As we close in on Super Bowl LIV (can we please just start using numbers?) it’s time to rehash the best plays in Super Bowl history. These are the ones that awed us, made us wonder how, and that also changed games while becoming legend in two cities at the same time, often for different reasons.
For each play, we’ll say what they play was, what it did to the score of the game, explain its significance, what it meant to the game and, potentially, history. Ready to play? Let’s go.
Best Plays in Super Bowl History: No. 5 – Mark Jones Tackles Kevin Dyson – Super Bowl XXXIV
The Play: Trailing by a touchdown in the waning minutes, Steve McNair leads the Tennessee Titans on a drive down the field. With six seconds left, McNair connects with Dyson on a crossing route over the middle. The only defender within reach, Jones wraps his arm around the waist of Dyson and brings him to the turf as Dyson stretches for the goal line, coming up short.
The Score: Kept the Rams in front 23-16.
Significance/History: There is an old saying that no one play wins or loses a game, but if Jones: misses his tackle, loses Dyson in the crossing pattern, or can’t finish his grip, Dyson walks into the end zone untouched and the Titans tie the game at 23-23, setting up overtime. Who knows what happens after that. Maybe the Rams don’t have a Lombardi Trophy and the Titans do. Maybe the “Greatest Show On Turf” is ranked with the Air Coryell Chargers, the 1990’s Bills and the early 2000’s Eagles as the best teams never to win a Super Bowl.
Best Plays in Super Bowl History: No. 4 – Santonio Holmes TD catch – Super Bowl LXIII
The Play: On the Arizona 6-yard line with 42 seconds left, Ben Roethliberger delivers a ball just past the fingertips of Ralph Brown, connecting in the back-right corner of the end zone with Holmes for a touchdown.
The Score: Put Pittsburgh on top 27-23.
Significance/History: Less than two minutes earlier, Larry Fitzgerald hauled in a 64-yard TD pass from Kurt Warner to put the Cardinals up 23-20, seemingly capping a rally that brought them back from 20-7 down with eight minutes to go. The score gave Pittsburgh a sixth Super Bowl title and denied Arizona its first ever SB victory and left Fitzgerald squarely in the debate for Best Player Ever Never to Win A Ring.
Best Plays in Super Bowl History: No. 3 – Lynn Swann leaping Catch – Super Bowl X
The Play: On his own 10-yard line, Steelers’ quarterback Terry Bradshaw heaved a pass down the field to Swann who leapt in the air, kept the ball away from cornerback Mark Washington, juggled it, and collected the ball with possession while falling to the ground.
The Score: Dallas led 10-7.
Significance/History: In the overall context of the outcome of the game, the play actually has minimal significance. Bradshaw missed Swann on the next play, which would have pushed the ball to the Dallas six. Pittsburgh drove to the 19 before the drive stalled and Roy Gerela missed a field goal, which would have tied the game going into halftime. It’s one of the somewhat rare instances when a play that is remembered so vividly, a play good enough to be ranked the No. 5 catch of all time by NFL Films, had so little actual impact on the game.
Best Plays in Super Bowl History: No. 2 – David Tyree helmet grab – Super Bowl XLII
The Play: Facing a collapsing pocket, Eli Manning breaks free of the grip of both Adalius Thomas and Richard Seymour (maybe with some obvious holds going uncalled) and throws a prayer in the direction of a little used Tyree. The receiver leaps and catches the ball, trapping it with his helmet as he falls to the ground.
The Score: Patriots lead 14-10.
Significance/History: Had Manning been sacked, the Giants would have faced 4th-and-8. An incompletion would have still meant 4th-and-5. Instead, it helped the Giants keep its drive alive and allowed New York to go for the go ahead score and prevent the Patriots a 19-0 season.
Best Plays in Super Bowl History: No. 1 – Philly Special – Super Bowl LII
The Play: Eagles quarterback Nick Foles splits out from the shotgun to behind the right tackle. Corey Clement receives the direct snap and runs to the left before flipping a lateral to tight end Trey Burton on a reverse. Burton, coming back to the right lobs a pass to Foles in the end zone for a touchdown.
The Score: Puts Philadelphia up 22-12.
Significance/History: Should it have been allowed? In reviewing the tape, Alshon Jeffrey was slightly off the line of scrimmage, meaning the Eagles only had six players on the line. Rules interpreter Mike Pereira said “They lined up wrong … Not only that, [but] it’s a trick play. And if you’re going to run a trick-type play, then you have to be lined up properly … It’s kind of one of those [penalties] that has no effect on the play. I get it. But they didn’t line up properly. And it really should’ve been called.”
The game reinvigorated Philadelphia and every score was needed in the highest scoring Super Bowl ever.
Two notes on the Philly Special: 1) Nick Foles was actually the one who suggested the play. Inside The NFL showed sideline footage of Foles asking head coach Doug Pederson “You want Philly Philly?” A shocked Pederson looks up from his play sheet and says “Yeah, let’s do it.”
2) This may have been the ultimate “hold my beer” moment in NFL history. Earlier in the quarter, the Patriots tried a play where Tom Brady split out to the right and had a pass go through his hands on a pass from Danny Amendola.
So there you have it. The highly prestigious, totally subjective, completely unofficial, definitive list of the top five plays in Super Bowl history.