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Most Memorable Plays For Each AFC Team

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.

Buffalo Bills: Scott Norwood, Wide Right, Super Bowl XXV

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.

Miami Dolphins: Garo Yepremian’s blunder against Washington in Super Bowl VII

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.

New England Patriots: Adam Vinatieri’s 45-yard field goal, in the snow, to send the Patriots to overtime vs. Oakland in the 2001 AFC Playoffs

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.

New York Jets: Vinny Testaverde’s touchdown pass to Jumbo Elliot to force overtime against Miami in the Monday Night Miracle

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.

Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones in the Mile High Miracle in the 2012 Playoffs

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.

There’s Red Right 88 and there’s the Drive, but nothing can match the heartbreaking nature of Earnest Byner’s fumble forced by Denver’s Jeremiah Castille in the 1987 AFC Championship Game.

On the positive side, there’s…. the momentum-changing run by Jim Brown in the 1964 NFL Championship Game, still the last time a major sports team from the city of Cleveland won a championship.

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.

Indianapolis Colts: Alan Ameche scores to beat the Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game

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.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Morten Andersen’s miss in week 17, 1996

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.


  • Kibbles

    Chiefs: Dante Hall’s “human joystick” return against the Broncos.

    • Yes, that’s a very good choice:


      • Adam

        My first thought was also the Dwayne Rudd helmet toss, and my second was Mark Boerighter’s 99 yard TD catch later that season. Also considered Lin Elliott’s kicking disaster in the `95 playoffs. Somehow the Human Joystick return never occurred to me, but that’s clearly the best choice.

    • My first thought for the Chiefs was the one where their opponents (Raiders, I think) were backed up near their own end zone, and before the play, Derrick Thomas put his hands above his head to make the safety sign and then got a safety. (I can’t find a clip.)

  • Richie

    My first thoughts for the Dolphins were: Yepremian, Marino’s fake spike and John Riggins scoring a TD against them in the Super Bowl.

    • It’s weird how Yepremian has become not just the lasting image of the ’72 team, but basically that whole Dolphins era. Maybe the Sea of Hands game, too.

  • Richie

    Mainly I keep thinking of negative iconic moments for each team. “Bad beats” seem to stick with me more than big wins.

    • Interesting. I don’t, but I guess that’s the optimist in me 🙂

  • Delevie

    Butler int was probably the greatest play in SB history – I would think it would top anything anyone else would do in any other game.
    Miami’s would be the Hook and Ladder.

    • I’m a biased Seahawks fan, but I don’t think Butler’s play is in the conversation for greatest play in SB history. It was a very good play that clinched the game, so I put it in the same class as Tracy Porter’s pick-six and John Riggins’ 4th-down TD run. It certainly wasn’t as spectacular as Marcus Allen’s run or either of Lynn Swann’s two great SB catches. And in terms of spectacular plays that were also high-leverage, I put it behind the Helmet Catch, James Harrison’s TD, Santonio Holmes’ game-winner.

      • Delevie

        Did you know that Riggins run put WASH up by 10…with 10 minutes left in the game? Porter’s INT did put NO up by 17 with over 3 mins left, basically putting the game out of reach, but I wouldn’t either play in the same category as Butler’s play. Butler’s was one of two plays (Norwood) that decided the outcome, for one team or another, in probably the most tightly contested SB out of the 49.

        • Yes, I know when these plays occurred, but that’s not the biggest factor for me. It appears as if you give more weight to plays that happen at the very end of the game than I do when determining what makes a play “great”. Just a matter of taste, I suppose.

          • Richie

            Don’t forget this blog post is about “memorable” not “great”, which aren’t necessarily the same thing.

            • Agreed. I was responding to Delevie’s comment. If one said the Butler play was probably going to go down as the “most memorable” play in Super Bowl history, I wouldn’t quibble. But the “greatest”? I just don’t see how it could go ahead of Harrison’s pick-six or the Helmet Catch, which are my picks for 1A and 1B.

  • Justin Scaife

    Can’t wait to see what you pick for the Vikings tomorrow. The Hail Mary? Brett Favre’s interception? Gary Anderson’s miss? Darrin Nelson’s drop? More than fifty years of heartbreak to choose from. I don’t envy your decision.

  • Sam Donnelley

    First thing that came to my mind for Kansas City was Christian Okoye getting knocked silly by Steve Atwater.

  • Aaron

    Cincinnati: Tim Krumrie in the Super Bowl.

    • Oh Zod… I thought they were just going to take him back into the tunnel and shoot him like a racehorse.

  • Adam

    If we fudge the rules and count the Oilers separately from the Titans, I immediately think of the blown call on Mike Renfro’s TD catch vs. Pittsburgh in the `79 playoffs.

    • sacramento gold miners

      I would go ahead and separate relocated teams like the Oilers/Titans, along with teams which kept their nickname, but changed cities like the Colts. Few fans in Tennessee care about what happened in Houston, it wasn’t their team yet. This is also true of Indianapolis, most of those fans can’t relate to those days in Baltimore.

      For the Houston Oilers, the long TD run by Earl Campbell against Miami would be number one for me. The disputed Mike Renfroe catch at the tail end of the third quarter in the ’79 AFC TG has been well publicized, but it’s speculation to say the four additional points Houston would have gained could have changed the 27-13 outcome. Also, Renfroe has gone on record stating he faked a pass interference call earlier in that drive, so that’s life. You win some, and you lose some.

      For the Dolphins, Larry Seiple’s fake punt helped save their 1972 season. The Yepremian play was weird, but Washington’s offense was so throttled in SB 7, they would have needed another miracle to tie the score.

  • Adam

    Patriots: I’d have to agree with Chase on this one. The Vinatieri kick in the snow was only a memorable play in a memorable game, but it’s the play which allowed the Patriots dynasty to begin in the first place. If he misses that kick, the landscape of NFL history probably looks quite different.

    I think the Butler INT will gain more traction as the years go by. Right now it’s too recent to get a historical grip on the enormity of the play.

    • Richie

      I remember the tuck play more than the field goal from that game.

      • Duff Soviet Union

        Yep, that should be the one.

      • Adam

        The more I think about it, I agree with you. The Tuck Rule is the most iconic play from that game, not only for the controversy and confusion it caused, but also for the sight of fans joyously throwing snowballs after the call was overturned.

  • Duff Soviet Union

    I don’t know if it counts as a “play”, but the first thing I think of with the Jets is Bart Scott’s zonked out pro wrestling promo after beating the Patriots in the playoffs. “CAN’T WAIT”.

  • LightsOut85

    While I am a younger fan, that is most definitely the most memorable Chargers moment. For a team without a Super Bowl victory, that player-achievement is our pinnacle. Even now I get a little emotional watching it. (And the stadium-call, “Charger fans, are witnesses to history!”)

    As for that 2nd moment, LALALALA! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!

    • Adam

      I’m a Broncos fan, and the Marlon McCree fumble even makes ME cringe when I think about it, just for the sheer stupidity of the play, and the unecessary damage it did to Marty’s coaching legacy.

      • Clint

        What gets me about a lot of the infamous plays is that they usually don’t end the game. Chargers still had a chance to stop the Patriots. The Browns still had a chance to stop the Broncos after Byner fumbled, and I don’t even wanna go into the Bostick fumble in the Packers-Seahawks game.

  • Topher Doll

    I’m a day late but for the Broncos one of the most memorable for me is Stokley down the sideline (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgXvaRUP4l4), I was covering the Broncos at the time and it still ranks pretty high for me.

    • Duff Soviet Union

      I thought about that play too. Not ahead of the helicopter, but definitely ahead of Atwater / Okoye.

      Watching that clip also reminds me how much I hate Gus Johnson.

      • Adam

        Interesting that you hate Gus Johnson. While some of his calls are a bit over the top (especially that one), I always prefer an enthusiastic commentator over a dull, monotone guy. My least favorite football commenter of all time is Pat Summerall. He sounded like a bored DMV employee, and palpably brought down the excitement level of any game he was calling. But of course that’s all just matter of opinion.

  • Duff Soviet Union

    For the Jaguars, rather than the missed field goal, I’d go with Jimmy Smith’s game sealing touchdown catch against the Broncos in the 1996 playoffs. Even though they were behind, I had just assumed that Denver were going to win right up until that moment.

    • Quinton

      I was reading the comments to see if the Jimmy Smith Denver catch was mentioned. For the Jags, it’s either the missed field goal or that catch and I tend to think of that catch as the moment that signifies that Cinderella run, which is still the most significant bit of history the franchise has produced.

      • Richie

        David Garrard had a run against Pittsburgh in the playoffs about 2007 that always sticks in my mind.

        • Duff Soviet Union

          That sticks in my mind as one of the most blatant uncalled holds of all time. If you can get away with it, I guess.

  • Dr__P

    I think the Bob Lilly in Super Bowl V is the record for helmet tossing. Yet it was AFTER the game, not the cause of the victory

  • Andrew Healy

    For the Pats, I would put Butler’s pick even above the kick through the snow, even though that’s a close one. And I love that Ben Watson strip. If they’d won that game (and if the Pats had gotten the ball on that play) and the Super Bowl, that could be #1.

  • Andrew Healy

    For the Jets, it should be Belichick resigning as HC of the NYJ. On field, I’d vote for a Joe Walton nose pick. No, I guess I’d pick the pass to Maynard against the Raiders. Nice emblem of the best player and year in franchise history. Love the catch. Straight over Maynard’s head.

  • Disagreeing with Chase about Jets’ history is probably nuts, but the clearest omission to my eyes is Matt Snell’s TD run from Super Bowl III. That is without a doubt the NYJ highlight I’ve seen most often.

    • That’s a fair comment, and I agree that it’s a highlight that’s often shown. But I don’t think it was all that memorable at the time — it was a goal line run for a score. From a craziness standpoint, I think the Jumbo Elliott catch, while also a goal line play, was much more “memorable” given the time in the game and the events that preceded it.

      But I’d say after the Namath finger in the air clip, the Snell TD run might be the Jets highlight most often shown.

      • That’s a fair comment, too, I see your point. I still might go with the Testaverde sneak, Gastineau against the Browns, or the Butt Fumble, but I’ll defer to you on Jets history. As with the Cowboys issue, for Jumbo’s catch I think the game is more memorable than the moment.

  • The Kimo kills Carson Palmer play is the reason I will hate the Steelers until my dying day. Not in a fun, healthy, Posnanski style “Clemenate” sort of way. In a serious, curse those people and their ancestors unto the 7th generation sort of way. Their road to the Super Bowl went right through Carson Palmer’s knee. If Kimo van Oelhoffen were on fire I would get marshmallows.

  • On the positive side, I think Chad Johnson proposing on the sidelines will live with me my whole life.

  • Mootiwan

    As a fan since the late 70s, I’ve seen my fair share of Chargers plays. The LT TD was a foregone conclusion so it doesn’t register to me. However, when Gary Anderson defied gravity against the Dolphins on the opening weekend of the 1986 season, it not only registered as a great Chargers play, but also one of the most amazing NFL plays in history – The Leap!