The Perfect 10 Plays of Super Bowl History

Gridiron stars on the Super Bowl’s 10 best plays.

Gridiron stars on the Super Bowl’s 10 best plays. 


JARED ALLEN, Minnesota Vikings defensive end

BRANDON JACOBS, San Francisco 49ers running back

WARREN SAPP, retired defensive tackle

TERRELL SUGGS, Baltimore Ravens linebacker

LAMARR WOODLEY, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker

MARIO MANNINGHAM, San Francsico 49ers wide receiver

1976: Super Bowl X, Steelers 21, Cowboys 17

Lynn Swan’s acrobatic 53-yard catch.

Photo by Robert Riger/ Getty

In a battle between the two titans of ’70s football, it was Swann who left his mark on the field. Down 7-0 early, the inevitable MVP made the most spectacular Super Bowl snag pre-David Tyree. Leaping over the middle, he tipped the ball, fell, rolled, and caught it on the ground. With one hand. “That was amazing,” says Allen. “Plays like that are why people want to become football players.”

1983: Super Bowl XBVII, Redskins 27, Dolphins 17

John Riggins busts it 43 yards for a TD. 

Staring at a critical fourth and one on Miami’s 43, the Redskins’ wild man of a running back breaks a tackle and rumbles down the field for the go-ahead touchdown. “John Riggins was just a beast,” says Allen. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that his nickname was the Diesel.” Riggins ended up Super Bowl MVP and holder of the Super Bowl record for most rushing yards.

1989: Super Bowl XXIII, 49ers 20, Bengals 16

Joe Montana to John Taylor

Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty

With the Bengals up 16-13 and just over three minutes to go, Montana, starting near his own end zone, had to lead the Niners 92 yards for the victory. “He walks into the huddle and tells his whole offensive line, ‘Hey, man, isn’t that John Candy sitting in the corner?'” recalls Sapp. “That shows you what Joe Cool can do.” With 32 seconds left, Montana lofted a pass to the back of the end zone for John Taylor. “That was just Joe being Joe,” says Suggs. 

1991: Super Bowl XXV, Giants 20, Bills 19

Scott Norwood’s potential game-winning field goal from 47 yards out sails “wide right.”

“I was a huge Bills fan when Norwood missed that kick,” says Allen. “That was really heartbreaking. I can still feel the pain.” With time expiring and the title on the line, Norwood just missed going down as a hero. Instead: Giants win! In the Super Bowl, you usually don’t remember the team that lost. Unfortunately for Norwood, that wasn’t the case. 

1998: Super Bowl XXXII, Broncos 31, Packers 24

John Elway dives for a first down.

Photo by Kevin Reece/Getty

Facing a do-or-die fourth down in the red zone against the Packers, a not-so-young Elway scrambled out of the pocket, leaped for the first down, and was spun helicopter style by a vicious hit. First and goal, Broncos. And Elway would finally get his ring. “With a guy at that age, you don’t expect him to sacrifice his body,” says Woodley. “But he kept the drive alive.”

2000: Super Nowl XXXIV, Rams 23, Titans 16

Mike Jones sticks Kevin Dyson.

Never before had victory been so close yet just too far. On the last play of the game, Titans QB Steve McNair fired a pass slightly short of the end zone to Kevin Dyson. Rams linebacker Mike Jones reached out to snag Dyson’s ankle as the receiver’s outstretched arm missed the goal line by just a few inches. “That’s going to stick with Dyson for the rest of his life,” says Woodley. “Just think: ‘I was one yard away from winning the Super Bowl.'”

2002, 2004: Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII, Patriots 20, Rams 17; Patriots 32, Panthers 29

Adam Vinatieri boots a pair of game-winning field goals. 

Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty

“Sometimes it comes down to the kicker,” notes Woodley, “and you’d better have the right one.” In the past decade, no team had a better one than the Pats, who won a pair of titles on kicks of 48 and 41 yards from No. 4. “Playing in the Super Bowl is something special,” says Jacobs of the kicker’s job. “So you have to gather up all those nerves and put them aside.”

2008: Super Bowl XLII, Giants 17, Patriots 14

Eli Manning hits David Tyree.

Trailing the Pats in the fourth quarter, New York was poised for a creaming not seen since the explosion of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Then something off happened: Manning evaded 38 tackles (est.) and heaved a pass to David Tyree, who leaped up and pinned the ball to his helmet. Big Blue would go on to score the game-winning TD. “After that,” says ex-Giant Jacobs, “I thought, There’s nothing they’re going to do to stop us from winning.”

2009: Super Bowl XLII, Steelers 27, Cardinals 23

James Harrison returns an interception 100 yards for a TD.

Photo by Al Bello/Getty 

“This was the ultimate game-changing play,” says Allen. With Arizona’s offense on the verge of scoring, the Steelers linebacker intercepted a Kurt Warner pass and rumbled 100 yards for the longest TD in Super Bowl history. “That’s a dream for any defensive player,” says Suggs. “Arizona went as far as they could go, and then Harrison went back the length of the field to score. He’s the only person ever to do that.”

2012: Super Bowl XLVI, Giants 21, Patriots 17

Mario Manningham jump-starts the Giants’ rally.

Stuck on their own 12-yard line, trailing by two with under four minutes to play, the Giants knew they’d need a miracle to beat new England. And like four years before, Eli Manning made something out of nothing and hit Manningham along the sideline. “I’m looking at the line and trying to stay in bounds,” recalls Manningham. “As soon as it hit my hands, I just paused and made sure I had control. It was the perfect ball, man.”

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