NFL: The 10 Most Devastating Fumbles in History

Brian Wright@@BrianWright86Correspondent IIJuly 1, 2011

NFL: The 10 Most Devastating Fumbles in History

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    It's the worst nightmare for an offensive skill position player.

    The fumble is the instance when a ball carrier loses possession and, at the same time, when their fans lose some bit of trust in that player's security with the pigskin.

    Of course, some fumbles hold greater significance than others. There are those select few that brought unbridled and unexpected joy to one side while providing deep despair to the other.

    The following is a list of an imperfect 10—the most devastating fumbles in the history of the NFL.

10. Gifford Leveled by Concrete Charlie

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    In 1960, New York Giants running back Frank Gifford was the golden boy of the NFL. Of much different description was the Philadelphia Eagles' Chuck Bednarik—the last of the "60 minute men" who played regularly on both offense and defense.

    Although he was also a center, the menacing Bednarik did his most of his damage as a linebacker.

    During a regular season meeting at Yankee Stadium in late November, the Giants were on offense behind by a touchdown in the game's waning moments.

    Gifford caught a pass over the middle and tried to get out of bounds to stop the clock. But that route was short-circuited by a savage Bednarik tackle that sent Gifford straight to the ground and the ball into the air. Chuck Weber fell on the loose ball to preserve a 17-10 win that helped Philadelphia capture the 1960 NFL Championship.

    Bednarik's hit knocked Gifford out of football for 18 months and probably made him contemplate going into television.

    The hit and fumble starts 2:14 into the video.

9. James Stewart Ends Jags' Dream

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    In just their second year of existence, the Jacksonville Jaguars made an likely run into and through the 1996 AFC playoffs.The Jags followed their Wild Card win over Buffalo with a stunning upset of top-seeded Denver in the Divisional round.

    The AFC Championship game pitted visiting Cinderella against the New England Patriots. Jacksonville's offense failed to show up, as they were only able to muster two field goals through three quarters. Fortunately, its defense held the Pats to just 13 points.

    It was still a one-score game with the two minute warning approaching. The Jags had possession near midfield. Running back James Stewart, though, halted their advance by losing control of the football. The consequences of his fumble were a recovery by New England cornerback Otis Smith and a run back 47 yards to the end zone to clinch the AFC title.

8. Tony Romo's Botched Snap

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    The birth of Tony Romo's inability to win big games occurred at Quest Field in Seattle.

    In 2006, Romo had taken over as Dallas' quarterback in a Week 7 matchup with the New York Giants. The replacement for struggling Drew Bledsoe became an instant success. The undrafted signal-caller from Eastern Illinois finished the year with 2,903 passing yards and 19 touchdowns in leading the Cowboys to a Wild Card playoff encounter with the Seahawks.

    Dallas held a 20-13 lead into the final quarter, but the defending NFC champs struck back with a safety and a touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Jerramy Stevens. After a failed two-point attempt, the score was 21-20 in favor of Seattle.

    Romo and the Cowboys drove down in an effort to win the game with a field goal. They got into position for a 19-yard chip shot with 1:19 left that would all but send Dallas into the divisional round.

    Then Romo, the team's place-holder since the start of the season, fumbled the ball as he tried to catch the snap and set the ball down. In desperation, Romo picked it up and tried to scamper for the touchdown. That didn't work either, as he was tripped up by Jordan Babineaux at the 1-yard-line.

7. Bills' Defense Downs Broncos

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    Aiming for their second straight AFC title, the Buffalo Bills—a team that easily lit up the scoreboard—were in a defensive struggle with the Denver Broncos.

    A scoreless draw into the third quarter of the 1991 AFC Championship was broken when a attempted screen pass by John Elway deep in their own territory ended up in the hands of Bills defensive lineman Carlton Bailey, who took the interception back into the end zone.

    Buffalo made it 10-0 with 4:18 to go before Broncos backup quarterback Gary Kubiak—taking over for an injured Elway—led his team on an 85-yard drive in just eight plays. The result of the march was a touchdown and a tightening of the margin to just three.

    Now with less than two minutes left, Denver tried and recovered an on-side kick attempt. However, they gave it right back on the very next play. Bills defensive back Kirby Jackson forced and snatched a fumble on Broncos running back Steve Sewell after a pass completion.

6. Danny White's Generosity

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    It was a game that will be forever remembered for "The Catch."

    The 1981 NFC Championship launched the 49ers dynasty - and all but ended the Cowboys reign—with Joe Montana's unforgettable scoring pass to tight end Dwight Clark.

    But the play left 51 seconds on the clock and time for Dallas to answer.

    Down 28-27, Cowboys quarterback Danny White found receiver Drew Pearson. Just as Pearson got into San Francisco territory, he was pulled down by cornerback Eric Wright (remember him for later) with a critical tackle that kept Dallas on the outskirts of field goal range.

    On the very next play, White was sacked and separated from the ball by Lawrence Pillars. Possession and the Super Bowl berth then belonged to the Niners. History could have been much different not for those defensive efforts.

    White's fumble occurs at the 2:30 mark of the video.

5. Thurman Thomas' Super Bowl Swoon

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    Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas was a major reason why the Buffalo Bills reached the Super Bowl four consecutive years—an accomplishment that probably will never be equaled. Thomas is also one of many reasons why Buffalo was 0-for-4 in those championship contests.

    With the exception of a solid performance in Super Bowl XXV against the Giants, Thomas was unproductive on the game's biggest stage. His most untimely gaffe was in Super Bowl XXVIII against Dallas and provided the impetus for a second half Cowboy uprising.

    The Bills held a 13-6 lead at halftime and got the ball to start the third quarter. Just 45 seconds into the period, disaster struck. Leon Lett stripped Thomas and Dallas defensive back James Washington returned the loose ball 46 yards for a touchdown that would tie the game.

    The Cowboys and MVP Emmit Smith proved invincible from then on, pulling away to a 30-13 victory - their second straight Super Bowl triumph over star-crossed Buffalo.

    Thomas' fumble starts at the 4:46 mark of the video.

4. Wright on Time

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    Unaffected by the euphoria of their thrilling NFC Championship triumph against Dallas, the San Francisco 49ers fended off the Cincinnati Bengals by a score of 26-20 to capture their first world championship.

    Two weeks earlier, Eric Wright made a key tackle of Drew Pearson to prevent him and the Cowboys from getting in position to to kick a field goal. In Super Bowl XVI, he stifled another notable receiver.

    Down 7-0, the Bengals were driving toward a touchdown, especially when quarterback Ken Anderson connected with wide out (and current NBC analyst) Cris Collinsworth at the Niners' five-yard-line. But just as Collinsworth could make his way up field, Wright excecuted a strip tackle to perfection.

    San Francisco completed the theft by falling on the ball at their own eight, then marched 92 yards for a touchdown.

    Wright's strip starts at the 4:50 mark of the video.

3. "Miracle at the Meadowlands"

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    The New York Giants were headed for certain victory against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles on November 19, 1978. They led 17-12 with under a minute remaining and only had to run out the clock.

    But somehow, the Giants managed to mangle the easiest play in football by gift-wrapping a win to their divisional rivals.

    Miscommunication all around led to New York quarterback Joe Pisarcik losing control of the ball when trying to hand off to fullback Larry Csonka. Eagles defensive back Herm Edwards scooped up the fumble and took it back for an unbelievable game-altering touchdown.

    The event had effects on both sides. Philly finished the season 9-7 and earned a playoff berth. New York made sweeping changes in the offseason—including the release of head coach John McVay and the hiring of general manager George Young. The latter was instrumental in the Giants' success throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

2. Roger Craig's Cough-Up

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    The 49ers were primed for a third straight Super Bowl championship in 1990. Starting out 10-0, they gained home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

    In the conference championship, they hosted a Giants team without regular starting quarterback Phil Simms and relying on back-up Jeff Hostetler. But San Francisco would also feel what it's like to lose its star signal-caller. The impact of a Leonard Marshall hit on Joe Montana in the fourth quarter forced the future Hall of Famer out of the game.

    But the Niners still held a 13-12 lead with less than three minutes to go. They had possession of the ball, trying to run out the clock. On first down from the New York 40-yard-line, running back Roger Craig was hit by Erik Howard behind the line of scrimmage and fumbled. The loose ball fell into the hands of linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

    Hostetler and the Giants marched down the field and got in range for Matt Bahr to kick his fifth field goal of the game as time ran out, ending San Francisco's "three-peat" attempt.

1. "The Fumble"

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    It's a probability that if you say "Cleveland" while playing word association with sports fan, that person would respond with "painful" - or a synonym of the word. That's because the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers have all suffered heart-breaking setbacks without much reward in return.

    Maybe the one that hurts the most is the 1987 AFC Championship Game in Denver. The Browns were looking to enact revenge on a Broncos team, led by John Elway, that defeated them in this same spot last year with "The Drive."

    Momentum that was clearly on Denver's side thanks to a 21-3 Broncos advantage at halftime quickly swung the other way as Browns QB Bernie Kosar threw four second half touchdowns. Cleveland came back to knot the score at 31 in the fourth period. The Broncos responded to take a 38-31 lead late.

    Cleveland answered and was on the verge of tying the game again. The ball was at the eight-yard-line with 1:12 remaining. Running back Earnest Byner took a hand-off and appeared to heading for a score.

    Just before he reached the goal line, Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille jarred the ball loose. Denver recovered and advanced to its second straight Super Bowl appearance.

    The Browns still haven't reached the Super Bowl.