Super Bowl History: The 20 Greatest Super Bowl Plays of All Time

Paul GrossingerAnalyst IIFebruary 1, 2012

Super Bowl History: The 20 Greatest Super Bowl Plays of All Time

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    What defines the greatest Super Bowl plays of all time?  Are they victories, moments of triumph captured in time?  Defeats, the heartbreakers that still sting years later?  Or just spectacular achievements that we remember for their sheer impressiveness?

    The greatest Super Bowl moments are all of the above: there is victory, defeat, and sheer admiration.

    So, what are the XX Greatest Super Bowl plays of all time?  Let's count down...

20: Super Bowl XVI's Goal-Line Stand

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    Super Bowl XVI's goal-line stand defines what old-school football was all about.  The San Francisco 49ers were up 20-7 but they were losing momentum to the Cincinnati Bengals in the third quarter.

    The Bengals made it all the way to first and goal but the 49ers, led by Dan Bunz, stopped them four times inside the goal line.  Joe Montana went on to score six more points and the 49ers won 26-21.

    But what might have happened if the Bengals came within seven and took the momentum away from San Francisco?

19: Steve McNair's Scramble in Super Bowl XXXIV

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    I was actually alive for this one! It remains my all-time favorite scramble and really showed Steve McNair's toughness and heart.  

    With his Tennessee Titans trailing late in Super Bowl XXXIV against the St. Louis Rams, McNair ran around, avoided sacks by several Rams defenders, and completed a zinger pass to Kevin Dyson on the 10-yard line.  

    At that moment, everyone gasped and it seemed inevitable that the Tennessee Titans would win the Super Bowl.  Of course, what happened later changed all that...

18: Terry Bradshaw Connects in Super Bowl XIV

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    Terry Bradshaw's 73-yard touchdown connection with John Stallworth in Super Bowl XIV epitomizes why he might be the most loved quarterback in the Hall of Fame.  

    Trailing 19-17 in the fourth quarter, Bradshaw hit Stallworth on a daring deep-ball throw to take the lead.  

    Bradshaw often leaned on his defense and threw a lot of picks, but he was one of the few quarterbacks who dramatically raised his level of play when it counted.  

17: Jack Lambert Destroys Dallas' Cliff Harris in Super Bowl X

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    Watching Jack Lambert clips reminds me of what I miss from old-school football.  In Super Bowl X, Dallas' Cliff Harris mockingly patted Steelers' kicker Roy Gerela on the back after he missed a field goal.

    Lambert promptly came over and decked Harris...then stayed in the game!  Now, the NFL fines its players for excessive celebration!

    Maybe modern teams could use that kind of pick me up: the Steelers were trailing 10-7 before Lambert destroyed Harris and went on to win 21-17.  

16: Green Bay Packers Seal Their Super Bowl XXXI Victory

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    Super Bowl XXXI is always remembered as a 35-21 Green Bay Packers blowout of the New England Patriots.  

    But there was a moment in the third quarter when the Patriots scored and cut the lead to 27-21. Every Chicago Bears fan, myself included, was waiting for a comeback with bated breath.  

    But then Desmond Howard ran the kickoff back 99 yards for the touchdown and sealed the Packers' first Super Bowl win since the 1960s.  Heartwarming for Packers fans, heartbreaking for their rivals in the Windy City.  

15: Marcus Allen's Amazing Run in Super Bowl XVIII

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    Before quarterbacks passed 50 times per game for 500 yards, running backs provided the Super Bowl highlight reels!  

    Marcus Allen's incredible 74-yard run in Super Bowl XVIII is visually stunning.  It was significant, too: it ended the third quarter, put the Raiders ahead 35-9, and was part of Allen's 191-yard rushing day.

    He went on to win the Super Bowl XVIII MVP and a place in Oakland Raiders lore.  

14: William "The Fridge" Perry Scores in Super Bowl XX

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    William Perry's Super Bowl XX run is one of my all-time favorites.  Perry got the ball and pounded his way into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown.

    It was part of the pinnacle of Chicago Bears football, their blowout victory over the New England Patriots and only Super Bowl victory.

     It can't rank any higher because it didn't really change the outcome of a one-sided game, but it is still a special moment for Bears fans everywhere.  

13: John Elway Goes Airborne and Rallies the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII

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    The Airborne first down was one of John Elway's signature moments.  

    With Super Bowl XXXII in jeopardy, Elway took the ball, was hit, and went flying but managed to secure the first down and keep his drive alive.  

    The play inspired the Denver Broncos and they scored the go-ahead touchdown two plays later to beat the Green Bay Packers 31-24.  

