The tipped pass stands for what is most sublime about football.
The ball hangs in the air, spinning frantically. Regard its shape. For a moment, possession is unclear. The ball belongs to everyone and no one.
Players from both teams grab for it. The entire audience comes to its feet, holding out hands.
A singular moment, deflected, chaotic. Where it lands decides the fate of both teams.
During this weekend's game between Washington and Arizona, a tipped pass for an interception and a touchdown was the deciding factor in the game.
It's no surprise that a tipped pass has featured heavily in the outcome of the biggest and most exciting games in gridiron history. Here are twelve of the best (with video!).
Feel free to suggest more; I'll add them as they come along.
The 1999 Minnesota Golden Gophers shocked the #2-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions in Happy Valley on a late 4th down conversion off—you guessed it—a tipped pass, and a game winning field goal, 24-23.
Another undefeated Penn State squad suffered an L, and Joe Paterno's mind was left to calculate the variable rates of rotation and probabilities
On January 22, 1983, the Cowboys and Redskins, who didn't like each either too much, played for the NFC Championship at RFK Stadium.
The game's fourteen point margin of victory was decided on a pass tipped by Dexter Manley and intercepted by defensive tackle Daryl Grant, who rumbled into the endzone to score the decisive points in the Redskins victory, 31-17.
John Riggins rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries and the Redskins went on to defeat Miami for their first Super Bowl championship.
When Earl Morrell's pass was tipped and intercepted in the Jets endzone for a touchback, it was by no means a game decider. Super Bowl III between the Colts and Jets was still in the first quarter.
But as Pro Bowl running back Tom Matte put it, "That was our game in a nutshell." The Jets caught fire, scoring to go up 7-0, and intercepted Morrell again on the Colts next drive to preserve a 7-0 lead at the half.
The Jets controlled the clock throughout the third quarter, and intercepted Baltimore's Johnny Unitas, filling in for Morrell, to put the Jets turnover count at four.
Joe Namath's guarantee that the 18 point underdog Jets would win the first championship for an AFL team was fulfilled. Namath and the kicking and ground game scored the points, but the win was helped hugely by the stiff play of the New York secondary.
Ben Roethlisberger was just a wee redshirt freshman sprite in 2001 when his Miami Redhawks played the Akron Zips, their foes in the MAC.
Losing 24-27 late in the game, Big Ben showed off how big his arm would one day be.
Roethlisberger stepped up against the three man rush and threw 60 yards through the air (even though the pass called for 70) into a mess of Akron defenders, who tipped the ball back into the arms of receiver Eddie Tillitz, who scored and gave the Redhawks the W as time expired.
The convoy of Michigan defenders flanking John Thompson after he picks off Allan Evridge's tipped pass is one of the few positive, lasting images from the dreadful 2008 campaign.
Thompson's touchdown run capped a three score comeback for the Wolverines, who had given up five turnovers in the first half and were down 19-0, to give the Wolverines a win in their 500th game and their largest comeback victory ever at the Big House.
For the briefest week, we were believing in the Michigan defense again.
Denver was down 7-6 to the Cincinnati Bengals and had less than thirty seconds to go to get in range for a field goal.
Orton's pass to Brandon Marshall was deflected and spinning wildly in the air above three Bengals defenders' heads. But it was Broncos WR Brandon Stokely who caught it and took it to the house to secure a Denver win in the unlikeliest and most heart-stopping of plays.
Broncos fans should get used to it: the tipped pass is like a regular play call over there.
A last-minute Houston drive looked to be ending on fourth down as the Cougars, down 10-14 to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 1980 Cotton Bowl.
But from six yards out, Houston QB Terry Elston's pass the over middle was deflected by Lindquist's shoulder pad and directly into the arms of Herring, who juggled it momentarily, before securing it.
12 seconds remained on the clock, but the victory was sealed. A year after losing to Joe Montana in the Cotton Bowl, the Cougars were victorious. The last minute heroics on a tipped pass were the difference in the game.
Hey, what do you know? Favre is in a slideshow about tipped passes.
The Packers and the Vikings were battling on Monday Night Football in 2000, tied up in overtime.
That's when Favre "hit" Vikings cornerback Chris Dishman, who tried for the interception, but instead, tipped the ball into the hands of Antonio Freeman, who bobbles it, gets up, and runs it in for the winning score at Lambeau Field.
The catch was ruled complete and was beyond review. However, the announcer's theological argument on behalf of the touchdown's "meant-to-be-ness" is still being reviewed by religious scholars everywhere.
One of the crucial touchdowns that contributed to Oregon State's upset win over #1 USC, boasting the greatest defense in college football, was scored off a tipped (and unwisely thrown) pass from Lyle Moevao to James Rodgers in the corner of the endzone.
If it tips the other direction, the 2008 national title race completely shifts. Gotta be one of the biggest single plays of the year, in my opinion.
It's at the three minute mark, if you want to skip the rave music.
Husky fans are already christening it the Immaculate Interception.
Washington's Mason Foster catches a pass caroming off an Arizona receiver's foot in mid-step, and takes it all the way back to put the Huskies up, 36-33, the final score, concluding a fifteen point comeback in the final minutes of the game.
Of all the lasting images from a wild weekend, none can stand for the chaotic nature of the game better than the look of elation from the Washington faithful, and the look of confusion and disillusion on the Arizona bench.
The Missouri Tigers had the undefeated Nebraska Cornhuskers and their top-ranked defense on the ropes for most of the game. With a 38-31 lead and a minute and two seconds remaining, it appeared as though the Tigers could pull off the upset.
Scott Frost drove Nebraska down the field and had twelve yards and seven seconds to go to score.
Coach Tom Osborne wanted to call an option run, but Frost and Husker QB coach Turner Gill convinced him to call a double slant.
Frost's slant pass tipped off a safety's hands, caromed in the air, and then, miraculously, got kicked to the back of the endzone, where a streaking Matt Davison dove and caught it, allowing Nebraska the chance to win it in OT, and keeping the national championship dreams for the Huskers alive.