Yesterday, we looked at the most memorable plays for each AFC team. Today, we switch to the NFC, and let’s begin in the NFC East.
Dallas Cowboys: Emmitt Smith, with one good shoulder, runs for 10 yards to put Dallas in field goal range against the Giants in week 17, 1993
For a franchise with as proud a history as the Cowboys, there are some painful memories to consider: the Tony Romo bobbled snap against the Seahawks, Leon Lett against the Bills (and Dolphins), the ending of the Ice Bowl, the Tom Brown end zone interception of Don Meredith to clinch the 1966 NFL championship game, the Dez Bryant “incomplete” pass last year, and Jackie Harris starring in the Sickest Man in America.
But when it comes to the Cowboys, the mind immediately goes to the dynasty built in the ’90s. That team cemented its place in the game’s history by repeating as Super Bowl champions in 1993, and much of the credit for the title goes to winning in week 17 against the Giants. A loss in that game would have made the Cowboys a Wild Card team, while a win gave Dallas the number one seed. And that game turned out to be the most memorable of Emmitt Smith’s career. Playing much of the game on shoulder, he totaled a career high 41 touches. Here’s the play in question, and Smith carrying Dallas to victory that day remains the most iconic memory of one of the franchise’s greatest players. A close runner up: the original Hail Mary, from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson against the vikings in the 1975 playoffs. But that game didn’t lead to a Super Bowl championship.
New York Giants: David Tyree’s helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII
For a franchise with such a defensive history, when it comes to the Giants and great plays, it’s all about catches: Odell Beckham Jr. against the Cowboys, Mario Manningham against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, Victor Cruz going for 99 yards against the Jets weeks earlier, or any of the long bombs to Homer Jones. Super Bowl XLII featured a Plaxico Burress catch to win the game, but there’s no contest for the greatest play in Giants history.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Miracle at the Meadowlands
Speaking of the Giants, the Eagles have a trio of good options to pick for great plays against New York: a brutal hit by Chuck Bednarik on Frank Gifford, the Original Miracle at the Meadowlands (Herman Edwards returning a Joe Pisarcik fumble for a touchdown in 1978), and Miracle at the Meadowlands II (highlighted by the DeSean Jackson punt return to win the game). Actually, there are more than three: there’s Brian Westbrook’s punt return that saved the Eagles 2003 season, and Randall Cunningham’s touchdown pass after escaping a Carl Banks sack, too.
There’s also Cunningham’s incredible touchdown pass against the Bills, Donovan McNabb’s scramble and throw against the Cowboys, and 4th-and-26. And I’ll give a nod to Steve Van Buren scoring the only touchdown in the 1948 title game. But for me, the Miracle at the Meadowlands remains #1.
Washington Redskins John Riggins touchdown run vs. Miami in Super Bowl XVII
The 4th-and-inches run remains, by far, the most memorable play in Washington football history.
Chicago Bears: Walter Payton’s run vs. the Chiefs in November 1977
Detroit Lions: Pick your Barry Sanders run
I can confirm that googling “Best Barry Sanders run ever” is a good way to lose the rest of your day. I’m partial to the Sanders run against the Bears that starts this highlight video, although his touchdown run against the Cowboys in the playoffs is a good choice, too. I suppose some might want to argue for Dan Orlovsjky run out of the back of his end zone vs. Minnesota, but I’m going to keep this positive. I’m sure you could find something from Calvin Johnson, too, but the other two memories that came to me were from Matt Stafford: his game-winner against the Browns and his fake spike/QB leap to beat the Cowboys.
Green Bay Packers: Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak vs. the Cowboys in the Ice Bowl
Sorry, Brett and Aaron: it’s hard to top this one.
Minnesota Vikings: Gary Anderson miss in 1998 NFC Championship Game
There are a lot of fun plays in Minnesota Vikings history: Fran Tarkenton, Adrian Peterson, and Randy Moss give the Vikings an all-time great player at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. And all three could produce special highlights (and so did Brett Favre for one special season). I even highlighted two of those yesterday. But unfortunately, the Vikings are more defined by their failure to win a Super Bowl than anything.
There’s Jim Marshall running the wrong way for a touchdown to provide comic relief to the otherwise dark history. There’s Anderson’s miss, Brett Favre’s interception to Tracy Porter, Staubach’s Hail Mary, Darrin Nelson’s drop, and Nate Poole’s touchdown to knock Minnesota out of the playoffs. And Minnesota has been on the field for many of the best plays in franchise history… for other teams: the Chiefs (65 Toss Power Trap), the Falcons (see below), the 49ers (the Steve Young run), and the Cowboys (Hail Mary). But Anderson’s miss remains one of the most painful and shocking moments in franchise history.
Atlanta Falcons: Michael Vick’s overtime touchdown run vs. Minnesota
There are three famous Hail Mary throws in Falcons history, although I can only find decent video of one of there. The first was Steve Bartkowski hitting Alfred Jenkins on “Big Ben Right” — a 57 yard bomb down the right side of the field against the Saints. The next came five years later, when Bartkowski connected with Billy “White Shoes” Johnson in 1983 against the 49ers (video here). And eight years later, it was Billy Joe Tolliver and Michael Haynes combining to again beat San Francisco, this time keeping the 49ers out of the playoffs.
There are a number of highlights from Deion Sanders during his team in Atlanta; also, honorable mention to Vick’s 4th-and-12 touchdown run against Carolina in 2004 to force overtime (Atlanta won, 34-31). I have no idea how his knee didn’t touch the ground. Also, anything involving Atlanta during the 1998 season and the Dirty Bird. But it’s hard to top this run by Vick.
Carolina Panthers: Steve Smith touchdown vs. the Texans
This article is a great resource for Steve Smith fans. The first play most fans will think about is probably the game-winner against the Rams, or maybe the time he scored a touchdown with a broken arm. But this play is just such quintessential Steve Smith, and nothing is more Carolina Panthers than Steve Smith.
New Orleans Saints: Steve Gleason’s blocked punt vs. Atlanta
By many accounts, the Super Dome was never louder than right after Gleason’s block. This was the Saints first home game in New Orleans in over a year, after Hurricane Katrina displaced the team during the 2005 season. Gleason’s block came on Monday Night Football, and was one of those memories that seems to live on for most who saw it either on TV or in person.
Other good candidates: Garrett Hartley sending the Saints to the Super Bowl with a 40-yard kick in overtime of the 2009 NFC Championship Game; two plays in that ensuing Super Bowl: the onside kick by Thomas Morestead recovered by the Saints to start the second half, and Tracy Porter’s pick six to ice the game; and Drew Brees setting the single-season passing yardage record, at home, on Monday Night Football. And we can’t forget about Tom Dempsey hitting a 63-yard field goal to beat the Lions in 1970.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dwight Smith’s first pick six vs. Oakland in Super Bowl XXVII
The top three memories for me in Tampa Bay history are all pick sixes during the 2002 playoffs: Smith’s first pick six (he added one in the final seconds, too) clinched the game for Tampa Bay, extending the lead to 31 points. Derrick Brooks had a fourth quarter pick six, too, which just seemed appropriate to watch one of the game’s best players dominate on the biggest stage. And I’ve always been fond of Ronde Barber’s pick six against the Eagles in the 2002 NFC Championship Game, which send Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl.
There aren’t a lot of great options for the NFL’s two oldest franchises. Warner’s touchdown late in the 4th quarter gave the Cardinals the lead and put Arizona on the precipice of winning its first Super Bowl title. Unfortunately, an even more iconic play — Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown to Santonio Holmes — made this play just a footnote in history.
San Francisco 49ers: The Catch
Like Pittsburgh and Green Bay, the 49ers have their iconic moment, and that’s Joe Montana to Dwight Clark to beat Dallas in the 1981 NFC Championship Game. In fact, The Catch even spawned sequels: The Catch II, by Terrell Iwens against the Packers, and The Catch III, by Vernon Davis against the Saints. Also, as hinted at in the Vikings section, we can’t just ignore this Steve Young run.
Seattle Seahawks: The Beast Quake
The Seahawks have produced a ton of memorable moments in the last two years alone, and had a handful in their last game. But Marshawn Lynch’s run against the Saints is one of those “you remember where you were when you saw it” plays. Also, it was made even more incredible by the fact that Lynch produced his own sequel.
The Rams have a lot of great memories from the GSOT — heck, Marshall Faulk can produce his own highlight reel, along with Ricky Proehl’s catch against the Bucs and Isaac Bruce’s go-ahead, 73- touchdown (that proved to be the game winner) in Super Bowl XXXIV, too. One play I always loved this one where Torry Holt escorted Az-Zahir Hakim down the field: it typified the Rams of those days, where it felt like the offense had 13 players on the field. Before 1999, the Rams had some great moments, too: Eric Dickerson could match Faulk highlight for highlight, while Flipper Anderson going into the tunnel is a pretty iconic memory, too.
But how can you pick anything other than The Tackle?
As always, your thoughts are more important than mine. I’d love to hear your favorite mo hear your favorite memories.