13. John Riggins Steamrolls Don McNeal, Super Bowl XVIII
THE SETUP: In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XVIII, the Redskins were trailing 17-13. Running back John Riggins, who had been carrying the team, tore off this 43-yard touchdown run, during which he discarded Dolphins cornerback Don McNeal like a dog shaking off water. The score put Washington ahead for good.
THE PAYOFF: The Redskins won 27-17, and Riggins had 166 yards on a grueling 38 carries, earning him Super Bowl MVP.
12. Steve Young Gets The Monkey Off His Back, Super Bowl XXIX
THE SETUP: Steve Young had existed in the shadow of Joe Montana up until Super Bowl XXIX. In that game, he threw six touchdowns and won MVP, putting himself in the shadow of no one. At the end of the game, he acknowledged the pressure he was feeling by going up to his teammates on the sidelines and telling them to take the monkey off his back.
THE PAYOFF: The monkey was off his back. After winning two Super Bowls as Montana’s backup, Young now had a title of his own, with an MVP award to boot, and he would make the Hall of Fame in 2005 partly on the strength of that all-time-great performance.
11. Jack Lambert Throws Cliff Harris To The Ground, Super Bowl X
THE SETUP: The Pittsburgh Steelers were losing to the Dallas Cowboys 10-7 in Super Bowl X when Steelers kicker Roy Gerela missed a field goal. Cowboys player Cliff Harris decided that deserved a belittling pat on the head, and the Steelers’ Jack Lambert responded in kind, throwing Harris to the ground and pointing his thumb as if saying, “Get out.”
THE PAYOFF: Whether they were galvanized by Lambert’s use of force or not, the Steelers came back and won. The outburst became a part of Steelers lore, contributing to the idea that the franchise won its four 1970s Super Bowls through unimpeachable toughness.
10. Leon Lett Is Chased Down By Don Beebe, Super Bowl XXVII
THE SETUP: Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett won three Super Bowls, but in XXVII, he made a major faux pas. After recovering a Bills fumble, Lett heads toward the end zone —
— but starts showboating before he crosses the line. Determined Bills wide receiver Don Beebe is able to catch up with him, stripping the ball and getting a touchback for the Bills.
THE PAYOFF: Although the Bills were being blown out at the time, 52-17, Beebe’s hustle has held up as a legendary never-say-die moment, and Lett’s mistake became a permanent part of his legacy.
9. John Elway Helicopters To A First Down, Super Bowl XXXII
THE SETUP: John Elway had lost three Super Bowls before the Broncos found their way into XXXII against the Green Bay Packers, and on a third-and-six, Elway used his feet — and his body — to get the first down.
THE PAYOFF: The Broncos won 31-24. Elway cemented his place as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, a status he’d further reinforce with another championship the next year, and his five Super Bowl starts is tied with Tom Brady for most by one quarterback.
8. Lynn Swann Makes A Legendary Catch, Super Bowl X
THE SETUP: There were doubts that Lynn Swann would even play during Super Bowl X, since he’d been dealing with concussion symptoms the week prior. But he ended up catching four passes for 161 yards, and the best of them was this tremendous bobbling grab.
THE PAYOFF: Swann’s effort won him game MVP and helped spark the Steelers’ comeback victory against the Dallas Cowboys.
7. Joe Montana Seals The Comeback, Super Bowl XXIII
THE SETUP: In the huddle before the San Francisco 49ers’ final drive against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, Joe Montana did not give into the pressure. Instead, he famously pointed out actor John Candy to his teammates as a way of acting like it was all no big deal. He then proceeded to dismantle the Bengals’ defense.
THE PAYOFF: An 11-play, 92-yard drive ended with this strike to John Taylor, and Montana had his third Super Bowl win.
6. Jim O’Brien Wins With His Leg, Super Bowl V
THE SETUP: Super Bowl V is widely known as one of the worst Super Bowls ever played, featuring 11 total turnovers, including 7 by the Baltimore Colts, who ended up beating the Dallas Cowboys 16-13. But how they won is the most dramatic part: Jim O’Brien, who only played four seasons in the NFL, knocked home a last-second field goal.
THE PAYOFF: O’Brien’s kick sealed his position in history as one of the Super Bowl’s least-likely legends, and it gave the Colts their first Super Bowl. They wouldn’t win again until Peyton Manning led the by-then Indianapolis Colts to victory in Super BowlXLI.
5. Ricky Proehl Is Denied Twice, Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII
THE SETUP: Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII are famous for their game-winning kicks by Adam Vinatieri, but even more dramatic is the fact that in both games, Ricky Proehl scored touchdowns in the last two minutes and was then eclipsed. Above is his first, for the St. Louis Rams in XXVI, and below is his second, for the Carolina Panthers two years later.
THE PAYOFF: The Patriots won the first two of their three Super Bowls in four years. Unfortunately, Proehl did not get signed by the Eagles to face the Patriots a third time in XXXIX. Fortunately, Proehl did win Super Bowl XXXIV with the Rams, so he wasn’t denied every time he appeared in the big game.
4. Santonio Holmes Keeps Those Toes In, Super Bowl XLIII
THE SETUP: The Arizona Cardinals were poised to pull off a major upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII before Santonio Holmes’ toe-dragging grab, which came with 35 seconds in regulation, capped a mighty comeback.
THE PAYOFF: Pittsburgh got its sixth Super Bowl victory, the most by any single franchise, and Holmes secured himself a game-MVP award. He also made what might be the best catch in Super Bowl history.
3. The Helmet Catch, Super Bowl XLII
THE SETUP: Everyone knows the Helmet Catch. But what might be the most amazing part of it isn’t even the catch itself — it’s how Eli Manning managed to avoid multiple tacklers before throwing the pass.
Manning puts the ball where only Tyree can get it, even if it requires slightly more effort than most catches do.
THE PAYOFF: The Giants would go on to score a touchdown on that drive, upsetting the 18-0 Patriots and preventing them what would have been both their fourth Super Bowl and the first 19-0 season in NFL history.
2. The Titans Come Up A Yard Short, Super Bowl XXXIV
THE SETUP: With six seconds remaining, the Tennessee Titans, down seven, were at the St. Louis Rams’ 10-yard line. Steve McNair throws it to Kevin Dyson, who comes within a yard of the end zone by stretching out his body. But he can’t quite reach it because of a great tackle by Mike Jones.
THE PAYOFF: The Rams held on, 23-17, giving the Greatest Show on Turf its first Super Bowl victory. In the thirteen seasons since Dyson came up short, the Titans have only won two playoff games.
1. Scott Norwood Misses Wide Right, Super Bowl XXV
THE SETUP: Scott Norwood made “wide right!” one of the most famous phrases in NFL history. With eight seconds left and trailing by one, the Bills put Norwood out to kick a 47-yarder.
THE PAYOFF: He pushed it to the right of the goal posts, and the Giants got the ball back with four seconds to go, securing the first of four straight Buffalo Bills Super Bowl losses. No other moment in football holds such resounding importance to a franchise than this one, considering that it was the closest the Bills would come to a Super Bowl victory, and it represents the mindset of one of the most beleaguered franchises in professional sports.