The 5 Most Infamous Plays in Super Bowl History

Leon Lett returns a fumble
Leon Lett surely wishes he could erase his name from this list | Rick Stewart/Getty Images

In the annals of Super Bowl lore, players tend to be remembered one of two ways. The ones who make all the plays, who put together the performance(s) of a lifetime, they’re remembered as heroes; the ones worthy of a spot on the Golden Team. On the flip side, the players who screw the pooch, the ones who mess up royally, costing their team a chance at glory, they’re remembered under a different name: the Goat.

No one plans on being the goat. It just happens. Someone has to be blamed — the scapegoat, if you will — when a team loses. And in that respect, the goat becomes the face of that disappointment; the most unenviable position of them all. As we prepare for the upcoming Super Bowl LI clash between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots, we have no idea which players will end up being remembered for what. However, what we do know is that when it comes to the goats of past Super Bowls, these five individuals stand out among the rest.

5. Leon Lett, defensive tackle, Dallas Cowboys

Super Bowl XXVII: Cowboys 52, Bills 17

It’s not often that a player on the winning side is labeled the goat. Then again, it’s not often that a player on the winning side makes a fool of himself like Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett did in Super Bowl XXVII. After recovering a fumble, Lett had nothing but daylight between himself and the end zone.

Yet, instead of running for the score, Lett opted to hold the ball out and celebrate prematurely, which allowed Buffalo Bills receiver Don Beebe to catch him from behind and knock the ball out of his hands — and out of the end zone — prior to crossing the goal line. The result was a touchback for the Bills and an undeniably embarrassing moment for Lett. Such a goat move.

4. Rich Gannon, quarterback, Oakland Raiders

Ellis Wyms #96 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sacks quarterback Rich Gannon #12 of the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Super Bowl XXXVII: Buccaneers 48, Raiders 21

In 2002, at 37 years old, Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon experienced arguably the greatest season of his career. He completed 67.6% of his passes, threw for 4,689 and 26 touchdowns, and was named league MVP. It’s a shame he wasn’t able to live up to those numbers when the Raiders faced off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. Despite throwing for two scores, Gannon was sacked five times and threw five interceptions (three of which were returned for touchdowns), and the Buccaneers smoked the Raiders 48-21. From MVP to goat: the Rich Gannon story.

3. Jackie Smith, tight end, Dallas Cowboys

Super Bowl XIII: Steelers 35, Cowboys 31

Tight end Jackie Smith’s drop in Super Bowl XIII may very well be one of the most depressing plays in the history of sports. With the Cowboys trailing 21-14 in the third quarter, Smith found himself wide open in the end zone with a chance to put his team within an extra point of tying the game. All he had to do was catch Roger Staubach’s pass. Except, he didn’t. He dropped it. Dallas settled for a field goal and ended up losing the game 35-31. Cowboys broadcaster Verne Lundquist summed up Smith’s drop the best: “Bless his heart, he’s got to be the sickest man in America.”

2. John Kasay, kicker, Carolina Panthers

John Kasay #4 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after kicking the kick off out of bounds in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXVIII
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Super Bowl XXXVIII: Patriots 32, Panthers 29

Super Bowl 50 will mark the second appearance for the Carolina Panthers franchise in the big game. For their sake, we hope things work out differently this time around. In Super Bowl XXXVIII, after Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme led an impressive drive to tie the score at 29 with a little over a minute left to play, kicker John Kasay booted the ensuing kick off out of bounds, giving the Patriots the ball at their own 40-yard line. From there, Tom Brady and kicker Adam Vinatieri did the rest.

1. Scott Norwood, kicker, Buffalo Bills

Super Bowl XXV: Giants 20, Bills 19

With eight seconds left in Super Bowl XXV and the ball on the New York Giants’ 28-yard line, Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood is left with a 47-yard field goal attempt for the win. It does not go his way. It goes “Wide Right.”

Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference..