From the Immaculate Reception to David Tyree's helmet catch, the editors of Men's Health have selected the most clutch and memorable plays in NFL history.

The 25 Best NFL Moments Ever Slideshow


25. The Ghost to the Post

It's third-and-long for the Raiders on their 44-yard line, trailing the Colts by a field goal with two minutes to play in the 1977 AFC playoffs. Oakland offensive coordinator Tom Flores calls a pass play, but instructs his quarterback to take a peek at the Ghost to the post. Big tight end Dave "The Ghost" Casper lines up on the right side, set to run a post route downfield to the left upright. Seeing that Baltimore’s coverage scheme will prevent Casper from reaching the left post as intended, Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler lofts the ball toward the right side of the end zone. Casper -- who has already notched two touchdown catches in the game -- finds the ball mid-air and adjusts his route and makes a twisting basket catch over his head while splitting two defenders. His impressive catch sets up Oakland’s game-tying field goal, pushing the game into overtime. Stabler and Casper will again connect for the game-winning touchdown, advancing past Baltimore, 37-31. "This was one of the most exciting NFL postseason games ever," says football historian Jim Gigglioti. Whether in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50+, you can still Live Great at Any Age.


24. The Clock Play

The Dolphins, trailing the Jets, 24-6, with just a few minutes left in the third quarter of their 1994 regular-season meeting, are desperately trying to play catch-up. And with Dan Marino at the helm of the Miami offense, both teams know anything is possible. Already renowned for his fourth-quarter comebacks, Marino throws two touchdown passes to bring the Dolphins within three points of the reeling Jets. With just 30 seconds remaining in the game and the clock ticking, the ball rests on the Jets' 8-yard line. Marino rushes to the line of scrimmage, and motions that he's going to spike the ball to stop the clock. Instead, he takes the snap and zips a pass toward a streaking Mark Ingram, who catches the ball in the front corner of the end zone ahead of a befuddled Jets defender. "No one had ever attempted that," says Herm Edwards, ESPN NFL analyst and former NFL head coach, of Marino's fake spike. "It caught the defense off-guard because it was totally unexpected."


23. A Sea Of Hands

The score between the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders has seesawed back and forth throughout most of their 1974 AFC playoff game. And now, with just two minutes to play, Miami leads, 26-21. Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler knows his team has just one more shot to win the game and, after leading the Raiders down the field, the ball sits 8 yards from the end zone with just 35 seconds to play. On first and goal, Stabler rolls left, but is tripped up by a Dolphin defender. As he falls to the turf, the Raiders quarterback floats a prayer toward Clarence Davis, who is surrounded by Miami defenders in the end zone. As Davis leaps for the ball, so do two Dolphins. All three players get their hands on the ball, but it's Davis who manages to wrestle it away for the winning score. “It was a miracle that Clarence Davis was able to make that catch surrounded by opposing players," says Ken Crippen, executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. (NFL and college players are bigger and faster than ever ... but at what cost to their bodies? Follow the Evolution of the Football Player.)


22. The Catch II

On Jan. 3, 1998, the 49ers trail, 27-23, to the Packers, a team that has beaten them three straight times in the playoffs. Winning is a tall task, especially since the Niners must go 76 yards with less than two minutes in the game. After driving to the Packers' 25-yard line with only 8 seconds remaining, quarterback Steve Young croses up the Pack. Instead of throwing to all-time great Jerry Rice, he looks for his young receiver, Terrell Owens. Young stumbles out of the pocket, recovers, and somehow finds Owens between several Green Bay defenders for the winning score. "It was a seemingly impossible catch-and-throw that threaded the needle between a trio of Packers' defenders," says Jim Gigglioti. "In San Francisco, they immediately began calling it ‘The Catch II.'" (Drew Brees is a champion because he thinks and acts like a winner, both on and off the football field. Learn the Success Secrets from a NFL MVP.)


