Unforgettable NFL Moments: The Most Memorable Plays

November 15, 2023
5 months

The National Football League (NFL) has provided fans with countless moments of breathtaking athleticism, stunning drama, and unforgettable excitement over the decades. These moments, often encapsulated in a single play, have left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of football enthusiasts worldwide. From jaw-dropping catches to game-changing interceptions, from miraculous comebacks to the sheer grit and determination displayed on the field, the NFL has given us some of the most memorable plays in the history of sports.

The Birth of the National Football League | HISTORY

In this exploration of the most memorable NFL plays, we will journey through the annals of the league, reliving the iconic moments that define the essence of professional football. These plays are more than just snapshots of athletic excellence; they are the cornerstones of NFL lore, celebrated for their ability to inspire, unite, and remind us why we love the game of football.

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From the immaculate receptions to the Hail Mary heaves, each play is a testament to the skill, heart, and sheer unpredictability that make the NFL a captivating spectacle for fans around the world. So, as we embark on this journey, let’s celebrate the heroes and heroics, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and the enduring legacy of the most memorable NFL plays that continue to resonate with us, season after season.

1. The Immaculate Reception

The Immaculate Reception: Catch of a Lifetime | Pro Football Hall of Fame

Few plays have left an indelible mark as enduring as Franco Harris’s Immaculate Reception in the frosty December of 1972. This iconic moment transcends the realm of sports and enters the pantheon of American legend, forever enshrined as a testament to the boundless drama and unpredictability that football can offer. The stage was set on a cold and unforgiving December day, as the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves trailing the formidable Oakland Raiders by a single point in the waning moments of a high-stakes playoff game. With the outcome hanging in the balance, the Steelers faced a seemingly insurmountable task. In a play that would become etched in NFL lore, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw dropped back to pass, hoping to conjure a miracle. But the Raiders’ relentless defense had other plans, as they swarmed Bradshaw and disrupted the intended trajectory of the ball. As the pass was deflected away, it appeared destined to fall harmlessly to the ground, sealing the Steelers’ fate.

Franco Harris: What the 'Immaculate Reception' meant to Pittsburgh and the NFL

However, fate itself intervened in the form of Franco Harris, an unsung hero waiting in the wings. With lightning reflexes and an uncanny sense of the moment, Harris descended upon the descending football with outstretched arms, his fingertips barely grazing it before it touched the frozen turf. In that split second, Harris transformed from a mere player into a magician, performing a sleight of hand that would resonate for generations to come. With the football miraculously secured and still afloat, Harris tucked it away and bolted into the end zone, completing an astonishing touchdown. The Steelers, against all odds, emerged victorious, and the Immaculate Reception was eternally etched into the annals of NFL history. This iconic play has remained shrouded in controversy, with passionate debates persisting over whether the ball had indeed touched the ground before Harris’s otherworldly intervention. Yet, regardless of the technicalities, the Immaculate Reception transcends such disputes. It symbolizes the boundless hope and drama that football can deliver, offering fans a glimpse of the extraordinary within the ordinary. The Immaculate Reception marked a turning point in the Steelers’ history, heralding the beginning of a dynasty that would go on to define an era of NFL dominance. More than a play, it stands as a timeless reminder that in the world of sports, as in life, the improbable and the miraculous can occur when we least expect it, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of fans and the pages of history.

2. The Music City Miracle (2000)

Mapping the Music City Miracle | Cover Story | nashvillescene.com

The Music City Miracle is a testament to the beauty of football execution and the ability to thrive under immense pressure. It unfolded during a high-stakes playoff game where the Tennessee Titans found themselves on the precipice of elimination, trailing the Buffalo Bills by a single point with mere seconds left on the clock. The fate of the game and the season rested on the upcoming kickoff return, setting the stage for one of the most remarkable plays in NFL history. As the Titans prepared for the do-or-die moment, the tension in the stadium was palpable. The entire season’s hopes hung in the balance. Lorenzo Neal, a key figure in this football drama, fielded the kickoff. What happened next would go down in NFL lore as a masterpiece of precise execution. Neal wasted no time and swiftly handed the ball to Frank Wycheck, who then embarked on a lateral-filled journey that would decide the Titans’ fate. With the football cradled in his hands, Wycheck sent a lateral spiraling across the field to Kevin Dyson. As Dyson caught the lateral, he realized that the destiny of his team and their championship aspirations rested upon his shoulders.

NFL At 100-AP Was There-Music City Miracle | The Seattle Times

The stadium roared as Dyson sprinted down the sideline, an electrifying burst of speed propelling him towards the end zone. But the path to victory was fraught with challenges, as a sea of Bills defenders closed in on Dyson. It was a heart-stopping moment as he dove for the goal line, stretching the football towards the pylon. In a breathtaking culmination of precision, athleticism, and sheer nerve, Dyson’s outstretched arm crossed the plane of the end zone just as the clock hit zero. The Titans had achieved the impossible—a game-winning touchdown that sent shockwaves through the football world. The Music City Miracle had unfolded before our eyes. This remarkable play was a masterpiece of teamwork and coordination, a demonstration of the unwavering determination of athletes under the most intense pressure. It not only secured an unforgettable playoff victory for the Titans but also etched itself into the annals of NFL history. Football fans worldwide continue to marvel at the perfect execution and sheer drama of the Music City Miracle, a reminder that in the NFL, extraordinary moments can occur when we least expect them, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of fans and the pages of history.

