(Editor’s Note: Rick Gosselin has reported on the NFL for 45 years for the United Press International, Kansas City Star and Dallas Morning News and attended 34 of the 51 Super Bowls. Here is his compilation of the 50 greatest moments in Super Bowl history:)
1. The granddaddy of all comebacks. The New England Patriots were dead in the 2017 Super Bowl. They trailed the Atlanta Falcons, 28-3, with less than 24 minutes remaining. Tom Brady wasn’t his usual self, completing 17 of his 29 passes for 182 yards with an interception, having failed to generate a touchdown in the game’s first 36 minutes. Then Brady became his usual self, completing 21 of 26 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns over those final 24 minutes to forge a 28-28 tie with the Falcons, forcing overtime. Brady completed five more passes for 50 yards in overtime to deliver New England the game-winning touchdown and a 34-28 victory. It was the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and third greatest comeback in NFL playoff history. Brady finished with 43 completions in 62 passes for 466 yards, all Super Bowl records. He was voted Super Bowl MVP for the third time on the way to his fifth championship ring.
2. David Tyree catch. The biggest play in one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. The Giants trailed the perfect Patriots 14-10 and found themselves in a third-and-5 from their own 44 with 75 seconds remaining. Eli Manning barely escaped a sack attempt by Richard Seymour, scrambling to keep the play alive, then launched a 32-yard pass to his fifth receiver who was being covered by a Pro Bowl safety. Tyree and Rodney Harrison both contested the jump ball — with Tyree making a one-handed grab with the ball pinned to his helmet. Four plays later, the Giants were Super Bowl champs.
3. Ben Roethlisberger threads the needle. There have been a couple thousand passes thrown in the first 51 Super Bowls. But the most perfect of all those throws was a corner-of-the-end-zone, thread-the-needle toss from Roethlisberger over three Arizona defenders that Holmes caught on his tippy-toes with his fingertips in the 2009 game for a 7-yard touchdown. It also came with just 35 seconds remaining to give the Steelers a 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
4. Doug Williams’ 2nd quarter. The Denver Broncos jumped in front of the favored Redskins 10-0 in the first quarter of the 1988 Super Bowl. But Williams then gave Washington the greatest individual quarter in Super Bowl history, completing nine-of-11 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns to propel the Redskins to a 35-10 halftime lead.
5. Mike Jones’ tackle. There have been thousands of tackles in Super Bowl history but none stand out like the one by Jones on the final play of the 2000 game. The Rams were two-touchdown favorites over the Titans but Tennessee was 10 yards away from overtime with 10 seconds to play. Steve McNair found Kevin Dyson on a slant at the 3-yard line but Jones hit him low. Dyson tried to spin out of the tackle and, as he was going down, reached for the goal line — but the ball touched down inside the one, short of the end zone. The Rams escaped, 23-16.
6. Where’s Marshawn Lynch? Trailing the Patriots 28-24 in the 2015 Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks moved into position for the victory with a 79-yard drive to the New England 1 with 26 seconds remaining. The legs of Lynch carried the Seahawks all season with his 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns — and he had 102 more yards on 24 carries in the Super Bowl. His four-yard run on first down put the Seahawks at the New England 1. But on second-and-goal with 26 seconds remaining, the Seahawks inexplicably called a pass — and cornerback Malcolm Butler stepped in front of Ricardo Lockette on a slant route and intercepted Russell Wilson, allowing Tom Brady and the Patriots to escape with their fourth Lombardi Trophy.
7. Lynn Swann catches. Swann doesn’t have the statistics to qualify for the Pro Football Hall of Fame — not with just 366 career catches. But he’s enshrined in Canton because of his reputation of playing big in the biggest games. He cemented that reputation in the 1976 Super Bowl when he caught four passes for 161 yards and a touchdown on his way to MVP honors. A couple of his catches were gravity-defying, acrobatic grabs over cornerback Mark Washington.
8. Max McGee’s one-hand TD catch. At 34 years of age and coming off a season in which he caught only four passes, McGee did not expect to play much in the first Super Bowl. But when Boyd Dowler left the game with a shoulder injury in the opening minutes, McGee found himself on the field. He made a theatric one-handed grab of a Bart Starr pass on a crossing route to give the Packers their first touchdown, a 37-yarder, then made a juggling 13-yard TD catch in the third quarter as the Packers thumped the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10. McGee caught three more passes the rest of his career.
9. Scott Norwood wide right. The Giants played keep-away from the NFL’s best offense in the 1991 Super Bowl. New York controlled the ball for more than 40 minutes, limiting the scoring opportunities of Jim Kelly and Buffalo’s K-Gun offense. But the Bills still had a chance to steal the game when Norwood lined up for a 47-yard field in the closing seconds. His kick sailed wide right and the Giants prevailed, 20-19.
10. James Harrison interception. Trailing 10-7 at the close of the first half of the 2009 game, Kurt Warner drove the underdog Arizona Cardinals the length of the field to the Pittsburgh 1 with 18 seconds left. It was first down, so the Cardinals figured to have two cracks at a go-ahead touchdown before having to settle for a game-tying field goal. Warner threw a slant on the left side to Anquan Boldin. But instead of attacking Warner — as you’d expect a Pro Bowl pass rusher with 16 sacks to do — Harrison busted his assignment and dropped into coverage. He intercepted Warner and trudged 100 yards over the final 14 seconds of the half for a touchdown and increase Pittsburgh’s lead to 17-7.
11. Tom Brady starts a Super legacy. The Rams and their Greatest Show on Turf tied the upstart Patriots at 17-17 with 90 seconds left in the 2002 game. With an inexperienced quarterback, the ball at his own 17 and no timeouts, the assumption was that New England coach Bill Belichick would have the young Brady take a couple knees to send the game into overtime. But Brady came out firing, completing five of eight passes for 53 yards, setting up Adam Vinatieri for a game-winning 48-yard field goal at the gun. And the legend was born.
12. Marcus Allen 74-yard run. It wasn’t the longest run in Super Bowl history nor was it the most dramatic. But it was the most beautiful. The Raiders already had the 1984 game in hand, 28-9, as they lined up for the final play of the third quarter. Allen took a handoff running left, then cut back to the middle and raced 74 yards through the heart of Washington’s No. 1-ranked run defense. He finished the day with 20 carries for 191 yards and two scores.
13. John Riggins’ fourth-down touchdown. This was the most dramatic run in Super Bowl history. Washington trailed Miami, 17-13, early in the fourth quarter of the 1983 game. On fourth-and-1 from the Miami 43, Joe Gibbs decided to go for it. Joe Theismann handed the ball to his diesel Riggins, who bounced 43 yards around left end for the game-winning touchdown.
14. Otis Taylor 46-yard TD catch. Minnesota was the NFL champion in 1969 and a 12-point favorite over the AFL champion Chiefs in the Super Bowl. But the Vikings had never seen size the likes of which the Chiefs trotted into Tulane Stadium that day. In particular, the defensive line with Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp and the wide receiving corps with Taylor dwarfed the opposition. The Chiefs sealed the upset in the fourth quarter when Taylor caught a short pass from Len Dawson on the right side, spun out of Earsell Mackbee’s tackle, high-stepped down the sideline and then trampled safety Karl Kassulke on his way to the end zone. Take that, NFL.
15. 49ers’ goal-line stand. Cincinnati trailed San Francisco 20-7 late in the third quarter of the 1982 Super Bowl. With a first-and-goal from the San Francisco 3, the Bengals tried to power their way into the end zone with 260-pound fullback Pete Johnson. But the 49ers stopped him on all three of his rushes, including a fourth-down plunge from the 1.
16. Mario Manningham catch. Trailing New England 17-15 and pinned at their own 12 with 3:46 remaining in the 2012 Super Bowl, the Giants once again asked Eli Manning to lead a game-winning drive against the favored Patriots. Last time his back-breaking target was David Tyree. This time it was Manningham, who caught a 38-yard bomb on the sideline on the first play of the drive to set the stage for the game-winning field. That moved the ball to the 50 and held up under an instant-replay challenge by the Patriots. As they say, the rest is history.
17. Garo Yepremian turnover. Playing for the first perfect season in NFL history, the Dolphins were in control of the Redskins and the game with a 14-0 lead late in the fourth quarter. Don Shula sent out his Pro Bowl kicker Yepremian for a 42-yard field goal attempt. But Bill Brundidge blocked the kick — and Yepremian caught it. He drifted right and tried throwing the ball but his flutter fumble was grabbed by Mike Bass and returned 49 yards for the only Washington touchdown.
