The Super Bowl is synonymous with many things, including the national anthem, halftime entertainment, commercials and, of course, food. When it comes to the actual game, big plays have played an integral role in the Super Bowl becoming the massive event that it is today.
There's been a slew of big plays made in Super Bowls that help change the course of history. Among those plays was Max McGee's one-handed catch in Super Bowl I, Jim O'Brien's game-winning field goal in Super Bowl V, Lynn Swann's levitating leap in Super Bowl X and, in more recent years, Dont'a Hightower's strip-sack that helped launch the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
As great as each of of those plays were, they didn't crack my list of the top 10 plays in Super Bowl history. Below are the plays did that, but first, here's a look at the I criteria used when putting this list together.
- Actual greatness of the play
- Impact on the outcome of the game
- Enduring legacy
Honorable mention: Mark Ingram, Super Bowl XXV
Ingram's herculean effort has largely been forgotten, but not here. It came in a contest that was decided by one point, so it's safe to say that the Giants would have lost this game if not for Ingram's 14-yard gain on a third-and-13 play midway through the third quarter.
Ingram caught the ball a good 7 yards short of the marker. He broke four tackles before he launched himself over the sticks to give the Giants a massive first down. Ottis Anderson gave Big Blue the lead five plays later.
Buffalo retook the lead in the fourth quarter, but the Giants responded with what turned out to be the game-winning field goal. New York then exhaled when Buffalo missed its game-winning, 47-yard field goal attempt with just seconds left.
9. John Stallworth, Super Bowl XIV
Champions three of the past five years, the Pittsburgh Steelers were in serious jeopardy of being upset by a gritty Rams squad entering the fourth quarter. They trailed 19-17. Lynn Swann was injured and no longer in the game. Pittsburgh's formidable running game was nowhere to be found and Terry Bradshaw had already thrown three interceptions.
One play, however, changed everything. Facing a third-and-8 from his own 27, Steelers coach Chuck Noll instructed Bradshaw to throw a deep pass to Stallworth that Bradshaw had had no success completing during that week's practices. Undaunted, Bradshaw called the play, then executed it to perfection. He lofted a perfectly thrown pass to Stallworth, who caught it over the outstretched hands of Rod Perry before running the remaining distance to pay dirt.
The 73-yard score gave Pittsburgh the lead for good.
8. Julian Edelman, Super Bowl LI
Sure, the Patriots had already started their comeback when Edelman made his fingertip catch. The catch, though, was the moment when I and probably millions of others came to the conclusion that New England was going to accomplish the impossible.
Down 28-3 earlier in the half, the Patriots had cut their deficit to 28-20 when Brady fired his pass toward the direction of Edelman with 2:28 left. The pass was tipped before Edelman managed to corral the ball just before it had a chance to hit the turf.
Edelman's incredible catch set up the Patriots' game-tying touchdown. New England completed the historic comeback in the first Super Bowl that was decided in overtime.
7. John Riggins, XVII
There have been longer, more flashier runs in Super Bowls. But none had the impact that Riggins' 43-yard touchdown run that gave Washington the lead for good over Miami.
Locked in a defensive battle, Joe Gibbs decided to go got it when his team down 17-13 and facing a fourth-and-1 with 10:28 left. Because of the play design, Riggins knew he'd have a one-on-one matchup with a defensive back, who would be the only man standing between him and a first down.
As you can see below, Riggins won the matchup with Dolphins cornerback Don McNeil, who then watched helplessly as Riggins sprinted toward the end zone and into the history books. The touchdown (which was at the time the longest touchdown run in Super Bowl history) punctuated an MVP performance for Riggins, whose 38 carries that day remain a Super Bowl record.
6. Mike Jones, Super Bowl XXXIV
Jones made the game-saving tackle on one of the most intense moments in Super Bowl history. Down 16-0 at one point, the Titans clawed back to tie the score, only to watch as Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce give the Rams the lead again on a 73-yard touchdown.
Tennessee, led by the indomitable will of quarterback Steve McNair, furiously drove to the Rams' 10-yard line with the game clock ticking down. On the final play of regulation, McNair fired a dart to Kevin Dyson, who would have had an easy path to the end zone had Jones taken the bait and followed tight end Frank Wycheck, who ran past him in an attempt to clear the middle of the field for Dyson.
Jones started to follow Wycheck, but he turned back at the last second and saw what was unfolding. He turned and tackled Dyson 1 yard short of the end zone, preserving the Rams' 23-16 win.
