The Browns' highest-profile spot in nearly 20 years doubled as a must-win game for the Ravens. Lamar Jackson delivered, posting 124 rushing yards and accounting for three touchdowns in a 47-42 Monday night thriller. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt totaled four TDs, but the Ravens still led by 14 in the fourth quarter. Jackson left the game with cramps (though, then-Ravens QB RG3 had a different theory), and Baltimore trailed when he returned. Jackson re-emerged at the two-minute warning, throwing a 44-yard TD pass on his first play back to give the Ravens a 42-35 lead. After the Browns answered, Justin Tucker nailed a 55-yard game-winning field goal to keep Baltimore on a playoff course.
The NFC powers cleared the 45.5 over/under early, totaling 55 points in the first half. Drew Brees and Jimmy Garoppolo each threw for 349 yards and combined for nine touchdown passes. The 49ers erased a 13-point first-half deficit; the Saints rallied back from nine down on Tre'Quan Smith's final-minute TD. San Francisco, however, stopped New Orleans' two-point try and used the final 53 seconds for a game-winning drive in a 48-46 win. The signature play in a 12-TD game: George Kittle going Full Gronk to set up Robbie Gould's 30-yard game-winner. This kept the 13-3 Saints from a bye and aided the 13-3 49ers to their first No. 1 seed in 22 years.
While the Chiefs' AFC championship game loss to the Patriots warrants strong consideration, their shootout defeat against the eventual NFC champions was too riveting to overlook. For regular-season games, this one probably prompted more multiple exclamation point text messages than perhaps any other. The Rams' 54-51 win was the highest-scoring game in "Monday Night Football" history. Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff combined for 10 touchdown passes, and despite the score the Rams won this with two Samson Ebukam defensive touchdowns, two Aaron Donald sack-strips and a Marcus Peters revenge INT.
Arguments can be made for Super Bowl LII and the Patriots' controversial win over the Steelers, but the fourth quarter of Saints-Vikings gives it the edge. The Vikings' 29-24 win in the "Minneapolis Miracle" game came after they squandered a 17-0 lead, took it back, then relinquished it in a four-lead-change fourth stanza. After a Drew Brees-to-Alvin Kamara TD, the sides traded dramatic drives that ended with go-ahead field goals. The Saints all but wrapped up a road playoff win, but Marcus Williams' gaffe opened the door for Stefon Diggs' 61-yard walk-off. It somehow got worse for the Saints a year later.
The greatest comeback/collapse in Super Bowl history remains mind-boggling. The Falcons blew a 25-point lead in 17-plus minutes. Multiple penalties took them out of field goal range, and OC Kyle Shanahan failing to run the clock with his Devonta Freeman-Tevin Coleman tandem proved costly and led to the 34-28 overtime disaster/miracle. After a rough Patriots first half, which included a Tom Brady pick-six, the legendary QB pounced on an opportunity and carved up a 27th-ranked Falcons defense by throwing for 466 yards. James White had the game of his life, too, with three TDs — including the Super Bowl's first OT clincher.
Like in 2009, Arizona prevailed over Green Bay in a playoff thriller, 26-20, in overtime . This game, however, continued to elevate Aaron Rodgers' majestic rise. A Dwight Freeney sack pinned the reigning MVP on his own 4-yard line late in the fourth quarter, but Rodgers found Division II product Jeff Janis on a 60-yard fourth-down heave to set up one of this century's top plays . Rodgers' second lob to Janis secured overtime (and coaxed Cris Collinsworth giddiness). But the Packers lost the toss (as they did in a 2014 NFC championship game loss). Larry Fitzgerald then covered 80 yards in two plays to give the Cardinals the win.
The call that will be scrutinized as long as football exists set up the Patriot dynasty's second leg and removed the Seahawks from any "Team of the 2010s" conversations. This February 2015 night proved to be the end of Marshawn Lynch's prime, and the Seahawks' decision not to hand him the ball caused their potential dynasty's unraveling. The Patriots went ahead 28-24 on a Tom Brady-to-Julian Edelman strike, erasing a 10-point deficit. But New England allowed Seattle — with help from Jermaine Kearse's high-wire act — to reach its 1-yard line. Dont'a Hightower stopped Lynch there to set up rookie Malcolm Butler's NFL-altering interception.
A dud through three quarters, the NFL's purple bastions combined for 13 points in 45 minutes. That preceded all-time lunacy. The Ravens and Vikings scored five touchdowns in the final 2:05, with the defending Super Bowl champions striking last to win 29-26 . The lead changed hands six times in the final quarter, and amid the chaos Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff 79 yards to score and a Matt Cassel-to-Cordarrelle Patterson 77-yard connection countered it. Channeling some of his January magic, Joe Flacco marched Baltimore 80 yards and hit Marlon Brown in traffic to win it with four seconds left.
Eleven months earlier, the Ravens parlayed an escape into their second Super Bowl title. The 13-3 Broncos routed the 10-6 Ravens a month earlier in Baltimore and had their playoff guests down seven without a timeout at their own 30. One blunder changed the 2012 season. This frigid game featured two Trindon Holliday return touchdowns and three Peyton Manning TD passes, but the Broncos' No. 2-ranked defense struggled throughout. Jacoby Jones crept past safety Rahim Moore on a 70-yard, game-tying heave, and the Ravens — after John Fox opted for a kneeldown with 31 seconds left in regulation — prevailed, 38-35, in double overtime.
If you prefer either of the Giants' final two wins, that's acceptable. The 49ers' 36-32 Round 2 conquest dealt the eventual champs a break. The Saints blasted the Giants, 49-24, in November in New Orleans, where they were then 4-0 in the playoffs with Drew Brees. The 49ers denied a rematch. They held a 17-0 lead but found themselves in a fourth-period duel. Brees and Alex Smith traded scoring drives in the final four minutes, with this game doubling as one of the peaks in the tight end position's history. Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis combined for 383 yards and four TDs. Davis' last one, with 14 seconds left, ousted the Saints.
Tom Coughlin ordered punter Matt Dodge to kick away from DeSean Jackson. That backfired, creating one of the signature moments in this rivalry's history. This 38-31 Eagles heist represents an all-time Giants loss. Michael Vick led a 21-point fourth-quarter comeback to tie the game between the 9-4 rivals, and the Eagles forced a Giants three-and-out. But with 14 seconds left, overtime loomed. Instead, Jackson delivered one of the more unique (and painful) knockout blows in NFL history. The 65-yard game-ender helped the Eagles to the NFC East title. The Giants (10-6) missed the playoffs.
The Fourth-and-2 game — a 35-34 Colts win — became a defining moment in the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady rivalry. Manning had the Colts at 8-0, but the 6-2 Patriots rolled to a 17-point lead to start the fourth quarter. The 2009 MVP rallied Indianapolis to within 34-28, and the Colts stopped a third-and-2 with 2:08 left. Bill Belichick opted to go for it on his own 28-yard line, but the effort to keep Manning off the field backfired thanks to a Kevin Faulk bobbling reception . Manning found Reggie Wayne for the win in the final seconds. The eventual AFC champions made it to 14-0 before benching starters and losing in Week 16.
