up being a 37-yard touchdown and the first such score in Super Bowl history.

    At game's end, he had seven receptions for 138 yards and two TDs in Green Bay's 35-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

    McGee is mentioned starting at the 2:58 mark of the video.

46. Back-to-Back Returns

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    In Super Bowl XXXV, the Baltimore Ravens defense completely stifled the New York Giants.

    Big Blue did find a way to put points on the scoreboard in the third quarter, as Ron Dixon took a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown. What was once a 17-0 blowout turned into a 17-7 contest.

    But just as soon as it appeared to be a game again, Jermaine Lewis returned the favor and turned momentum back on the side of the Ravens. Lewis' 84-yard return on the ensuing kick ensured Baltimore's first Super Bowl title.

    The back-to-back kickoff returns begin at the 5:30 mark of the video.

45. Colts Beat Pats and the Demons

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    The Colts had lost two previous playoff encounters with the Patriots. For the 2006 AFC Championship Game, Indy would have the luxury of playing in the RCA Dome. Those Colt fans were silenced early when New England jumped out to a 21-3 lead.

    The deficit shrunk from 18 and eventually became a tie score with an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski answered with a 43-yard boot to put Bill Belichick's club up 34-31.

    After trading defensive stops, the Colts gained possession with slightly more than two minutes to go. Peyton Manning, overcoming an injury to the thumb on his throwing hand and trying to dispel the New England demons, moved his offense 70 yards in the span of 19 seconds.

    At the Pats 3-yard line, running back Joseph Addai's touchdown run with one minute left gave Indy its first lead.

    Tom Brady tried to counter for the Patriots, but a Marlin Jackson interception sealed the Colts' AFC title—a win that would propel them to the Super Bowl XLI crown.

44. George Wilson Takes Two

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    In the 1940 NFL championship game between the Bears and Redskins, Bill Osmanski's long touchdown run was sprung by a devastating block.

    That blow was delivered by George Wilson, who took out two members of the Washington defense.

    It really didn't matter, as Chicago went on to a 73-0 dismantling of the Redskins.

43. A Giant Extra Effort

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    Super Bowl XXV was a game that featured two teams with differing styles of play.

    The Bills were mercurial, while the Giants were methodical.

    A prime example of New York's offensive strategy came in the third quarter, when it used 14 plays and 9:29 to go 75 yards and end up with a critical touchdown. In the drive, the Giants converted four straight third downs.

    Mark Ingram provided the highlight with his tremendous effort. After catching a short pass on 3rd-and-13, the wideout broke five Buffalo tackles on his way to a first down that kept the march on track.

42. Lambert vs. Harris

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    What may have been the most important tackle in Super Bowl X did not occur during an actual play.

    After Roy Gerela missed a field goal, Cowboys safety Cliff Harris applied some unnecessary taunting towards the Steeler kicker. Pittsburgh linebacker Jack Lambert then took to Harris and flung him to the ground.

    It proved to be a moment in which the Steelers regained their swagger and went on to a second straight Super Bowl victory.

41. The Fridge Makes His Mark

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    The Chicago Bears proved they were possibly the greatest team ever assembled in the Super Bowl era when dismantled the New England Patriots in the game's 20th edition.

    Drama was long gone by the second half, and the Bears were finding new ways to score points. William "The Refrigerator" Perry was a plus-sized rookie in 1985 that had scored on a goal-line plunge in the regular season.

    He duplicated that feat at the Superdome against New England, adding to the Bears' decisive margin.

40. Trippi's Trip to Pay Dirt

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    Charley Trippi was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1968 thanks in part to three All-Pro selections and his ability to run, pass and catch.

    He's also in Canton due to his part in winning the Cardinals' only NFL title in 1947.

    Trippi opened the scoring with a 44-yard run. He broke the game open against the Philadelphia Eagles with a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown. Philly would close the gap, but Chicago held on for a 28-21 triumph.

39. Ghost to the Post

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    Many great moments are known only for the catchy moniker they're given rather for when and where they took place.

    A casual football fan has heard of "The Ghost to the Post" but may not be able to recite the stadium, situation and players involved.

    With around two minutes left on the clock in a 1977 AFC divisional-round matchup between the Raiders and Colts at old Memorial Stadium, Oakland QB Ken Stabler found TE Dave Casper (hence the nickname "The Ghost") on a 42-yard completion, which set up a game-tying field goal.

    The Raiders won it in double overtime when Stabler found Casper for a 10-yard TD. The play occurs at the 2:15 mark of the video.

