The 13 Best Super Bowl Plays of All-Time

Flash back about 15 years.

That was a time before my children had single-handedly decimated my social life.  I was out at a bar with several buddies, when one of my cronies boasted “I am going to make over $500,000 this year. That puts me in the top 2/10 of 1% of earners in the United States. That makes me truly elite.”

I came to two conclusions that night. First, this guy is a tool.  And second, I now define “truly elite” as the top 2/10 of 1%.

With that in mind…


The Best, “Truly Elite” Plays in Super Bowl History

I am guessing – and please, if your Google skills are better than mine, tell me the exact number in the comments section below – that the Super Bowls, all 45 of them (I feel like I should say “all XLV of them”), have had about 5,500 total plays.

So, to be considered a “truly elite” play, you are talking about the top 2/10 of 1% of all plays ever run in a Super Bowl. The cream of the crop, the top of the heap, the best 13 plays in the history of the Super Bowl.  (Note: best does not always mean good, in fact it could be the opposite, at least in the world through my goggles.)

You may disagree with some of these, so let the banter begin. I think these are the 11 best Super Bowl plays ever, the ones that changed history…

#13. Lynn Swann’s Catch in Super Bowl X

Lynn Swann’s 53-yard catch from Terry Bradshaw.

This play probably shouldn’t be on this list because it had no ultimate effect on the game and was not even part of a drive that resulted in points.  But, man, that was one of the prettiest catches you will ever see.

First catch in the video below, with bonus John Facenda on audio:

#12. Unitas (to Hinton) to Mackey in Super Bowl V

Johnny Unitas’ 75-yard TD pass to John Mackey.

The Cowboys had a 6-0 lead and all the momentum in this one when Unitas’ passed deflected off his intended receiver Eddien Hinton and ended up in the arms of his stud TE, who rumbled 75 yards for the score.

Interestingly, the PAT was blocked, meaning that Jim O’Brien, the Colt kicker, had to redeem himself with a game winning field goal in the final seconds.

#11. Scott Norwood in Super Bowl XXV

Scott Norwood misses a 47-yard game winning field goal.

Yes, I put this play on the list over either of the Adam Vinitieri game winning field goals.  Why?  Because those kicks were the difference between winning and overtime.  This was the difference between winning and losing.

One play. All the marbles. All on Scott Norwood’s right foot. Wide right (a saying that Bobby Bowden then went on to immortalize).

I still feel bad for him.

#10 (3-way Tie). Garo Yepremian, Jackie Smith, Leon Lett

All of these just had to be included. Classic. Priceless.



#7. Marcus Allen in Super Bowl XVIII

74-yard touchdown run by Marcus Allen in which he starts left and then cuts back and runs by the entire defense. 

This is simply one of the prettiest runs you will ever see.

I would have been raked higher on this list except the fact that the Raiders won 38-9, and the score was already 28-9 when this happened in the 3rd quarter.

#6. 49ers’ Goalline Stand in Super Bowl XVI

It is almost unfair to include this as a single play, because, really, the entire 4-play, goal-to-go stand was remarkable.  But the 3rd down swing pass to Charles Alexander, who was stopped a foot short of the goal line by Dan Bunz out in the flat in isolation, is one of the most memorable and important plays in Super Bowl history.

This video chronicles the entire four-down sequence, with John Facenda as a bonus narrator:

#5. David Tyree’s Catch in Super Bowl XLII

Eli Manning’s 32-yard pass to David Tyree. Facing 3rd and 5 from their own 43 with time running down on the Giants’ Super Bowl hopes, Manning escapes a near certain sack, then throws the ball up to David Tyree (who had 4 catches all season long, AND NONE EVER AGAIN IN HIS CAREER), who somehow secured the ball against his helmet.

Of course, The G-Men went on to win on a Plaxico Burress (pre-gunshot wound) TD, but this is the play everyone remembers:

#4. Kevin Dyson Stopped At The One in Super Bowl XXXIV

What a magical season.

St. Louis came out of nowhere to shock the world in still must be regarded as the most surprising rise from ashes in NFL history.

When they played the Titans for the championship of the world, many people point to Kurt Warner’s 73-yard TD pass to Isaac Bruce in the game’s last two minutes as the highlight of the game, but the “elite” play came from less heralded LB Mike Jones, who stopped Kevin Dyson from scoring on a slant pass as time expired, stopping him one yard short of the end zone and overtime.

Never before, and perhaps never again, has a Super Bowl ended so close to the end zone:

#3. James Harrison’s Pick-6 in Super Bowl XLIII

As with #4, many people would have the game winning TD as the play they point to when remembering Pittsburgh defeating Arizona just three years ago.  And Roethlisberger’s pass to Santonio Holmes (and the entire two-minute drive) were tremendous, but none of it may have been possible without the game changing effort of James Harrison on the last play of the 1st half.

Sitting on the Pittsburgh 2-yard line with a 1st and goal with 18-seconds left in the first half, Arizona was poised to take a 14-10 halftime lead when Kurt Warner was picked off by James Harrison. It took him a while to get there, but Harrison made it past the entire Cardinals team to just get over the goal line for a 14-point swing

Gambler’s bonus: Pittsburgh was favored by 4 in the first half, so the TD resulted in the unlikeliest of covers.

#2. Montana to Taylor in Super Bowl XXIII

The greatest #2 receiver in the history of NFL football, John Taylor, finally got his due, scoring the game-winning touchdown with only :34 seconds to play.

Joe Montana marched the team 92 yards on the game winning drive, after famously walking into the huddle, pointed at the crowd, and asking “Hey, isn’t that John Candy?”). Of course, Rice was still named the game’s MVP, but this is the play everyone remembers.

#1. John Riggins in Super Bowl XVII

With the Redskins facing 4th & 1 in the 4th quarter, trailing the Dolphins 17-13, Joe Gibbs went for it and handed the ball to his horse, John Riggins, who broke a tackle at the line and rumbled 43 yards for the go-ahead (and ultimately winning) score.

Nothing fancy. Just your typical dive play that decides the Super Bowl.


So, what do you think? What did I miss? What did I get right?

Let the debates begin….

Follow Brian Dilsheimer on Twitter @Dils_Ignite


  1. Good list, I must say. The Swann catch, while not point-generating, deflated the Cowboys; Cliff Harris was quoted afterward as saying that Swann's catches "took the air out of them". Other possible plays: Starr to McGee in SB1 for a TD, Tom Mattee not seeing the WR in the end zone on an option in SB3, Art Monk not getting a TD against Buffalo which helped lead to replay, McNabb vomiting in the huddle (lol), and 1/2 the Bears tackles as they mauled the Pat's !

  2. Number one is the catch by Tyree, because it was improbable. Eli's escape from a what seem to be a sure sack, then a spectacular catch from Tyree by holding the ball against the helmet while falling to the ground. It's by far the best play. At least you got #2 right.

    • AnarchistAccountant says:

      Tyree was a lucky play, doesn't even deserve to be here, especially when you leave off the Holmes game winner. Ingrams catch and run against the Bills was a better play, not just one that hit the lottery. Elways helicopter run, Stallworth's TDs against the Rams or Cowboys, or Muhammed's long TD in the 4th. Other than that it's a good list, and nice to see a series like the 49ers stand in there.

      • Good Luck is useless unless one takes advantage of it, and how often does it strike twice seconds apart? Manning's and Tyree's athleticism and grit paid off. And the impact of that play on what would have been a win by the favored team and an unbeaten season for the Pats made the play historic, far beyond just a Super Bowl win.

  3. Allan Willner says:

    At the risk of being a homer I think you certainly got the number 1 correct but like the previous commenter I think you could have included the Bradshaw to Swann catch.

  4. Papa John says:

    Ever hear of Desmond Howard?

  5. elway's run against the packers?

  6. Derrick Brooks interception

  7. Uhhh…where is Santonio Holmes catch from Roethlisberger? It only won the game for them. I expected to see it at #1.

  8. The John Stallworth catches in Super Bowl XIV against the Rams.

  9. bulldogautographs says:

    My father took me to the Rams Titans super bowl in Atlanta and I will never forget it. Check out! and Happy Super Bowl Week

  10. Jerry Rice is an incredibly talented athlete, and I miss seeing him in action!!

  11. I don't think you can even make this list without including Elway's helicopter in Super Bowl 32 against the Packers!!

  12. YOU NAILED IT. The Diesel all the way.

  13. I'm not sure the Riggins play makes the list at all. The Tyree catch was amazing, and I'll never forget where I was when that catch was made.

