AFC North: 2014 Memorable Plays

Earnest Byner, Brian BrennanAP photo/Mark Duncan
We have a winner. The voters picked Earnest Byner's fumble at the goal line against the Broncos in the 1987 AFC title game as the Browns' most memorable play. I respect the selection, but also respectfully disagree. Gary Collins' touchdown reception from Frank Ryan in the last championship in the city of Cleveland is the play I consider the most memorable.

Score: Cleveland 27, Baltimore 0
Date: Dec. 24, 1964. Site: Cleveland Municipal Stadium

One inherent difficulty with conducting a survey such as this is those most interested in the survey weren’t around or don’t know enough about a team’s long-term history.

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Thus, when polled about the top plays in Cleveland Browns history, most of their choices were from the 1980s forward.

That is fine and fair, but it doesn’t recognize the greatest stretch of achievement in team history, when Paul Brown’s teams won or played for the championship in 10 consecutive seasons.

Four of those were in the old All-America Football Conference, but it didn’t matter. Brown cemented his legacy by winning the title in his first season in the NFL and playing in the title game his first six -- winning three.

The 1964 Browns team was Paul Brown’s, coached by Blanton Collier, and it continued Brown’s tradition of the Jim Brown toss-sweep and the Gary Collins post pattern as the Browns won the NFL title, the last professional championship of any kind in the city of Cleveland.

The Fumble, The Drive, The Helmet, Red Right 88 ... they’re all memorable. But are they really more memorable than the plays of championship teams? Dare we immortalize all Earnest Byner did for the Browns and Cleveland by picking his one mistake as the most memorable play of all time?

Not me.

Too much good happened in the Browns' glory days -- and those days must be recognized.

It’s excruciatingly painful to make this list without considering Jim Brown’s power sweep behind pulling guard Gene Hickerson. The problem is Brown’s sustained excellence made every one of his plays memorable -- to the point that no one stood out on the marquee. A strong case could be made for the 3-yard TD run in Dallas when Brown ran through or by six Cowboys on his way to the end zone, but not strong enough to get past the titles of 1950 and '64 and the heartbreaks of the '80s.

But when the Browns' great plays are mentioned, there always is a reference to Gary Collins going over the middle to catch a touchdown pass. In the 1964 championship game at Municipal Stadium, Collins caught three TDs. Two were long throws when he beat the coverage. The first was his patented post pattern, over the middle, against a defense expecting it and looking for it but unable to stop it.

That post pattern epitomized that time, and that game.

And because of that, it is my most memorable play in Cleveland Browns history.
John TaylorUSA TODAY Sports
We have a winner. The voters selected John Taylor's game-winning TD catch in the 49ers' win over Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII as the Bengals' most memorable play and I question their selection.

Score: 49ers 20, Bengals 16
Date: Jan. 22, 1989. Site: Joe Robbie Stadium.

Apparently the people who voted all this week in our Cincinnati Bengals most memorable plays poll aren't on Twitter. Because a good majority of the tweets I received this week regarding the Bengals' three most memorable plays -- selected, I might add, in part by those who participated in an unofficial Twitter survey back in June -- criticized the inclusion of 49ers receiver John Taylor's 10-yard touchdown catch that closed Super Bowl XXIII.

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Those of you who vented such frustrations, I get them. When you think about a top plays or most memorable plays countdown, it's in your nature as a sports fan to assume right away that all of the plays involved are "good" ones for the team you root for. For example, either of Ken Anderson's two touchdown passes during the 1981 AFC championship "Freezer Bowl" game with minus-59 wind chills could have been options. Or Jerome Simpson's no-hands goal-line front flip into the end zone in 2011 might have been one. So, too, could Giovani Bernard's field-reversing, tackle-breaking 35-yard run at Miami last season.