While it did produce one of the greatest defensive plays in NFL history — James Harrison's 100-yard, half-ending pick-six — Super Bowl XLIII did not become a classic until the fourth quarter. It ended with the Steelers celebrating their record sixth Lombardi Trophy, after a 27-23 win, but it wasn't easy. The Cardinals erased a 20-7 deficit, with two Larry Fitzgerald touchdowns — completing Fitz's record-setting, seven-TD-catch postseason — giving Arizona a 23-20 lead. Santonio Holmes gained 73 of Pittsburgh's 78 yards on its game-winning drive, and his ( controversial in Arizona) majestic grab gave him a permanent spot in NFL lore.
A 17-14 game doubled as one of the NFL's signature nights. The 18-0 Patriots peaked earlier in the season but had done enough to reach Super Bowl XLII and give the Giants an 83-yard game-winning drive mission. New York's historic journey required a fourth-down conversion and two third-down successes (including a rarely referenced third-and-11 Steve Smith grab ). David Tyree caught four regular-season passes in 2007. He not only added this generation's defining catch but also scored earlier in the game. Eli Manning-to-Plaxico Burress completed the upset, denying the Pats a locked-up "greatest team ever" argument.
This Brady-Manning edition only occurred because the Nos. 1- and 2-seeded teams — the Chargers and Ravens — couldn't protect home field. It led to the No. 3-seeded Colts (12-4) hosting the 12-4 Patriots. The change of scenery produced a different result — a 38-34 Colts conquest — and a much better game than the rivals' two prior January tilts in New England. With some random cast members (linemen Jeff Saturday and Dan Klecko) scoring TDs, the Colts erased a 21-3 deficit and took the lead with one minute left. Marlin Jackson intercepted Brady with 24 seconds left, preceding a Colts Super Bowl victory.
Two NFC playoff qualifiers played a better game in November. Before Tampa Bay and Washington met in January (a Washington win), that year's NFC South champions won the first meeting 36-35 . Southpaw QBs Chris Simms and Mark Brunell co-piloted a back-and-forth game, which Joe Gibbs' team nearly survived twice. After Washington stopped the Bucs on downs late, the hosts' final drive ended with Simms hitting Edell Shepherd for an apparent game-tying TD at the one-minute mark . But after a Washington offside penalty on the PAT, Jon Gruden opted to go for the win. Mike Alstott rewarded him with a second-effort plunge.
Despite going 8-8, the Vikings ended the 2004 season in the divisional round. They needed this random October game against a third-year franchise to get there. Daunte Culpepper and David Carr combined for 768 passing yards, eight TDs and no INTs in Minnesota's 34-28 overtime win — one that took a weird route. Three Culpepper TD passes put the Vikings up 21-0, but Carr and Andre Johnson hooked up twice to ignite a Texans charge. The second end zone connection tied the game at 28 in the final two minutes. But in OT, Culpepper hit Marcus Robinson for a 50-yard game-winner. Culpepper ended his final healthy season with 39 TD passes.
This Monday-nighter was good enough to edge playoff shootouts. The Colts, who in 2003 began their run of seven straight 12-plus-win seasons, stunned the defending Super Bowl champions 38-35 in overtime . After a Ronde Barber pick-six, Tampa Bay was closing a 35-14 blowout. But Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison guided the Colts back to tie it, the Colts needing only one onside kick to do so. This was the first time a team had erased a 21-point deficit inside of four minutes left. A strange penalty ( a "leaping" infraction ) allowed Mike Vanderjagt a second field goal try in OT, which he made. The Bucs ended their title-defense season 7-9.
That weekend's final wild-card game remains one of the NFL's weirder endings. The Giants ran out to a 24-point second-half lead; the 49ers erased it and held on 39-38 . All-Pro Terrell Owens (two TDs) began torching the Giants, and Jeff Garcia finalized San Francisco's comeback by hitting Tai Streets with one minute left. But a nice kick return set up a 41-yard Matt Bryant field goal try. Trey Junkin, however, botched the snap and forced holder Matt Allen into a desperation lob. 49ers linebacker Chike Okeafor tackled an eligible Giants receiver. No flag flew, cinching a 49ers escape. An NFL formal apology came the Giants' way.
One of the early chapters of Tom Brady's legend happened almost 20 years ago. The "Tuck Rule"-aided Patriots prevented a Rams dynasty, with Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal the Super Bowl's first walk-off in 31 years. Despite Kurt Warner outplaying Brady (365 yards to 145), the two-time MVP's touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl gave the second-year passer enough time for a possible game-winning drive in the 20-17 classic. J.R. Redmond and Troy Brown moved the ball into field goal range, setting up the first of Vinatieri's Super Bowl enders. Proehl, interestingly, set up the next one with a game-tying Panthers score in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
A matchup of 5-1 teams first chased thousands of Jets fans out of Giants Stadium, with the Dolphins mounting a 23-point lead in the third quarter's final seconds. The Jets did not go on to achieve what the AFC East champion Dolphins did in 2000, but the memory of their Monday night miracle — a 40-37 overtime triumph — lives on two decades later. After the Jets stormed back to tie the game at 30, Jay Fiedler hit Leslie Shepherd to allow the Dolphins to retake the lead. But tackle-eligible Jumbo Elliott made a juggling snare of a Vinny Testaverde final-minute pass to tie it. John Hall kicked a 40-yard field goal in OT.
An instant classic at the time, the "Music City Miracle" propelled the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV and started a 17-year Bills playoff drought. The Bills lost 22-16 in Nashville that Saturday, a defeat that wasn't helped by Wade Phillips benching season-long starter Doug Flutie for Rob Johnson prior to that game. Johnson did orchestrate two go-ahead fourth-quarter drives, but the subsequent sequence — the Frank Wycheck-to-Kevin Dyson "Home Run Throwback" 75-yard kick return — obscured any previous plays in this game. It is the greatest play in Titans history.
Narrowly edging the Vikings-Falcons NFC title game, the fourth Steve Young-Brett Favre playoff meeting — a 30-27 49ers win — featured one of the NFL's greatest throws. The Packers had won the previous three January meetings between the NFC powers. But Young's all-time dime to Terrell Owens ended Green Bay's quest for a third straight Super Bowl appearance. Down four, the 49ers' 37-year-old quarterback drove the offense 51 yards to the Packers' 25. He found Owens in between five Packers, turning a dud of a game around for T.O. (The 49ers did catch a break when Jerry Rice fumbled on this drive but was ruled down; instant replay returned in 1999.)
After Super Bowl XXV, the early and mid-1990s produced anticlimactic Super Bowls. This one marked a pace change. John Elway exorcised past big-stage demons, with he and Terrell Davis leading the Broncos to a 31-24 win to snap the NFC's 13-Super Bowl win streak. Davis surmounted a second-quarter migraine headache to score two TDs upon returning, legitimizing Denver's zone-blocking line against Reggie White, Gilbert Brown and Co. The 11-point favorite Packers stayed with the Broncos in this duel, with Favre throwing three touchdown passes. But John Mobley knocking down a midfield Favre pass clinched Denver's first title.
In their second year of existence, the Jaguars faced the Patriots in what became an AFC championship game preview. Drew Bledsoe's team held off Mark Brunell's, 28-25, in overtime , but the visitors showed their unlikely capabilities. Jacksonville orchestrated a rare two-Hail Mary day. The Jags prevented a 22-0 Pats half when Brunell hit Jimmy Smith on Hail Mary 1. Amid a 432-yard outing, Brunell found Andre Rison for two second-half touchdowns. The Jags nearly won on Hail Mary 2, but Willie Jackson was ruled shy of the goal line. Rookie kicker Adam Vinatieri gave the Pats the OT win. The Pats won the rematch 20-6.
