The Biggest Play in Every Super Bowl in NFL History
The NFL has blessed its fans with a veritable cornucopia of great players, games and moments over the years. Through sound decisions by the game's forefathers and an attention to making the game accessible to fans throughout the nation and world, football has become America's great pastime.
Every Sunday (and a few other nights) on a weekly basis, passionate followers voyage vicariously on the shoulders of legends, willing their heroes through what essentially serves as a 17-chapter weekly journey through the regular season. It all leads to the ultimate climax: the postseason.
Twelve surviving characters enter the NFL playoffs, and the postseason narrows the field until—at long last—the epic conclusion leaves all who are open to the story at the peak of their intrigue!
That final chapter to each new year is the Super Bowl, where the events that unfold have the most profound impact.
It's a game steeped in legend and made for the legendary.
Fair or not, the "big game" serves as a snapshot in time for all to remember; careers live and die on the outcome (sometimes literally), and legacies can be profoundly affected by this one ultimate game.
While nobody should be so cynical as to judge the man by a single game, few can help but to assess the attributes of their inner football player by those sixty key minutes (and even more for the fortunate; what would Marino have given for minute sixty-one?) playing at the pinnacle stage of the profession.
For some, the last images serve as warm memories that keep the spirit warm as decades pass. Marcus Allen will always recall "running with the night." And, who would even try to deny Joe Namath's ego from captivating a room with every retelling of "the guarantee?"
On the other side of the coin, quarterback Neil O'Donnell is doomed to be eternally associated with Larry Brown, while Scott Norwood will always hear the words "wide right" echoing.
As we approach another installment of the single greatest sporting event in all of sports, which players will stamp their legacies—one way or the other—on Super Bowl XLVI? Who will make the defining play that either helps or hinders his team from obtaining another Lombardi Trophy?
A play by itself is just a play. With each game, it's important to understand the events in context in order to truly appreciate the magnitude and meaning of each moment.
This journey through time honors the biggest play or moment that defined each Super Bowl, and the circumstances that make it special. Whether for winning the game or serving as a memorable snapshot that defined the contest, each of these entries serve as timekeepers for NFL history.
It's time to take a trip from Title Town then (Lombardi) to Title Town now (McCarthy).
Super Bowl I: McGee's One-Handed Catch
The first "Super Bowl" was actually known as the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game.
The rival leagues were in a bitter feud. The superiority complex of the NFL was apparent as Vince Lombardi was told by his peers in the days heading toward the game that his Green Bay Packers had to defeat the Chiefs for the pride of the league.
In the years to come, the deficit between the best teams from each league would prove to be minimal, if not non-existent. Yet, at the end of the AFL-NFL Championship, the conclusion for fans was as simple as reading writing off the wall:
The NFL was, or seemed, the clearly superior product.
And, on that sunny day at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the NFL's Packers were obviously superior to the Chiefs. It wasn't as clear as the day's beautiful blue California sky at first...
At halftime, a 14-10 Green Bay lead stunned many fans, who were expecting a blowout.
Nevertheless, the concerns of the NFL's mightiest would be quickly allayed.
A slew of second-half turnovers and miscues by Hank Stram's Chiefs, who didn't cross midfield after halftime despite the talents of quarterback Len Dawson, led to a surge by the Pack.
Yet, to open scoring in what would become known as the Super Bowl, an unexpected performer made a classic play. Teammates noticed the unkempt appearance of Max McGee, who had frolicked about enjoying the night life late into the morning before the game. Many of his peers could tell the Packers reserve receiver had been drinking, and most didn't expect he would (or could) have significant impact.
In the first quarter, Boyd Dowler was injured, forcing McGee into the game. On the Packers' second drive, Bart Starr threw down the middle to Max, who had separation from Chiefs cornerback Willie Mitchell.
While the pass wasn't perfect, McGee stretched his arm and reached backward, contorting his torso with just enough torque to get his palm on the ball and haul it in. His one-handed catch at the 23-yard line became the stuff of Super Bowl legend.
With a 37-yard touchdown, McGee's name is the first ever in Super Bowl scoring, and Green Bay led 6-0. While other plays may have sealed the Pack's 35-10 win, no other was as iconic or remembered as Max's.
Super Bowl II: Herb Adderley's Interception
For the man whose name is now on football's most coveted prize, the newly christened championship affairs against the AFL were mere traps. Lombardi hoped for each game to be anti-climactic. The NFL needed not only to beat its opponent...but to dominate them!
The second AFL-NFL Championship (later known as Super Bowl II) was, indeed, anti-climactic. In fact, most of the Packers felt that there was nothing to gain in their appearances in both of the first Super Bowls.
If they won, they would have done what was expected.
Yet, to lose would have been to mark one's self with embarrassment, considering the lofty self-perception of the NFL over its upstart rival. Defeat to the Chiefs or Raiders would have dealt the great Packers unwelcome feelings of shame and humiliation.
Indeed, the NFL took its superiority that seriously. Super Bowl II was just another shot for the AFL to tarnish what would be otherwise viewed as historical greatness, and that could not happen.
In their previous game, the Packers won their third straight NFL championship, defeating the Dallas Cowboys in the famous "Ice Bowl," 17-14. The Bart Starr sneak into the Lambeau Field end zone to win the game on a sheet of ice may be the single-most replayed moment in the game of football.
Another year, another AFL victim and another blowout win for the Packers meant Lombardi would leave the team he built into champions as a champion.
The Oakland Raiders, with players such as Fred Biletnikoff, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Daryle Lamonica, Jim Otto and Gene Upshaw, were no match for Green Bay, losing 33-14.
The game was a clinical domination throughout by the NFL representative, but the ultimate climax came in the fourth quarter. Acclaimed Packers corner Herb Adderley intercepted Daryle Lamonica, returning the pass 60 yards for a touchdown, mercifully serving as the game's final points. Any far-fetched notion of an Oakland comeback ended with Adderley's defensive score.
Super Bowl III: Morrall Misses Orr
"We're gonna win the game. I...."
You know the rest.
So, what prevents a certain, well-documented and confident "assurance" by Joe Namath from having been selected?
Quite simply, the selections are limited to plays or moments that occurred during the contest itself. Fortunately for those whose sanity could break with one more mention of Broadway Joe's bold claim, the quarterback's boast occurred prior to the game.
In fact, there will be no mention of the "G-word" here. Feel free to sigh with relief, though one would be remiss not to recognize the impact of Super Bowl III on the modern NFL landscape.
While both Super teams are in the AFC today, they were representatives of different leagues in 1968. Ultimately, when the leagues merged in 1970, the Colts, Steelers and Browns moved to the American Conference.
This is why after two dominating NFL wins over the AFC, Super Bowl III (formerly the third AFL-NFL Championship) could feature the mighty Baltimore Colts against the AFL's New York Jets in what was predicted to become another blowout.
Yet, the high-rolling, life-loving quarterback of the Big Apple proved prophetic. While his numbers weren't dazzling, his leadership skills and composure during the biggest upset in NFL history resulted in Joe Namath being named game MVP.
Those who recall the affair often don't remember the great play of the Jets as much as the careless, uncharacteristic effort of the Colts. For head coach Don Shula, the 16-7 loss would be as embarrassing as any in his coaching career.
Sometimes, the biggest play isn't the one that is made...but the one that isn't!
With seconds left in the first half, the Colts had a chance to tie the Jets, who led 7-0.
On a trick play that epitomized the game, a handoff was lateraled back across the field to Earl Morrall. Earlier in the season, the play worked to perfection with a wide-open touchdown to Jimmy Orr.
Instead, in Super Bowl III, Morrall fired the ball to Jerry Hill, and the pass was cut off and intercepted by Jim Hudson.
Tragically for the Colts, Jimmy Orr—just as he was in the regular-season contest where the play worked so perfectly—ran wide open, waving his arms vivaciously to no avail.
Surely, a touchdown to end the half would have broken the backs of the New York defense, infused the Colts with some lost confidence and possibly changed the complexion of the football game.
Super Bowl IV: 65 Toss Power Trap
Confirming to all that the AFL's success in Super Bowl III was not a fluke, the Kansas City Chiefs didn't simply manage another win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. They brutalized them, rendering the Purple People Eaters into the Purple People Eaten.
Serving as vengeance for their loss to Green Bay years earlier, the innovative Chiefs had the Vikings off-balance throughout the game. Viewing the game of football as a maleable mold, Hank Stram's team was more than willing to experiment with novelty, adding everything from unconventional shifts and audibles into their game plan, elements not commonly seen to that point in professional football.
The traditional Vikings, whose strength emanated from superior execution of the X's and O's, looked simply confused.
Ahead 9-0 approaching halftime, head coach Hank Stram made one of the legendary (and colorful) calls in NFL history. The coach was wearing a microphone, allowing all to witness his vibrant personality.
Stram made the call from the sideline: "65 Toss Power Trap."
Mike Garrett scored a five-yard touchdown on the play, and the coach gleefully erupted, enjoying a 16-0 halftime lead. While another full half remained in the game, the perfect call—one in a series of many throughout the game for the more inventive Chiefs—served notice to all that Kansas City was simply a class ahead of Minnesota.
NFL Films' highlight of the game showcases the coach whooping and hollering after his team's well-executed run into the end zone—a moment that will always highlight the innovative coach in the NFL's everlasting time capsule.
Cries of "fluke" from the year before would no longer be permissible. With the evidence plainly shown on the field of play, the Chiefs proved fully that the AFL was on equal footing with the NFL.
This time, the NFL didn't simply fail to play its game; this time, the Chiefs proved themselves as the best football team in the world.
Super Bowl V: Mad Dog Makes the Interception
The Colts' Bubba Smith refused to wear his Super Bowl ring. Why?
His team's sloppy play, which included seven of the game's 11 turnovers, wasn't symbolic of the championship they had won in the aptly nicknamed "Blooper Bowl." Likewise, even after this victory, Colts players were still profoundly impacted by their loss in the Super Bowl two years earlier.
Haunted by the memory of Super Bowl III, Colts players were determined to get back to and win the Super Bowl. While they achieved this effort, their parade of miscues caused many Colts to look back on the win as bittersweet.
The opposing Dallas Cowboys committed 10 penalties for over 130 yards, along with four turnovers, joining the Colts in this cluster of calamity.
In fact, Super Bowl V was so backwards that a member of the losing team, Dallas's Chuck Howley, won the MVP award. It's the only time in history that a Super Bowl MVP played for the loser.
On a day of follies, the last—committed by Dallas—was the most damning. With only moments left in the game, quarterback Craig Morton's pass to Dan Reeves went through the receiver's hands, deflecting into the arms of Mike "Mad Dog" Curtis.
Curtis returned the football to the Dallas 23-yard line. The interception set up Jim O'Brien, who had expressed concerns about kicking on turf. Undaunted, O'Brien's 32-yard field goal put the Colts ahead 16-13 with five seconds remaining.
In a game where nobody seemed to want to win, Mike Curtis stepped up and put his team in position to win the championship.
Super Bowl VI: Ditka Does in the Dolphins
Don Shula was haunted by memories of losing Super Bowl III with the Baltimore Colts. Now, with the Miami Dolphins, he was hoping to avenge the defeat and lead the young NFL franchise to a championship.
Tom Landry, on the other hand, had lost the big game one year earlier to those same Colts, coached by Don McCafferty. His Dallas Cowboys were viewed by many as "unable to win the big one," having lost in many conference title bouts. The Super Bowl V loss simply added fuel to the critics' fire.
Something had to give.
In Super Bowl VI, that something was the Miami Dolphins. In fact, they gave so much, that picking any play as the "biggest" is difficult. From start to finish, Dallas was dominant.
Sometimes, teams have to go through adversity, a sort of "right of passage" or "growing pains," before achieving their ultimate goal. For the Dolphins, who were on the horizon of legendary greatness, this game was the fire that tempered their steely resolve in 1972 and 1973.
Outgaining the Dolphins 352-185 in total yards and 23-10 in first downs, the Cowboys effort was a lesson in perfect execution over an overwhelmed opponent.
A seemingly timid mascot, the name "Dolphin" would soon strike fear in the hearts of opponents. In the meantime, especially for the Dallas Cowboys, it merely translated to mean "slappy mammal fish." And, the Cowboys certainly did their share of slapping.
Duane Thomas and Walt Garrison ran roughshod over the Dolphins, combining for 33 carries, 169 yards and a touchdown. All game long, the overwhelmed Dolphins waited for a key break to get themselves back into the contest.
After the Dallas line opened holes all game and the rushing attack ran rampantly, it was a passing play that put the smooth, black rhinestone hat atop the champion Cowboys. Roger Staubach hit Mike Ditka in the end zone, assuring there would be no miraculous reprieve for the team from South Florida.
While the game was already seemingly out of reach, that touchdown pass from Roger Staubach to Mike Ditka, who would eventually rise to further fame coaching the Bears in Super Bowl XX, ended the scoring, 24-3.
Super Bowl VII: Garo's Gaffe
The Dolphins rebounded from a thorough loss in Super Bowl VI, winning every game of the 1972 regular season.
Yet, due to an annual rotation of host playoff divisions, the 'Phins had to travel to the Steel City for the AFC Championship one week earlier. Despite a slow start, Miami came back from an early 7-0 deficit to beat Pittsburgh 21-17.
Next up, with a chance for perfection, would be the Washington Redskins.
Taking a page out of the Cowboys playbook from one year earlier, the Dolphins put on a clinic, dominating the Redskins, known as the "Over the Hill Gang." Yet, sadly, it would be a folly that would ultimately stand the test of time as the most memorable moment of Miami's Super Bowl win.
With the Dolphins leading the Redskins by two touchdowns, a Garo Yepremian field goal in the fourth quarter would likely give the team a 17-0 win to cap a 17-0 season. What symbolism!
In the history of the Super Bowl, there has never been a shutout. If not for three special teams plays, there could easily be two on the big game's record.
In Super Bowl IX, the Vikings blocked a punt for a touchdown, their only score of a 16-6 loss to Pittsburgh.
In Super Bowl XXXV, the New York Giants' Ron Dixon returned a kickoff 97 yards for the team's only score.
And, lastly, there was Garo.
Garo's field goal attempt was blocked. Instead of falling on the ball, Yepremian made like a true kicker—all legs and no arms. He picked up the live ball and attempted a forward pass.
The football slipped from his hands, and he batted the pigskin into the air. In fact, the play wasn't a folly. It was an endless series of disasters, all crunched into one acute dose of mishap.
The Redskins' Mike Bass picked up the ball, and the blunder ended with a Washington touchdown return. A certain Miami victory suddenly had an uncomfortable feeling of inevitable peril.
Despite the setback, Miami held off the Redskins, winning 14-7. Nobody could have been more relieved than Yepremian.
If Miami had lost, Garo's legacy would make memories of Steve Bartman seem like absolutely heroic small potatoes.
Super Bowl VIII: Csonka Sets the Tone Early
For greats like coach Bud Grant, quarterback Fran Tarkenton and tackle Alan Page, the Super Bowl losses are a gloomy memory. For winners of the game, it's commonly stated that the best part of winning is the journey getting to the game.
For the losers, the journey is sullied, no matter the joy contained in that path, rose-colored glasses with an unwanted tint.
The Vikings lost on all four Super Sundays in which they played during the 1970s.
Their second such loss came against the defending champion Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VIII. Just as Miami had suffered as the hands of the Dallas Cowboys two years earlier, the domination displayed by the Dolphins over the Vikings makes selecting a single play nearly impossible.
Early in the game, the "biggest" play was the one that set the tone and opened scoring.
On their opening drive, the Dolphins marched down the field in 10 plays. Effective running by Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris through huge holes in the offensive line made the drive look like a cakewalk. Csonka capped the effort with a five-yard touchdown to open scoring.
The Purple People Eaters were being manhandled again.
Ahead 7-0, Miami marched again. Ten more plays led to the same result when Jim Kiick scored his only touchdown of the season on a one-yard run. While this score essentially put the game out of reach early, it was Csonka's earlier score that's symbolic of the game overall.
It was clear tone that would not dissipate all game. The physical, brutish run saw him bully his way into the end zone through defenders in the lane. The Vikings defense had gap containment, but they simply couldn't match muscle to muscle with Csonka.
Super Bowl IX: Bradshaw-to-Brown Starts a Dynasty
Once again, the Minnesota Vikings were trailing in the Super Bowl. Yet, despite being dominated by the Steel Curtain, they only trailed 9-6 courtesy of a blocked punt for a touchdown. Matt Blair burst through the line of Pittsburgh's special teams, blocking the kick, which was recovered by Terry Brown in the end zone.
After leading all game and pitching a probable shutout, Pittsburgh's control of the game was suddenly in jeopardy, and the Vikings were on the board.
If momentum had swung, it would be a brazen "Blonde Bomber" that would resettle it.
Franco Harris ran for a Super Bowl-record 158 yards, while Rocky Bleier added 65 more yards in relief. However, with possession of the ball and 10 minutes remaining, quarterback Terry Bradshaw would blossom into a champion, silencing his critics and finally bringing a championship to Art Rooney.
11 plays. 66 yards. 6:47 off the clock.
It was the drive that gave the Pittsburgh Steelers their first championship. Lovable losers no more, Art Rooney, along with the team's loyal fans, swelled with pride with every first down. Three third-down conversions by Bradshaw riddled the Vikings, who were unable to get the ball back with an opportunity to tie or win.
The march concluded when Bradshaw rolled right and rocketed a cannon pass to tight end Larry Brown in the back of the end zone. It was the play that clinched a championship for a franchise that could only be best described as the football's original Arizona Cardinals, hard-luck losers that didn't even win a playoff game until 1972's Immaculate Reception.
The Steel City rejoiced! With Brown's touchdown, a cast of Hall of Fame characters that included Chuck Noll, Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann and Mike Webster were mere moments from the pinnacle achievement in professional football.
Super Bowl X: Lambert Levels Harris
Billed as blue collar against white collar, two teams with totally different identities fought for the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl X.
The toughness and grit of the Steelers was pitted against the acclaimed "America's Team," a franchise that Pittsburgh fans viewed as all flash and no substance.
Yet, despite their differences, both teams had the most important attribute in common—a championship pedigree.
Widely regarded as the first great Super Bowl, the contest matched the hype and pageantry surrounding the event.
The game included a number of highlight reel plays, and MVP Lynn Swann had a career afternoon.
If not for a fate-changing turn of events in the second half, Swann's acrobatic receptions would have been the biggest moments of the game. His four grabs all defied physics, each seemingly more difficult than the next, feats of athleticism on the grandest stage.
His catches mystified all onlookers, who awed over his marvelous performance. Everyone remembers his levitation act along the sideline and his amazing grab while falling to the ground. And, who could ever overlook his game-winning touchdown?
Nevertheless, while the receiver had one of the finest days in the history of the big game, one particular moment in the third quarter changed the dynamics of Super Bowl X.
The Steelers trailed 10-7 in the third quarter, and the Cowboys were having a slightly better game.
Struggling kicker Roy Gerela missed a tying field goal, and Cliff Harris wrapped his arm around Gerela, tapping his helmet and taunting. Gerela would miss three attempts on the day.
Linebacker Jack Lambert approached Harris, ripped him off the overmatched kicker and threw him to the ground. The message was clear: The Steelers would not be intimidated.
Suddenly, a sleeping giant was awakened. With a steely, re-energized focus, Pittsburgh prepared to make Dallas feel its wrath.
The defense, fired up after the events which transpired near midfield, honored the call of Lambert, who played some of his finest football in the second half.
With the Black and Gold playing practically possessed, Dallas runners couldn't find lanes, bottled up by aggressive defenders. When Roger Staubach threw an interception to Mike Wagner, who returned it deep into Dallas territory, it was apparent the tide had turned.
The pick helped the Steelers take their first lead. Gerela gained retribution, nailing the field goal before gesturing toward Harris.
After extending the lead to 15-10, Terry Bradshaw threw deep to Swann for the game-winning touchdown. On the play, the quarterback was hit violently in the backfield, knocking him out of the game.
Pittsburgh held on to win, 21-17. Many plays helped the Steelers to defend their championship, but the turning point was clearly the ill-advised gesture by Cliff Harris and response by Lambert.
Super Bowl XI: Old Man Willie
“Old Man Willie!”
Veteran cornerback Willie Brown raced 75 yards to the end zone following an interception of Fran Tarkenton, capping a dominant win by the Oakland Raiders over the Minnesota Vikings. The loss completed a decade of Super Bowl anemia for the men in purple; perhaps, the Vikings would have been better served playing in the frozen confines of Metropolitan Stadium.
Instead, January 9, 1977, was a beautiful California day in the Rose Bowl, where the renegade Raiders finally shed the label of being unable to “win the big one.”
John Madden had finally coached Ken Stabler, Dave Casper, Fred Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch, Willie Brown, Ted Hendricks, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw and many more in the cast of crazies to the pinnacle of the sport.
“Just win, baby!” was the motto of owner Al Davis. And the Silver and Black would do it by any means possible.
They had no issue dispatching the Vikings. Ahead 26-7, Old Man Willie’s fourth-quarter interception capped a blowout with a memorable, prized moment for one of football’s greatest all-time defensive backs. Capping the game, his teammates surrounded him in celebration—a fitting play to add to a fine career.
The Oakland Raiders defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14, marking the AFC’s fifth straight win in the Super Bowl. A late Vikings touchdown was actually thrown by Bob Lee, in replacement of Tarkenton, to Stu Voigt to make the score appear closer than the reality of the utter mismatch.
Super Bowl XII: Johnson's Fingertip Catch
Nicknamed “Doomsday in the Dome," Super Bowl XII was the first NFL championship game played indoors. Inside the Louisiana Super Dome came super doom for the Denver Broncos.
Nicknamed the Orange Crush, Denver defeated the Steelers and Raiders before a raucous Mile High Stadium crowd en route to this championship. The Broncos' journey came on the strength of their defense, though quarterback Craig Morton also had a fine season as the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. The former Dallas Cowboy led Denver to a 14-2 record through the playoffs, and he prepared to face his old team, with whom he had lost Super Bowl V.
Roger Staubach, who supplanted Morton, was considered one of the best field generals in the game. Armed with the Dallas Doomsday Defense, Staubach had the support of a complete roster. In fact, if not for the Steelers, the Cowboys may have ended up as the team of the 70s.
On the grandest stage, Morton was seeing stars while the Cowboys were honoring the one on their helmets with outstanding play.
Craig Morton threw four interceptions and lost three fumbles (seven turnovers!) in the first half, but Dallas only led 13-0 due to missed field goals, inopportune sacks and a general array of offensive miscues.
When Denver cut the deficit to 13-3 just after halftime, it seemed the game could be in reach for the bucking Broncos, provided Morton calmed himself and was able to get back into the flow of the game.
Any notion of a Denver rally was snuffed out by Dallas almost immediately when the Cowboys scored the game’s most important touchdown, sending affirmative notice to the Broncos that it was their “Doomsday in the Dome.”
Jolly Roger connected on a 45-yard pass to Butch Johnson, who made a diving fingertip catch in the end zone to extend Dallas’s lead to 20-3. The play was controversial because the receiver appeared to lose possession of the ball as he landed on the turf. However, the score was upheld when it was ruled that Johnson caught the ball for the score before it was dislodged by the ground.
The angry Broncos could have used a quick response, and Rick Upchurch returned the kickoff to the Dallas 26-yard line, giving Denver prime field position. However, Craig Morton threw his fifth interception on the first play, causing him to be pulled from the game.
Craig Morton had been thoroughly abused and embarrassed by his old team.
Dallas won 27-10, and Johnson’s controversial score put the game out of reach in the third quarter.
Super Bowl XIII: Bleier's Leaping Catch
This was the Super Bowl that propelled the big game into complete national consciousness, pitting two teams in a battle for not only the NFL championship, but for the right to be effectively labeled the “Team of the 70s.”
Having grown from its humble, half-empty stadium roots, Super Sunday was now the biggest sporting event in America, and the 13th installment gave a huge national audience a captivating contest.
After all, Super Bowl XIII featured 14 Hall of Fame players, more than any other. Additionally, it remains the only Super Bowl to have pitted two quarterbacks against each other who had both won multiple NFL championships.
Amplifying the pregame hype was Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, who had accurately predicted that the Cowboys would shut out the Rams (28-0 final) in the NFC Championship Game. Now, he was boasting the same outcome for the Steelers, going as far as to question the intelligence of Terry Bradshaw.
“He couldn’t spell cat, if you spotted him the 'C' and the 'A.' ”
He could sure spell w-i-n, though.
The Steelers stuck to their guns—the game is played on the field. And, what a game it was! The contest featured wild swings in momentum. With so many great plays, it’s difficult to choose which was the biggest:
Exhibit A: Bradshaw hit Stallworth deep for a touchdown in the opening minutes, setting an early tone and a clear message to the Cowboys that quarterbacking intelligence doesn’t require you to spell “cat.”
Roger Staubach quickly hit Tony Hill to tie the game. Then, a combination of Henderson and Mike Hegman stood up Bradshaw outside the pocket, ripped the ball from his arm and carried it to a lead, 14-7. Just like that, a message was sent to the Steel City: game on!
After being pocket picked by Dallas, it would be Bradshaw having the last laugh over the rival Cowboys and the bombastic Henderson.
Exhibit B: First, he hit Stallworth on a quick hitch, who turned upfield and sprinted to a 75-yard touchdown around the Dallas secondary. In the NFL Films' highlight reel of the game, they describe the great receiver as being “like a combination of sipping whiskey and white lightning—smooth, with a strong finishing kick.”
Exhibit C: Then, with a goal-to-go situation before halftime, the Blonde Bomber rolled to his right, but his pass was not in keeping with his nickname. Bradshaw sent a touch lob into the right corner of the end zone that was hauled in by Rocky Bleier. With two Cowboys covering the backup running back, Bleier made a monumental effort, leaping into the air and extending his arms to grab the pass over coverage. The spectacular effort gave Pittsburgh a lead they would never relinquish.
Exhibit D: After halftime, the pace of the game slowed until Roger Staubach led the Cowboys deep into Steelers territory nearing the end of the third quarter. On 3rd-and-goal, the quarterback found his Hall of Fame tight end wide open. Sadly for the accomplished Jackie Smith, Super Bowl history beckoned. He dropped the pass (see 1:46 of link), leaving four potential points lying on the grass.
A field goal cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 21-17. The drop seemed harmless with plenty of time left on the game clock, but it initiated a series of events that cost the Cowboys a third championship.
Exhibit E: In the fourth quarter, a deep bomb from Bradshaw to Swann resulted in a pass interference penalty at the Dallas 23-yard line. It appeared that the play could have easily been called incidental contact. Instead, Pittsburgh had prime field position and converted its good fortune. After jawing with Henderson, Franco Harris demanded the ball. He sprinted into the end zone on a play where an official impeded Dallas from making a potential touchdown-saving tackle.
Exhibit F: The bad luck continued when kicker Roy Gerela slipped on the ensuing kickoff, and the ball squibbed to Randy White. White’s broken left hand was casted, preventing him from properly gripping the football. Tony Dungy forced the fumble from White’s grasp. The Steelers recovered, and Bradshaw’s fourth touchdown pass (to Lynn Swann) subsequently sealed the deal.
Or did it?
Staubach hit Billy Joe DuPree, cutting the deficit to 35-24.
Then, the Cowboys recovered an onside kick. Drew Pearson caught two passes for nearly 50 total yards, and Dallas was in position to score again with just under one minute left in the game. A touchdown pass to Butch Johnson made the score 35-31.
Could the impossible comeback really happen?
After the mercy of one successful onside kick, another was not in the cards. Rocky Bleier covered the Cowboys’ second onside kick, and the Steelers won their third Lombardi Trophy.
So, which exhibit was the play of the game?
Historians cite Jackie Smith’s drop in assessing blame for the four-point loss, but this is a superficial analysis.
Had the tight end caught the ball, the entire dynamic (and order of events) would have unarguably changed. Nothing is to say that the Cowboys’ misfortunes wouldn’t have still occurred, or that the change in history wouldn’t have still favored the Steelers. Likewise, if the deficit before Dallas’s final score had only been a touchdown, it's likely that a far more desperate Steelers defense would have appeared at game’s end.
So, which play was the biggest?
The answer is Rocky Bleier’s touchdown. The play has gone down in Pittsburgh lore as one of the finest efforts in its rich Super Bowl history. His leaping grab, one of the better catches of his career, gave Pittsburgh a lead they would never relinquish after a back and forth first half. Teammates still question the herculean element of his effort, claiming the angle of the camera caused the leap to seem higher than advertised.
Naturally, Bleier’s vertical gets higher with each personal retelling of his story!
Super Bowl XIV: 60 Slot Hook and Go
The NFC Championship saw the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the young kick-around franchise, battling the 9-7 Los Angeles Rams, who had upset the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional playoffs.
So, when the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Houston Oilers earlier that afternoon, it seemed obvious that they would win their fourth Lombardi Trophy in six seasons. After all, the “Cinderella” Rams were due for disappointment, and their prized defender Jack Youngblood had a broken leg.
Likewise, the Bucs weren’t that good, were they? That question didn’t matter when the Rams defeated the Bucs in damp Tampa, 9-0.
Bravely, Youngblood chose to play on his bum leg against the ‘Burgh. Surprising most fans, LA showed equal courage, going toe-to-toe with the dynastic Black and Gold crew and their Steel Curtain. In fact, the Rams took a 19-17 lead into the fourth quarter, begging the question:
Was there a Super upset in the making?
Pittsburgh lined up for a critical 3rd-and-8 from its own 27-yard line with 12:59 left in the game.
The call was “60 Slot Hook and Go.”
Bradshaw faked a handoff, looked downfield and fired a cannon pass deep down the middle of the field. Stallworth, thinking he was overthrown, kicked his stride into high gear.
The thoroughbred snagged the pass that narrowly got beyond the defending Rod Perry, who had intercepted Bradshaw on his previous drive, and sprinted into the end zone. The 73-yard touchdown gave the Steelers a lead, stunning the hopeful Rams.
Later in the game, Stallworth would make another backbreaking reception on a Bradshaw bomb, setting up the Steelers for an eventual 31-19 lead.
Pittsburgh completed its dynasty with a fourth Super Bowl win.
Super Bowl XV: Kenny King Goes Down the Sideline
The Eagles trailed the Raiders 7-0 in Super Bowl XV, but it appeared that Ron Jaworski had answered Jim Plunkett’s early touchdown pass with a score of his own. The Eagles quarterback threw deep to Rodney Parker for the apparent six points, but the play was nullified due to illegal motion.
Forced to punt the ball back to Oakland, the Raiders took over at their own 20-yard line.
Jim Plunkett, a journeyman quarterback and alleged draft bust, was finding his niche with the Silver and Black. With momentum and good fortune already in their favor, Plunkett was about to make the play that would set the entire tone of the game.
Ahead 7-0 in the first quarter, Plunkett dropped back to pass before pressure from the Eagles' pass rush forced him to roll right.
Avoiding the rush, Plunkett lobbed a pass down the left sideline toward running back Kenny King. Eagles defensive back Herman Edwards leaped for the throw, missing the interception and leaving himself out of position on the play..
The football landed into the hands of the awaiting King, and the only thing in front of him was the color green. Unfortunately for the Eagles, the color didn't come from their jerseys.
The 80-yard touchdown up the left sideline help put Philadelphia into a 14-0 hole. Despite their most valiant efforts, the Eagles would ultimately fall to the Raiders, 27-10.
Super Bowl XVI: Bunz's Goal-Line Tackle
Bill Walsh was in the process of building the team of the 1980s in San Francisco. The returns on his wise personnel decisions and innovative strategies came faster than anyone could have anticipated, and the 49ers—NFC champions following "The Catch" by Dwight Clark—prepared to play Cincinnati, where Walsh began developing his West Coast strategy as offensive coordinator under Paul Brown, in Super Bowl XVI.
Ken Anderson and the Bengals fell behind 20-0 in the first half, but a valiant effort to come back after halftime fell just short. Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and the 49ers held off Cincy’s surge, winning 26-21.
However, if not for a critical goal-line stand in the third quarter, the Bengals may have completed history’s most impressive Super Bowl comeback.
The Bengals were dominating the third quarter in most impressive fashion. The 49ers were held to eight offensive plays and four total yards as the team with the strange tiger-striped uniforms was in the process of a voracious comeback.
After cutting the San Fran lead to 20-7, Ken Anderson, with a 49-yard pass, got into 49ers territory (notice the similarity?). Three plays later, the Bengals had a 1st-and-goal from three yards out.
