Best Super Bowl Plays Of All Time: Top 5 Magical Moments, According To NFL Experts

No other championship game in sports is as exciting as the Super Bowl. Over the years, fans have been treated to a bevy of great Super Bowl games filled with spectacular plays and exciting moments. Nearly every Super Bowl features a spectacular play or two. That’s how Super Bowls are won, by making big plays when it matters most. So, to honor some of the biggest moments in sports history, we’re breaking down the best Super Bowl plays of all time.  

The best plays in Super Bowl history are defining moments for the players who make them. Making a big play in the Super Bowl often leads to a brighter future and a bigger contract, not to mention a championship ring and a place in football history. From big catches to jaw-dropping runs and successful trick plays, the biggest plays in Super Bowl history are beyond noteworthy, they’re iconic. 

Of course, not all fans are focused on the game of football during the Super Bowl. A recent survey finds that 17 percent of Americans plan to watch less than 20 minutes of the actual football game itself on Super Sunday. A poll of 2,000 Americans who watch the Super Bowl every year found that most respondents are more interested in a Super Bowl gathering than they are in watching the big game. On average, respondents watch less than 30 minutes of the actual game while nine percent of respondents report not knowing which teams are playing in the game until they turn on the TV come Super Bowl Sunday. Not paying attention to the game is an easy way to miss out on a historic play, to say the least. 

So, which plays are considered the most iconic in the history of the Super Bowl? StudyFinds did some digging, consulting 10 sports and pop culture review sites to bring you a consensus list of the best Super Bowl plays of all time. Our list comprises the seven most frequently listed moments in Super Bowl history and delivers them here to you. Do you have a favorite Super Bowl moment that we didn’t discuss? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below! 

➡️ How Our “Best Of The Best” Lists Are Created

StudyFinds’ “Best of the Best” articles are put together with the idea of taking the work out of common consumer research. Ever find yourself searching for a product or service on Google and reading multiple reviews to find items listed across many of them? Our Best of the Best lists are created with that process in mind, with each item ranked by how frequently it appears on expert reviews or lists. With Best of the Best, you are getting consensus picks — making them truly the best of the best!

NFL Super Bowl flag with Lombardi Trophy on it
NFL Super Bowl flag with Lombardi Trophy on it (Photo by rarrarorro on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Super Bowl Plays of All Time, According to Critics

1. David Tyree’s Helmet Catch

The top play in Super Bowl history is the infamous Helmet Catch by Giants wide receiver David Tyree. The Helmet Catch was one of the most improbable plays in the history of professional football, not just the Super Bowl. Super Bowl XLII (42) saw the underdog New York Giants squaring off against the undefeated and heavily favored New England Patriots. The Patriots were 17-0 coming into the game and were looking to become the first team since the ‘72 Dolphins to go undefeated straight through the regular season and Super Bowl. 

However, the Giants were able to keep the game close, and with only a few minutes remaining in the game, they were driving with a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown. As Fox Sports describes, the Helmet Catch was a great play on various fronts. First, Giants quarterback Eli Manning had to escape the clutches of two Patriots defenders. Manning was able to spin away and get outside the pocket, putting himself in position to make the big throw. 

Manning barely escaped a sack and the referee was just about to blow the whistle and call the play a sack moments before the legendary quarterback was able to slip away. Once Manning got outside the pocket, he threw a somewhat ill-advised pass back toward the middle of the field to Tyree. The fourth wide receiver on the Giants’ depth chart, Tyree was the most unlikely of targets. Tyree lept over the Patriots’ all-pro safety Rodney Harrison and somehow pinned the ball to his helmet with only one hand. Yardbarker notes that Tyree’s 32-yard catch not only required him to pin the ball against his helmet with one hand but also fend off Harrison with his other hand. 

As Youbet helps recall, the catch had to be reviewed by officials before the play stood. Of course, Tyree’s catch overshadows the game-winning pass from Manning to star receiver Plaxico Burress in the corner of the endzone. The Giants ended the Patriots’ winning streak and emerged victorious by a score of 17-14 in one of the greatest Super Bowl games ever played. 

2. Malcolm Butler’s Game-Saving Interception

Next up on the best plays in Super Bowl history is the game-saving interception by defensive back Malcolm Butler that secured the New England Patriots’ victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX (49). Although this play didn’t directly result in a Patriots score, it kept the Seahawks from scoring and taking the lead, which almost definitely would have meant a Seahawks victory. 

As hard as it is to believe, the Patriots hadn’t won a Super Bowl in nearly a decade before securing this title over the Seahawks. As Sky Sports explains, the Seahawks were driving with a chance to score. Seattle was set up in scoring position after a circus catch by wide receiver Jermaine Kearse. The Seahawks were on the goal line and all they had to do was hand the ball off to star running back Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch for a surefire touchdown. 

