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Sep. 14, 2020 - Michael Stewart

NFL: Top 5 Greatest Plays in NFL History

Introduction: The NFL season is finally here and after watching the 1st game of the season (Kansas City Chiefs-34/Houston Texans-20) it made me wonder just how much Football was missed and just how great the sport really is. I also reflected on all the great moments that I have witnessed since my adolescent days; which got me thinking of the top 10 greatest all-time in NFL history. There have been so many moments and to narrow it down to only 5 will be difficult, but I’m to give it a shot. Here is my top 5 all-time greatest plays in NFL history.

  1. The Immaculate Reception-The Steelers were facing a 4th and 1o with 22 seconds remaining on the clock trailing the Oakland Raiders 7-6 in an epic battle between two of the top powerhouses in the NFL. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a pass which was intended for Frenchy Fuqua, but Jack “the hitman” Tatum dislodged the football from Fuqua with a typical Tatum crushing blow only to have running back Franco Harris make a shoe catch and go 42 yards for the winning touchdown; thus the start of the Steelers dynasty.
  2. The Catch- The 49ers were trailing the Cowboys 27-21 with only 57 seconds remaining in the game. On a 3rd and 3 from the Cowboys 6 yard line, quarterback Joe Montana rolls right and kept rolling right with three Cowboy defenders in hot pursuit; which included Too Tall Jones who stood 6’9 and made it difficult for Montana to see. As Montana was nearing the sidelines and after a couple of fake pumps, he was able get the ball away from the reach of Jones (barely) and found Dwight Clark in the back of the zone with a finger tip catch. At first, it appeared Montana was throwing the ball out of bounds as the 49ers still had one more down in hand. Again, another dynasty was born.
  3. The Helmet Catch- The New York Giants were facing a 3rd and 5 on their own 44 yard line with only 1:15 left on the clock and trailing the Patriots 14-10. Quarterback Eli Manning somehow avoided an apparent sack and threw a desperation pass to well covered receiver David Tyree. A jump ball ensued between Tyree and safety Rodney Harrison with the taller Tyree getting both hands on ball and managing to secure it against his helmet; despite the efforts of Harrison attempting to dislodge ball. That play was the turning point and four plays later the Giants scored the winning touchdown when Manning found a wide open Plaxico Burress for a 13 yard score sealing the Giants victory and keeping the Patriots from immortality and an undefeated season.  
  4. The Ice Bowl-The coldest Championship game on record with temperatures hitting well below zero. The Green Bay Packers were trailing the Dallas Cowboys 17-14 with under 5 minutes to play and the ball on their own 32 yard line. Little by little the Packers moved the ball and eventually got first and goal on the one yard line, but failed to cross the goal line on two consecutive running plays to running back Donny Anderson. With only 16 seconds remaining, Head Coach Vince Lombardi called time out and on the suggestion of Bart Starr the play would be “61 wedge”. A quarterback sneak behind Hall of Famer Guard Jerry Kramer. Kramer was able to get traction off the snap and pushed Defensive Tackle Jethro Pugh back; which gave Bart Starr just enough space to find the end zone and securing a Packers Championship win.
  5. Malcolm Butler’s Interception- This play among my top 5 is definitely the worse call made by Head Coach on the biggest stage (The Super Bowl) and will forever put a black cloud over Pete Carroll. The Seahawks were trailing the New England Patriots 28-24 and found themselves on the one yard after a Marshawn Lynch with 26 seconds remaining. Lynch had a monster game and everyone and I mean everyone expected Marshawn Lynch to get the ball. Then the unthinkable happened, Head Coach Pete Carroll got too cute and tried out smart the Patriots by having quarterback Russell Wilson attempt a quick slant to receiver Ricardo Lockett. Now this is where it gets interesting as cornerback Malcolm Butler anticipated the route and jumped in front of Lockett and made the interception that gave the Patriots another Super Bowl title. Hindsight would suggest that the Seahawks could have ran at least two plays with Lynch and if the Patriots stopped him then they would deserve a ring. However; gift wrapping the win for them on a passing play that should have never been an option will forever be remembered.  

Final Thoughts: There were so many other great plays in the NFL history that I left off my list that one could argue that anyone of them could have made the top 5; which would be a fair assessment as this list is subjective. Perhaps the 2020 season will provide a few more great plays that could challenge this list, but only time will tell after a great opening week of the NFL season.