Sean Pendergast

The 10 Most Iconic Plays in Super Bowl History

If you are a football fan and you see this picture, you remember exactly where you were.
If you are a football fan and you see this picture, you remember exactly where you were. Screen cap from YouTube/FOX
As you may have heard, the Super Bowl is this Sunday right here in Houston. There have been exactly 50 of these so far, and of those 50, I would say about half of them (or so) have been dramatic, but almost all of them have been memorable in some way. When you see a play from a Super Bowl, if you're a diehard NFL fan, you can likely remember a) which Super Bowl the play is from and b) where you were watching that Super Bowl.

No sporting event has been the home to more iconic plays and memories than the Super Bowl, the only national sporting event here in the United States that cries out for its own recognized national holidays. So let's go back in the archives and find, in one man's opinion, the ten most iconic plays in the history of this game...and pray we get to debate inclusion for a new one this Sunday.

10. Santonio Holmes, tight-rope walker (Super Bowl XLIII)
This amazing catch was the culmination of a game-winning drive in a heart-pounding finish to a Super Bowl that actually has three plays that could have made this list — this game-winning Holmes catch, Larry Fitzgerald's "Oh crap, they scored too quickly" TD catch on the drive before this to put the Cardinals ahead, and James Harrison's 100-yard rumblin'-stumblin'-bumblin' pick six right before the half (that murdered first-half bettors everywhere).

9. Lynn Swann, juggling acrobat (Super Bowl X)
For roughly a five-year period, during the height of the Steelers '90s dynasty, Lynn Swann was the man when it came to acrobatic catches and memorable Super Bowl plays. He had four catches in this Super Bowl and all four felt like they were of the highlight reel variety. Swann catches a lot of heat for being named to the Hall of Fame with underwhelming statistics (he is 226th in all-time receiving yards, nestled snugly between Chris Calloway and Reggie Langhorne), but I can tell you that he was the one we all tried to imitate with juggling catches in the sandlot from about 1978 through 1983. That's gotta count for something!

8. Hank Stram "65 Toss Power Trap" (Super Bowl IV)
This play is iconic for two reasons — first, this game was the follow-up to Joe Namath's "guarantee" that the AFL's Jets would beat the NFL's Colts in Super Bowl III. This game was the following season, and like the Jets, Stram's Chiefs were a victorious double-digit underdog to the Vikings. Second, Stram's insistence the play would work, and his reaction to the play working are fantastic.

7. John Riggins, 4th and inches (Super Bowl XVII)
Riggins was the classic throwback running back (euphemism for saying "big, slow and white"). But here, because the Dolphins defense was all bunched up at the line of scrimmage, he was able to break free and run away for the go-ahead score in a Super Bowl that was fairly close but ugly to watch. If anything, maybe this Super Bowl was the subtle beginning of the Dan Marino era in Miami, as their starting quarterback, David Woodley, went 4-14 for 97 yards. A few months later, the Fins would take Marino with the 27th pick in the draft, and the rest is history.

6. Mike Jones, game-saving tackle (Super Bowl XXXIV)
We all loved this play here in Houston because it meant that Bud Adams remained miserable for an extended period of time. Also, in retrospect, we could call this the Floozy Bowl, as both franchises are two of the biggest mercenary relocators in the history of the league, the Rams in almost a serial, repeat-offender fashion.

5. Marcus Allen, 74-yard swerve TD (Super Bowl XVIII)
Before the O.J. documentary exposed Allen as someone who would bang his good friend's ex-wife, he was probably best know for this amazing run. Now he's best known for being the most famous person who would bang his good friend's ex-wife.

4. John Elway, helicopter scramble (Super Bowl XXXII)
Before he was being conveniently forgiven by national media for offering Brock Osweiler $16 million a year, John Elway was, at one time, a beleaguered franchise quarterback who couldn't "win the big one." Once the Broncos finally got him a defense and a running game, though, he was able to break through, not once, but twice. This play was in the upset win over the favored defending champion, the Green Bay Packers.

3. Montana to Taylor, for the win (Super Bowl XXIII)

The legendary part of this drive is the story that Montana entered the huddle in the shadows of his own goal posts and pointed out that John Candy was in the crowd. Moral of the story? Nobody was cooler than Joe Montana.

2. Malcolm Butler, game-saving INT (Super Bowl XLIX)
Crazy thing about this sequence is, if Butler doesn't intercept that pass and the Seahawks go in for a score, the Jermaine Kearse juggling catch a few plays before becomes basically "Helmet Catch, Part II.” Now, it's a footnote. Dammit, when you consider that David Tyree still gets paid thousands of dollars to autograph pictures of his "Helmet Catch," how much did Kearse lose out on in future memorabilia earnings?

1. David Tyree, "Helmet Catch" (Super Bowl XLII)

People talk about the catch here, and rightfully so, but I don't think Eli gets enough credit for escaping the clutter in the pocket. He was able to skirt free from someone with a handful of jersey and still give his team a chance with the heave down the field. This play will also be remembered for triggering the latest in-season lame champagne celebration by the 1972 Dolphins, giddy (assuming they were all still awake for this) over remaining the only undefeated team in NFL history. Yay, Mercury Morris.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast