NFC North: 2014 Memorable Plays

Barry SandersBetsy Peabody Rowe/Getty Images
We have a winner. The voters picked Barry Sanders' touchdown run in the playoffs against Dallas as the Lions' most memorable play and I question their selection. Dan Orlovsky's safety in 2008 is the play I consider the most memorable.

Score: Vikings 12, Lions 10
Date: Oct. 12, 2008. Site: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis

Here's why I believe Orlovsky's safety in the end zone should be the most memorable play in the team's history and it has little to do with Orlovsky, who is a better quarterback than people give him credit.

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Yet a reader may have put it best. The Orlovsky safety, an unfortunate happenstance for a quarterback making his first career start, was the roughest, most memorable play of the most memorable season in Lions history. No matter if the Lions make a Super Bowl, win a Super Bowl or end up winning multiple Super Bowls at some point, the franchise will be remembered as the first -- and for now, only -- team to go 0-16.

Considering the franchise's woebegone history, it is representative of so much of what has happened to the franchise in the Super Bowl era. One playoff win. No Super Bowl appearances. Losing season after losing season, no matter who was the coach and what players they had -- other than a brief respite with Barry Sanders.

The Orlovsky play stands out as a reminder of all that.

The embarrassing play is emblematic of the Lions, who put a good player in a tough situation. But it is, without question, a play that will be remembered and replayed over and over again for a long time. That is what the definition of a memorable play is -- and none are at the level of the Orlovsky safety with the Lions.
Walter PaytonTony Tomsic/Getty Images

This is the play voters and ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright picked as the most memorable play in Chicago Bears history, narrowly beating out William “Refrigerator” Perry’s touchdown run in Super Bowl XX and Devin Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return to open Super Bowl XLI.

Score: Bears 28, Chiefs 27
Date: Nov. 13, 1977. Site: Soldier Field

Thank you, thank you, thank you, voters. We definitely agree on this one. But as time ticked away on voting for the Chicago’s most memorable play, there certainly was trepidation about how things would pan out as Walter Payton’s rather beastly run against the Chiefs in 1977 was basically neck-and-neck with William “Refrigerator” Perry’s touchdown in Super Bowl XX as the voting deadline neared.

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No knock on Perry, as his touchdown certainly was “memorable.” But for many Bears fans, that Perry play served as reminder that Payton didn’t score a TD in that Super Bowl trouncing, which from this vantage point, was a travesty.

As is the case with fellow Chicago icon Michael Jordan, it’s difficult to pull a top play from the many Payton blessed fans with throughout his 13-year NFL career. But this one embodied Payton as a runner, fully displaying all the attributes that made “Sweetness” one of the best running backs.

With the Bears down 17-0 in the third quarter, Payton took a handoff right, spun away from linebacker Willie Lanier and Tim Gray, cut back left and made three Chiefs miss, in addition to plowing over two others before being dragged down from behind at the Kansas City 4. In all, Payton broke seven tackles on a run that sparked Chicago’s eventual 28-27 comeback win.

“If you look at the video, I’m within three or four feet of him four times,” Chiefs defensive tackle John Lohmeyer said in the book, “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton.” “I didn’t give up because it was well known that you couldn’t get him down with ease, and he was an escape artist. I tried tackling him. We all did.”

Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch might hold the “Beast Mode” nickname, but Payton’s 1977 run against the Chiefs might be true definition of that moniker. Not only was Payton’s run the best play in franchise annals, it’s arguably the top run in NFL history.
Gary AndersonAP Photo/Beth A. Keiser
This is the play voters and ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling picked as the most memorable in the team's history, beating out Brett Favre's interception in the 2010 NFC Championship Game and Tommy Kramer's Hail Mary pass to Ahmad Rashad to beat the Cleveland Browns in the 1980 "Miracle at the Met."

Score: Falcons 30, Vikings 27
Date: Jan. 17, 1999. Site: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

Well, voters, we agreed on this one. For a team that has played in four Super Bowls and has been in five NFC title games since its most recent Super Bowl appearance, there were plenty of memorable moments. But this play, which kept the most prolific offense (and possibly the most dominant team) in Vikings history from securing a fifth Super Bowl bid, was tough to top.

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The most striking thing about Gary Anderson's 38-yard miss with 2:18 left in the 1999 NFC Championship Game was how swiftly it pulled the bottom out from under a team that had an air of inevitability about it to that point. Yes, the Vikings had some injuries going into the NFC title game, but their offense had been so explosive (607 points in 17 previous games), and they'd been so dominant at home (winning all nine of their games by an average of 23.22 points) that it didn't seem like an upstart Falcons team had any chance of coming into the Metrodome and halting the Vikings' march to the Super Bowl. It certainly didn't seem that way when Anderson -- who hadn't missed a kick of any kind all season -- lined up for an easy field goal attempt that would have put Minnesota up by 10.

But Anderson's miss gave the Falcons life, and the Vikings seemed too stunned to recover after that point, with coach Dennis Green calling for Randall Cunningham to take a knee after the Falcons' game-tying touchdown and the team punting twice in overtime before Morten Andersen's game winner. As a kid growing up in Minnesota at the time, it was stunning to watch that Vikings team -- so brash and aggressive to that point, so certain of its superiority, particularly in the raucous Metrodome -- on its heels. The Vikings probably never would have reached that point had Anderson's kick sailed through the uprights. Instead, they lost the game, they've endured two more NFC Championship Game defeats since, and their Super Bowl drought is at 37 years and counting.

The fact is it all could have been so different, if not for a miss from a heretofore perfect kicker. That's what made Anderson's miss the most memorable play in Vikings history.
Bart StarrJohn Biever/Icon SMI
We have a winner. The voters picked Bart Starr's quarterback sneak for a touchdown to win the Ice Bowl as the Packers' most memorable play, and I applaud their selection.

Score: Packers 21, Cowboys 17
Date: Dec. 31, 1967 Site: Lambeau Field

From the moment we began soliciting nominations for the Green Bay Packers' three most memorable plays, Bart Starr's quarterback sneak for a touchdown to win the Ice Bowl was mentioned more often than any other play.

So it should come as no surprise that it was the runaway winner in the voting.

Few NFL franchises have one defining play like that, but Starr's sneak ranks up there with the Immaculate Reception and The Catch.

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When the voting closed on Thursday, Starr's play finished as a landslide winner over Brett Favre's 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison in Super Bowl XXXI and Aaron Rodgers' third-and-10 completion to Greg Jennings to help clinch Super Bowl XLV.

What was most interesting in researching this project was that there was no consensus on the most memorable plays from Super Bowls XXXI and XLV. There was just as much support for Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that helped him win the Super Bowl XXXI MVP. Likewise in Super Bowl XLV, strong cases could be made for Nick Collins' interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter and Clay Matthews' forced fumble that thwarted a potential go-ahead drive by the Steelers in the fourth quarter.

Unlike Starr's sneak, no one play won Super Bowls XXXI or XVL.

And that is why Starr's play was so special.

As we wrap up this project, it's also worth noting some of the other plays that were considered, thanks in part to input from readers and other longtime observers of the team.

Among the others:

  • Don Hutson's first touchdown, an 83-yarder in 1935.
  • Dave Robinson drilling Don Meredith, leading to Tom Brown's interception to beat the Cowboys in the 1966 NFL Championship.
  • Herb Adderley's interception against the Lions in a 1962 regular-season game to set up the game-winning field goal in a 9-7 victory.
  • Chester Marcol's blocked field goal that he ran in for a touchdown to beat the Bears in 1980.
  • Don Majkowski to Sterling Sharpe for a 14-yard touchdown pass in 1989 against the Bears in what is known as the Instant Replay Game.
  • Favre to Sharpe in Detroit for a 40-yard touchdown with 55 seconds remaining in a 1994 playoff game.
  • Antonio Freeman's "Monday Night Miracle" catch to beat the Vikings in 2000.
  • B.J. Raji's interception return for a touchdown against the Bears in the NFC Championship Game in 2011.
  • The "Fail Mary" play against the Seahawks in 2012.

The problem with some of those plays is they were either flukes or meaningless plays in meaningless games. Oh, and there was one other play that a longtime Packers observer was convinced would be the most important play in team history if there more details about it were available. It was a punt, said to be nearly 90 yards by Verne Lewellen in a 1929 game against the New York Giants. That punt pinned the Giants deep in their own territory and helped secure a victory that was the difference between the teams in the standings (there were no playoffs at that time). The Packers, with a 12-0-1 record, won the championship over the Giants, whose only loss was to the Packers. It gave the Packers their first championship and, because it happened in New York, helped the Packers capture the attention of the powerful New York media. However, reports from that game do not clearly describe Lewellen's punt.

In the end, Starr's sneak is the play that has been, and likely will continue to be, the most memorable.
Gary AndersonAP Photo/Beth A. Keiser
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This is the third of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in Vikings history, following Brett Favre's interception in the 2010 NFC Championship Game and Tommy Kramer's Hail Mary pass to Ahmad Rashad to beat the Cleveland Browns in the 1980 "Miracle at the Met." Please vote for your choice as the Vikings' most memorable play.

Score: Falcons 30, Vikings 27
Date: Jan. 17, 1999 Site: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

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Description: Behind rejuvenated quarterback Randall Cunningham and rookie receiver Randy Moss, the Minnesota Vikings had rolled through the league in 1998, scoring 556 points on the way to a 15-1 record. They had beaten the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC divisional playoffs the week before, and were 11-point favorites to beat the Falcons and advance to Super Bowl XXXIII. For weeks, a local radio station had been playing a parody of Will Smith's "Miami," with lyrics suggesting a trip to South Florida for the Super Bowl was inevitable.

The Vikings had a 13-point lead in the first half and a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, and after they stopped the Falcons on fourth down from the Minnesota 24, the Vikings had a seven-point lead and the ball with 6:07 left. They drove to Atlanta's 21 with 2:18 to play, and put kicker Gary Anderson on the field, needing only a 38-yard field goal to go up 10. But Anderson -- who had not missed a field goal or an extra point all season and had become the first kicker ever to have a perfect regular season -- yanked the field goal left, and the Falcons drove 71 yards in eight plays, tying the game on a Chris Chandler touchdown to Terance Mathis (Vikings fans will point out that safety Robert Griffith dropped what would have been a game-ending interception in the end zone four plays before the touchdown).

Minnesota had the ball on its own 27 with 37 seconds left in regulation when coach Dennis Green ordered Cunningham to take a knee, grounding the most prolific offense in the game, and Anderson never got a chance to atone for his miss; two Vikings drives sputtered in overtime, and Falcons kicker Morten Andersen sent Atlanta to its first Super Bowl with a field goal from 38 yards: the same distance from which Anderson had missed.

The Vikings have lost five NFC title games since their last Super Bowl appearance in 1977, but it's tough to suggest any one hurts more than their 1999 loss. The Vikings had the most dominant offense in the league, and all they needed to effectively lock up a Super Bowl trip was for Anderson to make one more kick. Instead, that kick drifted left.
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Dan OrlovskyAP Photo/Jim Mone
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Detroit Lions history. In the past two days, we have featured Barry Sanders' touchdown run in the Lions' playoff win over Dallas in 1992 and Calvin Johnson's touchdown catch in triple coverage against the Cowboys in 2011. Please vote for your choice as the Lions' most memorable play.

Score: Minnesota Vikings 12, Detroit Lions 10
Date: Oct. 12, 2008 Site: Herbert H. Humphrey Metrodome

Where to start?

When one thinks of the Lions, the season that immediately comes to mind has everything to do with futility. That's what happens with a franchise when winning seasons are rare, playoff appearances are sporadic and a Super Bowl appearance is yet to happen.

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Yet the Lions live with the ignominy of a team and a franchise that went without a win throughout a season. The Lions are the only team in NFL history to go 0-16 -- and it was a season with a few close games, perhaps none more winnable than in Week 5 at Minnesota.

This is where Dan Orlovsky and the play comes in. It came early in the game during Orlovsky's first NFL start, when the Lions' starting quarterback ran out of the Minnesota end zone with 18 seconds left in the first quarter to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead over the Lions.

What makes the play so memorable is that Orlovsky, being chased by Jared Allen, clearly had no idea where he was on the field. Even after he stepped out of bounds, Orlovsky kept rolling right trying to make a play. He took almost 10 steps running before he slowed up, realizing what he had done.

"When they started blowing the whistle," Orlovsky told USA Today after the game, "I was like, 'Did we false start or were they offsides or something?' Then I looked and I was like, 'You are an idiot.' "

It was, in many ways, the play that symbolized the entire Lions 2008 season, a year when legitimately nothing went right for the Lions.

It likely wouldn't be remembered nearly as much had Detroit actually won the game -- or lost by anything other than two points.

Detroit took a 10-2 lead in the game after Orlovsky threw a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson only to lose 12-10 on a Ryan Longwell field goal with nine seconds left.

The play also overshadowed an otherwise decent first start for Orlovsky. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. For the season, he completed 143 of 255 passes for 1,616 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The combination of all these events, plus the Lions' winless season, left Orlovsky with a play still replayed from time to time. It was also why there was trepidation from some when Orlovsky decided to return to Detroit this season as the backup to Matthew Stafford -- and to try to rectify some of the past.

“I get the fears maybe with obviously fans and whatnot,” Orlovsky said soon after signing. "But the organization knows what they're doing and I know I'm a good player and I certainly hope to be a part of changing some of that past, whether that's directly or indirectly."

Walter PaytonTony Tomsic/Getty Images
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We’re chronicling the third of three plays nominated as the most memorable in Chicago Bears franchise history. We’ve looked at Devin Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return to open Super Bowl XLI, and William “Refrigerator” Perry’s 1-yard touchdown in Super Bowl XX during a 46-10 shellacking of the New England Patriots.

Make sure to vote for your choice as the Bears’ most memorable play.

Score: Bears 28, Chiefs 27
Date: Nov. 13, 1977 Site: Soldier Field

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Elusiveness, explosion, speed, and violence, Walter Payton showed it all in this 18-yard run, which is likely the greatest of a storied career that produced hundreds of breathtaking moments.

The play certainly put Hall of Famer Jim Brown on notice, and definitely should be included in the discussion of the single greatest plays in NFL history.

“I don’t know the game, but I can tell you what moment,” said Brown, who was watching Payton on television for the first time. “I didn’t know who he was, and I saw him make this one run. He fought for every inch. He must have twisted, knocked three or four guys over, spun around, accelerated. I said, ‘Oh my goodness [laughing], what kind of animal is this? What kind of guy is this?’ All those moves, and the strength and tenacity; that was it, I didn’t have to see anymore. I knew this was a great runner.”

Taking a handoff on a sweep right, Payton spun away from linebacker Willie Lanier, cut back left, made three Chiefs miss, in addition to trucking two others before being dragged down from behind at the Kansas City 4. In all, Payton broke six tackles. When he took the handoff, the Chiefs led 17-0. Surely the momentum from such an eye-popping run helped to spark Chicago’s eventual 28-27 comeback victory.

Payton rushed for three second-half TDs to lead the rally, and the victory marked the club’s first of six in a row to end the season as the Bears earned their first trip to the postseason since winning the NFL championship in 1963.

Nearly seven years later, Payton would break Brown’s record to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. In classic Payton fashion, he downplayed the achievement, declaring Brown still the king of all NFL runners.

“I don’t believe I ever broke Jim Brown’s record,” he’d say later. “I think it’s still standing. I don’t think the record books need to be rewritten. I didn’t do it in the amount of time that Jim Brown did. If you can’t do it in nine years and eight games, then you didn’t break his record. I had more games and I played longer, so I didn’t break it.”

Greg Jennings, Aaron RodgersJason O. Watson/USA TODAY Sports
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Green Bay Packers history. The others are: Bart Starr's quarterback sneak for a touchdown to win the Ice Bowl and Brett Favre's 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison on their second offensive play of Super Bowl XXXI. Please vote for your choice as the Packers' most memorable play.

Score: Packers 31, Steelers 25
Date: Feb. 6, 2011 Site: Cowboys Stadium

Just like in Super Bowl XXXI, there were several defining plays the Packers' Super Bowl XLV victory. There was Nick Collins' 37-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter, and Clay Matthews' forced fumble of running back Rashard Mendenhall in the fourth quarter.

But Super Bowls often are about quarterbacks, and there's a reason Aaron Rodgers was the MVP of this game.

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One of those reasons was his throw to receiver Greg Jennings on a third-and-10 play in the fourth quarter. Leading 28-25 with 7:29 left, the Packers took over and needed to bleed the clock and keep the ball out of the Steelers' hands. They faced a third-and-10 play on their own 25-yard line.

"I remember that as I was lined up in the shotgun, I knew how important this play was," Rodgers said in a recent interview. "And I also knew that if I kept the play on, I had really only one place to go with the football that would get us the first down."

And that was to Jennings.

With the Steelers rushing only three and dropping eight into coverage, Rodgers knew he had to be precise with his throw.

"They were playing two-man with inside leverage and we had in-breaking routes, so I really knew Greg had to win against Ike Taylor and I'd have to make a really good throw," Rodgers said. "But I've made that throw a number of times and felt good about it. I was able to take a nice healthy hitch into it and put the ball where I wanted to."

Taylor appeared to get a fingertip on the ball, but Jennings caught it and went 31 yards to help set up a field goal that would force the Steelers to have to score a touchdown on their final possession.

"I didn't know until after the game that the ball had been slightly tipped," Rodgers said. "But that was one of the better throws of my career."

Calvin Johnson, Sean Lee, Barry ChurchMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Detroit Lions history. On Monday, we featured Barry Sanders' touchdown run to cap off the Lions' only Super Bowl era playoff win. On Wednesday, we'll feature Dan Orlovsky running out of the end zone for a safety in 2008. Please vote for your choice as the Lions' most memorable play.

Score: Lions 34, Cowboys 30
Date: Oct. 2, 2011 Site: Cowboys Stadium

What Barry Sanders was to running with the Detroit Lions, the team found the pass-catching equivalent less than a decade later when they drafted wide receiver Calvin Johnson with the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft. And for that, the Lions should be forever thankful to Oakland's decision to take JaMarcus Russell with the No. 1 overall selection.

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Since then, Johnson has made eye-popping catch after eye-popping catch. If there is one defender on him, it is usually a loss for that cornerback or safety. If there are two defenders on him, often a defense has a chance -- but there are many times where Johnson will make the grab anyway.

And sometimes, every once in a while, he’ll do it when there are three defenders on him. That there were two such touchdown receptions to pick from in Johnson’s career is unbelievable enough. So one of them definitely deserved to be on this list.

The one we chose came on the road at Dallas during the team's last playoff season in 2011. Matthew Stafford waited for what seemed like an eternity, continuously patting the ball as he waited for Johnson to come free. He didn't, but it didn't matter. As has happened so often in the careers of Stafford and Johnson, the duo went for the play anyway.

Stafford threw the ball toward the end zone with Johnson surrounded by three Dallas defenders. Johnson had sprinted toward the end zone and posted up safety Barry Church, who was fighting with Johnson in the end zone. Stafford had thrown the ball during the post-up, which Johnson routinely wins.

By the time the ball reached Johnson, Church had help from cornerback Mike Jenkins and linebacker Sean Lee. It didn’t matter. Johnson had already snagged the ball out of the air and when he is able to do that, defenders typically don’t have much of a chance.

The play was one of some significance for the season, too. The touchdown began a come-from-behind win for Detroit in which the team scored 17 points in the final quarter to stun the Cowboys. This was the fourth win in a row to start the season for the Lions. The team began the year 5-0 and finished 10-6 to make the playoffs. Without Johnson's triple-coverage catch -- and the second touchdown he caught in the fourth quarter -- the team may not have reached the playoffs.

 
Ahmad Rashad, Bob Bruer, Brent BoydAP Photo
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This is the second of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in Minnesota Vikings history. We looked at Brett Favre’s interception in the 2010 NFC Championship Game on Monday, and we’ll feature Gary Anderson’s missed field goal in the 1999 NFC Championship Game tomorrow. Please vote for your choice as the Vikings’ most memorable play.

Score: Vikings 28, Browns 23
Date: Dec. 14, 1980 Site: Metropolitan Stadium.

Description: The Vikings' 1980 NFC Central Division championship was the last of 11 titles they'd win under coach Bud Grant, and they clinched it on one of the most dramatic finishes in team history.

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Trailing the Cleveland Browns by a point with 14 seconds left, the Vikings got the ball on their own 20 with no timeouts left. They needed just nine seconds to move to the Browns' 46, thanks to a hook-and-lateral pass that wound up in the arms of running back Ted Brown. Then, quarterback Tommy Kramer -- whose 456 passing yards are still the most by a Vikings quarterback in a non-overtime game -- lofted a pass toward the right side of the end zone as time expired. Three Browns defenders leaped for the ball, but tipped it back to receiver Ahmad Rashad, who reached out and caught the ball as he backpedaled across the goal line. Vikings players piled on top of Rashad -- who finished with nine catches for 142 yards and two scores -- in the corner of the end zone, and both teams poured off the field before the extra point could be attempted.

The victory secured the division title for the Vikings with a week to go in the season and set up a matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Vikings lost the game, 31-16, and by the time they reached the playoffs again, in the strike-shortened season of 1982, they had already moved into the Metrodome. That meant the "Miracle at the Met" was the last great moment of Grant's coaching career at Metropolitan Stadium, and with the Vikings set to move back outdoors for two seasons starting this fall, the old footage of players mobbing Rashad on a frigid day (wind chill at kickoff was 11 degrees) is particularly poignant.
Andre RisonMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports 
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Green Bay Packers history. The others are: Bart Starr's quarterback sneak for a touchdown to win the Ice Bowl and Aaron Rodgers' third-and-10 completion to Greg Jennings in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV that helped clinch the game. Please vote for your choice as the Packers' most memorable play.

Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21
Date: Jan. 26, 1997 Site: Louisiana Superdome

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You can argue that the most memorable play from Super Bowl XXXI was Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter -- and many of you on Twitter did. After all, Howard was the game's MVP.

Or you can make a case for Antonio Freeman's 81-yard touchdown -- which at the time was the longest touchdown catch in Super Bowl history -- although none of you did.

But the ever-lasting memory from the Packers' third Super Bowl title was quarterback Brett Favre running like a wild-man, sans helmet, after his 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison on the Packers’ second play from scrimmage.

Favre, sensing a blitz from the Patriots, changed the play at the line of scrimmage. Rison, who joined the Packers midseason, ran a post route and found himself wide open down the seam.

Favre later revealed the play was rooted in something he had seen from the San Francisco 49ers when he was watching Super Bowl highlights during the week leading up to the game. He saw Joe Montana hit Jerry Rice in Super Bowl XXIV on a play the 49ers called "59 Razor." The Packers adopted it and called it "29 Razor." It was an audible to be used against a blitz that called for maximum blocking protection and only two receivers out in patters.

"Lo and behold, second play of the game, I checked to 29 Razor and hit Andre Rison for a touchdown," Favre said years after the game. "So when you see me running with my helmet off, I'm thinking, 'Can you believe I checked to this play?' It was amazing. And it worked, which was even more amazing."
 
William PerryAP Photo/Amy Sancetta
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Today, we run down the second of three plays nominated as the most memorable in Chicago Bears franchise history. We’ve chronicled Devin Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return to open Super Bowl XLI, and we’ll also break down how Walter Payton displayed his signature strength and speed in breaking tackles during a run against the Chiefs. It was the run Jim Brown said convinced him of Payton’s greatness.

Please vote for your choice as the Bears’ most memorable play.

