The Greatest Plays in Super Bowl History

Best Super Bowl Plays

Super Bowl 55 is officially less than two weeks away. It’s fair to say that this year’s matchup is one of the most highly-anticipated NFL championship clashes we have seen in quite some time. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs will seek to become the first team since the 2004-05 New England Patriots to win consecutive Super Bowls. Standing in their way, of course, is Tom Brady, the architect of the Patriots’ dynasty that spanned nearly two full decades.

Brady will look to become just the second quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl as the starting QB of two different teams. The only other player to this point to have accomplished the feat is his former rival, Peyton Manning. Brady is also set to appear in the Super Bowl for a 10th time as he leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into their second-ever appearance in the big game.

It’s impossible to fully appreciate the spectacle and pageantry of the Super Bowl without looking back at the game’s history. Some of the most iconic and memorable plays in the history of the sport have taken place in Super Bowls over the years. What are some of the most infamous plays in Super Bowl history?

20. First-Ever Super Bowl Touchdown (Super Bowl 1)

Needless to say, the Super Bowl wasn’t nearly what it is today back when it first started. Super Bowl 1 took place back in 1967 when it was billed as the first annual AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The game pitted the NFL champion Green Bay Packers against the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs. The NFL was seen as the vastly superior league at the time, so the Packers entered the game as heavy favorites.

The Packers wound up cruising to a 35-10 that day behind the efforts of quarterback Bart Starr, who was named as the first-ever Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. While Starr was the story, the first-ever Super Bowl touchdown was hauled in by Packers wide receiver/punter Max McGee. McGee, who was reportedly dealing with a nasty hangover after the Packers partied all night long prior to the game, made a nifty one-handed grab and rumbled 37 yards for the game’s first score.

First Super Bowl Touchdown

McGee wasn’t even a starter for the Packers. He only came into the game after Boyd Dowler came down with an injury earlier in the contest, which paved the way for McGee’s memorable grab.

19. Saints’ Unexpected Onside Kick (Super Bowl 44)

The New Orleans Saints have been one of the most successful teams in the NFL over the past decade, but that certainly hasn’t always been the case. The Saints were actually something of a laughingstock for their first several decades in the league, but the Drew Brees/Sean Payton tandem brought respectability to the oft-maligned franchise.

While the Saints have done a lot of winning in recent years, the team still has just one Super Bowl appearance on their resume. Fortunately, they made the most of their lone trip to the big game. Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts entered Super Bowl 44 as five-point favorites over Brees and the Saints. Indy took a 10-6 lead into halftime, and they were expecting to receive the kickoff to begin the second half.

Saints Onside Kick

However, Payton made one of the boldest play calls in Super Bowl history when he asked punter Thomas Morstead to start the half with a surprise onside kick. Morstead wound up executing the “ambush” kick to perfection, and the Saints wound up gaining possession following the intermission. Brees capped the ensuing drive with a touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas, and the Saints never looked back.

The score gave the New Orleans Saints a 14-10 lead that they would never relinquish. The Saints wound up winning the game by the final score of 31-17 to give the team its first and only Super Bowl championship.

18. Jacoby Jones’ Kickoff Return (Super Bowl 47)

While there have only been 54 Super Bowls in history, we have actually seen quite a few kickoffs returned for touchdowns over the years. Percy Harvin was the last to do so when he opened the second half with a long touchdown return for the Seattle Seahawks in their trouncing of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48.

However, few have been better than Jacoby Jones’ own return touchdown the year prior. Jones boldly attempted to return the kickoff from deep inside the Ravens’ own end zone to begin the second half of their game against the 49ers. The 108-yard return is the longest return of any kind in the history of the Super Bowl, and one of the longest plays in NFL history. The return was initially ruled to be a 109-yard return before the official scorer amended the decision later on.

Jacoby Jones Kickoff Return

Jones’ score extended the Ravens’ lead to 28-6. San Francisco mounted a second-half charge behind QB Colin Kaepernick, but Baltimore was able to hang on for a 34-31 win in the end. The Ravens are still the only team in NFL history to have returned multiple kickoffs for touchdowns in Super Bowls. Jermaine Lewis accomplished the feat in the Ravens’ win over the Giants back in 2000.

