If one were to ask fans what is the all-time most memorable moment in NFL history, many would go to the December 23, 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff between the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers, trailing 6-7 with no timeouts and with fourth-and-10 on their own 40-yard line with 22 seconds in regulation, decided to go for an all-or-nothing pass. Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw – under heavy pressure – launches deep to running back John “Frenchy” Fuqua. Raiders safety Jack Tatum got a hand on it and swatted it away. Before the ball could hit the ground, however, Steelers fullback Franco Harris scooped up the ball and – in the chaos of the moment – ran the ball in for a touchdown. Since no official saw the ball bounce, the play was ruled valid and the Steelers won the game.
This play, the “Immaculate Reception,” has fueled countless hours of debate about if the ball did touch the ground or Fuqua (which would have made the pass incomplete), if pass interference did occur, or if the deserving team won that day. The greatest play of all time – according to NFL Films – this play showed what makes a play or moment memorable: It must be dramatic, it must be controversial, and debate-worthy – and it must stir the passions of both fans and detractors.
We asked over 3,000 NFL fans what was the most memorable moments for their favorite teams. The results of the poll show how things that would otherwise be innocuous at first glance can become some of the most controversial events to hit the gridiron.
The Moments That Stir the Soul
For the 49 years the game has been played, the Super Bowl has been a big deal. “The Big Game” is regularly the most watched American broadcast of the year, with viewership over the last five games exceeding 100 million per year. It is the second most watched program in the world, following the UEFA Champions League Finals. Super Bowl Sunday is viewed by many as an unofficial national holiday, with food consumption per capita on that day being similar to Thanksgiving Day and with some churches regularly canceling services on that Sunday to avoid conflicts. The commitment to the game is so great that water consumption per capita drops during regulation, as everyone is waiting until halftime to use the bathroom.
With this level of fanaticism, it is not surprising that 41.35 percent of all respondents felt that their team’s greatest moment happened at the Super Bowl. 26.97 percent felt that a famous play – like the previously mentioned “Immaculate Reception” – which did not happen at the Super Bowl is their most memorable moment.
With the St. Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers as candidates to move to Los Angeles and with the Oakland Raiders likely to head to St. Louis, a number of fans in the poll may have several new memorable moments. Among the most memorable game-day events mentioned by respondents are a franchise moving to a new city, changes to the team’s name, victory dances, and scandals within or affecting the team.
The Magic of the Big Game
Teams that tend to have a large number of fans pointing to Super Bowls as their most memorable moment often have a few truths in common. Much of the time, they have all-star players who played when they won the Super Bowl. Take, for example, the New England Patriots: Prior to Tom Brady becoming the starting quarterback, the Patriots were not considered a serious Super Bowl contender. Since Brady, however, the Patriots have appeared in six Super Bowls – winning four – and have won the AFC East every season Brady started with the exception of 2002 and 2008.
Many of these teams had mediocre or forgettable records during their non–Super Bowl years. Prior to Richard Sherman, Marshawn Lynch, and Russell Wilson dominating Super Bowl XLVIII in 2013, the Seahawks had the longest drought of playoff appearances in the league – lasting from 1984 to 2005. After winning the NFC Championship in 2005 and their Super Bowl appearance in 2005, they were finally considered contenders.
Finally, the Super Bowl runs of many of these teams are legendary. From 1966 to 1995, the Dallas Cowboys were the NFL’s standard of excellence, winning five Super Bowl championships, 10 conference championships, 18 division championships, and 20 consecutive winning seasons and appearing in the Super Bowl eight times. Among the players who wore the Cowboys star during that time are NFL royalty: Troy Aikman, Mike Ditka, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett, and Roger Staubach – all of whom are Hall of Famers.
Logically, the teams that have never appeared in a Super Bowl would have the fewest fans citing a Super Bowl as their most memorable moments. This includes the Detroit Lions, the Houston Texans, and the Cleveland Browns. However, those fans remain hopeful that the next season will be “their season.”
The NFL is a pluralistic league; every week, there are dozens of games taking place, giving fans thousands of reasons to cheer and to boo, to laugh and to cry. It is because there is so much to offer to so many that there can never be a meeting of the minds about what makes a moment the most memorable. However, with each and every season, the list of memorable moments are likely to change to reflect the infamous, fabulous, strange, and outrageous moments that make the NFL one of the nation’s most beloved leagues.
Fanatics carries everything you need to be ready for the next most memorable moment.
We surveyed 100 fans of every NFL team and asked what their favorite team’s most memorable moment was. We then analyzed the responses to find which types of memorable moments were most popular and which team’s fans most chose the Super Bowl as their most memorable moment.
Other posts from this survey:
- NFL game-day traditions
- Every NFL Team’s Biggest Rival
- The Most Iconic Players in the NFL