I was flipping through the August 4, 2008 Sports Illustrated today, which includes a long feature on the amazing play in the Super Bowl, where Eli Manning avoided the sack, heaved the ball downfield, and David Tyree caught the ball against his helmet. The play set up the Giants’ touchdown to win the ballgame, one of the great upsets in Super Bowl history.
I had the feeling, as soon as Manning broke free, that this was going to be a legendary moment in the history of the New York Giants. But of course, since New York is the center of the universe, I underestimated:
“It’s the greatest play in Super Bowl history, says Steve Sabol, the NFL films president who has been chronicling the league since his father, Ed, started the company in 1962. Considering the play’s stage and subplots, perhaps it’s fair to see Sabol’s claim and raise him: Call it the greatest play in NFL history.”
That is nonsense. It was a great play, no denying that. But there are two plays that I consider to be the greatest in NFL history, and both of them dwarf that one in terms of significance:
1. Franco Harris’ immaculate reception. This was the defining play of the 1970s, and it is arguable that without it, history would have been vastly different. First, it got the Pittsburgh Steelers their first postseason win ever. Up to that point, the Steelers, not the Cardinals, had been the laughingstock of the NFL. More important, it got them over the Raider hump; this was crucial because the Steelers would face the Raiders in the AFC Championship game during their first two Super Bowl-winning seasons. It also helped the undefeated Miami Dolphins complete their perfect season, as the Raiders regularly defeated the Dolphins back then, and the Dolphins staggered through the playoffs.
2. Dwight Clark’s The Catch. A play that started a dynasty, and announced that Joe Montana was going to be a force to reckon with.
And an equally terrific play was Kenny Stabler to Clarence Davis in 1973. Not finding a YouTube video of it, but on fourth down, with 8 seconds left on the clock, Stabler was being tackled from behind. He was almost to his knees when he hurled the ball towards Davis, who was surrounded by Miami Dolphins. Somehow, out of the sea of hands, Davis caught the ball and held onto it, ending the Dolphins reign as two-time defending champions of the NFL.
So, no, this is not the greatest play in the history of the NFL. It was a spectacular play, one of the finest ever in a Super Bowl. But the other plays were equally spectacular and historically important. If Eli Manning goes on to rack up some more titles and the Giants become a dynasty, then maybe we'll look back at this as the moment, and then maybe it will qualify for the short list. Until then, no.