38. Red Right 88

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    The 1980 Browns were known as the "Kardiac Kids," and they were giving their fans another heart-stopping finish in a bitterly cold AFC divisional playoff game.

    Cleveland was down 14-12, but quarterback Brian Sipe and company were driving on the Oakland Raiders defense. With under two minutes to play, the Browns were 13 yards away from pay dirt.

    However, feeling that even a short field goal would be too difficult in the rough conditions, head coach Sam Rutigliano decided to go for six. He called "Red Right 88."

    The pass play was directed toward tight end Ozzie Newsome in the end zone, but Raider Mike Davis stepped in to make the dramatic interception.

    Oakland kept on winning through Super Bowl XV. The Browns' misery continues.

37. Csonka Runs over Redskins

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    Larry Csonka made a living out of delivering hits to opposing players. One of his signature runs came in the final game of the Miami Dolphins' perfect 1972 season.

    A 49-yard run had Csonka play the wrecking ball on the Washington Redskins defense.

    The punishing run starts at the 1:28 mark of the video.

36. Squirek on the Spot

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    The Washington Redskins offense produced the most points in a single season in 1983. It had just three to show for itself as halftime approached in Super Bowl XVIII versus the Los Angeles Raiders.

    Pinned at their own 12-yard line with 12 seconds to go in the first half, it seemed apparent that the obvious decision would be to run out the clock and head for the locker room down by 11.

    Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, though, had quarterback Joe Theismann run a screen pass. The throw was intended for running back Joe Washington.

    However, Raiders linebacker Jack Squirek anticipated it beautifully. Squirek made the interception and landed quickly in the end zone for a devastating touchdown.

    Los Angeles crushed favored Washington, 38-9.

35. Hester Opens with a Bang

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    One of the keys for Colt success in Super Bowl XL was stopping the nearly unstoppable Devin Hester.

    Indy wound up victorious at the end. However, the beginning did not go as planned.

    Hester ran back the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, giving the Chicago Bears the earliest lead in Super Bowl history. Smartly, the Colts avoiding kicking to Hester for the remainder of the championship contest.

34. "Bless His Heart..."

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    Jackie Smith is a Hall of Fame tight end. It's too bad nobody remembers that.

    Late in the third quarter of Super Bowl XIII, the Cowboys were driving towards a score against the vaunted Steelers defense. On third down at the Pittsburgh 10, Roger Staubach spotted a wide-open Smith in the end zone.

    His throw was on target, but Smith flat-out dropped it, prompting the famous call from Cowboys radio announcer Verne Lundquist: "Bless his heart, he's got to be the sickest man in America." Dallas settled for a field goal, and the Steelers wound up winning by four points.

33. Holmes Wins Super Bowl XLIII

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers, down by three points to the Arizona Cardinals, got possession at their own 22-yard line with 2:37 to go.

    Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes played the biggest roles on this march to glory, syncing up on two early passes for 27 yards combined. Soon after, Roethlisberger found Holmes again for a 40-yard pass completion—leaving the Cardinals defense winded and the Steelers in prime position at the Arizona 6-yard line.

    Two plays later, it again was No. 7 to No. 10—this time for six points. Holmes used perfect footwork to remain in bounds in the end zone after hauling in the winning pass with 35 seconds left.

    The Pittsburgh defense sealed the city's sixth Super Bowl title, 27-23, when it forced a Kurt Warner fumble on the ensuing Arizona drive.

32. Bradshaw to Stallworth

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    The underdog Los Angeles Rams gave the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers all they could handle in Super Bowl XIV.

    While L.A. had a two-point lead after three quarters, the Steelers surged ahead with a 73-yard scoring strike from Terry Bradshaw to John Stallworth.

    A 45-yard reception by Stallworth later in the period set up the game-sealing score. The Steelers triumphed 31-19 and captured Lombardi Trophy No. 4.

31. Bears Done in by Green's Dash

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    You may not remember Darrell Green for his punt return ability, but Redskins fans surely will remember this moment that occurred in the 1987 NFC divisional playoff game in Chicago.

    Green broke a 14-14 tie in the third quarter with a 52-yard punt return highlighted by his hurdle over a Bears defender.

    Washington won by four and kept on winning right through Super Bowl XXII.

30. Garo's Gaffe

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    While Darrell Green has a rightful spot in Pro Football's Hall of Fame, Garo Yepremian is a lock for the Hall of Shame thanks to what he did in Super Bowl VII.