Neither of those plays, though, made the cut. Stanford Jennings' 93-yard kick return touchdown that gave the Bengals a late lead in Super Bowl XXIII did, as did running back Corey Dillon's 41-yard touchdown run in 2000 that broke Walter Payton's longtime single-game rushing record. Since some of the best and brightest moments in team history include the Super Bowl appearances, it simply made sense that Jennings' return was a memorable play option. The same had to be said for Taylor's reception, as painful as it may have been for some of you to relive. That reception, which capped another one of Joe Montana's famous comebacks, came at the close of the most recent Super Bowl for the Bengals.

As problematic as the inclusion of Taylor's catch was for some of our loyal Twitter followers, it apparently wasn't an issue for the rest of you. Taylor's catch led the memorable play voting much of the week and ended up the winning selection.

Again, that reception arguably contributed (maybe in a small way) to the downturn the Bengals endured that caused a generation of football fans to grow up believing they weren't a very good franchise. As Chad Richard Bresson tweeted, "One could argue the Jennings return represents apex of Bengals franchise. SB loss, then Montoya. Downhill." (Max Montoya was a guard on the 1981 and 1988 Super Bowl teams. Instead of coming back to Cincinnati as expected in 1990, the then-free agent and California native signed with the Los Angeles Raiders. That postseason, his Raiders beat the Bengals in the second round. Cincinnati hasn't won a playoff game since that year's win over the Houston Oilers a round earlier.)

Instead of Taylor's catch, my pick would have been Dillon's run. Although his record has since been broken by Jamaal Lewis and Adrian Peterson, Dillon's 278 yards against the Broncos were just the dose of optimism the organization needed at the time. In the middle of what was a 14-year stretch without a winning record, the Bengals were in real dark days. They were 0-6 entering that game alone. There was very little to cheer about. But then Dillon came along and smashed one of the game's longstanding records, bringing some positive vibes to the city, even if they lasted for only one more week.
Jacoby Jones; Rahim Moore Jeff Gross/Getty Images
This is the play voters and ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley picked as the most memorable in the team's history, beating out Ray Lewis' key interception return for a touchdown against the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in the 2000 playoffs and Jermaine Lewis' timely kickoff return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

Score: Ravens 38, Broncos 35
Date: Jan. 12, 2013 Site: Sports Authority Field at Mile High

It's not a surprise the voters and myself both agree the "Mile High Miracle" ranks as the most memorable play in Baltimore Ravens history. The better debate is whether this is the most memorable play in NFL playoff history.

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The desperation, high-arcing 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones had everything you want in a historic play. There was late-game drama: The Ravens trailed the Denver Broncos by a touchdown (35-28) with 41 seconds remaining and no timeouts.

There were high stakes: The winner advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

And there was the thrill of the upset: The Ravens were 9.5-point underdogs to the top-seeded Broncos, who were led by Peyton Manning.

This marked a turning point in the career of Flacco, who outdueled Manning by throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns. His best throw, however, wasn't his easiest one. Even though the Broncos were rushing three players, Flacco had to step up into the pocket because of pressure before spotting a wide-open receiver down the right sideline. Jones wasn't jammed at the line of scrimmage and had slipped behind cornerback Tony Carter and safety Rahim Moore. After catching the ball at the 20-yard line, Jones had a clear path to the end zone.

This improbable play was even sweeter for the Ravens and their fans considering what they went through the previous year. The Ravens watched a trip to the Super Bowl get ripped away from them in January 2012, when Lee Evans dropped a touchdown pass and Billy Cundiff missed a short field goal in the AFC Championship Game in New England. The roles were reversed a year later when Flacco heaved that touchdown pass to Jones. According to ESPN Stats & Information’s win probability model, Denver had a 97.2 percent chance of winning the game prior to the touchdown.