Score: Bears 46, Patriots 10
Date: Jan. 26, 1986 Site: Louisiana Superdome

Call this play in Bears history a bittersweet one.

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On one hand, William “Refrigerator” Perry’s 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter of a 46-10 rout of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX -- otherwise known as “The Plunge” -- certainly gave fans a nice moment of entertainment. But on the other, the team’s choice to call on Perry for the score instead of Payton, the team’s heart and soul, goes down as one of the major regrets about that game still harbored by former coach Mike Ditka.

Keyed on all day by New England’s defense, Payton -- the game’s all-time leading rusher at the time -- finished without a touchdown despite the club having multiple opportunities near the goal line to get him into the end zone for a score on the game’s biggest stage.

“That was probably the most disturbing thing in my career,” Ditka later said in the book “Payton.” “That killed me. If I had one thing to do all over again, I would make sure Payton took the ball into the end zone. I loved him; I had great respect for him. The only thing that ever really hurt me was when he didn’t score in the Super Bowl.”

Perry’s TD came on a call from Ditka, but quarterback Jim McMahon had a reputation for changing plays when he wanted to. Besides, allowing a defensive lineman in Perry to score a TD instead of the game’s best player at the time seemed as if Ditka was taunting New England. After all, Perry’s run made the score 44-3. It’s a shame Perry scored a TD in the Super Bowl and Payton didn’t.

Ditka has explained that the call was an option play in which McMahon could have pitched the ball to Payton, who later said, “I knew I was going to be a decoy today.” On McMahon’s first touchdown, which came after a fake to Perry, the quarterback also could have pitched it to Payton.

“On the touchdown that I scored, it was a play designed for Walter,” McMahon later said. “But the truth is I don’t think anyone recognized it during the game. I know I didn’t.”

 
Bart StarrJohn Biever/Icon SMI
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in the Green Bay Packers' history. In the next two days we'll feature: Brett Favre's 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison on their second offensive play of Super Bowl XXXI and Aaron Rodgers' third-and-10 completion to Greg Jennings in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV that helped clinch the game. Please vote for your choice as the Packers' most memorable play.

Score: Packers 21, Cowboys 17
Date: Dec. 31, 1967 Site: Lambeau Field

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In what is called "The Ice Bowl" because the temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees below zero (with a wind chill of minus-46), Packers quarterback Bart Starr executed a quarterback sneak behind offensive linemen Ken Bowman and Jerry Kramer with 13 seconds remaining for the game-winning score in the NFL Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys.

The play, called "31 Wedge," actually was supposed to be a handoff to fullback Chuck Mercein, who played a major role in the 12-play, 68-yard game-winning drive that began with 4:50 left in the game. Not even Mercein knew Starr would keep the ball at the 1-yard line and follow his offensive line in to the end zone. But when Starr went to the sideline to talk about the play with coach Vince Lombardi, he told his coach that he feared the frozen field would make it nearly impossible for Mercein to get any traction.

So Lombardi told Starr, "Then run it and let's get the hell out of here," Starr has recalled time and again.

Starr stepped to the line of scrimmage on third-and-inches with 16 seconds left and no timeouts remaining. Three seconds later, he was in the end zone.

Interestingly, a case could be made that the play should not have been necessary because on the previous play, Donny Anderson appeared to break the plane of the goal line, but Lee Roy Jordan knocked the ball out of his hands, and Anderson recovered it short of the end zone.  
Barry SandersBetsy Peabody Rowe/Getty Images
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This is the first of three plays nominated as the most memorable in Detroit Lions history. In the next two days we'll feature: Calvin Johnson's catch between three defenders for a touchdown against Dallas, and Dan Orlovsky's infamous run out of the end zone during the winless 2008 season. Please vote for your choice as the Lion's most memorable play.

Score: Lions 38, Cowboys 6
Date: Jan. 5, 1992 Site: Pontiac Silverdome

Let’s face it. In the long, long legacy of the Detroit Lions, there are not many positive plays out there. This is a franchise to which the unexpected and unfathomable usually happens -- with negative connotations everywhere.

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Yet on one day in January 1992, the Detroit Lions and their fans saw what so many other franchises in the NFL experience way more often: a playoff victory. And in this particular playoff win -- the only one in the Super Bowl era for the Lions -- the best player in franchise history did something extraordinary.

Yes, the game was somewhat wrapped up already by the time Barry Sanders touched the ball in the fourth quarter in the Silverdome, but as was true every time Sanders ran the ball, something extraordinary was potentially going to happen.

This time around, Sanders took the ball on the Dallas 47-yard line and immediately went right. He blew past one defender and ran straight into two other Cowboys. This moment, right here, is why this play is on this list. Instead of falling down or even slowing down, Sanders merely bounced back off the defenders, paused, shimmied his body a couple of times to juke without moving and waited for the hole to open. When it did, he took off again, blowing past one more Dallas defender on his way to the end zone.

The little-caught part of that play is what happened after the bounce-back shimmy juke. Dallas defensive tackle Tony Casillas swiveled his head in every direction, as if he both lost sight of Sanders and also had no idea how Sanders got past the entire Dallas defense. Detroit wide receiver Aubrey Matthews had the same reaction on the play before running upfield to follow Sanders on his dash to the end zone. This was the magic and the breath-holding nature of watching Sanders run the ball during his 10-year NFL career.

It’s why he is probably the most beloved Lions player in history. To watch Sanders run the ball was to understand that almost no one else could ever duplicate what he was doing. And this run, in the playoffs, to give his team a shot at the NFC title for the first and only time in the Super Bowl era, epitomized that.

And for the record, there are about five Sanders runs that could have made this list.
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Devin HesterJoe Rimkus Jr./Miami Herald/MCT
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We’re running down the three most memorable plays in Chicago Bears franchise history, and today marks the first of the plays nominated. Over the next two days we’ll feature: How Walter Payton displayed his signature strength and speed in breaking tackles during a run against the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the run which Jim Brown said convinced him of Payton’s greatness. And William “Refrigerator” Perry’s 1-yard touchdown in Chicago’s drubbing of New England in Super Bowl XX that robbed Payton of the opportunity to score a touchdown on the game’s biggest stage.

Please vote for your choice as the Bears’ most memorable play.

Score: Colts 29, Bears 17
Date: Feb. 4, 2007 Site: Dolphin Stadium

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If setting an NFL record as a rookie by taking six kick returns to the house for touchdowns didn’t cement Devin Hester’s nickname as the Windy City Flyer, his exploits to start off Super Bowl XLI against the Indianapolis Colts certainly did.

Seven players previously returned kickoffs for touchdowns, but Hester became the first in the game’s history to take the opening kickoff back for a score. Hester did it with a breathtaking 92-yard return that gave Chicago the start it needed. Unfortunately for the Bears, they couldn’t maintain that momentum in what would become a 29-17 loss.

“We knew we were capable of returning one,” Hester said afterward. “Once we got a chance to get our hands on it, we knew we had a great chance to get into the end zone. It was a right return and it was set up the way [former Bears special-teams coordinator] Dave Toub planned it. It was just being patient, and trusting your teammates that they’re going to be there to set up the blocks. That’s what happened.”

Hester fielded Adam Vinatieri’s kickoff near the left sideline, and worked his way back toward the middle of the field. In the process, Hester faked left to make a few Colts defenders miss in the middle of the field, and then turned on the jets down the right hash mark as he headed toward the right sideline. Near the 35-yard line, Vinatieri dove at Hester’s feet. But the return man was too far away. It was off to the races.

Interestingly, near the end of the run Hester could be seen watching himself on the stadium’s video board as he crossed the goal line.

The play took 14 seconds off the clock, and given Indianapolis’ struggles covering kickoffs that season, the Colts never should have kicked to Hester in the first place.

Hester currently is tied with Deion Sanders for the most combined return touchdowns (19), but his return TD in Super Bowl XLI isn’t included because it occurred in the postseason. The Bears decided not to bring back Hester after the 2013 season, and in March he signed with the Atlanta Falcons.

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