National Football League lore
The National Football League lore is a collection of information that National Football League (NFL) fans retain and share.
Since the NFL was founded in 1920 by George Halas and Bert Bell, it has grown from an informal network of teams based mostly in small towns and cities into the most popular and successful sports league in the United States. During the interval between its founding and the present, it has competed for attention with other sports and college football, fended off rival leagues, consolidated the marriage between sports and television, and established an extensive and colorful NFL lore. Largely through the efforts of NFL Films and many sportswriters, some events have become famous in the history of the sport.
Games and plays
The following is a selected list of memorable plays and events that have stood the test of time and are considered common knowledge by NFL fans:
- The First Season's Championship
- Along with the Decatur Staleys and Akron Pros, the Buffalo All-Americans claimed a share of the 1920 league title. Both the All-Americans and the Staleys complained about the championship, arguing that Akron had only tied, but not defeated them. However, Joseph Carr (then serving only as owner of his Columbus Panhandles team) moved at the league's meeting in April 1921 to give Akron the sole title and the rights to the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup. The motion was accepted, and Buffalo finished in third place, with Decatur in second place. According to modern NFL tie-breaking rules, the 1920 Buffalo All-Americans would be co-champions. They would be tied with Akron in win percentage, 9½ wins to 1½ losses (.864), both teams beating out the Decatur, who would have a season that counted 11 wins to 2 losses (.846).
- The Staley Swindle (December 4, 1921, Buffalo All-Americans vs. Chicago Staleys)
- The Staleys, having won every game of their 1921 season (partially by refusing to play any road games) except their Thanksgiving game against the then-undefeated All-Americans (who, other than their match against Chicago, also had played all of their games at home), challenged the All-Americans to a rematch. Buffalo, having already scheduled their last game for December 3, agreed on the condition that it be considered a "post-season" exhibition match and not be counted in the standings. When Chicago won the rematch 10-7, Staleys owner George Halas persuaded the league to count the game in the standings by playing two more games, in an effort to discredit the All-Americans' "post-season" claim and to bring their win percentage to the same as the All-Americans. The league then instituted the first-ever tiebreaker for the championship (a now discontinued rule stating that a rematch counts more than a first matchup) and handing the championship to Chicago. The "Staley Swindle" name is primarily used by Buffalo sports fans. The league was forced to place a finite end to the season after the incident; by 1924, when Chicago attempted to do the same thing with a post-season match against the Cleveland Bulldogs, the league disallowed it and allowed Cleveland to keep its title.
- 1925 Chicago Cardinals–Milwaukee Badgers scandal (December 10, 1925, Milwaukee Badgers vs. Chicago Cardinals)
- In 1925, the Chicago Cardinals were in the running to win the NFL championship with the Pottsville Maroons. The Maroons had beaten the Cardinals 21-7 earlier in the season at Comiskey Park. This win gave Pottsville a half game lead in the standings. However, the Cardinals felt that they could make up for the loss. Many professional football teams during the first decade of the NFL would schedule some easy extra games to pad their record and place in the standings. The Cardinals had hoped that the move would help bump the team to a first place finish over Pottsville. Prior to 1933, the team with the best record in the standings at the end of the season was named the season's NFL Champions.
- The Cardinals' two extra games were scheduled against the Milwaukee Badgers and Hammond Pros, both of which were NFL members but had disbanded for the year. The Badgers had difficulty in fielding a team, so Art Folz, Chicago's substitute quarterback, hired a group of high school football players to play as the Milwaukee Badgers, against the Cardinals. This would ensure an inferior opponent for Chicago. Upon his discovery NFL Commissioner, Joseph Carr, fined Chicago owner Chris O'Brien $1,000 for allowing his team play a game against high schoolers, even though he claimed that he was unaware of the players' status. Milwaukee owner Ambrose McGuirk was ordered to sell his Milwaukee franchise within 90 days. Meanwhile Art Folz, for his role, was barred from football for life. O'Brien's fine and Folz's lifetime ban were rescinded months later. However McGuirk already sold his franchise to Johnny Bryan.
- 1925 Pottsville Maroons
- The Pottsville Maroons were declared NFL champions after they defeated the Chicago Cardinals in a game that was moved to Chicago because the stadium in Pottsville was too small and the game had league championship implications. The Maroons won 21-7. The next week they went on to play the University of Notre Dame All-Stars in a contractually obligated game, which included Notre Dame's Four Horsemen. That game took place in Philadelphia, at Shibe Park. The Maroons defeated Notre Dame in the last minute with a field goal, 9-7, which stunned the crowd and legitimized professional football at a time when college football was considered superior.
- The NFL stripped the Maroons of their championship for supposed league violations, and suspended the franchise for the remainder of the season. They were reinstated for the next season, out of fear they would defect to a newly created rival, the AFL. The controversy remains vivid to this day. The Chicago Cardinals' owner at the time, Chris O'Brien, refused the championship, calling it "bogus". The 1925 title was not claimed until Charles Bidwill purchased the team in 1932. Some people ascribe the Cardinals' ongoing futility to a "curse" from the people of Schuylkill County.
- December 18, 1932, Portsmouth Spartans vs. Chicago Bears, 1932 NFL Playoff Game
- The first NFL Playoff game was the result of a tie in the standings between the 6-1-4 Portsmouth Spartans and the 6-1-6 Chicago Bears. At that time, ties were not counted in the standings, and both teams had played (and tied) each other twice. To solve the problem, the league decided to arrange a playoff game, the first in NFL history, to determine the league champion. The game was to be played at Wrigley Field, but due to severe blizzards and sub-zero wind chill, the game was moved indoors to Chicago Stadium, then used for hockey. Because of the smaller size of the arena, several special rules were adapted for the game, including an 80-yard long field and goalposts on the goal line. The Bears ended up beating the Spartans 9-0. The popularity of the game led to the NFL splitting into two divisions, with the winners of each division playing in the NFL Championship game.
- "The Sneakers Game" (December 9, 1934, Chicago Bears vs. New York Giants, NFL Championship game)
- The game was played at the Polo Grounds in frigid weather on a frozen field. At halftime, New York coach Steve Owen provided his team with basketball shoes for better traction. Gliding on the ice with the sneakers, the Giants scored 27 points in 10 minutes during the fourth quarter, and ended up beating the until-then undefeated Bears 30-13, winning the championship and denying the Bears their third straight championship (their second against the Giants) and the first undefeated and untied season in NFL history.
- 73–0, December 8, 1940, Chicago Bears vs. Washington Redskins, 1940 NFL Championship Game
- Sparked by a comment made by Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, who had said three weeks earlier that the Bears were crybabies and quitters when the going got tough, Chicago crushed Washington 73-0. This game currently stands as the most onesided victory in NFL history. Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh was interviewed after the game, and a sportswriter asked him whether the game would have been different had wide receiver Charlie Malone not dropped a tying TD pass in the first quarter. Baugh reportedly quipped, "Sure. The final score would have been 73-7."
- December 16, 1945, Washington Redskins vs. Cleveland Rams, 1945 NFL Championship Game
- In what was the coldest NFL Championship Game to date, the Rams scored a safety when Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh, throwing the ball from his own end zone, hit the goal posts (which were on the goal line from 1933–73). The two points was the margin of victory as the Rams won 15-14. After the game, the rules were changed so that when a forward pass thrown from one's own end zone hits the goal posts, it is instead ruled incomplete. This rule is essentially null and void now that the goalposts are in the back of the end zone.
- "The Greatest Game Ever Played" (December 28, 1958, Baltimore Colts vs. New York Giants, 1958 NFL Championship game)
- In the first-ever sudden death overtime in NFL history, fullback Alan Ameche's 1-yard touchdown run gave the Colts a 23-17 win over the Giants. 17 future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame were involved in the game. The nationally-televised game was watched by over 50 million people on NBC and helped springboard the NFL's popularity into the 1960s.
- The Wrong Way Run (October 25, 1964, Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers, Week 7 game, 1964 NFL season)
- Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall picked up a fumble and accidentally ran 66 yards the wrong way, scoring a safety for the 49ers before he realized his mistake. Fortunately for Marshall, the Vikings prevailed 27-22 due in part to a fumble Marshall caused later. This play is often marked as the NFL's #1 blooper.
- The Hit Heard Round the World (1964 American Football League Championship Game, December 26, 1964, Buffalo Bills vs. San Diego Chargers)
- In the first of two straight league championships for the Buffalo Bills, Bills linebacker Mike Stratton laid a particularly bruising hit upon Chargers running back Keith Lincoln that broke Lincoln's ribs and knocked him out of the game. It is considered one of the hardest hits ever leveled in a professional football game.
- The Kick (December 26, 1965, Baltimore Colts vs. Green Bay Packers, 1965 Western Conference playoff)
- At the end of the 1965 season, the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Colts were tied for the lead in the Western Conference and the right to face the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship Game. A playoff for the conference championship was played at Lambeau Field. The Colts came into the game with both of their quarterbacks, Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo, out with injuries. Colts running back Tom Matte had to fill in at quarterback, wearing a wristband with all the plays written on them. The apparent disadvantage quickly disappeared on the first play, when Packers quarterback Bart Starr was knocked out of the game and replaced by backup Zeke Bratkowski. Late in the game, the Colts lead 10-7, when Bratkowski led a final drive. With less than two minutes left in regulation, Packers kicker Don Chandler attempted a game-tying 27-yard field goal. The kicked ball appeared to curve away from the uprights, but the officials declared the kick was good, resulting in a tie score and sudden death overtime. Chandler then kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime for a 13-10 Packers win. The Packers then defeated the Cleveland Browns to win the first of what would become an unprecedented 3-straight NFL titles. Former Colts players and fans argue that Chandler's game-tying kick was no good, while the Packers refute that the kick was good. Before the following season, the NFL added 15 feet to the uprights of all goal posts, in what has become known as "the Chandler extension."
- The Ice Bowl (December 31, 1967, Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers, 1967 NFL Championship game)
- At Lambeau Field, the temperature was reported at -13 degrees Fahrenheit (-25 °C). The wind chill was -55 °F (-48 °C). The NFL Films presentation of this event, in which the playing surface was referred to as "the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field," has been the source of endless imitation and parody. The Packers won 21-17 on a Bart Starr Quarterback sneak with 16 seconds left, their third straight NFL title under coach Vince Lombardi.
- Heidi Game (November 17, 1968, New York Jets vs. Oakland Raiders)
- With its nationally televised game running late, NBC began to show the movie Heidi just moments after the Jets' Jim Turner kicked what appeared to be the game-winning field goal with 1:05 left. While millions of irate fans, missing the finale, jammed NBC's phone lines, the Raiders scored two touchdowns in eight seconds during the final minute to win 43-32. NBC later received so many angry phone calls and letters that they felt compelled to issue a public apology. As a result, television networks have since been obligated to show NFL games in their entirety.