These Chiefs secured the AFC's No. 1 seed for the first time since the home-field advantage format was introduced. They improved to 5-1 on an October Monday night, ousting their top 1995 AFC West threat 29-23 in overtime. The Chargers took a 23-16 lead with over four minutes left, and Joe Montana successor Steve Bono guided the Chiefs to a game-tying TD — an 18-yarder to tight end Derrick Walker — with 15 seconds left in regulation. In overtime, future Chief Lew Bush dropped a potential game-deciding INT. The Chiefs made the Bolts pay when Tamarick Vanover blazed down the left sideline on an 86-yard punt-return closer.
Montana's final season produced only a 9-7 Chiefs record, but the 38-year-old legend delivered one more classic outing. The Chiefs had never beaten John Elway in Denver; this snapped the 11-game skid. The 1-4 Broncos allowed Montana to throw for 393 yards in a 31-28 win — one that featured two quarterback icons trading go-ahead drives (and prime Shannon Sharpe mic'd-up action). A Marcus Allen fumble led to Elway scoring on a QB draw with less than 90 seconds left, but Montana dissected Denver's 28th-ranked defense on a 75-yard drive. Willie Davis' 6-yard TD with eight seconds left gave Montana another defining moment.
The Packers and Lions met in Detroit in Week 18 (1993 was the NFL's double-bye try) and in Round 1. The latter clash went better for Green Bay, which ousted Detroit 28-24 . The Lions took the NFC Central via the season-finale win but blew a 10-point lead a week later. Both Green Bay and Detroit had pick-six scores, the Packers' coming on George Teague's 101-yarder. Barry Sanders rushed for 169 yards, and Brett Perriman posted 150 receiving. But the signature Favre-to-Sterling Sharpe connection — a cross-field strike in the final minute — gave the Packers the last lead. Eleven months later, the Lions lost in the '94 playoffs at Lambeau Field.
The Bills pulled off the NFL's greatest comeback without Jim Kelly; they also missed Thurman Thomas for most of it. The Oilers routed the Bills in Week 17 but traveled to Rich Stadium for Round 1. They left Buffalo after blowing a 32-point lead in a 41-38 overtime collapse. Warren Moon was masterful in the first half, throwing four TD passes, and the Oilers led 35-3 after a Frank Reich third-quarter pick-six. The Bills scored the game's next 35 points. The Oilers managed to extend it to OT, only Nate Odomes intercepted Moon in the extra period to set up Steve Christie's game-winner. The Bills advanced to Super Bowl XXVII two weeks later.
The Run and Shoot Oilers struggled in the playoffs. A year before the Buffalo collapse, they relinquished a 15-point lead (then three possessions, pre-two-point conversions) in a 26-24 loss in Denver. The Broncos cut the Oilers' lead to one on a fourth-quarter TD drive, but Houston pinned the hosts inside their 2-yard line with 1:58 left. John Elway's "The Drive" sequel was nearly as improbable, with the comeback maven converting two fourth downs — the second a fourth-and-10 strike to Vance Johnson that moved the Broncos into field goal range. David Treadwell's ugly game-winning kick sent Denver to the AFC title game.
Known for Scott Norwood's 47-yard miss, Super Bowl XXV was by far Buffalo's best chance to avoid ignominy. The Giants' ball-control offense was on the field for 40 minutes, limiting the Bills' K-Gun attack in a 20-19 victory. Playing without Phil Simms, New York erased Buffalo's nine-point lead with 10- and 15-play second-half drives. After a TD from Thurman Thomas (190 scrimmage yards), a 14-play Giants sojourn recaptured the lead via 21-yard Matt Bahr field goal. It took the Bills two-plus minutes to drive 60 yards; Norwood had never made a field goal that long on grass. His miss began Buffalo's infamous Super Bowl skid.
The John Taylor Game beat out a Bills-Oilers shootout and Flipper Anderson's 336-yard receiving night, but this was Joe Montana at his apex. The 1989 MVP and his No. 2 wideout helped the 49ers erase a 17-point Rams fourth-stanza lead in a 30-27 win in Anaheim. Taylor's 92- and 95-yard catch-and-runs ballooned Montana's yardage total to 458, but the second Taylor touchdown (with some killer Jerry Rice blocking) only trimmed Los Angeles' lead to 27-23. A Rams fumble on the ensuing kick return gave way to a Roger Craig TD run, clinching the NFC West for the eventual Super Bowl champs.
The Bengals spent over a decade ruing their decision not to promote former OC Bill Walsh to head coach. His 49ers beat the Bengals in a second Super Bowl, 20-16, this one remembered more for Montana's 92-yard drive (and the John Candy line). Other than Rice's nuclear night (11 catches, 215 yards), the Bengals limited the 1980s dynasty (13 points late into the fourth quarter). Cincinnati went up 16-13 with 3:44 left, but the AFC champions' defense permitted a surgical Montana march. Taylor's 10-yard TD snag, from a tight end position, gave Walsh his third Super Bowl title. The Bengals have one playoff win since.
"The Fumble" game also featured Earnest Byner (187 scrimmage yards, two TDs) leading an 18-point Browns comeback, and the Broncos' 38-33 win included another John Elway game-winning trek. The Broncos took a 28-10 lead on Mark Jackson's 80-yard third-quarter TD (pictured), but Byner and Bernie Kosar helped the visitors tie the game at 31. Elway, Ricky Nattiel and Sammy Winder covered 77 yards in three plays. Jeremiah Castille's oft-replayed strip of Byner prevented overtime. The Browns lost to the Broncos in the 1989 AFC title game, too, but Denver dropped three one-sided Super Bowls.
Narrowly edging a historic Jets-Dolphins shootout, the Broncos' 23-20 overtime win (or "The Drive") began John Elway's storied rise and continued an agonizing Browns path. After a 489-yard performance in an underrated Round 2 win over the Jets, Bernie Kosar hit Brian Brennan (who deftly avoided Dennis Smith) on a 48-yard score to give the No. 1 seed a 20-13 lead. It took Denver nearly two minutes to get past its own 20-yard line on the 98-yard drive, but Elway settled in for the final 75 yards of arguably the NFL's greatest possession. Debate rages on about Rich Karlis' barefooted game-winner in OT.
A not-yet-seasoned Browns team needed a December upset of another burgeoning '80s power. Marty Schottenheimer yanked Kosar, then a rookie, and 10th-year veteran Gary Danielson helped the Browns to a 35-33 win in New Jersey. This game featured wide swings, the Browns taking a two-score first-half lead and the Giants going up 33-21 in the fourth quarter. Danielson directed two touchdown drives, the second featuring key Byner contributions — a fourth-down conversion involving a broken Lawrence Taylor tackle and a go-ahead 9-yard run. The Giants moved into field goal range, but kicker Eric Schubert missed a 34-yarder.
The Cardinals made the playoffs thrice during their 28-year St. Louis stay; 1984 marked a near-miss. Facing Washington for the NFC East title, the Cards completed a 16-point comeback but saw the defending NFC champs prevail in a wild 29-27 season-ender. The Neil Lomax-to-Roy Green connection torched Washington. The duo hooked up for two TDs, and Lomax finished with 468 yards on 37 of 46 passing. Green's second score gave the Cardinals a 27-26 lead late in the fourth quarter, but Washington answered with a field goal. St. Louis kicker Neil O'Donoghue's last-second 50-yarder misfired. The Cards left Missouri in 1988.
The Monday night scoring standard until Chiefs-Rams. Washington's voyage to Super Bowl XVIII included just two regular-season losses; Bart Starr's 8-8 Packers provided one in a 48-47 detonation. Lynn Dickey threw for 387 yards, hitting tight end Paul Coffman for two scores. Eventual MVP Joe Theismann countered with 393 in a game featuring six second-half touchdowns. After Joe Washington's go-ahead score gave Washington a 46-45 lead, the defending Super Bowl champs held Green Bay to a short field goal. The visitors moved into Mark Moseley range, but the reigning MVP (and the NFL's last straight-on kicker) missed a game-winning try.
Terry Bradshaw's final salvo gave the Air Coryell Chargers all they could handle, but Dan Fouts' explosive arsenal won out in a 31-28 game at the start of the strike-shortened season's 16-team playoffs. Pittsburgh's 13th-year passer threw for 325 yards and two TDs. The second of which, to fellow Hall of Famer John Stallworth, gave the Steelers a 28-17 fourth-quarter lead. Cornerback Jeff Allen's INT, though, stopped Pittsburgh from sealing a win. It set up the first of two Fouts-to-Kellen Winslow TDs. The Hall of Fame tight end's second came on a screen pass in the final minute. Bradshaw played one 1983 game before retiring.
They went to no Super Bowls, but this period's Chargers were the NFL's must-see team. Their zenith came in the "Epic in Miami," with this 41-38 overtime win upstaging "The Catch" for 1981's top game. Both Fouts and Dolphins quarterback Don Strock eclipsed 400 yards, and Strock — with help from football's most famous hook-and-ladder — brought the hosts back from a 24-0 hole. Three Bolts targets exceeded 100 yards, but this was Winslow's night. The tight end caught 13 passes for 166 yards and blocked a Dolphins game-winning field goal try. The Bolts also blocked an OT field goal, allowing Rolf Benirschke to end this signature game.
Carrying perhaps the Falcons' best chance at a Super Bowl during their first 30 years of existence, the 1980 team brought a 12-4 record into the franchise's third playoff game. But just like in 1978, the Cowboys eliminated them. This 30-27 win is a bit of a forgotten gem. Steve Bartkowski threw for 320 yards and had Atlanta up 27-17 in the fourth quarter. But first-year Dallas starting quarterback Danny White composed a Roger Staubach-ian rally, hitting Captain Comeback's former favorite target twice. Drew Pearson's second TD — off a back-footed White lob — came in the final minute to down the Falcons.
Staubach's final comeback gave the Cowboys the NFC East title and eliminated Washington. The Cowboys beat the Redskins 35-34 in Dallas, and a since-changed net points tiebreaker scenario booted Washington from the playoff picture. After a 66-yard John Riggins touchdown run, Washington led 34-21. The visitors could not stop Staubach, who found Ron Springs to slash the lead to six. The 37-year-old quarterback commanded a 75-yard drive, ending it with a one-step fade toss to Tony Hill with 40 seconds left. Staubach retired after Dallas' divisional-round loss to the Rams.
The Steelers-Cowboys rematch may have been the NFL's most anticipated game in the Super Bowl era's first two decades. Remembered largely for Jackie Smith's drop, Super Bowl XIII — a 35-31 Steelers win — was a high-powered encounter featuring the decade's defining teams. Terry Bradshaw threw four touchdown passes, one coming after Smith's gaffe, to give Pittsburgh a 35-17 fourth-quarter lead. A disputed pass interference call and Randy White mishandling a kickoff opened the door to that advantage, and the Cowboys' final two touchdowns were not enough to stop their AFC nemesis.
Dave Casper's cornerstone game, the "Ghost to the Post" Christmas Eve marathon in Baltimore, sent the Raiders to their 10th AFL or AFC championship game in 11 seasons. The Bert Jones-era Colts' run essentially ended with this 37-31 double-overtime loss. The Colts held four three-point leads, but this game is known for Casper's 42-yard post route that set up the Raiders' overtime-forcing field goal. The Raiders, who held 1976 MVP Jones to 164 passing yards, won when Ken Stabler found Capser on a 10-yard touchdown in the first minute of the second OT. The Colts did not make the playoffs again in Baltimore.
The Steelers and Raiders met in five straight AFC playoffs, but their best game may have occurred to open 1976. The AFC's top teams combined for 38 fourth-quarter points in Oakland's 31-28 triumph. The win set the Raiders on course for Super Bowl XI. After the Steelers took a 28-14 lead — with seven points coming on a Franco Harris-to-John Stallworth lateral play — two turnovers led to the Raiders spoiling the two-time defending champs' opener. A Warren Bankston blocked punt and Willie Hall fumble recovery keyed Oakland's comeback, the latter setting up the 1976 champions' game-winning field goal.
This era's Vikings boasted some of the NFL's best teams; they just came up short to more celebrated franchises. Minnesota's most crushing loss came when Roger Staubach chucked his "Hail Mary" pass in a 17-14 game at the Vikings' Metropolitan Stadium. The Vikings clutched a four-point lead late in the fourth quarter, but Drew Pearson came up with an improbable fourth-and-17 sideline catch to set up the biggest play of the undrafted receiver's career. This Staubach-to-Pearson 50-yard miracle may or may not have involved Pearson pushing off Vikings DB Nate Wright, but the one-man Hail Mary succeeded.
One of the NFL's premier changing-of-the-guard moments came in Oakland, with the "Sea of Hands" sequence ending the Dolphins dynasty in an iconic 28-26 game. This opening-round game included acrobatic touchdown catches from Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch, but the Dolphins took a late 26-21 lead on rookie running back Benny Malone's determined 23-yard TD run. Don Shula has said he wanted Malone to pump the brakes so the Dolphins could kick a game-winning field goal. Instead, Ken Stabler had time to orchestrate a drive that ended with running back Clarence Davis' contested catch.
Washington summoned an ailing Sonny Jurgensen off the bench during a game in which it trailed by 18, and the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer led a rescue effort (with a significant Larry Brown contribution). After a Billy Kilmer injury, Jurgensen helped Washington to a 27-24 conquest. Jurgensen completed 12 of 15 passes to turn around a 21-3 Giants advantage, and Brown — Washington's reigning MVP running back — scored three TDs. Jurgensen hit Brown out of the backfield on a 16-yard strike late in the fourth period. This win helped the the defending NFC champions (10-4) return to the playoffs.
This is probably the dissenting opinion for best football game on Dec. 23, 1972, when the "Immaculate Reception" also took place. But that Saturday's nightcap featured Staubach coming off the bench and erasing a 15-point 49ers fourth-quarter lead in a 30-28 win. The time component enhances this game's appeal. The Cowboys trailed 28-16 with 1:25 left, but after the first of two Staubach TD passes, they used an unorthodox Toni Fritch onside kick to keep the ball. Staubach's 10-yard toss to Ron Sellers sealed the win. Tom Landry had given Craig Morton his job back after an October Staubach injury. This game changed the Cowboys' QB plans for the rest of the decade.