18. Ray Lewis’ pre-game introduction. How was a quarterback with the modest skills of Trent Dilfer able to win a Super Bowl? Because he played with one of the NFL’s greatest defenses. Led by Lewis, the Ravens set an NFL record for a 16-game season by allowing only 165 points. The Baltimore defense was introduced before the game and Lewis was last out of the tunnel. As he danced onto the field, he bent down, plucked a few twigs of grass and flipped them into the air. “This is our turf,” he said. And it was. Had it not been for a kickoff return for a touchdown by Ron Dixon, the Ravens would have posted the only shutout in Super Bowl history, winning 34-7. Lewis was the game’s MVP.
19. Jack Squirek interception. With the Raiders in front 14-3 late in the second quarter of the 1984 Super Bowl, the Redskins found themselves at their own 12 with 12 seconds left in the half. QB Joe Theismann tried floating a screen pass to Joe Washington but linebacker Squirek picked it off and danced five yards into the end zone for a 21-3 lead. Ball game.
20. Johnny Unitas takes field in 4th quarter. Unitas is the father of the two-minute drill. He brought the Colts back time and again late in games with his rifle right arm and a hurry-up offense. He won two NFL championships in the late 1950s and was selected the greatest quarterback in the NFL’s first half century. But he missed the bulk of the 1968 season with a bad elbow — not that the Colts needed him. His replacement Earl Morrall became the NFL MVP. The Colts didn’t figure to need Unitas in the 1970 Super Bowl, either, as they were 18-point favorites over the AFL champion Jets. But with the Colts trailing 13-0 late in the third quarter, the greatest quarterback in NFL history trotted onto the field, creating a buzz from the sellout crowd at the Orange Bowl. But at 35 years of age with a tender elbow, the Hall of Fame magic wasn’t there. Unitas completed just 11 of 24 passes for 110 yards and an interception.
21. Timmy Smith’s first NFL start. Joe Gibbs shocked all when he sent the rookie Smith out of the tunnel in pre-game introductions as Washington’s starting halfback in the 1988 Super Bowl. Smith was a fifth-round draft pick who carried the ball only 29 times all season. But he carried it 22 times against Denver for a Super Bowl-record 204 yards and two touchdowns in Washington’s blowout victory.
22. William Perry TD. The 1985 Bears were all defense with an offensive novelty act — 340-pound defensive tackle “Refrigerator” Perry masquerading as a short-yardage blocking back for Walter Payton. Chicago’s 46 defense crushed New England 46-10 in the 1986 Super Bowl with seven sacks and six turnovers. Late in the third quarter, with the Bears already up 37-3, Mike Ditka sent Perry into the game on the goal line. But instead of blocking for Payton, he took a handoff from Jim McMahon and scored on a one-yard TD run.
23. Tracy Porter intercepts Peyton Manning. The underdog Saints were clinging to a 24-17 lead over the Colts late in the fourth quarter of the 2010 Super Bowl but Indy was on the move. Manning marched the Colts 39 yards in six plays in the no-huddle offense to the New Orleans 31. But on third-and-5 with 3:24 remaining, Porter jumped a slant route to Reggie Wayne and intercepted Manning, returning it 74 yards for the upset-clinching touchdown.
24. Jimmy Orr wide open. The Colts were 18-point favorites over the Jets in the 1969 Super Bowl but found themselves trailing 7-0. On the final play of the first half, from the New York 42, Colts QB Earl Morrall handed the ball off to Tom Matte, who promptly lateraled back to Morrall. The play suckered the New York defense and flanker Orr was wide open and waving his arms at Morrall at the Jets 10. But Morrall didn’t see him and instead threw to RB Jerry Hill across the middle. It was intercepted by Mike Hudson. The Colts never recovered in a 16-7 loss.
25. Jackie Smith drop. The Cowboys trailed the Steelers, 21-14, late in the third quarter of the 1979 Super Bowl. On third-and-3 from the Pittsburgh 10, Roger Staubach fired a pass into the chest of a sliding Smith — but the Hall of Fame tight end dropped it and the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal. The Steelers wound up winning by four points, 35-31.
26. Whitney Houston national anthem. The NFL parades celebrities out to sing the national anthem at Super Bowls. Diana Ross, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, Luther Vandross and Beyonce have all taken their turn at the microphone. But no rendition was quite as stirring as that of Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl. The U.S. was involved in the Persian Gulf war at the time and her booming voice struck an emotional, patriotic chord.
27. Adam Vinatieri game-winning FG vs St. Louis. The St. Louis Rams were 14-point favorites over New England in the 2002 Super Bowl. But Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal as time expired gave the Patriots a shocking 20-17 victory.
