Super Bowl's greatest plays in history: 58 plays for the 58th big game

Mario Manningham of the Giants makes a catch on the sidelines against two Patriots defenders late in Super Bowl XLVI. Credit: Getty Images/Win McNamee

From circus catches and record-setting runs to kickoff returns and game-changing defensive plays, the Super Bowl has produced memorable moments. With Sunday being the 58th edition of the big game, here’s our picks for the greatest plays in Super Bowl history: LVIII to I.

58. PICK-12 (SB XXXVII). Twelve players have returned an interception for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, but only Dwight Smith has done it twice in one game. The Buccaneers’ 48-21 win over the Raiders wasn’t in question at the time, but it’s still a remarkable feat: the 44-yard pick-6 made it 33-3, the 50-yarder capped the scoring.

57. VRABEL CATCHES TD (SB XXXIX). Mike Vrabel had a touchdown catch in back-to-back Super Bowls. Not bad for a linebacker. While the one in SB XXXVIII was at a more crucial point in the game, this 2-yarder in which he batted the ball to himself before catching it as he fell, gets the nod for degree of difficulty. It gave the Patriots a 14-7 lead in a 24-21 win over the Eagles.

56. BACK, BACK, BACK, SACK! (SBVI). Bob Lilly tracked down Bob Griese after an exhausting scramble, resulting in a Super Bowl-record 29-yard loss in Dallas’ 24-3 win over Miami.

55 and 54. BACK-TO-BACK TD RETURNS (SB XXXV). The Giants avoided being the first team to be shut out in a Super Bowl — it still hasn’t happened — when Ron Dixon took a third-quarter kickoff 97 yards to the house. The 17-7 score lasted just one play, as the Ravens’ Jermaine Lewis took the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a TD and Baltimore rolled to a 34-7 win.

53. GRAHAM CRACKS BRADY (SB LII). With the Eagles leading the Patriots, 38-33, Brandon Graham forced a Tom Brady fumble with a little over two minutes left. The Eagles added a field goal and held on for a 41-33 win.

52 and 51. McCONKEY DOUBLE (SB XXI). Phil McConkey’s 44-yard catch on a flea-flicker pass from Phil Simms got the Giants to the 1-yard line. The Giants scored, and on their next possession, so did McConkey. Simms’ 6-yard pass intended for Mark Bavaro deflected off the tight end and into the receiver’s hands for a 33-10 lead in a 39-20 win over the Broncos.

William "The Refrigerator" Perry of the Chicago Bears runs in...

William "The Refrigerator" Perry of the Chicago Bears runs in the end zone during Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots. Credit: Focus on Sport via Getty Images/Focus On Sport

50. IS YOUR REFRIGATOR RUNNING? (SB XX). Why is a 1-yard TD run on this list? Because William “The Refrigerator” Perry, Chicago’s 335-pound Teddy Bear of a defensive lineman, was the ball carrier, his score making it 44-3 in the Bears’ 46-10 win over the Patriots.

49. FIRST PICK-6 (SB II). Herb Adderley intercepted Daryle Lamonica and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown, the first of its kind in a Super Bowl. It gave the Packers a 33-6 lead in a 33-14 win over the Raiders.

48. SECOND PICK-6 (SB XI). It took nine years before another pick-6, as the Raiders’ Willie Brown intercepted Fran Tarkenton and ran it back 75 yards in a 32-14 win over the Vikings.

47. ‘SURPRISE ONSIDE’ (SB XXX). After the Steelers cut the Cowboys’ lead to 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, coach Bill Cowher’s gamble paid off. Deion Figures picked up Norm Johnson’s dribbling onside kick on the run and nine plays later it was 20-17. But, Dallas went on to win it 27-17.

46. WOOD-PICKER (SB I). Green Bay's 35-10 win over Kansas City could've gone differently if not for Willie Wood's game-changing interception. With Kansas City trailing 14-10 and driving early in the third quarter, Wood picked off Len Dawson and returned it 50 yards to the 5. The Packers took a 21-10 lead on the next play. 

45. SCOOP AND SCORE (SB XXVIII). James Washington returned a fumble 46 yards to tie the score at 13 early in the third quarter. Dallas never looked back in a 30-13 win over Buffalo to repeat as champs.

