On Super Sunday, the New England Patriots and the New York Giants will face off in a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, as the two squads showdown at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI. It’s always interesting when New York and Boston square off on the big stage (even though neither of these teams actually play in said cities), and Brady vs. Manning Redux should be no exception. With the big game on the horizon, we’ve compiled a “Best Of” collection of plays from the new millennium, highlighting the most exciting, shocking and, for some fans, heartbreaking moments from the past 12 Super Bowls. From the clutchest kicker in NFL history, to “the catch” that defined this Giants-Pats rivalry, here are highlights guaranteed to get you psyched for Sunday—as if you weren’t already.
Best Clutch Kick (aka, the Anti-Norwood)
Adam Vinatieri 48-yard game-winning FG (New England Patriots v. St. Louis Rams, Super Bowl XXXVI)
There’s nothing worse than being the goat placekicker on a Super Bowl squad; just ask Scott Norwood, who infamously missed a 47-yard field goal, “wide right,” which would have given the Buffalo Bills their first Super Bowl title. (The team went one to lose four straight Super Bowls. Yikes.) Or, ask Ray Finkle of the fictional Miami Dolphins, who missed a game-winner in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (laces out!). Lucky for Vinatieri, his reliable right foot has come through on countless occasions, preventing a life of seclusion (or transsexuality). His most shining moment, perhaps, came in the waning seconds of Super Bowl XXXVI, when he nailed a 47-yarder to give New England its first Super Bowl victory (followed by an impromptu snow angel in the end zone).
Best Play in a Losing Effort
Kevin Dyson falls an inch short (St. Louis Rams vs. Tennessee Titans, Super Bowl XXXIV)
Back in 2000, when most Americans had to watch the Big Game in standard definition (gross), a former grocery bagger from Iowa named Kurt Warner took the nation by storm, winning league MVP and leading the Rams to a Super Bowl. Warner powered the “Greatest Show on Turf” to a 23-16 lead going into the final drive of the fourth quarter, allowing the Titans one final scoring opportunity to push the game into overtime. With six seconds left and 10 yards from pay dirt, Titans quarterback Steve McNair found Kevin Dyson for a short pass. Dyson, however, was quickly wrapped up by Rams linebacker Mike Jones, and as the two men hit the turf, Dyson extended the football out towards the goal line—only to fall mere inches short of crossing the plane.
Most Athletic Display by a Barrel-Shaped Linebacker
James Harrison 100-yard pick-six (Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals, Super Bowl XLIII)
In one of the most inconceivable plays in Super Bowl history, Harrison, Pittsburgh’s hard-hitting (and heavily fined) middle linebacker, picked off a red zone pass from Kurt Warner at the goal line and then did the unthinkable—returned it for a Super Bowl record 100-yard touchdown. The score ended the first half, and the timing couldn’t have been better for the winded warrior; Harrison was seen sucking on an oxygen mask after returning to the sideline. The play was a very memorable highlight from a Super Bowl filled with them, and Harrison was even parodied on an episode of Saturday Night Live.
Most WTF Play
Saints onside kick to start second half (New Orleans Saints vs. Indianapolis Colts, Super Bowl XLIV)
The Saints’ Sean Payton has never been viewed as a conventional NFL head coach, so it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise when he attempted the ballsiest of plays to start the second half of Super Bowl XLIV. With the Saints down 10-6, and kicking off to a very dangerous, Peyton Manning-led Colts offense, Payton called a surprising (to everybody) onside kick, marking the first time in Super Bowl history that a team opted for the play to start the second half. After the ball cleared the required 15 yards, and proceeded to bounce off Hank Baskett’s (your girlfriend knows him) facemask, a pile-on ensued that took referees over a minute to sort out. In the end, Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas came up with the pill and the Saints turned the recovery into a touchdown and an eventual 31-17 victory.
Most Athletic Display by a Super Bowl Halftime Performer
Bruce Springsteen’s “Power Slide” (Pittsburg Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals, Super Bowl XLIII)
The Super Bowl Halftime Show has produced some memorable moments in this new millennium, from the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” to the Black Eyed Peas continued campaign to destroy western civilization. But when it comes to sheer athletic prowess, no one can top “The Boss” who, along with the E Street Band, rocked the stage of the 2009 show. Known for working up a sweat faster than Patrick Ewing, Springsteen showed no signs of slowing down at age 59, jumping on the piano while telling fans at home to “put those chicken fingers down!” During the opener, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” the Boss pulled off one of his signature stage slides, crashing (his crotch) into a cameraman in the process.
Best All-For-Naught Play
Larry Fitzgerald’s 64-yard TD (Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals, Super Bowl XLIII)
When the Arizona Cardinals made their first Super Bowl in 2009, it was pretty evident that #11, their All-Pro wide receiver, would have to make some big plays. After scoring his first touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter, Larry Fitzgerald’s number was called again with the Cards down 20-16 and 2:49 left on the clock. On just the second play of the drive, Fitzgerald turned a simple post route into a 64-yard burst into the end zone. The touchdown put Arizona up 23-20, and would have been enshrined in Super Bowl championship lore, if it wasn’t for the next play on this list…
Best Game-Winning Touchdown
Santonio Holmes’ Tiptoe TD (Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals, Super Bowl XLIII)
After Fitzgerald (nearly) took the air out of Pittsburgh’s championship aspirations, the Steelers still had 2:37 left to mount a game-winning drive. And with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, the black and yellow offense began moving the ball downfield with ease. With 43 seconds left, Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes in the right, back corner of the end zone for an over-the-shoulder grab. The play required review, but Holmes did in fact have toes from both feet planted inbounds with possession of the ball. The Cardinals turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, and the Steelers went on to win Super Bowl number six, breaking an NFL record.
The Helmet Catch (New York Giants vs. New England Patriots, Super Bowl XLII)
It’s the play that defined the first Super Bowl between the Giants and Pats, and arguably one of the most amazing sequences in sports history. With 1:15 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Giants down 14-10, Eli Manning negotiated a 3rd and 5 from the Giants’ 44-yard line by evading three tacklers, and then launching the ball down the middle of the field. Going up (and coming down) with the pigskin was David Tyree, who infamously caught the ball against his helmet, with defender Rodney Harrison clinging onto him, to boot. Four plays later, Manning found Plaxico Burress for a 13-yard score, which inevitably won the game. Tyree never played another NFL snap, although he did co-author the concisely titled memoir, More Than Just the Catch: A true story of courage, hope and achieving the impossible.