    Against the Washington Redskins, the Miami Dolphins were aiming to become the first team to go unbeaten in the modern era.

    Up 14-0, Don Shula's club had things well in control as it was lining up for a field goal. The kicker, Yepremian, had his attempt blocked. As he retrieved the loose ball, he tried to throw it. That proved disastrous, as the ball slipped out of his hands and went straight up into the air. Mike Bass grabbed the pigskin and raced the other way for a touchdown.

    Fortunately for Yepremian, it remains a side note instead of a dubious event. Miami prevailed, 14-7.

29. Owens Holds on

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    Behind by four points in a 1998 NFC Wild Card matchup, Niners quarterback Steve Young kept the drive alive by going 7-of-9 passing during a final segment that traveled 76 yards and lasted less than two minutes.

    The final pass was undoubtedly the most thrilling. Perched at the Packer 25 with eight seconds left on the Candlestick Park clock, Young threaded a pass between defenders and was able to connect with Terrell Owens in the end zone.

    It was sweet redemption for T.O., who had dropped multiple passes throughout the the game.

    San Francisco won 30-27, crushing the Packers' hopes of reaching a third consecutive Super Bowl.

28. Howard to the House

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    The football career of Desmond Howard had highs and lows.

    He won the Heisman Trophy at Michigan in 1991 and then proceeded to be a bust as a wide receiver for the Washington Redskins.

    Howard redeemed himself as a punt/kick return man in 1996 with the Green Bay Packers. That season, he set an NFL record for punt return yardage and also scored three times.

    He capped off this dream of a year with a 99-yard touchdown on a kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXI that crushed the New England Patriots' hopes of a comeback.

    The end result was a Packers 35-21 win and Howard being named the game's MVP.

27. Barry Confuses Cowboys

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    Barry Sanders didn't get many chances to shine in the postseason spotlight. When he did, he usually didn't have his best games. The electrifying runs that we became accustomed to were noticeably absent. 

    That was not the case in the 1991 NFC divisional round versus Dallas.

    With the outcome well decided (Detroit up 31-6), Sanders finished off the Cowboys with a Houdini-like 47-yard scamper.

26. Jennings' Electrifying Run

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    It was truly a super weekend for Stanford Jennings. Just days before the championship game at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Jennings celebrated the birth of his daughter.

    On the field in Super Bowl XXIII, he ignited the Bengals and their fans. With the score 6-3 in favor of the San Francisco 49ers, Jennings took the kickoff and went 98 yards for the score.

    The desperate effort of 49er tacklers failed to chase him down in time, as Jennings became the second man in Super Bowl history to score on a kick return.

25. Niners Complete Giant Comeback

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    When the New York Giants met the San Francisco 49ers for a Wild Card contest in 2003, it quickly appeared as if momentum (and the outcome) would lie in Big Blue's favor.

    The hometown Niners, though, fought back in thrilling fashion. Overcoming a 38-14 deficit, San Francisco rattled off 25 unanswered points to take the lead with one minute to go.

    New York had a chance to win it at the end of the fourth quarter. Lining up for a 41-yard field goal, Trey Junkin snapped it low to Matt Allen, who desperately heaved the ball to an offensive lineman near the goal line.

    The lineman was obviously interfered with, but it wasn't called, as the referees deemed he was an ineligible receiver (it was later proven that he was eligible).

24. Beebe Chases Down Lett

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    It took the game's biggest stage to reveal Leon Lett's lack of intelligence.

    The Dallas Cowboys had Super Bowl XXVII locked up. They were blowing out the Buffalo Bills.

    They were about to pour it on some more when a Bills fumble was recovered by Lett, who had nothing but the end zone in his sights. As he was preparing to cross the goal line, he held out the ball in a show of celebration.

    But Buffalo receiver Don Beebe hustled down and knocked the ball out just before he crossed the plane of the end zone. There was no touchdown for Lett—just embarrassment.

23. Brady and Vinatieri's Magic (Part One)

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    Tom Brady's place in history was established in Super Bowl XXXVI.

    The same could be said of Adam Vinatieri, but it wouldn't have been possible if not for Brady's late-game drive.

    With just 1:30 to go (and no timeouts) and the Patriots and Rams knotted up at 17 apiece, many felt the young Brady would kneel on the ball and play for overtime.

    He and New England would eventually prove everyone wrong. Brady led the offense down the field in position for Vinatieri's field goal as time expired, and the Pats had a stunning upset of heavily favored St. Louis.

22. Wide Right

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    Heartbreaking is the best word to describe Super Bowl XXV for the Buffalo Bills.

