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NFL: The 8 Greatest Running Plays in League History

Brian WrightCorrespondent IIJune 27, 2011

NFL: The 8 Greatest Running Plays in League History

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    The NFL has become more of a passing game in the last 30 years. However, there's been no shortage of important moments that were made by those who don't throw the ball in order to move down the field.

    The top eight running plays in league history — which are either designed carries or quarterback scrambles  — were determined by the magnitude of the game in which the run occurred, the significance of the run in that game and the sheer excitement of the play.

8. Garrison Hearst Ends Opening Day Thriller

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    A back-and-forth duel between the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers on Opening Day 1998 was knotted 30-30 at the conclusion of regulation.

    The renowned Steve Young and the unheralded Glenn Foley combined to throw for nearly 800 yards, yet it would be the game-winning carry by Garrison Hearst that made this contest memorable.

    Hearst's 96-yard scoring gallop less than five minutes into overtime was the first win in a 12-victory season — one in which San Francisco reached the NFC Divisional round. Bill Parcells and the Jets went deeper into the postseason, losing in the AFC title game.

7. Tony Dorsett Goes 99 Yards

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    Pinned at the 1-yard line during a Monday night contest with the Minnesota Vikings in December 1982, Cowboys quarterback Danny White handed off to Tony Dorsett.

    In what was designed as a run up the middle, Dallas' star back ran through the gaping hole created by his offensive line and broke out into the open field. He then tight-roped the sideline beautifully and reached pay dirt to complete the longest running play in the annals of the NFL.

6. Marshawn Lynch Stiff-Arms the Saints

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    The most recent run on this list happened in this past year's NFC Wildcard round. 

    The 7-9 West division champion Seattle Seahawks used one of its best offensive outputs of the season and a raucous home field advantage to lead the New Orleans Saints 34-30 in the fourth period.

    But with 3:35 remaining, running back Marshawn Lynch - acquired in a mid-season trade with the Buffalo Bills - was about to set the Qwest Field crowd on its collective ears.

    Lynch's 67 yards of strength and determination put the finishing touches on Seattle's elimination of the defending Super Bowl winners.

5. Unitas Gives to Ameche

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    Alan Ameche's short-yardage game-winning touchdown in the 1958 NFL Championship against the New York Giants is on this list due to the fact that it was the deciding play in one of the most important games in league history.

    When Baltimore Colts kicker Steve Myhra tied the game 17-17 with a late field goal, it led to the NFL's first venture into sudden death overtime.

    The Giants failed to gain on their first possession in the extra session. Johnny Unitas and the Colts did not fail in their opportunity. Although only a field goal was needed for a win, the legendary Unitas took nothing to chance. On third down at the goal line, Unitas called for a run play to the right as most Giant defenders were anticipating a run to the left.

    Ameche, with a block from Lenny Moore, dove in for the touchdown to end "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

4. Steve Young's Mad Scramble

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    Steve Young will be remembered as a quarterback that was a risk-taker when it came to running with the football. This play against the Vikings in 1988 is the best example of Young's perilous endeavors.

    Subbing for struggling starter Joe Montana, Young and the Niners were behind by four points with 3:14 to go. No. 8 dropped back to pass and, when under pressure, took off on a winding and weaving adventure that ended with an exhausted Young in the end zone.

    The unbelievable run was the game-winning score and proved vital as San Francisco finished 10-6 and reached the postseason - ultimately winning Super Bowl XXIII with Montana back behind center.

3. The Diesel Does in the Dolphins

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    Head coach Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins were the dominant team of 1982, led by a cast of characters.

    Their offensive line, nicknamed "The Hogs," helped pave the way for the runs of bruising fullback John Riggins, known as "The Diesel."

    In Super Bowl XVII versus the Miami Dolphins, Riggins carried the ball 38 times for 166 yards, but it was his 43 yards on a fourth-and-1 down 17-14 with 10 minutes to go in the fourth period that proved to be the most critical.

    The play call was I-Right 70 Chip. Riggins took the hand-off from quarterback Joe Theismann, broke through the arms of would-be Dolphin tackler Don McNeal and went untouched the rest of the way.

    The Redskins won 27-17 for their first NFL title in 40 years.

2. Bart Starr's Ice Bowl Sneak

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    It's the greatest quarterback sneak in pro football history. And like the 1958 NFL Championship, this play is famous due to the game's context.

    On a surface more suited for figure skating and in conditions more suited for Eskimos, the Green Bay Packers were faced with a 17-14 deficit to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game.

    With 4:30 to go, Starr and his team were 68 yards from victory. He led a march that halted at the Dallas 1-yard line. Two unsuccessful hand-offs to fullback Donnie Anderson forced Starr to call Green Bay's last timeout. There were 16 seconds to go.

    Starr and head coach Vince Lombardi decided on a simple QB sneak. With a block from right guard Jerry Kramer, the play worked to perfection. The Packers captured their third NFL Championship in a row and  went on to win Super Bowl II.

    Starr's sneak starts at the 7:56 mark of the video.

1. Marcus Allen Runs to Glory

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    Marcus Allen became an icon in Los Angeles during his Heisman Trophy-winning days at USC.

    He became a nationally-known star in the Raiders' 38-9 blowout of the favored Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.

    The pinnacle moment of Allen's 191-yard, MVP-winning performance came in the late stages of the third quarter with Los Angeles trying to put away Washington away for good.

    Right after quarterback Jim Plunkett handed the ball off to Allen, he saw Redskins defender Ken Coffey approaching him untouched. But Allen reversed direction and used his Hall of Fame speed go 74 yards and into the end zone.

    What appeared at first to be a broken play turned into an exhilarating one that set the record as the longest run in Super Bowl history. 

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