NFC South: 2014 Memorable Plays Winner

onside kickMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports  
Score: Saints 31, Colts 17
Date: Feb. 7, 2010. Site: Sun Life Stadium

Voting for the most memorable play in New Orleans Saints history was, as I expected, a tight race. The three nominees finished within percentage points of one another: The "Ambush" onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV won with 38 percent of the vote, followed by Tracy Porter's Super Bowl interception return (33 percent) and Steve Gleason's blocked punt in the Superdome re-opener after Hurricane Katrina in 2006 (29 percent).

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Saints' history?

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    38%
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    33%
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    29%

Discuss (Total votes: 34,564)

Personally, I was more partial to Gleason's block. I've never been around a moment that emotional at a sporting event -- or any other event. The symbolic rebirth of New Orleans on a national "Monday Night Football" stage transcended sports. But it was also a huge moment from a sports-specific angle, because it sparked a 3-0 start for the Saints that season on the way to the NFC Championship Game.

Former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, who was around for all three of the nominated plays, said via Twitter: "Without Gleason's blocked punt, none of the other stuff happens. That moment was much bigger than just football."

I suspect that "Ambush" earned a number of votes from non-Saints fans as well as Who Dat Nation; it was such a memorable play that has since ranked on many lists of the top moments in Super Bowl history. The gutsy surprise play that started the second half also perfectly symbolizes the Saints' personality throughout the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era.

It was the first time a team had ever attempted an onside kick before the fourth quarter in a Super Bowl -- and it paid off big time. The Saints immediately followed with a touchdown, sparking their rally from a 10-6 halftime deficit.

And for those reasons, it probably gives the Saints the best chance to keep moving on in the overall "playoff" that ESPN will kick off next week among the winners from all 32 teams. I'm not sure it can top plays like "The Immaculate Reception," "The Catch" or "The Helmet Catch." But when it comes to unique moments throughout the game's history, "Ambush" certainly belongs in the conversation.
Steve SmithAlbert Dickson/Sporting News/Icon SMI 
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.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Panthers' history?

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    60%
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    13%
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    27%

Discuss (Total votes: 27,415)

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.
Morten AndersenCraig Lassig/AFP/Getty Images 
Score: Falcons 30, Vikings 27 (OT)
Date: Jan. 17, 1999. Site: Metrodome

The fans got it right in selecting Morten Andersen's game-winning, 38-yard field goal in overtime of the 1998 NFC Championship Game as the top play in Atlanta Falcons history.

The play, better known as "The Kick," gathered 49 percent of the vote, edging out Michael Vick's overtime run against the Vikings (43 percent).

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Falcons' history?

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    49%
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    8%
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    43%

Discuss (Total votes: 28,413)

Andersen's kick symbolized the most historic moment for the franchise -- earning the right to play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. And although the Falcons lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII, the way they got there will be embedded in the minds of Falcons die-hards forever.

The fact that the Falcons were such a heavy underdog against an offensive juggernaut in the Vikings made the NFC title win and Andersen's kick that much more exhilarating. And a touch of irony was involved as well, as sure-footed Vikings kicker Gary Anderson missed for the first time all season late in regulation, allowing for overtime and the dramatic finish.

The Falcons savored the moment in every fashion, from Andersen throwing his hands up in celebration immediately after putting the ball in the air, to coach Dan Reeves doing the "Dirty Bird" dance with running back Jamal Anderson and a host of other players afterward.

Sure, there were other great moments in Falcons history, such as the "Big Ben Right" Hail Mary touchdown from Steve Bartkowski to Alfred Jackson by way of Wallace Francis; Deion Sanders' 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in his first NFL game (1989); and Matt Bryant's game-winning 49-yard field goal in the 2012 playoffs, which put the Falcons in the NFC title game.

But Andersen and the "The Kick" allowed Falcons fans to boast about their team being Super Bowl participants -- status the Falcons hope to attain again soon.
Derrick BrooksUSA TODAY Sports 
Score: 48-21
Date: Jan. 26, 2003. Site: Qualcomm Stadium

We have a winner. The voters picked Derrick Brooks' 44-yard interception return in the Buccaneers' Super Bowl XXXVII victory against the Raiders as the most memorable play in Bucs history, and I respectfully question their selection.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Buccaneers' history?

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    27%
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    60%
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    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 28,863)

Brooks' pick-six was huge. There's no doubt about that. An icon made a memorable play at a big moment. As a symbol, it was as big as it gets, and I don't want to sell it short. But there's another moment that I think had a greater impact -- and Brooks' interception might never have happened without this play. That's why I'm giving my nod for the most memorable play in franchise history to Ronde Barber's interception return for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.

Barber's play against the Philadelphia Eagles came late in the fourth quarter with the Eagles driving. He returned the ball 92 yards for a score, sealing a 27-10 victory that sent the Bucs to their only Super Bowl.

His play came in the last game ever at Veterans Stadium. That place was known for raucous crowds. But Barber silenced the stadium in the final minutes.

The Bucs endured more than their share of losing in their first two decades. But Barber's interception and return seemed to make all that go away. If you're a true Tampa Bay fan, you remember exactly where you were the moment Barber's play took place.

That's the mark of the most memorable play in franchise history.

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