    • Riggins running half the field at that moment in a very tite game was every bite as amazing. If one was actually there it becomes even more intense, unforgettable, and important. Time fades many magic moments and when I think back to what I was lucky to witness many plays deserve mention in the many SB games I attended. (Please see below.) Perhaps different categories would give everybody a better sense of what they appreciated for that particular special game and its magic moment. Again, let the comments run.

    • That is the most famous run in SB history.

  14. PennellUSA says:

    AMBUSH – should be on this list, however it is a great list!

  15. Jack E Maskil says:

    Pittsburgh S. Holmes is by far the greatest catch and touchdown in Super Bowl history

  16. Good list. Swann's sideline catch over Washington was the best of his four that day, though.

  17. #58 Melon Owens says:

    Come on man! Mike Jones stop of Dyson should be #1. It's the only defensive play in SB history that ended the game. I mean…how do you beat that?

  18. smokinmoose says:

    Re: #2—I'm glad they had that professional oxygen on the sidelines and not that amateur stuff.

  19. Manning to Tyree greatest NFL PLAY EVER!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Great job editing the videos to start them at the right time!

  21. Mike Lawrynk says:

    Max McGee behind the back catch at a full run in SB I needs to be on the list.

  22. I'll throw in Reggie Phillips pick 6 against the Pats in SB XX. The Bears held NE to 7 total rushing yards for the game, and -19 for the first half. Most dominant SuperBowl performance ever in my opinion.


  24. Def need Elway's helicopter against the Packers

    • girlfootballfan says:

      Hell yeah! Thirty-seven years old and he lays his body up for a collision like that?

      And the David Tyree catch needed to be higher up on the list. That play had two amazing moments- Manning escaping that sack and the catch itself.

  25. New Orleans onside kick against the Colts in Super Bowl XXXXIV has to be in the top 1 gutsiest plays in SB history. They should make a list…..:)

  26. Being a "Skins fan, of course I agree with your list. :^)

    btw, notice what Riggins did after scoring….simply tossed the ball to the ref.

  27. never saw a catch like that with a defender with all his weight on him and he still manage to secure the ball!!!!!!
    now thats skills!!! gianst all day eli to tyree greatest ever

  28. First off, great job. Second, I was at many of these games. The value of the moment, (think Riggins running at me in that corner of the endzone seated two rows back, the game ending tackle on Dyson by Jones, The Marcus Allen run) – all must be considered in the time frame of what was happening at that moment in that particular game at that moment. Third, I believe the elites should be expanded into different categories; perhaps game winning catches or runs, game winning plays, momentum shifting plays ( Bengals vs 49ers – trust me the goal line stand cost me a fortune and did effectively end the game for the Cincinatti crowd, seated around me about 10 rows back on the 45 ). What I am trying to say is one, you had to be there in many instances to appreciate the moment, unsterilzed by tv and instant replay, to better understand what it meant in real time, real pressure, and real team as well as crowd reaction. Again, great job. Let the debate continue.

  29. Nothing beats the Harrison INT. It had everything. It changed the game. It was the full length of the field. It was a return by someone who had no business running 100 yards. It was a misstake by an all-time great. It was with no time left on the clock, so if any Arizona player tackles him 6 inches earlier, Pitt gets no points. Larrry Fitzgerald had him dead to rights, but his own coach blocked him. The whole play beats the pants off anything on this list.

  30. I'm not even a 49ers fan, but for my money, the goal line stand in XVI is the most memorable sequence in SB history.

  31. StayInSchool says:

    What did you miss? Your high school algebra class, I'd say.
    13 plays would be 2/10 of 1% of 6500 plays.

  32. Elway should be on here, if not #1.

  33. It is not often that the "second banana" saves the day, so I have to go with John Taylor's catch against the Bengals as the one of the greatest plays of all time. Also one of the best drives near the end of the game was the 92 yard drive with 3 1/2 minutes left and trailing in the game.

  34. Devin Hester's opening kickoff return for a touchdown. Incredibly exciting and the best moment of the best return man of all time

  35. How you left .S. Holmes toe toucher out of this is beyond me…

  36. 2001 New England Patriots win ends 42 yr wait!
    unreal upset

  37. He got number 1 right. 4th and 1, trailing in the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl?! Joe goes for it, and not only does Riggo get the first, he stiff arms a defender for it. And not only does he get the first by stiff arming a defender, he breaks away for the game wining score!! Sure theres other great plays, but this was the best. Amazing coaching decision, execution, and excitement. Haters gonna hate.

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