Ironically, this game was being played in the same stadium that hosted Super Bowl XLII (42) when the Patriots suffered defeat via the aforementioned Helmet Catch, explains DAZN. The circus catch by Kearse brought back the ghosts of Super Bowl past and it all seemed far too familiar to the Patriots and their fans. In comes an undrafted rookie defensive back named Butler. 

As USA Today recaps, the Seahawks were sitting at the goal line with 20 seconds left in the game, trailing by four. Seattle was looking to win its second Super Bowl in a row and start a Patriot-esque dynasty of its own. However, the Seahawks chose not to hand the ball off to the bulldozing Lynch and instead opted for a short pass. Fans were shocked when quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back to throw. Butler read Wilson’s eyes the whole way and jumped a short slant route in the middle of the endzone. Butler snatched Wilson’s pass and the Patriots held on to a 28-24 lead to win its fourth Super Bowl in franchise history.   

3. Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes for the Game Winner

Next on the list of the top plays in the history of the Super Bowl is a game-winning touchdown that propelled the Pittsburgh Steelers to victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII (43). Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw the game-winning pass to wide receiver Santonio Holmes in the back corner of the end zone with only 35 seconds remaining in the game in one of the most spectacular plays in Super Bowl history, notes Sky Sports

This game was a back-and-forth contest with plenty of big plays made by both teams. As Bleacher Report writes, the Steelers seemingly had this game in hand when the Cardinals came storming back and took the lead late in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh got the ball back with a little over two minutes to go in the game and drove all the way down to the Cardinals’ six-yard line. Roethlisberger took the snap and felt some pressure from the Arizona defense before stepping up in the pocket and throwing a perfect ball to the back corner of the endzone

Fans continue to debate which aspect of the play was better – the pass or the catch, notes USA Today. The play was perfectly executed on all fronts. The line held up in pass protection, Roethlisberger didn’t panic and made a beautiful throw to give his receiver a chance to make a play, and Holmes’ catch required steadfast concentration and awareness to not only make the grab but also keep his toes in bounds. Pittsburgh rallied in this one and came away with its then-record sixth Super Bowl trophy. 

4. Mike Jones’ Game-Saving Tackle on the 1-Yard Line

Next up on the best plays in Super Bowl history is the championship-winning tackle made by St. Louis Rams linebacker Mike Jones in Super Bowl XXXIV (34). This Super Bowl was another close, hard-fought game between the two best teams in the league that year – the Rams and the Titans

The Rams were touted as the “Greatest Show on Turf” and for good reason, notes Franchise Sports. Rams quarterback Kurt Warner came out of nowhere and lit up the NFL scoreboards that season, but the Titans defense was able to hold the high-flying offense to just 23 points despite Warner throwing for a then-record 411 passing yards

The Titans were trailing by a touchdown with only a few minutes remaining in the game when they got the ball back. Legendary Titans quarterback Steve McNair was able to drive his Titans down the field and had them at the Rams 10-yard line and in position to score the tying touchdown, explains Athlon Sports. McNair found receiver Kevin Dyson on a short pass when Jones, a Rams linebacker, was able to come up and make the play. 

As Fox Sports notes, the Titans planned to clear out the middle of the field so McNair could hit Dyson on a slant. The play worked and McNair hit Dyson with a bullet pass that had the receiver in position to score the touchdown. Just as it seemed Dyson was destined to cross the goal line, Jones dropped his hips and went in for the tackle. Jones brought Dyson down as he lunged for the endzone and extended the ball toward the goal line – stopping the Titans receiver about 12 inches short of the goal line. The Rams were world champs by a score of 23-16. 

5. James Harrison’s 100-Yard Interception Return for a TD

The next play on the list of the best Super Bowl plays of all time takes us back to Super Bowl XLIII (43) and the legendary matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. Again, there were plenty of noteworthy plays made in this game, by both teams, but undoubtedly one of the biggest plays of the game was Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison’s stellar 100-yard interception return for a touchdown just as the first half expired. 

The Cardinals looked poised to take the lead, or at least tie the game with only 18 seconds remaining in the first half, explains Yardbarker. Pittsburgh led 10-7 but Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner had his Cardinals in position to score, down on the Steelers’ goal line. Harrison, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, faked a blitz and instead dropped in coverage on Warner’s left side.

As Youbet notes, Harrison’s fake and subsequent drop into short coverage put the Steelers’ linebacker in the perfect position to intercept Warner’s pass. Warner was looking to hit all-pro receiver Anquan Boldin on a short slant route in the endzone but Harrison was right there to pick off the pass. However, the interception is only a fraction of the story here. Harrison’s return is what sets this play apart from others like it. 