21. Wide Right

Scott Norwood is sometimes compared to baseball's Bill Buckner. Both are blamed for costing their teams a championship. And while Buckner's was the more egregious -- the ball went through his legs -- Norwood's was never redeemed, as it marked the start of the Bills' four-year run of Super Bowl defeats. With just eight seconds remaining in Super Bowl XXV and the Bills trailing the Giants, 20-19, Buffalo head coach Marv Levy sends Norwood out to kick a 47-yard field goal. Norwood had been 1 for 5 from 40-plus yards on natural grass that season. So while it shouldn’t be a major shock that Norwood pushes the ball wide right, he goes into history as the goat. The Bills will never get closer to victory in any of their following three Super Bowls. "One kick left a legacy for so many men," says ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. "But if that kick had just been slightly more accurate, the Bills would be discussed as one of the greatest teams in NFL history." (See how even the world's greatest athletes use failure as motivation, discover the Upside of Failure.)


20. Payton's Crazy Call

As the second half of Super Bowl XLVI is about to get under way, the New Orleans Saints trail the Indianapolis Colts, 10-6. Most think Indianapolis is destined to win its second Super Bowl in four years, and Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning is ready to lead his offense back onto the field. New Orleans lines up in a normal kickoff formation, but coach Sean Payton has trickery on his mind. The Saints successfully execute an onsides kick that catches the Colts completely off guard. The Saints go on to score on that drive, and eventually win the game, 31-17. "It's the gutsiest call in Super Bowl history,” says former NFL head coach and ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden. "No one possibly expected them to do an onside kick to start the second half of the Super Bowl in a tight game. No way. The idea of doing that sounds good when you’re joking around with your buddies, but you just don't do that." (Build the world's best workout ever with 10-Minute Torchers From Men's Health. Mix and match dozens of 10-minute routines for a seemingly endless variety of workouts.)


19. Dempsey Goes the Distance

With just two seconds left on the clock, the New Orleans Saints trail the Detroit Lions, 17-16, in front of a packed crowd at the Big Easy’s Tulane Stadium in 1970. The Saints call on their placekicker, Tom Dempsey, to win the game with what will be the longest completed field goal in NFL history -- 63 yards. Dempsey is known for his clubbed kicking foot -- a birth deformity that some say is an unfair advantage. But Dempsey has never attempted a field goal of this length. The current record for the longest kick is 56 yards, but the tension in the air is palpable, as both teams and their fans know Dempsey is capable of miraculous things. As he steps forward and strikes the pigskin, everyone can tell Dempsey’s kick has a shot. The ball spins end over end, and clears the goal post by mere inches. One referee jumps in the air as he signals that the record-smashing kick is good. Though Dempsey’s record distance will be matched three times in the future (Jason Elam, Sebastian Janikowski, David Akers), the Saints kicker is the first to reach the mark, "and he's the only one to do it with half a kicking foot," says Jim Buckley, editor of NFL Magazine.


18. The Drive and John Elway

With just 5:02 left to play in the 1987 AFC Championship Game, the Denver Broncos trail the Cleveland Browns, 20-13. A young quarterback named John Elway is at the helm of the Denver offense, and is hoping to somehow drive his team 98 yards for the tying score. Mixing in short passes, runs, and mid-range throws, Elway methodically marches the Broncos down the field, overcoming an 8-yard sack as he battles the dwindling game clock. With just 39 seconds left to play, Elway hits Mark Jackson for a 5-yard touchdown pass, capping what is now referred to as The Drive. "It's what everyone thinks of now when they think of Elway," says Ray Didinger, award-winning sportswriter and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Broncos kick a field goal to win in overtime, and Elway cements his reputation as one of the game's all-time clutch performers.


17. Elway's Dive

As legendary as he is for his otherworldly stats and clutch play in big games, Broncos quarterback John Elway has a chorus of doubters in 1997. Why? Because he’s walked away from the three Super Bowls he’s played in without a ring. With Denver facing dominant Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII, the 37-year-old Elway is on his last legs -- but he's still got some fight left in him. Late in the third quarter of the game, with the score tied up at 17, Elway makes one of the gutsiest plays ever by a quarterback. On third-and-6, Elway drops back and scans the field for an open receiver. None in sight, he takes off for the first by himself. While 99 percent of NFL quarterbacks -- especially ones in the twilight of their career -- might slide in the situation, Elway knows that the only way he’ll get the first down is to dive. And he does -- headfirst -- while the three Green Bay defenders that hit him simultaneously spin him like a top. Denver goes on to score a touchdown and, later, win the game. "John Elway's spinning helicopter play in the Super Bowl exorcized all those demons of the past that he wasn’t able to win it all," says Jon Gruden. "The reckless, gotta-have-it desire to be a champion put an exclamation point on Elway's Hall-of-Fame career."