    That becomes even more evident when you consider that the team fell in each of the next three NFL title tilts. Despite accomplishing a remarkable feat of winning four straight AFC crowns, the Bills will always be remembered for the fact that they never closed the deal.

    Looking back, SB XXV was their best shot. The Bills were down 20-19 in the late going as Jim Kelly frantically led his offense into Giant territory.

    They eventually got in position for a 47-yard field-goal try by Scott Norwood...that missed to the right.

21. The Tuck Rule

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    Controversy in the snow was the trigger to a Patriots dynasty.

    New England trailed Oakland by a field goal with less than two minutes to play. Tom Brady was sacked by Charles Woodson and appeared to fumble. The Raiders jumped on the loose ball, and it seemed as if the Silver and Black had a ticket to the AFC title game.

    But then they, and the rest of the country, got an introduction to NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2—the Tuck Rule. 

    It was declared an incomplete forward pass, and the Pats retained possession. Adam Vinatieri would eventually nail a tough 45-yard field goal in the driving snowstorm to send the contest into overtime. Of course, New England went on to win it in the extra session.

20. The Hail Mary

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    In a 1975 NFC divisional playoff matchup, the Dallas Cowboys trailing the Minnesota Vikings 14-10 at Metropolitan Stadium in frigid Bloomington with just over two minutes left.

    However, starting at their own 15, Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach rallied his troops as only "Captain Comeback" could. He and wide receiver Drew Pearson staved off defeat with a long pass completion on 4th-and-17.

    Later, at midfield with 24 seconds remaining, Staubach sent a prayer of a pass downfield. Pearson, being covered by Minnesota cornerback Nate Wright, came back to the underthrown ball and trapped it between his right hand and right hip as Wright was falling down.

    Pearson then coasted the remaining five yards and into the end zone with the stunning touchdown. Dallas prevailed with the three-point triumph—a win that helped it get to Super Bowl X.

19. A Second Quarter for the Ages

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    Prior to that Sunday in Super Bowl XXII, Redskins quarterback Doug Williams was repeatedly asked by reporters how it felt to be the Super Bowl's first black quarterback.

    After he engineered the most explosive quarter in the championship game's history, all they could ask was, "How does it feel to be MVP?"

    The Redskins scored five touchdowns in the second period. Washington's time of possession during this streak? A mere 5:54.

18. Winslow Gives His All

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    In what may have been the most exciting game in NFL history, the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers took turns with the lead in their AFC divisional playoff at the Orange Bowl in 1982.

    An exhausted Kellen Winslow, suffering from multiple ailments, did everything he could to make sure the Chargers prevailed in Miami. The San Diego tight end set a playoff record for catches (13). On special teams, he blocked a Dolphin field goal try at the end of regulation.

    The Chargers won with a game-winning kick in overtime, and Winslow was helped off the field by two of his teammates, providing one of the most enduring images in NFL lore.

17. The Fog Bowl

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    Sometimes weather plays a factor in these playoff games. Never was it more influential on the game's outcome than in a 1988 NFC divisional matchup between the Bears and Eagles at Soldier Field.

    During the first half of the game, it was sunny and unseasonably warm in Chicago, and the Bears went into the locker room with a 17-9 advantage.

    But as the second half got under way, the elements came into play. A dense fog rolled over the field, limiting visibility and putting a permanent damper on Philly's ability to come back.

    Chicago came away with a 20-12 win.

16. Sea of Hands

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    A back-and-forth 1974 AFC divisional-round contest was in visiting Miami's favor late in the fourth quarter after halfback Benny Malone broke several tackles on his 23-yard journey to the end zone, giving his club a 26-21 advantage.

    That scoring play, however, left 2:08 on the clock, which proved to be too much time to give the Oakland Raiders and their quarterback, Ken Stabler. "The Snake" drove his team down 60 yards before calling their last timeout with just seconds remaining.

    On the next play, Stabler had trouble finding an open receiver. Just as he was being dragged to the ground by Dolphin defensive end Vern Den Herder, Stabler let go of the ball. It ended up in the grasp of Clarence Davis, who caught the game-winning pass between three Miami defenders. The score gave Oakland a 28-26 win and a trip to the AFC championship game.

15. Graceful Swann

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    Lynn Swann didn't have many catches in Super Bowl X, but he made the most of them.

    Three of the four receptions are replayed constantly in historical highlight montages. The final grab resulted in a 64-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that put Pittsburgh ahead by two scores.