28. Joe Montana to John Taylor, game-winning TD. After Jim Breech gave Cincinnati a 16-13 lead with a 40-yard field goal in the 1989 Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers found themselves at their own 8 with 3:20 remaining. Montana promptly completed eight of nine passes for 97 yards, capping the drive with a 10-yard TD pass to Taylor with 34 seconds remaining for the victory.
29. Where’s my helmet? Thurman Thomas was the NFL MVP in 1991 when he led the AFC with 1,407 yards rushing. But he didn’t start in the Super Bowl for the Buffalo Bills. Kenneth Davis did. Sheepishly, Thomas misplaced his helmet in the bench area and the game started before he could find it.
30. Ray Guy one-handed stab on a punt. The greatest catch in Super Bowl history may not have come on a pass. It likely was Guy’s leaping, one-handed grab of an errant punt snap at midfield with the Raiders clinging to a 7-0 lead in the 1984 game against Washington. Guy landed, re-set himself and then launched a 42-yard punt.
31. John Elway whirlybird. Elway was the quarterback who couldn’t win the big game in the 1980s. But he punctuated his Hall of Fame career with an 8-yard scramble on third-and-6 late in the fourth quarter of the 1998 Super Bowl. He was hit by three Packers, spinning around in mid-air, but secured a first down at the Green Bay 4. That set up a touchdown in Elway’s first Super Bowl victory.
32. Bob Lilly 29-yard sack. There are sacks and there are sacks. Miami quarterback Bob Griese kept retreating to escape a relentless Dallas Doomsday defense on the final play of the first quarter in the 1972 Super Bowl. Lilly finally tracked him down at the Miami 9 for a Super Bowl-record 29-yard sack.
33. Adam Vinatieri game-winning FG vs Carolina. Once can be lucky but twice is skill. Two years after Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field at the gun to give the Patriots a 20-17 upset of the St. Louis Rams in the 2002 Super Bowl, he kicked a 41-yarder with four seconds remaining to lift New England to a 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers in the 2004 Super Bowl.
34. Joe Montana completes 13 in a row. The San Francisco 49ers led the Denver Broncos 14-3 midway through the second quarter when Montana went on a tear, completing 13 consecutive passes deep into the third quarter for 246 yards and three touchdowns to turn the game into a rout.
35. New Orleans’ onside kick. Trailing 10-6 at halftime of the 2010 game and needing to keep the ball out of NFL MVP Peyton Manning’s hands as much as possible, the Saints shocked the Colts by opening the third quarter with an onside kick. The Thomas Morstead kick banged off the hands of Hank Baskett into those of Chris Reis at the New Orleans 42. The Saints converted that turnover into a touchdown and went on to beat the Colts, 31-17.
36. Empty seats. On Nov. 26, 1966, a crowd of 88,520 gathered at the Los Angeles Coliseum to watch Southern Cal play No. 1 Notre Dame in a college football game. Seven weekends later, only 61,949 filled the same building to see the first true world championship game between the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs and NFL champion Green Bay Packers. That’s 26,574 empty seats at just $15 per ticket.
37. Leon Lett’s showboat. The 1992 Cowboys unleashed one of the greatest defensive showings in Super Bowl history, forcing eight fumbles, intercepting four passes and scoring two touchdowns. There should have been a third touchdown. Leading 52-17, Lett scooped up a Frank Reich fumble on a sack and raced 64 yards. But as he neared the goal line, Lett decided to showboat and lowered the ball with one hand to knee level — only to have Bills wide receiver Don Beebe swat it away for a fumble. The ball bounced through the end zone for a touchback and the Bills were awarded possession at their own 20.
38. Jim O’Brien FG. The 1971 game was among the most bizarre in Super Bowl annals. There were a combined 11 turnovers and a losing player (Chuck Howley) was selected the game MVP. But O’Brien delivered the Baltimore Colts a 16-13 victory over the Cowboys with a 32-yard field goal with five seconds left in regulation.
39. Helmet throw. A 29-yard sack isn’t the only Super Bowl record held by Cowboys Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly. After O’Brien kicked a field goal in overtime in that 1971 game to give the Colts a victory over the Cowboys, Lilly threw his helmet out of frustration 20-some yards.
40. Buddy Ryan’s stamp on the Super Bowl. The NFL’s best defense in 1985 showed why in the Super Bowl. Through the first 24 minutes, the Patriots ran 15 plays against Chicago’s 46 defense for a minus-26 yards. By then the Patriots were down 20-3 on the way to a 46-10 dismantling. Tony Eason was sacked three times and the Patriots lost two fumbles in those first 24 minutes. New England coach Raymond Berry finally yanked a rattled Eason midway through the second quarter after he failed to complete a pass in six tries, was sacked three more times and lost a fumble.
