The other day, the Sporting News produced a slideshow of the most iconic plays in franchise history for each of the 32 teams in the NFL. That’s a fun idea, and something I think this community would enjoy thinking about, so I wanted to spend this weekend discussing what we view as the most memorable/iconic/incredible plays for each franchise. For each team, I’ll cast my opinion (which may or may not be the same as what the SN chose), but I’m really more interested in your thoughts. Today, we’ll do the AFC; tomorrow, the NFC. Let’s begin in the AFC East, with a franchise that’s most memorable play was probably a painful one.
There are lots of great plays in Buffalo history. Any number of plays in the comeback against the Houston Oilers would work, and there are three Frank Reich touchdown passes to Andre Reed to choose from in that game. Players like Bruce Smith, O.J. Simpson, Thurman Thomas, and even Doug Flutie produced some magical moments for the team. And if you’re a historian, the famous Hit Heard Round the World (which I talked about here) by Mike Stratton on Chargers running back Keith Lincoln is a good choice. And maybe you even want to throw the Don Beebe strip of Leon Lett in the pantheon of most memorable Buffalo Bills plays.
But sadly, I think the two most iconic plays in Buffalo history are depressing ones for Bills fans: Wide Right, and one other play we’ll get to later today.
The most iconic play in Dolphins history is both a good and bad memory for Miami fans: sure, it was a pick six against the team, but it was part of the the game that capped an undefeated championship season for the team. Yepremian’s blunder is the comic relief on a perfect season, and it’s also the most memorable play from that Dolphins era.
There are obviously a lot of Dan Marino plays one could choose, including the fake spike against the Jets in 1994. Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield had their highlights, but I don’t think any one moment from either player sticks out quite like it does for Yepremian. At least for me, the Yepremian pass is the first one I think of when I think of the most iconic plays in Dolphins history.
Yeah, there are a lot to choose from here, too. Even ignoring the team’s history prior to 2001, there are still a handful of Tom Brady passes and defensive highlights to consider (Malcolm Butler is the most recent, but certainly not the first hero). There’s also some memorable plays that happened in losses, like 4th-and-2 vs. the Colts, what happened in the two Giants Super Bowls, or seeing Ben Watson chase down Champ Bailey. And, of course, there’s just about anything Rob Gronkowski does.
But Vinatieri may have the three most memorable moments in franchise history: for me, the Vinatieri kick in the snow was the most iconic. But I won’t blame you for picking his field goal to beat the Rams to win Super Bowl XXXVI. Or even his field goal to beat the Panthers to win Super Bowl XXXVIII.
The Jets are one of the tougher franchises in this game, but that play comes the closest. The comeback against Miami was one of the craziest games in NFL history: the Jets entered the 4th quarter down 23 points, then scored three touchdowns and a field goal (with one failed two point conversion attempt) to tie the game, only for Miami to retake the lead 22 seconds later. That’s when the Jets drove down the field and Testaverde connected with Elliot on a tackle-eligible play for a touchdown to force overtime. Other candidates:
- Joe Namath to Don Maynard to beat the Raiders in the AFL title game (or, perhaps, their connection earlier in the drive)
- Either of the touchdown passes from Ken O’Brien to Wesley Welker against Miami in September 1986: one to force overtime against Miami, and then another win the game. You can see all four of their touchdowns that day here.
- Not a specific play, but the moment in week 17 of the 2002 season when the scoreboard at the Meadowlands showed that the Dolphins beat the Patriots in the 1:00 game, which meant that a Jets win against Green Bay would give New York the AFC East (and the Jets routed the Packers, 42-17)
- Some others that spring to mind: Testaverde’s QB sneak for a touchdown to cap a big comeback against Seattle, even if he was only, ya know, a few yards shy of the end zone; John Hall’s 53-yard kick to beat the Raiders to send New York to the playoffs in 2001; Shonn Green’s 53-yard touchdown run against the Chargers in the 2009 playoffs, or his clincher against the Patriots in the 2010 playoffs; Richie Anderson’s touchdown to start the blowout against the Colts in the ’02 playoffs.
On the negative side…. well, there are a lot of those, too. The Butt Fumble, Mark Gastineau against the Browns, A.J. Duhe with a pick six of Richard Todd in the 1982 AFC Championship Game, Doug Brien against the Steelers, and so on.
I think our next division is a bit easier.
The Ravens won two Super Bowls, and Ray Lewis has about a zillion highlights, but this one is going to stick around for awhile. Shannon Sharpe, Jamal Lewis, and Jermaine Lewis had some great highlights for the team, too, but there’s little that can match the raw emotion viewers felt when they saw Flacco finding Jones for a 70-yard touchdown to force overtime with 31 seconds left against the Broncos.
