Amidst the National Football League’s (NFL) illustrious 100-plus years of history, some instances transcend the boundaries of mere games and intricately become interwoven into the very essence of sporting lore. These instances are everlasting testimonials of the raw might, indomitable spirit, and unshakeable determination that define the core of America’s most treasured sport.
1. The Immaculate Reception (1972):
Franco Harris’ improbable catch and touchdown run in the AFC Divisional Playoff game before Christmas between the Pittsburgh Steelers “Steel Curtain” and the Oakland Raiders is one of the most iconic moments in NFL history. As one of the fiercest rivals in the 1970s, the Steelers and the Raiders were in the middle of an epic defensive struggle in the 1972 AFC Division game in frigid Three Rivers Stadium.
Up until 22 seconds in the game, the Steelers clung to a 6-0 lead. However, Kenny “The Snake” Stabler scrambled for the touchdown off a bootleg to give the Raiders a 7-6 lead. Interestingly, Stabler replaced Darryl “The Mad Bomber” Lamonica in the second half and would remain the Raiders’ starter until he was traded to the Houston Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans, before the 1980 season.
With 22 seconds left and on fourth down, Steelers Quarterback Terry Bradshaw, under intense pressure, threw a pass into tight coverage. The late Jack Tatum, Raiders safety, delivered a crushing hit on the Steelers receiver. What appeared to be an incomplete pass bounced off Franco Harris’s shoe, who scooped it up and ran into NFL lore.
2. The Ice Bowl (1967)
The 1967 NFL Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys, played in brutally cold conditions, is remembered for Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak for a touchdown in the game’s final seconds. The extreme weather added to the drama of this historic game. The Packers advanced to Super Bowl 2, defeating the Oakland Raiders.
3. The Music City Miracle (2000)
In a wild-card playoff game between the Tennessee Titans and the Buffalo Bills, the Titans executed a last-second lateral play on a kickoff return for a touchdown, known as the “Music City Miracle,” propelling them to victory. With sixteen seconds left, the Bills kicked what appeared to be the game-winning field goal.
But instead of a squib kick, Christie kicks the ball off like normal. Titans fullback Lorenzo Neal fielded the ball and immediately handed the ball to tight end Frank Wychek. Wycheck appeared to move upfield but abruptly stopped, throwing a lateral to Kevin Dyson across the field. Untouched and with an escort of Titan blockers, Dyson ran into NFL history.
The Titans would advance to the Super Bowl, where they would ultimately lose to the Rams in another memorable NFL moment, with Dyson being stopped one yard of the end zone in the closing seconds. For the Bills, the loss would cash a near twenty-year playoff drought. Perhaps the Music City Miracle is all that memorable now, with the recent death of Frank Wycheck.
4. The Tuck Rule Game (2002)
The AFC Divisional Playoff game two days before Christmas, between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders, featured a controversial call known as the “tuck rule.” Tom Brady’s apparent fumble was ruled an incomplete pass, allowing the Patriots to drive for a game-tying field goal and eventually win in overtime. The win launched the Patriot dynasty, where Brady won his first Super Bowl in franchise history against the Rams.
Also, the Tuck game was the last game for Gruden as the Raiders coach during his first tenure. One year later, he would lead the Bucks to a devastating Super Bowl win against his old club, the Raiders.
5. The Helmet Catch (2008)
In one of the most shocking upsets in sports history and, indeed, one of the most heralded underdog victories for NFL betting sites, on Super Bowl XLII, New York Giants receiver David Tyree made a miraculous catch, pinning the ball against his helmet in a critical moment of the game-winning drive against the previously unbeaten New England Patriots.
The Giants became the second wild card team behind the 1980 Oakland Raiders to win a Super Bowl. Three years later, the Giants won another nail-biting Super Bowl against the Patriots.
6. The Minneapolis Miracle (2018)
In a divisional playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints, Stefon Diggs caught a last-second, game-winning touchdown pass, turning what seemed like a certain defeat into a stunning victory.
7. The Philly Special (2018)
In Super Bowl LII, the Philadelphia Eagles ran a trick play on fourth-and-goal, with quarterback Nick Foles catching a touchdown pass, now known as the “Philly Special,” helping secure the Eagles’ first Super Bowl victory.
8. The Beast Quake (2011)
In a 2011 NFC Wild Card game, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch broke several tackles and rumbled for a 67-yard touchdown run, causing seismic activity in the area and earning the play the nickname “Beast Quake.”
9. The 28-3 Comeback (2017)
In Super Bowl LI, the New England Patriots roared back from a 28-3 deficit against the Atlanta Falcons, tying the game in regulation and winning in overtime. Tom Brady led one of the most remarkable comebacks in Super Bowl history.
10. The Catch (1982)
In this improbable NFC Championship game, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark made a leaping catch in the end zone, known simply as “The Catch,” to secure a victory over the Dallas Cowboys and propel the 49ers to their first Super Bowl appearance. The 49ers would win three more Super Bowls and be officially crowned “The team of the 80s.”