Over its 58-year history, the Super Bowl has created lasting memories.
There are endless moments to choose from, so narrowing things down to the 25 most memorable plays is no small feat.
When putting this list together, here are the criteria that helped determine the rankings:
- Winning Play: Did the play help lead the team to a victory?
- Athletic Accomplishment: How impressive was the actual athletic performance in the play?
- Historic: Was the play the first of its kind, or did it spark a historic run?
- Iconic: Is the key moment etched in our minds forever?
Not every play on this list fits every category. The more criteria they hit, the higher the ranking.
There are a lot of great plays that didn’t quite make the cut, so we stuck with winning plays.
Without further ado, here are the 25 most memorable plays in Super Bowl History.
25. Seahawks safety on the first play (Super Bowl XLVIII)
The Seattle Seahawks were known for defense during the 2013 NFL season, but they would make Super Bowl history without doing much on Feb. 2, 2014. On the first play from scrimmage at the Denver Broncos’ 16-yard line, Peyton Manning came out in a shotgun formation and started to approach the offensive line to adjust the play, only to see center Manny Ramirez snap the ball over his head. The ball proceeded to go into the end zone, where Knowshon Moreno pushed it out of bounds. That gave Seattle a safety and was the fastest score in Super Bowl history, as the Seahawks went up 2-0 just 12 seconds into the game. It was a sign of things to come, as Seattle dominated Denver, 43-8, in Super Bowl XLVIII.
24. Randle El dials up his college days (Super Bowl XL)
One of the more underrated plays in Super Bowl history came in Detroit in 2006. Up 14-10 in the fourth quarter, the Pittsburgh Steelers were looking for a dagger to put away the Seattle Seahawks. That’s when Bill Cowher pulled a little trick out of his sleeve. At the Seattle 43-yard line, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger pitched the ball to running back Willie Parker, who then pitched it to Antwaan Randle El, going in the opposite direction. Instead of running a reverse, Randle El turned to his college days, where he was quarterback at Indiana University. While on the run, Randle El delivered a perfect toss to Hines Ward that hit him in stride for a 43-yard touchdown. The trick play put Pittsburgh up 21-10, which was the game’s final score.
23. Desmond Howard’s kick return (Super Bowl XXXI)
It’s not often we’ve seen Heisman Trophy winners go on to shine in the Super Bowl. Desmond Howard is one of the few exceptions. Even more surprising is the standout Michigan receiver won Super Bowl MVP as a kick returner for the Green Bay Packers. After the New England Patriots scored a touchdown in the third quarter to cut Green Bay’s lead to 27-21, Howard took the ensuing kickoff at the 1-yard line. He then bolted the middle of the field for a 99-yard touchdown. Just before entering the end zone, Howard began a flawless robot dance as part of his TD celebration. Howard finished with 154 kick return yards and 90 punt return yards to be named MVP in Green Bay’s 35-21 victory.
22. Unitas finds the right tipping point (Super Bowl V)
In a Super Bowl that saw the Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys combine for 11 turnovers, the game still had one very memorable play. With the Colts trailing 6-0 in the second quarter, Johnny Unitas threw a pass intended for Eddie Hinton. The pass was high and deflected off Hinton’s hands and then narrowly hit the hands of Dallas’ Mel Renfro before finding its way to Baltimore tight end John Mackey. Mackey then took the ball 75 yards for a touchdown. Back in 1971, if an offensive player tipped a pass, it couldn’t be caught by a teammate and ruled a completion. The only exception is if a defensive player touches the ball between them. The ball narrowly touching Renfro allowed Mackey to legally catch it and score. Crazy times.
21. Jacoby Jones records longest TD (Super Bowl XLVII)
There’s only so far you can go on a football field, and Jacoby Jones pushed that to the limit when the Baltimore Ravens faced the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. Jones received the second half’s opening kickoff deep in the end zone, just shy of the back out-of-bounds line. While some may have expected Jones to kneel, he decided to go for it. After withstanding a few bumps early, Jones found daylight and ran 108 yards for the touchdown. That put Baltimore ahead 28-6, and the Ravens went on to hold off the 49ers for a 34-31 victory. To this day, Jones still holds the record for the longest TD in Super Bowl history.
20. Jermaine Lewis completes TD trifecta (Super Bowl XXXV)
The Baltimore Ravens largely dominated the New York Giants in 2001. Baltimore won 34-7, with the game rarely in doubt. However, the game presented history as three touchdowns were scored on consecutive plays. The first came when Baltimore’s Duane Starks intercepted Kerry Collins and returned it 49 yards for a score. On the ensuing kickoff, New York’s Ron Dixon managed to go 97 yards for the Giants’ lone touchdown of the game. Not to be outdone, Baltimore’s Jermaine Lewis ended a possible comeback on the following kickoff, catching a short kick and returning it 84 yards for another touchdown. Three touchdowns in 36 seconds of play. Good luck trying to repeat that.
