The NFL’s signature game—the Super Bowl—has seen a number of memorable plays over the years since its inception in 1967. Some were jaw-dropping, others heartbreaking. A few of them were even laughable—yet are still talked about years later. Here are the 10 most memorable Super Bowl plays.
10. ‘Refrigerator’ Perry’s TD Run
One of the most lopsided Super Bowls ever, Super Bowl XX saw the Chicago Bears put a 46–10 beating on the New England Patriots—a margin of victory that was only eclipsed by San Francisco’s 55–10 thumping of Denver four years later.
The Bears forced six turnovers and held the Patriots to just 123 yards of offense while not allowing them into the end zone until the fourth quarter, when the game was well in hand. In the third quarter, Chicago—already ahead 37–3 at the time—decided to get cute. The Bears had the ball first and goal at the one and decided to line up 335-pound (at least) defensive tackle William “Refrigerator” Perry at running back. The popular lineman took the handoff and rumbled through New England’s already-exhausted defense for the easy score to put the Bears up 44–3 and the rout was on.
9. Scott Norwood’s Missed Field Goal
Super Bowl XXV between the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills was maybe the most exciting, well-played Super Bowl ever. There were no turnovers in the contest, and the lead changed hands five times—and nearly a sixth at the end.
The Giants’ strategy was to keep Buffalo’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense on the sidelines—and it worked. New York held the ball for more than 40 of the game’s 60 minutes. Buffalo didn’t even convert a third down until the final drive of the game. On that fateful, final possession, the Bills—trailing 20–19—got the ball all the way to New York’s 29-yard line with eight seconds left and—without any timeouts remaining—put the game in the hands of placekicker Scott Norwood for the 47-yard field goal try. Norwood’s kick was wide right, though, and the Giants won their second Super Bowl in five years.
8. James Harrison’s 100-Yard Interception Return
One of the biggest, single-play turnarounds in Super Bowl history happened when Pittsburgh’s James Harrison intercepted Arizona’s Kurt Warner at the goal line and ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half to put the Steelers up 17–7 going into halftime of Super Bowl XLIII.
The play single-handedly won the game for Pittsburgh, which wound up winning 27–23 via a last-minute touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes. But Harrison’s interception kept Arizona—which had the ball just inside the 2 at the time, with 18 seconds left—from getting at least three points (if not seven) while netting the Steelers seven points. Without it, Pittsburgh most likely goes into halftime either tied at 10 or down 4 (14–10) instead of up 10—a possible 14-point swing in one play.
7. John Elway’s ‘Helicopter’ Dive
Super Bowl XXXII between the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers marked John Elway’s fourth time on the NFL’s big stage (the first in eight years), though the previous three had all seen his Broncos on the wrong end of a blowout. The Packers, meanwhile, were the defending champs; and as 11-point favorites, few thought Green Bay would lose this one. But Elway was determined to reverse the script, and he showed it on one signature play.
With the score tied at 17 late in the third quarter and the Broncos facing a third-and-6 at Green Bay’s 12, Elway dropped back to pass. But with no one open and the Broncos needing a touchdown to keep hard-charging Green Bay at arm’s length, Elway—37 at the time—decided to run for it. Somehow he found a crease in the defense, ran to the 7-yard line, put his shoulder down, and dove right into three defenders who hit and spun him around midair—while landing at the 4 for a first down. Maybe the hardest 8-yard run in Super Bowl history.
6. Leon Lett Stripped by Don Beebe
The Buffalo Bills lost four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s, but Super Bowl XXVII—a 52–17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys—was the most embarrassing of them all. And it could have been worse.
Already trailing by 35 points in the fourth quarter, Bills backup quarterback Frank Reich was sacked and fumbled the ball at Dallas’s 36-yard line. Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett picked up the ball and rumbled 64 yards to the end zone for what looked to him like a sure touchdown. But Lett wasn’t as alone as he thought. Hustling down the sideline was Bills wide receiver Don Beebe, who caught up to Lett—who’s in full celebration mode by this time—just before he crossed the end zone and knocked the ball out of his hands and out the back of the end zone for a touchback. No touchdown.