    When the game was all said and done, the Steelers came away with a 21-17 victory, and Swann was named MVP.

14. The Drive

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    With just over five minutes remaining in the 1986 AFC Championship Game and behind by seven points, John Elway led his Broncos into the teeth of the "Dawg Pound" at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on a memorable 98-yard march.

    Neither the magnitude of the moment nor a crowd poised to celebrate a first trip to the Super Bowl fazed the young Elway.

    As the Browns yielded more and more yards to the Broncos, their fans grew quieter. The final silencer was Elway’s five-yard bullet pass to Mark Jackson in the end zone on 3rd-and-1.

    Jackson’s touchdown and Rich Karlis’ subsequent extra point knotted the game at 20 apiece. The Broncos won the game in overtime on a Karlis field goal—earning them a berth in Super Bowl XXI.

13. The Comeback

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    During his 13-year career in the NFL, Frank Reich had just 20 starts at quarterback for four different teams.

    None is as memorable as a Wild Card playoff game in 1993 when his Buffalo Bills hosted the Houston Oilers. The Bills fell behind 35-3, but Reich and company mounted the greatest comeback in league history.

    As Houston unraveled and Buffalo surged, it was Reich who looked like a seasoned signal-caller. He completed 21 of his 34 pass attempts for 289 yards and four touchdowns. Ultimately, the Bills won 41-38 and eventually reached that year's Super Bowl.

12. Packers Take the Ice Bowl

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    On a surface reminiscent of a polar ice cap, the Green Bay Packers were faced with a 17-14 deficit to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL championship game.

    With 4:30 to go, quarterback Bart Starr and his team were 68 yards from the end zone. He piloted a march that utilized less heralded players such as Chuck Mercein and Donnie Anderson but temporarily died at the Dallas 1-yard line.

    Two unsuccessful handoffs to Anderson forced Starr to call the Packers' last timeout with just 16 seconds to go.

    He conferred with head coach Vince Lombardi, and the two decided on a simple QB sneak. With great blocking, the play worked to perfection as Starr ended up in the end zone. The Packers captured their third straight NFL championship and went on to win Super Bowl II.

11. The Catch

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    After the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers traded turns being in front, it was the visitors that held a 27-21 lead late in the 1981 NFC Championship Game.

    San Francisco's offense, led by Joe Montana, then had 89 yards and 4:54 with which to work. He would lead the 49ers down the field with nothing less than a conference title at stake.

    The Niners were at the Dallas 11-yard line with 58 seconds left.

    Montana rolled out to the right and was faced with two Dallas defenders. Joe threw it high, but Dwight Clark was able to use his hands to haul in the greatest catch of all time. San Francisco won 28-27.

    Little did anyone who watched this game know that it was the birth of a dynasty. The Niners won two weeks later in Super Bowl XVI, which was the first of four Lombardi Trophies in nine seasons.

10. The Longest Yard

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    The Titans found how the hard way on what it means to be so close...yet so far.

    Tennessee was driving in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXXIV with hopes of tying its contest with the St. Louis Rams.

    With six ticks to go, the Titans used their final timeout to set up a play. Quarterback Steve McNair took a short drop and found Kevin Dyson on a slant route short of the goal line. Dyson's efforts to reach the end zone were halted by a perfect form tackle from Rams linebacker Mike Jones.

    Dyson was stopped one yard short of pay dirt as the clock expired. St. Louis had the 23-16 win.

9. The Diesel Leads the Way

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    Head coach Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins were the dominant team of 1982, led by a cast of characters.

    Their offensive line, nicknamed "The Hogs," helped pave the way for the runs of bruising fullback John Riggins, known as "The Diesel."

    In Super Bowl XVII versus the Miami Dolphins, Riggins carried the ball 38 times for 166 yards, but it was his 43 yards on a 4th-and-1 down 17-14 with 10 minutes to go in the fourth period that proved to be the most critical.

    The play call was I-Right 70 Chip. Riggins took the handoff from quarterback Joe Theismann, broke through the arms of would-be Dolphin tackler Don McNeal and went untouched the rest of the way.

    The Redskins won 27-17 for their first NFL title in 40 years.

8. Elway Airborne

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    By the time John Elway reached Super Bowl XXXII, he was at the tail end of his legendary career.

    Unfortunately for him, that career was without a ring despite three cracks at it previously.

    On try No. 4 against the favored Green Bay Packers, Elway and the Broncos seized the moment. His signature play in the contest came late in the third quarter with the game knotted at 17.

