When you review the NFL’s long history, the most exciting moments and the most memorable games generally fail to occur on the game’s biggest stage, the Super Bowl. This may be because the league’s championship game matches up two squads that are relatively unfamiliar with one another, which has historically produced some pretty lopsided results. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule (just look at last year’s Super Bowl).
However, the moments that contribute to our love for the game of football often happen during Conference Championship weekend. Yes, there have been countless iconic moments with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. It’s difficult to pick just a few, but with more crazy and unbelievable moments sure to happen this upcoming weekend, we’ve put together our top five Conference Championship games in NFL history.
5. 2007-2008 NFC Championship: Giants vs. Packers
The temperature was basically unbearable in Green Bay for the 2008 NFC Championship between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants, aka the game that put an end to Brett Favre’s legendary career with the former. With a wind chill factor of -24 degrees Fahrenheit, regulation wasn’t long enough for the NFC champion to be decided. However, it didn’t take long once OT started for the final result to be decided.
On the second play of the extra period, Favre threw an interception on what proved to be his last pass as a Packer, and the Giants kicked the game-winning field goal on the ensuing drive to win the game 23-20. Of course, New York went on to shock the world and defeat the unbeaten New England Patriots in the Super Bowl that season.
4. 1986-87 AFC Championship: Broncos vs. Browns
This is one of the games that defined the Broncos’ great John Elway. With Denver down late in the fourth quarter by a score of 20-13 against the Cleveland Browns, Elway used his magic to lead a 15-play drive to tie the game with :39 seconds remaining, sending things to overtime. On that drive, Elway and the Broncos converted three third downs, including one that concluded in the game-tying score.
In OT, Elway led his team down the field again to set up the game-winning field goal. The QB’s clutch ability was never more prevalent than it was in this one, which is why his game-tying drive is known in football lore as simply “The Drive.” Denver would go on to lose the Super Bowl that season, but that victory over Cleveland is one of the most recognizable games in NFL history.
3. 2006-07 AFC Championship: Patriots vs. Colts
With the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady rivalry renewing this weekend when the Broncos and Patriots face off for the AFC title, it’s appropriate to include one of the most epic battles between two of the greatest QBs to ever play the game. Back in the 2006-07 season, Manning had yet to notch a single Super Bowl appearance. Furthermore, he and the Indianapolis Colts could never get past the New England Patriots in the playoffs.
When the two teams faced off again, things looked bad for the Colts again, as they trailed their budding rival by a score of 21-6 entering halftime — with a Super Bowl berth on the line. Once the second half started, this contest turned into an instant classic. Manning and the Colts made an epic comeback to take the lead with about 1:00 minute remaining. Brady got one more chance to win the game at the end, but the Colts’ defense stepped up to intercept Brady and win the game by a final score of 38-34. Manning would capture his first and only Super Bowl title as well that season.
2. 1981-82 NFC Championship: Cowboys vs. 49ers
Joe Montana had a knack for winning big games with the San Francisco 49ers. Over the course of his 13-year career, he delivered four Super Bowls to the Bay Area and is widely regarded as one of the top quarterbacks to ever play the game. Of all of Montana’s memorable games, none may be more iconic than the 1982 NFC Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Of course, this is the game that delivered the play simply known as “The Catch,” which refers to Montana’s game-winning touchdown to Dwight Clark at the end of the game to knock off Dallas 28-27. Montana faced a heavy rush on the play, but placed the ball in the only place where Clark could leap and come down with it in the end zone. It was one of many clutch drives over the course of Montana’s career, but this one put him and the 49ers in their first Super Bowl, which resulted in a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
1. 1967 NFL Championship: Cowboys vs. Packers
In one of the most well-known games in NFL history, the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers also played in maybe the coldest game in NFL history back in 1967 — with a trip to just the second-ever Super Bowl on the line. The temperature was about -15 degrees Fahrenheit, with a wind chill around -48, but that didn’t stop the Cowboys and the Packers from leaving it all on the field and producing a classic result.
With legendary coaches, Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi, on each sideline, Dallas found themselves with a 17-14 lead late in the fourth quarter. Bart Starr and the Packers weren’t done, however, as they marched down to the goal line with about :16 seconds remaining. On the final play, Starr dove into the end zone to give Green Bay the victory. The Packers went on to win their second straight Super Bowl, but that season will always be remembered as the “Ice Bowl.”