44. STOP, DROP, ROLL (SB XLVII). Jacoby Jones’ 56-yard TD catch from Joe Flacco in the Ravens’ 34-31 win over the 49ers had a little bit of everything: First, the receiver caught the ball as he was falling backward inside the 10, got up, put a spin move on one defender and then outran another the final few yards. And Jones was just getting started (keep reading).

43. TOE-TAP A FOOTNOTE (SB LI). Julio Jones’ incredible 27-yard sideline catch in which he got one foot down then dragged the other gave the Falcons a first down at the Patriots’ 22 in what should’ve set up a late field goal for an 11-point lead. But Atlanta was forced to punt, setting up New England’s dramatic 34-28 overtime victory (more on that later).

42. LONGEST TD PASS (SB XXXVIII). Jake Delhomme’s 85-yard TD pass to Muhsin Muhammad gave the Panthers a 22-21 lead over the Patriots midway through the fourth quarter. They lost 32-29, in a wild game that featured two scoreless quarters and a 37-point fourth quarter.

41. NOT IN THE CARDS (SB XLIII). Larry Fitzgerald, and not Santonio Holmes, would’ve been the sixth wide receiver to win Super Bowl MVP had his go-ahead, 64-yard catch-and-run touchdown over the middle with 2:37 left held up for the Cardinals. Instead, his second TD catch was a footnote after the Steelers won, 27-23 (more on that later).

Willie Parker runs for a touchdown during Super Bowl XL between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks. Credit: Getty Images/Mike Ehrmann

40. LONGEST TD RUN (SB XL). “They call him Fast Willie Parker,” Al Michaels said on the broadcast as the Steelers running back rumbled 75 yards for the longest touchdown run in Super Bowl history. It gave the Steelers a 14-3 lead in a 21-10 win over the Seahawks.

39.  MILLER TIME (SB 50). Von Miller’s strip-sack of Cam Newton led to Malik Jackson pouncing on the ball in the end zone to give the Broncos an early 10-0 lead in a 24-10 win over the Panthers.

38. O’BRIEN WINS IT (SB V). It took 30-plus years for another Super Bowl to be decided by a last-second kick, so Jim O’Brien’s 32-yarder with five seconds left to lift the Baltimore Colts to a 16-13 win over the Cowboys deserves a spot.

37. VINATIERI WINS IT (SB XXXVIII). Adam Vinatieri’s 41-yard field goal with nine seconds left gave the Patriots a 32-29 win over the Panthers for their second title in three years.

36. DOUG DIGS TDs (SB XXII). Doug Williams threw four touchdown passes in a 35-0 second quarter as Washington rolled to a 42-10 win over Denver, but which one makes the list? Ricky Sanders had two long ones (80 and 50 yards), but Gary Clarks’ diving 27-yard catch across the goal line gets the vote.

35. JETS PICK OFF FLEA FLICKER (SB III). The play should’ve worked perfectly, as Jimmy Orr was wide open. But Colts quarterback Earl Morrall didn’t see him, and instead of a 7-7 tie at halftime, his pass late in the second quarter was intercepted by Jim Hudson. The Jets held on to a 7-0 lead and pulled off the monumental upset with a 16-7 win.

34. 93-YARD TD RETURN (SB XXIII). Stanford Jennings’ kickoff return for a score late in the third quarter gave the Bengals a 13-6 lead, but the 49ers responded for a 20-16 win (keep reading).

33. 98-YARD TD RETURN (SB XVII). Fulton Walker’s kickoff return for a score was the first of its kind in a Super Bowl. His TD just before halftime gave Miami a 16-10 lead, but Washington won 27-17 after a big run of its own (keep reading).

32. FULLBACK-OPTION TD PASS (SB XII). Robert Newhouse took the handoff, faked like he was running and threw a 29-yard touchdown to Golden Richards in the Cowboys’ 27-10 win over the Broncos.

31. LAW & ORDER (SB XXXVI). The Patriots’ defense slowed the Rams’ “Greatest Show On Turf,” no play bigger than Ty Law’s 47-yard pick-6 that gave New England a 7-3 lead in a 20-17 win (more on that later). 