In a game that ended up so close, San Francisco’s amazing goal-line stand goes down as one of the greatest feats in Super Bowl history.
A two-yard run on first down set the Bengals up within one yard of six points. Another run on second down lost a yard. This set up third down with two yards to gain for a touchdown.
On third down came the play of the game.
A wonderful call by Cincinnati saw Anderson fake a handoff to fullback Pete Johnson, throwing a swing pass to running back Charles Alexander, who was isolated in open space against the 49ers’ Dan Bunz.
As Alexander’s momentum neared the end zone, Bunz stood him up, wrapped him with a perfect form tackle and brought him to the ground inches short of the goal line. It was a herculean effort in space by Bunz, though Alexander would have likely scored if he had appropriately run his route into the end zone.
Third down saw a Johnson run stuffed for no gain, with assistance at the line from Ronnie Lott. The 49ers had stuffed the Bengals, preventing a single yard from being gained on three plays.
The defensive stand ended up becoming the margin of victory, and Bunz’s tackle on third down ended Cincinnati’s most promising play call of the series.
Super Bowl XVII: Riggins Rumbles on Fourth Down
Clint Didier went in motion to the right.
Then, he turned back to the left. The Redskins were about to run one of their bread-and-butter plays. And the Dolphins were going to find out just how effective it was.
Facing 4th-and-1 and trailing 17-13, Washington went to old faithful, John Riggins, with hopes of obtaining the necessary yardage.
From the 43-yard line, the picturesque blocking of the Hogs, Russ Grimm and the Washington offensive line, gave the back a clear lane around the left tackle, in space with one man to beat. Riggins broke into open field with only Miami cornerback Don McNeal in his way.
McNeal attempted to tackle “the Diesel,” but the outcome for the 180-pound cornerback was as expected. The husky, bulky Riggins slammed through the defensive back, who slid down his body to the ground as he was being steamrolled.
With diesel air horns blasting in the background, Riggins rumbled to the end zone. The Redskins led 20-17. Unable to make the key fourth-down stop, the Dolphins' overaggressive defense, which had followed the initial motion of the play, paid a much dearer price.
Washington won the game, 27-17.
Super Bowl XVIII: Running with the Night
"Here comes Marcus Allen, running with the night."
The famous voice of NFL Films' John Facenda aptly describes the famous run that serves as the enduring image of the Los Angeles Raiders' dominant 38-9 win over the defending champion Washington Redskins.
Joe Theismann and the 'Skins featured a record-breaking offense and a fine defense, which held opponents to the lowest rushing total in the NFL. As a whole, the team was plus-43 in turnover margin—a record that stands to this day.
Heavily favored over the Silver and Black, Washington surely didn't expect the perceived renegade Raiders, who had recently moved to LA against the wishes of the league, to be so brutally efficient.
The play of the game nearly came before halftime when Joe Theismann's attempted screen pass from near his own end zone was intercepted for a touchdown by Jack Squirek.
Yet, with an MVP performance already intact, the Raiders' finest player made one of the finest plays in NFL history.
Down 28-9 in the fourth quarter, the overwhelmed Redskins needed a miracle to win a second straight Lombardi Trophy. Instead, Marcus Allen's miraculous run was the last sure sign that Al Davis and Pete Rozelle were in for an awkward trophy presentation.
Allen started to his right, as the play was designed but saw Redskins waiting to tackle. He reversed field, and it seemed with Washington players coming from that angle that he was pinned. Then, almost immaculately, as if he had eyes in the back of his head, Allen circled around all the defenders, cut up the middle and completed an amazing 74-yard touchdown run.
Marcus had reached the end zone, and the "Evil Empire" had a sure-fire championship to bring home to its new city. Any previous doubt about the outcome was erased; the game was over.
The Raiders had "just won, baby." (Thanks for everything, Al.)
Super Bowl XIX: Roger Craig Caps Montana's MVP Performance
The big game was being played at the home of the Stanford Cardinals, where the young, promising (and soon to be legendary) John Elway had an illustrious collegiate career. As such, it was only fitting that two other greats in the making, Dan Marino and Joe Montana, were going to duel on the site for the championship of the world in Super Bowl XIX.
While Dan Marino's arm could beat a defense on any play, setting records galore in 1984, no team offense or quarterback had as many ways to succeed as the San Francisco 49ers.
Early in the game, the advertised shootout unfolded to form. A Montana touchdown pass in the first quarter was immediately answered by "Dan the Man," helping give the Dolphins a 10-7 lead. If the early going was sunshine for the record-breaking Marino, who threw 48 touchdowns during the regular season and four against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship, the rest of the game proved to be the brick wall of his 1984 campaign.
Marino's first touchdown of the game would be his last.
Three unanswered touchdowns in a dominant second-quarter effort helped give the 49ers a 28-10 lead. Yet, Miami was slightly reprieved. After kicking a field goal to apparently conclude first-half play, the 49ers fumbled the ball back to Miami before halftime, and another Dolphins' field goal made the score 28-16.
Any thoughts of a Miami comeback were quickly erased. After a field goal to open play in the second half, "Joe Cool" disposed of the high-flying 'Phins, hitting Roger Craig in the flat. The 49ers running back finished the job, traveling 16 yards for another 49ers touchdown.
The score capped an MVP performance for Joe Montana, who all week had to answer questions about Marino's gargantuan season.
Now, up 38-16, it was clear that the Bill Walsh machine was going to win its second Super Bowl. Stunningly, Marino never returned to the big game again.
Super Bowl XX: The Refrigerator's TD Ends a Laugher
On NFL Conference Championship weekend, it seemed that America was destined to see a rematch between the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears.
An amazing performance by the Dolphins on Monday Night Football blemished Chicago's record, preventing a potential undefeated season for the 12-0 Bears. At 15-1, it was the only stumbling block that the Windy City endured all season.
While the Bears pitched a shutout in the NFC Championship Game, the Dolphins didn't hold up their end of the bargain. Instead, becoming the first team to win three road playoff games to reach the Super Bowl, the surprising New England Patriots would try their hand at the dominant Bears and their 4-6 defense.
If a contest was advertised to take place on the night of January 26, 1986, viewers quickly recognized that the advertisements were false. The competitive phase of the game was over in the second quarter, if not earlier.
Quarterback Steve Grogan and the Pats could do nothing against the vaunted Buddy Ryan defense. Mike Singletary and company executed the most painfully powerful defensive game in the big game history.
In fact, the Patriots, trailing 23-3 at halftime, could only muster three points in the first half. Additionally, they were lucky to have scored at all. After all...
THEY GAINED NEGATIVE NINETEEN (-19) OFFENSIVE YARDS IN THE FIRST HALF.
That's not a typographical error.
The Bears' butt-whooping of New England ended mercifully in the third quarter. With an entire frame yet to be played, Chicago had the luxury of puffing out its chest and rubbing its dominance in the face of the Pats.
The play of the game came when Mike Ditka gave the football to William "Refrigerator" Perry, who blasted into the end zone for a 44-3 lead. Reflecting on the game, Coach Ditka has stated his regret for not getting Walter Payton a touchdown carry.
Super Bowl XXI: Karlis's Miss Begins a Denver Implosion
At halftime of Super Bowl XXI, John Elway's Broncos led 10-9, but there was a foreboding sense that missed opportunities would come back to haunt the Mile High franchise.
Rich Karlis had missed two field goals, including an attempt immediately before halftime, and Elway was sacked in the end zone by George Martin. A controversial overturning of a completion to tight end Clarence Kay kept the Broncos backed up near their own end zone, resulting in the Giants scoring the two points that cut the lead.
Early in the third quarter, Denver's defense held strong, forcing the Giants into a fourth down. It appeared that the defensive struggle would continue. Then, New York called for a fake punt. From the formation, backup quarterback Jeff Rutledge lined up under center from his blocking-back position, sneaking for a first down behind center.
From there, things would rapidly deteriorate for Denver. Altogether, in a masterful performance, Phil Simms completed 22 of 25 passes, guiding the Giants to scores on five straight possessions following the conversion. Before anyone could fully comprehend Simms' greatness on that night, the G-Men led 33-10 en route to a 39-20 win.
In football, momentum is a funny thing. And, in this game, the change in karma started way back in the first half.
Prior to the safety on Elway, Denver led 10-7. It was the second quarter, and the Broncos were thoroughly outplaying Big Blue. They had a chance to extend their lead with a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
The Giants defense stood tall. Lawrence Taylor tackled Elway on a boot play on first down. Then, Carl Banks and Harry Carson combined for tackles on two straight runs, totaling a four-yard loss.
With the strong goal-line stand, Denver had to settle for a field goal. Then, it happened.
Karlis missed the first of two bad attempts, a chip shot, 22-yard field goal that would have extended Denver's lead.
It was the origin point for a complete implosion that was followed by a safety, fourth-down conversion (fake punt) and five consecutive scores. While Denver had the lead and momentum prior to the miss, it couldn't tell left from right afterwards as the Giants dominated the rest of the way.
Super Bowl XXII: Doug Williams' 80-Yard Touchdown Begins the Dream Quarter
It's the experience of feeling sure that one has already witnessed or experienced a current situation.
In Super Bowl XXII, like XXI, the Broncos dominated early play, leading their opponent. Then, they simply imploded.
However, unlike their game against the Giants one year earlier, Denver didn't wait until the second half to fall apart.
Instead, they began their freefall in the second quarter.
The Broncos scored on their first offensive play from scrimmage. The stars were apparently aligning early for the men in orange.
Doug Williams twisted his knee, and it appeared the NFL's first African-American quarterback to start a Super Bowl would also leave the big game.
However, on the Redskins' first drive of the second quarter, he returned. Then, Washington put on 15 minutes for the ages, and Williams became the first black quarterback to win the Super Bowl.
It began with the game's most important play, a Redskins touchdown that served notice to Denver that they weren't getting away from the 'Skins so easily. Williams' first play after returning from injury was an 80-yard touchdown bomb to Ricky Sanders, who got behind Mark Haynes after an unsuccessful effort to jam the receiver at the line.
It gave Washington's offense the confidence boost it needed, and it clearly stunned Denver more deeply than anybody could have known in the moment.
In the second quarter alone, Williams completed 9 of 11 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns. He was named the game's MVP. Yet, he wasn't the only X-factor player to stun Denver.
Running back Timmy Smith, who wasn't told he was starting until kickoff, rushed five times for 122 yards and a touchdown in the quarter. He finished with 204 yards—a Super Bowl record.
Bad things come in threes, so Denver had one more record-breaking performance at their expense. Ricky Sanders caught four passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
All of this came in the most absurdly dominant and electrifying quarter of football in Super Bowl or possibly NFL history.
One 80-yard touchdown opened the floodgates for the most offensive yards (356), points (35) and touchdowns (five) in a quarter. That projects to over 1,400 yards, 140 points and 20 touchdowns in a game.
Thankfully, things never went that awry. Mercifully, the Redskins cooled off in the second half.