16. Leon's Big Bowl Blunder

Far behind the Dallas Cowboys, 52-17, late in Super Bowl XXVII, the Buffalo Bills know their chances of victory nill. But in an attempt to make the final score less onesided, the Bills elect to go for it on fourth-and-6 from the Cowboys’ 30-yard line. After avoiding a few defenders, Buffalo quarterback Frank Reich is stripped on the play, and Dallas’s Pro Bowl defensive tackle Leon Lett scoops up the ball and rumbles toward the Buffalo end zone. It appears that Lett will score easily, but just before he crosses the goal line, the Cowboy defenseman begins to dance and point toward the crowd. The showboating and poor sportsmanship allows Bills wide receiver Don Beebe enough time to catch Lett and knock the ball away. The football rolls out of bounds in the end zone, resulting in a touchback for Buffalo on the 20-yard line. For Beebe, "it's an amazing example of an athlete never giving up, no matter what the odds or the score,” says Jim Buckley, editor of NFL Magazine. For Lett, it’s one of the most memorable blunders in Super Bowl history.


15. Harrison Runs Home

With just 17 seconds left in the first half of Super Bowl XLIII, the Arizona Cardinals are on the doorstep of the Pittsburgh Steelers' end zone. The score is 10-7 in favor of the Steelers, and it's first-and-goal from the 2-yard line as quarterback Kurt Warner takes the snap from a shotgun formation. He tries to hit wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a slant route in the end zone, but fearsome Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison steps in front of Fitzgerald and intercepts the pass. With a convoy of blockers, Harrison starts bounding down the sideline toward Arizona's end zone. Although Warner, Fitzgerald, and a handful of other Cardinals have a good shot at tackling the 242-pound Harrison, he manages to slip, bull, and juke his way past all of them and into the end zone as the half expires. "It was the longest interception runback in Super Bowl history -- and by a linebacker at that,” recalls Jarrett Bell, football writer for USA Today. "Sometimes, I think Harrison is still running.”


14. Swann's Super Catch

By the time the Steelers defeat the Cowboys in Super Bowl X, Lynn Swann’s MVP trophy is all but inevitable. The receiver hauls in four balls for 161 yards -- including one that will resonate more than four decades later. Late in the second quarter from Pittsburgh’s own 10, quarterback Terry Bradshaw hurls a 53-yard pass to Swann down the middle of the field. Swann dives, juggles, and hauls in the pass while falling down with Cowboys cornerback Mark Washington holding on to him. Even though the acrobatic grab ultimately has little to do with the outcome of Super Bowl X (the Steelers miss the ensuing field-goal try), it still shines as the best example of Swann's dazzling athleticism. "There's not another player from my childhood that was replayed and imitated more in backyard football games,” says Adam Schefter, an ESPN reporter on the NFL. "How many times was I or one of my childhood buddies diving for a football, juggling it and trying to pull it down the way Lynn Swann did?”


13. Vinatieri's Clutch Kick

In the final game at New England's Foxboro Stadium, in a crucial AFC playoff matchup, all hope seems lost for the home team. It appears that Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson has forced a Tom Brady fumble to seal an Oakland victory. But after much deliberation, officials cite the obscure "Tuck Rule" and determine that Brady didn't fumble after all, but instead threw an incomplete pass. The Pats subsequently drive into field-goal range with new life, and with less than a minute remaining in regulation, kicker Adam Vinatieri knocks home a 45-yard field goal on the snow- and ice-covered ground to tie the game, 13-13. The Patriots win in overtime, and ultimately win the Super Bowl. "Nobody has ever kicked a longer field goal in such miserable conditions," says Adam Schefter. Adds his colleague Chris Berman: “It’s the single greatest kick in the history of football."


