NFL: The Top 10 Cinderella Seasons in History

Matt Stein@MatthewJSteinCorrespondent IIMay 17, 2011

NFL: The Top 10 Cinderella Seasons in History

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    F363722 55: (NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY) Quarterback Kurt Warner of the St Louis Rams is escorted off the field after winning Super Bowl XXXIV at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia on January 30, 2000. The St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee T
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Every year the Lombardi trophy is given to the winner of the Super Bowl.  We don't remember every team that has ever won the big game, but we do remember the teams that gave us a Cinderella season.

    Guys like Kurt Warner, Joe Namath and Tom Brady have all been part of a fairytale ending.  The New Orleans Saints revitalized a community while the New York Giants stopped perfection in its tracks. 

    These Cinderella teams didn't need free agency or the draft to accomplish what they did.  All they needed was someone to step up when the going got tough.

    We don't know when these seasons will come, but when they do, they will forever be engraved in our memories.  Here are the 10 greatest Cinderella seasons in NFL history.  Please refrain from crying if at all possible.

10. 1999 Tennessee Titans

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    ATLANTA - JANUARY 30:  Kevin Dyson #87 of the Tennessee Titans reaches for the end zone as he is tackled in the last play of the game during the Super Bowl XXXIV Game against the St. Louis Rams at the Georgia Dome on January 30, 2000 in Atlanta, Georgia.
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Tennessee Titans' 1999 regular season was far from a Cinderella story.  The newly named Titans dominated their way to a 13-3 regular season record, with an undefeated record in their new home.

    The Cinderella part of the Titans' story took place in the playoffs.  In their first playoff game, the Titans were down by one point with 16 seconds left in the game.  The Buffalo Bills kicked off and became the victims of the "Music City Miracle."  Frank Wycheck lobbed a pass across the field to Kevin Dyson, who returned the ball 75 yards for a game winning touchdown.

    After beating the Colts and Jaguars, Tennessee landed a spot in Super Bowl XXXIV against the St. Louis Rams (more to come on them later).  The game was extremely competitive, and the Titans were down by a touchdown with only six seconds to go.  Steve McNair dropped back and found an open Kevin Dyson.  Dyson turned towards the end zone, was wrapped up by Mike Jones and landed one yard short from tying the game at 23.

    Had Dyson been three feet taller, the Titans might have won and ended up higher on this list.  Unfortunately, Dyson fell a yard short and the Cinderella season ended in defeat.

9. 2010 Green Bay Packers

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    GREEN BAY, WI - FEBRUARY 08:  Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hoists the Lombardi Trophy during the Packers victory ceremony at Lambeau Field on February 8, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Matt Ludtke/Getty Images)
    Matt Ludtke/Getty Images

    The Green Bay Packers were a preseason pick to make the Super Bowl, which is why they are so low on this list.

    Green Bay overcame great adversity on their way to a Super Bowl victory.  The injury bug bit the Packers early and often, with 16 players eventually ending up on Injured Reserve.  Stars such as Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley and Nick Barnett all had their seasons cut extremely short.

    Aaron Rodgers single handedly led the Packers to an 8-4 record before he suffered a concussion.  After losing the next two games it appeared as if they would miss the playoffs entirely.  However, they blew out the Giants the following week and won a tough, must-win game against the rival Bears to creep into the playoffs as the final Wild Card team.

    They beat the Eagles, Falcons and Bears, all on the road, to face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Their trying season came to an end with a 31-25 victory over the Steelers and a Super Bowl MVP award for Aaron Rodgers.

8. 1969 Kansas City Chiefs

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 26:  Members of the 1968 Jets touch the Lombardi Trophy during halftime festivities celebrating the 40th anniversary of the team's win over the Colts in Super Bowl III during the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Ne
    Jarrett Baker/Getty Images

    The 1969 Kansas City Chiefs boasted one of the best defenses in NFL history.  Quarterback Len Dawson was a future Hall of Famer, as was coach Hank Stram.

    What makes the Chiefs 1969 season so impressive is that Dawson sustained a knee injury in the second week of the season.  The following week, Jacky Lee went down, leaving second-year quarterback Mike Livingston in charge.

