10. Super Bowl 49 (New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24)
This game cracks open our list because it featured the two most dominant teams of the recent decade on the world’s biggest stage.
This game had more headlines coming into it than you can ask for. The most notable of these was Tom Brady and Co. versus the Seahawks’ highly touted secondary, the “Legion of Boom.” It was one of the most significant tests the future Hall of Famer faced in his career, as L.O.B. had shut down some of the most potent offenses in NFL history, especially the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos in the previous year’s big game. Brady also served a 4-game suspension earlier in the season for the “Deflategate” controversy as well.
The game itself was a back-and-forth contest that went all the way down to the wire. Seattle had a 10-point lead going into the 4th quarter, but Brady led two 60+ yard drives to give the Patriots a 4-point lead with 2 minutes remaining.
Enter Russell Wilson. The up and coming quarterback led an impressive drive down the field all the way to the 2-yard line. Despite having Marshawn “BeastMode” Lynch in the backfield, the picture above shows how this heartbreak ended.
The fallout from this game was incredible. Malcolm Butler (pictured above), went on to make millions from his game-saving interception in his next contract, L.O.B. never got back to the Super Bowl and disbanded, and Brady was launched into the G.O.A.T. conversation with his 4th Super Bowl win.
9. Super Bowl 6 (Dallas Cowboys 24, Miami Dolphins 3)
Most fans know of the undefeated Dolphins team in 1972. But the build-up to their accomplishment actually started the year before.
In Super Bowl 6, the Dolphins were blown out by the Dallas Cowboys 24-3, marking the first Super Bowl win for America’s team. Led by Roger Staubach, the Cowboys jumped out to a 10-0 lead and never looked back. On the field that day were some of the most notable names in NFL lore, such as Don Shula, Tom Landry, Mike Ditka, and several other Hall of Famers.
After the game, Shula and the rest of his team would begin the ultimate redemption season. The Dolphins’ “No-Name Defense” dominated the NFL the following year while the rushing attack of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Mercury Morris kept the chains moving on offense. With Bob Griese under center, this team is still referred to as maybe the best team in league history.
8. Super Bowl 42 (New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14)
Speaking of undefeated seasons, this epic game comes in at number 8.
The 18-0 Patriots came into this matchup as 12-point favorites, the second-highest in Super Bowl history. New England was going for the second undefeated season in NFL history and to become the first team to go 19-0. The Patriots had the best statistical offense AND defense in the NFL that year with All-Pro’s all over the field as well as Tom Brady in his first MVP season. For the Pats, it seemed like nothing could go wrong.
The Giant’s defense changed all of that. The line sacked Brady 5 times and laid even more vicious hits while Eli Manning had the best game of his career. No one expected special teams’ captain David Tyree to have the game of his life, including the “Helmet Catch” pictured above. This game broke the then-record for the most-watched Super Bowl in history, with 97.5 million viewers just in the United States. Since then, the viewership and ad-placement for the big game have increased drastically.
7. The Heidi Bowl (Oakland Raiders 43, New York Jets 32)
Why does a game in the middle of the regular season fall on our list? Because it changed the way we watch football on television forever.
The Raiders and Jets started their game at 4 PM EST that Sunday on NBC with a three-hour time slot cut out for them. The schedule planned to air the television film “Heidi” at 7 PM following the game, as most games back then did not run for more than 2 ½ hours. However, the multiple injuries and penalties, along with a high scoring affair, extended the game into the time slot intended for “Heidi.”
NBC executives realized this conflict and decided to let the game air to its conclusion, but were not able to reach the master control room due to the high number of calls from viewers calling about the program’s scheduling.
As a result, “Heidi” aired at 7 PM sharp, and the last two touchdowns by the Raiders were missed by the whole east side of the country. Fans were outraged, and NBC president Julian Goodman publicly apologized for the incident. This event led to the installation of “Heidi phones” for this purpose of communicating on short notice with the master control room. The effect from this game can be seen in today’s game 50 years later as NFL games have priority for television’s scheduled programming.
6. Super Bowl 51 (New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28)
The greatest comeback in Super Bowl history comes in at 6 on our list of most influential NFL games of all time.
Everyone who watched this game remembers it for one significant reason: 28-3. That was the Falcons lead over the Patriots with just 17 minutes left in the game. In Atlanta, the celebration was already starting with people booking tickets for the parade and people all over the country were leaving their Super Bowl. Then came the onslaught of Tom Brady and Co.
In a fantastic effort, the Pats rallied from this 28-3 deficit with four fourth-quarter touchdowns to force the first overtime in Super Bowl history. After the touchdown drive in overtime, the Patriots came away with one of the most improbable victories in all of sports. The effect from this game is felt in Atlanta, while the phrase “28-3” still leaves fans cringing. This game might be the epitome of the virtue of never giving up.