- The Guarantee (January 12, 1969, AFL New York Jets vs. NFL Baltimore Colts, Super Bowl III)
- After the Packers won the first two Super Bowls following the AFL–NFL merger, doubts about the AFL's ability to compete with the NFL had increased. A few days before the game, Jets quarterback Joe Namath "guaranteed" a win for the Jets at The Miami Touchdown Club, and the Jets proceeded to upset the heavily favored Colts 16-7. This victory helped quell concerns and cemented the merger.
- The Immaculate Reception (December 23, 1972, Oakland Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, AFC Divisional Playoff Game)
- With Pittsburgh trailing Oakland 7-6 and facing fourth-and-ten on their own 40-yard line with 22 seconds remaining in the game, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw the ball toward halfback John "Frenchy" Fuqua. However, the ball bounced into the air as Fuqua collided with Raiders safety Jack Tatum. It was then caught by Steelers fullback Franco Harris, who then ran the rest of the way downfield to score a touchdown that gave the Steelers a 12-7 lead with five seconds remaining in the game. The catch is controversial because it could not be determined by available camera angles whether the ball had been touched last by Fuqua, Tatum, or both. The NFL rules at the time dictated that two offensive players could not consecutively touch a forward pass unless and until an opposing player had touched it in between their touches. Therefore, if Fuqua touched the ball before Harris without Tatum touching it in the interim, the play should have been ruled dead as an incomplete pass. Under current rules, the play would be deemed legal because it does not matter whether a pass touches offensive or defensive players in any order as long as it is caught in-bounds and without touching the ground.
- Miami's Perfect Season (1972)
- The Miami Dolphins became the only NFL team to have a perfect winning season, capped by winning Super Bowl VII. It is a well-travelled urban legend that each year the surviving members of the team had made a ritual of getting together and drinking champagne when the last unbeaten team loses. In actuality, only a small group of ex-players - namely Bob Griese, Nick Buoniconti and Dick Anderson, who all live in Coral Gables, Florida - gathered to uncork the champagne and have a celebratory drink.
- Garo's Gaffe (January 14, 1973, Miami Dolphins vs. Washington Redskins, Super Bowl VII)
- The Perfect Season almost ended with the first shutout in Super Bowl championship history, but with 2:07 to go in the game, Dolphins placekicker Garo Yepremian's 42-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Instead of falling on the ball, he attempted a forward pass, but let go of the ball before any forward motion because his hands were too small. The ball was fumbled, and returned by Redskins cornerback Mike Bass for a touchdown, cutting the Dolphins' lead to 14-7. Still no team has been shutout in a Super Bowl.
- The Sea of Hands (December 21, 1974, Miami Dolphins vs. Oakland Raiders, AFC Divisional Playoff Game)
- With 24 seconds left in the game, Raiders RB Clarence Davis somehow caught the game-winning touchdown pass among "the sea of hands" of three Dolphins defenders. It eliminated Miami from the playoffs after they had made it to the Super Bowl in each of the last 3 seasons. Also known as the "Lost Game" due to both NBC and NFL Films losing their English copies of the broadcast. It was thought until recently that the only remaining copy was NBC's Spanish version, when NFL Films found their copy buried deep in storage, which they thought was lost in a move in the early 80's.
- The Hail Mary (December 28, 1975, Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings, NFC Divisional Playoff Game)
- With 32 seconds left in the game, Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, nicknamed "Captain Comeback", threw a desperate 50-yard winning touchdown pass to "Mr. Clutch" Drew Pearson to defeat the Minnesota Vikings. Until this time, a last-second desperation pass had been called several names, most notably the "Big Ben."
- Ghost to the Post (December 24, 1977, Oakland Raiders vs. Baltimore Colts, AFC Divisional Playoff Game)
- Raiders tight end Dave Casper, nicknamed "The Ghost" by his teammates, caught a 42-yard reception to set up the Raiders' tying field goal near the end of regulation. Raiders QB Ken Stabler's original play call was for Casper to run a post pattern, but once he noticed that the Colts had the post covered, he instead lofted the ball toward the left corner of the end zone (commonly called a "flag" route). Casper adjusted his path to the ball mid-route and made the difficult catch almost completely over his head. Casper caught a 10-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds into the second overtime period to win the game.
- Holy Roller (September 10, 1978, Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers, Week 2 game)
- The Raiders were trailing the Chargers with 10 seconds left. Quarterback Ken Stabler fumbled the ball and running back Pete Banaszak swatted it into the end zone where tight end Dave Casper fell on it for a touchdown. After this play, it was made illegal to move the ball forward by deliberately swatting or kicking it after a fumble; and in the final two minutes of each half, plus on fourth down at any time in the game, a forward fumble recovered by any member of the offensive team other than the fumbler is spotted at the point of the fumble, not the point of the recovery. This has become known as the "Raider Rule". In San Diego, this specific incident is known as the "Immaculate Deception."
- The Miracle at the Meadowlands (also referred to as The Fumble by Giants fans) (November 19, 1978, Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants, Week 12 game)
- Leading 17-12 with 31 seconds left in the game (and the Eagles having no timeouts left), Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik tried to hand off to running back Larry Csonka instead of simply kneeling with the ball to run out the clock. The exchange was fumbled and the Eagles' Herman Edwards picked up the loose ball and ran it in for the game-winning touchdown. The Eagles won 19-17 and the next day Giants' offensive coordinator Bob Gibson was fired, with head coach John McVay losing his job at the conclusion of the season. As a result of the botched late-game handoff, the so-called "victory formation" has become a standard across all levels of football at the end of games.