3. The Catch (1982)

Dwight Clark's Catch Marked the Beginning of 49ers Dominance - The New York Times

“The Catch” is a phrase that resonates with every NFL enthusiast, for it represents not just a moment but a defining chapter in the annals of football history. In the 1981 NFC Championship Game, the San Francisco 49ers squared off against the Dallas Cowboys in a high-stakes battle that would become etched in the memory of fans worldwide. The stage was set: less than a minute remained on the clock, and the 49ers, trailing by six points, found themselves 89 agonizing yards away from the coveted end zone. It was a moment that demanded nothing short of football perfection. Enter Joe Montana, the cool and collected quarterback who would go on to etch his name among the all-time greats. With nerves of steel and the weight of the season on his shoulders, Montana orchestrated one of the most iconic drives in NFL history. The pressure was palpable, but Montana thrived under it.

The Catch' at 40: 5 things to know about that 49ers-Cowboys game | Sporting News Canada

As the seconds ticked away and the Cowboys’ defense closed in like a vice, Montana found himself flushed out of the pocket. With the world watching, he rolled to his right, scanning the field for a target. And then, in a moment that transcended sports, he unleashed a perfectly arched pass toward the back of the end zone. As if scripted by the football gods themselves, Dwight Clark, the unassuming receiver, leaped into the air. His outstretched fingers reached for the heavens, and he plucked the ball out of the sky with a grace that belied the magnitude of the moment. His fingertips grazed the top of the football, securing it for a touchdown. The stadium erupted in jubilation as fans and players alike realized they had just witnessed something magical. The Catch catapulted the 49ers to victory, sending them to Super Bowl XVI, where they would emerge as champions. But this play was more than just a game-winner; it was a symbol of beginnings and greatness. The Catch was the spark that ignited a dynasty under the visionary guidance of head coach Bill Walsh and the steady hand of Joe Montana. It solidified their place in NFL history and set a standard for clutch performances that future generations would aspire to achieve. It was more than a play; it was a legacy etched in the hearts and minds of football fans for generations to come.

4. The Minneapolis Miracle (2018)

Vikings' Stefon Diggs, Case Keenum trying to put the 'Miracle' behind them

In the NFL, moments of divine intervention are rare, but the Minneapolis Miracle was precisely that. The 2017 NFC Divisional Playoff game featured a showdown between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. With just 10 seconds left on the clock and the Vikings trailing by one point, it seemed like an improbable comeback. Quarterback Case Keenum took the snap and heaved the ball downfield in desperation.

Minneapolis Miracle Voted as 9th-Best Play in NFL History

What happened next defied belief. Saints safety Marcus Williams leaped early, missing the tackle, and the ball sailed into the hands of Stefon Diggs, who was in full stride along the sideline. Diggs miraculously stayed in bounds, and with nothing but green turf ahead, he sprinted into the end zone for a walk-off touchdown as time expired. The U.S. Bank Stadium erupted in euphoria, and the play was aptly named the Minneapolis Miracle. This play not only catapulted the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game but also became an instant classic in NFL history. Football fans will remember this moment for generations to come due to the sheer improbability of the catch and the breathtaking walk-off touchdown.

5. The Helmet Catch (2008)

With Super Bowl back in Arizona, David Tyree relives The Helmet Catch - Sports Illustrated

Super Bowl XLII is etched into the annals of NFL history for many reasons, but none more so than for “The Helmet Catch.” The game pitted the New York Giants against the undefeated New England Patriots, who were seeking to complete a perfect season. The Patriots’ defense was relentless, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning found himself under immense pressure. In one of the most improbable plays ever witnessed, Eli Manning managed to escape the clutches of several Patriots defenders, launching a desperate pass downfield with the game hanging in the balance. David Tyree, a relatively unknown receiver, found himself locked in a battle with Patriots safety Rodney Harrison. In a moment of sheer determination and athleticism, Tyree leaped, securing the ball with one hand while pressing it against his helmet, all while Harrison desperately tried to knock it away.

Andscape on X: "On this date in 2008: The Helmet Catch David Tyree pinned the ball to his helmet as he caught a 32-yard pass late in the 4th quarter of Super

The catch was nothing short of miraculous, as Tyree managed to maintain possession while crashing to the ground. It kept the Giants’ drive alive, eventually leading to a game-winning touchdown and ending the Patriots’ quest for a perfect season. “The Helmet Catch” transcended sports, becoming an enduring symbol of the underdog’s triumph and the unpredictability that makes football the beloved sport it is.