12. The Ice Bowl Sneak

It's just a 1-yard touchdown. Nothing special. A wedge run to the right with a quarterback keeper. An absolutely ordinary play. But on this day, on this field, it becomes a play that defines an entire organization. It's the 1967 NFL Championship Game at Lambeau Field to determine who will face the AFL champ in Super Bowl II. In a game that will come to be called the Ice Bowl, the Packers and Cowboys battle each other and the elements to decide a winner. The thermometer reads 15 degrees below zero and the field is a frozen, slippery mess, but neither team backs down. In a truly epic struggle, both teams battle back and forth until the game comes down to the Packers’ final drive. Green Bay successfully moves the ball all the way down to the Dallas 1-yard line and is promptly stuffed on two consecutive runs. Facing third-and-goal, Packers quarterback Bart Starr calls his own number and follows his center and right guard into the end zone -- and the record books. “Starr's run in the Ice Bowl ended an era,” says Chris Berman, ESPN anchor and host of Sunday NFL Countdown. "Yes, the Packers won the Super Bowl two weeks later, but it was the end of the Lombardi era. It punctuated everything they had done and stood for, and it was their fifth championship in seven years. That one-yard run was just so momentous because the next year Lombardi wasn’t there and the old guys were gone, and that was their last gasp."


11. The Holy Roller

Since 1968, the Oakland Raiders haven’t lost to their divisional foe, the San Diego Chargers. But after finally breaking the streak in their second meeting of the 1977 season, the Chargers seem ready to start their own win streak as they lead the Raiders, 20-14, with just 10 seconds left on the clock during their first meeting of the ‘78 season. Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler appears to have no options as several Charger defenders swarm him. But Stabler fumbles the football forward and out of immediate danger. Another Raider manages to reach the ball first, and as the Chargers wrap him up, he too fumbles the football farther up the field ... where a third Raider, Dave Casper, falls onto it in the end zone. Oakland wins the game following its successful extra-point attempt. “That play changed the way the game was officiated because you were no longer allowed to advance the ball to your own teammate on a fumble,” says former NFL head coach Jon Gruden.


10. Big Ben's Last-Ditch Dagger

It seems like the Cardinals' night has finally arrived. One of only a handful of NFL franchises without a Super Bowl title, the 9-7 squad rides the "Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald" wave all the way to a 23-20 lead with barely more than two minutes left in Super Bowl XLIII. But "Big" Ben Roethlisberger is not to be denied. The Steelers quarterback moves his team 72 yards down the field with relative ease before connecting with the evening's hottest receiver, Santonio Holmes. Holmes makes the touchdown grab on his tiptoes in the very back corner of Pittsburgh's end zone, somehow landing both feet in bounds. After a booth review, the call stands -- and one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever comes to a dramatic conclusion. "That was Ben Roethlisberger at his best. He made two or three insane scramble plays to put the Steelers in range. Then he stuck the dagger in 'em," says Jon Gruden. Click here to view all 50 of the Greatest NFL Moments of All Time.


9. The Tuck Rule

On a snowy winter night in Foxborough, Massachusetts, referee Walt Coleman issues perhaps the most famous (or infamous) declaration of an incomplete pass in NFL history. With less than two minutes remaining in the 2002 AFC Divisional Championship Game, Oakland holds a 13-10 lead over New England. The Raiders seemingly seal their victory after hard-hitting cornerback Charles Woodson sacks Pats quarterback Tom Brady, causing a fumble that Oakland recovers. But Coleman reviews the play and determines that Brady’s arm was moving forward into a “tuck,” which technically constitutes an incomplete pass. The reversed call propels New England’s dynasty, which -- a decade, four conference championships, and three Super Bowl championships later -- continues today. “Without it, the Raiders very well might have another Super Bowl title and the Patriots might not have launched the run that resulted in three Super Bowls,” says Adam Schefter, the NFL Insider for ESPN.