- Red Right 88 (January 4, 1981, Oakland Raiders vs. Cleveland Browns, AFC Divisional Playoff Game)
- Trailing 14–12 amid horrible weather that had been devastating their special teams unit all day, the Browns chose to attempt an end zone pass play (Red Right 88) before trying for a game-winning field goal in the final minute, but the pass was intercepted by Raiders safety Mike Davis. With that interception, the Raiders held on to eventually advance to and win Super Bowl XV. The air temperature was 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-15.56 Celsius), but wind chill was -36 °F (-37.78 °C).
- The Epic in Miami (January 2, 1982, San Diego Chargers vs. Miami Dolphins, AFC Divisional Playoff Game)
- The temperature was 85°F (29.4°C) at the Miami Orange Bowl, but it did not stop either team's offense. This game set playoff records for the most points scored in a playoff game (79; the record has since been broken by the Lions and Eagles in 1995 and by the Packers and Cardinals in 2009), the most total yards by both teams (1,036), and most passing yards by both teams (809). By the end of the first quarter the Chargers stormed to a 24-0 lead, but the Dolphins cut it to 24-17 by halftime and took a 38-31 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter. However, the Chargers went on to tie the game before time ran out, causing regulation to end with a 38-38 tie. In overtime, San Diego beat Miami 41-38.
- Freezer Bowl (January 10, 1982, San Diego Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals, AFC Championship Game)
- One week after their victory over the Dolphins in "The Epic in Miami" in Florida's scorching heat, the Chargers traveled to Cincinnati to face the Bengals in the coldest game in NFL history based on the wind chill. The air temperature was -9 degrees Fahrenheit (-23 °C), but wind chill was -59 °F (-51 °C). In an attempt to intimidate the Chargers, several Bengals players went without long sleeved uniforms. Cincinnati won 27-7 and advanced to their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
- The Catch (January 10, 1982, Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers, NFC Championship Game)
- Snowplow Game (December 12, 1982, Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots)
- After a snowstorm held both teams scoreless, Patriots head coach Ron Meyer ordered the area where the ball was to be spotted for a field goal attempt cleared by a snow plow. Mark Henderson, a convict on work release, cleared the path for John Smith's attempt. It won the game for the Patriots, 3-0, and the practice of using snow plows during games was later banned.
- Mud Bowl (January 23, 1983, AFC Championship Game, New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins)
- The game was played on a wet, muddy field which largely negated the Jets' speed advantage at the skill positions, and emphasized the Dolphins' strengths; the Killer B's Defense and a solid power running attack. The Dolphins defense held Jets quarterback Richard Todd to only 15 of 37 completions for 103 yards and intercepted five of his passes. Dolphins linebacker A.J. Duhe led Miami with three interceptions, scoring a 35-yard touchdown and setting up the other Dolphins score in the 14-0 victory. Afterwards, the Jets complained about Dolphins coach Don Shula's decision not to place the tarp over the Miami Orange Bowl's grass field before the game. The Dolphins completed a three game sweep of the Jets with this victory, the first time this was accomplished in NFL history, and deepening the already bitter Dolphins–Jets rivalry.
- 70 Chip (January 30, 1983, Super Bowl XVII, Miami Dolphins vs. Washington Redskins)
- Trailing 17-13 in the fourth quarter, the Redskins were facing 4th and 1 in Miami territory. Washington running back John Riggins was the obvious choice to drive through the line for a first down. The play "70 Chip" was called in by offensive coordinator Joe Bugel. The play was designed for The Hogs to clear what appeared to be a path straight through the defensive line, but had a wing back, Clint Didier run across the formation, fake and come back to the left side and block the strong safety, opening up a hole on the left for John Riggins to run through. Riggins was usually known for straight ahead, line busting runs, taking several opponents to bring him down, not necessarily a long distance runner. While following Didier in motion, defensive back Don McNeal briefly slipped; although he recovered to try to stop the play, Riggins brushed him aside to run 43 yards for the touchdown and put the Redskins ahead 20–17. The run was immortalized by NFL Films showing Riggins' strength and determination all the way to the end zone, including the sound of a diesel train (Riggins' nickname). The Redskins went on to defeat the Dolphins 27-17, winning their first Super Bowl title. Riggins won the Super Bowl MVP Award for his efforts in the process.
- Snowball Game (November 11, 1985, San Francisco 49ers vs. Denver Broncos, Week 10 game)
- On their last possession of the first half, the 49ers mounted a nine-play drive which ended in a 19-yard field goal attempt. Before holder Matt Cavanaugh received the snap from center, a snowball thrown from the stands landed in front of him. Distracted, he mishandled the football and was unable to hold it for kicker Ray Wersching. In desperation he picked up the ball and attempted a forward pass, but there were no receivers downfield and it fell incomplete. No penalties or palpably unfair acts were called, and the Broncos took over on downs. They went on to win 17–16, making the failed field goal a pivotal factor. The NFL had not yet instituted an instant replay system, so officials did not have an opportunity to review the play.
- Since this game, two other games have also commonly been referred to as the "Snowball Game":
- On December 10, 1989, in a game at Cincinnati between the Bengals and Seattle Seahawks, the Bengals fans, in protest of some bad calls by the referees, began to throw snowballs at the referees and at the Seahawks team on the field as they were lining up deep in Bengal territory. The Seahawks refused to continue the game and Bengals coach Sam Wyche took a stadium house microphone and said the following, including a jab at in-state rival Cleveland Browns fans: "Will the next person that sees ANYBODY throw anything onto this field, point 'em out...and get 'em out of here! You don't live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati!"