What many forget is that the "Mile High Miracle" only tied the game. The Ravens needed to intercept Manning and kick a 47-yard field goal to win the game in double overtime. Still, what made this game so epic was the most memorable play in Ravens history.
Franco Harris, Jimmy WarrenAP Photo/Harry Cabluck
We have a winner. And was there even a doubt? The voters picked "Immaculate Reception" as the Pittsburgh Steelers' most memorable play and I applaud their selection.

Score: Steelers 13, Raiders 7

Date: Dec. 23, 1972. Site: Three Rivers Stadium

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The irony for a franchise that has so many great plays in its illustrious history is that there is really only one choice for the most memorable one.

Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception" won that designation in fan voting on ESPN.com by a landslide over James Harrison's 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII and Santonio Holmes' toe-tapping touchdown catch in the same game.

The fans got this right, even though the play that went in the books as a 60-yard touchdown catch did not come in any one of the six seasons in which the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

First and foremost, it gave a franchise that had never won a playoff game and its long-suffering fans belief. That had been in short supply in the near four decades that followed the Steelers' founding in 1933 by Art Rooney.

Harris changed that when he snatched a pass that had ricocheted back with the Steelers facing certain defeat in an AFC playoff game and then rumbled down the left sideline for the winning touchdown.

The 1974 NFL draft, when the Steelers took four future Pro Football Hall of Famers with their first five picks, ultimately put them over the top and led to four Super Bowl victories in six seasons.

But Harris' miraculous play put the Steelers on the course that transformed them from perennial also-rans to the team of the 1970s.

How much it is still a part of Pittsburgh lore -- and how it transcends sports -- can be seen in Pittsburgh International Airport. There are two life-sized statues in the main concourse. One is of our first president, George Washington, who fought in the French and Indian War in Western Pennsylvania. The other statue is of Harris making the most famous shoestring catch in NFL history.

It remains one of the NFL's most iconic plays and is a timeless reminder of playing to the final whistle -- in life as well as in sports.

In the end, every other Steelers play is still vying for second place when it comes to the most memorable one in franchise history.
Ray LewisROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. The Mile High Miracle and Jermaine Lewis' kickoff return in the Super Bowl were featured the previous two days. Please vote for your choice as the Ravens’ most memorable play.

Score: Ravens 24, Titans 10
Date: Jan. 7, 2001 Site: Adelphia Coliseum

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Of all the big plays in Ray Lewis' decorated career, the most memorable one was when he collided with running back Eddie George in the 2000 playoffs. The result: Lewis returned an interception, off a pass intended for George, for the touchdown that sealed a 24-10 AFC divisional playoff win for the Ravens.

Down by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Titans were trying to muster a scoring drive against the Ravens' record-setting defense and looked to George. Lewis was looking at George, too, and he got to the Titans' leading rusher in the left flat almost as soon as the pass did.

George bobbled the pass, and Lewis delivered the turnover by wrestling the ball away from him. Lewis then broke a leg tackle by George and ran 50 yards down the sideline for his first career touchdown. That score put the Ravens ahead 24-10 with under seven minutes left in the game.

"He's their offensive cornerstone and I'm our defensive cornerstone," Lewis said. "It was just a great war. We're great friends off the field, but when we're on the field, it's just two gladiators going after one another."

This was the signature play for a Ravens defense that had set the NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season. The Ravens went on to beat the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship Game and the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

In both wins, the Ravens' defense didn't allow an offensive touchdown. Lewis, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year that season, would win Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.
Santonio Holmes, Aaron FranciscoKirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
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This is the third of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. Please vote for your choice as the Steelers' most memorable play.

Score: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
Date: Feb. 1, 2009 Site: Raymond James Stadium

Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes played pitch and catch so effortlessly that it seemed as if they were in a backyard.

The two were, in fact, on one of sports’ biggest stages, and the Arizona Cardinals were powerless to stop them at the end of Super Bowl XLIII.

A Larry Fitzgerald 64-yard touchdown reception had given the upstart Cardinals a 23-20 lead with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game. After a holding penalty moved the Steelers back to their own 12-yard line, Roethlisberger and Holmes went to work.