After trailing 10-0 early, Washington's explosion of 35 unanswered points gave it a huge halftime lead. Between the scoring bonanza, Elway was intercepted twice in Washington territory, and Karlis missed a 43-yard field goal for the Broncos.
Super Bowl XXIII: Montana to Taylor
"Hey, isn't that John Candy?"
San Francisco's cool quarterback pointed down to the stands near the opposite end zone.
As he asked this of his huddle, Joe Montana was serving his purpose—showing his huddle a confidence that would assist the offense in traveling 92 yards for the game-winning score.
Trailing 16-13 with 3:10 remaining to the Bengals, Montana hit on a series of completions that took the football past midfield. In Bengals' territory, a 13-yard completion to Roger Craig gave the 49ers a first down at the Cincinnati 35-yard line.
After his first incomplete pass of the drive, a 10-yard penalty sent San Francisco backwards, facing 2nd-and-20.
On the most important play to that point, Montana fired the football to Jerry Rice at the 33-yard line. Two Bengals assigned to Rice collided into each other, allowing the Hall of Fame receiver to get to the 18-yard line for a first down.
It was the Bengals' best opportunity to squelch the game-winning march. Instead, it took the Montana-to-Rice connection one good throw to overcome tall odds.
After an eight-yard pass to Craig, another game-winning touchdown attempt to Rice seemed imminent.
Instead, Montana cemented himself in history when he fired a precision pass to John Taylor, completing the Super Bowl's first game-winning comeback drive.
Montana Magic, baby!
Super Bowl XXIV: Montana-to-Rice Ends a Dominant First Half
John Elway's memories of Super Sunday come in two categories: pre- and post-uniform change (1997).
Those falling in the latter category heightened the legacy of the magnificent No. 7, elevating him beyond the level of great quarterbacks and into the pantheon of great championship signal-callers.
Yet, prior to 1997, memories of the big game were a lesson in exorcism. After all, Elway would surely love to purge late January in the late 80s from his recollection.
After the Redskins scored 42 unanswered points in a lopsided win of Super Bowl XXII, it seemed that Elway's Broncos had taken the worst of it already on the chin.
However, Super Bowl XXIV set new standards for Bronco-beating.
Heralded as John Elway against Joe Montana, the game became Montana versus history.
Montana's coronation was a masterful, five-touchdown performance on the grandest stage. The outcome was never in doubt, and the 49ers won 55-10.
Montana's touchdown pass to Rice to close the first half served notice to everybody watching that this championship clash was over before it began.
Super Bowl XXV: Wide Right
Have you ever had that nightmare where you go to school again with your homework undone? Or, where you register for college but never show up for class? How about showing up naked? Or, being unable to walk?
For kickers, the nightmare is always the same. And, sadly for Scott Norwood, he got to experience it in real life.
It's the Super Bowl. Your team is losing. A 47-yard field goal can win the contest. And, naturally, it all comes down to you.
Trailing 20-19, the Super Bowl's most famous field-goal attempt teased fans at its apex, but the football never hooked back inside. The pigskin sailed wide right, and the underdog New York Giants celebrated!
Wide right: two words that Norwood would love to never hear again.
Earlier in the game, the Bills sacked Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler in the end zone for a safety. Had they managed to strip the ball, which seemed likely considering the nature of the play and where "Hoss" was holding the football, a touchdown could have prevented Buffalo from depending on Norwood's long kick.
Additionally, in the final minutes, critics have condemned the Bills coaching staff and offense for bad time management, allowing precious seconds to wind off the clock as they drove downfield, trailing by a single point. With Norwood used to kicking on turf at Orchard Park, the grass field would automatically hinder the distance his leg was able to accurately kick the football.
Ten more yards—or even just a few—would have been all the difference on an attempt that sailed inches to the right.
Super Bowl XXVI: Rypien to Clark Breaks the Bills
The 1991 Redskins had it all, one of the forgotten dominant teams in league history. They outscored opponents 485-224, featuring one of the league's best offenses and defenses.
Mark Rypien, the third quarterback to lead the 'Skins to a championship under coach Joe Gibbs, was having a career year, throwing to great receivers like Art Monk.
Despite both Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas having career years, the Bills finished second in scoring to Washington in 1991.
Unfortunately, they would also finish behind the Redskins on the scoreboard in Super Bowl XXVI.
The Redskins jumped on the Bills after a scoreless first quarter, taking a 17-0 lead into halftime. After extending the lead to 24 points, Buffalo answered with a field goal and touchdown, cutting the lead to 24-10.
Then, on the game's most important play, the Bills' hopes for a comeback were dashed.
Mark Rypien led the Redskins on an 11-play, 79-yard drive, culminating with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Gary Clark. The score was a Buffalo back-breaker, giving Washington a 31-10 lead with just over one minute remaining until the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Bills answered two Washington field goals with touchdown passes, but the deficit was simply insurmountable. Buffalo lost 37-24.
Super Bowl XXVII: Irvin Stretches to the Goal Line
When Buffalo took an early lead in Super Bowl XXVII, its momentum was a mere aberration.
Nine turnovers later, the Bills suffered a third consecutive Super Bowl defeat, 52-17.
After Troy Aikman tied the contest with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jay Novacek, the Bills offense surrendered Dallas's next score.
Jim Kelly was sacked by defensive end Charles Haley, fumbling the football into the air. Jimmie Jones grabbed the ball and leaped over the line and into the end zone. Suddenly, the Cowboys led 14-7.
Undaunted, Buffalo kept its composure, driving to the Dallas goal line. However, after failing to earn six points on their first three plays, a fourth-down pass by Kelly was intercepted.
To make matters worse, Kelly was hit by Ken Norton Jr. on the next drive, injuring his knee and being forced from action. Frank Reich, who helped lead the Bills back from a 35-3 deficit against the Houston Oilers in the Wild Card Playoffs, led the Bills to a field goal.
Down only 14-10, the most critical phase of this championship bout came with two minutes to go in the first half. To start, Dallas completed a long drive with a touchdown pass to Michael Irvin.
If having your nosed rubbed in the dirt by the proclaimed "playmaker" wasn't enough, the self-depreciation inflicted by the Bills upon themselves a few seconds later would allow Irvin another Super Bowl touchdown.
Thurman Thomas fumbled the ball on the Bills' first play from scrimmage. Moments later, the game's most impressive touchdown was scored.
Troy Aikman's pass was caught by Irvin in midair, as he lifted his leg as a bar to keep Buffalo's James Williams from making a play on the ball. Irvin then spun around and lunged himself toward the nearby pylon, extending his arm and the football over the goal line.
Dallas led 28-10, an insurmountable lead that not even Frank Reich, Mr. Comeback himself, could overcome.
Super Bowl XXVII: Thurman Thomas Fumbles Away the Lead
The fragile Bills led Super Bowl XXVII at halftime, 13-6. However, with the demons of three straight big-game losses and the pressure to finally win, the fragility of their team could not afford any negative play.
Fans waited for the bad omens to turn into a fourth straight "Buffa-low." It seemed only a matter of time before the Bills' bubble would burst.
After all, Buffalo was facing the defending champion Dallas Cowboys—the very same team and roster that destroyed the overmatched Bills 52-17 one year earlier.
After pessimistically anticipating the downfall, the psychic energy shared around the world was finally satisfied in the third quarter.
Any living person, football fan or not, could have told you at that very point, "The one thing that the Bills cannot do is turn the ball over to start the half. They have to make Dallas earn the comeback."
Instead, Thurman Thomas ran up the middle, and Leon Lett stripped the football. Safety James Washington picked up the football and returned it 46 yards for the tying touchdown. Less than one minute into the second half, the score was tied 13-13, and the Cowboys hadn't taken a single offensive snap.
With a brand new game at hand, anyone who didn't foresee Dallas's second-half domination was simply naive.
For the fragile psyche of the Bills, this play had ought as well have been the game losing score. From that point forward, Dallas dominated, and the Bills never looked fully inspired again.
Two Emmitt Smith touchdowns over the next 15 minutes helped give the Cowboys a 27-13 lead. Dallas would ultimately win 30-13.
Super Bowl XXIX: Steve Young's Sixth Touchdown Pass
Facing the underdog San Diego Chargers, NFL fans knew that Steve Young's legacy hinged on a win in Super Bowl XXIX.
To be remembered as truly great, despite all of his efficiency records (leading the league in quarterback rating annually), the 49ers would have to destroy their California brethren.
Not only did the 49ers annihilate San Diego, they did it in record-setting fashion.
After years of being in the shadow of champion quarterback Joe Montana, Steve Young's performance on the big stage allowed him ownership of a feat that "Montana Magic" had never achieved.
Before winning the Super Bowl, fans in San Francisco had made it clear that Montana was the chosen son. Afterwards, No. 8 was accepted into the unspoken fraternity of 49ers greats by the same fans who watched Joe lead the franchise to four Lombardi Trophies.
Guiding the 49ers to a fifth Lombardi Trophy, the first time any NFL team accomplished the feat, Young separated himself from his predecessor with a record-breaking sixth touchdown pass.
Three touchdown passes went to Rice, and the former USFL quarterback and Tampa Bay Buccaneer showed masterful control of the offense. Together with coordinator Mike Shanahan, the 49ers' offensive machine was simply too much for the Bolts to handle. Junior Seau and the defense looked confused, overmatched and embarrassed.
A virtuoso performance served as the personal coronation for the underrated Young. Weeks earlier, Sports Illustrated's cover showcased the Cowboys vs. 49ers bout for the NFC title, labeling it "the real Super Bowl."
Prophetic! Looking back, it was pretty obvious.
Super Bowl XXX: O'Donnell to Brown...Again?!
Quite unexpectedly, Larry Brown became the first cornerback to be named Super Bowl MVP. Even more unpredictably, the victimized quarterback was Neil O'Donnell, who had the lowest interception percentage of any passer to that point in NFL history.
For the Cowboys, the game was an opportunity to complete a dynasty. It was also a chance for the franchise to purge some previous demons, as many fans vividly recalled the frustration of two Super Bowl losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s.
In fact, the defeats were so painful that Roger Staubach personally thanked Troy Aikman for winning Super Bowl XXX.
Dallas roared to an early 13-0 lead, and the deficit could have been worse if not for a pass interference penalty on Michael Irvin that negated a touchdown.
Pittsburgh looked anxious, but after Bill Cowher pleaded with his team to settle down, the Steelers finally composed themselves. A drive to end the first half ended with a touchdown pass, rifled from Neil O'Donnell into the arms of Yancy Thigpen on a perfectly executed slant pattern.
Trailing 13-7, Pittsburgh had an opportunity to take the lead after halftime. However, an O'Donnell pass sailed over its intermediate target, floating into the waiting arms of corner Larry Brown. Brown returned the football to the Steelers 18-yard line.
A 17-yard pass to Irvin set up a one-yard touchdown run by Emmitt Smith. Dallas led 20-7.
The pesky Steelers would not go away. A Norm Johnson field goal cut the deficit to 20-10. Then, fans watched in stunned disbelief as the young head coach of the Black and Gold made a gutsy call.
An onside kick attempt was recovered by Deon Figures, setting the Steelers up near midfield. A valiant comeback seemed to be brewing, and Pittsburgh took advantage of the recovery by ending its drive on a one-yard touchdown run by Bam Morris.
The Cowboys appeared to have shifted into reverse. Aikman was sacked by Levon Kirkland, ending Dallas's answering drive. Pittsburgh got the ball back with 4:15 remaining and decent field position.
However, the game's most important play could have passed for a replay of O'Donnell's earlier interception. The quarterback's pass floated into the arms of Brown, who again had open field for a long return.
Smith was the beneficiary again, scoring on another touchdown run to help put Dallas ahead, 27-17.
The key interception saw nobody near Brown, and the ball seemed targeted so perfectly toward the Dallas corner that conspiracy theories were unavoidable.
"Jerry paid Neil off." The theory flew around the Steel City, despite being illogical as it certainly is, and it still surfaces in conversation about the game to this day.
Super Bowl XXXI: Howard's Kickoff Return
The most entertaining, unique and talented quarterback to hit the NFL in years got to show off his cannon arm on the first play of Super Bowl XXXI.
After taking a 10-0 lead to start the game, highlighted by the opening-play touchdown bomb from Brett Favre to Andre Rison, the Packers seemed in control.
Yet, the Pats were coached by Bill Parcells, which meant one key thing: they would not yield. New England Patriots rallied.
A short touchdown pass from Drew Bledsoe to Ben Coates gave Bill Parcells' squad a 14-10 lead. It was short-lived as the Mississippi gunslinger, whose belch and bark were as loud as his bite, went downfield again.
Favre gave the favored Packers a 17-14 advantage with another deep touchdown—an 81-yard pass down the right sideline to Antonio Freeman. Green Bay held onto the momentum through halftime, continuing its assault of the New England defense and taking a 27-14 lead into intermission.
After the teams exchanged punts for much of the third quarter, Curtis Martin's touchdown scamper got the Patriots back into the game, 27-21.
Then, the defining moment of Super Bowl XXXI came in the form of Desmond Howard.
Howard nearly didn't make a squad in 1996. However, Mike Holmgren and the Packers coaching staff saw his potential during an amazing kickoff return touchdown in the preseason against the Steelers.
Howard made the team, and his dominance on special teams helped to put Title Town back on top of the NFL. After an amazing regular season, Howard was fantastic in the divisional playoffs, riddling the 49ers in the Pack's 35-14 win.
En route to becoming the game's first-ever special teams MVP, Howard returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Green Bay regained the momentum, leading 35-21.
With the lead late in the third quarter, the Pack went on the attack and never looked back.
It would be the last score of the game. The defenses clamped down, highlighted by Reggie White's three consecutive sacks of Drew Bledsoe on three straight plays in the fourth quarter.
Super Bowl XXXII: Elway's Helicopter Run
The week heading toward the Super Bowl was dominated by one formula that replayed in the heads of fans who were old enough to remember the NFL through the 1980s.
John Elway + Super Bowl = Bad.
Facing the defending champion Packers, an apparent powerhouse led by gunslinger and MVP Brett Favre, most felt Denver was clearly outmatched. However, one key factor would manifest itself, proving the difference between good and bad in the above equation:
The NFC had defeated the AFC in 13 straight Super Bowls, and the record appeared safe when Favre hit Antonio Freeman along the back line of the end zone with a gorgeous, accurate and deep touchdown in the opening minutes.
Unlike other Super Bowls, the Broncos refused to relent. Elway led Denver on an answering drive capped by a one-yard touchdown run by Davis.
Immediately afterward, Tyrone Braxton intercepted Favre. The Broncos marched again; on 3rd-and-goal from the one-yard line, Denver kept Davis, suffering from vision-impairing migraines, in the game to fool the Packers. Davis, who was running with authority, caused the Packers to bite when Elway fakes a handoff.
Instead, Elway bootlegged to the outside, scoring a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead.
Then, safety Steve Atwater nailed Favre from behind, and Neil Smith recovered a fumble. Jason Elam's 51-yard field goal, the longest in Super Bowl history, gave the underdog Broncos a 10-point cushion.
Champions do not yield, an attribute proven by Green Bay when Brett Favre led the Pack on a march to close the deficit before halftime. A touch pass to Mark Chmura went for a touchdown, and Green Bay only trailed 17-14 at intermission.
A Davis fumble gave the Packers great field position to start the second half. Images of prior Super Bowls, when the Broncos led before imploding, entered the minds of those savvy enough to relate the circumstances.
However, the Broncos defense forced Green Bay to go three-and-out, and the Packers tied the game with a field goal. In fact, it was the first of four consecutive three-and-outs forced by Denver.
Tied 17-17 late in the third quarter, Elway led the Broncos on a drive that many feel defines his Hall of Fame career. Facing third down deep in Packers territory, Elway ran the football to the 4-yard line.
It was a run of passion and desire, showcasing physical sacrifice and demonstrating the determination of Elway to not be denied the elusive Super Bowl ring again.
On the play, two Packers defenders hit Elway so hard—inches short of the first-down marker—that he spun in the air. However, due to his momentum, Elway landed beyond the necessary line of gain for a new set of downs, setting up first-and-goal.
The play demonstrated the raw determination of a quarterback who had endured so many heartbreaking disappointments on Super Sunday. It was the play that set the tone for the rest of Super Bowl XXXII.
Many people feel it was the play that defined his career. And, it was the biggest play of the game.
Davis scored two plays later, but Green Bay responded with a touchdown of its own. Nevertheless, this Super Sunday had a different feel. With a strong runner and a determined legend, one had the feeling that Denver was about to break its Super-losing trend.
Late in the game, the Broncos offense, ripping the Packers defensive front to shreds on the ground, went to work. Elway caught the Packers off-guard with a pass to fullback Howard Griffith; Ed McCaffrey, determined like the rest of the Broncos to "win one for John," plastered a Packers defender on a key block, pointing at him as he laid on the ground as if to say, "This is ours."
Looking to preserve time on the clock, Mike Holmgren ordered his defense to allow Davis to score a two-yard touchdown to cap the drive.
With possession late in the fourth quarter, Brett Favre led the Packers past midfield. However, facing 4th-and-6, Favre's attempt to Chmura was batted to the ground by John Mobley.
The determination of Elway to purge his Super Sunday demons, along with the physicality and passion shown by his teammates, brought the city of Denver its first NFL championship.
Super Bowl XXXIII: Elway's Deep Bomb to Smith Sets the Tone
Against his old coach, Dan Reeves, and in his final game, John Elway gave a performance for the ages, earning honors as Super Bowl MVP.
The Denver Broncos, heavy favorites in the second straight championship game, dominated the Atlanta Falcons as expected. Mike Shanahan and Elway noticed a flaw in the Falcons' secondary, and they looked to expose it early and send a message.
The message was received—loud and clear.
A touchdown bomb to Rod Smith served notice to all in observance that the Atlanta Falcons were in store for a long day. Elway pumped twice before rocketing a pass that hit Smith in stride—a beautiful strike fitting for the Hall of Famer's final game.
Denver led 17-3.
However, in the third quarter, the "dirty birds" had an opportunity to make the game far more interesting.
Trailing only 17-6, in large part due to two missed field goal attempts by Jason Elam, Atlanta drove to the Denver 21-yard line on the strength of two long runs by running back Jamal Anderson.
However, a back-breaking interception of Chris Chandler by Darrien Gordon was returned 58 yards to the Atlanta 24-yard line. A potentially competitive game turned into a blowout immediately thereafter.
Howard Griffith scored to give the Broncos a 24-6 lead. Then, on an evening that saw 336 passing yards by Elway, the quarterback ran into the end zone for a 31-6 advantage.
Denver cruised to a 34-19 win.
Super Bowl XXXIV: The Tackle
Kurt Warner and the Rams' offense, appropriately dubbed "The Greatest Show on Turf," passed all over the Titans, accumulating well over 300 yards en route to a 16-0 lead. It was a strong finish to an amazing story, a Disney-esque tale of a grocery stocker turned NFL quarterback.
Only in Hollywood, right?
If the Rams looked to complete a fairy-tale season, the Titans didn't seem to mean being the wicked witch. And, with a relentless rally in the fourth quarter, it appeared Warner and the Rams might actually eat the poisoned apple.
Unrelenting, Jeff Fisher's squad rallied. Eddie George ran hard and scored touchdowns on two consecutive drives. The first score ended with a failed two-point conversion attempt, and the latter closed the deficit to 16-13.
With 2:12 remaining, the Titans tied the score with a field goal. It appeared that the "Greatest Show" could possibly endure the "Greatest Comeback" in Super Bowl history.
Then, Warner threw deep down the right sideline. Isaac Bruce made an adjustment to get under the ball, hauling in the pigskin and traveling to the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown strike. Just like that, the Rams retook the lead on a single offensive play.
If St. Louis intended to make the Titans yield, the former Oilers showed no desire to comply.
Enter: "Air" McNair. Providing irony to his nickname, Steve McNair did his work largely on the ground. Fledgling Rams defenders slid down the quarterback's lumbering legs as he powered his way toward a tying score.
On the highlight play of the drive, McNair scrambled and was seemingly going to be sacked by two Rams defenders on 3rd-and-5. He got away from the would-be tacklers and used his arm to maintain balance, escaping a certain sack. As he regained composure, he rifled a pass downfield to Kevin Dyson, setting up the 1st-and-goal of infamy with only six seconds left and no timeouts.
Needing a touchdown, McNair hit Dyson on the game's final play. The play seemed to be panning out in the Titans' favor, except for one key factor: Mike Jones, who turned his head and caught a glance of the ball, headed toward the receiver.
As Dyson caught a ball in stride and headed for the goal line, Jones, a linebacker, stretched out and got his hands around the receiver. Dyson twisted and lunged for the end zone...and the point of the ball fell precariously short of the goal line.
A sliver of green laid between the brown ball and that all-important white goal line. No sliver has been slimmer in deciding the outcome of the NFL's pinnacle game.
Super Bowl XXXV: Lewis's Kickoff Return Completes the Back-to-Back
In Super Bowl XXXV, MVP Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens defense utterly dominated the overwhelmed Giants.
Big Blue? Try Big "Blee-eeech!"
Kerry Collins was a turnover machine, and it was clear that the NY offense was simply a "Big, Blubbering" mess.
If the Giants had any hope to win, especially after Dwayne Starks intercepted Collins for a touchdown, giving the Ravens a 17-0 lead, they needed a miracle. The points would have to come from non-traditional sources.
For a moment, it seemed the Big Apple's need for an unexpected hero would be answered.
Ron Dixon returned the subsequent Baltimore kickoff for a touchdown.
Suddenly, trailing 17-7 in the third quarter, a slight glimmer of hope showed itself for the Giants.
