I am an insatiable NFL fan. When I was twenty-one years old and I first started sensing a call into Christian ministry, my greatest concern was that I might have to miss NFL games. I am so thankful that God called me to minister in a Presbyterian Church where there are no Sunday Evening Services. In the fall, after a wonderful morning of worship, there is no greater feeling for me than to buy a bucket of fried chicken, pop a couple of cold ones, and kick back in front of my big screen to watch the greatest sport on the face of the planet. Jonathan Edwards and Calvin, being pretty serious guys, would probably disapprove. But I don’t hold it against them.
I realize that they were never afforded the opportunity to see an NFL football game on a big screen TV. Enough said about that. If I say any more, you’ll probably start thinking that football is an idol in my life. So just get that out of your head. That’s not true. Football is not an idol. I’ll prove it. If there was ever a football team named the Golden Bulls, I would not watch them. So there you go.
Now, if you identify with me in this love of NFL Football…if you too are an NFL fan; if you are the kind of person who can name a player for every number 1-99 (#1-Warren Moon, #2-Charley Trippi, #3-Bronco Nagurski…etc.); if you can name the entire offensive line of the 1966 Green Bay Packers; if you can name the winner of every Superbowl; if you have a collection of 200 television recorded football games; if one of your proudest moments as a father was when your eight year old son argued with a group of grown men that Chuck Bednarik was the hardest hitting linebacker of all time; if the first real book that you ever read was “Instant Replay” by Green Bay guard Jerry Kramer; if it bothers you that you cannot find a recording of the 1958 Championship Game; if you know what I’m talking about when I recount the greatest moments in the NFL using terms like: “Immaculate Reception”, “Heidi Game”, “Wide Right”, “Hail Mary Game”, “Ghost to the Post”, “Ice Bowl”, “The Drive”, “The Fumble”, and “The Catch”; if you identify with me in this sickness, then you are in deep trouble. Get help. See a counselor. Or…
Or…get a bucket of chicken, pop a cold one, and enjoy my list as I recount the 30 greatest NFL games of all time. Only three more months until the season starts boys. Only three more months.
1. “The Greatest Game Ever Played”
Baltimore Colts 23, New York Giants 17 (OT)
NFL Championship Game, Dec. 28, 1958
It was the first NFL game ever to go into sudden death overtime. Also the first game ever to be nationally televised. It has since become widely known as The Greatest Game Ever Played. The game marked the emergence of the NFL into the modern area, immortalized Johnny Unitas as an American sports hero, and launched the rise of the NFL to the top of the United States sports market.
2. “The Ice Bowl”
Packers 21, Cowboys 17
NFL Championship Game, Dec. 31, 1967 at Green Bay.
In one of the coldest days in NFL lore, Bart Starr ends a bitterly fought game when he falls forward between guard Jerry Kramer and center Ken Bowman to score the go ahead touchdown. This was by far Vince Lombardi’s finest moment.
3. “The Catch”
49ers 28, Cowboys 27
NFC Championship Game, Jan. 10, 1982 at San Francisco
Who says white men can’t jump? The last time I looked, Dwight Clark was still ascending. No matter how many times I watch the replay, that leap still looks absolutely unbelievable. It has to be a CGI manipulated effect. No other explanation.
4. “The Comeback”
Bills 41, Oilers 38 (OT)
AFC Wild-Card Playoff Game, Jan. 3, 1993 at Buffalo, N.Y.
This game is absolute proof that Frank Reich really does have a relationship with God.
5. “Better than Perfect”
Giants 17, Patriots 14
Superbowl XLll, February 3, 2008 – Phoenix, AZ.
Eli Manning ruins the Patriots’ bid for perfection with an otherworldly completion to little known receiver David Tyree.
6. “Epic in Miami”
Chargers 41, Dolphins 38 (OT)
AFC Divisional Playoff Game, Jan. 2, 1982 at Miami.
In one of the greatest individual performances in sports history, Kellen Winslow gives his impression of the energizer bunny. The lean tight end overcomes incredible heat and leg cramps that double him over in pain. But through it all, he catches passes, block kicks, throws bone crushing blocks, and just keeps going, and going, and going…
7. “The Immaculate Reception”
Steelers 13, Raiders 7
AFC Divisional Playoff Game, Dec. 23, 1972 at Pittsburgh
No one but the refs saw Franco catch it.
8. “Ghost to The Post”
Raiders 37, Colts 31 (2OT)
AFC Divisional Playoff Game, December 24, 1977 at Baltimore, Maryland.
In the NFL’s third longest game, Ken Stabler lobbed a wobbly pass over the shoulder of tight end Dave “The Ghost” Casper, whose circus one handed grab ended the affair.
9. “The Upset”
Jets 14, Colts 7
Superbowl III, January 12, 1969, at Miami, Florida
Joe Namath guaranteed his Jets would beat the heavily favored Colts in an appearance before the Miami Touchdown Club. Needless to say, he backed up his promise.
10. “One Yard Short”
Rams 23 Titans 16
Super Bowl 34, Jan. 30, 2000
Arrgghh! Kurt Warner leads the Greatest Show on Turf to a victory over the Titans when Steve McNair’s pass to wide receiver Kevin Dyson fell one-yard short of the goal line to prevent a game-tying touchdown.
11. “The Fumble”
Broncos 38, Browns 33
AFC Championship Game, Jan. 17, 1988 at Denver, Colorado
In all of sports, Earnest Byner’s infamous play is overshadowed only by the Boston Red Sox’s Bill Buckner. It is one of the NFL’s greatest tragedies that this great player is almost completely defined by his worst moment. Keep your head up, Earnest! You played your heart out.