Had Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud made one of his late-game field goal tries, Ed Podolak would probably be a better-known running back. The third-year Chief amassed an NFL playoff-record 350 all-purpose yards in the longest game ever played, but the Dolphins prevailed 27-24 (double overtime) to start their early-'70s run. It took the Dolphins over 82 minutes to oust the Chiefs. Bob Griese's 5-yard pass to Marv Fleming tied the game, and Stenerud's 31-yard miss induced OT. Nick Buonoconti blocked an overtime Stenerud try, and Garo Yepremian missed his first as well. But the Miami kicker's second boot ended this memorable slog.
A kicker lined up on his own 37-yard line for a field goal try and made it. At this point, the goal posts were placed at the goal line. This became crucial in a 19-17 Saints win. Lions kicker Errol Mann gave his team a 17-16 lead with 11 seconds left. The Saints had eight seconds remaining when their drive began, but a Billy Kilmer-to-Al Dodd sideline connection prompted coach Tom Fears to let Tom Dempsey try a 63-yard attempt. You've hopefully seen the result. The make by the second-year kicker with a nub for a kicking foot bettered Bert Rechichar's 1953 record by seven yards.
The Vikings traded Fran Tarkenton in 1967 and made Super Bowl IV without him. Midway through his Giants tenure, the eventual two-time Viking beat that Super Bowl team to exact some revenge. Minnesota won 12 straight games after this 24-23 loss, but none were as memorable. Two Tarkenton TD passes helped the Giants overcome a 17-3 disadvantage. The NFL's No. 1 defense had its the Giants down 23-17 in the final minute. A tipped Tarkenton pass landed in Butch Wilson's hands on a third-and-17 play, and the Hall of Fame passer hit Don Herrmann on a game-sealing post route. A nice moment in a bad Giants era.
The "Heidi Bowl" provided a seminal moment for NFL broadcasts, but the game with the secret ending has standalone appeal. With 692 total passing yards, this AFL championship game preview dazzled fans for three-plus quarters. The score (43-32 ) looks more lopsided than the game was. Don Maynard set a still-standing Jets record with 228 receiving yards, and Joe Namath totaled 381 passing. But after the Jets went up 32-29, "Heidi" happened. Much of the East Coast missed Daryle Lamonica's fourth TD pass (a 43-yarder to Charlie Smith). The Jets later beat the Raiders 27-23 at Shea Stadium to go to Super Bowl III.
Perhaps no game resides in greater standing in NFL lore as the "Ice Bowl." The storied title game produced two fourth-quarter lead changes — the latter of which cemented the Packers' 21-17 win and their place in sports-dynasty history. This game's minus-13-degree temperature remains the coldest at kickoff in NFL history. The Cowboys overcame a 14-0 deficit on Dan Reeves' halfback pass to Lance Rentzel. But an iconic Packers drive ending with Vince Lombardi, with 16 seconds left and no timeouts, eschewing a game-tying field goal for a Bart Starr secret QB sneak gave the Packers their fifth NFL title of the '60s.
Obscured because of the uncomfortable brilliance of the "Ice Bowl": the game to book an AFL-NFL championship game (Super Bowl I) invite. This NFL title tilt took place in far better conditions, at the Cotton Bowl, and featured a superior Packers team. They held on for a 34-27 win, but this was the launching pad to two decades of Dallas contention. Starr was typically clutch , finishing with 304 passing yards, and the Packers led by 14 in the fourth quarter. But after a Cowboys TD, Don Meredith marched them near the Packers goal line. A Dave Robinson pressure forced a Meredith INT. Green Bay won Super Bowl I going away.
The Oilers won just four games in 1965, but George Blanda was in rare form against the AFL's next powerhouse. The 38-year-old quarterback threw five touchdown passes in a 38-36 win, one of the AFL's premier shootouts. It featured an interesting wrinkle. The AFL utilized the two-point conversion, allowing the Chiefs to turn a 35-20 Oilers lead into a 36-35 edge after two Len Dawson TD strikes and two two-pointers. The Hall of Famer-laden Kansas City defense had yet to fully form, and Blanda guided a final drive that ended with an 18-yard field goal. Blanda played 10 more seasons, mostly as a kicker.
We have our first tie (and not our last). This Friday night AFL showcase looked like a Raiders runaway, but the Babe Parilli-led Boston Patriots zoomed back from 20 points down to notch a dramatic 43-43 result at Fenway Park. Parilli, who threw for a career-high 31 touchdown passes in 1964 (six more than the NFL leader), threw three in the second half against Oakland. Parilli's final TD toss gave the Pats a 43-40 lead inside of a minute, but Raiders QB Cotton Davidson — he of four TD strikes of his own — directed a drive that closed with a Mike Mercer field goal with five seconds left. See, riveting tie drama!
These two teams do not have much history, but they played two of the 1960s' most randomly excellent games. This late-season tilt gave the public a Johnny Unitas-Fran Tarkenton showcase, and the legends matched up in a momentum-transforming event — a 37-34 Colts escape. Minnesota running back Tommy Mason scored three times, helping turn a 16-0 Baltimore lead into a 34-23 Vikings advantage by quarter four. Unitas guided his team to a win despite the Colts trailing 34-30 on their own 42-yard line with 17 seconds left. A snazzy Raymond Berry catch set up a Unitas-to-Jimmy Orr close-out at the four-second mark.
The Oilers came close to an AFL-opening three-peat, Houston Comets-style, but the Dallas Texans impeded their then-instate rivals' quest for a third straight AFL crown. At the time, this 77-minute game was the longest in football history. The sport's second overtime game went the Texans' way, 20-17. It was the last time these teams both resided in Texas. Shortly before morphing into the Chiefs, the Texans nearly blew a 17-0 lead. Facing fellow Hall of Famer Len Dawson, George Blanda threw a touchdown pass, kicked a field goal and steered a game-tying drive. But his five INTs helped sink Houston, which has not won a pro football title since.
In their third game of existence, the Vikings gave the Colts all they could handle. Fortunately for the Colts, they employed Lenny Moore. The Hall of Fame halfback/flanker scored four touchdowns (three receiving) in a 34-33 Baltimore victory. The Vikings had yet to give the reins to rookie Fran Tarkenton, but George Shaw threw two TD passes in this unexpected shootout. The lead changed hands five times in the final stanza, with the game ending on three field goals — the last of which a 52-yarder from Colts kicker Steve Myhra. The Colts went 8-6 in 1961.
The only team to beat Vince Lombardi's Packers in a title game, the Eagles won a defense-powered championship 17-13 — their first title in 11 years. The Packers morphed from 1-10-1 in 1958 to an 8-4 conference champion by Lombardi's second year, but 1960's MVP executed one of the league's greatest exits. Norm Van Brocklin threw a TD pass to fellow Hall of Famer Tommy McDonald to give the Eagles a 7-6 lead, and after a Packers touchdown, Ted Dean's 59-yard kick return keyed an Eagles go-ahead march. Dean's 5-yard run gave Philly a late lead. They held off a Packers last-ditch drive to win. Van Brocklin retired soon after.