As quickly as it appeared, Jermaine Lewis snatched New York's optimism away. He returned the Giants kickoff 84 yards. Along the sideline, it appeared he would get knocked out of bounds, but the determined Lewis stayed in the field of play, scoring a touchdown.
In a 36-second span, three touchdowns were scored. Unfortunately for the Giants, Baltimore's lead swelled to 17 points once again.
Lewis's answer to Dixon's score, the only points of the game for the Giants, served notice to all that nothing could stop the Ravens from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Super Bowl XXXVI: Vinatieri's Kick Completes the Upset
Everybody knows the story.
Tom Brady replaced starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe, and optimism in Boston was at a premium after two games.
Then, things fell right into place.
In a Cinderella story that almost rivaled Kurt Warner's ascension from two years earlier, it was fitting that Brady and the Patriots would meet Warner's Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Although nobody knew it at the time, the Patriots' upset win over St. Louis could be viewed as a passing of the torch from Warner, largely considered the game's most deadly quarterback at the time, to Brady, the NFL's current best quarterback.
While Brady was a great emotional leader, he hadn't yet earned his reputation as a deadly, ice-water assassin in the clutch. As such, when the Rams rallied from a 17-3 deficit to tie the score late in the fourth quarter, many people (including announcer John Madden) urged the Patriots to kneel on the football and play for overtime.
That was when a young field general came of age.
After three completions to J.R. Redmond brought the ball out to their own 41-yard line, a patient Brady examined the field before firing a dart to Troy Brown, who covered 23 yards into field-goal range. Another completion followed by a clock-stopping spike set up Super Bowl history.
Adam Vinatieri's challenge—before hundreds of millions of viewers in the most important game of his career against a heavily favored opponent—was simply to connect on a 48-yard field goal.
Child's play, right?
Judging from the result, it would almost seem there was no pressure. The clutch Vinatieri nailed the kick, and red, white and blue confetti poured over the Louisiana Superdome.
The Patriots, defying all odds and expectations, rebounded from a 1-3 start to become NFL champions.
Super Bowl XXXVII: Brooks' Interception Touchdown Ends Raiders Rally
The "Pirate Bowl" saw the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers squaring off in the ultimate battle of offense versus defense; in fact, Bucs management negotiated a trade with the Raiders to acquire Jon Gruden, hoping to infuse more energy into an offense that was failing to complement its championship defense.
The Buccaneers boasted a proud defense that featured John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp.
Meanwhile, Oakland's Rich Gannon had a career year offensively, surrounded by the talents of Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, Jerry Porter and Charlie Garner.
In the end, Gruden, an offensive guru who coached Oakland for four seasons, was the mastermind of a dominant victory. At every turn, it seemed as though "Chucky" knew exactly what his former quarterback, Gannon, was preparing to throw at the Bucs.
Aided with the luxury of a stud defense, Gruden took the Raiders' offense to task.
The nightmare for Gannon started with an interception by Dexter Jackson. Tampa converted the turnover into points, leading 6-3.
The Buccaneers, who simulated defensive practice when Gruden played the role of Gannon, intercepted the Raiders quarterback a second time. Jackson, the game's MVP, thwarted another Oakland march.
By halftime, the Silver and Black had completely stalled, but Gruden's influence on the Bucs' offense became clear. Leading 13-3, Tampa Bay went on a sustained drive, squeezing the first-half clock down to mere seconds before Keenan McCardell hauled in a touchdown to make the score 20-3.
Then, after another McCardell touchdown, Gannon threw his third pick of the evening, returned by Dwight Smith for a 34-3 Tampa Bay lead.
However, if anyone thought the issue was settled, the Silver and Black proved that apathy is the enemy of victory. Comfortably ahead, the Bucs' ferocity tamed a bit, and the Raiders score 18 unanswered points.
After a controversial touchdown pass to Rice, a punt block recovered for six more points and a 48-yard strike to Rice, Oakland suddenly trailed only 34-21.
They even managed to regain possession with a chance to narrow the deficit to a single score with just under three minutes remaining. The feat was unlikely but not impossible.
Then, as if conjured up by the psychic playbook of an evil doll named "Chucky," Gruden's Gannon-log resulted in a fourth interception, and future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks sealed the game with a defensive touchdown.
Gruden responded vociferously, exclaiming, "Yeah, Super Bowl, baby! Boom! Boom! Boom!"
Not having yet met his fill, Gannon gave Gruden another reason to be bombastic, throwing his Super Bowl-record fifth interception, the third returned for a touchdown, this time by Smith after a tipped pass.
Five interceptions and three defensive touchdowns were the result of Gruden's mastery over his former pupil, but the game officially ended when Brooks slammed the door shut on Oakland's desperate comeback attempt.
Super Bowl XXXVIII: Kasay Kicks out of Bounds
In the city known as the "Space Capital," Super Bowl XXXVIII featured a few elements that seemed other-worldly.
For example, the halftime show featured a scandalous moment, when Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson engaged in what would later be dubbed as a wardrobe malfunction, revealing Jackson's...well, you know.
Likewise, the game itself was a schizophrenic affair. Deep into the first half, it appeared that defense would dominate a potential 7-3 final score. The second half began the same way.
Then, late in both halves, each offense traded blows in an explosion of points that was in stark contrast to the recent action (or lack thereof).
When it was all said and one, the Panthers and Patriots—namely Jake Delhomme and Tom Brady—had gone tit-for-tat, taking turns driving their teams to touchdowns late in the fourth quarter.
Tied with 1:08 left in regulation, it appeared that the game could be destined for overtime—the first sudden-death session in Super Bowl history. However, considering the prolific activity for both offenses, any defensive miscue was likely to be the game-decider.
For the Carolina Panthers, the special teams beat the defense to the punch.
Normally, reliable kicker John Kasay kicked off, but the football traveled out of bounds. A devastating penalty gave the Patriots up to 20 yards of extra field position, meaning that Tom Brady was in prime position to lead his second Super Bowl-winning drive.
The pigskin required no bounce or squib to exit the field of play; the angle of the kickoff was clearly horrendous from the time it left Kasay's foot, causing announcers to immediately respond, "Oh, no!"
And, that's exactly what he did.
Needing three yards on third down from the Carolina 40-yard line, Brady hit Deion Branch for 17 yards, easily giving Adam Vinatieri a high-percentage chance of winning the game. There were only 10 seconds left.
Had Kasay properly executed the kickoff, the Patriots would have needed more yardage, having only been in range (potentially) for a 55-plus yard attempt.
And, after two misses (including one block) earlier in the contest, who was really going to wager on football's captain clutch missing another field goal?
The future Hall of Fame kicker nailed the 40-yard attempt, and the Patriots celebrated their second championship in three seasons.
Super Bowl XXXIX: Rodney Harrison Secures a Dynasty
The Philadelphia Eagles were hoping to bring their meanest green against the two-time champion Patriots and Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXIX.
Unfortunately, speaking of green, rumor has it that quarterback Donovan McNabb was under the weather in the Eagles' huddle late in the game, thus slowing down the pace and urgency of the offense. The quarterback denies this claim.
Likewise, as the color green is concerned, the theme wasn't "Fly, Eagles, Fly!" Opposed to flying to the line, Philly seemed to be going at a turtle's pace.
After having been intercepted in Pats' territory by Tedy Bruschi minutes earlier, the Eagles took control of the ball, down 24-14, with 5:40 left.
Anxious green-clad fans were getting red about the face as the nonchalant offense showcased a look that could only be described as lackadaisical, burning 3:52 of the game clock and traveling 79 yards in 13 plays. The time wasted may have been worse if not for McNabb's beautiful 30-yard touchdown strike to Greg Lewis near the back of the end zone.
The Patriots recovered the onside kick. It would have been tempting to go "gung-ho" on offense, but the Pats did what champions do: the right thing.
With the Eagles holding on to two timeouts with only 1:55 left, two runs forced them to burn both precious commodities, and a third rushing attempt wound the clock to under a minute.
Then, a perfectly executed punt bounced down to the 4-yard line, where the waiting Patriots smoothly downed the football.
With 96 yards to travel and no clock stoppages in their pocket, the Eagles needed a couple huge plays. On second down, they threw to Terrell Owens, who gained 122 yards in an MVP effort despite a broken leg. However, unlike most passes thrown to T.O. that night, this fell incomplete.
After a short gain on third down, McNabb fired over the middle to L.J. Smith, but the pass was too high, narrowly going over the receiver's outstretched finger tips.
The pigskin deflected perfectly into the waiting arms of Rodney Harrison, who came up from his safety spot to make the game-clinching interception.
In his arms, Harrison not only had another Lombardi Trophy, but he carried history. The Patriots won their third Super Bowl in four seasons—a feat only matched by the 90s' Cowboys, thus becoming an NFL dynasty.
Super Bowl XL: Randle El to Hines Ward
Gadget plays are a trademark of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Black and Gold perfectly executed one of their most effective trick plays to slam the door on the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
However, the real theme of this game was "Seattle Sour Grapes," according to Steelers game announcer Bill Hillgrove.
And, frankly, he's right.
The referees didn't throw an interception immediately following an ill-time holding penalty, which Matt Hasselbeck did with good field position in the fourth quarter and a chance to cut into Pittsburgh's lead.
They didn't miss two field goals.
They didn't botch clock management.
...and they didn't throw a lollipop interception with an opportunity to take a 21-3 lead either.
They did, however, correctly call offensive pass interference on Darrell Jackson in the end zone, negating a Seattle score. The regularity of an infraction (or penalty for that infraction) does not negate the violation, and it was clear D-Jack pushed off.
They also correctly called the Roethlisberger touchdown run—the tip of the ball grazing the imaginary plane that runs up from the goal line as Ben is descending to the turf.
Critics mention that he pushed the ball over after he hit the turf, dismissing the notion to all who are aware that they know anything about football.
What Roethlisberger did while he was on the ground (epiphany forthcoming for many)...had nothing to do with the call or the play!
Lots of tears and excuses couldn't erase one key fact.
The Steelers, for their quarterback's struggles, found a way to win Super Bowl XL, and the Seahawks, responding to adversity with the heart of a baby kangaroo, hopped around and complained like incessant amateurs, belly-aching as though porcupines were in their pouches.
Champions come through in the clutch.
All of the world's complaints could not muddy Ben's savvy on a key second-quarter situation, not running past the line of scrimmage on 3rd-and-26 to allow Ward an opportunity a play at the football near the end zone.
All of the whining could not erase the perfect execution of the game's defining play—a reverse pass from Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward. It had worked so well against the Browns earlier in the season that Pittsburgh chose to run it again.
Roethlisberger pitched to Willie Parker, who handed off on an apparent wide-receiver reverse to Randle El. "El" then looked downfield like the collegiate quarterback he was with an accurate arm, and he launched a perfect spiral into the arms of Ward, who jumped high into the air as he crossed the goal line.
Let's face it. The rain in Seattle has not been the only precipitation falling since February 2006. Puddles of tears put smirks on the faces of Steelers Country, and the first meeting after the game resulted in a 21-0 Pittsburgh shutout of the 'Hawks at Heinz Field.
