The 25 Greatest Plays in Super Bowl History

The Lombardi Trophy is raised in the air.
Lots of great plays have been made in the history of the Super Bowl | Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Whether you’re a diehard football fan, a casual observer, or just someones who likes to eat food at party, you must admit that there’s something about the Super Bowl and how it brings everyone together. That can create some special moments, even if the play on the field isn’t the greatest. There’s just something different about seeing a huge sack, a big touchdown pass, or an interception that closes out the biggest football game of the year. With that in mind, we have the best 25 plays in Super Bowl history.

25. Isaac Bruce’s 73-yard TD from Kurt Warner

Isaac Bruce stands on the field between plays.
Isaac Bruce caught the game-winning touchdown pass | Peter Newcomb/AFP/Getty Images

After the Tennessee Titans tied the game with a field goal, the St. Louis Rams and Kurt Warner had two minutes to put themselves ahead for good. It didn’t even take that long. On the first play of their drive, Warner hit wide receiver Isaac Bruce for a sensational 73-yard touchdown run, putting the Rams ahead 23-16. The Titans had one more drive in them, but more on that later.

24. Desmond Howard’s kick return

Desmond Howard runs the ball toward the end zone.
Desmond Howard had a 99-yard kick return | Brian Bahr/Allsport/Getty Images

In the third quarter of the Green Bay Packers’ matchup with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI, Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri put one through the uprights, making the score 27-21 in favor of the Packers. But kicking off after the score, the ball went into the hands of Desmond Howard at the one-yard line. He took it all the way back, going 99 yards on the return and scoring the touchdown that put a finishing touch on the Packers’ victory.

23. Adam Vinatieri’s game-winner, part one

Adam Vinatieri of the New England Patriots celebrates winning Super Bowl XXXVI.
Adam Vinatieri of the New England Patriots celebrates winning Super Bowl XXXVI 20-17 against the St. Louis Rams | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Speaking of Vinatieri, he had better moments in Super Bowl history. With the game tied between the St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots, Tom Brady took his team down the field in under a minute. But with just seconds remaining, the Pats were forced to try to win it with a 48-yard field goal. Enter Vinatieri, and his ice-filled veins. The kicker put the ball through the uprights, clinching the Patriots’ first Super Bowl victory.

22. Adam Vinatieri’s game-winner, part two

New England Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri is congratulated after his game-winning, 41-yard field goal in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Carolina Panthers.
New England Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri is congratulated after his game-winning, 41-yard field goal in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Carolina Panthers | Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images

Once wouldn’t be enough for Vinatieri. Almost the exact same scenario presented itself two years later, with the Patriots taking on the Carolina Panthers. The score was tied with about a minute remaining. Brady moved the ball down the field, and with a few seconds remaining they tried a 41-yard field goal with Vinatieri. Again, of course, the field goal was good. The Patriots won their second Super Bowl, 32-29.

21. New Orleans’ surprise onside kick

The Indianapolis Colts fights for a loose ball against the New Orleans Saints after an onside kick to start the second half during Super Bowl XLIV.
The Indianapolis Colts fights for a loose ball against the New Orleans Saints after an onside kick during Super Bowl XLIV | Doug Benc/Getty Images

Starting the third quarter, the New Orleans Saints were down 10-6 against the Indianapolis Colts. Head coach Sean Payton decided that it was a good time to try something unorthodox, and it worked in a big way. The Saints shocked everyone with an onside kick that went right off the hands of Colts receiver Hank Baskett, giving the Saints the ball at mid-field. They scored, and later won the game, making this a brilliant move.

20. Kevin Dyson is tackled at the one-yard line

Kevin Dyson of the Tennessee Titans reaches for the end zone with the ball as Mike Jones of the St. Louis Rams tackles him.
Kevin Dyson of the Tennessee Titans reaches for the end zone with the ball as Mike Jones of the St. Louis Rams tackles him | Tom Hauck /Getty Images

With under two minutes remaining and the Rams having just scored on the touchdown from Isaac Bruce, the Titans had one more good drive in them. Starting from their own 12-yard line, Steve McNair moved the ball downfield and set up a first-and-10 from the Rams 10 yard line. The problem: They had only five seconds on the clock and no timeouts.

McNair hit wide receiver Kevin Dyson on a slant, but Rams defender Mike Jones grabbed and tackled Dyson. Dyson reached his arm out as far as he could, ending up one yard short of the end zone as the clock ran out.

19. Lynn Swann’s juggle

Lynn Swann raises his hat to fans.
Lynn Swann’s catch is the stuff of legends | Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

With the ball near their own goal line, Terry Bradshaw reared back to throw one up for wide receiver Lynn Swann, and it looked to be just out of reach. The Dallas Cowboys defender did the best he could, but Swann knocked the ball into the air and juggled it as he brought it to the ground. As a fantastic play by an athletic player, it paid off; the Pittsburgh Steelers went on the beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl X.