The Eagles acquired Van Brocklin from the Rams in 1958, and the team began to progress in 1959. This game occurred in Minneapolis, and the future NFL market was not cheated. Hall of Famers shined in this 28-24 Eagles win. Cardinals cornerback "Night Train" Lane took a Van Brocklin pass 37 yards to give Chicago a 24-0 early-third-quarter lead, but the Eagles — buoyed by three INTs of Cardinals QB John Roach — answered, many times over. Running back Billy Barnes and wideout Tommy McDonald scored four TDs. McDonald's second score came near the three-minute mark. This remains the Eagles' greatest comeback.
"The Greatest Game Ever Played" doesn't have a vice grip on that title any longer; there were six lost fumbles. But it was the defining game for the era's greatest quarterback, with Johnny Unitas throwing for 349 yards in the Colts' 23-17 overtime win (the first of its kind). Raymond Berry had a better day, with 12 catches for 178 yards, and came up big for Unitas on the Colts' 86-yard, OT-forcing march — which ended in a 20-yard field goal. The Giants won the toss, but the Colts won on Alan Ameche's 1-yard plunge in the bonus period. This game, the Colts' first title, featured 17 Hall of Famers.
Chasing a third title of the 1950s, the Lions stunned a 49ers team seeking its first ever. Tobin Rote and fellow backup — running back Tom Tracy — keyed a 20-point Lions comeback, a 31-27 win at Kezar Stadium, and spoiled a prime 49ers chance. Y.A. Tittle and the remaining members of the 49ers' "Million Dollar Backfield" (Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry) ignited a 27-7 lead. Filling in for an injured Bobby Layne, Rote directed four scoring drives — one a 58-yard Tracy TD on a counter-trap play — to go with the Lions forcing four turnovers to secure a rubber match with the Browns. The Lions shredded their 1950s rivals 59-14.
Perhaps known more for being the Division II Heisman Trophy namesake, Harlon Hill enjoyed a dominant start to his NFL career. The third-year Bears wideout was the MVP of a high-caliber 17-17 game at Yankee Stadium. With the Giants leading 17-3, Hill scored on a 79-yard halfback pass in the fourth quarter. Then with less than a minute left, Hill made one of the great catches in NFL history, a symphony of concentration, on a 56-yard toss from Ed Brown. The Bears were no match for these Giants in the championship game a month later — a 47-7 New York rout.
A year prior to the Giants' ascent, the Browns were not ready to relinquish their place atop the NFL. In Otto Graham's final season, he delivered a 319-yard performance in an even more explosive New York tie ( 35-35) — this one at the Polo Grounds. Sandwiching Graham's three TD passes were a 14-0 Giants start and a Chuck Noll pick-six that gave Cleveland a 35-28 edge. But longtime Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly piloted an 85-yard drive that ended with a Frank Gifford tackle-breaking TD catch. The Giants were still a sub-.500 team, however, and the Browns repeated as champions weeks later.
Owning the mid-1950s portion of this list, Harlon Hill produced 1,124 receiving yards in 1954 — a Bears rookie record that still stands. His best game came against the 49ers at Kezar Stadium in a 31-27 Bears win. Despite Hill's three TDs, the 49ers led a seesaw contest 27-24 after a field goal with 36 seconds left. The Bears only could advance to near midfield 11 seconds later, but that ended up inconsequential after George Blanda found Hill for a 46-yard game-winner. Hill finished with 214 receiving yards — a Bears single-game record that stood for nearly 60 years.
We catch up with the Rams' version of Norm Van Brocklin, who threw for 285 yards on an unseasonably hot Bay Area day. While Hall of Famer "Crazy Legs" Hirsch and speed merchant Bob Boyd exceeded 100 yards, a more workmanlike 49ers team exited with a 31-30 win. The Rams did scoot to a 20-0 lead, but thanks to two TDs from Hall of Famer Joe Perry and a 1-yard score from fellow back Billy Mixon, the 49ers took a fourth-period advantage. The Rams went up on a short field goal but could not stop a Hugh McElhenny 71-yard gain. This set up a 12-yard 49ers field goal. The 49ers swept the Rams in 1953.
Before the AFL's Dallas Texans formed, a pre-Cowboys NFL Dallas team existed. But after mismanagement, the NFL took over the team and turned it into a barnstorming attraction of sorts. On Thanksgiving Day the Bears faced the winless Texans at Akron's Rubber Bowl. Fans flocked out of the stadium after a high school game, leaving barely 2,000 in the house for the NFL clash. It turned out to be the Texans' lone win. Dallas took a 20-2 lead but gave it up in the fourth quarter. In a matchup of two future AFL passers, Blanda and Frank Tripucka, the latter's 1-yard sneak with 34 seconds left gave the Texans a 27-23 upset win.
The NFL's most successful two-QB system gave Los Angeles its first major pro sports title, with the Bob Waterfield-Norm Van Brocklin pairing helping the Rams over the Browns in 24-17 championship rematch. Both Hall of Famers eclipsed 120 passing yards; Otto Graham outdid both with 280 (with three interceptions). The Browns tied this close-throughout contest at 17 with a fourth-quarter field goal but did not stop Hall of Fame end Tom Fears from inching past two Browns DBs. Fears' 73-yard reception from Van Brocklin sealed the Rams' win in the first nationally televised NFL game.
The first meeting was even better. Cleveland's former team, the Rams, traveled back to Northeast Ohio to face a first-year NFL juggernaut. The Rams averaged an NFL-record (still) 38.8 points per game, but the Browns won 30-28 in the former AAFC dynasty's NFL debut. Waterfield quarterbacked the Rams in this game, throwing for 312 yards, and had them up 28-20 with under five minutes left. But a Graham nine-completion drive moved the Browns to within one point. A Rams three-and-out still left the Browns barely a minute. Graham converted a fourth-and-19 via a scramble, leading to Lou Groza's 16-yard game-ender.
The longest pass of the 1949 season lifted the Giants in this one. Early in Charlie Conerly's near-15-year New York career, he connected with Gene Roberts three times in this midseason game — a 35-28 New York victory. The Giants blew a 21-0 lead, allowing Bears quarterback Johnny Lujack to throw for 319 yards. Jules Rykovich's 5-yard run tied the game at 28 late, and while Conerly completed only eight passes, they went for 273 yards and four TDs. The last pass went to Roberts — an 85-yard connection. This play helped keep the Bears out of the NFL title game.
1948's storied blizzard championship game — an Eagles conquest — featured only one score. The game to get there — a 24-21 Cardinals win — became one of the Chicago rivalry's top games. A then-record Wrigley Field crowd (51,283) observed the Bears take a 21-10 lead. After a Charley Trippi rushing TD, two Bears quarterbacks tossed crushing interceptions. Johnny Lujack set up the 11-1 Cardinals' go-ahead score in the fourth, and although a relieving Sid Luckman moved the Bears into the Southsiders' red zone, the Hall of Famer's end zone INT clinched the Cards' win.
The previous year's Cardinals went 9-3 but beat the Eagles for the championship. However, a struggling Giants team handed the champs a dramatic late-season loss. Closing the regular season with four straight road dates, the Cards could not stop the winless Giants in a 35-31 Polo Grounds encounter. The Giants' pre-Charlie Conerly QB, Paul Governali, accounted for four touchdowns in a game that saw nine lead changes and two Chicago TDs of 70-plus yards. Governali's 26-yard pass to Frank Liebel gave the hosts a mid-fourth-quarter advantage.
