Like I preface every post in this category, I’ll say this list is based solely on my fading memory. The first Super Bowl I remember was Super Bowl 11, so I missed a decade of great plays. Also of note is that these are plays that stand out in my mind as awesome – not necessarily the most important plays, but the most impressive. I hope I’m not forgetting an obvious one, but here goes.
- Charles Haley, Super Bowl 27 – Haley’s speed blasted him past Bills All-AFC tackle Howard Ballard. Haley knocked the ball out of QB Jim Kelly’s hands before Kelly stopped fading back. Cowboy Jimmie Jones returned the fumble for a touchdown and a 14-7 first quarter lead. The Cowboys crushed Buffalo 52-17.
- Joe Montana to John Taylor, Super Bowl 23 – A lot of people rank this higher because it was the game-winning score with 34 seconds left. Not a spectacular catch by Taylor, but an amazing throw by Montana. The ball landed perfectly into Taylor’s hands, sweeping past two Bengal defenders. Another perfectly thrown ball from Joe Cool.
- Rocky Bleier, Super Bowl 13 –The Steelers and Cowboys were tied at 14 in the first half’s waning moments. The Steelers hoped to pick up a first down deep in Dallas territory. In The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL, Rocky said he thought quarterback Terry Bradshaw had overthrown him. Bleier’s extra effort got him high enough to bring down the ball and a lead the Steelers never relented. Not only did the catch land Rocky in the end zone, it landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
- Desmond Howard, Super Bowl 31 – Howard’s amazing speed tore through the Patriots defense faster than defenders reached the middle of the field. Desmond simply outran everybody for what was then the longest kickoff return in Super Bowl history (currently held by Jacoby Jones). The play sewed up the Packer victory, and made Desmond the only predominately special teams player to win the Super Bowl MVP award.
- John Riggins, Super Bowl 17 – Fourth down and inches, early in the fourth quarter, down 17-13. Washington chooses to go for it from the Miami 43. Riggins took the ball around end, ran over a tackler, and took it all the way to the end zone. Not only one of the best Super Bowl plays I remember, but one of the most legendary. Riggins became the first NFC rusher to rush for 100 yards in the Super Bowl. Watch the video and hear Merlin Olsen give some inside info as to why the play broke the way it did.
- John Stallworth, Super Bowl 14 – The Rams had a surprising 19-17 lead on the defending champion Steelers. Bradshaw heaved a javelin to Stallworth, who caught it over his opposite shoulder. Stallworth dashed to the end zone, giving the Steelers the lead in an exciting game.
- Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl 43 – With all these Steeler plays, you might think I’m a Steelers fan. I, however, cheer for a different team. Like Rocky Bleier says in the book, it often comes down to who executes the best on big plays that are decided by inches. Holmes made an incredible catch, diving and keeping his feet barely in bounds to win Super Bowl 43. Watching it live, it happened so fast. Thinking back, it still blows my mind that Holmes could make such a superb catch while barely keeping his feet in bounds. All that on a ball Ben Roethlisberger threw into triple coverage. Still amazing to watch.
- Marcus Allen, Super Bowl 18 – Few plays demonstrate a player’s ability like this run by Allen. An off-tackle into traffic, it looked certain that he’d be tackled in the backfield. He reversed field, however, and blazed past every defender in sight, giving the Raiders a commanding 35-9 lead in the third quarter. I’m sure there were some Dolphin fans cheering, remembering what Riggins had done to them the year before. And what true football fan doesn’t love seeing receiver Cliff Branch running just as hard to make a block downfield?
- Mike Jones, Super Bowl 34 – An exceptional play by a man with a very common name. The Rams/Titans Super Bowl ended in most dramatic fashion, with the Rams leading 23-16. The play before Jones’ play almost should make this list, as Steve McNair scrambled, broke a tackle, and somehow got the ball to Kevin Dyson on the Rams 11. Jones gets beat on the next play by Dyson, but dives to tackle him, saving the Super Bowl for the Rams as time ran out. People remember the game more than what a tough tackle it was to bring down Dyson from that angle.
1. David Tyree, Super Bowl 42 – Also perhaps the luckiest, or weirdest, or most improbable play. Whatever you wish to call it, the catch almost never happened. Eli Manning was sacked. Or so it seemed. He certainly would have been called “In the Grasp” back in the day. He escaped like Harry Houdini. Like Brett Favre, he just threw the ball up for grabs, hoping Tyree would come down with it. Somehow, aided by the side of his helmet, he did. He even held on as it hit the ground. The undefeated Patriots did everything they could on that play – they got to the QB, they covered the receiver well, and hit Tyree as he caught the ball. An amazing play that is still hard to believe. It truly looked like magic. And still does.
After watching nearly 40 Super Bowls, a lot of plays stand out. A couple of Raider plays barely missed the Top 10: Willie Brown’s touchdown return in Super Bowl 11, Kenny King’s 80-yard screen from Jim Plunkett in Super Bowl 15. So did two Cowboy touchdowns in Super Bowl 12. Butch Johnson’s diving catch on a great throw from Roger Staubach into double coverage, and Robert Newhouse hitting Golden Richards for a touchdown on the half-back option.
BEFORE MY TIME
The greatest Super Bowl play, in my mind, happened in Super Bowl 10. Lynn Swann making a catch from Terry Bradshaw. No, it’s not the swan dive you’re thinking of, although that was a great play, too. This play was astonishing because of Bradshaw’s throw. Bradshaw got hit hard enough to knock him out for the rest of the game, but still threw a perfectly thrown ball over 60 yards. Truly one of the greatest throws in NFL history, in this humble writer’s opinion.
The first touchdown in Super Bowl history was an incredible behind-the-back, juggling catch by the Packers Max McGee that can be seen around the 1:00 mark in this video. Otis Taylor’s touchdown in Super Bowl 4 is also remarkable. Watch him break two tackles on the way to pay dirt at the 2 minute mark.
What are the best Super Bowl plays you remember?