6. The Philly Special (2018)

The story of Philly Philly, the Eagles' 2018 version of Philly Special

Super Bowl LII witnessed one of the boldest and most memorable plays in football history—The Philly Special. The Philadelphia Eagles, led by backup quarterback Nick Foles, were facing the New England Patriots in a high-stakes battle for the championship. On fourth-and-goal near the end of the first half, the Eagles decided to take a gamble that would go down in legend.

Nick Foles' trick play TD: How Eagles devised 'Philly Special'

As the ball was snapped, Foles nonchalantly shifted to the right side of the formation, leaving the impression that he was an idle observer. However, it was all a ruse. The snap went directly to running back Corey Clement, who tossed it to tight end Trey Burton. In an instant, Foles sprinted into the end zone, and Burton lofted a pass to him. Foles made a remarkable, and somewhat unconventional, touchdown catch, becoming the first quarterback in Super Bowl history to catch a touchdown pass. The Philly Special was a testament to the Eagles’ fearlessness and creativity on the grandest stage. This audacious play ultimately played a pivotal role in the Eagles’ historic Super Bowl victory, endearing it to fans and etching it into NFL lore as one of the most daring and iconic moments in the history of the sport.

7. The Butt Fumble (2012)

Patriots 2022 schedule: Thanksgiving game will be a highlight

In the annals of NFL history, some plays are celebrated for their brilliance, while others are remembered for their sheer infamy. “The Butt Fumble” falls squarely into the latter category. The play occurred on Thanksgiving Day in 2012 when the New York Jets faced off against the New England Patriots. What transpired on the field would go down as one of the most embarrassing moments in NFL history. Mark Sanchez, then the Jets’ quarterback, dropped back for a pass in the second quarter. However, things quickly unraveled as he collided with the backside of his own offensive lineman, Brandon Moore. In an instant, Sanchez lost control of the football, which was promptly scooped up by the Patriots’ Steve Gregory, who returned it for a touchdown. The collision and subsequent fumble, aptly named “The Butt Fumble,” became a symbol of the Jets’ struggles during that season.

Remembering Mark Sanchez's Epic 'Butt Fumble' on Anniversary - ABC News

The play not only became a viral sensation but also a symbol of the Jets’ misfortunes that year. It was replayed endlessly on highlight shows and became a subject of ridicule and humor across the nation. Mark Sanchez, a talented quarterback, found himself forever associated with this infamous blunder. Yet, in its own unique way, “The Butt Fumble” has become a part of NFL folklore, a reminder that even the most skilled athletes can befall moments of inexplicable mishaps. It remains a testament to the unpredictable nature of sports and the enduring power of sports fandom to find humor even in the most embarrassing of moments.

8. The Beast Quake (2011)

Marshawn Lynch's top Beast Mode moments | CBC Sports

“The Beast Quake” is a term that still sends shivers down the spines of NFL fans. This legendary play occurred during the 2011 NFC Wild Card game between the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints. The Seahawks, considered underdogs, were clinging to a 34-30 lead with just over three minutes left in the game.

Reliving The Beast Quake Game 10 Years Later

In a moment that epitomized the power and determination of running back Marshawn Lynch, he took a routine handoff and transformed it into something truly extraordinary. Lynch broke multiple tackles, shook off defenders like they were mere nuisances, and embarked on a 67-yard touchdown run that left fans at CenturyLink Field in a state of pandemonium. The energy and seismic vibrations generated by the crowd during Lynch’s run were so intense that they registered on a nearby seismograph, coining the term “Beast Quake.” “The Beast Quake” not only secured a playoff victory for the Seahawks but also symbolized Marshawn Lynch’s tenacity and the spirit of the Seattle team. It remains one of the most iconic runs in NFL history, a moment when a single player’s determination and the roar of the crowd combined to create a truly seismic event in the world of football.

9. The Holy Roller (1978)

Holy Roller at 40: How a Raiders' fumble-turned-TD changed the NFL - ESPN - NFL Nation- ESPN

“The Holy Roller” is one of the most controversial and unforgettable plays in NFL history. This dramatic moment unfolded during a game between the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers on September 10, 1978. The Raiders were trailing by six points with just seconds remaining on the clock, and they faced a critical fourth down situation near the Chargers’ goal line. What transpired next was nothing short of chaotic brilliance. Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler dropped back to pass but was immediately pressured by Chargers defenders. In a desperate attempt to avoid a sack, Stabler deliberately fumbled the ball forward into the Chargers’ end zone. The ball then became the center of a frantic scramble as Raiders players attempted to recover it.

Holy Roller at 40: How a Raiders' fumble-turned-TD changed the NFL - ESPN - NFL Nation- ESPN

In the end, it was Raiders tight end Dave Casper who emerged from the pile with the ball in his possession, securing a touchdown. The controversial play resulted in a game-winning score for the Raiders. The NFL later changed its rules regarding forward fumbles, often referred to as the “Casper Rule,” as a direct response to this play. While “The Holy Roller” remains a point of contention and debate among football fans, it undeniably represents the unpredictable and thrilling nature of the sport. It’s a reminder that in the NFL, moments of brilliance and controversy can intersect in the most unexpected ways, leaving a lasting legacy that continues to spark discussions.

10. The Fog Bowl (1988)

As Eagles and Bears prepare for another playoff matchup, looking back on the bizarre 1988 Fog Bowl

“The Fog Bowl” is a game forever enshrouded in mystery and intrigue. This unforgettable NFL matchup took place on December 31, 1988, during an NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles. While the teams were known for their ferocious defenses, the real challenge that day wasn’t the opposing players—it was the thick blanket of fog that descended upon Soldier Field in Chicago. As the fog rolled in during the second quarter, visibility on the field deteriorated rapidly, rendering the game nearly impossible to follow for players, officials, and fans alike. Players looked like shadowy figures moving through a dense mist, and television broadcasts struggled to capture the action. Referee Jim Tunney even announced on the stadium’s public address system that the game would be played under “very adverse conditions.”

Dec. 31, 1988: Chicago Bears play Philadelphia Eagles in 'Fog Bowl'

Despite the surreal atmosphere, the game continued, and the Bears ultimately won 20-12. The fog created an eerie and surreal spectacle, turning an NFL playoff game into something out of a science fiction movie. “The Fog Bowl” remains one of the most unusual and talked-about games in NFL history, a testament to the unpredictability of sports and the lengths to which players and fans will go to witness and participate in the drama of the game they love.

11. The Catch II (1999)

Inside 'The Catch II,' the Play That Catapulted Terrell Owens' Hall of Fame Career

“The Catch II” is a testament to the enduring legacy of iconic plays in NFL history. This momentous play occurred on January 3, 1999, during an NFC Wild Card Playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. It was a game filled with tension and high stakes, and it would be decided in dramatic fashion. With just seconds left in the game, the 49ers faced a critical third-and-goal situation. Quarterback Steve Young dropped back to pass, scanning the field for an open receiver. The Packers’ defense applied heavy pressure, forcing Young to scramble to his right. In a split-second decision, Young hurled a pinpoint pass to Terrell Owens, who made a remarkable leaping catch in the end zone, securing the game-winning touchdown.

NFL Week 12 historical matchups: Terrell Owens makes 'The Catch, Part 2' adding to 1990s Packers-49ers rivalry - CBSSports.com

What makes “The Catch II” so iconic is not just the incredible athleticism displayed by Owens but the circumstances in which it occurred. This play marked the resurgence of the 49ers as a playoff contender, and it was a symbolic passing of the torch from the Joe Montana and Jerry Rice era to the Steve Young and Terrell Owens era. It breathed new life into the storied franchise and reignited the passion of 49ers fans. Owens’ catch is etched into NFL history as one of the most clutch receptions in playoff history. It not only catapulted the 49ers to victory but also symbolized the essence of playoff football, where players rise to the occasion in the most pressure-filled moments. “The Catch II” remains a cherished memory for 49ers faithful and a symbol of the thrilling and unpredictable nature of the NFL playoffs.

12. The Ghost to the Post (1977)

Ghost to the Post

“The Ghost to the Post” is a play steeped in legend and folklore in the NFL. This unforgettable moment unfolded during an AFC Divisional Playoff game on December 24, 1977, between the Oakland Raiders and the Baltimore Colts. It was a game that would go down in history as one of the most thrilling and dramatic contests ever played. With the game tied in the second overtime period, the Raiders faced a critical third-and-long situation deep in their territory. Quarterback Ken Stabler took the snap and launched a pass downfield to tight end Dave Casper. What transpired next was a miraculous connection. Casper made an incredible leaping catch in stride, racing past defenders and deep into Colts territory.

Ghost to the Post - YouTube

Casper’s reception set the Raiders up for a field goal, and they ultimately secured a 37-31 victory in one of the most extended and thrilling playoff games in NFL history. “The Ghost to the Post” became synonymous with clutch performances and the unpredictability of playoff football. This play, which is named after a specific route in the Raiders’ playbook, is emblematic of the incredible drama that can unfold in the NFL playoffs. It showcased the resilience and determination of both teams and left an indelible mark in the memories of football fans, who still discuss it with reverence and awe. “The Ghost to the Post” remains a shining example of the thrilling moments that make NFL postseason play so special.

13. The Mile High Miracle (2013)

Reliving the Mile High Miracle - Baltimore Sports and Life

“The Mile High Miracle” is a phrase that resonates with NFL fans as a testament to the power of the Hail Mary pass and the thrill of postseason football. This remarkable play occurred during an AFC Divisional Playoff game on January 12, 2013, when the Baltimore Ravens faced the Denver Broncos in what would become an instant classic. With just seconds left in regulation and the Ravens trailing by a touchdown, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco found himself in a high-pressure situation. The Ravens had the ball on their own 30-yard line and needed a miracle to keep their playoff hopes alive. In a moment that would define his legacy, Flacco dropped back and unleashed a colossal heave deep downfield.

