Top 11 Super Bowl Plays of All-Time
With the Super Bowl set, it’s natural to think about the greatest plays of all time in Super Bowl history. Here’s the definitive list of the top 11 best plays of all time. It’s a combination of size, play and stakes of the game with a little wow factor taken into account., Sure, many countdowns have 10 and most of them are good, but this one’s the best because this one goes "to 11."
No. 11: Swann Song-- (Jan. 18, 1976): Super Bowl X: Steelers vs. Cowboys
The former Steelers receiver and ballet dancer Lynn Swann starts the countdown off with his magnificent 64-yard pass reception from Terry Bradshaw.
Facing a 3rd-and-6 from their own 36-yard line, with 4:25 left in the fourth, Bradshaw alluded oncoming defenders and heaved the ball 64 yards to Swann, streaking down the middle of the field. Bradshaw was leveled with a helmet-to-helmet hit and had to be helped off the field, but the the damage was done, as Swann strode into the end zone for what would be the deciding points.
The Steelers won the game, 21-17, over the Dallas Cowboys. Though Swann only had four catches on the day, No. 88’s 161-yard performance garnered him Super Bowl MVP honors, making him the first at his position to have that honor
No. 10: Mr. Clutch--Feb. 3, 2002 & Feb. 1, 2004: Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII
Adam Vinatieri is called Mr. Clutch, predominately due to two game-winning field goals in the waning minutes of the Super Bowls two years apart. If it weren’t for A.V. and Brady, Belichick’s Patriots wouldn’t even be in the “dynasty team” conversation, let alone be discussed as greatest franchise.
Sure, his pair of AFC divisional playoff kicks in the snow versus Oakland were inspired, but they were dwarfed in importance in comparison to the two Super Bowl boots.
The first of his two career-defining kicks was in the Super Bowl XXXVI, a 20-17 win over the St. Louis Rams. With time running out, his 48-yarder sealed the deal and his legend.
Two years later, in Super Bowl XXXVIII, Vinatieri split the uprights another time against John Fox’s Carolina Panthers, and that gave his team a 32-29 win. He had missed his previous two attempts of 31 and 36 yards that day in Reliant Stadium, and with nine seconds left to go on the clock, kicked a 41-yard field goal to cement his place in Canton and give the Patriots their second bowl title in three years.
The reason why Mr. Clutch’s kicks aren’t higher up on the list is because neither of them were come-from-behind kicks to win the game. In either situation, they were pressure-packed to be sure, but should he have missed them, neither game wasn’t lost.
No. 9: The Defensive Stand--Jan. 30, 2000: Super Bowl XXXIV, Rams vs. Titans
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This stunner saw head coach Dick Vermeil’s “Greatest Show on Turf” test their high-flying offense against a powerhouse Tennessee Titans squad led by Steve McNair and Eddie George. The St. Louis Rams proved the axiom that the difference between winning and losing is a matter of inches.
In what looked to be lackluster Super Bowl matchup, both teams showed it was anything but, in a thrilling last-second stand that showed defense wins championships.
With offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s offense giving the Rams a 16-0 third quarter lead, Tennessee looked to be on its way to an ignominious defeat. Then, Titans signal-caller Steve McNair brought his team marching back to tie the game with a little over two minutes remaining in regulation.
The knotting was short-lived, however, once Isaac Bruce found the end-zone off a 73-yard Kurt Warner pass. McNair looked even the score and took his team back down field. With six seconds remaining and the ball on the 10, McNair connected with Kevin Dyson, who was wrangled down three feet from the goal line by Rams LB Mike Jones as time ran out.
No. 8: Elway’s Helicopter-- Jan. 25, 1998: Super Bowl XXXII Broncos vs. Packers
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With the game tied at 17-17 to the defending champs, Bronco quarterback John Elway leapt for across the five yard line, desperately trying to give his team a 1st-and-goal and momentum in a tough game. In mid-air, he was hit by strong safety LeRoy Butler and Mike Prior, and spun around in what would go down as his greatest play in his long history.
It was the 12th play of a drive that started off on the Broncos 8-yard line that saw Elway driving his team towards the goal line and his first Super Bowl win. He dropped back to pass, didn’t like his options and took off for the end zone. His lanky and worn 37-year-old frame lumbered as much as sprinted towards the paint. He easily could have slid to safety or run out of bounds, but with the gravity of the moment clearly in mind, Elway lunged into three Green Bay players bent on stopping his miracle run.
There are other plays that are more dynamic to be sure, but No. 7’s play brought him a kind of lifetime achievement award, in Oscar parlance, for his long, exceptional body of work.
No. 7: Pick 6 Redux--Feb. 7, 2010: Super Bowl XLIV, Saints vs. Colts
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Tracy Porter’s pick-six of Peyton Manning in the fourth quarter is the obvious choice if one were to choose a standout play from this historic Super Bowl victory, but the bigger play was coach Sean Payton’s gutsy gamble to start the second half.
