Score: Panthers 29, Rams 23, 2 OT
Date: Jan. 10, 2004. Site: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis
It's hard to argue with the voters on this one. Steve Smith's 69-yard touchdown catch from Jake Delhomme on the first play of the second overtime ended one of the most exciting playoff games not only in Carolina history but in NFL history.
The Rams overcame an 11-point deficit to force overtime, and both teams blew opportunities to win in the first extra period. I actually went to the sideline with an early story filed, awaiting the final score with Carolina leading 23-12. I've never felt so helpless. With no cell phone coverage and not being allowed to return to the press box, I had no way to rewrite the drama as it unfolded. And there was plenty.
One could argue the most memorable play came from cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. a few plays before Smith's catch. The Rams had a first down at the Carolina 38 and appeared poised to win before Manning ripped an apparent catch from the hands of wide receiver Torry Holt for an interception. Were it not for that play, Smith's catch never would have happened. But because Smith's play won the game and sent Carolina to the NFC Championship Game and ultimately the Super Bowl, it is the one etched in the minds of most fans.
The scene at the Edward Jones Dome went from complete pandemonium to stunned silence as Smith caught the pass in stride over the middle between two defenders and raced untouched into the end zone. In a matter of seconds, St. Louis' 14-game home winning streak was over.
"I've never seen a game quite like that," then-Carolina coach John Fox said afterward.
There haven't been many like it since. As much as I'd say linebacker Sam Mills intercepting a shovel pass and returning it for a touchdown to secure Carolina's first franchise victory in 1995 was more memorable, that play or any other really isn't close when you consider what Smith's catch meant and the emotion it brought.