5. John Elway, Super Bowl XXXII
After getting blown out in his previous three Super Bowls, Elway was just hoping that Super Bowl XXXII would still be up for grabs deep into the second half. It was, and Elway took advantage by making the play that set up one of the Super Bowl's all-time upsets.
With the score tied and facing a third-and-6 late in the third quarter, Elway dropped back and couldn't find anyone open. As he did hundreds of time before, Elway took off, but his running lane was quickly clogged up by several Packers defenders. Elway, though, was determined to get to the sticks. He got there, but it required him to launch, head first, into the Packers defense.
Elway absorbed several hits that resulted in his body literally rotating in the air before he landed back on planet Earth. When he did, he was past the first-down marker, and the Broncos were in position to regain the lead over the favored Packers.
🏈🏆 Ahead of Super Bowl LV - we have picked out our top 10 most memorable of plays in Super Bowl history.— Sky Sports (@SkySports) February 2, 2021
John Elway's 'helicopter' run makes the cut! 🚁
📺🍿 Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on Kansas City Chiefs live on Sky Sports NFL from 10pm on Sunday! pic.twitter.com/Kt8zGwdcn6
The leap not only helped give Denver the lead, it fired up the Broncos while giving them momentum that they wouldn't relinquish. The Broncos ultimately won 31-24, dethroning the Packers while ending the NFC's 13-year Super Bowl winning streak.
5. Patrick Mahomes, Super Bowl LVIII
OK, this wasn't a crazy play, but it was significant in that it ended the longest Super Bowl ever. It also put an exclamation point on the Chiefs' dynasty while ending the NFL's 19-year drought without a repeat champion.
The play showcased the brilliance of Mahomes, who froze Fred Warner before firing the ball to Mecole Hardman, who slipped underneath the 49ers' defense before hauling in the historic touchdown.
4. David Tyree, Super Bowl XLII
It might be No. 4, but Tyree's catch might be the most jaw-dropping play in Super Bowl history. His helmet catch came at a crucial point while helping the Giants upset the previously undefeated Patriots.
It was a great play by both Tyree and Eli Manning. Manning somehow managed to avoid several Patriots pass rushers before unloading the ball downfield while giving Tyree a chance to make a play. Tyree made the most of that opportunity.
Adding to the catch's significance was the fact that it was on a third-and-5 play. Had things gone differently, the Super Bowl -- and the Patriots' date with destiny -- would have come down to a fourth-down play.
Manning didn't let Tyree's catch go to waste. He hit Plaxico Burress for the game-winning score moments later, as New York prevailed 17-14.
3. Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl XLIII
The first of two plays from this Super Bowl that cracked the list. Holmes capped off his MVP performance by making a spectacular, fingertip catch in the back of the end zone that lifted the Steelers to a 27-23 win over the Cardinals. Making Holmes' catch even more impressive is that he somehow managed to keep both of his feet in bounds.
It was also a terrific play by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who showcased his always dangerous pump fake before pointing Holmes' way and throwing the ball to a spot where only Holmes could get it. The fact that Roethlisberger attempted such a risky throw is worth noting given that the Steelers were only down by three points at the time.
The play helped the Steelers become the first franchise to win six Super Bowls.
2. James Harrison, Super Bowl XLIII
Harrison's pick is epic for many reasons, one of them being that it is the longest pick six in Super Bowl history. Harrison's 100-yard return is also special in that he needed each of his 10 teammates' help in order to reach the opposite end zone. The play embodies the selfless and determined attitude of one of the NFL's all-time great defenses.
It was also a great individual play by Harrison, who went back into coverage before snaring Kurt Warner's pass and immediately heading downfield.
Harrison's pick six didn't determine the outcome, but it was a huge point swing just before halftime. Instead of possibly trailing 14-10, the Steelers took a 17-7 lead into intermission.
1. Malcom Butler, Super Bowl XLIX
I can already hear the boos from Pittsburgh. Yes, Harrison's play was probably the greatest single play in Super Bowl history. But Butler's play decided the outcome, which is the reason why it sits at No. 1.
It was also an unbelievable play by Butler, whose perfect anticipation of Russell Wilson's pass resulted in him jumping the route and making the game-winning interception.
From a legacy standpoint, Butler's pick prevented the Seahawks from joining an elite company of teams that have won back-to-back titles. It did, however, seal the fourth Super Bowl won during the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era and first in 10 years.
This is also the most controversial play in Super Bowl history. Seahawks fans are still wondering why Seattle didn't just give the ball to Marshawn Lynch, who surely could have gotten the yard the Seahawks needed to repeat as champs.