They connected three times in moving the Steelers to the Cardinals’ 6-yard line with less than a minute to play.

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A first-down pass from Roethlisberger to Holmes in the back left corner of the end zone looked like it would give the Steelers the go-ahead touchdown. But a leaping Holmes could not hang on to the ball.

“When I threw it and it looked like he had it, I was celebrating and I just remember, ‘Oh man,’ but coming back to the huddle I was encouraging. He wasn’t down at all,” Roethlisberger said recently. “He was disappointed he didn’t catch it, but there was no worry about going to him on the next play.”

Roethlisberger did just that.

After eluding the Cardinals’ pass rush and going through his progression of reads, Roethlisberger spied Holmes in the opposite corner of the end zone where he had almost made the game-winning catch a play earlier.

Three Cardinals defensive backs were also in the area, but Roethlisberger threw the pass anyway.

“When it came off my hand, I thought the defender (cornerback Ralph Brown) in front was going to turn around,” Roethlisberger said. “I really thought it was intercepted when I let go of it, but it ended up just over his hand and where [Holmes] could make a play.”

Roethlisberger had thrown the ball where only Holmes could make a play on it. And Holmes turned in one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history when he leaped for the ball and then got both feet inbounds by inches after pulling it in.

The toe-tapping reception stood up after an official review, and it put the exclamation point on Holmes' nine-catch, 131-yard performance.

The defense stifled a last-gasp drive by the Cardinals, giving the Steelers their sixth Super Bowl victory, and Holmes earned game MVP honors.

 
Earnest Byner, Brian BrennanAP photo/Mark Duncan
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. The previous two featured were Lou Groza’s kick to win the NFL title in the Browns' first season in the league, and Gary Collins’ post pattern reception in the 1964 NFL Championship Game, the last title in Cleveland history. Please vote for your choice as the Browns’ most memorable play.

Score: Denver 38, Cleveland 33
Date: Jan. 17, 1988 Site: Mile High Stadium

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Red Right 88 was mind-numbing, and not just because of the cold.

The Drive was a punch into a city’s gut.

But The Fumble ... well that ripped at the heart of a team and a city and a player who had done so much for his team before the fumble occurred.

The Browns made the 1987 AFC Championship Game after falling victim to John Elway and “The Drive” the year prior. Instead of wilting, the Browns bonded and put together another excellent season that saw them head to Denver for the championship game repeat -- with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

But the Browns started miserably and fell behind 21-3 at halftime and 28-10 early in the third quarter. Bernie Kosar led a furious comeback as the Browns scored 21 points in the third quarter, with Earnest Byner contributing a 32-yard touchdown catch, a short touchdown run and a 53-yard reception on the drive that tied the game at 31.

But like he did a year earlier, Elway led the Broncos to a touchdown with 4:01 left. Kosar had time, and had the Browns at the Broncos' 8 with 1:12 left. The Browns surprised Denver by handing off to Byner, who rambled around the left end and appeared ready to send the game to overtime by walking into the end zone.

Cleveland celebrated when it saw Byner fall past the goal line, but unknown to many, Denver cornerback Jeremiah Castille had dived at Byner at the 1 and stripped the ball. Castille recovered at the 3.

A distraught city wiped away tears, as did the players who had fought so hard to get back and seemed to have all the momentum going to overtime.

While many scapegoated Byner -- who had 187 total yards in the game -- coach Marty Schottenheimer later explained to NFL Films that receiver Webster Slaughter was supposed to take Castille to the corner of the end zone and block him, but instead cut his route short to watch the play. That put Castille in position to strip the ball from Byner, who went on to have a successful career but will sadly always be remembered at least in part for this one play.

Though it’s tough to choose between Red Right 88 and The Drive and The Fumble and other Keystone Kops plays since 1999, “The Fumble” stands out as the end of an era. Because though the Browns would again make the title game in Denver under Bud Carson, they were never as close as they were with the Kosar-Byner-Mack-Slaughter teams of the mid-to-late ‘80s.