17. Warner-to-Bruce (Super Bowl 34)

Back in 1999, the St. Louis Rams were essentially the NFL’s best team from wire-to-wire. Many figured the Rams’ chances were doomed when starter Trent Green suffered a season-ending injury early in the season. St. Louis turned to a little-known backup named Kurt Warner, who quickly took the NFL by storm. Warner won the NFL’s regular-season MVP award that year leading “The Greatest Show on Turf” to a 13-3 record.

The Rams squared off against the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl 34 that year. The game started slowly, with the Rams heading into halftime with a modest 9-0 lead thanks to three field goals from kicker Jeff Wilkins. The Titans stormed back to tie the game at 16 in the fourth quarter, however, which set the stage for Warner to lead the Rams to a dramatic last-second victory.

With under two minutes to play, Warner connected with Pro Bowl wideout Isaac Bruce on a 73-yard touchdown that is still one of the most exciting plays in Super Bowl history.

Issac Bruce

Steve McNair and the Titans mounted a comeback drive of their own, but Tennessee ultimately fell a yard short of scoring a game-tying touchdown of their own as time expired. Warner earned his first and only Super Bowl MVP award for his efforts in the Rams’ Super Bowl victory.

16. Colts’ “Immaculate Reception” (Super Bowl 5)

The real “Immaculate Reception” was Franco Harris’ improbable catch to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to victory over the Oakland Raiders in the 1972 AFC Divisional Round. However, the Baltimore Colts got a far less-infamous “Immaculate Reception” of their own back in Super Bowl 5 against the Dallas Cowboys.

This was not a well-played game by either team. Super Bowl 5 featured a whopping 11 turnovers as the teams traded mistakes all afternoon long. The game was ultimately decided when Colts kicker Jim O’Brien converted a 32-yard field goal with five seconds to play, but the most noteworthy play of the game occurred in the second quarter.

Colts Touchdown

Legendary Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas dropped back to pass with his team in an early 3-0 hole. The pass bounced off of wide receiver Eddie Hinton and Cowboys corner Mel Renfro before falling into the waiting arms of star tight end John Mackey. Mackey grabbed the deflected ball and sprinted 75 yards for the game’s first touchdown in one of the most improbable strikes in Super Bowl history.

15. Mario Manningham To The Rescue (Super Bowl 46)

The New York Giants were one of the few teams to serve as a thorn in the side of the Brady/Belichick Patriots in recent years. New York won a pair of Super Bowls during the Eli Manning era, and both happened to come at the expense of New England. Just four years after the Giants shocked the world with their upset over the previously-unbeaten Patriots, the two teams met again in Super Bowl 46.

The Giants were saved by a spectacular catch by David Tyree (more on that later) in the first game, and Mario Manningham was one of the heroes in the rematch. With less than four minutes to play in the game and facing a two-point deficit, the Giants started a drive from aroun their own 10-yard line. On the very first play of the drive, Manning connected with Manningham on an incredible 38-yard catch along the sideline that put the Giants in business right away.

Mario Manningham Catch

Manningham caught the pass over his shoulder in between a pair of Patriots defenders while miraculously keeping both feet inbounds. The catch set up the eventual game-winning touchdown run by Ahmad Bradshaw that gave the Giants their fourth Super Bowl title.

14. Leon Lett’s Heartbreaking Fumble (Super Bowl 27)

The Buffalo Bills have not had much success in Super Bowls over the years. While the Bills did win four-straight AFC titles in the 1990s, they failed to win in any of their ensuing Super Bowl appearances. Their most lopsided defeat came at the hands of the mightly Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl 27. Dallas stormed to a 52-17 win in one of the least-competitive title games in NFL history.

While Super Bowl highlights have been few-and-far-between for Buffalo, Don Beebe’s heroic play in the late stages of that game did make its way onto this list. Bills QB Frank Reich was sacked on a fourth-down play near midfield and fumbled late in the fourth quarter. The ball was scooped up by Cowboys defensive lineman Leon Lett, who rumbled toward the end zone.

Leon Lett Fumble

Lett held the ball out in celebration as he approached the goal line, but he didn’t anticipate Beebe catching him from behind. Beebe came out of nowhere to jar the ball from Lett’s hand just a yard from the goal line. The ball then bounced out of the back of the end zone, which resulted in a touchback for Buffalo. The play had no bearing on the game’s final result, but it did prevent the Cowboys from setting a new record for points scored in a single Super Bowl.

13. Helicopter John Elway (Super Bowl 32)

John Elway and the Denver Broncos had a Bills-like track record full of failure in Super Bowls over the years, but the Hall-of-Fame QB was able to finally exorcise those demons in Super Bowl 32. Elway and the Broncos had been crushed in each of their first three Super Bowl appearances before finally winning a title over Brett Favre and the Packers in 1997.

Elway was 37-years-old at the time, but his advanced age didn’t prevent him from making one of the most athletic plays in Super Bowl history that year. Elway wasn’t known as much of a scrambler at that stage of his career, but his crucial eight-yard run on third down set up an eventual go-ahead score from running back Terrell Davis.

John Elway Flying Through the Air

Elway bravely took on a trio of Packers defenders in an attempt to keep Denver’s drive alive. He lunged inside the five-yard-line and held onto the football despite taking a shot from three Green Bay defenders. The play eventually became one of the signature moments of Elway’s legendary career.

12. Julian Edelman’s Circus Catch (Super Bowl 51)

Super Bowl 51 will go down as one of the most memorable plays of Tom Brady’s career. New England fell into an early 28-3 hole in that game against the Atlanta Falcons, but you just knew Brady had a comeback still in him. The Patriots started to claw their way back into the game in the second half before eventually winning in overtime. That is still the only Super Bowl to have ever gone into an overtime period.

The Falcons had plenty of chances to put the Patriots away in that game, but they were unable to seal the deal. Falcons defender Robert Alford whiffed on a golden opportunity to intercept Brady and put the game to bed. However, the ball wound up deflecting off of Alford and into the waiting arms of Julian Edelman, who managed to keep the ball from hitting the grass as he lunged forward.

Edelman Catch

The Patriots have been victimized by some impressive catches from opponents over the years, but Edelman’s grab is arguably the most memorable offensive play of New England’s recent dynasty. The undersized wideout never took his eyes off the football following the deflection, and he was able to hang on despite a bobble and three Atlanta defenders surrounding him. The catch set up a New England touchdown that knotted the game at 28-28.

11. Marcus Allen’s Backbreaking Run (Super Bowl 18)

Washington is one of the most successful franchises in NFL history, but Super Bowl 18 was a night to forget. The then-Los Angeles Raiders breezed their way to an easy 38-9 in one of the most dominant performances in Super Bowl history. It was the Raiders’ first Super Bowl title in Los Angeles, and their third title-winning season overall.

Washington didn’t make much of a game of it, but the defining play of the game was Marcus Allen’s incredible touchdown run in the third quarter. The second-year running back was fresh off of a Heisman Trophy-winning season a couple of years ago as a star at USC. The 74-yard scamper instantly made him one of the NFL’s brightest young stars and cemented his status as one of the Raiders’ cornerstone talents.

Allen took a handoff in the third quarter with LA already out to a 28-9 lead. He appeared to have nowhere to run with Washington defenders surrounding him, which caused him to reverse field and run to the right. Allen saw a hole right in the middle of the line and dashed forward.

Marcus Allen Run

From there, there was no stopping him. Allen ran the length of the field virtually untouched to give the Raiders a commanding 35-9 advantage in one of the best runs in Super Bowl history.

Allen’s 74-yard run was the longest scoring play in the history of the Super Bowl at the time. He also earned Super Bowl MVP honors for rushing for a then-record 191 yards on 20 carries with a pair of touchdowns.

Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu …

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