Top 10 All-Time Game-Changing Super Bowl Plays

Photo Credit: Getty.

Every year we go into January hoping for one thing: an epic NFL playoff season which will lead to an unforgettable Super Bowl (maybe that’s two things?).

Of course, the Seahawks 43-8 romp over the Broncos solidified the 2014 contest as possibly the most disappointing ever. But we were certainly fed a healthy dose of redemption after the Patriots’ epic stand against the Seahawks a year ago.

It’s those game-changing moments that make Super Bowls unforgettable.

With Super Bowl 50 just around the corner, we can only hope for that one play that will be stamped into our memory forever. If one thing is certain, it would have to be as great — if not greater — than the top 10 below.

(Honorable Mention) Marcus Allen’s Cutback

Super Bowl XVIII – Jan. 23, 1984

Some might not consider Allen’s third quarter touchdown run against the Redskins game-changing, considering the Raiders were already dominating the game 28-9, but the run eliminated any hope for a comeback for the defending champs and is one we still see on highlight reels to this day. This 74-yard TD was just part of his 191-yard effort in an MVP performance.

10. Lynn’s Leap

Super Bowl X – January 19, 1976

Lynn Swann became the first wideout to win Super Bowl MVP after his legendary performance against the Cowboys in the tenth Super Bowl ever played. In this giant leap, Swann is covered like white on rice by Mark Washington, yet somehow manages to come down with the ball after juggling it during the fall for a 53-yard gain.

It’s widely considered one of the greatest catches in NFL history and it helped deliver the 21-17 win.

(1:19 mark)

9. Porter Picks Manning

Super Bowl XLIV – February 7, 2010

Peyton Manning and the Colts were attempting to win their second Super Bowl in four years, but the Saints were making a push to win their very first ever. With a fourth-quarter lead and five minutes remaining, Manning was en route to making a game-winning comeback until the Saints’ Tracy Porter intercepted a third-down pass for a 74-yard score, sealing New Orleans the moment they had waited decades for. 

8. Desmond Howard’s Kick Return

Super Bowl XXXI – January 27, 1997

You know he must be game changing if your Super Bowl MVP is the kick-returner.

Desmond Howard continued to astound crowds with his speed in this Super Bowl against the Drew Bledsoe-led Patriots. Howard had a SB record 244 return yards, including this 99-yard return late in the third quarter following a New England Curtis Martin TD. The score helped secure the 14-point victory.

7. The Broken Play

Super Bowl XXV – January 28, 1991

The Bills lost four Super Bowls in a row — that streak began with this play that was a giant metaphor for the drive in which it was involved.

Down 10-12 in the third quarter, Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler led a then-record 9-minute, 29-second scoring drive that included this play to WR Mark Ingram for a crucial 3rd-and-13 conversion. The play was called ‘broken’ because Ingram had to break five separate tackles in order to jump ahead for the 14-yard gain.

This play helped the Giants with a seven point lead that led to the 20-19 win for New York. 

Related: Top 5 Super Bowls of All-Time

6. Harrison’s 100-Yard Pick-6

Super Bowl XLIII – Feb. 1, 2009

Due to James Harrison’s interception return for a touchdown on the last play of the first half, the Steelers enjoyed a 14-point swing that would lead them to their record-setting sixth Super Bowl title. The 27-23 win over the Kurt Warner-led Cardinals wouldn’t have been possible without this huge play, or the Ben Roethlisberger-Santonio Holmes TD pass with :35 left to play. 

5. Elway’s Helicopter Run

Super Bowl XXXII – January 25, 1998

A quarterback well into his 30s and on the verge of retirement — and who had already lost three Super Bowls — showed to the world just how badly he wanted to win the biggest contest in sports in this one play.

Third-and-6 from the 12-yard line, game tied at 17, John Elway dropped back to pass only to fail to find a man open. After taking off on the run to attempt a first-down on the ground, Elway leaped into the air and into — not only Packers safety LeRoy Butler — but into the highlight reel hall of fame.

The first down that saw an aged Elway put his body at risk gave the Broncos the momentum for the 31-24 win. Denver running back Terrell Davis was quoted saying, “As soon as I saw John do that, I knew the game was ours.”

4. The Drive

Super Bowl XXIII – January 22, 1989

3:20 left on the clock was way too much time for Joe Montana.

The future Hall-of-Famer led his team down the field for the most iconic game-winning drive in history. It was the John Taylor TD pass from “Joe Cool” that still goes down as one of the most clutch performances ever captured on tape.

The drive and the catch resulted in the 20-16 win for the 49ers over the Bengals. 

3. The Tackle

Super Bowl XXXIV – January 30, 2000

No other tackle was as dramatic as this one between the Titans and the Rams’ “Greatest Show On Turf” team from 2000. 

Just after Steve McNair led the Titans on a comeback after being down 16-0, the game was tied at 16 with 2:12 to play and Rams ball. Kurt Warner found Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown pass for the lead on the very next play before it was the Titans’ turn to retaliate in the final minute.

McNair led the team down to the Rams’ 10-yard line with just six seconds left; it was do or die time; only one play left. 

On that final play, McNair dropped back for the pass, finding an open Kevin Dyson on a slant route headed right for the endzone. It looked like he would score until Rams linebacker Mike Jones grabbed him just feet away from scoring. Dyson would lunge as he fell, literally falling within one yard of scoring the game-winning touchdown.

The tackle by Jones was by far the biggest game-changing tackle made in the games’ prestigious history. 

2. The Interception

Super Bowl XLIX – February 1, 2015

The Patriots captured their fourth Super Bowl under the Brady-Belichick era, holding on 28-24 in dramatic fashion.

With just 20 seconds to play, the Seahawks were in the redzone, just inches from the goal line and their second straight Super Bowl title. Instead of handing the ball off to their reliable worktrain Marhawn Lynch, the ‘Hawks called a pass play. The result was an interception in the endzone by a little-known defensive back named Malcolm Butler. 

Butler’s INT off quarterback Russell Wilson sealed the deal for the Patriots in the craziest turnover the NFL has possibly ever seen.

1. The Helmet Catch

Super Bowl XLII – February 3, 2008

David Tyree had a short-lived and uneventful career with the New York Giants — that is if you only look outside Super Bowl XLII.

The Tom Brady-led Patriots were going into the game the heavy favorites, having been undefeated, a perfect 18-0. It was a miracle the Giants were still in the contest down 14-10 late in the fourth quarter.

With just 1:15 left to play and still in their own territory, Eli Manning dropped back to pass on 3rd-and-5, nearly getting sacked 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Instead, he weaved is way out of traffic and heaved a prayer to the middle of the field to Tyree, who — with the help of his helmet — caught the pass in traffic for a huge 32-yard gain. 

The play would setup the game-winning score and the 17-14 win, giving the Patriots their first and only loss of the season. 


Josh Helmuth is the editor of CraveOnline Sports.