National Football League fans have been blessed with a plethora of memorable and jaw-dropping Super Bowl moments in history. Not every Super Bowl game that has occurred has, of course, been a gem. It was back in February 2014 when the Seattle Seahawks routed the Denver Broncos in a Super Bowl contest that was not worth watching, unless you are a fan of the Seahawks, after the half-time break. A Super Bowl that is a blowout or unwatchable is such a massive letdown because of the fact that the game is so hyped in the two weeks leading up to the point when the game kicks off.
A Super Bowl that is decided in the final minutes or even on the final play is as exciting a sporting event as you will see in any given year. That is a reason why some of the more jaw-dropping Super Bowl moments in history are replayed time and time again in montages and highlight-reel packages. Incredible catches, game-winning plays, miscues and also one of the more curious play calls to ever occur during a National Football League contest all make the list. As monumental as each of those moments were, it is likely that there will eventually be a new greatest play in Super Bowl history. The NFL really is the best.
20. Wardrobe Malfunction
Anybody who is going to talk about jaw-dropping Super Bowl moments would have to mention the incident that created a pop culture term. Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake performed at half-time of Super Bowl 38, and controversy arose when Timberlake ripped off a certain portion of Jackson’s outfit. Cameras immediately cut away, meaning that you didn’t see much unless you were paying close attention or unless you had TiVo. It became known as the “Wardrobe Malfunction,” and it is unquestionably one of the most shocking and most memorable moments in Super Bowl history.
19. Yepremian’s Interception
The win at Super Bowl 7 guaranteed the Miami Dolphins a perfect season, but the Dolphins were not completely flawless versus the Washington Redskins. Garo Yepremian had a field goal attempt blocked in the second quarter, and the Miami kicker then picked up the ball and attempted to run. Seeing that he was not going anywhere, Yepremian then tried to pass the ball. The ball slipped out of Yepremian’s hand, though, and it was picked off and taken the other way for a touchdown. That would be Washington’s only score of the game, and so no long-term harm was done.
18. The Safety
Our jaws were on the floor throughout the rout that occurred at Super Bowl 48, and it all started on the first offensive play of the game. Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning could do nothing as the snap sailed over his head, and the Seattle Seahawks took a 2-0 lead off of the safety. What seemed to be a simple miscue possibly caused by nerves was instead a preview of what was to come. The Seahawks dominated much of the action, leaving no doubt that they were the best team in the NFL and a force that would become a postseason mainstay for the next several years.
17. Helicopter Elway
Quarterback John Elway and the offense of the Denver Broncos started a second-half drive at the Denver 8-yard line in Super Bowl 32. Elway took the Broncos down the field versus the defense of the Green Bay Packers, and it was Elway who would make the game-changing play of the contest. On third down at the Green Bay 12-yard line, Elway scrambled for a first down and was nearly there when he was hit by safety LeRoy Butler. Elway went spiraling into the air, he absorbed another hit, he held onto the football and he earned the first down. It is maybe the most famous QB run in Super Bowl history.
16. Vinatieri Wins Super Bowl 36
Well before the New England Patriots were a dynasty and arguably the most hated team in all of the NFL, the Patriots were underdogs going up against the St. Louis Rams at Super Bowl 36. The New England defense shut down the high-powered St. Louis offense for much of the contest, and Adam Vinatieri buried his first of two championship-winning kicks. Some of the luster of this moment and of the New England win has been lost because of allegations that the Patriots may have cheated leading up to the contest. The term “Spygate” was born not long after the New England victory.
15. Tracy Porter Pick Six
The next two plays both come from Super Bowl 44. Peyton Manning was leading the Indianapolis Colts down the field for what looked to be a game-tying drive against the New Orleans Saints late in the fourth quarter. Manning thought he had Reggie Wayne for a first down, but cornerback Tracy Porter jumped in front of the ball and headed toward daylight. With nobody in front of him, Porter finished off his run to the end zone that guaranteed the Saints a Super Bowl championship. Manning is an all-time great, but that is a pass that he will always want back.
14. Onside Kick
Had Bill Raftery been calling the action at the start of the second half of Super Bowl 44 involving the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, he probably would have yelled “ONIONS!” upon seeing this play. The Colts had a 10-6 lead coming out of half time and were expecting to receive a standard kickoff, but New Orleans coach Sean Payton dialed up what the Saints referred to as “Ambush.” New Orleans successfully executed the onside kick, catching Indianapolis napping and recovering the ball. The offense of the Saints went down the field for a touchdown drive, and New Orleans grabbed possession of momentum.
13. G’Night Da Lights
It is maybe the most controversial moment in Super Bowl history. The Baltimore Ravens had jumped out to a 28-6 lead over the San Francisco 49ers at Super Bowl 47 when the lights at the Superdome went out. Play was interrupted for over a half hour until power and order was restored, and the 49ers found new life in the second half of the contest. San Francisco eventually closed the gap to 31-29, but the Niners ultimately lost their comeback bid. Was the power outage merely one of those things, or was some force trying to make Super Bowl 47 a closer game? Let the debate continue.
12. Isaac Bruce Touchdown
This play often gets overshadowed because of what happened at the very end of Super Bowl 34, but odds are that your jaw dropped when you watched this occur. St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner connected with wide receiver Isaac Bruce down the right sideline, and Bruce completed his journey down the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown that put the Rams up with under two minutes left on the clock. Gone was the 16-0 lead that had been built up by the Tennessee Titans, but the Titans were not finished off just yet. More on that later on.