18. Seahawks’ safety to open the game

Peyton Manning walks off the field after losing the Super Bowl to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks’ beatdown of the Broncos started on the opening play | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks took on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. So, there was a lot of excitement over what should have been a close game. Sadly, it wasn’t. On the very first play after the opening kick, the snap to Manning went over his head and into the end zone. Running back Knowshon Moreno ran back quickly to pick up the football, but he was tackled for a safety and a quick 2-0 lead for the Seahawks. Seattle rolled to a 43-8 victory.

17. Rod Smith’s touchdown vs. Falcons

Rod Smith celebrates scoring a touchdown.
Rod Smith scored a huge touchdown on the Falcons | Brian Bahr/Getty Images

A little over halfway through the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons, John Elway ran a play-action where he bootlegged out to the right and threw the ball downfield for wide receiver Rod Smith. He hit the open man, with Smith taking the ball all the way down field for an 80-yard touchdown. This pushed the Broncos ahead by a score of 17-3 in a game that ended up being a blowout in their favor.

16. John Riggins on fourth-and-one

John Riggins walks off the field.
John Riggins’ run on fourth down is an all-time great | Allsport/Getty Images

With the Washington Redskins trailing the Miami Dolphins, 17-13 and around 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter the Redskins came up on a dire situation: fourth-and-one from the Dolphins’ 43-yard line. They opted to go for it with their power running back, John Riggins, knowing that not getting the first down could set them way back. Riggins came through, of course, running 43 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The Redskins won the game, 27-17.

15. Jermaine Lewis’s kick return

Jermaine Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens runs with the ball for a run back touchdown during Super Bowl XXXV.
Jermaine Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens runs with the ball for a touchdown during Super Bowl XXXV | Andy Lyons /Allsport

In Super Bowl XXXV, there was a crazy stretch where three touchdowns bunched together. After an interception led to a Baltimore Ravens touchdown, the New York Giants returned the ensuing kickoff all the way. To top it all off, the Giants kicked off after that touchdown to Ravens return man Jermaine Lewis, who took it up the right sideline for the third touchdown in the matter of a minute on his 84-yard return. The Ravens held on, winning the game 34-7.

14. Jermaine Kearse’s circus catch

Jermaine Kearse is tackled by a defender.
Jermaine Kearse is tackled by a defender | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With the Seattle Seahawks trailing the New England Patriots, 28-24, Russell Wilson looked to march his team down the field and put a game-winning touchdown on the board. With just over a minute remaining, Wilson dropped back and threw it down to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who fell to the ground, bobbled the ball in the air, and somehow pulled in the miraculous catch at the five yard line. This set up a great opportunity to score for the Seahawks, but unfortunately another great Super Bowl play stood in their way.

13. Tracy Porter intercepts Peyton Manning

Tracy Porter of the New Orleans Saints intercepts a ball thrown by Peyton Manning and returns it for a touchdown.
Tracy Porter of the New Orleans Saints intercepts a ball thrown by Peyton Manning and returns it for a touchdown | Donald Miralle/Getty Images

With just over three minutes remaining in the Super Bowl matchup between the Saints and Colts, Peyton Manning found his team trailing by a touchdown. Most people put their money on Manning coming up with a big play to tie the game, but it wasn’t meant to be. Tracy Porter intercepted Manning’s pass on third-and-five from the Saints’ 31 yard line and run all the way back for the clinching touchdown.

12. Marcus Allen’s run

Marcus Allen smiles at a press conference.
Marcus Allen’s 74-yard run was a big one | Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

In Super Bowl XVIII, Los Angeles Raiders running back Marcus Allen ran to the left and quickly realized he was cut off by Washington Redskins defenders. Spinning around and reversing field, Allen cut up the middle and ended up breaking off a spectacular 74-yard run for a touchdown. That made the score 35-9, which effectively ended any chance the Redskins had that they might mount a comeback and win the game.

11. Devin Hester returns the opening kick

Kick returner Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears returns the opening kickoff 92-yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLI.
Kick returner Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears returns the opening kickoff 92-yards for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in the first quarter of Super Bowl XLI | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Chicago Bears rookie kick returner Devin Hester set up a reputation heading into the Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts. As the game got set to open, there was a buzz as the Bears took the field and got ready to return the opening kick from the foot of Colts kicker Vinatieri. Hester fielded it, made a few cuts, and took it all the way to the end zone for an early 7-0 lead. The Bears ended up losing the game, but it was still a classic Super Bowl moment.

10. John Elway’s flip

John Elway is carried off the field by his Broncos teammates.
John Elway’s biggest play was made with his legs | Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

In what we’ll always remember as one of the defining plays of his career, 37-year-old quarterback John Elway rushed for a first down against the Green Bay Packers. But it wasn’t just that. Elway had the ball at the Green Bay 12-yard line on third-and-six, with the game tied at 17-17 in the third quarter.

On a broken play, Elway took off and rumbled for eight yards, finishing it off with a jump and spin in midair when he was hit by Packers defenders. He got the first down, the Broncos scored, and they won the game 31-24.