    Livingston led the Chiefs to a 5-game winning streak and finished with a surprising 9-1 record as a starter.  Len Dawson returned for the season finale and playoffs, where the Chiefs beat the Jets and Raiders to make it to the Super Bowl to play the Minnesota Vikings.

    The Vikings were huge favorites to win the game, but the Chiefs defense stepped up big, holding the Vikings to a mere seven points.  Len Dawson won Super Bowl MVP, capping a Cinderella season for the Chiefs.

7. 2006 New Orleans Saints

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    NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 13:  A banner reading '1st Season Sell-Out 2006 Season Ticket Holders' is unveiled before the NFC divisional playoff game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome on January 13, 2007 in New Orleans,
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The 2006 season for the New Orleans Saints was special in so many ways.  Following the horrific damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, the people of New Orleans needed something to call their own again.

    The Saints played their home games during the 2005 NFL season in San Antonio and Baton Rouge.  They finished 3-13 that season, good enough to draft Reggie Bush with the second pick in the 2006 draft.

    When construction on the Superdome completed in 2006, the Saints sold out their season tickets for the first time in franchise history.  Their first home game was viewed by over 10 million people and won a 2007 ESPY for "Best Moment in Sports."  New Orleans wasn't done, though.

    Drew Brees helped the Saints to a 10-6 record and a first-round bye in the playoffs.  They won their first playoff game against the Eagles, but came up short in the NFC Championship game against the Chicago Bears.

    I don't think there has been a better feel good story in recent NFL history.

6. 1980 Oakland Raiders

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    7 Dec 1980:  Quarterback Jim Plunkett of the Oakland Raiders prepares to pass the ball during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Cowboys won the game 19-13. Mandatory Credit: Allsport  /Al
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Oakland started the 1980 season at 2-2 before starting quarterback Dan Pastorini broke his leg against Kansas City.  Jim Plunkett came into the game for Pastorini and threw five interceptions which resulted in a 31-17 loss to the Chiefs.

    That was about the time that everyone gave up on the Raiders.  However, Plunkett was given the starting job and went on to win the next six games.  Plunkett finished the season 9-2 as a starter, and Oakland made the playoffs as a 11-5 wild card team.

    The Raiders won their four next games, including a Super Bowl victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.  They became the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl.  Jim Plunkett capped off a brilliant season by throwing for 261 yards and three touchdowns and winning Super Bowl MVP.

5. 2008 Arizona Cardinals

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    GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Quarterback Kurt Warner #13 of the Arizona Cardinals throws a pass against the Seattle Seahawks on December 28, 2008 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Arizona Cardinals fans waited a long time to have a quarterback like Kurt Warner.  2008 was the first winning season for the Cardinals since 1998, when Jake Plummer was quarterback.

    Finishing 9-7, the Cardinals won the NFC West.  However, Arizona stumbled into the playoffs, losing four of their last six regular season games.

    The Cardinals handled the Falcons at home and then had to travel to Carolina to face the Panthers.  They had struggled on the road all season long, going 3-5 in their opponents' stadiums.  Quickly gaining a huge lead, Arizona went on to hand the Panthers a 33-13 loss.  The last team to stand in their way was the Philadelphia Eagles and Donovan McNabb.  Although not an easy victory, Philadelphia proved to be no match for the determined Cardinals. 

    Finally, Kurt Warner was back in a Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger.  Pittsburgh led for the majority of the game until Larry Fitzgerald caught two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to give Arizona the lead.

    The Steelers drove back down the field and Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes in the corner for a six-yard touchdown, which would prove to be the game winner.  Warner's gutsy playoff performance was one of the best ever.

4. 2001 New England Patriots

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    19 Jan 2001:  Kicker Adam Vinatieri of the New England Patriots ties the game in the closing seconds against the Oakland Raiders forcing overtime at Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.The Patriots won 16-13.  Digital image. Mandatory Credit: Al Bel
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    It is hard to remember, but at the start of the 2001 season, Tom Brady was backing-up Drew Bledsoe for the Patriots.  During the second week against the Jets, Bledsoe was injured and the legend of Tom Brady began.

    Brady and the Patriots went 11-3 after the injury to Bledsoe, including a six-game winning streak to close out the season.  He was efficient during the regular season, throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns.

    The Patriots' Cinderella season really took form during the playoffs.  A snowy, overtime victory against the Raiders proved to only be the beginning.  New England took down the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship for a face off with the high-powered St. Louis Rams featuring Kurt Warner.

    The Patriots were given no chance to win this game by the media.  "The Greatest Show on Turf" was heavily favored and the game was expected to be a blowout.  With a tie score and only a little over a minute left, Brady worked his magic and got New England into scoring position.  Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal to win the game and that was the start of the Patriots' dynasty.

3. 2007 New York Giants

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    GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 03:  David Tyree #85 of the New York Giants catches a 32-yard pass from Eli Manning #10 as Rodney Harrison #37 of the New England Patriots attempts to knock it out in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII on February 3, 2008 at the
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Giants weren't supposed to win the Super Bowl.  They were going up against the best football team of the decade, which was also on a mission to complete a perfect season.

    Tom Brady and Randy Moss headlined the most prolific offense ever and they were expected to steamroll over the New York Giants.  It was the classic David vs. Goliath.

    The Giants jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first quarter.  It wasn't until the second quarter that the Patriots finally got on the board, taking a 7-3 lead.  What was supposed to be a high-scoring affair turned into a defensive battle. 

    New York regained the lead in the fourth quarter, thanks to Eli Manning connecting with David Tyree for a touchdown.  Brady and Moss hooked up to make the game 14-10 with under three minutes left to play.  The perfect season was all but complete.

    Then the Giants have the ball on 4th down with inches to go and the catch heard around the world happened.  Manning magically escaped a sack to complete a 32-yard pass, which was caught on the head of David Tyree.  With time running out, Plaxico Burress caught a Manning touchdown throw.

    Eli won the MVP, the Patriots missed out on their chance at perfection and Goliath finally fell.

2. 1968 New York Jets

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 26:  Former Jets quarterback is introduced during halftime festivities celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Jets' win over the Colts in Super Bowl III during the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Jets on
    Jarrett Baker/Getty Images

    Back in the late 1960's, the AFL was regarded to be much worse than the NFL.  Joe Namath and the New York Jets decided to prove everyone wrong.

    New York won the AFL Championship by beating the Oakland Raiders, and their prize was to play the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. No one believed that the Jets could defeat the Colts, which made Namath's guarantee for victory so shocking.

    While being honored as Player of the Year, Namath stated, "The Jets will win Sunday.  I guarantee you."  Broadway Joe and his supporting cast handed the Colts a 16-7 loss.

    Super Bowl III has been called the greatest upset in football history as the New York Jets claimed victory over Johny Unitas and the Colts.  Namath took home the MVP for his performance and proved that the AFL could compete with the NFL.

1. 1999 St. Louis Rams

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    ATLANTA - JANUARY 30:  Quarterback Kurt Warner #13 of the St. Louis Rams celebrates as he hoist up the Lombardi trophy after defeating the Tennessee Titans 23-16 in Super Bowl XXXIV at the Georgia Dome on January 30, 2000 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by B
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Having gone 4-12 the previous season, no one expected the St. Louis Rams to win the Super Bowl.  Heck, no one expected the St. Louis Rams to make the playoffs.  When starting quarterback Trent Green went down with an injury in the preseason, some people wondered if St. Louis could even win another four games.

    Enter Kurt Warner.  The grocery clerk turner Arena Football League star took hold of the Rams offense and never let go.  He put on a show for people that could only be true in a fairytale.

    Warner threw for over 4,300 yards and 41 touchdowns while completing over 65 percent of his passes.  He teamed with Marshall Faulk, Issac Bruce and Torry Holt to produce an extremely high powered offense.  The Rams averaged nearly 33 points per game on their way to a 13-3 season.

    Entering the playoffs, St. Louis beat the Vikings in a high scoring contest.  In the NFC Championship, Tampa Bay's defense held the Rams to only 11 points, but St. Louis still came away with the victory.

    In a close game against the Tennessee Titans, Warner threw for over 400 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.  Warner walked away as Super Bowl MVP and the St. Louis Rams season went down in the history books as the top Cinderella season ever.