41. The night the lights went out. With 13:04 remaining in the third quarter of the 2013 Super Bowl and the Baltimore Ravens on top of the San Francisco 49ers, 28-6, the lights went out at the New Orleans Superdome. A power outage kept the building dark for half an hour. When the power and lights were restored, so were the NFC champions. The 49ers rallied to score 25 points over the next 18 minutes to cut the Baltimore lead to 31-29. But that’s as close as San Francisco could get. The Ravens survived both the 49ers and the power outage, 34-31.
42. Von Miller sack, strip of Cam Newton. NFL MVP Cam Newton dropped back to pass on Carolina’s sixth play of the 2016 game but Miller spun right tackle Michael Remmers like a turnstile on a speed rush, drilled Newton in the chest and ripped the football from his hands. The ball bounced a few yards into the end zone where Denver teammate Malik Jackson fell on it for a touchdown and a 10-0 Denver lead. That set the tone for a game dominated by Denver’s defense. Newton was sacked seven times and fumbled twice in a 24-10 Denver victory. Miller was the game’s MVP.
43. Devin Hester KR for touchdown. The annual photo op for the Super Bowl is the opening kickoff. Flash bulbs light up the stadium when the ball is kicked. The cameras continued to click and bulbs continued to flash when Chicago’s Hester ran back the opening kickoff an electric 92 yards for a touchdown against the Colts in the 2007 Super Bowl.
44. Halftime. The Super Bowl has come a long way since the Grambling State Marching Band appeared at the first two games. The halftime has become a show within a show with Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, the Rolling Stones, the Who and U2 all offering up mini-concerts to a world-wide television audience.
45. Desmond Howard kickoff return for a touchdown. Green Bay was a two-touchdown favorite over New England in the 1997 Super Bowl, but the Patriots were making a game of it with two first-quarter touchdowns. The Packers led 27-14 at half but the Bill Parcells Patriots believed they were still in it — until Green Bay’s Howard returned the third quarter kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
46. Steve Young/Jerry Rice TD pass. We all knew the 1995 Super Bowl game was going to be ugly. The 49ers routed the Chargers in San Diego in the regular season, 38-15, and were a whopping 18 ½-point favorite to thump the AFC champions in the rematch. Young hit Rice on a 44-yard post route on the third play of the game for a touchdown — and the rout was on. That connection between the two Hall of Famers defined San Francisco’s season. Rice finished with 10 catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-26 romp.
47. Larry Brown interception of Neil O’Donnell. The Steelers roared back from a 13-point third-quarter deficit to cut the Dallas lead to 20-17 in the fourth quarter in the 1996 Super Bowl. Pittsburgh got the ball back with 4:15 remaining at its own 32 — plenty of time to engineer a final game-winning drive. But O’Donnell overthrew a pass to Andre Hastings on second down and it was intercepted by Brown, who returned it 33 yards to the Pittsburgh 6 to preserve the victory. It was Brown’s second interception of the game on his way to MVP honors.
48. Ticket fiasco at Cowboys Stadium. The Super Bowl came to North Texas in 2011 but the NFL failed to complete temporary seating in time for the game, leaving 1,250 fans with a ticket but no seat. Some were moved to other seats, some to standing room and some watched the game on monitors. A class action suit was filed against the Cowboys and the NFL, giving North Texas a black eye as a Super Bowl host. The Cowboys were later dropped from the suit.
49. The Super Bowl goes cold. The Super Bowl is played every February but May 25, 2010 became a significant date in the game’s history. That’s the day the NFL awarded the 2014 Super Bowl to New York City. It marked the fifth time the game has been assigned to a northern city — but the first time it will be played outdoors. But game-time temperatures in the 40s made the day tolerable for both fans and players alike.
50. Steve Tasker blocks a punt. Having lost the previous two Super Bowls, the Buffalo Bills had an edge in big-game experience over the Cowboys in the 1993 Super Bowl. Dallas was the youngest team in the NFL that season and the franchise hadn’t been to a Super Bowl in 14 years. Youthful jitters showed up early when Buffalo special-teams ace Tasker blocked a Mike Saxon punt on the first Dallas possession of the game deep in the Cowboys’ end, setting up the first touchdown of the game. But the momentum was short-lived. The Bills were blown out, 52-17.