Highlighting 10 of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history


Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson (87) tries but fails to get the ball into the end zone as he is tackled by St. Louis Rams’ Mike Jones on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2000, in Atlanta. The Rams won 23-16. (AP Photo/John Gaps III)

(NEXSTAR MEDIA) — When you think of the Super Bowl, you think of the NFL’s dynasties, the Lombardi trophy and the confetti showering the field – but the best moments, and perhaps what makes the Super Bowl so great – is the big plays that cement those games in our memories.

Here’s a look at 10 of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history:

10. Desmond Howard does it all

His career as a wide receiver didn’t necessarily live up to his Heisman billing, but Michigan star Desmond Howard dazzled in Super Bowl XXXI, leading the Green Bay Packers to a 35-21 win.

Howard totaled 244 total return yards in a game that flipped the field for Green Bay’s offense. And when New England scored in the third quarter to pull within seven, Howard took the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to the end zone for the definitive clincher for the Pack. Howard is the only kick returner in NFL history to be named Super Bowl MVP.

9. Riggins gets it all on fourth down

Facing fourth-and-1 near midfield and with 10 minutes to play in Super Bowl XVII, Washington running back John Riggins came up with a game-changing play. Riggins took a handoff, plowed over a defender and raced 43 yards to give Washington a 20-17 lead.

Riggins finished with a Super Bowl-record 38 carries for 166 yards in Washington’s 27-17 win over Miami.

8. Elway puts it all on the line

In his 15th season, Broncos quarterback John Elway was sick of coming up short. Tied 17-17 in the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXII, Elway led a 13-play, 92-yard drive, including an 8-yard scramble in which the veteran quarterback was hit by two defenders and sent spinning in the air. The run, known as “The Helicopter,” helped push Denver to a 31-24 win over defending champion Green Bay.

Elway ended his career one year later following his second consecutive Super Bowl win.

7. ‘In the air, it’s got the distance, it’s … no good!’

Following a back-and-forth game, the New York Giants led 20-19 with two minutes to play in Super Bowl XXV. Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly drove the Bills offense down the field and to New York’s 29-yard line with eight seconds remaining.

Buffalo’s Scott Norwood launched a 47-yard field goal attempt that sailed just wide of the right upright, clinching the game for the Giants.

It was the first of four consecutive Super Bowl losses for the Buffalo Bills.

6. Harrison flips momentum before halftime

With 18 seconds before halftime, the Arizona Cardinals trailed Pittsburgh 10-7 in Super Bowl XLIII but had the ball at the Steelers’ 1-yard line, ready to take the lead and momentum into the intermission. Steelers linebacker James Harrison had other plans. As Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner took the snap, Harrison drifted into a passing lane, intercepted the pass, and dodged Cardinals players for a 100-yard return touchdown.

Harrison’s rumble gave the Steelers a 17-7 lead and was the longest play in Super Bowl history before Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard kickoff return in Super Bowl XLVII. Pittsburgh went on to win Super Bowl XLIII thanks to another big play…

5. Vinatieri nails game-winner in Super Bowl XXXVI

After the reigning champion St. Louis Rams marched down the field and scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to tie Super Bowl XXXVI, quarterback Tom Brady marched the Patriots down the field in less than 90 seconds for a game-winning field-goal attempt.

Adam Vinatieri hit a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give New England a 20-17 victory. Vinatieri’s winner marked the beginning of the Patriots’ dynasty, including three Super Bowl wins in four years. On Sunday, the Patriots will make their seventh Super Bowl appearance under coach Bill Belichick.

4. Holmes keeps his toes down for game-winner

The Pittsburgh Steelers led 20-7 heading into the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIII before the Arizona Cardinals scored 16 unanswered points. Arizona shocked the Steelers, taking a 23-20 lead on a 64-yard touchdown catch and run from Larry Fitzgerald with less than three minutes to play.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger methodically led Pittsburgh into the red zone and hit Santonio Holmes for the game-winning 6-yard score on the sideline with 35 seconds left. Holmes dove and corralled the ball while stretching to keep his feet on the ground, coming inches away from stepping out of bounds.

3. The Helmet Catch dooms perfect Pats

The New England Patriots, on the precipice of the NFL’s second undefeated season, were 18-0 and up 14-10 with less than three minutes to play in Super Bowl XLII. Facing third-and-5 from their own 44-yard line, New York Giants quarterback El Manning evaded pressure and the collapsed pocket and threw up a prayer. It was answered by reserve wide receiver David Tyree, who went up and pinned the ball to his helmet while fighting off Patriots defender Rodney Harrison. The 32-yard completion kept the game-winning drive alive as Plaxico Burress scored four plays later to give the Giants a 17-14 win, spoiling New England’s chance at history.

Prior to the Super Bowl, Tyree was mainly used on special teams and only had four catches in the entire season.

2. Dyson dragged down at the 1

Most of the Super Bowl’s iconic moments have been offensive highlights, but defenders make their share of plays, too.

Trailing 23-16 in Super Bowl XXXIV, the Tennessee Titans sat at St. Louis’ 10-yard line with five seconds to play. Titans quarterback Steve McNair found receiver Kevin Dyson over the middle. Rams linebacker Mike Jones stepped up and made an open-field tackle, dragging Dyson down as he stretched for the goal line to prevent the game-tying score.

1. Butler’s goal line INT steals game from Seahawks

After taking a 28-24 lead with two minutes to play in Super Bowl XLIX, the Patriots had an ugly flashback. The Seattle Seahawks started their drive down the field when receiver Jermaine Kearse made a juggling catch at the New England 5-yard line.

The following play, the Seahawks handed off to star running back Marshawn Lynch, who pounded the ball down to the 1. The Seahawks, known for gritty style and strong run game, were expected to give it to Lynch again to try and take the lead. Instead, the Seahawks called up a quick passing play. Patriots rookie defensive back Malcolm Butler jumped a slant route, beating the receiver to the spot and made an improbable interception to win the game for New England.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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