The Super Bowl has risen above all other sporting events in terms of its popularity with American audiences. Along the way, this game has produced plays that are entrenched in the memories of football everywhere. With that in mind, we’re here to tell you about the best Super Bowl plays of all time.
Over the years, there have been many Super Bowl thrillers, games that have gone down to the final minutes or even the final plays. But there also have been many lopsided affairs, where one team completely destroys the other. Yet even in the midst of those blowouts, there were often plays that stood out and would become remembered down through the years.
With that in mind, we’re here to take a look at some of the best Super Bowl plays of all time. For the sake of inclusivity, we’re going to choose one play from each of the first 18 Super Bowl Games. As you look through them, you’ll be looking at some of the most memorable moments in the annals of the NFL.
Super Bowl I: Green Bay Packers 35, Kansas City Chiefs 10
Legend has it that veteran Packer receiver Max McGee was hungover heading into the game, due to the fact that he wasn’t expected to play much. But he was forced into action due to injuries, and, boy, did he ever respond. His one-handed 37-yard reception from Bart Starr was the first touchdown in Super Bowl history, one of two scores McGee would pull in on the day.
Super Bowl II: Green Bay Packers 33, Oakland Raiders 14
This contest was never close, as the Packers outclassed the AFL champ Raiders. Perhaps the highlight came when Packers defensive back Herb Adderley picked off a Daryle Lamonica pass and returned it 60 yards for a score. That made it the first defensive touchdown in Super Bowl history.
Super Bowl III: New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7
Joe Namath and his guarantee grabbed the headlines, but the Jets’ four interceptions keyed the upset victory. New York also controlled the ball with the running of Matt Snell, who churned out 121 yards. Snell’s four-yard touchdown scramble was the key, as it was the first score of the game and signaled that New York wasn’t going to back down.
Super Bowl IV: Kansas City Chiefs 23, Minnesota Vikings 7
This was a defensive slugfest played close to the vest for much of the game.
That play answered the Vikings’ only touchdown and put the game out of reach.
Super Bowl V: Baltimore Colts 13, Dallas Cowboys 10
Colts’ linebacker Mike Curtis was known for his crushing hitting ability. But it was his interception of Craig Morton in the game’s final minutes that was the most remembered play from this first AFC-NFC contest (ironically won by the AFC’s Colts, who had been an NFL squad before the merger). The pick set up Jim O’Brien’s game-winning field goal in the first truly close Super Bowl contest.
Super Bowl VI: Dallas Cowboys 24, Miami Dolphins 3
The NFL’s Cowboys rebounded from their heartbreaking loss the previous year. Their defense smothered the Dolphins, while Dallas’ Walt Garrison and Duane Thomas controlled the game with their running. But it was Roger Staubach’s second-quarter TD pass to former AFL legend Lance Alworth that struck the symbolic blow in this lopsided contest.
Super Bowl VII: Miami Dolphins 14, Washington Redskins 7
The Dolphins completed the first (and still only) perfect season in NFL history with the win. Ironically, it was one of the most imperfect plays of all time, Miami kicker Garo Yepremian’s attempted “pass” after a flubbed field goal that went down in blooper history. It was scooped up by the Redskins’ Mike Bass and returned for a score, even though Miami held on for the win.
Super Bowl VIII: Miami Dolphins 24, Minnesota Vikings 7
Miami went back-to-back when they pummeled the vaunted Minnesota defense with a relentless running game. The main culprit was Larry Csonka, who rushed for 145 yards and two scores. It was the first of those, a five-yard rumble to cap off the first drive of the game, that set the tone.
Super Bowl IX: Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Minnesota Vikings 6
The Vikings were once again on the wrong end of a punishing running game, this time courtesy of Franco Harris’ 158-yard game. But it was an offensive miscue, on a fumbled snap by Fran Tarkenton when Minnesota was pinned deep in its own territory, that changed the game. Pittsburgh’s Dwight White covered Tarkenton up for a safety, the first in Super Bowl history that gave the Steelers the lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Super Bowl X: Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17
Steeler receiver Lynn Swann kept getting behind the Cowboys’ defense at the most important times. The play that stands out was an incredible juggling catch that moved the Steelers out of a tough second-quarter hole. Swann would add a 64-yard fourth-quarter score that put the game out of reach.
Super Bowl XI: Oakland Raiders 32, Minnesota Vikings 14
So many of the Vikings’ Super Bowl wounds were self-inflicted. In this game, the standout moment came when Oakland defensive back Willie Brown picked off a Fran Tarkenton score and booked 75 yards for a game-sealing touchdown. The video of Brown pumping down the sideline is an NFL Films evergreen.
Super Bowl XII: Dallas Cowboys 27, Denver Broncos 10
You might not think of Cowboys’ coach Tom Landry, he of the neat suit and tie, as a trickster. But the option pass tossed by Dallas fullback Robert Newhouse certainly caught Denver off guard. Newhouse found Golden Richards for a 29-yard touchdown that sealed the deal in this one.
Super Bowl XIII: Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31
Ironically, one of the greatest games in Super Bowl history hinged on a miscue. Veteran tight end Jackie Smith dropped a wide-open touchdown in the third quarter, forcing Dallas to settle for a field goal. That point differential between field goal and touchdown proved to be the final margin in the game.
Super Bowl XIV: Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Los Angeles Rams 19
The Rams almost had underdog football bettors celebrating, as they took a lead into the fourth quarter against the heavily-favored Steelers. But that’s when Terry Bradshaw uncorked a 73-yard touchdown pass to John Stallworth. Pittsburgh took the lead and never looked back to move to 4-0 in Super Bowls.
Super Bowl XV: Oakland Raiders 27, Philadelphia Eagles 10
The Raiders had already jumped out to a 7-0 lead when Jim Plunkett lofted a pass to running back Kenny King.
That put the Eagles into a 14-0 hole, out of which they were never able to dig.
Super Bowl XVI: San Francisco 26, Cincinnati Bengals 21
The Bengals fourth-quarter rally came up just short. But it might have played out differently had Niner linebacker Dan Bunz not made an incredible open-field tackle of Bengal fullback Charles Alexander in the third quarter at the San Francisco 1. On the next play, the Niners stopped a Bengal run and took over on downs in what was the turning point of the game.
Super Bowl XVII: Washington Redskins 27, Miami Dolphins 17
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs made a tough call for a fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter as his team trailed by four. Running back John Riggins ran through a tackle at the line of scrimmage and found open field from there. He scampered 43 yards for the go-ahead score.
Super Bowl XVIII: Los Angeles Raiders 38, Washington Redskins 9
A comedy of early errors put Washington behind 14-3 in the first quarter. But it went from bad to worse when Joe Theisman’s attempt at a screen pass landed in the arms of Raider linebacker Jack Squirek, who only had to go five yards for another Redskin touchdown. From there, the rout was on.