12: Joe Gibbs Goes for It in Super Bowl XVII

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    Joe Gibbs was one of the gutsiest coaches in Super Bowl history.  Trailing 17-13 against the Miami Dolphins in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XVII, he went for it on fourth-and-1.  

    Not only did John Riggins secure the first down, he went on to score a touchdown and put the Washington Redskins ahead en route to their 27-17 victory.  

11: Neil O'Donnell Passes to the Other Team

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    Neil O'Donnell's pass ranks as one of the few heartbreaking moments in decades of Steelers success.

    With Super Bowl XXX hanging in the balance, O'Donnell threw the ball to Dallas Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown (there were no Steelers players in the area) and he returned it for the clinching touchdown.

    Even after two Super Bowl wins, the moment is still raw for Steelers fans. 

10: Joe Namath's Prediction for Super Bowl III

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    The prediction remains a staple of Super Bowl lore.  Three days before Super Bowl III, Joe Namath declared, "we are going to win on Sunday.  I guarantee it."  

    The Jets were an 18-point underdog to the Baltimore Colts but went on to win.  The only reason it can't rank any higher is that it was a prediction, not a play!

9: The Chicago Bears Super Bowl Shuffle

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    It's the golden oldie: the Chicago Bears Super Bowl Shuffle.

    The Bears were already iconoclasts going into Super Bowl XX but they made themselves even more rebelliously famous with their pregame dance.

    The Bears' moves, minus Jim McMahon's R-rated contribution, are still played out by enterprising fans to this day!

8: Joe Montana Hits Jerry Rice in Super Bowl XXIII

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    Joe Montana and Jerry Rice are the best quarterback-wide receiver combination of all time. There was no better illustration of that then Montana's 26-yard dart to Rice in Super Bowl XXIII.  

    Needing 20 yards to keep the drive alive, Montana threw it in Rice's direction and the completion kept them on pace for a nail-biting win.  

7: Kurt Warner Ties Super Bowl XXXVI

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    Kurt Warner went 1-for-,3 in Super Bowls but he was one of the most clutch playoff performers of all time.

    Witness his 26-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl to tie the New England Patriots 17-17 with 1:30 left in Super Bowl XXXVI.  

    He could only watch helplessly as Tom Brady completed a game-winning drive, but Warner's pass created one of best moments in recent Super Bowl history.  

6: Eli Manning Passes to David Tyree

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    Eli Manning's pass to David Tyree may be the most difficult in Super Bowl history!  The New York Giants were driving the ball, desperately trying to tie the New England Patriots.  

    About to be sacked, Manning let loose a deep ball in the direction of unknown backup receiver David Tyree.  

    Tyree caught the pass while blanketed, and the Giants went on to win the game.  Will we see a repeat in this weekend's rematch? 

5: The Bills' Scott Norwood Kicks It Wide Right

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    Super Bowl XXV may be the most dramatic of all time.  The New York Giants were ahead 20-19 but Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly drove the ball to the 29-yard line.  

    Kicker Scott Norwood boomed a 47-yard attempt but it went wide to the right and the Bills lost the game.

    Buffalo would make three more Super Bowls in a row, but they never got closer to victory.  

4: Steve McNair's Tennessee Titans Come Up One Yard Short

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    Steve McNair's drive to end Super Bowl XXXIV remains the best losing effort in Super Bowl history.  McNair passed, scrambled, and ran the Titans all the way to the 2-yard line.  

    In the last seconds, McNair passed to receiver Kevin Dyson, who was stopped at the 1-yard line. The stop gave the Rams the nail-biting win!

3: Joe Montana Passes to John Taylor to Win Super Bowl XXIII

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    If this were measuring drives, not plays, Joe Montana's drive to win Super Bowl XXIII would rank first.

    But, there were several key components to the San Francisco 49ers' 20-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.  

    The last was Montana's game-winning touchdown to John Taylor in the end zone.  It was Montana's last 49ers touchdown and remains an iconic moment for the franchise

2: Joe Namath Gives the Baltimore Colts the Finger

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    Joe Namath predicted the win.  Then he went out and won the game, crushing the Baltimore Colts 16-7.

    But it was his final gesture, flipping the bird to Colts fans as he left the stadium, that defines the New York Jets to this day.  

    Come to think of it, didn't Jets coach Rex Ryan get in trouble for flipping the bird to fans?

1: Adam Vinateri's Kick Wins Super Bowl XXXVI

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    The nail-biting field goal of all nail-biting field goals.  After Kurt Warner tied the game 17-17 with 1:30 left, Tom Brady drove the New England Patriots down the field.  

    Adam Vinatieri split the uprights on a 48-yard try to give the Patriots the win and start the dynasty that has defined the last decade of NFL Football!