9. Butler intercepts Wilson in the end zone

Malcolm Butler intercepts the football.
This is the biggest play of Malcolm Butler’s career so far | Harry How/Getty Images

Following the amazing catch by Kearse, the Seahawks were set up with a perfect chance to score and win the game. It was second-and-one, and one yard from the goal line. 26 seconds remained in the game, and the Seahawks were down 28-24 and needed a touchdown to win. Rather than hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch he had 102 rushing yards on 24 carries Seattle opted to pass. And Malcolm Butler famously intercepted quarterback Russell Wilson. Oops.

8. Jacoby Jones returns one 109 yards

Jacoby Jones returns a kick 109 yards.
Jacoby Jones returns a kick 109 yards | Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Facing off against the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones fielded the opening kick of the second half nine yards deep in the end zone. With the Ravens leading, 21-6, it might have been smart to take a knee and move the ball out to the 20-yard line. But Jones ran it out, ducking and diving his way past everybody and all the way to the house for a Super Bowl record 109-yard kickoff return.

What’s even better: This wasn’t even Jones’s only great play of the game, as he scored a touchdown after falling untouched at the five-yard line just prior to the end of the first half.

7. Randle-El to Hines Ward

Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts after a play in Super Bowl XLV.
Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts after a play in Super Bowl XLV | Jamie Squire/Getty Images

With the Pittsburgh Steelers struggling to put up points against the Seattle defense, they decided to try something a little unorthodox. Pittsburgh was leading at the time, 14-10, with just over nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

They drew up a trick play on a reverse, with wide receiver (and former college quarterback) Antwaan Randle-El throwing the ball downfield for 43 yards to fellow wide receiver Hines Ward. They went for a touchdown and a 21-10 lead, which ended up being the final score in the Steelers’ victory.

6. Von Miller’s sack and forced fumble

Von Miller motions that the Broncos are No. 1.
Von Miller made a huge play that led to a touchdown | Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos took an early 3-0 lead over the Carolina Panthers in the first quarter. With about six minutes remaining in the quarter, they scored again. Broncos defender Von Miller hit Panthers QB Cam Newton from behind, which forced a fumble just a few feet in front of the goal line. The strip-sack led to a Broncos defensive touchdown, giving them a 10-0 lead in a game that they’d never trail.

5. Mario Manningham on the sideline

Mario Manningham of the New York Giants attempts to make a catch.
Mario Manningham of the New York Giants attempts to make a catch against the New England Patriots during Super Bowl XLVI | Al Bello/Getty Images

With just a few minutes left in the game, the New York Giants trailed the New England Patriots by a score of 17-15. Eli Manning started with the ball deep in his own territory, and he needed a long drive to steal the game away. On the first play, Manning put one up deep down the sidelines, which seemed out of wide receiver Mario Manningham’s reach.

But upon official review, Manningham caught the ball, got both feet down, and controlled the possession all the way to the ground for a 38-yard reception. That moved the Giants up the field, and they eventually scored to win the game.

4. James Harrison pick-six

James Harrison runs as fast as he can.
This James Harrison pick-six was really improbable | Getty Images

In Super Bowl XLIII, the Pittsburgh Steelers matched up against the Arizona Cardinals. With just seconds remaining in the first half, Cardinals quarterback Warner threw a pass he hoped would get into the end zone with wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Unfortunately, it got into the wrong end zone. Steelers defender James Harrison picked it off at the one-yard line and ran it all the way downfield for a Steelers touchdown, giving Pittsburgh a 17-7 lead going into halftime.

3. Santonio Holmes’ tiptoes catch

Santonio Holmes grips the football as he lands in the end zone.
Santonio Holmes was just barely able to keep his feet in | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Santonio Holmes pulled in the Super Bowl MVP award for the Steelers that year, on the back of one of the most outstanding catches ever seen on the game’s most prominent stage. Trailing 23-20 with 43 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tossed one to the back corner of the end zone, which Holmes was just able to bring in.

Essentially, the ball was caught and his feet were inbounds by nothing more than his tiptoes. It was the game-winner for the Steelers over the Cardinals.

2. Joe Montana throws the game-winner

Joe Montana puts on his sunglasses as he looks at the camera.
Joe Montana was Joe Cool in the Super Bowl | George Rose/Getty Images

In Super Bowl XXIII, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana put together a legendary final drive against the Cincinnati Bengals. Starting with over two-and-a-half minutes remaining and trailing Cinncinati, 16-13, Montana hit wide receiver Jerry Rice several times on his way down the field. Then, from the 10-yard line with just seconds remaining, Montana through the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver John Taylor with just 34 seconds left on the clock. The 49ers won the game, 20-16.

1. David Tyree’s helmet catch

David Tyree celebrates with his teammate.
David Tyree made a legendary Super Bowl play | Al Bello/Getty Images

Trailing in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, 14-10, the New York Giants and Eli Manning had just over a minute to put a touchdown on the board or they’d lose the game. On third-and-five from their own 44-yard line, Manning faced a near sack. But he scrambled out of the way of two Patriots defenders and threw a deep ball. David Tyree trapped the ball against his helmet as he brought it down. This set up the game-winning score just a few plays later.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN and Pro-Football-Reference.