The NFL was founded as the American Professional Football Association all the way back in 1920. Throughout this long, storied history, fans have witnessed countless crazy moments, from amazing athletic performances, to epic comeback wins. While it would be impossible to list out every single memorable event from the NFL, we’ve done our best to provide you with a few of the most remarkable.
Here are 10 crazy moments in NFL history.
10. The Greatest Game Ever Played (1958)
During the late-1950s, professional football was really starting to gain more popularity, and much of this increased fandom can be attributed to a single game. It was December 28, 1958, and the Baltimore Colts took on the New York Giants in the NFL Championship Game. After going back-and-forth throughout the contest, Johnny Unitas led the Colts on an 86-yard, game tying drive near the end of regulation, and the game would go into overtime. Ultimately, the Colts would prevail 23-17, marking the first time in league history a championship game was decided in sudden death. Historians would be quick to point out the overall sloppiness of the game – six lost fumbles, missed field goals, interceptions, and conservative play-calling – but the match would nonetheless go down in history, often referred to as “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, in part because of the impact it had on the popularity of football on TV and the growth of the NFL.
9. The Miracle at the Meadowlands (1978)
On November 19, 1978, the New York Giants led the Philadelphia Eagles 17-12 at Giants Stadium. There were only seconds left and the Eagles had no time outs, so everyone expected New York Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik to simply take a knee and let the clock run out. Instead, however, he botched a hand-off attempt to fullback Larry Csonka. Cornerback Herm Edwards recovered the fumble, and returned it 26 yards for the game winning score. The game gave the Eagles a much needed morale boost, serving as a catalyst on their way to a playoff birth. Giants fans refer to the play simply as “The Fumble,” while Eagles fans and sportscasters have called it, “The Miracle at the Meadowlands”.
8. The Music City Miracle (2000)
On January 8, 2000, the Tennessee Titans took on the Buffalo Bills in an AFC wild card match-up in Nashville. WIth only 16 seconds left to play, Bills kicker Steve Christie made a 41-yard field goal to give Buffalo a 16-15 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Lorenzo Neal caught the ball and handed it off to tight end Frank Wycheck, who spun and threw a lateral pass across field to receiver Kevin Dyson. Dyson ran down the sideline, rushing past the Bills defense for a 75-yard touchdown. Officials took a look at the play, trying to determine if the lateral was indeed a backward pass. Though some debate it to this day, the call would stand. Dubbed “The Music City Miracle”, the play gave the Titans their first playoff win since 1991, and capped off one of the most exciting finishes in NFL playoff history.
7. The Immaculate Reception (1972)
It is regarded as one of the most famous plays in the history of the NFL, and it happened in the AFC divisional round in a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. It was December 23, 1972, and the Steelers were trailing 7–6, facing fourth-and-10 on their own 40-yard line with 22 seconds remaining in the game and no time-outs. Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a pass attempt to John Fuqua, but the ball either bounced off the helmet of Raiders safety Jack Tatum or off the hands of Fuqua. As it fell, Steelers fullback Franco Harris scooped it up for the game-winning touchdown. Known as “The Immaculate Reception”, the play came with a lot of controversy – did the ball actually touch the ground? Should it have been ruled an incomplete pass? Either way, the play would spark a bitter rivalry between Pittsburgh and Oakland.
6. The Catch (1982)
On January 10, 1981, the Dallas Cowboys took on the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park in the NFC Championship Game. The Cowboys would take a 27–21 lead late in the game, but they left too much time for 49ers Quarterback Joe Montana. He would lead the 49ers on a methodical 14-play, 83-yard drive to get the ball to the Cowboy 6-yard line with 58 seconds left in the game. Facing 3rd-and-3, San Francisco wide receiver Dwight Clark made a leaping grab in the back of the end zone to complete a 6-yard touchdown pass from Montana, giving the 49ers a 28–27 victory. The game would represent a power shift of sorts, as it marked the end of the Cowboys’ NFC domination, and the beginning of the 49ers dynasty of the 1980s.