Mark Ingram of the New York Giants against the Buffalo Bills during Super Bowl XXV. Credit: Getty Images/George Rose

30. FIRST-DOWN ‘MARK’ER (SB XXV). It’s not the top Giants' play on this list (keep reading), but for many Big Blue fans, Mark Ingram’s all-out effort on a third-down play is one they’ll always remember. With the Giants trailing 12-10 midway through the third quarter and facing a third-and-13 from the Buffalo 32, Ingram caught Jeff Hostetler’s pass at the 25, then made four defenders miss before lunging for the first down on a 14-yard gain. Five plays later, the Giants took a 17-12 lead and went on to win, 20-19.

29. RANDLE EL TO WARD (SB XL). It’s always helpful to have a wide receiver who played quarterback in college. The Steelers used secret weapon Antwaan Randle El perfectly on a 43-yard touchdown reverse pass to MVP Hines Ward that produced the final score in a 21-10 win over the Seahawks.

28. MAX EFFORT (SB I). Max McGee will forever be the answer to the trivia question: Who scored the first touchdown in the championship game that eventually would be named the Super Bowl? And the receiver did it with style, too, reaching back to make a one-handed grab and taking it 37 yards for the score in Green Bay’s 35-10 win over Kansas City.

27. HESTER’S HOUSE CALL (SB XLI). There have been 10 kickoffs returned for touchdowns in Super Bowl history, but only one on the first play of the game. As the ball landed in Devin Hester’s hands, Jim Nantz said on the broadcast, “The Colts have had a hard time all season covering kicks.” Right on cue, Hester made a couple of cuts and was off to the races for a 92-yard touchdown. But the Bears lost, 29-17. 

26.108 YARDS TO THE HOUSE (SB XLVII). Most players would have taken a knee eight yards deep in the end zone. Not Jacoby Jones, who ran right up the middle to set a Super Bowl record for longest kickoff return. It was 28-6, and the Ravens held on for a 34-31 win over the 49ers.

Dallas Cowboys defender Leon Lett has the football stripped from his hand near the goal line by Buffalo Bills' Don Beebe in Super Bowl XXVII. Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara

25. BEEBE DOESN’T ‘LETT’ UP (SB XXVII). The Cowboys beat the Bills, 52-17, yet a player from the losing team makes the list. That’s what happens when you pull off the greatest hustle play in Super Bowl history. After Leon Lett recovered a fumble at Dallas’ 36, the defensive lineman seemed destined for the end zone and a record number of points for one team in the Super Bowl. Enter Don Beebe. The Bills receiver chased down Lett, who switched the ball from his left to right hand and stuck it out to start celebrating early. Beebe knocked the ball away just before he crossed the goal line to result in a touchback.

24. EPIC COMEBACK COMPLETE (SB LI). James White’s 2-yard touchdown run — he got the toss at the 8 and fought through a few Falcons defenders at the goal line — capped the Patriots’ 25-point comeback in a 34-28 win, the first Super Bowl to go to overtime. White earlier had a TD catch, two-point conversion run and another TD run.

23. EPIC UPSET COMPLETE (SB XLII). Plaxico Burress got behind his defender, and Eli Manning found him in the back left corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left to put the finishing touches on a 17-14 Giants’ win, one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history.

22. 75-YARD HOT POTATO TD CATCH (SB V). Super Bowl V is referred to as the “Blunder Bowl” for all the mistakes. But on one play, a blunder led to thunder. Johnny Unitas’ pass intended for Eddie Hinton was high and behind the Colts receiver. It went off his hands, and then the Cowboys’ Mel Renfro tipped it, too, before it fell right to John Mackey. The tight end raced for a 75-yard touchdown to tie it at 6 in Baltimore’s 16-13 win.

21. HOWARD’S END ZONE (SB XXXI). After the Patriots cut the Packers’ lead to 27-21, Desmond Howard made sure it wouldn’t get closer than that, taking the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to power a 35-21 win.

20. BRADSHAW TD TO STALLWORTH (SB XIV). John Stallworth’s 73-yard over-the-shoulder touchdown catch-and-run from Terry Bradshaw gave the Steelers a 24-19 lead early in the fourth quarter. They beat the Los Angeles Rams, 31-19, to repeat as champs and make it four titles in six years.

Seattle's Jermaine Kearse makes a circus catch against the New England Patriots. Credit: Boston Globe via Getty Images/Boston Globe

19. KEARSE’S CIRCUS CATCH (SB XLIX). If Seattle had beaten New England, this play would be talked about even more. With the Seahawks trailing 28-24 with a little over a minute left, Jermaine Kearse made a 33-yard catch to the Patriots’ 5 after falling to the ground and tapping the ball to himself twice after it was first deflected by Malcolm Butler (remember that name).

18. ONSIDE KICK! (SB XLIV). With the Saints trailing the Colts, 10-6, coach Sean Payton made one of the gutsiest calls in Super Bowl history with an onside kick to start the second half. Chris Reis recovered (although officials credited Jonathan Casillas) and New Orleans went ahead 13-10 six plays later. The kicker? Rookie punter Thomas Morstead, now with the Jets.

17. WIN-ATIERI! (SB XXXVI). The biggest kick in Super Bowl history belongs to Adam Vinatieri, whose 48-yarder as time expired gave the Patriots a 20-17 win over the heavily-favored Rams. It was the first of six rings for the Pats under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

16. BRUCE GETS LOOSE (SB XXXIV). With the score tied at 16 and a little over two minutes left, the Rams went for it all on first down from their 27. Isaac Bruce caught Kurt Warner’s 73-yard touchdown pass at the Titans’ 40, made a defender miss at the 35 and never looked back in a 23-16 win.

15. BRADSHAW TD TO SWANN (SB X). With the Steelers up 15-10 and three-plus minutes left, Terry Bradshaw unleashed a 64-yard touchdown pass that Lynn Swann caught at the 5 for a 21-10 lead in a 21-17 win over the Cowboys. Bradshaw was leveled on the play by a helmet-to-helmet hit by Larry Cole and had to be helped off the field.

14. SWANN DIVE (SB X). Lynn Swann’s acrobatic 53-yard catch in which he dove to make the grab after tapping it to himself on the jump was the black-and-gold standard for iconic catches for decades. He became the first wide receiver to be named Super Bowl MVP after catching four passes for 161 yards and a touchdown.

John Elway gets spun around in Super Bowl XXXII against...

John Elway gets spun around in Super Bowl XXXII against the Green Bay Packers. Credit: AP/Kevin Reece

13. ELWAY HELICOPTER RUN (SB XXXII). After losing his first three Super Bowl appearances, John Elway did everything in his power to earn that elusive ring. With the Broncos facing a third-and-6 from the Packers’ 12 in a 17-17 game late in the third quarter, Elway took off. He dove headfirst, getting hit midair and propelling himself to an 8-yard run to pick up the first down. Denver scored two plays later and went on to win, 31-24.

12. ‘HEY . . . THERE’S JOHN CANDY.’ (SB XXIII). Joe Montana’s 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left gave the 49ers a 20-16 win over the Bengals. The 12-play, 92-yard drive began with Montana, in an effort to calm down offensive lineman Harrison Barton, pointing out actor John Candy in the opposite end zone. Joe Cool under pressure.

11. PORTER PICKS PEYTON (SB XLIV): Peyton Manning and the Colts were driving for a tying touchdown when Tracy Porter stepped in front of a pass for Reggie Wayne and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown with a little over three minutes left to clinch the Saints’ 31-17 win.

10. PHILLY SPECIAL (SB LII): “You want Philly Philly?” That’s what Nick Foles asked Eagles coach Doug Pederson before fourth-and-goal from the 1 late in the first half. The quarterback started in the shotgun, walked toward his center and then right tackle while faking an audible as the ball was snapped to Corey Clement. The running back went left, tossed it to Trey Burton who was running the other way and then the tight end threw to a wide-open Foles for a touchdown and 22-12 halftime lead. Foles became a folk hero in Philadelphia after the 41-33 win, never paying for a cheesesteak again.

9. EDELMAN, OH, MAN! (SB LI): A lot of things had to happen for the Patriots to pull off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, turning a 28-3 deficit into a 34-28 overtime win. The most spectacular play was Julian Edelman’s circus catch against three Falcons defenders. Tom Brady’s 23-yard pass was first tipped by a defensive back, then Edelman lunged forward and with his right hand plucked the ball and moved it to both hands. It popped out for a split second before he secured it again and got his left hand under it. Four plays, a TD and a successful two-point conversion later it was 28-28.