11. Lynn Swann Catch
Some plays live on in the memories of diehard sports fans. The catch that Lynn Swann made at Super Bowl X is one of them. Terry Bradshaw chucked the ball down field toward the wide receiver who was blanketed by Dallas Cowboys cornerback Mark Washington. Swann left his feet and seemingly hovered in the air as he approached the ball, but he could not immediately complete the catch. He bobbled the football before finally securing it for a 53-yard completion. It was widely considered to be the greatest catch in Super Bowl history for decades, but it was eventually outdone by multiple grabs.
10. John Kasay Kickoff
Those who were rooting for the New England Patriots to lose to the Carolina Panthers at Super Bowl 38 let out a loud groan upon seeing this play. The score was tied at 29 with a little over a minute on the clock when John Kasay took the field to kick the ball off to the Patriots. Kasay miss-hit the ball, though, and it went out of bounds. The flag was correctly thrown, the Patriots were gifted possession at the New England 40-yard line, and the Patriots won yet another Super Bowl on a last-second kick. Kasay’s kick will live on as one of the biggest blunders in Super Bowl history.
9. Montana to Taylor
Any doubts one might have had about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana being “Joe Cool” were erased in the closing moments of Super Bowl 23. Montana took the 49ers from the San Francisco 8-yard line down the field against a Cincinnati Bengals defense that could not stop the 49ers when it mattered most. Montana then connected with wide receiver John Taylor for a touchdown pass with only 34 seconds left to play. It is one of the most famous catches in Super Bowl history. Side note: Try to find the 30-minute NFL Films special on Super Bowl 23. It is spectacular.
8. James Harrison Pick Six
The Arizona Cardinals were, at the very least, headed toward tying the Pittsburgh Steelers with seconds left in the first half of Super Bowl 43. Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner dropped the back to pass and looked for wide receiver Anquan Boldin, but Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison picked the ball off and then headed down the sideline. Harrison then did well to remain in the field of play and also make sure that the football broke the goal line as he was being tackled for the 100-yard touchdown. A video review confirmed that the Steelers had scored a touchdown, Pittsburgh took a 17-7 lead into halftime, and the Steelers went on to win thanks to one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history.
7. Jackie Smith Drop
As successful as the Dallas Cowboys have been throughout history, longtime fans of the club will forever remember this moment. Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach spotted tight end Jackie Smith wide open in the end zone in the third quarter of Super Bowl 13. Staubach took some off of the ball to make the pass as catchable as possible, and thus a completely unmarked Smith had to go toward the ground to complete the catch. The ball hit Smith right in the numbers before it bounced off of the tight end and fell harmlessly to the ground. Dallas had to settle for three points, and the Pittsburgh Steelers went on to win the game.
6. Mario Manningham Catch
It is not even the most famous catch in the history of the New York Giants, but it is nevertheless a true jaw-dropping Super Bowl moment that helped Big Blue defeat the New England Patriots. New York quarterback Eli Manning tossed a ball 38 yards down the left sideline with under four minutes left on the clock in Super Bowl 46, and wide receiver Mario Manningham completed the catch while somehow getting both feet down in play before he was plowed out of bounds. New England head coach Bill Belichick challenged the call because he was so sure Manningham did not make the catch. Belichick was wrong, and he could do nothing as the Giants went down the field for what would be a game-winning score.
5. The Tackle
The NFL is a league that focuses on offense, and thus this incredible Super Bowl moment sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Wide receiver Kevin Dyson was but a step from entering the end zone and potentially tying the game for the Tennessee Titans on the final play of Super Bowl 34. St. Louis Rams linebacker Mike Jones had none of it, though, as Jones stopped Dyson roughly one yard shy of the end zone. Dyson stretched as far as he could, but the ball never made it to the goal line before his body hit the turf. Time expired, and the Rams celebrated a Super Bowl championship.
4. Run the Ball!
If you are anything like us, you just about hit the floor upon seeing this Super Bowl moment. All the Seattle Seahawks had to do to defeat the New England Patriots at Super Bowl 49 was run the ball one yard. Just one yard and the New England defense was all that was standing between the Seahawks and the end zone. You know how the story ended. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back to pass, New England cornerback Malcolm Butler recognized the play and jumped the route, and Butler completed the interception that shocked Seattle fans and made the Patriots the kings of the NFL.
3. Wide Right
It is one of the most famous phrases in NFL and Super Bowl history. The Buffalo Bills were a converted 47-yard field goal away from defeating the New York Giants at Super Bowl 25 when Scott Norwood took the field. Norwood approached the ball, put his boot into it, and pushed the ball wide right of the goal posts. The kick never had a chance as the ball began slicing to the right the second that it took flight. New York held on for the 20-19 upset victory over Buffalo, and the Bills have not yet since come as close to winning a Super Bowl.
2. Roethlisberger to Holmes
This Super Bowl moment sometimes gets underrated or undervalued because of the play that tops the list. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball where only wide receiver Santonio Holmes could retrieve it in the corner of the end zone with 35 seconds left to play. Holmes got his hands around the ball, kept his toes in the field of play, and then completed the catch that downed the Arizona Cardinals for good. As great and meaningful as the James Harrison interception before halftime was, this was an even better play. One inch in any direction could have made the difference for both the Steelers and the Cardinals.
1. Manning to Tyree
It is likely that we will never see a play quite like what occurred at Super Bowl 42. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning did not just escape what seemed to be a sure sack. Manning not only threw the football into triple coverage. Wide receiver David Tyree soared into the air, used his hands and the side of his helmet to secure the football, and then managed to somehow keep possession as Rodney Harrison basically mauled him on the way down to the ground. Manning connected with Plaxico Burress to finish off the drive and secure the win for the Giants, and the New England Patriots were perfect no more.