The Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event on the North American calendar. Millions tune in at the end of every NFL season to watch at least part of the spectacle, whether it be the commercials, the halftime show, or the actual game itself. In the game’s almost 50-year history, there have many amazing, memorable, and even shocking moments. Although this list is going to stick with things that actually happened on the field, who can forget the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” from Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. Or the blackout at the Superdome that halted Super Bowl XLVII for over 30 minutes. One of the most iconic commercials in history, Apple Computer’s “1984” ad was first aired during Super Bowl XVIII. Anyway, back to the greatest moments in Super Bowl history.
11. The Comeback
The fabled New England Patriots were down 28-3 in the third quarter in Super Bowl LI, and it looked certain that the Atlanta Falcons would upset the Pats and win their first championship in franchise history. Except someone forgot to tell Tom Brady and Bill Belichick that a 25-point comeback had never been done before. The Patriots rattled off 25 straight points (including three touchdowns, two 2-point conversions, and a field goal) to force overtime — another Super Bowl first, since none of the previous 50 championship games had needed overtime to decide a winner.
The Patriots won the overtime coin toss, and that was basically all she wrote. Brady engineered a drive starting from his own 25-yard line that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by running back James White. It was the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, and gave Brady and the Pats a record-trying fifth Super Bowl title. The game is now considered one of the best Super Bowls ever played, in terms of drama and entertainment.
10. Lynn Swann’s Dive
It was Super Bowl X and the Pittsburgh Steelers were looking for their second championship in a row. In their way was America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys. Right before halftime, the Steelers’ defence came up huge with two consecutive sacks, pushing the Cowboys out of field goal range. Dallas was forced to punt and give the Steelers back the ball right before the break.
During the following drive, legendary quarterback Terry Bradshaw hit Swann for a 53-yard catch. But not just any catch. After first tipping the ball into the air, Swann made an acrobatic diving catch while leaping over the fallen Dallas defender. It has become one of the most iconic plays in Super Bowl history, and is regularly included on lists of the greatest plays in NFL history. The drive proved fruitless though, as the Steelers missed a field goal before half. They still won the game though, a close 21-17 victory.
9. Leon Lett’s Major Gaffe
Leon Lett was a big defensive tackle in the NFL for a decade. The 6’6″, 290-pound Lett won three Super Bowls as a member of the dynasty Dallas Cowboys of the 1990’s. Unfortunately for him, he will probably be remembered for his pair of ridiculous mistakes rather than being a champion and a two-time Pro Bowler. While his slip in the snow during the 1993 Thanksgiving game against the Miami Dolphins caused the Cowboys to lose that day, his show-boating failure in Super Bowl XXVII didn’t change the final outcome. But it probably hurt his pride a little.
In the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys already having a commanding 52-17 lead, Lett recovered a fumble and returned it almost all the way to the endzone. However, with just 10-yards to go Lett slowed down and held the ball out in a Michael Irvin-esque gesture. The lapse in judgement allowed Buffalo Bills player Don Beebe to chase back and knock the ball loose, creating a touchback and preventing a rare touchdown for Leon Lett.
8. David Tyree’s Catch
In Super Bowl XLII, the story was all about Tom Brady and the undefeated New England Patriots. They entered the championship game a perfect 18-0 so far that season, trying to emulate the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only other team to go a whole season undefeated. Only the New York Giants stood in their way, but the Pats were a 12-point favourite and seemed likely to run the table. Although the New England offense wasn’t as potent as usual, the Pats held a 14-10 lead late in the fourth quarter.
Starting on their own 17-yard line with just 2:39 left on the clock, the Giants knew they had march down field for the touchdown or face going home empty handed. On a 3rd & 5 from the Giants own 44-yard line, quarterback Eli Manning and wide reciever David Tyree made magic happen. First, Manning scrambled to avoid a couple different sacks. Flushed out of the pocket, he hurled the ball down field towards Tyree, who somehow managed to trap the ball between his hands and his helmet, while New England defender Rodney Harrison was all over him. The Giants would continue the drive and score the winning touchdown with just 35 seconds left, taking home their first Super Bowl title in 17 years.
7. Hester’s Electric Start
Devin Hester is the most devastating return man that the game of football has ever seen. He holds the record for most returns for a touchdown in league history, with 20. You would think that opposing coaches would eventually just stop kicking it to him. When Hester and his Chicago Bears made the Super Bowl in the 2006-07 season, Hester was a large part of the reason. That and the Bears’ excellent defence. Opposing them was Peyton Manning and the offensive minded Indianapolis Colts.
The Bears won the toss and elected to receive, setting up Hester for his defining moment. He would run that opening kick-off back 92-yards for an opening play touchdown, and setting the then-record for the fastest ever scoring play in Super Bowl history, needing just 14 seconds (the record was broken in 2014 when Seattle scored on a safety after 12 seconds). The Colts learned their lesson, refusing to kick to Hester for the rest of the game except for one punt return. A wise coaching decision, as the Colts won their only Super Bowl 29-17.
6. The Fridge TD Run
Super Bowl XX was a blowout in every way. The Bears beat the Patriots 46-10 and it was never close. They lead 13-3 after the first quarter and 23-3 at half. In the third, with a massive 37-3 lead, Bears coach Mike Dikta put defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry in on offense to rush for a touchdown. As he had done twice during the regular season, the 6’2″, 335 pound monster of a man rushed it in from 1-yard for the score.
Dikta took a lot of criticism for the play, considering legendary running back Walter Payton sat on the bench and ended the game with no touchdowns. In fact, Payton went his entire career without ever scoring a touchdown in a Super Bowl. Dikta later said that one of the biggest regrets in his career was not figuring out a way to get Payton into the endzone that game.
5. Wide Right
This play gives Buffalo Bills fans nightmares, even two decades later. With just 8 seconds left on the clock in Super Bowl XXV, the Bills were trailing the New York Giants by a single point. They had to either attempt a hail mary pass to the endzone or try to kick a 47-yard field goal. Then Bills kicker Scott Norwood blew it a way that can never be forgotten.
Although his kick had enough distance, it sailed wide of the goal post by about a foot, prompting the infamous call by ABC broadcaster Al Michaels: “No good…wide right.” The Giants would run out the clock and win the closest Super Bowl in history. Many say that the Norwood missed kick started a curse, as the Bills would make it to the next three Super Bowls, but lost them all and haven’t been back to the big game since.
Check out the 1:00 mark of this clip for the kick:
4. Malcolm Butler Steals The Super Bowl Away From Seattle
In the dying minutes of Super Bowl XLIX in 2015, the Seattle Seahawks had marched down the field to have the ball on the New England Patriots one-yard line. Down by four points, it seemed a formality that Seattle would hand the ball off to Marshawn “Beastmode” Lynch and let him rumble in for the game winning score, giving the Seahawks back-to-back Super Bowl titles after beating down the Denver Broncos 43-8 in the 2014 championship.
Instead, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll inexplicably called for a slant pass up the middle. New England cornerback Malcom Butler jumped the route and made a goal-line interception, putting a dramatic finishing touch on the Patriots’ fourth Super Bowl championship.
3. John Elway vs. Packers
John Elway seemed destined to be one those players who had a great career, but no Super Bowl rings to show for it. He appeared in the game in 1986, ’87 and ’89, coming away with zero victories and painful memories. Ten years later, he was 36-years old and his career was on its last legs. Football players, even quarterbacks, don’t often play much into their late-30’s. But Elway and the Broncos made it back to the Super Bowl in in the 1997-98 season and finally captured a ring against the Green Bay Packers.
The amazing moment from this game was a run play by Elway himself. Tied 17-17 in the third quarter, Elway was flushed out of the pocket on a crucial 3rd & 6 and starting scrambling up field. A quick glance to the sideline to see where the first down marker was told Elway that if he wanted to keep this drive alive, he couldn’t slide. So the banged up, 36-year old Elway leaped into the air and dove for the first down. He took hits from two Packer players that spun him around horizontally, in a play that has become known as ‘The Helicopter’. The Broncos would score a touchtown two plays later. Even more remarkably, Elway and the Broncos would repeat as Super Bowl champions the very next year.
2. Joe Namath’s Guarantee/Finger
Broadway Joe could probably be labelled as the first superstar quarterback. He was charismatic and good looking and always great in front of a television camera. In Super Bowl III, the NFL and AFL were still in the process of joining to become one league. The New York Jets and the rest of the AFL teams were considered inferior to the NFL teams at the time, and most people expected the Baltimore Colts to easily beat Namath’s Jets in the third edition of the annual championship game.
Three days before the game, allegedly drunk, Namath publicly guaranteed a Jets victory. Talk about piling on the pressure. However, the Jets managed to beat the Colts 16-7 and Namath took home the MVP trophy. It was his only Super Bowl win. As the Jets jogged off the field in victory, Namath held up his index finger to proclaim, “we’re number one.” The image became iconic. The Jets haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since.
1. 1-Yard Short
Super Bowl XXXIV had the most exciting ending of any championship game ever played. In a contest between the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans, the final winner was decided by less than a yard. With just six second remaining, the Titans were down by a touchdown and had the ball on the Rams’ 10-yard line. It was their last chance to send the game to overtime. The play was drawn up and the ball was snapped.
Titans QB Steve McNair made a short throw to wide receiver Kevin Dyson, who seemed to have the space to reach the goal line. It took an amazing tackle from Rams linebacker Mike Jones to save the day, as he managed to wrap up Dyson as he was stretching to get the ball across. In the end, the Titans came up just inches short and the Rams won their first and only Super Bowl.