Mile High Miracle 10 years later: How Ravens' prayers were answered - ESPN - Baltimore Ravens Blog- ESPN

The football traveled an astonishing 70 yards through the thin air of Denver’s Mile High Stadium, soaring into the awaiting hands of wide receiver Jacoby Jones. Jones outmaneuvered the Broncos’ secondary and hauled in the pass for a game-tying touchdown, sending the game into overtime. The Ravens would go on to win the game and eventually capture Super Bowl XLVII. “The Mile High Miracle” is a testament to the power of belief and the magic of the Hail Mary pass. It showcased Joe Flacco’s arm strength and Jacoby Jones’ athleticism while delivering a dramatic turning point in a playoff contest for the ages. This play continues to evoke awe and admiration among football fans as a shining example of the thrilling and unpredictable nature of postseason football.

14. The Pick at the Stick (2013)

The last game at Candlestick Park

“The Pick at the Stick” is a play that holds a special place in the hearts of San Francisco 49ers fans and NFL enthusiasts alike. This memorable moment occurred on December 23, 2013, during an NFC Divisional Playoff game between the 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons at Candlestick Park, affectionately known as “The Stick.” With just over a minute left in the game and the 49ers clinging to a narrow lead, the Panthers were mounting a desperate final drive to try and pull off a comeback victory. On a critical fourth-down play, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan dropped back to pass, looking for an open receiver. What happened next would go down in 49ers lore.

Kawakami: NaVorro Bowman provides another memorable moment for Candlestick – The Mercury News

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman, in a stunning display of athleticism and anticipation, read Newton’s pass perfectly and made an acrobatic interception at the goal line. What followed was equally impressive; Bowman sprinted upfield, eluding would-be tacklers and racing 89 yards for a touchdown. His interception return for a touchdown sealed the victory for the 49ers and marked the final game at Candlestick Park. “The Pick at the Stick” represents the heart and soul of 49ers football, combining defensive prowess with a historic farewell to a beloved stadium. Bowman’s interception and return not only secured the win but also became a defining moment in the legacy of Candlestick Park and a cherished memory for 49ers faithful. It serves as a reminder of the drama and excitement that can unfold in the NFL playoffs and the indomitable spirit of the players who make those moments possible.

15. The Miracle at the Meadowlands (1978)

Miracle at the Meadowlands - Wikipedia

“The Miracle at the Meadowlands” stands as a testament to the unpredictability and drama that defines the NFL. This iconic play occurred on November 19, 1978, during a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants at Giants Stadium. With just 20 seconds left on the clock, the Giants held a 17-12 lead and only needed to run out the clock to secure victory. However, in a shocking turn of events, the Giants decided to run a simple handoff play rather than take a knee. What transpired next would go down in NFL history.

Didinger: Miracle Of The Meadowlands, 40 Years Later

Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik mishandled the handoff, and the football bounced onto the Meadowlands turf. Eagles cornerback Herman Edwards was in the right place at the right time, scooping up the fumble and dashing into the end zone for a game-winning touchdown. The Eagles secured a miraculous victory, and “The Miracle at the Meadowlands” was born. This play represented the epitome of a never-say-die attitude and the belief that a game is never truly over until the final whistle blows. It was a stark reminder of the importance of making sound decisions in the closing moments of a game. “The Miracle at the Meadowlands” remains etched in NFL lore as a symbol of the unexpected twists and turns that can occur in football and the indomitable spirit of competition.

16. The Tuck Rule (2002)

The 'Tuck Rule' Game That Started A Dynasty ... And A Backlash | Only A Game

“The Tuck Rule” is a play that sparked intense debate and controversy and ultimately had a profound impact on NFL history. This moment occurred during an AFC Divisional Playoff game on January 19, 2002, between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders at a snow-covered Foxborough Stadium. With less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Patriots were trailing the Raiders 13-10 and faced a critical fourth-down situation. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady dropped back to pass and, under heavy pressure, appeared to fumble the ball. The Raiders recovered what they believed to be a game-sealing turnover.

Tuck Rule Game

However, the officials invoked a little-known rule, known as the “tuck rule,” which stated that if a quarterback’s arm was moving forward when he lost possession of the ball, it was considered an incomplete pass rather than a fumble. After a lengthy review, the officials determined that Brady’s arm was moving forward, and therefore, it was ruled an incomplete pass. The Patriots retained possession of the ball and went on to tie the game with a field goal. They eventually won in overtime. “The Tuck Rule” remains one of the most contentious and debated moments in NFL history. Some view it as a fortunate break for the Patriots, while others argue it was a correct application of the rule. Regardless of one’s perspective, this play significantly impacted the course of the game and played a pivotal role in the Patriots’ eventual Super Bowl victory that season. It serves as a reminder of how intricacies in the rulebook can dramatically affect the outcome of a game and shape the legacies of players and teams.