5. Kevin Dyson’s Lunge
The ending to Super Bowl XXXIV, between the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans, is right up there with the most exciting Super Bowl finishes in history.
Tennessee had tied the game at 16 with 3:08 left on an Al Del Grecco 43-yard field goal, but the high-scoring Rams immediately answered with a 73-yard touchdown bomb from Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce to make it 23–16. Tennessee then started the final drive from their own 12 and made it to the Rams’ 10-yard line with five seconds left. Needing a score, the Titans quarterback dropped back and found Kevin Dyson over the middle at around the 2, but Rams linebacker Mike Jones was right there. And despite Dyson’s full-extension goal line lunge with the ball, he came up inches short of a touchdown as time ran out.
4. Joe Montana to John Taylor to Win Super Bowl XXIII
Joe “Cool” led the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl wins in four tries, but he was at his coolest at the end of Super Bowl XXIII with the game on the line.
San Francisco had yet to take the lead against the Cincinnati Bengals when they got the ball at their own 8 with 3:08 left in the game and trailing 16–13. The two-time NFL MVP completed 8/9 passes on that final drive—including the backbreaker when he found John Taylor at the back of the end zone for the winning score with 34 seconds remaining. The 10-yard touchdown catch was Taylor’s only of the game and capped a nearly flawless drive.
3. Marcus Allen’s 74-Yard TD Run
It wasn’t the magnitude of Allen’s run. The Los Angeles Raiders were already ahead of the Washington Redskins 28–9 in the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII when he broke free. It was how he did it that made it so special.
Allen, the future Hall-of-Fame running back, took the handoff and ran left—right into a wall of defenders for what looked like a sure loss on the play—when he decided to change direction and reverse the run, which is a no-no for most running backs. But Allen was no ordinary running back. Turning around, Allen took the ball the other way, found a hole in the middle of the defense, and was gone—74 yards on a broken play—for the touchdown that clinched the win.
2. Lynn Swann’s Super Catch
Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Lynn Swann had four catches for 161 yards in Super Bowl X between the Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. Although three of his four were great catches (he was named Super Bowl MVP), one is probably the second-best catch in Super Bowl history.
With the Steelers facing a third-and-6 from their own 8-yard line late the second quarter, Terry Bradshaw threw one up for Swann at around midfield. As he was jumping for the catch with a defender right with him, the ball was tipped up and out of his hands by the defender. But because Swann’s concentration was so great, he then caught the ball off the rebound just as he hit the turf for an acrobatic 53-yard catch. The Steelers would go on to win 21–17.
1. David Tyree’s Impossible Catch
David Tyree’s career stats won’t wow anyone. In six NFL seasons, he had a total 650 receiving yards on 54 catches. A good special teams player, Tyree had just 35 yards receiving in 2007, but somehow found himself on the field for the New York Giants’ final drive in Super Bowl XLII against the undefeated, heavily favored New England Patriots—and he delivered.
Down 14–10 with 1:15 left and facing a third-and-6 at their own 44, Eli Manning dropped back to pass and was immediately under heavy pressure from Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green. Yet somehow Manning escaped both their grasps—a miracle in and of itself—regrouped, and heaved one down the field for Tyree.
Tyree jumped and caught the ball with both hands extended above his head—and with Patriots hard-hitting safety Rodney Harrison draped all over him and extending his arm in between Tryee’s arms. Despite Harrison’s hand trying to jar the ball loose as they fell to the turf, Tyree somehow pinned the ball against his helmet to keep the ball from touching the turf. Yet, even though the force of hitting the ground with Harrison’s hand still on the ball, should have knocked it loose, Tyree held on for the unbelievable 32-yard first down catch. Four plays later, Manning found Plaxico Burress in the end zone for the game-winning score and New England’s perfect dream was over.