The Steelers ran a 3-4 defense, meaning they’d line up with three down defensive linemen and four linebackers. Although Harrison was listed as a linebacker, he was one of the fiercest pass rushers in the entire league. Naturally, Warner never expected him to be in coverage. Once Harrison got his hands on the ball, the linebacker was determined to score with it, writes Franchise Sports. Harrison ran the entire length of the field, 100 yards, on his way to the other endzone. The all-pro linebacker used his fellow teammates as blockers, avoided tackles, and roared down the sideline on his way to Super Bowl glory. The Steelers eventually won this game, as we discussed above, on another legendary Super Bowl play. The final was Pittsburgh 27, Cardinals 23, in what was one of the best Super Bowls NFL fans have ever seen.

6. The Philly Special

The sixth spot on the list of the top plays in the history of the Super Bowl belongs to a trick play run by the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII (52), aptly named “The Philly Special.” The Eagles were big underdogs in this Super Bowl as they squared off against the legendary Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Philadelphia’s head coach Doug Pederson knew he’d have to utilize every play in his repertoire to win this game and that’s exactly what he did. 

Everything has to go right for a trick play to work in the Super Bowl. Trick plays are as much about the timing as they are about the execution of the play itself. The Eagles called this play at the perfect time and paid off in a huge way. As Franchise Sports describes, the Eagles were not going to settle for field goals, so on a fourth and goal with only a few moments to go in the first half, the Eagles chose to be aggressive and go for the score. 

With a 15-12 lead and 38 seconds left in the first half, the Eagles lined up to go for the score, explains Sky Sports. The Eagles were playing this Super Bowl with backup quarterback Nick Foles after a late-season injury to starting quarterback Carson Wentz. Foles had fueled this Super Bowl run so it was only appropriate for him to play a big role in the game. Instead of kicking a field goal, Pederson dialed up the play for Foles

Fans could see Foles mouthing the words “Philly, Philly?” to coach Pederson as the Eagles decided to keep the kicking unit on the sidelines for a fourth and goal attempt. Foles’ suggestion resulted in the most famous trick play in Super Bowl history, adds Yardbarker. The play started with deception as Foles acted like he was calling audibles for the offensive line. Running back Corey Clement took the direct snap during the commotion and ran left before tossing the ball back to the tight end who came around from left to right. The tight end threw a pass to Foles in the right corner area of the endzone.

Foles was wide open for the touchdown and the Eagles took a 22-12 lead into halftime. Philadelphia won Super Bowl LII by a score of 41-33 as the Eagles won their first Super Bowl in franchise history. A statue of Foles depicting the Philly Special now sits outside the Eagles’ stadium in Philadelphia. Legendary. 

7. John Elway’s Helicopter Run 

Rounding out the list of the top plays in Super Bowl history is one of the most memorable and iconic championship-winning plays of all time – Elway’s helicopter run in Super Bowl XXXII (32). This magical run by legendary quarterback John Elway didn’t have as much bearing on the outcome of the game as it did on Elway’s career, explains Fox Sports. Although this run resulted in a big first down for Elway’s Broncos and helped set up a scoring opportunity for running back Terrell Davis, the play was more about Elway’s will to win at all costs than anything else. 

As Sky Sports writes, Elway was nearing the end of his legendary career and to this point, the Broncos quarterback had lost his previous three Super Bowl appearances. Elway wouldn’t be denied a fourth time. The Broncos were taking on the defending champion Green Bay Packers and Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. The game was tied at 17-17 in the third quarter and Denver desperately needed to score if they were going to put themselves in a position to win this game. 

With three minutes left in the third quarter and the game tied, the Broncos faced a pivotal third and six from Green Bay’s 12-yard line, describes Bleacher Report. Elway took the snap and stood in the pocket, scanning the field for an open receiver. Elway decided to take off with the ball and darted toward the first down marker. The 37-year-old Elway chose not to slide or run out of bounds and instead chose to dive for the line to gain. Elway encountered two Packer defenders as one went high and the other went low in an attempt to stop Elway short of the mark. 

As Elway was in the air, diving with the ball, the tackle sent him spinning in the air 180 degrees. First and goal Broncos. Terrell Davis would score a couple of plays later and the legendary Elway won his first Super Bowl title. The spinning dive by Elway is one of the most iconic scenes in the history of professional sports, not just the NFL. 


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  1. I am amazed that you don’t have Devin Hester’s opening kickoff return on this list. I think it was one of the most exciting things I have ever seen in football. Devin Hester is legendary.

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