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Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Jets' top plays: Jumbo's big little catch

By Rich Cimini

Jumbo Elliott
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in New York Jets history. Previously, we featured Dan Marino's infamous fake spike against the New York Jets in 1994. Coming next is the unforgettable Butt Fumble on Thanksgiving night, 2012. Please vote for your choice as the Jets' most memorable play.

Score: Jets 40, Dolphins 37, OT
Date: Oct. 23, 2000 Site: Giants Stadium

Your first inclination is to ask, "What's the big deal about a lineman catching a touchdown?" After all, it happens every so often, a team scoring near the goal line on a tackle-eligible play. But Jumbo Elliott's catch ... well, it was the game, the night, the circumstances and the reaction that made it so memorable. And, of course, the opponent. Crazy things happen when the Jets and Dolphins play.

For the record, Elliott caught a game-tying, 3-yard touchdown pass from Vinny Testaverde with 47 seconds left in regulation. The Jets won in overtime, 40-37. Those are the cold facts. What happened before Elliott's improbable touchdown made it one of the wildest games in NFL history. It will forever be known as "The Midnight Miracle."

Playing before a national TV audience on Monday night, the Jets embarrassed themselves by falling behind 30-7 at the start of the fourth quarter. Testaverde got hot and threw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, surprising the Dolphins with a gadget pass to the 6-foot-7, 325-pound Elliott. With his hands heavily taped, Elliott -- a backup at that stage in his career -- made a bobbling, falling-down catch in the end zone.

"I caught it several times," he likes to joke. "I think I was the leading receiver that night."

There was a relay review and, when the call was upheld, there was Elliott's face -- with a big, goofy grin -- on the stadium's JumboTron. His reaction, some teammates said, was just as memorable as the catch. It took only five seconds out of a 14-year career, but it became his signature moment. To this day, he still gets stopped by strangers that ask him to autograph pictures of the play.

It was the first and last catch of Elliott's career. On TV, comedian-turned-analyst Dennis Miller cracked that the Jets "had their hands team in" and that opposing defenses "couldn't keep him down forever." More than anything, it sustained the Jets' historic comeback. The game finally ended at 1:20 a.m. in a half-empty stadium.

The wacky play overshadowed the importance of the game, as the Jets improved to 6-1 under first-year coach Al Groh. In retrospect, it was the pinnacle of the season. The Jets stumbled to a 9-7 record and Groh left the team to coach his alma mater, Virginia. For one night, though -- one crazy night -- they were unbeatable, thanks to a big, little catch by a man named Jumbo.

@RichCimini Just the look on Jumbo's eyes after catching the TD. Was like a kid catching his first game winner in Pop Warner.

— Kevin (@WhiteFurCoat) June 13, 2014