Cincinnati Bengals: Carson Palmer tears his ACL vs. the Steelers
Yeah, that play wasn’t quite “iconic” in any sense, but it’s the first play I think of when I think of Bengals history. For the first time in 15 years, Cincinnati made the playoffs, and on the Bengals second play from scrimmage, Kimo von Oelhoffen dove at Carson Palmer’s knees. The result? A torn ACL, a loss to the Steelers (who wound up winning the Super Bowl), and the beginning of the end of Palmer’s career with Cincinnati.
The only other plays that comes to mind are similar stories of disappointment: Joe Montana to John Taylor to clinch Super Bowl XXIII, or the dropped interception by Lewis Billups of a Montana pass on the previous 49ers scoring drive. On the positive side, there’s…. Corey Dillon’s 278-yard rushing game? You tell me, folks.
Cleveland Browns: The Fumble.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Immaculate Reception
There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said a thousand times over by now about perhaps the most famous play in NFL history.
Houston Texans: Anything J.J. Watt does, but probably his pick-six against the Bengals in the playoffs
Yea, this play was pretty awesome. So is just about everything Watt does.
Peyton Manning may have more memorable plays than any player in NFL history, but even Manning can’t match the historical significant of Ameche’s one-yard plunge. His touchdown run ended what is largely referred to as the greatest game ever played.
Hey, it’s not every day a missed field goal sends a team to the playoffs. The Jaguars started the year 4-7. Then, the Jaguars beat the Ravens in overtime, the Bengals by 3, the Oilers by 6, and the Seahawks by 7, to run the record to 8-7. The Jaguars would make the playoffs if they could beat the Falcons, but clung to a 19-17 lead when Andersen lined up for a 30-yard chip shot in the final seconds. His miss sent Jacksonville to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, where the team upset the Bills and Broncos in consecutive weeks.
Tennessee Titans: Music City Miracle
Not much of a surprise here: it’s hard to top Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson to beat the Bills when it comes to iconic moments in franchise history. Although one Earl Campbell run will occupy a soft spot in the hearts of older fans.
Denver Broncos: Elway’s Run vs. the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII
The Broncos had been known more for Super Bowl disappointment than heroics when they took the field against the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. Elway’s “Helicopter” run for a key first down set up the go-ahead score to help Denver win its first Super Bowl. Nothing else comes close for Denver, but this hit is always a fun one to remember.
Kansas City Chiefs: 65 Toss Power Trap
This is one of the toughest franchises to find a specific play to identify. My first thought was actually the Dwayne Rudd helmet toss in week 1 of the 2002 season, and the video is worth watching just to hear that class NFL Primetime music. But there aren’t many other choices — a Derrick Thomas sack? A Priest Holmes run? A Tony Gonzalez catch? Joe Montana’s touchdown to Willie Davis to beat the Broncos on Monday Night Football?
Nah, I’ll stick with 65 Toss Power Trap.
Oakland Raiders: Marcus Allen’s Run Against Washington in Super Bowl XVIII
You can stack up every other franchise in the AFC West, and I don’t think they can come close to matching the iconic memories the Raiders set in the ’70s alone. Oakland had so many historic plays that it’s hard to pick one: the Immaculate Reception, the Ghost to the Post, the Holy Roller, the Sea of Hands, and Ray Hamilton’s questionable roughing the passer penalty in the ’76 playoffs. And there’s the Heidi Bowl, Bo Jackson on Monday Night, and Super Bowls XI and XV to consider, too. Even the current version of the franchise managed to produce a truly memorable moment.
But for my money, I’ll take Allen running with the night.
San Diego Chargers: LaDainaian Tomlinson’s record-setting touchdown against the Broncos
In the team’s 12th(!) game of the 2006 season, this touchdown run by Tomlinson was his 29th of the season, setting a new single-season record. The other memorable moment from one of the best seasons in San Diego history: Marlon McCree’s fumble after intercepting Tom Brady in the 4th quarter of the divisional round of the playoffs, which allowed the Patriots to get back in — and ultimately win — the game.
The most memorable game in Chargers history is an easy one to identify: the Epic in Miami. But there are a handful of great memories from that game, and I don’t think one stands out. Close your eyes: can you really picture any of Kellen Winslow’s plays from that game without looking? Dan Fouts, Lance Alworth, Junior Seau, and Philip Rivers are great, but is there one play that sticks out for you from them, either? Heck, I’m inclined to pick a play from Keith Lincoln in the ’63 AFL title game, still the Chargers only championship. But for now, I’ll stick with LT.