8. The Hail Mary

Trailing with next-to-no time left, Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach must save the Cowboys' 1975 season in a divisional round playoff game against the Vikings. So he turns to a higher power: Staubach throws the ball up in desperation toward his go-to receiver, Drew Pearson. Knocked to the ground, the quarterback can’t see Pearson haul in the catch for a miraculous, game-winning touchdown. But his postgame reaction says it all: “I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary,” he tells reporters. With his holy admission, he coins a term that's now synonymous with big-time plays. "Staubach introduced 'Hail Mary pass’ to the American lexicon," says Ray Didinger, an award-winning sportswriter and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


7. One Yard Short

With six seconds left on the clock in Super Bowl XXXIV, the Tennessee Titans have called their final timeout. The ball rests at the St. Louis Rams’ 10-yard line. The Rams lead, 23-16, and Titans coach Jeff Fisher knows his team likely has only one shot at tying the game. “A couple of yards separated the Rams and Titans from a world title,” recounts Adam Schefter. Hoping to lure the St. Louis defenders away from wide receiver Kevin Dyson, Tennessee sends tight end Frank Wycheck sprinting toward the back of the end zone. The ploy seems to work, and Titans quarterback Steve McNair hits a wide-open Dyson at the 5-yard line. But, as Dyson makes the catch, Rams linebacker Mike Jones dashes up to hit Dyson near the 2-yard line. Dyson and Jones fall together while the wide receiver extends his right arm -- and the football -- toward the goal line. The ball is less than a yard short as Dyson's body hits the turf, and the clock -- and the Titans' title hopes -- run out. "It's the single-most exciting last play of any Super Bowl,” Schefter says.


6. The Miracle at the Meadowlands

Two-thirds of the way into the 1978 season, the Eagles head to Giants Stadium at New Jersey's Meadowlands Sports Complex to face their archrivals in an important division matchup. The Giants take control of the game early on the strength of two touchdown passes by quarterback Joe Pisarcik. One of those passes burns Eagles cornerback Herm Edwards. The Eagles rally, but trail, 17-12, with less than a minute to go in the game. With Philly out of timeouts, the Giants need simply to run out the clock. As the TV audience at home watches the credits roll over the screen, Pisarcik takes the snap and botches a handoff to fullback Larry Csonka. The ball hits the turf and Edwards picks it up on one hop at the Giant 27 and hustles all the way into the end zone with the game-winning score. Says Edwards, now an ESPN NFL analyst: “That was nothing that you could ever draw up. When opportunity knocks, you better be ready. That time it just happened to be me, so I scooped up the ball and ran with it.”


5. The Horse Rides Home

The Baltimore Colts and New York Giants are in an epic struggle for the NFL Championship at Yankee Stadium in 1958. After trailing for most of the game, the Giants go up by three points early in the fourth quarter. New York is able to keep Baltimore from scoring on its next two drives, and with just over two minutes to go, the G-Men need just one more first down to secure a victory. But Frank Gifford's run is short and the Colts get the ball back, setting up a miraculous game-tying drive by Johnny Unitas. What follows is the first sudden-death overtime game in pro football playoff history. The Giants win the toss and get the ball, but the Colts hold them. Unitas and company pick up where they left off in regulation, picking apart New York's defense. Facing a third-and-goal from the 1, Colts running back Alan “The Horse” Ameche gallops into the end zone for the win. The thrilling finish earns the match the title of “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” and for good reason: Ameche’s run "put pro football on the map,” says ESPN's Chris Berman. "The game was never the same after that. It was on its way to becoming America's most popular sport.”


4. The Music City Miracle

The first game of the 1999 playoffs sends the fifth-seeded Bills to Nashville to face the No. 4 Titans. Buffalo is completely outplayed in the first half, netting a paltry 20 yards of offense. But Buffalo rights itself in the second half and, thanks to a Steve Christie 41-yard field goal with 16 seconds to play, appears poised to sneak out of Music City with a 16-15 victory. Good downfield coverage on Christie’s ensuing kickoff will practically guarantee a win -- but there are no guarantees in sports. The kick is caught at the 25-yard line by Titans fullback Lorenzo Neal, who passes it off to tight end Frank Wychek. Wychek scampers to his right for a few steps before surprising everyone by planting his front foot and turning to throw the ball back across the field to wide receiver Kevin Dyson. The throw is low, but Dyson scoops it up and rumbles down the sideline for the improbable game-winning touchdown. Many thought the throw from Wychek was an illegal forward pass, but referee Phil Luckett decides there isn't enough evidence in the replay to overturn the ruling on the field. The rest is history. "I've seen that play attempted 1,000 times since, and it always ends up in futility. It may be one of the greatest executions of a desperation return in NFL history," says Jon Gruden.