8. MANNING TO MANNINGHAM (SB XLVI): Eli Manning’s perfect pass and Mario Manningham’s perfect catch fueled the Giants’ go-ahead touchdown drive in their second Super Bowl win (21-17) over the Patriots in four years. Manningham secured the 38-yard completion at midfield and got two feet down right before two defenders converged.

7. ALLEN REVERSES COURSE (SB XVIII). It was already a Raiders runaway when Marcus Allen took the handoff on the final play of the third quarter and made a run for the ages. He started left, encountered a defender, reversed course and then bolted through the middle of the Washington defense untouched for a 74-yard touchdown run in a 38-9 win. Said Allen, “I don’t think anybody could’ve stopped me on that play.”

6. RIGGINS BREAKS FOURTH WALL (SB XVII). Facing a fourth-and-1 and trailing 16-13 with a little over 10 minutes left, Washington put the ball in John Riggins’ hand. No. 44 took the handoff 43 yards for a TD, barreling over a defender near the line of scrimmage and racing down the left sideline for the go-ahead score in a 27-17 win.

5. THE IMMACULATE INTERCEPTION (SB XLIII). Steelers linebacker James Harrison picked off Kurt Warner’s short pass at the goal line and rumbled 100 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown and 17-7 lead on the final play of the first half in Pittsburgh’s 27-23 win. The pick-6 took so much out of the chiseled linebacker that he lay on the ground for over a minute trying to catch his breath. Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald tackled him just as he scored and likely would have gotten there sooner had he not run into a teammate standing on the sideline.

Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson tries but fails to get...

Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson tries but fails to get the ball into the end zone as he is tackled by the Rams' Mike Jones on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV. Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS/JOHN GAPS III

4. TACKLED AT THE 1 (SB XXXIV). One yard. That’s how close the Titans were to potentially forcing overtime on the final play of regulation. Rams linebacker Mike Jones had other plans, making a diving tackle to stop receiver Kevin Dyson on a slant route just short of the goal line to preserve a 23-16 win. “Even if he got his hands on me,” Dyson said years later, “I thought I’d be able to run through his arms because he was parallel to me.”

Santonio Holmes catches a 6-yard touchdown pass in the fourth...

Santonio Holmes catches a 6-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII. Credit: Getty Images/Kevin C. Cox

3. SANTONIO TOE TAP (SB XLIII). MVP Santonio Holmes had nine catches for 131 yards, none bigger than the 6-yard touchdown from Ben Roethlisberger with 35 seconds left in the Steelers’ thrilling 27-23 win over the Cardinals. With three defenders around Holmes in the back right corner of the end zone, Roethlisberger threw it to the perfect spot. Holmes extended and got both feet down.

Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepts a pass intended for Seahawks...

Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepts a pass intended for Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette in Super Bowl XLIX. Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

2. THE BUTLER DID WHAT?! (SB XLIX). Malcolm Butler wasn’t even on the field at first, but when Patriots coaches noticed three Seahawks receivers, they inserted the defensive back for the second-down play at the New England 1. Then Pete Carroll called for a Russell Wilson throw to Ricardo Lockette instead of a Marshawn Lynch handoff, and Butler jumped the route for the Super Bowl-clinching interception with 20 seconds left in the 28-24 win. Adding to the lore? The Patriots prepared for this play, and Butler got beat on it, so he  was ready this time. Cris Collinsworth summed up what millions of viewers were thinking when he said on the broadcast, “I’m sorry, but I can’t believe the call.”

David Tyree makes the grab against New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison in Super Bowl XLII. Credit: AP/Gene Puskar

1. THE HELMET CATCH (SB XLII). Is there any debate? With the Giants trailing the Patriots, 14-10, and facing a third-and-5 from their own 44 with 1:15 left, Eli Manning escaped pressure, reset and fired a 32-yard pass to David Tyree. The receiver won a jump ball with Rodney Harrison, pinned the pigskin to his helmet with his right hand and somehow kept it from hitting the ground as they both fell. Four plays later, the Giants took a 17-14 lead and the 18-0 Patriots were denied history as David slayed Goliath.

With Peter Kersich, Neil Best, Nick Lanteri and Craig Bustin

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