Super Bowl XLI: Grossman's Interception
NFL Films Super Bowl highlight film for this game titled the event as a "Rhapsody in the Rain." The worst weather conditions ever for the big game welcomed Peyton Manning to the house that Dan Marino built, where he would separate himself from No. 13 and shed the label of a quarterback "unable to win the big one."
On a water-soaked field in Miami, Manning finally won his first Super Bowl ring as the game's MVP. His key throw early in the contest, with a Bear draped to his left, went deep to Reggie Wayne for a touchdown.
It was his highlight play of the game; unfortunately for his counterpart, Rex Grossman, the evening's biggest highlight would not be so kind.
Despite leading 14-6, largely thanks to an opening kickoff return for a touchdown by Devin Hester, the Bears trailed 22-14. Indianapolis found key plays from its quarterback, but the Colts also sustained a running game in the harsh conditions, which assisted them against a Chicago team unable to find a ground attack.
After a field goal cut the lead to 22-17, Grossman had the ball in his hands early in the fourth quarter. With no running game to speak of, the quarterback had to put the football into the air. Unfortunately, his ill-advised pass down the right sideline floated, making an interception by Kelvin Hayden even easier.
The interceptor traveled 59 yards down the left sideline and to a win, scoring the clinching touchdown. The Colts won 29-17.
Super Bowl XLII: The Greatest Play in Super Bowl History
"We're only going to score 17 points? Hahaha! OK?! Is Plax playing defense?"
The normally succinct and close-to-the-vest Tom Brady's seemingly overconfident response to Plaxico Burress's claim (that the Giants would win 23-17) rubbed New York the wrong way.
In Super Bowl XLII, the Big Blue defense harassed Brady's record-setting offense, which finished with 50 touchdown passes alone (23 of those to Randy Moss), not allowing No. 12 time to set his feet and examine the field. The deadly assassin's attack plan was limited as the Giants were able to get pressure with their front four, which many argued should have split the MVP award.
The New York front featured Michael Strahan, Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins and Osi Umenyiora, and they made life hell for the alleged "greatest team ever."
Vying for an undefeated season at 18-0, New England overcame the onslaught from Strahan and crew. Proving his undeniable greatness, Brady led what easily could have been his fourth game-winning Super Bowl drive.
With minutes remaining, Moss broke open on a 3rd-and-goal when the covering corner slipped, and Brady fired the pass into the all-star wideout.
The Patriots led 14-10. Eli Manning took possession, hoping to give the Manning family back-to-back wins in the big game.
He delivered the greatest play in Super Bowl history...but he had some help from a little-known wideout named David Tyree.
It was 3rd-and-5 from his own 44-yard line. Adalius Thomas had a clear shot at Eli Manning, but he missed the sack. However, Jarvis Green and Richard Seymour both took hold of Manning's jersey, attempting to yank him to the ground.
The normally stationary Manning managed to twist himself out of their grasp, an amazing feat on its own. His next act would make the play legendary.
Poising himself, Manning threw deep down the middle of the field, normally a mistake for a quarterback. Coming back to the ball was Tyree, who leaped to make the catch. Rodney Harrison was draped on Tyree, immobilizing his arm.
As such, Tyree used his opposite hand and helmet to squeeze the football and maintain possession. With both men falling to the ground, Tyree held onto the pigskin, and America erupted in a sea of emotions!
It was a miraculous catch that took the air out of fans in Boston. In one moment, the game appeared to be over before suddenly having its outcome fall under uncertainty. The status of this legendary Patriots squad was now up in the air.
A few plays later, Manning found Burress wide open in the end zone. While his original prediction was slightly off, Burress and the Giants celebrated happily with their 17-14 victory.
New England would finish 18-1, just a few plays short of perfection and obvious immortality.
Super Bowl XLIII: James Harrison's 100-Yard Interception Return
Trailing 23-20, Steelers fans around the world looked to the skies in exasperation: What in the hell had just happened?
The Black and Gold led 20-7, and the deficit could have been greater for Arizona if not for a timely goal-line stand that forced a Pittsburgh field goal in both the first quarter and after halftime.
Then, Larry Fitzgerald's first touchdown pass of the Super Bowl came midway through the fourth quarter.
Later in the period, backed up near their own goal line, the Steelers had a chance to essentially ice the game with a first down, and it appeared they accomplished the feat on a beautiful pass to Santonio Holmes.
That infamous yellow hanky hit the field, and Ben Roethlisberger through his arms into the air! The call was holding in the end zone—a safety that cut the score to 20-16.
With the ball back in his hands, Kurt Warner wasted no time in taking the lead, rifling a pass over the middle to Larry Fitzgerald, who burned past the Steelers defensive backs for a touchdown that seemed far too easy.
Suddenly, Arizona led 23-20.
Western Pennsylvania looked on in shocked disbelief. Roethlisberger and the offense took the field; Santonio Holmes proclaimed to his teammates, "It's time to be great!"
Thankfully for the Steelers, Holmes lived up to his own expectation.
Making three key receptions for 67 yards, No. 10 led Pittsburgh toward the goal line, setting up 1st-and-goal.
On second down, Ben rolled slightly to his right before throwing a pass just over the anticipating hands of Cardinals' defensive backs. The football barely cleared the defense before hitting the fingertips of Holmes, stretched to the extreme along the sideline of the end zone.
Holmes had onto the ball with both feet inbounds. After a few seconds of uncertainty, the officials raised their hands and the Steelers were on the verge of a record sixth Super Bowl title.
It would have been the play of the game. However, the game's biggest play came earlier, before halftime....
Trailing 10-7, Warner and the Cardinals faced a goal to go situation in the final minutes of the first half. On the key play, James Harrison crept to the line, giving the look of a blitz.
When Warner took the snap, Harrison slyly dropped back into coverage. Unable to anticipate the linebacker's presence, Warner threw the pass into the chest of Harrison. The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year began his return from his own end zone.
With blocker in front of him, Harrison traveled 100 yards, the longest play in Super Bowl history, giving the Black and Gold a 14-point swing that would turn out to be critical.
A convoy of Steelers, some unfortunate circumstances for the Cardinals (Larry Fitzgerald was blocked off by members of his own sideline who were in the white) and an amazing, athletic return by Harrison left spectators in awe.
With each leap by Harrison, every shed tackle and all of the narrow dodges, the volume picked up bit by bit before the fever pitch of crescendo when the linebacker, being tackled at the 5-yard line, flew over the goal line, breaking the plane with the football.
It was the greatest play in Steelers' Super Bowl history, adding to a legendary mystique.
Super Bowl XLIV: Tracy Porter Seals the Deal
2010 was a magical season for the community of New Orleans, still overcoming the damages that ravaged the region by Hurricane Katrina.
In the months following the storm, the Louisiana Superdome reopened. Drew Brees, the team's prized free-agent acquisition, and the Saints returned with a resounding 23-3 win over the Falcons in 2006. The resurgent franchise finished with a winning record, ultimately playing in Chicago for the George Halas Trophy.
They came up just short, but they refocused their efforts. Tracy Porter intercepted Brett Favre three years later, ending regulation as the Vikings were driving for the winning points. In overtime of that NFC title tile, Brees and the Saints never gave Favre the football again, winning the coin toss and driving right downfield to win the game, 31-28.
In Super Bowl XLIV, Brees's performance was surreal. Despite a 3-of-7 start in the passing game, he connected on 32 of 39 passes for nearly 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Despite having a 10-0 lead early, Peyton Manning and the Colts offense lost precious time on the field as the Saints began to move the chains with regularity. Likewise, an onside kick by New Orleans to start the second half gave the Big Easy an extra possession. It finished in the form of a touchdown, and the Saints led 13-10.
After trading scores, the Colts missed a field goal. Down 17-16, Brees was deadly efficient on the ensuing drive, and a touchdown and two-point conversion gave New Orleans its biggest lead, 24-17.
With Manning driving Indianapolis into Saints' territory with plenty of time on the clock, the game seemed destined for overtime.
Then, Porter helped the healing of a devastated community and a fanbase that was entirely accustomed to losing.
Intending to hit Reggie Wayne on a comeback route, Manning's throw was cut off by the anticipating Porter—the same hero who had thwarted the best intentions of Brett Favre two weeks earlier.
Porter had a clear path to the end zone, and he pointed to the fans in the stands as he put the finishing touches on a Saints victory.
Louisiana prepared for a very, very big party!
Super Bowl XLV: Mendenhall Fumbles Away the Comeback
Early in Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers could do no wrong, while the Steelers could seemingly do nothing right.
Two Ben Roethlisberger interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, were answered by two Rodgers touchdowns. The second, a dart over the middle to Greg Jennings, was held by the receiver despite his being blasted by Troy Polamalu.
The Pack led 21-3, and everything seemed right in the little town of Green Bay, Wisconsin. However, things slowly started to unravel.
First, Charles Woodson broke his collar bone.
Then, Hines Ward made a magnificent effort in the end zone to narrow the deficit to 21-10 before halftime.
After intermission, Rodgers' third-down pass to open the half was dropped. In fact, Jordy Nelson would have easily scored had he not bobbled the easy reception.
Next, on five runs down the throat of the Green Bay defense, Pittsburgh scored to cut the lead to 21-17.
The Steelers got the ball again and missed a field goal. Another defensive stand by Pittsburgh put the ball back into the offense's hands.
The Steelers began yet another march into Green Bay territory. For nearly 20 minutes, Pittsburgh was absolutely dominant.
As the fourth quarter began, and with the Packers defense on its heels, a comeback seemed to be in the making. All of the momentum favored the Steelers.
Then, Clay Matthews made the play of the game, and the Packers found themselves again.
Anticipating a run in his direction, the animated Matthews flew through the line and met Rashard Mendenhall head on. The linebacker's helmet dislodged the football from the back's grasp, and Desmond Bishop recovered.
If not for the turnover, Green Bay may have never seized back the momentum it had clearly lost prior to Matthew's forced fumble. Instead, Aaron Rodgers got the ball back and made two career-defining plays on 3rd-and-10.
First, ahead 21-17, he hit Nelson for 38 yards to the Pittsburgh 2-yard line. The play set up a touchdown pass to Jennings on a corner route.
The Steelers responded, proving their earlier momentum was no fluke, cutting the Green Bay lead to 28-25.
Facing a second 3rd-and-10, Rodgers put his stamp on a championship. Instead of giving the ball back to Pittsburgh with plenty of time remaining, Rodgers' pinpoint pass to Jennings gained 31 yards. The play could easily be argued—for its precision into a narrow throwing window—as the biggest of the game.
A Packers field goal extended the lead to 31-25.
Needing a touchdown with little time left, Roethlisberger went to Mike Wallace on fourth down, but the pass fell incomplete.
Matthews' forced turnover gave Green Bay the momentum it needed to secure a fourth Lombardi Trophy.
It was the fifth time in eight Super Bowls that a turnover became the game-defining play.