The play’s memory remains as deflating today as it was almost 30 years ago.
 
Corey DillonJonathan Daniel/Allsport
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This is one of three finalists for the most memorable play in Bengals history. The others are Stanford Jennings' go-ahead, 93-yard kickoff return touchdown at the end of the third quarter in Super Bowl XXIII against the 49ers, and John Taylor's game-winning touchdown catch to beat the Bengals in that same game. This entry is a play from the middle of the 2000 season. Vote below for your favorite.

Score: Bengals 31, Broncos 21
Date: Oct. 22, 2000 Site: Paul Brown Stadium

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Description: It started as just another late-October Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati in a season that had already been effectively declared a wash. Arguably the biggest storyline entering the Week 8 showdown revolved around Paul Brown Stadium and the hex the Bengals had seemingly been under since they opened it earlier that year. At 0-3 at home and 0-6 overall, the Bengals hadn't quite gotten acclimated to their new digs. Actually, they hadn't quite gotten used to playing on the road, either.

But what else was new? Playing in the 10th year of what ended up being a 14-season stretch without a winning record, the Bengals were in the middle of some of their darkest days as a franchise. They needed something to get excited about. Their fans needed something to cheer.

Corey Dillon provided that spark when he rushed around the left side for a 41-yard touchdown, and a dash into the NFL's history books.

With his touchdown run that extended a Bengals lead to the eventual 31-21 score they would win by, Dillon became the league's new single-game rushing record holder. The 41-yard scamper was his last on an afternoon that saw him collect 278 yards rushing, three more than the 275 Hall of Famer Walter Payton had in a November 1977 Bears win over the Vikings.

Payton's record had stood for 23 years. Dillon's barely made it three. Baltimore's Jamal Lewis rushed for 295 yards in a game against Cleveland in 2003.

Because of how long Payton's record stood, Dillon's record-setting day was warmly received across the league, and continues to be. The run into history was considered one of the best moments in the NFL that season, and it certainly ranks among the top all-time plays in Bengals history. Hence its inclusion in this list. Does it rank as the best in franchise history, though? We'll find out what you say later this week.
 
James HarrisonMark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT
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This is the second of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. Please vote for your choice as the Steelers' most memorable play.

Score: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
Date: Feb. 1, 2009 Site: Raymond James Stadium

There is some delicious irony to one of the most defining plays in Super Bowl history.

Had Troy Polamalu improvised after correctly diagnosing what the Arizona Cardinals were going to do at the end of the first half in Super Bowl XLIII, there is a good chance he would have collided with outside linebacker James Harrison.

And there is an even better chance that the Steelers would not have won a sixth Super Bowl title.

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Polamalu stayed put even after recognizing the Cardinals’ formation and Harrison improvised, dropping into coverage. Harrison intercepted the Kurt Warner pass that would have given the upstart Cardinals a halftime lead, and rumbled from one end zone to the other. When the Cardinals finally tackled the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year with no time left in the second quarter, he had completed one of the most astounding plays in NFL history. Harrison scored the touchdown that allowed the Steelers to take a 17-7 lead into halftime.

The Steelers ultimately beat the Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII, and given the 10- or 14-point swing at the end of the first half, simple math is all that is needed to determine the significance of Harrison’s 100-yard interception return.

“We don’t win the Super Bowl if he doesn’t catch that and score,” Polamalu said. “If he catches it [but doesn’t score], we lose the Super Bowl.”

That is anything but hyperbole, and Harrison's play came after the Cardinals had driven to the Steelers’ 1-yard line near the end of the second quarter.

Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald lined up in the slot with Anquan Boldin to the outside on the left side of the field. Polamalu correctly deduced that Fitzgerald would clear out the coverage, with Boldin slipping in behind him.

But there was a problem: Polamalu was on the right side of the field.

"In my mind I’m like, 'If I leave my guy and I go over there and they don’t throw it, Coach [Dick] LeBeau is going to be really mad at me,'" Polamalu said. "So in my mind I’m like, 'Do I go, do I not go? Do I go, do I not go?'"

That indecision forced Polamalu to stay put and Harrison ended up dropping into coverage, even though he was supposed to blitz. He intercepted the pass that was intended for Boldin, who had single coverage and probably would have scored had Harrison rushed the passer.

Harrison’s pick was only the start of what Polamalu called “the greatest play in Super Bowl history.”

He started trucking down the field, ignoring calls from some of his faster teammates to give them the ball. A convoy of blockers helped Harrison weave his way through the Cardinals players who were desperately trying to get him on the ground. He collapsed in the opposite end zone with Fitzgerald and Cardinals wide receiver Steve Breaston draped all over him, completely drained following the 100-yard return.

“I was behind him telling him to pitch me the ball,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. “After about 20 yards I’m like, ‘All right, he ain’t going to give me the ball,’ so I just happened to block Fitzgerald off of default. He tripped over me and fell, but I call that a block.”

 
John TaylorUSA TODAY Sports
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This is one of three finalists for the most memorable plays in Cincinnati Bengals history. The others are Corey Dillon's 41-yard touchdown run that broke the single-game rushing record and the San Francisco 49ers John Taylor's game-winning touchdown catch to beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. This entry is a play from the same game; vote below for your favorite.

Score: 49ers 20, Bengals 16
Date: Jan. 22, 1989. Site: Joe Robbie Stadium

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Description: In order to be eligible for consideration on the Bengals' top plays list, a play did not have to be one that caused Who Dey Nation to erupt in raucous cheer. It could have been the direct source of heartache, too.

Exactly 15 minutes, 16 seconds after Stanford Jennings pushed the Bengals out front by seven in Super Bowl XXIII with a kick return touchdown, 49ers quarterback Joe Montana punctuated a fourth-quarter comeback drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to John Taylor. It was a catch that effectively ended the game and gave the 49ers their third Lombardi Trophy under former Bengals assistant, coach Bill Walsh.

Taylor's catch off a slant into the end zone also ended an 11-play drive that saw Montana complete eight of the nine passes he attempted. Aside from Taylor's game-winning grab, Hall of Famer Jerry Rice had three key receptions on the drive, including a 27-yard haul that put the 49ers in the red zone two plays ahead of Taylor's catch. The drive covered 92 yards and lasted barely two minutes.

Had Cincinnati's defense been able to stand as tall on that drive as it had earlier in the game, the Bengals likely would have kept the 49ers out of the end zone and held on just enough to win. Before that series, the Bengals had allowed 358 yards and just one touchdown. They also had allowed the 49ers to convert only two third downs on 10 tries. During the drive, San Francisco saw only one third down. It converted when Roger Craig plowed ahead for a 4-yard run after needing only 2 yards.

As much as Taylor's catch will forever be remembered as the iconic play that sealed the 49ers victory, it's important to note that the 10 plays before helped set it up.

Jermaine LewisTom Hauck/ALLSPORT
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. The Mile High Miracle was featured on Monday and Ray Lewis' 50-yard interception return against the Tennessee Titans will be profiled on Wednesday. Please vote for your choice as the Ravens’ most memorable play.

Score: Ravens 34, Giants 7
Date: Jan. 28, 2001 Site: Raymond James Stadium

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The biggest play in the Ravens' first Super Bowl victory came from the smallest player on the team. At 5-foot-7, Jermaine Lewis secured the triumph with an electric 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter.

The Giants had returned a kickoff for a touchdown to cut the Ravens' lead to 17-7, but New York had the momentum for exactly 18 seconds. On the next kickoff, Lewis stepped up to make the catch, wiggled past a cluster of tacklers, bounced to his right where he squeezed down the sideline after receiving blocks from Corey Harris and Sam Gash, and sprinted all the way to the end zone.

Down 24-7 against the Ravens' record-setting defense, the Giants were finished.

"That emotional flop had to be devastating for them," Ravens coach Brian Billick said after the game.

When Lewis crossed the goal line, he pointed to the sky, a private moment on football’s biggest stage. A month earlier, Geronimo, the son of returner Jermaine Lewis, was stillborn.

"I just wanted to put everything into closure and move on," Lewis said after the game. "I know he's looking out for me. I really already had a message [to him]. I was confident that I was going to score today."
Frank RyanMalcolm Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. Yesterday we featured Lou Groza’s kick to win the NFL title in the Browns' first season in the league, and tomorrow we’ll go over “The Fumble” (enough said). Please vote for your choice as the Browns’ most memorable play.

Score: Cleveland 27, Baltimore 0
Date: Dec. 27, 1964 Site: Cleveland Municipal Stadium

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The Cleveland Browns were double-digit underdogs to the mighty Baltimore Colts when they hosted the 1964 NFL title game in front of 79,544 at old Municipal Stadium (moment of silence, please). But after playing the Colts to a scoreless tie in the first half, the Browns felt they could win the game.

They started the second half with a field goal from old reliable Lou Groza, who never flinched in making a 43-yard kick in swirling winds in the cavernous old stadium, his eighth field goal in the ’64 playoffs. After forcing a punt, Jim Brown ran twice, the second for 46 yards, to put the ball at the Colts 18-yard line.

On the next play, Ryan dropped back, avoided a rush and hit Gary Collins on his patented post pattern for the touchdown that catapulted the Browns to the title. Groza would kick another field goal, and Ryan and Collins would convert on two more touchdowns as the Browns won 27-0.

There were many standouts in the game. Brown ran for 114 yards. Linebacker Larry Benz made the defensive play of the game, blowing up a screen pass in the first half to Lenny Moore when Benz was the only player capable of making the tackle. Ryan had the three touchdown passes, and Collins had 130 yards and a title-game-record three TDs.

But the post pattern epitomized the Browns of that era -- gritty, hard-working, dependent on the team. It took courage to go over the middle, but Collins made his living there. When he retired in 1971, his 70 TD receptions ranked as the sixth-highest total in NFL history. In 1963, he led the NFL in touchdown passes with 13, a team record that wasn’t broken until 2007 when Braylon Edwards (of all people) broke it. And he played in an era when teams played 14 games.

Collins blocked, and in 1965 led the league in punting with a 46.7-yard average. He was not the fastest, but he was among the toughest and the most dependable. Collins rarely dropped a pass, and when Ryan needed a play, he’d call the old post pattern.

In the last professional championship in Cleveland history of any kind, Collins’ post pattern and catch ignited an inspiring win.
 
Lou GrozaAP Photo
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Cleveland Browns history. In the next two days, we’ll feature Gary Collins' touchdown reception from Frank Ryan in the 1964 championship game win against Baltimore and "The Fumble"(enough said). Please vote for your choice as the Browns’ most memorable play.

Score: Cleveland 30, Los Angeles 28
Date: Dec. 24, 1950 Site: Cleveland Municipal Stadium

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Which is the most memorable play in Browns' history?

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    18%
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    8%
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    74%

Discuss (Total votes: 32,324)

It might surprise some, but Browns history goes back earlier than the Bernie Kosar days. Those who remember Kosar probably also remember the Kardiac Kids. But the team’s true history, the tradition that became the Browns, was established by the greatest NFL coach in the '50s -- when Paul Brown and Otto Graham controlled the league. While there have certainly been many negative plays in team history that were more than memorable, there have also been some positive ones.