17. The Sea of Hands (1974)

NFL 100 Greatest' No. 17: The Sea of Hands

“The Sea of Hands” is a play that encapsulates the essence of clutch performances in the NFL. This iconic moment unfolded during an AFC Divisional Playoff game on December 21, 1974, between the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. In the waning moments of the game, the Raiders found themselves trailing the Dolphins 26-21. They were in desperate need of a touchdown to advance to the AFC Championship Game. Quarterback Ken Stabler dropped back to pass, facing relentless pressure from the Dolphins’ defense. In a moment that would define his legacy, Stabler launched a pass into a sea of defenders and receivers.

Ken Stabler on Twitter: "Snake throwing a pass in the “Sea of Hands” game in the 1974 playoffs. Snake was MVP of the entire NFL that year and he more than lived

Amidst the chaos, it was Raiders running back Clarence Davis who emerged as the hero. Surrounded by three Dolphins defenders, Davis miraculously hauled in the football for a game-winning touchdown, securing a 28-26 victory for the Raiders. The play instantly became known as “The Sea of Hands” due to the swarm of defenders surrounding Davis as he made the catch. “The Sea of Hands” stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of competition and the ability of athletes to rise to the occasion in the most pressure-filled moments. It symbolizes the exhilarating unpredictability of postseason football and the enduring legacy of players who make clutch plays when it matters most.

18. The Fail Mary (2012)

NFL breaks 12-hour silence on Fail Mary – Football Zebras

“The Fail Mary” is a play that remains shrouded in controversy and debate, representing a unique moment in NFL history. This infamous play occurred on September 24, 2012, during a Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. With just seconds remaining on the clock, the Seahawks were trailing the Packers 12-7 and were in dire need of a touchdown to win the game. Quarterback Russell Wilson heaved a Hail Mary pass into the end zone, where a scrum of players from both teams leaped to try to secure the football. Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate and Packers safety M.D. Jennings both appeared to have simultaneous possession of the ball as they came down.

MNF moments, No. 1: Fail Mary, Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks - ESPN - NFL Nation- ESPN

In a moment that would ignite intense controversy and debate, the officials on the field ruled the play a touchdown in favor of the Seahawks, giving them an improbable 14-12 victory. The decision was met with vehement disagreement, as many believed it was a clear interception by the Packers. “The Fail Mary” remains a polarizing play, with fans and analysts divided on whether the officials made the correct call. It prompted discussions about the integrity of officiating and the need for reviewable plays in the NFL. Regardless of one’s perspective, this play serves as a reminder that the NFL is no stranger to drama and controversy, where the outcome of a game can hinge on the interpretation of the rules and the judgment of officials.

19. The River City Relay (2003)

New Orleans Saints Tragedies: The River City Relay - Canal Street Chronicles

“The River City Relay” is a play that showcases the breathtaking and unconventional nature of special teams in the NFL. This thrilling moment unfolded on December 21, 2003, during a game between the New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars at Jacksonville’s Alltel Stadium. With just seven seconds left on the clock, the Saints were trailing the Jaguars 20-13 and found themselves with one last opportunity to tie the game. The Saints had to execute a perfect kickoff return to have any chance of keeping their hopes alive. What followed was a sequence of laterals that would be etched into NFL history.

New Orleans Saints at Jacksonville Jaguars series history and game prediction - Canal Street Chronicles

Saints kicker John Carney booted the kickoff deep into Jaguars territory. Michael Lewis fielded the kick and began a lateral frenzy, pitching the ball to his teammates in an attempt to evade Jaguars defenders. The ball made its way into the hands of Deuce McAllister, who lateraled it to Jerome Pathon, and then to Donte’ Stallworth, and eventually back to McAllister. McAllister raced into the end zone for a touchdown, keeping the Saints’ hopes alive. The play, however, took an unexpected twist when Carney missed the extra point attempt, leaving the Saints one point shy of tying the game. The Jaguars held on to win 20-19, but “The River City Relay” remains one of the most remarkable and entertaining plays in NFL history. This play epitomizes the unpredictable and dramatic nature of the NFL, where a simple kickoff return can transform into an electrifying spectacle. “The River City Relay” is a reminder of the creativity and resourcefulness of NFL players and the lengths to which teams will go to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

20. The Freezer Bowl (1982)

Remembering the Freezer Bowl warmly

“The Freezer Bowl” is a game that will forever be associated with extreme weather conditions and the resilience of NFL players. This historic contest occurred on January 10, 1982, during the AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. The game was aptly named “The Freezer Bowl” due to the bone-chilling weather conditions. The temperature at kickoff was -9°F (-23°C), with a wind chill factor of -59°F (-51°C), making it one of the coldest games in NFL history. The extreme cold tested the limits of the players’ endurance and the fortitude of the fans who braved the frigid conditions.

40th Anniversary of the "Freezer Bowl" How the 1981 Bengals are similar to the 2021 Bengals

Despite the inhospitable weather, the Bengals and Chargers battled valiantly for the opportunity to advance to Super Bowl XVI. Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson led his team to a 27-7 victory, securing their first-ever trip to the Super Bowl. The Chargers, unaccustomed to such extreme cold, struggled to find their footing. “The Freezer Bowl” serves as a testament to the determination and perseverance of NFL players, who endured brutal conditions to compete at the highest level. It also underscored the importance of home-field advantage, as the Bengals used their familiarity with the cold to their advantage. This game remains an enduring part of NFL lore, a reminder of the extraordinary circumstances that can shape the outcome of a championship contest and the indomitable spirit of football players and fans alike.