    Elway scrambled on a 3rd-and-6 from the Packer 12. With Leroy Butler approaching him near the first down, Elway dove and got hit by Butler, which sent the Denver signal-caller spinning in the air. When he landed, however, he had the critical first down.

    Denver would score two plays later and go on to win, 31-24.

7. The Music City Miracle

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    Few moments in NFL playoff history combine excitement and controversy. The game-winning touchdown in this 1999 AFC Wild Card contest between the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans fits that description.

    After Kevin Dyson received a legal throw from Frank Wycheck, he used a convoy of Titans to conclude one of the NFL's most spectacular moments.

6. Marcus Allen Runs to Glory

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    Marcus Allen became an icon in Los Angeles during his Heisman Trophy-winning days at USC.

    He became a nationally known star in the Raiders' 38-9 blowout of the favored Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.

    The pinnacle moment of Allen's 191-yard, MVP-winning performance came in the late stages of the third quarter with Los Angeles trying to put away Washington away for good.

    Right after Allen received the handoff from quarterback Jim Plunkett, he saw Redskins defender Ken Coffey approaching him untouched. But Allen reversed direction and used his Hall of Fame speed to go 74 yards and into the end zone.

    What appeared at first to be a broken play turned into an exhilarating one that set the record (at the time) as the longest run in Super Bowl history.

5. James Harrison Goes the Distance

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    The longest play in the history of the Super Bowl took place in the game's 43rd edition.

    Arizona was on the brink of a score in the waning moments of the first half. Kurt Warner dropped back to pass and was picked off at the goal line by James Harrison.

    The Steeler linebacker then rumbled downfield. Avoiding several Cardinals and getting a number of key blocks, Harrison went 100 yards for a touchdown to end the second period.

    The swing in momentum proved extra critical, as Pittsburgh prevailed by four.

4. Joe Cool Comes Through

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    The Super Bowl had waited for this ideal situation: football's best team with football's best quarterback behind by a slim margin and more than 90 yards away from the end zone in the game's final moments.

    The characters in this drama were the San Francisco 49ers and Joe Montana. It was 16-13 in favor of the underdog Cincinnati Bengals. The Niners were in the uncomfortable spot of being at their own eight with just over three minutes to go.

    Many quarterbacks would shiver at the thought. Montana, however, seized the moment.

    The key play of the drive was a 27-yard pass completion to Jerry Rice (the game's MVP) on 2nd-and-20. Later, at the Cincinnati 10 with the Joe Robbie Stadium clock showing 39 seconds, John Taylor was the recipient of a Montana pass and a Super Bowl-winning touchdown.

    The 49ers had their third Super Bowl victory, 20-16.

3. Marshawn Lynch Can't Be Stopped

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    The second most recent run on this list happened in this past year's NFC Wild Card Round.

    The 7-9 NFC West division champion Seattle Seahawks used one of their best offensive outputs of the season and a raucous home-field advantage to lead the New Orleans Saints 34-30 in the fourth period.

    But with 3:35 remaining, running back Marshawn Lynch—acquired in a midseason trade with the Buffalo Bills—was about to set the Qwest Field crowd on its collective ears.

    Lynch's 67 yards of strength and determination put the finishing touches on Seattle's elimination of the defending Super Bowl winners.

2. Tyree's Helmet Catch

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    An unprecedented record of 19-0 was in the grasp of the New England Patriots. They were 2:40 away when Tom Brady found Randy Moss on a six-yard scoring pass, taking a 14-10 lead.

    What could turn perfection into a blemished 18-1? Only a drive that would turn Eli Manning and others from ordinary pros into Super Bowl heroes.

    The march started at the New York 17-yard line. Manning helped move the ball near midfield when he and the Giants were faced with a 3rd-and-5. As Manning dropped back, he was met by Patriot defenders. Just when it appeared he was going down for a sack, Eli broke loose and let fly with a pass intended for David Tyree, who made the ultra-famous "helmet catch."

    The miracle play then led to Manning's 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with just 32 ticks left on the clock, which eventually gave the Giants a 17-14 upset win.

1. The Immaculate Reception

50 of 50

    Great individual performance. Timeliness. Historical significance. Controversy.

    Any one of these elements can make a moment great. But what if you had all of them at once? Then you have the Immaculate Reception.

    Whether you side with the Oakland Raiders, who consider the event to be blind luck and a blown call, or the Pittsburgh Steelers, who believe it to be nothing short of a miracle, there's no debate that it is the greatest moment in NFL history.