They are the best of the best. The top 100 plays in the 100-year history of the NFL. And it should come as no surprise that among the Top 30 plays in the history of the league, the Steelers hold four spots.
And not just four spots, but four spots in the Top 15, including three in the Top 10.
And the top play in the 100 years of the NFL is one Steelers fans know quite well. The ‘Immaculate Reception,’ the amazing catch made by Franco Harris in the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Oakland Raiders, earned well-deserved top honors.
On Friday night, the “NFL 100 Greatest” aired on NFL Network, with plays 1-30 being unveiled. And for Steelers fans, it was a show well worth watching.
Here is a breakdown of how the Steelers fared.
The ‘Immaculate Reception’ – Ranked No. 1
Let’s just set the stage for that December day back in 1972. Three Rivers Stadium, AFC Divisional Playoff Game vs. the Oakland Raiders. Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler had run 30 yards for a touchdown that gave his team a 7-6 lead with just 1:17 to play. Soon afterward, quarterback Terry Bradshaw and the rest of the Steelers offense were looking at a fourth-and-10 from the 40-yard line with just 22 seconds remaining.
Desperately searching for the team’s first ever playoff win, it didn’t look promising. But they never gave up. While under pressure, Bradshaw threw the ball in the direction of Frenchy Fuqua and as it arrived he collided with Raiders safety Jack Tatum, the ball ricocheted back and Franco Harris miraculously scooped it out of the air and took off running for a 60-yard touchdown reception that gave the Steelers the 13-7 win and a wild celebration ensued.
“I don’t think the fans knew what happened,” said Fuqua, who was knocked to the ground after the collision. “Everyone I spoke to after I got up off the ground said what happened, what happened. Someone said it’s a miracle. Then we had to go through that long, long wait when the referees went in there to look at replay and it seemed like an eternity.”
Through the passage of time the excitement of the play has remained and was recently voted the best play in Steelers’ history.
“I have to admit I have not gotten tired of it yet,” said Harris. “It’s still as exciting. If you look at the season, we had in 1972, after the first 40 years of the franchise, and then to have the incredible season, the team’s first playoff win and to win that first one in dramatic fashion really started to change a lot of things. What really made it special and big was the decade that was to come and the importance of the play, setting the tone for winning. We proved that no matter how dire the situation that we can win. All of the things that followed made that play so big and important to Steelers’ history.”
Santonio Holmes game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII – Ranked No. 6
The Steelers were leading 20-7 in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLIII, but the Arizona Cardinals mounted a major fourth quarter comeback that would require some last minute Steelers heroics.
Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner connected with Larry Fitzgerald for a one-yard touchdown to bring the Cardinals within a score at 20-14.
Things continued to go in the Cardinals favor when they pinned the Steelers back at their own one-yard line. On third down, center Justin Hartwig was called for holding in the end zone, resulting in a safety to close the gap to 20-16.
The Cardinals got the ball right back and scored in just seconds when Fitzgerald caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from Warner, taking their first lead of the game, 23-20.
The odds were stacked against them, but the Steelers weren’t going to be denied. With just 2:30 remaining on the clock Ben Roethlisberger took control, completing four passes for 78 yards, including a 40-yarder to Santonio Holmes, to give the Steelers the ball at the six-yard line. With time ticking away, Roethlisberger found Holmes in the corner of the end zone where he remarkably managed to keep both feet in bounds while stretching out for the ball to give the Steelers the 27-23 lead.
“I said to (Ben) that I wanted to be the guy that made the plays for this team,” said Holmes. “I wanted to continue to be great and great players step up in big time games and make great plays.”
The Cardinals had one final gasp at pulling out the win, but linebacker LaMarr Woodley sacked Warner, forcing a fumble that Brett Keisel recovered, and history was made as the Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl.
The NFL and the Associated Press, with a panel of 80 people, combined to select the 100 greatest in five categories: plays, games, characters, game changers and teams.
James Harrison’s interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII – Ranked No. 7
It took last second heroics in both halves of Super Bowl XLIII for the Steelers to make history and become the first NFL franchise to win six Super Bowl championships.
The Steelers were holding on to a 10-7 lead near the end of the first half when the Cardinals Karlos Dansby intercepted a tipped Ben Roethlisberger pass at the Steelers 33-yard line. Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner moved his team into scoring position with completions to Tim Hightower, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
With the ball at the one-yard line and just 18 seconds to play in the half, the Cardinals were anticipating Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison blitzing, but Harrison gambled and dropped back in coverage and intercepted Warner’s pass at the goal line.
What happened after that, nobody could ever have expected. Harrison headed up the sideline, following his blockers and evaded would-be tacklers for a 100-yard touchdown return and 17-7 Steelers lead going into the half.
“I got the pick,” said Harrison. “You know we had them matched up and it was kind of like, give it time, and I slid over to the right and he threw it right to my hands, and I took off. I was just trying to get to the other side and score seven. It was about my teammates helping me get to the other end. Will and determination to try and do what you need to do and help the team win the game.
“It was very tiring, but it was all worth it. I was just thinking that I had to do whatever I could to get to the other end zone and get seven. I just wanted to help my team win, that was it. That was all I was thinking about.”
Lynn Swann’s circus catch in Super Bowl X – Ranked No. 12
Lynn Swann didn’t make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame by making mundane, run of the mill catches. Sure, he had his share of the standard, but Swann was also known for his graceful, amazing leaps that somehow always seemed to come at the perfect moment.
That was definitely the case in Super Bowl X, a 21-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
In a key point during the game, with the Steelers facing a third-and-six at their own 10-yard line, Terry Bradshaw dropped back to the goal line and let loose, going to Swann around midfield. Swann went airborne, going above Cowboys cornerback Mark Washington who tipped the ball, and without losing his concentration, made the acrobatic, circus catch on a second effort after the tip. The 53-yard strike got the Steelers out of danger, and while they didn’t score on the drive, the catch will forever be one of the best ever.
“I’ve always said if I had done it right, I would have caught the ball the first time, came down and kept running for a touchdown,” Swann said in 2001. “But that’s the nature of the Super Bowl. Sometimes, you just do your job and the circumstances make you a hero. If Washington hadn’t tipped that ball, it wouldn’t be remembered as one of the greatest catches in football history.”
Swann finished the game with four catches for 161 yards and became the first wide receiver to win Super Bowl MVP honors.