The Eagles' 1959 comeback does not hold a solo record, because their 1946 iteration mounted a 24-point rally. Just as the Cardinals did 13 years later, Washington zipped to a 24-point halftime lead. The Eagles erased it in a 28-24 win. Tommy Thompson threw three touchdown passes — the last a 30-yarder to Jack Ferrante with 1:30 left — in an 18-for-24, 194-yard day to give the visiting team a victory over Sammy Baugh's Washington team.
A controversial play helped the Cleveland Rams to a title. Baugh completed just 1 of 6 passes. One misfire came out of his own end zone and hit the goal post, which then resulted in a safety. (The NFL nixed the safety consequence of this type of play soon after.) This became critical after the Rams skated to a 15-14 win on a frigid December day. Rams QB Bob Waterfield and Washington QB Frank Filchock, who replaced an injured Baugh, combined for four TD passes — three of which over 35 yards despite a snow-capped surface at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The Rams, who left Cleveland after this game, held on when a gusting wind blew a Washington fourth-quarter field goal try off course.
World War II depleted NFL rosters, and the Cardinals and Steelers merged for the 1944 season. This combined outfit (dubbed the "Car-Pitts") made for a fun early-season game in Cleveland. The Rams held off an interesting underdog 30-28; an unusual special teams sequence also benefited Cleveland here. The Rams lost a 16-point lead after Cardinals-Steelers QB Coley McDonough hit Johnny Butler for a 67-yard score. After a Cardinals-Steelers end zone INT, the visitors' punt out of their own end zone only reached the 10-yard line. The Rams pounced, with an Albie Reisz-to-Jim Benton TD ending the upset bid in the final minutes.
The Steelers merged with their in-state rivals a year earlier (and the sides came up with a catchier name). The Lions scored on three 70-plus-yard plays but could not match the Steagles in Pittsburgh, a 35-34 win for the Pennsylvania consolidation. Detroit executed a 98-yard kickoff return, a 72-yard lateral play and a Chuck Fenenbock-to-Art Van Tone 72-yard fourth-period TD. The passing score gave the Lions a 27-21 lead, but Steagles QB Roy Zimmerman led two ensuing TD drives for a Steagles squad that rushed for 262 yards.
Eagles Solo engaged in a shootout with Washington in what might be the NFL's greatest third quarter. The rivals combined for 34 points, with Washington leading by a point going into the strange stanza. Washington scored on a 16-yard fumble return on a botched Eagles kickoff lateral sequence, and the hosts went up 14 minutes later. The Eagles countered with a 97-yard Bosh Pritchard kick return and tied the game on a 53-yard fumble return. Not to be outdone, Washington retook the lead on Ray Hare's 95-yard kick return. Sammy Baugh's drive that set up a last-second field goal (in the 30-27 win) almost seems anticlimactic.
We come to the greatest Packer's part of history. Don Hutson's apex came in 1942, but the Green Bay end dominated throughout his career. This game proved to be one of his many high points, with the Hall of Famer dragging the Packers back from 17 down to beat Washington 22-17. This game featured nine turnovers, one a Baugh INT, and a Hutson second-half rampage. After Washington led 17-0, Hutson caught three Arnie Herber TD passes to give Green Bay a 20-17 fourth-period lead. Ray Hare muffing a kick return resulted in a safety, and the Packers prevented a Baugh comeback with two stops.
Winning both the 1940 and '41 NFL titles, the Bears were the league's standard in the early '40s. They ran into some trouble at the Lions' Briggs Stadium. The Lions took this West Division matchup 17-14, thanks to a final-minute touchdown connection. Detroit completed two goal-line stands in this win, and Cotton Price contributed off the bench late. The backup quarterback moved the ball near Chicago's goal line, and after a Bears stand and a punt, the Lions marched back there. Price hit Lloyd Caldwell on a 3-yard touchdown for the win.
The Packers rode Don Hutson to the 1939 championship, but their chief rivals dealt them a captivating loss. Unlike 1940's Lions-Bears game, the Packers and Bears could not muster much defense in a 30-27 Chicago win. Green Bay led four times, the final edge coming after Arnie Herber hit Hutson for a 20-yard score to make it 23-20, but could not stop Sid Luckman. The Hall of Famer strung together a pass-heavy game-winning drive, which ended with a Bill Osmanski 3-yard run. The Packers won their next five to clinch their fifth title, giving them a 5-3 edge over the Bears at the time.
The Giants notched their third championship on a December 1938 afternoon, beating the Packers 23-17 at the Polo Grounds. Although this game featured a scoreless fourth quarter, New York took the final lead via Ed Danowski's second TD pass — a 23-yarder to Hank Soar. The Packers were favored and had an extra week off, but the Giants blocked two punts to gain an early 16-7 advantage. The league's No. 1 defense allowed Green Bay's top-ranked offense to take a 17-16 lead, but a 66-yard drive concluded with Soar dragging a Packer defender past the goal line.
In the franchise's first year in Washington, it took TCU quarterback Sammy Baugh with the No. 6 overall pick. That selection paid historic dividends, first doing so in the 1937 finale. The rookie entered leading the NFL averaging 102.5 passing yards per game. On the championship stage, the Texan threw for 335 yards and three TDs in a 28-21 win at Wrigley Field. The future Hall of Famer stunned the Bears with two fourth-quarter TD tosses — the first a deft, back-footed strike to Wayne Millner, who went 78 yards — and forced Chicago out of its six-man front. The NFL took a key step this day.
Climbing back to the NFL's mountaintop in 1936, Curly Lambeau's team needed a final-minutes field goal to fend off the Lions. The Packers and Lions traded go-ahead scores in the fourth quarter of a 20-18 Green Bay win at City Stadium — the Packers' home from 1925-56. The Lions turned around a 10-0 deficit, going up 15-10 on the second of Ernie Caddell's two TDs — this one a pass from Hall of Famer Dutch Clark. The Packers countered on a rushing score from fellow Hall of Famer Johnny "Blood" McNally. Packers kicker Tiny Engebretsen responded after Clark's go-ahead kick, keeping Green Bay a one-loss team.
We are well out of the NFL's glamour days at this point, but the Cardinals managed to take a game from the East Division champion Giants on a snazzy sequence. The Giants lost a six-point lead when Cardinals punt returner Phil Sarboe raced 88 yards for a game-winning touchdown with under two minutes left. The Cards skated out of the Polo Grounds with a 14-13 win. A Giants missed extra point allowed this play to be the winner, and Sarboe — a Chicago back — tossed a 46-yard touchdown pass to Bill Smith to put the visitors on the board in the third.
Known as the "Sneakers Game," the 1934 season-ender stopped the Bears' quest for an unbeaten season. A bitterly cold day left the Polo Grounds surface icy, and Giants end Ray Flaherty suggested to coach Steve Owen sneakers would help with traction. It took until halftime for a Giants assistant to return with said sneakers, but the impact was immediate. Big Blue scored 27 fourth-quarter points to stun the Bears 30-13. Chicago's Bronko Nagurski-led rushing attack did not measure up to the Giants' Ken Strong, who scored twice in sneakers. The Bears did not score after taking a 13-3 lead.