5. 1967 NFL Championship Game (Green Bay Packers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17)
Nicknamed the “Ice Bowl,” this contest is still referred to today as one of the most influential NFL games of all time.
The adverse conditions this game was played in is probably its most memorable aspect. The game took place in Green Bay in the winter, so you know it would be cold. But this day brought a different kind of intensity. The game-time temperature was -15 degrees Fahrenheit with an astounding wind chill of -48 degrees.
Lambeau field’s turf-heating system failed, leaving an icy surface for the players. One fan in the stands actually died, and the refs could not even blow their whistles. Instead, they made hand motions to call penalties.
After the Packers jumped out to an early 14-point lead, the temperature started working against them. Their momentum was stopped, and Dallas eventually held the lead late in the 4th quarter with temperatures dropping. But quarterback Bart Starr led a game-winning drive against Dallas. The most memorable play is the quarterback’s rush into the endzone, which is shown above.
4. Super Bowl 3 (New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7)
The big takeaway from this game was quarterback Joe Namath’s “guarantee” for the underdog Jets to win. And they sure did.
The big game was a set up of the champions of the AFL and the NFL leagues. At the time, the AFL was just getting started and was looked upon as a younger brother of the more experienced NFL. The Colts, representing the NFL, came into the game as double-digit favorites. In the weeks leading up the game, Namath got tired of reporters diminishing the credibility of his Jets team and told them that he “guarantees” the Jets would take down Unitas and the Colts.
Without this game, the NFL may not be where it is today. Shortly after the AFL champions beat the Colts, the AFL-NFL merger took place, uniting both leagues and eventually transforming football into the most popular sport in the United States.
3. 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff (Pittsburgh Steelers 13, Oakland Raiders 7)
The image of Franco Harris making the “Immaculate Reception” is one of the greatest photos in NFL lore, and it sparked a rivalry and a dynasty.
The Steelers and Raiders fielded some of the best defenses ever to grace an NFL gridiron. Their matchups were some of the most physical ones, usually resulting in a low-scoring affair. In this game, the same can be said. After Ken Stabler rushed for a touchdown late in the 4th, it looked like the Raiders were going to win the game.
On the ensuing drive, the Steelers ended up their own 40-yard line facing a 4th and 10 with only 22 seconds left in the game down by 1. Terry Bradshaw took the snap from the center, scrambled, and initially passed it to John Fugua. After a deflection, the ball ended up in Harris’ hands as he ran down the sideline, leaving the crowd at Three River Stadium in chaos.
The lasting impact of this game is the start of the 1970’s Pittsburgh dynasty. They did not win the championship that year as they fell to the undefeated Dolphins, but they would go on to win 4 Super Bowls to close out the decade.
2. 1958 NFL Championship Game (Baltimore Colts 23, New York Giants 17)
This game is often referred to as “The Greatest Game Ever Played” for a reason.
In 1958, the NFL was still on the rise as baseball was the country’s most popular sport. The game took place at legendary Yankee Stadium with an attendance of almost 65,000, which was more than most Super Bowls back in those days. It was the first NFL playoff game to go into overtime, and NBC nationally broadcasted it.
Besides the game itself being entertaining, it marked a new era in the NFL and changed the way they play the game today. In this contest, Johnny Unitas orchestrated what may be the first “Two-Minute Drill,” which he completed a series of short passes without taking much time off the clock while maintaining the offense’s momentum down the field. The iconic image of Alan Ameche lunging into the endzone above to win the game remains a staple in NFL lore.
1. 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff (New England Patriots 16, Oakland Raiders 13)
The Patriots dynasty of the millennium is the greatest of all time. The trio of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft have constructed the most dominant run the NFL and maybe in professional sports history. And it all started with one play.
In the final game played at Foxboro Stadium, there was a heavy snowfall. This resulted in the slowdown of the game and an offensive struggle for both teams. Fast forward to the 4th quarter, and the Pats are driving down the field with under 2 minutes left. Cornerback Eric Allen actually heard the play call and told his team before the snap. Brady dropped back, and Charles Woodson forced a sack and fumble in the officials’ initial ruling.
But with the “Tuck Rule” implemented in 1999, the officials changed the ruling into an incomplete pass, a ruling which is still controversial to this day. The next play Brady completed a 13-yard pass to David Patten that led to a game-winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri. The Patriots went on to start their epic 20-year run.
On the other side, it has been all downhill for the Raiders since that game. They have been considered one of the worst sports franchises since then. The salt in the wound comes with the departure of their then-head coach John Gruden as he was traded by owner Al Davis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The following year, the Raiders and the Buccaneers ironically met in the Super Bowl. The Raiders did not change some of their play-calling since Gruden left, and he made them pay with a 48-21 shellacking.
What NFL game stands out to you, leave a comment below…?
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