21. The Monday Night Miracle (2000)

One of the greatest comebacks in NFL history: The 20th anniversary of the 'Monday Night Miracle' - pennlive.com

“The Monday Night Miracle” is a legendary NFL game that epitomizes the spirit of comeback victories. This historic clash unfolded on October 23, 2000, during a Monday Night Football showdown between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins at Miami’s Pro Player Stadium. The Jets entered the fourth quarter trailing the Dolphins 30-7, seemingly facing an insurmountable deficit. However, what transpired next would go down in NFL history as one of the greatest comebacks ever witnessed on Monday Night Football.

Jumbo's Monday Night Miracle Catch Ranked Among Top NFL Plays of All-Time | Sachem Report

Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde led a miraculous charge, orchestrating a series of touchdown drives. With just seconds left in regulation, Testaverde connected with wide receiver Jumbo Elliott for a game-tying touchdown pass, capping an astonishing fourth-quarter comeback. The Jets forced overtime, and their momentum carried into the extra period.In  overtime, the Jets secured a field goal to win the game 40-37, completing an improbable comeback that left fans in awe. “The Monday Night Miracle” remains a testament to the never-give-up attitude of NFL teams and the electrifying drama that can unfold on prime-time television. This game stands as a shining example of the unpredictability and excitement that NFL contests can offer, where no lead is truly safe, and the most unlikely of comebacks can transpire.

22. The Miracle in Miami (2018)

Dolphins Shock Patriots With a Miracle in Miami - The New York Times

“The Miracle in Miami” is a play etched into NFL history as one of the most improbable and exhilarating game-winning moments. This unforgettable moment occurred on December 9, 2018, during a game between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. With the Dolphins trailing the Patriots 33-28 and just seconds remaining in the game, they were pinned down on their own 31-yard line. The odds seemed stacked against them, with a victory seemingly out of reach. However, what happened next was nothing short of miraculous.

Schad: It's a Miami Miracle. Here's how it happened and what it means to the Dolphins.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill executed a short pass to Kenny Stills, who then lateraled the ball to DeVante Parker. Parker, under pressure, lateraled to running back Kenyan Drake, who took off on a sprint toward the end zone. With a burst of speed and some agile maneuvering, Drake eluded Patriots defenders and reached the end zone, completing a 69-yard multi-lateral touchdown as time expired. “The Miracle in Miami” was a play for the ages, a symbol of the unpredictable and breathtaking moments that define NFL football. The Dolphins’ improbable victory became an instant classic and served as a reminder that in the NFL, no game is truly over until the final whistle blows. This play also underscored the importance of teamwork and the ability of players to stay composed under immense pressure. “The Miracle in Miami” remains a cherished memory for Dolphins fans and a testament to the electrifying drama that NFL football can deliver.

23. The Miracle at the Meadowlands II (2010)

10 years later: The Miracle at the New Meadowlands - Bleeding Green Nation

In December 2010, DeSean Jackson etched his name into NFL history with a play that will forever be remembered as “The Miracle at the Meadowlands II.” This unforgettable moment unfolded in a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants, and it was a tale of redemption and sheer audacity. As the clock ticked down, the Eagles found themselves trailing the Giants 31-10 with just over seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. However, what transpired in those final moments was nothing short of astonishing. The Eagles, led by their dynamic quarterback Michael Vick, launched a furious comeback, scoring three touchdowns in a span of less than eight minutes. With only 14 seconds left on the clock and the Eagles trailing by just two points, they faced the daunting task of returning the Giants’ punt for a touchdown. The Giants, understandably, opted to punt the ball out of bounds to prevent any return. But what happened next was nothing short of miraculous.

Miracle at the New Meadowlands

DeSean Jackson fielded the punt near his own 35-yard line, and as he eluded a few initial tacklers, it became apparent that something extraordinary was unfolding. With time expiring, Jackson weaved his way through the Giants’ coverage, darting and dodging defenders with an uncanny sense of timing and spatial awareness. As he crossed the goal line, the clock read 0:00, and the Eagles had pulled off the improbable victory, winning 38-31. Jackson’s walk-off punt return was an astonishing 65-yard dash to glory, and it sent shockwaves through the football world. This play not only secured a remarkable come-from-behind win for the Eagles but also symbolized the never-say-die spirit of the NFL. DeSean Jackson’s name is forever etched in the annals of the sport’s history, and “The Miracle at the Meadowlands II” stands as one of the most thrilling and unforgettable plays in the NFL’s storied past.