The Saints took that momentum and scored on the following drive to go up 13-10. The Colts’ confidence was shaken after that, and though Peyton Manning marched his team down the field for a touchdown on the next possession, the tone had been set for the second half, and the Colts never scored after that. The 31-17 final score said it all.
No. 6: Pick 6--Feb. 1, 2009: Super Bowl XLIII, Steelers vs. Cardinals
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The Steelers defense, No. 1 in yards allowed and fewest points, was led by Defensive MVPJames Harrison. Heading into halftime trying to stop a surging Arizona team riding a wave of momentum, Harrison had the greatest defensive play in the history of the Super Bowl.
The Cardinals were down 10-7 at the Steelers 2-yard line and looking to pull ahead. Harrison made a read on a play that could’ve cost his team a touchdown, but instead gave his team one. He arrived in the end zone with a cadre of Steelers defenders flanking him and the game's momentum back in his team’s favor. The longest interception return in the game’s history saw Harrison rumbling and leaping over defenders.
The 14-point swing was the difference in the 27-23 game and was the most thrilling defensive play in the history of the NFL, full stop. Additionally, it set the record for the longest scoring play in Super Bowl history, besting Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff scamper against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.
No. 5: Helmet Catch--Feb. 3, 2008: Super Bowl XLII, Patriots vs. Giants
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Little brother Eli Manning tied Peyton for rings after this Super Bowl, and did it at a younger age.
Eli Manning, on the other hand, was, like his coach, in a love-hate relationship with the fans of the Big Apple.
The Giants were down 14-10 late in the fourth against an 18-0 Patriots team that had won tons of records that season. Eli Manning somehow, some way got away from the pass rush and heaved a pass down the middle of the field to David Tyree, who looked like he had an entire can of ad stickem on the helmet when he brought the ball down, with Rodney Harrison accosting Tyree .
The reason this play isn’t higher in the list is because it wasn’t a touchdown and wasn’t even a fourth-and-must-have pass.
No. 4: Montana to Taylor--Jan. 22, 1989: Super Bowl XXIII, 49ers vs. Bengals
With the Cincinnati Bengals up by four points and a little over three minutes in the game, Joe Montana marched his team 92 yards down the field against a scrambling and rambling Bengals defense. "Joe Cool" connected with John Taylor with 35 seconds left in the game to give San Francisco their third title by a 20-16 final.
This winning play, though, showed that Montana was a thinking man’s QB looking off eventual MVP Jerry Rice and going to his second-best receiver on the field in John Taylor.
Perhaps even more fascinating about the epic drive and score is that Montana was so cool under pressure, and possessed such extraordinary field awareness that he caught famous funny man John Candy out of a roaring crowd of tens of thousands.
"There, in the stands, standing near the exit ramp," Montana said to tackle Harris Barton. "Isn't that John Candy?" The story goes that the men standing next to Montana were once amazed at their quarterback's calm and then subsequently put at ease.
No. 3: Rumbling Riggins- Jan. 30, 1983: Super Bowl XVII, Redskins vs. Dolphins
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Coach Joe Gibbs bet the house and decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Dolphins 43. He commanded big, bruising back John Riggins to get the first down by running the team’s favorite ground play, the “70 Chip."
Riggins, at nearly 250 pounds, shook defender Don McNeal free and scored the eventual winning points.
The Redskins won the game, 27-17.
No. 2: Amazing Marcus--Jan. 22, 1984: Super Bowl XVIII, Raiders vs. Redskins
Marcus Allen’s legendary run came at the end of the third quarter in a game few gave the Los Angeles team a chance to win. When pinned in the backfield on a sweep left play that looked like it would be stuffed for a loss, Allen reversed field, powering and darting his way back right and then eventually up field for a 74-yard touchdown run that sent the crowd into uproarious celebration.
The Raiders won the game, 38-9, against the defending champion 14-2 Redskins and gave the city of Los Angeles their first championship since the Rams’ victory in 1951.
Allen, who many thought was past his prime, ended the day with 191 yards rushing and the MVP.
No. 1: The Catch-- Feb. 1, 2009: Super Bowl XLIII, Steelers vs. Cardinals
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The greatest catch in Super Bowl history capped off the greatest drive in Super Bowl history to give the Pittsburgh Steelers a record six Lombardi Trophies.
Santonio Holmes finished the game with nine catches for 131 yards and a Super Bowl MVP. The high point of his evening was when Big Ben’s precision pass zipped just over the outstretched arms of a trio of Cardinal defenders into Holmes’ soft hands. More amazing than his hands were his toes scraping across a square-yard patch of end-zone to do his work.
Roethlisberger's pass with 35 seconds left in the game sealed the victory. Because of the stakes and stage, the San"toe"nio catch was the greatest single Super Bowl play of all time.