10 Greatest Plays in Super Bowl History
Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 could, like many before it, hinge on the outcome of a single, spectacular play. Some of those instantly memorable moments were merely ordinary plays accomplished at extraordinary junctures, like made/missed field goals, goal-line stands, short touchdown runs.
This list, though, consists of the 10 truly greatest, most dazzling and astounding plays in Super Bowl history:
Lynn Swann’s Juggling Act: Super Bowl X
Future Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann only caught four passes in Super Bowl X, but the receptions were enough to tip the balance of the game in favor of the Steelers. While Swann’s 64-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter gave Pittsburgh a 27-17 win over Dallas, it was his juggling, falling 53-yard catch in the second quarter that still makes nearly every Super Bowl highlight reel. Swann finished the game with 161 receiving yards and the first Super Bowl MVP awarded to a wide receiver.
John Riggins’ Rampage to Glory: Super Bowl XVII
Running backs like John Riggins are a relic of a bygone era of the NFL: lumbering behemoths who ran over — instead of by — would-be tacklers. With his Washington Redskins trailing the Miami Dolphins 17-13 in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XVII, Riggins ripped off a 43-yard run with under 5 minutes left, setting up Washington’s 27-17 victory and the Redskins’ first Super Bowl championship.
Marcus Allen’s Run to Daylight: Super Bowl XVIII
Unlike most of the plays on this list, Marcus Allen’s reverse-course 74-yard run in the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII was not pivotal in the big game’s outcome; the Raiders were already up on 28-9 on the Redskins. However, Allen’s amazing dash to the end zone was as spectacular a run as you’ll see in the NFL’s post-season. It cemented Los Angeles’ eventual 38-9 win over defending champion Washington.
Mike Jones Saves the Day: Super Bowl XXXIV
Offense sells tickets, but defense wins games. Trailing St. Louis 23-16 late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXIV, quarterback Steve McNair drove Tennessee into position for a potential tying touchdown. It seemed as though McNair had found wide receiver Kevin Dyson for the equalizing score, but Rams linebacker Mike Jones made a clutch, game-saving tackle as time ran out and the Titans dreams ended a few feet short of reality.
James Harrison’s Pick-Six: Super Bowl XLIII
Down 10-7 and nearing the end of the first half of Super Bowl XLIII, Arizona drove deep into Pittsburgh territory with the hopes of taking a halftime lead. Enter Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison, who intercepted a Kurt Warner pass at the goal line and avoided several tacklers to return the ball a Super Bowl-record 100 yards for a touchdown as time ran out in the half. The 14-point swing helped Pittsburgh beat Arizona, 27-23, to win a record sixth Super Bowl title.
Santonio Holmes Toe-Tap TD: Super Bowl XLIII
After Arizona had rallied for 16 fourth-quarter points to take a 23-20 lead on Pittsburgh with just 2:37 left in Super Bowl XLIII, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger marched his Steelers into the Cardinals’ ‘red zone’ with hopes of tying or winning the game. Receiver Santonio Holmes made an acrobatic, toe-tapping catch in the end zone to give Pittsburgh a 27-23 win over Arizona.
David Tyree’s Helmet Catch: Super Bowl XLII
With the undefeated Patriots ahead 14-10 late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII, the Giants needed to march downfield for a game-winning touchdown. There was no bigger play in their epic drive than Eli Manning shrugging off the New England pass rush and hoisting a duck to David Tyree, who caught the football against his helmet for a key first down. New York won, 17-14, thanks to Manning’s touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress a few plays later.
Mario Manningham Makes the Catch: Super Bowl XLVI
Down 17-15 to the Patriots with under four minutes left in Super Bowl XLVI and pinned deep in their own territory, the Giants needed another miracle finish to win. Quarterback Eli Manning threw a 38-yard pass to wide receiver Mario Manningham, who made a clutch, over-the-shoulder grab. The play moved New York out of the shadow of its own end zone and jump-started what became the game-winning drive, as the Giants won, 21-17.
Jermaine Kearse’s Clutch Grab: Super Bowl XLIX
Behind 28-24 to New England late in the fourth quarter, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson led his team downfield in search of a game-winning touchdown. Once across midfield, Wilson threw a contested 33-yard pass to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who made one of the best catches in Super Bowl history. The Seahawks had a chance to win the game as a result of the grab, but they fell to the Patriots, 28-24.
Malcom Butler Does It: Super Bowl XLIX
Though the Patriots led 28-24 with under 30 seconds left in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks were at the 1-yard-line of New England with three downs to cross the goal line. They never did, thanks to Pats’ cornerback Malcolm Butler. He intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass intended for Ricardo Lockette and preserved New England’s fourth Super Bowl win. Butler made a phenomenal read on a play that just as easily could have resulted in a game-winning score for Seattle.