24. The 65 Toss Power Trap (1969)

Len Dawson recalls '65 Toss Power Trap' play call in Super Bowl IV

“The 65 Toss Power Trap” is a play that represents the pinnacle of success in professional football: winning the Super Bowl. This iconic play occurred during Super Bowl IV on January 11, 1970, when the Kansas City Chiefs faced the Minnesota Vikings at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. Head coach Hank Stram led the Chiefs, determined to secure their first Super Bowl victory. In a game where they were considered underdogs, the Chiefs executed a well-known play that would become the stuff of legend.

Photo gallery of former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson | The Kansas City Star

The play began with quarterback Len Dawson taking the snap and executing a fake handoff to running back Mike Garrett. What made “The 65 Toss Power Trap” truly special was the flawless execution of the offensive line, who created a deceptive opening in the line of scrimmage. As Dawson executed the fake, offensive guard Ed Budde and offensive tackle Dave Hill sealed off the Minnesota defense. Running back Mike Garrett received the ball and followed the blocking, bursting through the hole and into the end zone for a touchdown. This pivotal play extended the Chiefs’ lead and helped secure a 23-7 victory over the Vikings, making them Super Bowl champions. “The 65 Toss Power Trap” is not only a symbol of strategic brilliance but also a testament to the teamwork and execution that are fundamental to success in football. It is a reminder that in the biggest moments, a well-executed play can define a championship and etch itself into NFL history.

25. The Hail Murray (2020)

Hail Murray' named 2020 Bridgestone Clutch Performance Play of the Year - Revenge of the Birds

In the annals of NFL history, certain plays are eternally etched in the collective memory of football fans, and Kyler Murray’s “Hail Murray” pass to DeAndre Hopkins is one such moment. This spectacular play unfolded on November 15, 2020, during a matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and the Buffalo Bills, and it stands as a testament to the unpredictable and awe-inspiring nature of the sport. As the game entered its final moments, the Cardinals found themselves trailing the Bills 26-23 with just seconds remaining. The situation seemed dire, with the Cardinals positioned on their own 43-yard line. It was a “Hail Mary” scenario, a desperation play where the quarterback unleashes a deep pass into the end zone, hoping for a miracle catch amid a sea of defenders. Kyler Murray, the Cardinals’ young and electrifying quarterback, took the snap and dropped back under intense pressure from the Bills’ defense. As he evaded multiple would-be tacklers, Murray managed to launch a seemingly impossible pass into the end zone. The football soared through the air, traversing nearly 50 yards, and it seemed destined for the hands of Bills defenders who were converging on the target.

Arizona Cardinals' 'Hail Murray' a top franchise moment

But then, in a moment of pure athletic brilliance, DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals’ star wide receiver, elevated himself amidst the crowd of defenders. Stretching out his massive hands, Hopkins managed to secure the football with a stunning one-handed catch, a feat that defied both gravity and belief. The Cardinals’ sideline erupted in jubilation, and fans around the world watched in awe as the improbable “Hail Murray” secured a miraculous victory. The play showcased the perfect blend of quarterbacking talent, receiver skill, and sheer determination. This extraordinary play became an instant classic, earning its place in the pantheon of great NFL moments. It exemplified the unyielding spirit of competition in the NFL and reminded us all that, in the world of football, the most remarkable moments can occur when we least expect them. Kyler Murray’s Hail Mary to DeAndre Hopkins serves as a testament to the NFL’s enduring capacity to astonish, inspire, and unite fans across the globe.

NFL's 100 Greatest Plays: The final five unveiled

In the vast tapestry of the NFL’s history, the most memorable plays are like diamonds, shining brilliantly against the backdrop of countless gridiron battles. They serve as timeless reminders of the sheer brilliance, athleticism, and competitive spirit that define professional football. From “The Catch” to “The Minneapolis Miracle,” these moments evoke raw emotion and ignite the collective passion of fans worldwide. They are etched into the annals of NFL lore, cherished for their ability to transcend time and become part of the very fabric of American sports culture. These plays aren’t just remarkable for their athletic prowess; they carry with them the hopes, dreams, and heartaches of teams and fans alike. They embody the essence of competition and the unwavering determination to achieve greatness. They remind us why we love football and why we tune in season after season, year after year, to witness the magic unfold on the gridiron.

Cowboys Edge the Giants Despite Odell Beckham Jr.'s Spectacular Catch - The New York Times

Reflecting on these iconic moments reminds us that the NFL is more than just a sport; it serves as a source of inspiration, unity, and shared experiences. These plays have the power to bring fans together, transcending differences and uniting us in our collective appreciation for the extraordinary. In the end, the most memorable NFL plays are not just plays; they are a testament to the human spirit and the extraordinary feats that can be achieved when talent meets opportunity. They serve as a testament to the indomitable will of players and the undying loyalty of fans. They are the heartbeat of the NFL, and they will continue to echo through stadiums, living rooms, and conversations for generations to come. As we eagerly anticipate the next unforgettable NFL play, we carry with us the legacy of those that came before, knowing that in this beautiful game, the most remarkable moments are yet to be written. And when they do unfold, they will join the hallowed ranks of the most memorable NFL plays, forever etched into the collective memory of football fans everywhere.

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