19. Wide Right (Super Bowl XXV)
The Super Bowl history of the Buffalo Bills is something most Bills fans would prefer to forget. Unfortunately, that history started with arguably the most painful loss, 20-19, to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV. The Bills led twice in the game, including in the fourth quarter. However, a Matt Bahr 21-yard field goal with eight minutes to play put the Giants up by the final score. Still, Buffalo had its chance, going on a lengthy drive in the closing minutes before getting to the New York 29-yard line with eight seconds on the clock. Buffalo trotted out Scott Norwood for the potential game-winning kick. Norwood faced a 47-yard kick with the Super Bowl on the line. What resulted is simply remembered as “Wide Right.” Norwood’s kick immediately pushed right and never had a chance, sailing just as the title says. That loss would be the first of four consecutive Super Bowl losses for the Bills.
18. Tracy Porter’s pick-six seals Saints’ win (Super Bowl XLIV)
An interception for a touchdown is always big. Getting one off Peyton Manning is even bigger. Taking that interception to seal a Super Bowl victory is the biggest. New Orleans’ Tracy Porter did just that in Miami. With the Saints leading the Colts 24-17 in the closing minutes, Manning was trying to rally his team to a game-tying TD drive. Instead, he got baited into a trap by Porter, who picked off the pass intended for Reggie Wayne and went 74 yards untouched for the score to put Super Bowl XLIV out of reach for Indy.
17. Manningham’s sideline catch (Super Bowl XLVI)
Few teams had an answer for the New England Patriots during their dynasty, but the New York Giants certainly did. That answer seemed to include miraculous fourth-quarter catches. In their second Super Bowl meeting, the Giants got the ball with under four minutes to play, trailing 17-15. Starting at their own 12-yard line, the Giants needed a big play. They got it when Eli Manning hurled a pass to the left sideline that narrowly weaved through two New England defenders and found Mario Manningham, who got two feet down despite taking a big hit in the process. The 38-yard catch was the spark the Giants needed for the game-winning drive to defeat the Patriots for the second time in a Super Bowl.
16. Riggins’ 4th down run (Super Bowl XVII)
With the Washington Redskins trailing the Miami Dolphins 16-13 in the fourth quarter, Washington found itself facing 4th-and-1 at the Miami 43-yard line. Joe Gibbs had a decision to make, and he decided to give the ball to his powerful running back, John Riggins. Riggins fought off a defender near the line of scrimmage, then took the ball 43 yards for what was a Super Bowl record for longest rushing touchdown at the time. That put Washington ahead 20-16 and it would go on to win 27-16 behind 166 rushing yards from Riggins.
15. Von Miller dominates Carolina (Super Bowl 50)
The Denver Broncos had a dominant defensive performance in a 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers during this milestone Super Bowl. The highlight of that performance came midway through the first quarter. With Carolina at its 15-yard line and facing 3rd and 10, Denver’s Von Miller stormed past the Carolina offensive line and got to Cam Newton, forcing the football loose and back into the end zone. From there, Malik Jackson recovered it for a touchdown to put the Broncos up 10-0. Miller finished with six tackles and 2.5 sacks to earn MVP honors.
14. Mahomes finds Hardman in OT (Super Bowl LVIII)
The recency of this play could see it move up in the list over time, but Sunday’s game-winning play deserves its spot. The Kansas City Chiefs won a second-consecutive Super Bowl, topping the San Francisco 49ers when Patrick Mahomes hit Mecole Hardman on a 3-yard score on first and goal after nearly 75 minutes of play. After a 19-19 tie in regulation, the 49ers took a 22-19 lead to open overtime. Mahomes and the Chiefs then marched 75 yards in response to win the game, with Hardman being the unlikely hero after beginning the season with the New York Jets. His game-winning touchdown marked the first time in Super Bowl history that two scores were recorded in an overtime.
13. Lynn Swann’s acrobatics (Super Bowl X)
Younger generations may not be as familiar with Lynn Swann, but the former Pittsburgh Steeler has some of the best catches in NFL history. Perhaps his greatest came in Super Bowl X against the Dallas Cowboys. Pittsburgh trailed Dallas 10-7 and had the ball at their 10-yard line, facing a 3rd and six. Bradshaw, well protected, threw a deep bomb to Swann who was covered tightly by Dallas’ Mark Washington. Both went up for the ball, with Swann getting above Washington. Both men got their hands on the ball, forcing it back into the air. As Swann fell to the ground, he brought the ball in and finished the catch for a 53-yard gain. It was part of a four-catch, 161-yard performance for Swann that included a 64-yard TD. His spectacular catches led Pittsburgh to a 21-17 victory over Dallas.
12. Saints recover onside kick (Super Bowl XLIV)
In need of a little spark to start the second half of Super Bowl XLIV against the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans coach Sean Payton decided to gamble. Thomas Morestead lined up the Saints for the second-half kickoff. But, to the Colts’ surprise, Morestead made an onside kick to the left side of the field. Indianapolis’ Hank Baskett attempted to recover the ball, but it deflected off him into a mad pile-up for the ball. Ultimately, Jonathan Casillas came away with the ball for the Saints, a huge momentum swing. New Orleans would go on to score a TD on the possession and outscore the Colts 25-7 in the second half to win the Super Bowl, 31-17.
11. Marcus Allen eludes Washington (Super Bowl XVIII)
Marcus Allen is one of the all-time great running backs, and his shining moment came against the Washington Redskins in 1984. Already with one TD run to his credit, Allen sealed the Super Bowl win for the L.A. Raiders on his second score in the third quarter. Taking the handoff and heading left, Allen was met by a pair of Washington defenders. He quickly looped his way back to the middle of the line, found a hole, and turned on the jets. Allen ran 74 yards for a score to cap off a 191-yard performance and a 38-9 for the Los Angeles Raiders.
10. Julian Edelman’s juggle catch in historic comeback (Super Bowl LI)
It takes a lot of big plays to complete a 28-3 comeback in the second half of a Super Bowl. Julian Edelman’s tantalizing catch gets the top marks in this case. Trailing the Atlanta Falcons 28-3 midway through the third quarter, the New England Patriots staged the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. Part of that comeback saw Tom Brady connect with Edelman on an incredible 23-yard pass. The Pats were down 28-20 with 2:28 to play, looking to tie the game. Brady fired a pass down the middle of the field that was tipped by Atlanta’s Robert Alford and popped into the air. From there, Edelman dove for the ball and managed to secure it after it bounced off the leg of Alford, using the arm of Atlanta’s Ricardo Allen, who was also diving for the ball, to keep it from hitting the ground. The ball then popped up in the air briefly, but Edelman was quick enough to get his hand under it and make a legal—and very improbable—catch. New England scored four plays later to tie the game and then won in overtime, 34-28.
9. Montana hits Taylor for third title (Super Bowl XXIII)
Joe Montana had many memorable Super Bowl throws, but perhaps his biggest came in 1989 against the Cincinnati Bengals. San Francisco trailed 16-13 with 39 seconds to play at the Cincinnati 10-yard line. The Bengals likely expected Montana to look to Jerry Rice, who already caught 11 passes for 215 yards. Instead, Montana weaved the ball between a pair of Cincinnati defenders into the hands of John Taylor for the game-winning touchdown. It was Taylor’s only catch of the game but secured San Francisco’s third Super Bowl in eight seasons. The 49ers would also go on to win the Super Bowl the following year.
8. Adam Vinatieri kicks off a dynasty (Super Bowl XXXVI)
On paper, it’s just a 48-yard field goal. But in reality, it’s much, much more. Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal to give the New England Patriots their first Super Bowl win proved to be a moment in history. With just 90 seconds on the clock, after the St. Louis Rams tied the game 17-17, not many expected the Patriots to be able to rally for a game-winning score. Second-year quarterback Tom Brady would complete five passes to get the Patriots into position for Vinatieri, who kicked a no-doubter as Patriot players stormed the field. The field goal would be the first of three Super Bowl titles in four seasons and the first of six eventually won by Brady and head coach Bill Belichick as a partnership. Vinatieri won four Super Bowls in his career, also kicking the game-winner in New England’s Super Bowl XXXVIII win over the Carolina Panthers.
7. James Harrison’s 100-yard pick-six (Super Bowl XLIII)
This isn’t the only play from Super Bowl XLIII to make the list. While it wasn’t a game-winning play, James Harrison certainly left us all with a lasting memory. Pittsburgh led 10-7 against Arizona with seconds left in the game’s opening half. The Cardinals were at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line. Without a timeout available, Arizona had to throw. Kurt Warner tried to get the ball to Anquan Boldin, but Pittsburgh’s James Harrison dropped back in coverage and intercepted the pass. The fun was just beginning from there. Led by a slew of blockers, Harrison stumbled and bumbled his way down the field but managed to stay in bounds and go a record 100 yards for a touchdown, being tackled in the end zone by Larry Fitzgerald at the end. Harrison was understandably out of breath, but his play was a 14-point swing in a game that was decided by four points. Pittsburgh went up 17-7 with the score and won the game 27-23.