- On December 23, 1995, at Giants Stadium in the final game of a losing season against the San Diego Chargers, the apparently frustrated fans behind the Charger sideline began to pelt the Charger players and others on the sideline with snow and ice that had not been cleared from their seats. At one point, the Chargers' equipment manager was knocked unconscious by a thrown piece of ice.
- The Drive (January 11, 1987, Denver Broncos vs. Cleveland Browns, AFC Championship Game)
- Bo vs. The Boz (November 30, 1987) Los Angeles Raiders vs. Seattle Seahawks
- In one of the most anticipated match-ups of the season, the NFL's two biggest rookie stars, Raiders running back and two-sport star Bo Jackson faced off against Seahawks middle linebacker Brian Bosworth. Before the game, Bosworth had boasted to the media that he was going to contain Jackson. Jackson had the upper hand, rushing for 221 yards and three touchdowns. The game was known for not one, but two legendary moments. The first came in the second quarter, when backed up on their own 9-yard line, Jackson took a hand-off from Marc Wilson, and ran for a 91-yard touchdown. Jackson did not slow down when he reached the endzone, as his momentum seemed to carry him into the tunnel leading to the locker rooms. The play is the second longest play from scrimmage in Raiders history, only being surpassed by Terrelle Pryor's 93 yard TD run. The other signature play of the game, named one of the best moments in the history of Monday Night Football, occurred in the third quarter on a toss play to Bo Jackson from the Seahawks 2-yard line. Running to his left, Jackson met an unblocked Bosworth head-on. Bosworth failed to slow down Jackson, who slipped past the direct hit, and scored his third touchdown of the day with Bosworth hanging on his back. From that moment, the two stars games took differing trajectories. Jackson would go on to be remembered as one of the most talented yet injury-prone players of his generation, while Bosworth's career would take a downward spiral, playing only two more lack-luster and, like Jackson, injury-ravaged seasons.
- The Fumble (January 17, 1988, Cleveland Browns vs. Denver Broncos, AFC Championship Game)
- Trailing 38-31 with 1:12 left in the game, the Browns' Earnest Byner appeared to be on his way to score the game tying touchdown, but he was stripped by Denver defensive back Jeremiah Castille at the 3-yard line. The Broncos recovered the ball, gave the Browns an intentional safety, and went on to win 38-33, sending the Broncos to their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance (Super Bowl XXII).
- The Fog Bowl (December 31, 1988, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Chicago Bears, NFC Divisional Playoff Game)
- The Instant Replay Game (November 5, 1989, Chicago Bears vs Green Bay Packers, Week 9 Game)
- Late in the game, Green Bay quarterback Don Majkowski rifled a desperation fourth-down pass into the end zone, caught by receiver Sterling Sharpe for a TD that would give the Packers a 14-13 victory with the extra point. However, a penalty flag was thrown, and it charged that Majkowski had thrown an illegal pass after he stepped over the line of scrimmage. After review, replay official Bill Parkinson ultimately ruled a touchdown for Green Bay. The Bears organization protested, and to this day, it is marked in their media guide as "The Instant Replay Game."
- Bounty Bowl (November 23, 1989, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys, Week 12 game)
- In the Cowboys' annual Thanksgiving game, the Eagles won 27-0, in the only Thanksgiving shutout Dallas has suffered to date. The game was ill-tempered, with several scuffles between opposing players, and Cowboys (and former Eagles) kicker Luis Zendejas was knocked out of the game with a concussion thanks to a hard hit during a kickoff. After the game, Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson accused Eagles coach Buddy Ryan of placing bounties on Zendejas and Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman.
- Bounty Bowl II (December 10, 1989, Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Week 14 game)
- The equally ill-tempered rematch, won 20-10 by the Eagles, was played in a Veterans Stadium that was not cleaned of snow that had fallen for several days in Philadelphia. The notoriously rowdy Eagles crowd, lubricated by considerable amounts of beer, threw snowballs, iceballs, batteries, and other objects at anyone in sight. One game official was knocked to the ground by a barrage of snowballs, Johnson had to be escorted from the field by Philadelphia police through a hail of debris, and CBS broadcasters Verne Lundquist and Terry Bradshaw had to dodge snowballs aimed at the broadcast booth. Even Eagles star Jerome Brown became a target when he stood on the players' bench pleading with fans to stop throwing debris on the field.
- The Body Bag Game (November 12, 1990, Washington Redskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Monday Night Football)
- In the days leading to the clash, Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan threatened a beating so severe that "they'll have to be carted off in body bags." Ryan's words were prophetic. The Eagles defense scored three touchdowns in a 28–14 win and knocked eight Redskins out of the game, including two quarterbacks. The Redskins finished with rookie running back-returner Brian Mitchell (who had been a record-setting quarterback in college) playing quarterback. However, Washington would get their revenge by defeating Philadelphia in the playoffs later that year.
- Wide Right (January 27, 1991, Buffalo Bills vs. New York Giants, Super Bowl XXV)
- With eight seconds left, Scott Norwood was called in to kick a 47-yard field goal on natural grass for the Bills, who were down 20–19 against the Giants. The kick had plenty of distance, but sailed wide right, beginning the Bills' streak of four consecutive Super Bowl losses.