12. “Music City Miracle”
Titans 22, Bills 16
AFC Wildcard Playoff Game, Jan. 8, 2000 at Tennessee
This game is made great almost solely on the merit of the greatest single play in the history of the NFL. As much as I admire the play, I still think Frank Wycheck threw a forward lateral.
13. “The Holy Roller”
Raiders 21, Chargers 20
Season Game, Sept. 10, 1978 at San Diego
The Raiders just kept fumbling it forward until Dave Casper fell on it in the end zone. An incredible play.
14. “Hail Mary”
Cowboys 17, Vikings 14
NFC Divisional Playoff Game, Dec. 28, 1975 at Minnesota
The ever elusive Roger Staubach launches a prayer to Drew Pearson in the icy rain of Minnesota’s memorial stadium.
15. “Montana Impersonates Elway”
Chiefs 31, Broncos 28
MNF Classic Game, Oct. 17, 1994 at Denver
Joe Montana, playing with the Chiefs, beats John Elway at his own game in this Monday Night Football classic.
16. “The Drive”
Broncos 23, Browns 20 (OT)
AFC Championship Game, Jan. 11, 1987 at Cleveland
John Elway goes 90 yards in under two minutes to once again drive the dagger into Cleveland’s heart.
17. “The Tuck Rule Game”
Patriots 16, Raiders 13 (OT)
AFC Divisional Playoff Game, Jan. 19, 2002 at New England
Tom Brady’s…ahem…”forward pass” landed harmlessly in the evening snow. It looked like a fumble to everybody not wearing a Pats jersey.
18. “The Longest Game”
Dolphins 27, Chiefs 24 (2 OT)
AFC Disional Playoff Game, Dec. 25, 1971 at Kansas City
In the NFL’s longest game ever played (82 minutes, 40 seconds), Miami kicker Garo Yepremian kicked the winning 37-yard field goal after 7:40 of double-overtime.
19. “Duel in Dixie”
Cowboys 30, Falcons 27
NFC Divisional Playoff Game, Jan. 4, 1981 at Atlanta
Danny White, possessed by the ghost of Roger the Dodger, brings the Cowboys back from twenty points down.
20. “Wide Right”
Giants 20 Bills 19
Super Bowl 25, January 1991
The Bill’s Scott Norwood squanders Buffalo’s best chance to win a Superbowl when his potentially game winning kick misses wide right.
21. “Dirty Birds”
Falcons 30, Minnesota Vikings 27 (OT)
NFC Championship Game, January 17, 1999 at Minnesota
An absolute barn-burner. Fox Sports ranked it the third most exciting NFC Championship Game ever. Third most exciting? Maybe. But I say it comes in as only 21st in the greatest game department.
22. “John Taylor Runs Wild”
49ers 30 Rams 27
MNF Classic Game, Dec. 11, 1989
For once, Jerry Rice was not the show. Led by a career day from John Taylor, the 49ers overcame a 27-10 deficit. Taylor put up nearly 300 yards receiving and scored two long touchdowns.
22. “Miami Stops The Bears”
Dolphins 38, Bears 24
MNF Classic Game, Dec. 2, 1985 at Miami
Dan Marino and the Dolphins hold serve as the only undefeated team in NFL History by stopping the Bears’ undefeated run at 12 games.
23. “The Immaculate Tackle”
Steelers 21 Colts 18
AFC Divisional Playoff Game, Jan. 15, 2006
Ben Roethlisberger, spinning and falling, made a season saving, shoe string tackle at the Colts’ 42-yard line.
24. “Hey Ho Jumbo!”
Jets 40, Dolphins 37 (OT)
MNF Classic Game, Oct. 23, 2000 at New York
The Jets erase a 23 point second half deficit to win in OT. The key play was a lame duck pass to offensive tackle, Jumbo Elliot, who bumbled and stumbled and bobbled and finally cradled the pigskin for the game tying touchdown. Hey ho, Jumbo!
25. “Steve Smith Arrives”
Carolina 29 Rams 23 (2OT)
NFC Divisional Playoff Game Jan. 10, 2004
In the NFL’s 5th longest game, Steve Smith arrives on the scene, upstaging the favored Ram’s Greatest Show on Turf.
26. “The Skins & Boys’ Greatest Game”
Cowboys 31, Redskins 30
MNF Classic Game, Sept. 5, 1983 at Washington
In the season opener, rookie Darrel Green makes an astonishing debut, tracking down Tony Dorsett on a 77 yard run, six yards short of the end zone. Still, it wasn’t enough. The Cowboys prevail.
27. “Brett Wins One For His Dad”
Packers 41, Raiders 7
MNF Classic Game, Dec. 22, 2003
One day after his father dies of a heart attack, Brett Favre has his greatest day ever on a football field.
28. “White Shoes Resurrection”
Falcons 28, 49ers 24
Season Game, Nov. 20, 1983 at Atlanta, Ga
Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, in the twilight of his career, gives us one last incredible memory, catching the ball at the 2, then unbelievably twisting into the endzone as the final second ticks off the clock.
29. “Forgotten Classic”
Redskins 24, 49ers 21
NFC Championship Game, January 8, 1984 at Washington D.C.
In one of the best games that nobody remembers, the 49ers, succumbing to countless controversial penalties, lost the contest to Redskins’ kicker Mark Moseley, who overcame an awful day to boot the winning field goal.
30. “Peyton’s Turn”
Colts 38, Patriots 34
AFC Championship Game, Jan. 21, 2007 at Indianapolis
Peyton Manning finally defeats the evil empire to advance to the Superbowl.
Do you think I have it right? Did I leave a game off the list that you feel should be there? I’d love to hear your comments!