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Tuesday, January 25, 2011
My top 10 Super Bowl plays

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

James Harrison
Steelers linebacker James Harrison's 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII against Arizona is the longest play in Super Bowl history. "Once we got the ball, we wanted to score," Harrison says.
For some reason, the early Super Bowls were blowouts. The games have been more competitive recently, spiced with lots of drama and big plays.

Last year's Super Bowl included a play I have to put in my top 10: the Saints' successful recovery of an onside kick to start the second half. Head coach Sean Payton's call was one of the gutsiest I can recall in a high-pressure situation and a huge momentum-changer in the Saints' win over the Indianapolis Colts. It bumped Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return in Green Bay's win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI off my list.

But the best Super Bowl play I have witnessed remains James Harrison's interception of Arizona's Kurt Warner and his 100-yard return for a touchdown just before halftime of Super Bowl XLIII. It was one of the more remarkable individual efforts I have seen in any NFL game, let alone the biggest game of the season. The return caused a potential 14-point swing in the Steelers' 27-23 victory.

Harrison reminded me of one of those balls in a pinball machine as he bounced up the sideline to give the Steelers a 17-7 lead at halftime. In recounting the play with our NFC West blogger Mike Sando last year, Warner said he thought to himself: "Dude, you might have just lost your team a Super Bowl with that one mistake." How do you top that play? Perfect read, perfect break on the ball, perfect catch, perfect everything. I saw Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald in the press box right after that play. He has covered more Super Bowls than I have. The first words out of his mouth were: "Greatest Super Bowl play ever." I agree.

Marcus Allen
Super Bowl XVIII MVP Marcus Allen of the Raiders rushed for 191 yards against Washington.
Here are my remaining top 10 Super Bowl plays of all time:

2. Allen's beautiful run

Marcus Allen's reverse run for 74 yards in Super Bowl XVIII was the finest-looking run in Super Bowl history. It allowed the Los Angeles Raiders to blow out the Washington Redskins 38-9, and gave Allen the look of a future Hall of Fame running back. Allen had 191 yards in that game.

3. The acrobatic Swann

In Super Bowl X, Steelers receiver Lynn Swann, who was ultimately named MVP of that game, made an acrobatic 53-yard catch as he leaped, tipped the ball and then caught it while lying on the ground. He finished with four catches for 161 yards and a touchdown as the Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys 21-17.


4. Tyree uses his head (and helmet)

David Tyree
David Tyree's fourth-quarter catch in Super Bowl XLII set up the Giants' upset.
Wide receiver David Tyree's incredible catch with 59 seconds left in Super Bowl XLII set up the Giants' stunning 17-14 come-from-behind victory over the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. Tyree's catch wasn't as pretty as Swann's, but it had the same impact. It was amazing watching the Giants drive on Bill Belichick's defense.

5. Elway the helicopter

Broncos quarterback John Elway soared like a helicopter as he converted a third-and-6 into a memorable first down in Super Bowl XXXII. The score was tied at 17. Elway charged toward the end zone as Packers safety LeRoy Butler hit him first and Mike Prior hit him second. Two plays later, Terrell Davis scored, and the Broncos beat the Packers 31-24.

6. The longest yard

Rams linebacker Mike Jones became a Super Bowl legend by stopping Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson 1 yard short of the end zone on the last play of Super Bowl XXXIV. With six seconds remaining, Dyson took the slant and tried to extend his right arm to the goal line but was just short. The Rams won 23-16.

Adam Vinatieri
Adam Vinatieri established himself as Mr. Clutch with this 48-yard FG in Super Bowl XXXVI.

7. Mr. Clutch

The end of Super Bowl XXXVI, in a close game between the Rams and Patriots, was as good as it gets. Mike Martz, then the coach of the Rams, directed a brilliant fourth-quarter drive that tied the score at 17. Tom Brady, in his first Super Bowl, directed a quick comeback drive that set up the memorable 48-yard game-winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri, who became known as the best clutch kicker of his era. The Patriots were 14-point underdogs, but that victory propelled them into a mini-dynasty that included three Super Bowl victories.

8. Norwood's miss

The most memorable dynasty-changing play of a Super Bowl came in Super Bowl XXV, when Bills kicker Scott Norwood sent a potential game-winning field goal wide right with seconds left on the clock. The Bills lost to the New York Giants 20-19, affirming Bill Parcells as one of the greatest coaches of his era and the Bills as perhaps the greatest runners-up in NFL history. The Bills had four consecutive trips to the Super Bowl and four losses, but Norwood's miss prevented them from having that one Super Bowl victory that would have changed their place in history.

Larry Brown
Cowboys defensive back Larry Brown had two interceptions against Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX.

9. In the right place at the right time

Cornerback Larry Brown of the Dallas Cowboys was able to parlay a great day against Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell into a huge free-agent contract with the Raiders. With four minutes remaining in Super Bowl XXX, O'Donnell threw a pass right into Brown's hands. Brown returned the interception 22 yards to the Steelers' 6-yard line. The Cowboys turned that play into a touchdown and a 27-17 victory.

10. Onside kick in Payton's Place

A riverboat gambler from a casino-laden town, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton made one of the smartest coaching moves I've ever seen in a Super Bowl. Trailing 10-6 at halftime, Payton caught the Colts' special teams napping and successfully executed an onside kick that the Saints recovered at their 42. Drew Brees drove the Saints 58 yards in six plays to take a 13-10 lead. Even though Peyton Manning answered with a touchdown drive in the next possession, the Saints changed the momentum of the game with that onside kick and won the title 31-17.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.