6. The Elway-Copter (Super Bowl XXXII)
Tied 17-17 in the third quarter with the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway knew this could be his last chance to solidify his career. Facing 3rd-and-6 from the Green Bay 12-yard line, Elway couldn’t find an open receiver and decided to go for the first down on his legs. Looking like he could be stopped shy of the first down, Elway launched in the air, taking a big hit from a trio of Packers that memorably spun Elway’s body around 180 degrees. Elway got the first down, let out a big fist pump, and Denver went on to get a go-ahead touchdown. The Broncos eventually won 31-24 to give Elway his first Super Bowl championship.
5. Philly Special (Super Bowl LII)
In order for the Philadelphia Eagles to win their first Super Bowl, they used a little trickery against the New England Patriots. Leading 15-12 with 38 seconds remaining in the first half, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Coach Doug Pederson decided to pull out the ace in his sleeve, “Philly Special.” Quarterback Nick Foles lined up in shotgun formation but then moved behind the right tackle. The ball was then snapped to running back Corey Clement, who pitched the ball to tight end Trey Burton for what appeared to be a reverse. Burton then threw the ball to a wide-open Foles in the end zone for the touchdown. It was a flawlessly executed play with perfect timing, putting the Eagles up 22-12. Philly would go on to win 41-33. If not for “Philly Special,” the Eagles may not have gotten that elusive first Super Bowl.
4. Stopped a yard short (Super Bowl XXXIV)
The Tennessee Titans needed ten yards but could only come up with nine. Trailing 23-16 to the St. Louis Rams, the Titans had the ball at the Rams 10-yard line with five seconds to go and no timeouts. Titans quarterback Steve McNair took a shotgun snap and hit receiver Kevin Dyson on a slant pass that he caught at the 4-yard line. Dyson had a window to get to the end zone, but St. Louis’ Mike Jones made a diving tackle that left Dyson a yard short, and the game was over. The image of Dyson extending his arm and the ball being well short of the end zone is one of the most memorable in Super Bowl history.
3. Santonio Holmes toe-tapper for the win (Super Bowl XLIII)
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals played one of the most memorable Super Bowls in history back in 2009. With 2:37 to play in the game, the Cardinals took their first lead to go up 23-20. Pittsburgh had to drive the field in order to win, and Ben Roethlisberger did just that. He connected with Santonio Holmes four times for 73 yards, but none were bigger than the final six. On 2nd -and-goal from the Arizona 6-yard line with 43 seconds to play, Roethlisberger had plenty of time to throw and eventually hurled the ball to the back corner of the end zone. The ball managed to loft over three Arizona defenders and into the hands of Holmes, who narrowly tapped both feed inbounds for the game-winning touchdown catch, all while taking a big hit. If you had to attempt the same throw and catch 100 times, I’m not sure it could be done again. Pittsburgh won the game 27-23 for its sixth Super Bowl title in franchise history.
2. Malcolm Butler’s game-winning INT (Super Bowl XLIX)
Through all the great moments in the history of the Patriots’ dynasty, none may have been more surprising than Malcolm Butler’s interception to lock up Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks. With New England leading 28-24, Seattle just completed the improbable 33-yard pass from Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse. That put Seattle at the New England 5-yard line with about a minute to play. The Seahawks, still with a time-out, ran the ball with Marshawn Lynch on the next play. He got to the 1-yard line. Instead of giving Lynch another crack at scoring, Wilson dropped back to pass on the next play and tried to throw a slant pass to Ricardo Lockette. Instead, Butler cut off the route and intercepted the pass in the end zone to lock up New England’s fourth championship with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. It would be their first Super Bowl in ten seasons.
1. The Helmet Catch (Super Bowl XLII)
There are few plays that all sports fans recognize with a simple phrase, but when you say “The Helmet Catch,” everyone knows just what you are talking about. Facing unbeaten New England, the New York Giants found themselves trailing 14-10 with 1:15 to play at their own 44-yard line. Eli Manning dropped back to pass and looked certain to get sacked, as three different Patriots grabbed him at one point. But Manning escaped and then threw back across his body to the middle of the field. David Tyree jumped up for the ball along with New England’s Rodney Harrison. At first, it looked like Tyree couldn’t possibly make that catch. However, reviews showed what the refs saw: Tyree pinned the ball with one hand against his head while falling, then managed to keep the ball from hitting the ground for a completed catch. It was a 32-yard catch that set up the game-winning touchdown pass moments later, and the Giants defeated the Patriots 17-14. There’s no more memorable play than that one; its name is forever in the lexicon of sports fans everywhere.