In 1950, the Browns were the object of smirks and derision when they entered the National Football League. Paul Brown’s teams had done well in the All-America Football Conference, but it was, well, the AAFC, not the NFL. Never mind that Brown had perhaps his finest team in 1950 with Hall of Famers all over the field -- including Graham, Marion Motley, Dante Lavelli and Lou "The Toe" Groza. The Browns were not supposed to just walk in and own the league.

But they did just that, going 10-2 and reaching the title game against the Los Angeles Rams, who coincidentally started as the Cleveland Rams before moving West in 1945 (the AAFC started play in '46). Playing in hallowed old Municipal Stadium (moment of silence, please), the Browns were down eight heading into the fourth quarter, but Graham threw a touchdown pass and Groza made the extra point to cut the deficit to one. Graham moved the ball inside the Rams’ 30 but fumbled with minutes left -- a turnover that seemed to doom the Browns.

Graham did not give up. The Browns got the ball back and moved to the 9, where Groza -- perhaps the greatest straight-on kicker in NFL history -- started a Cleveland celebration by making the 16-yard kick with less than 28 seconds left. Fans stormed the field and carried the goalposts out of the stadium. Even Brown was emotional, with tears in his eyes as he discussed the win.

In 1950, at least there was justice -- the Browns won the NFL title in their first year in the league by beating the team that had abandoned Cleveland five years before.

And Groza was the guy who provided the winning points.
 
Franco Harris, Jimmy WarrenAP Photo/Harry Cabluck
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This is the first of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. Please vote for your choice as the Steelers' most memorable play.

Score: Steelers 13, Raiders 7
Date: Dec. 23, 1972 Site: Three Rivers Stadium

Steelers founder Art Rooney was already headed to the elevator by the time Terry Bradshaw unleashed the last-gasp pass that started perhaps the most memorable play in NFL history.

The gregarious, stogie-chomping owner wanted to get to the field to congratulate his coaches and players on a successful season.

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Which is the most memorable play in Steelers' history?

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    71%
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    14%
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    15%

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There was a reason the man affectionately known as "The Chief" and the Steelers fans who streamed toward the exits had already conceded defeat in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game.

The Steelers were facing a fourth-and-10 from their own 40-yard line with no timeouts and a dying clock working against them when Bradshaw dropped back to pass.

Bradshaw escaped a heavy rush before firing a pass down the middle of the field.

Raiders safety Jack Tatum and Steelers running back Frenchy Fuqua arrived at the same time as Bradshaw’s throw, and the ball shot back from the Raiders’ 35-yard line.

Rookie running back Franco Harris had been trailing the play, and, in one of the seminal moments in Steelers history, heard the voice of the man who, ironically, had turned down Pittsburgh’s head-coaching job in 1969, which later went to Chuck Noll.

Penn State's Joe Paterno had always exhorted his players to run to the ball, and in that moment, Harris followed his college coach’s voice to the ball. He scooped it up just before it hit the rock-hard turf at Three Rivers Stadium and, with mere seconds left on the clock, started galloping down the left sideline.

Harris outraced several Raiders to the end zone and stiff-armed defensive back Jimmy Warren before scoring the touchdown that produced the first playoff victory in Steelers history.

Had instant replay reversal rules been in place then, Harris’ score might not have stood since it would have been an illegal pass if Fuqua had touched the ball first.

But the officials ruled it a legal catch on the field after confusion and hysteria had initially ensued, imbuing the dramatic play with controversy and fueling a Steelers-Raiders rivalry that came to define the NFL in the 1970s.

The Steelers lost to the Dolphins the following week in the AFC Championship Game, but "The Immaculate Reception," as it was dubbed by legendary Pittsburgh sportscaster Myron Cope, is widely credited with putting the Steelers on a track to win four Super Bowls from 1974 to 1979.

"I rank it as high as it could be for giving the Steelers the feeling they could be a great team," Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney has said, "that there might be divine intervention, because that play was so remarkable that is hard to believe."

 

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