In 1933, the NFL divided its teams into two divisions. That led to the league's first official championship game. Fittingly, it pitted the Bears and Giants — who met in six title tilts between 1933-63. George Halas' group edged Steve Owen's 23-21 in a landmark game — one featuring six lead changes and 600-plus yards of offense. A Bears fake punt produced a 67-yard gain and set up a Bronko Nagurski-to-Bill Karr jump-pass TD, giving Chicago a 16-14 lead. After a Strong answer put New York up 21-16, another Nagurski jump pass resulted in a lateral sequence. Karr took the pitch 19 yards for a dramatic game-winner.
This may be the most unusual NFL championship game. First, the league had yet to implement one. This was a George Halas idea after the 6-1-6 Bears and 6-1-4 Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans finished with the same winning percentage (ties didn't count toward that at the time). A snowstorm moved the game into indoor Chicago Stadium, and it transpired on a 60-yard field. The Bears beat the Spartans 9-0 . Red Grange caught a 2-yard pass from Nagurski — which some insist was illegal, as in 1932 a passer had to be five yards behind the line of scrimmage — to take a fourth-quarter lead. The Spartans became the Detroit Lions in 1934.
A rough day for the Portsmouth Spartans' PAT unit cost the team a chance at a championship. Twice against the Cardinals the visitors botched extra-point tries, giving Chicago a 20-19 victory. After their first miscue, the Spartans rebounded on an 11-yard pass from Dutch Clark to Bill McKalip in the fourth stanza. But instead of a 20-all tie, Portsmouth missed the conversion. Although Hall of Fame back Ernie Nevers scored twice, this mattered little to the 5-4 Cards. The Spartans (11-3) saw the Packers finish 12-2 and win the 1931 title.
The Packers have an extensive dynasty history. They won three straight championships, the first of Curly Lambeau's six, between 1929-31. Their second title came when they secured a 6-6 tie with the Spartans on the final Sunday of the 1930 season. After a Red Dunn first-quarter touchdown pass, he missed the PAT. The Packers needed to win or tie to hold off the Giants for the league title and accomplished it by blocking a Spartans second-stanza PAT and holding them scoreless in the second half. The Packers split a $5,000 purse.
Going for their second championship, the Giants had to get by the small-town Packers — who were chasing their first. The two unbeaten teams met at the Polo Grounds, and it indeed determined the outcome of the NFL's 10th season. On the strength of a 13-point fourth quarter, the Packers won 20-6. Short-yardage TD runs from Bo Malinda and Johnny "Blood" McNally (pictured) gave Green Bay the vital cushion. Neither team lost the rest of the way, with the Packers finishing their only unbeaten season at 12-0-1.
There was once an NFL team called the Providence Steam Rollers. It existed from 1925-31 and won the 1928 title — the last defunct franchise to claim the crown. They faced the Frankford (Pennsylvania) Yellow Jackets three times that season — the last two coming on consecutive days in November. The third took place at Providence's Cycledrome. Future Chicago Cardinals coach Jimmy Conzelman oversaw the Steam Rollers' work, and on this day, Providence (8-1-2 at year's end) scored on a 46-yard pass from Wildcat Wilson to Curly Oden and won 6-0. The Yellow Jackets finished the season in second place.
With the Giants securing their first title before Week 13, having beaten the Bears 13-7, this Chicago matchup with the Duluth Eskimos was for pride. It was far more explosive than the games of the era, with the Bears overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit to win 27-14. McNally and Ernie Nevers were both Eskimos at this point; the Hall of Famers teamed up for one of Duluth's two first half TDs. The Bears tied the game at 14 in a 27-point fourth quarter. Player-coach George Halas' end zone INT sealed the home win.
The NFL briefly held 22 teams early in its run, and a now-defunct franchise won the league title in 1926. The Bears were going for an unbeaten season, entering this December clash at 11-0-1. Frankford carried one loss. Drama emerged after a scoreless first three quarters at the Phillies' Shibe Park. A broken-field, 62-yard run from Bill Senn did not hold up after Driscoll missed the PAT. The Yellow Jackets mounted a pass-first drive — a rarity in the '20s — that ended with a 27-yard pass from Hust Stockton to Two-Bits Homan in the final two minutes. Frankford won 7-6 and finished 14-1-2, edging Chicago by 0.1 of a percent.
Ninety-five years ago marks the first title won by a team whose mascot remains in use. The Chicago Cardinals' championship is a question to this day (in some circles of the world). The Pottsville (Pennsylvania) Maroons used two Barney Wentz touchdown runs to beat Chicago 21-7 at Comiskey Park. The Maroons and Cardinals each finished with one loss, but a subsequent Maroons barnstorming-style game in Philadelphia resulted in what NFL president Joe Carr deemed a territorial rights violation. The Maroons were ruled ineligible for the title. The NFL revisited this matter in 2003 and voted to uphold the ruling.
A 30-point game with two special teams scores certainly qualifies here, and the Cleveland Bulldogs beat the Bears 16-14. This is the same franchise that was known as the Canton Bulldogs from 1920-23 and from 1925-25. In 1924, they played in Cleveland. Olin Smith's blocked punt resulted in a Bulldogs touchdown, giving the hosts a 16-7 lead. It rendered a 70-yard punt return from the Bears' Joey Sternaman moot. By virtue of this win over the second-place Bears, the Bulldogs won the NFL title with a 7-1-1 record.
There were two Indians mascots in the 1923 NFL. Both played in Ohio. This game involves the Oorang Indians, not the Cleveland Indians. (We are deep in the weeds here.) Based in north central Ohio, the Oorang Indians employed Olympic/football icon Jim Thorpe as a player-coach. This was the franchise's penultimate game, and it ended with a 22-19 loss to the Chicago Cardinals. However, after the Cards took a 22-6 lead, the Indians stormed back with a fumble-return score and a 96-yard punt return. For naught, but still. Oorang won its final game the following week.
Hall of Fame coach Guy Chamberlin was the architect of the NFL's first dynasty, leading the Canton Bulldogs to back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1922 and '23. Canton's toughest 1922 obstacle was George Halas' Bears, who battled them to a 7-6 result that October. Ed Shaw scored the Bulldogs' touchdown, in the first quarter, and the Bears could not convert their PAT try in the fourth. This franchise won three straight titles and went 28 consecutive games from 1921-24 without a loss. Chamberlin was inducted to the Hall in 1965.
Halas began his coaching career with the Chicago Staleys in 1920 and did not retire from the sideline until 1967. This season brought the first of his championships. Halas was still in his player-coach phase here. Morphing from the Decatur Staleys after one season, the future Bears franchise beat the Buffalo All-Americans 10-7. Guy Chamberlin, 27 at the time, returned an interception 75 yards in the first quarter, and the Staleys sealed their win with a 20-yard field goal in the third.
We come, at long last, to the NFL's first season (although, in its first two years it was known as the American Professional Football Association). This game does not involve its champion, the Akron Pros. Instead, it featured the Canton Bulldogs and Dayton Triangles and ended in a 20-20 tie — nearly the equivalent of Chiefs-Rams 2018 at the time. Lou Partlow's 3-yard run gave the Triangles a 20-14 lead in the third quarter, but Thorpe — 33 at this point and player-coaching with Canton — nailed two field goals to forge the tie. The first try connected from 45 yards out; the second, a 35-yarder, made it 20-all in the fourth.
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.