- The Comeback (January 3, 1993, Houston Oilers vs. Buffalo Bills, AFC Wild Card Playoff Game)
- With quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, and linebacker Cornelius Bennett out injured, Frank Reich led the Bills back from a 32-point deficit, to defeat the Oilers 41-38 in overtime in a wild card playoff game, the largest comeback ever in pro football history. Incidentally, Frank Reich had quarterbacked the University of Maryland team to what was then the largest comeback in college football history, during a 1984 game versus the University of Miami.
- The Clock Play (also known as the Fake Spike game) (November 27, 1994, Miami Dolphins vs. New York Jets, Week 13 game)
- With 28 seconds left in regulation and trailing 24-21 in a battle for AFC East supremacy, the Dolphins had the ball at the Jets' 8-yard line but were out of timeouts. Running to the line of scrimmage, Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino yelled "Clock! Clock!" and motioned that he was going to spike the ball to stop the clock and set up an attempt at a game-tying field goal. The Jets defense, anticipating a spike, lined up haphazardly. Marino took the snap, but instead of spiking the ball, dropped back to pass. The Jets bought the ruse and were caught off-guard, enabling Marino to deliver the game-winning touchdown pass with 22 seconds left to a wide open Mark Ingram in the front corner of the end zone. The 28–24 victory moved the Dolphins to 8–4 en route to the division title, while the Jets dropped to 6–6 and went on to lose their final four games in a season that culminated with the firing of head coach Pete Carroll. The Jets hit rock bottom in the following two seasons, winning a total of 4 games over that span.
- Gary Anderson's Missed Kick (January 17, 1999, Minnesota Vikings vs. Atlanta Falcons, NFC Championship Game)
- In 1998, the Minnesota Vikings became the third team in NFL history to finish the season with a 15-1 record, as their offense set the NFL record for most points scored in a season, thus rendering the team as heavy favorites to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XXXIII. Placekicker Gary Anderson had become the first kicker in history to finish the regular season without missing a field goal or extra point attempt. Late in the fourth quarter, Anderson committed his first missed field goal attempt of the season (from 39 yards), which would have put the Vikings up by 10 and essentially clinched the win. The Falcons scored a touchdown to tie the game on their subsequent possession and won by a field goal in overtime. NFL Films ranked Anderson's miss as the sixth biggest foul-up in NFL history, and users on ESPN.com, in conjunction with ESPN contributor Ben Goessling, voted the miss as the most memorable play in Vikings history. Sports Illustrated has referred to the play as simply "The Miss", while ESPN has referred to it as "Wide Left" in reference to Scott Norwood's missed field goal in Super Bowl XXV.
- Music City Miracle (January 8, 2000, Buffalo Bills vs. Tennessee Titans, AFC Wild Card Playoff Game)
- With 16 seconds left in the game, the Titans received a kickoff. The Titans' Lorenzo Neal handed the ball to Frank Wycheck, who then lateraled the ball across the width of the field to his teammate, Kevin Dyson, who in turn ran the length of the field down the sideline for the game-winning touchdown (22-16). Controversy surrounded the play, hinging on whether Wycheck's pass to Dyson was an illegal forward pass, though the play was confirmed by instant replay review by referee Phil Luckett. The Titans went on to lose the Super Bowl in the "One Yard Short" play. (Also known as the Immaculate Deception among Buffalo fans.)
- One Yard Short (January 30, 2000, St. Louis Rams vs. Tennessee Titans, Super Bowl XXXIV)
- Trailing 23-16 with six seconds remaining in the game, the Titans, with no timeouts left and possession of the ball on the Rams' 10-yard line, had one final chance to tie the game. Titans quarterback Steve McNair passed the ball to Kevin Dyson on a slant, but Rams linebacker Mike Jones came across the field and tackled Dyson perpendicular to the end zone. Dyson stretched out towards the goal line, but was only able to reach the one-yard line before being ruled down.
- The Monday Night Miracle (October 23, 2000, Miami Dolphins at New York Jets, Week 8 game on Monday Night Football)
- Bottlegate (December 16, 2001, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Cleveland Browns, Week 14 game)
- The Bottlegate game occurred during a late 2001 NFL season game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland. The Browns were driving toward the east end zone for what would have been the winning score. Browns' wide receiver Quincy Morgan caught a pass for a first down on 4th and 1. After quarterback Tim Couch spiked the ball on the next play to stop the clock, the referee announced that they were going to review Morgan's catch, saying that the replay officials had buzzed him, indicating for a replay review, before Couch spiked the ball. The referee did not actually move to his buzzer until well after Couch had snapped and spiked the ball, but replay official would later claim that the referee merely did not react in time to stop the spike play. In reviewing the play, the referee determined that Morgan never had control of the ball, thus the pass was incomplete, and the Jaguars were awarded the ball. However, fans in the notorious "Dawg Pound" began throwing plastic beer bottles and other objects directed at and striking players and officials. The referee then declared the game over and sent the teams to the locker rooms. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue called the game supervisor to override the referee's decision, sending the players back onto the field after a 30-minute delay, where the Jaguars ran out the last seconds under a hail of debris.