3. The Flee to Tyree

The 2007-2008 New England Patriots are perfect. After playing 18 games in 150 days, they have won them all. All that's left between them and the undisputed title as greatest team in NFL history is quarterback Eli Manning and the New York Giants, in Super Bowl XLII. Unfortunately for New England, David Tyree's helmet isn't ready to anoint the team just yet. Down 14-10 with 1:15 left in the game, the Giants have a crucial third-and-5 from their 44-yard line. Manning takes the snap, and the Patriots’ pass rush is on him immediately. But Manning spins through and shirks off the tacklers, finding just enough time to chuck it up for Tyree, who is waiting 32 yards down the field. A career special teamer, Tyree has caught just four passes all season. That doesn't matter now, though, when he leaps for Manning's ball alongside Patriots defender Rodney Harrison. Tyree comes down with the ball, pinned improbably against his helmet, to keep the drive alive. The rest is history: The Giants’ comeback culminates with a touchdown, and the Pats finish the season an imperfect 18-1—all thanks to Tyree’s classic catch. "It was a remarkable example of determined resilience," says Jarrett Bell, football writer for USA Today. ESPN's Adam Schefter calls it "the greatest catch I've ever seen.”


2. The Immaculate Reception

Trailing the Oakland Raiders, 7-6, with 22 seconds left in the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff game, the hometown Pittsburgh Steelers face fourth-and-10. Flushed from the pocket, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw heaves a pass downfield toward John Fuqua. But intimidating Raiders safety Jack Tatum meets Fuqua as the ball arrives, popping the pigskin out of his hands. While Oakland celebrates, Steelers rookie running back Franco Harris trails the play. At the Raiders' 42-yard-line, he grasps the ball off his shoes -- to some eyes, off the ground -- and rumbles down the left sideline untouched for a score. The Immaculate Reception, as the play will soon be called, will go on to be viewed more than the Zapruder film, thanks to pressing doubts about whether Harris actually catches the ball cleanly. But make no mistake: The stunning grab kick-starts a Steelers dynasty. "Harris' catch is probably the greatest play in the history of pro football,” says ESPN's Chris Berman. "The Steelers didn’t win the Super Bowl that year, but that was their first playoff win. This game put them on the map for four Super Bowls in six years. It was the start of something great in Pittsburgh for a franchise that had been horrible."


1. The Catch

The drive that will lead to arguably the most memorable NFL play ever begins on San Francisco’s own 11-yard line. Down 27-21 at home in the 1981 NFC Championship Game, the 49ers, led by coach Bill Walsh and a young quarterback named Joe Montana, hope to turn the page on more than a decade of futility. Wedged in between the Niners and sweet victory, however, are 89 yards of grass -- and the vaunted Dallas Cowboys, a.k.a. "America's Team." The 49ers march methodically down the field, and stand huddling while the ball rests on the Dallas 6. It's third down and 3 yards for a first down. The play call? "Sprint right option," remembers former NFL head coach and ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden. "Freddie Solomon's covered and Dwight Clark's working the end line. Joe Montana rolls right and makes one of the most clutch plays in NFL history." As Ed "Too Tall" Jones, the Cowboys' 6-foot-9 defensive end, closes in on Montana, the quarterback pump-fakes, then sends the football sailing toward the back of the end zone. The ball seems destined to end up in the bleachers, until the fingertips of Clark miraculously rise from a mass of defenders, securing the ball and a stunning San Fran victory. The Niners squad rolls on to win that year’s Super Bowl and three more championships in the decade. The Catch "was the turning point that created a dynasty," says Jarrett Bell, football writer for USA Today.

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