5. New York Jets Win Super Bowl III (1969)
Super Bowl III was a match-up between the heavy underdog AFL champion New York Giants and NFL champion Baltimore Colts on January 12, 1969. Prior to the game, most pundits had written off the Jets, and the AFL in general, as less talented than the more prominent NFL clubs. Three days prior to the came though, Jets quarterback Joe Namath made a public appearance in which he brashly guaranteed a victory. His team would ultimately back him up, and the Jets defeated the heavily favored Colts 16-7 in a game regarded as one of the greatest upsets in American football history. Namath, who completed 17 out of 28 passes for 206 yards, was named as the Super Bowl’s most valuable player, despite not throwing a touchdown pass in the game or any passes at all in the fourth quarter.
4. One Yard Short (2000)
Super Bowl XXXIV saw the St. Louis Rams take on the Tennessee Titans on January 30, 2000, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Despite featuring two solid offenses, the game was mostly a defensive battle for the first half, with the Rams leading only 9-0 at halftime. After the Rams went up 16-0 in the second half, the Titans responded with 16 consecutive points to tie the game with 2:12 remaining in regulation. Rams quarterback Kurt Warner would respond with a 73-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Isaac Bruce to regain the lead. The Titans then drove down the field, reaching the St. Louis 10-yard line with just 6 seconds to go. On the final play of the game, however, Tennessee receiver Kevin Dyson was tackled one yard short of the endzone, being stopped from scoring a potential game-tying touchdown. The Rams would win 23–16, and they play would go on to enter NFL lore, known today as “One Yard Short”, or simply “The Tackle”.
3. The Helmet Catch (2007)
On February 3, 2008, in the waning minutes of Super Bowl XLII, football fans witnessed one of the great plays of Super Bowl history. The undefeated and heavily favored New England Patriots had just scored with 2:42 minutes left in the game to take a 14-10 lead. The Giants were trying to answer with a drive of their own, but were stalled at their own 44-yard line, facing 3rd-and-5 with 1:15 remaining. On the ensuing play, Giants Quarterback Eli Manning escaped the grasp of three defensive players, hurling a pass downfield that was caught by wide receiver David Tyree. But it wasn’t any old catch. Tyree made the grab by leaping up in the air and pressing the ball against his helmet. The play was a 32-yard gain, and set up what would be a game winning touchdown, as the Giants beat the Patriots 17-14, crushing New England’s hopes of making history.
2. Wide Right (1991)
Football is a game of inches, and that has never been more true than in Super Bowl XXV. On January 27, 1991, the Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants squared off in a game that might have been best remembered for Whitney Houston’s memorable performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” pre-game, if not for the events that would transpire at the end of the game. With just over 2:00 minutes to play and trailing 20-19, Bills quarterback Jim Kelly led the team down the field with a mix of scrambles, short passes, and runs, eventually managing to get the Bills to the Giants 29-yard line, just within field goal range with 8 seconds to play. Scott Norwood attempted a 47-yard game-winning field goal, but his kick sailed wide right, less than a yard outside of the goalpost. The game became the first (and thus far only) Super Bowl game decided only by 1 point, and launched what would become a four-game losing streak in the Super Bowl for the Bills.
1. The Dolphins Reach Perfection (1972)
Led by legendary coach Don Shula, the 1972 Miami Dolphins accomplished a feat that no team has been able to pull off since, winning the Super Bowl after going undefeated for an entire season. After going 14-0 in the regular season, the Dolphins won all three of their post-season games, including Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins. Quarterbacking the Dolphins during this magical season were Bob Griese and Earl Morrall (the latter replaced the former after a mid-season injury). On the ground, the Dolphins were led by running backs Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, who became the first teammates to each rush for 1,000 yards in a season. On the other side of the football, Miami’s defensive unit came to be called the No-Name Defense because it was the offense that garnered most of the publicity. However, despite the name (or lack of one), that Miami defense was the best in the league that year. While teams have come close, no one has yet to achieve what those ‘72 Dolphins did.
Disagree with our list of crazy moments in NFL history? What would you add? What would you omit? Let us know in the comments below. And make sure to check out this companion post on the Top 10 Crazy Moments in NBA History.