- Tuck Rule Game (January 19, 2002, Oakland Raiders vs. New England Patriots, AFC Divisional Playoff Game)
- This is also known as Snowjob for Raiders fans, and as the Snow Bowl for Patriots fans. With less than two minutes to play in regulation, the Patriots trailed the Raiders, 13-10, in a game played mostly under a driving snowstorm. Oakland defensive back Charles Woodson blitzed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and sacked him, causing a fumble. The ball was recovered by the Raiders' Greg Biekert at the Oakland 42-yard-line. When referee Walt Coleman reviewed the play, he ruled it an incomplete pass explaining that Brady's hand was coming forward. Later explanations for the ruling cited the "tuck rule" (NFL Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, Note 2) which states that, after starting a forward pass, "even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body", it is still a forward pass. The Patriots retained possession, and later tied the game on a dramatic 45 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal that barely cleared the crossbar with 27 seconds left in regulation. The Patriots won the game in overtime on a 23-yard field goal, and went on to win Super Bowl XXXVI. The ruling remains controversial, with one former NFL coach noting that, as worded, "[i]t says you can pull [the ball] down and do anything you want for the next 10 minutes" after finishing the tucking motion. Nevertheless, the "tuck rule" remained in force, until it was repealed at the NFL meeting on March 20, 2013 by a 29-1 vote.
- River City Relay (December 21, 2003, New Orleans Saints vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, Week 16 game)
- With the Saints needing a victory to keep their postseason hopes alive, the Jaguars held a 20-13 lead with seven seconds left in regulation, and the Saints had possession on their own 25. In a scene evoking memories of The Play, Aaron Brooks passed to Donté Stallworth for 42 yards, who then lateraled to Michael Lewis for 7 yards. Lewis lateraled to Deuce McAllister for 5 yards, and McAllister lateraled to Jerome Pathon for 21 yards and a touchdown. With the score 20-19, an extra point would have capped the miracle play and forced overtime. However, in an unlikely twist, John Carney, who in his career made 98.4% of extra points attempted and had not missed one in a full decade, inexplicably missed the extra point wide right, ending the game, and causing the Saints to miss the playoffs for yet another season.
- 4th and 26 (January 11, 2004, Green Bay Packers vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Divisional Playoff Game)
- With a 3-point deficit in the fourth quarter, the Eagles had to at least tie the game on a final drive. The drive started with a 22-yard run by Duce Staley, but on the next play, Donovan McNabb threw for an incomplete pass. Subsequently, on second down the Eagles were penalized 5 yards for a false start. On the ensuing play, a sack pushed the Eagles back to their own 25-yard line, and on third down McNabb threw another incompletion. The Eagles, faced with a fourth down and 26 yards, needed to convert for a first down, with only 1:12 left and no timeouts available. On fourth down, the play (74 Double Go) called for a 25-yard slant route for wide receiver Freddie Mitchell. McNabb threw a perfect strike to Mitchell deep into the Packers' secondary. The Packers' coverage, a Cover 2 package, broke down. Linebacker Nick Barnett, who was responsible for shallow coverage of Mitchell, decided to bite on the tight end. Inexplicably, Darren Sharper, who was partially responsible for deep coverage of Mitchell, played past the first down marker positioning himself for an interception rather than preventing any catch in front of the marker. The only player that was close to making a play, Packers' safety Bhawoh Jue, was playing the sidelines as is customary in Cover 2 defense and was too late to prevent a catch or first down. Mitchell completed a leaping reception and was brought down at the Packers 46, giving the Eagles a first down. The Eagles tied the game on a David Akers field goal, and won on a second field goal by Akers in overtime.
- Monday Night Meltdown (October 16, 2006, Chicago Bears vs. Arizona Cardinals, Week 6 game on Monday Night Football)
- The undefeated Bears staged the "comeback of the year" against the 1-win Cardinals after trailing by 20 points. This game is the first game in which the Bears won after trailing by 20 since 1987 (they defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-26), and the Cardinals are the first team in NFL history to lose consecutive games in a season after being ahead by over 2 touchdowns at the end of the first quarter in each of their games. Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart became the 1st quarterback in history to throw at least 2 touchdown passes in each of his 2 starts. The last time a team won after committing 6 turnovers was over 20 years ago. The postgame press conference was notable for Cardinals coach Dennis Green's profanity-laced rant, highlighted by the quote "They are who we thought they were".
- That quote was notable because the Bears and Cardinals played each other in the third week of preseason. In NFL terms, the third week is commonly known as the dress rehearsal game meaning that the starters play the first half and sometimes into the third quarter. Green ended his rant by asking the press to "crown them champions." Chicago went on to Super Bowl XLI as champions of the NFC. Dennis Green lost his job following the 2006 season.
- The Helmet Catch (February 3, 2008, New York Giants vs. New England Patriots, Super Bowl XLII)
- With the heavily favored Patriots leading 14–10, the Giants got the ball with just over 2 minutes to play. They were able to drive down the field with short plays but time was running down. Early in the drive, cornerback Asante Samuel missed intercepting a pass that would have sealed a Patriots victory. Then, on a third-and-five, quarterback Eli Manning went into the shotgun and was soon surrounded by Patriot defenders. A couple of Patriots were able to grab Manning's jersey, but he broke free and scrambled away from the pile, setting his feet and firing the ball downfield to wide receiver David Tyree. Tyree leaped for the ball, tightly covered by Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, and completed the 32-yard reception by pinning the ball against his helmet, bringing the Giants to the 22-yard line with 58 seconds left. The Giants would soon score a touchdown with 35 seconds left, and held on to win the game. The Giants' victory made them the first ever NFC wild card to win the Super Bowl, and also prevented the Patriots from completing only the second perfect season in NFL history, and the first ever 19–0 season. It would be the last catch Tyree made in his professional football career.
- The Miracle at the New Meadowlands (December 19, 2010 New York Giants vs Philadelphia Eagles)
- The Miracle at the New Meadowlands, also called "New Miracle at the New Meadowlands" and "Miracle at the Meadowlands IV" is the term used by sportscasters and Philadelphia Eagles fans to refer to an improbable come-from-behind win by the Philadelphia Eagles over rival team the New York Giants on December 19, 2010 at New Meadowlands Stadium. The game was a crucial one in the context of the season, played between two divisional rivals in Week 15 of the 2010 NFL season. The Eagles had been manhandled by the Giants for the first three quarters and trailed by 21 points with under eight minutes to play in the 4th quarter. They went on to score four unanswered touchdowns in the final seven minutes and 28 seconds of play, including the final score, a dramatic walk-off punt returned for a touchdown by DeSean Jackson as time expired.
- The Beast Quake (January 8, 2011, New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks, NFC Wild Card round
- The 2010 Seahawks became the first team ever to make the playoffs with a losing record (in a full season), winning the NFC West, while the Saints were the defending Super Bowl champions and finished the season with an 11-5 record and a Wild Card berth. The two teams met in the Wild Card round in Seattle, and despite being 10-point underdogs, the Seahawks were competitive. Up by four with 3:38 remaining, Seahawks running back "Beast Mode" Marshawn Lynch ran up the middle, breaking nine tackles, including delivering a stiff-arm to Tracy Porter that knocked the cornerback off his feet, en route to a 67-yard touchdown. The crowd noise from the moment was so great that a nearby seismic monitoring station registered the commotion as a small earthquake. The run clinched an eventual 41-36 Seattle victory and one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. The "Beast Quake", as it would come to be called, continues to be consistently ranked as one of the greatest runs in NFL history.
- The Fail Mary (September 24, 2012, Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks, Week 3 game)
- Trailing 12-7 with 8 seconds remaining during a Monday Night Football game, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone intended for wide receiver Golden Tate. Both Tate and Packers defender M. D. Jennings got their hands on the ball while attempting to gain possession as time expired. The two officials near the play initially gave separate rulings of touchdown and touchback, before ruling the players had simultaneous possession, resulting in a Seahawks game-winning touchdown. Prior to the catch, Tate shoved Packers cornerback Sam Shields with both hands, which the NFL later acknowledged should have drawn an offensive pass interference penalty that would have negated the touchdown and resulted in a Packers victory. The controversial ending followed weeks of criticism regarding the quality of officiating by replacement officials employed by the NFL during the lockout. Two days after the game, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association announced they had reached an agreement to end the lockout. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that the negative attention the game drew to the referee situation was an impetus for ending the labor dispute.
- The Butt Fumble (November 22, 2012, New England Patriots vs. New York Jets, Thanksgiving Day game)
- In the second quarter of the Jets' Thanksgiving home game against the Patriots, the New York Jets faced first and 10 from the Jets' 31-yard line. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez kept the ball and began running forward. With his path forward blocked by offensive lineman Brandon Moore, Sanchez began sliding, only to collide face-first with Moore's backside. (According to the New York Times, Sanchez forgot which play he had called in the preceding huddle.) In the process, Sanchez fumbled the ball, which Patriots safety Steve Gregory recovered and returned for a touchdown, giving the Patriots a 21–0 lead. Adding insult to injury, Jets kick returner Joe McKnight fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which Patriots receiver Julian Edelman recovered in midair and immediately returned for another touchdown, increasing the Patriots' lead to 28–0. Moreover, just two plays from scrimmage before the Butt Fumble, the Jets defense gave up an 87-yard touchdown pass from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to running back Shane Vereen. In all, the Jets gave up three touchdowns in a 52-second span. The Butt Fumble is regarded as one of the worst plays in NFL history. The New York Times called the buttfumble "a sliver of tragicomic slapstick in what may be remembered as one of the ugliest moments in N.F.L. history." Viewers of ESPN's SportsCenter voted it "Worst of the Worst"—that is, worse than any play that happened in sports the previous week—40 weeks in a row; when the 2013 NFL season started, ESPN "retired" the Buttfumble from voting; one producer claimed "we're not sure anything could top it."
- The Mile High Miracle (January 12, 2013, Baltimore Ravens vs Denver Broncos, AFC Divisional Playoff Game)
- The Ravens were down 35-28 in the 4th quarter, and got the ball back with 1:09 remaining with one last chance to tie the game. On 3rd & 3 on the Baltimore 30 yard line, with 44 seconds left in regulation, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco heaved a 70 yard touchdown pass to receiver Jacoby Jones. Flacco took advantage of the Broncos' mistakes in coverage. Denver cornerback Tony Carter failed both his assignments: to jam Jones at the line of scrimmage and then follow him up the sideline if no offense players were in the "flat," the short area of the field near the sideline. Denver free safeties Rahim Moore and Jim Leonhard both expected Flacco to throw for a first-down; as a result, they were poorly positioned to make a play, with Moore—assigned the deepest zone—having to backpedal toward Jones before making a mistimed jump to knock the pass away. Jones caught the ball at the 20-yard line and jogged into the endzone for a touchdown. The play's failure was blamed on poor execution, with Moore being credited with the most critical mistake. After the play, Denver head coach John Fox had Denver quarterback Peyton Manning take a knee to run out the clock. After the first three drives of overtime ended in punts, Ravens cornerback Corey Graham made his second interception of a pass from Manning attempted to receiver Brandon Stokley on the Broncos 45-yard line. On the last play of the first overtime period, Baltimore running back Ray Rice's 11-yard run moved the team into field goal range. A few plays later, the Ravens rookie kicker Justin Tucker kicked a 47-yard field goal to win the game. The Ravens would go on to win Super Bowl XLVII.
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