The greatest holiday gifts in NFL history

It is the holiday season and it is the time of year when we are reminded that it is better to give then receive. As football fans, it is also the point in the season when playoff wishes can come true. So, as crunch time is upon us in December, we look at some of the best “gifts” a fanbase got from an opposing team.

The Tuck Rule

It’s the ideal Tom Brady moment: in Foxboro, down three, game on the line. But the first time Brady entered the national consciousness in his first career playoff game, it could have gone another way.

In a snowy 2002 AFC Divisional game, the Raiders had a 13-10 lead with 1:50 remaining in regulation. On first-and-10, Charles Woodson came on a corner blitz as Brady looked left to J.R. Redmond coming out of the backfield. His arm came forward, but he decided against the throw and pulled the ball back, holding it with two hands. Woodson punched the ball out of Brady’s grasp and linebacker Greg Biekert fell on it. Oakland was on its way to the Super Bowl.

As the play was under review, the question was if Brady’s arm was coming forward, a typical review objective. The Patriots offense never left the field while the officials were under the hood. Referee Walt Coleman ruled Brady’s arm was coming forward, therefore it was an incomplete pass and New England retained possession.

The Patriots were alive, but Adam Vinatieri had to hit a difficult 45-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. In overtime, Vinatieri struck again, connecting from 23 yards out. New England would move on to win its first Super Bowl in team history and first of three in four years. The Raiders would make it to the Super Bowl the next season, losing to Tampa.

The Miracle at the Meadowlands

Before there was the DeSean Jackson punt return, or the Brian Westbrook back-breaker in New Jersey, there was Herman Edwards’ fumble return.
In the first season with a 16-game schedule, both NFC East teams were still in the playoff hunt. The Giants were 5-6 coming into the game with slim postseason chances, while the visiting Eagles (6-5) had won two straight as they entered the Meadowlands on Nov. 19, 1978.

Leading 17-12 with just 31 seconds left, the Giants could have knelt down, run out the clock and the game would have been over. As fate would have it, thanks to a scuffle between linemen on a kneel-down the play before, quarterback Joe Pisarcik was given a run play. “65 Power-Up” was the call, a dive play for Larry Csonka as the Giants broke the huddle.

The Eagles defense had not huddled and was coming on an all-out blitz. Defensive back Herm Edwards pulled up to the line of scrimmage, looking to make a play. With the play clock winding down, the Giants rushed the snap and Pisarcik couldn’t cleanly hand the ball to Csonka who hit the hole hard. Out came the ball, bouncing perfectly to Edwards off the turf and he took it 26 yards to the end zone.

The win would prove valuable for the Eagles as they would win three of their last five games en route to a playoff berth … a wild-card game they would lose to the Falcons.

Leon Lett Serves Up the Thanksgiving Turkey

Snow in Dallas proved to be the perfect Thanksgiving storm for Leon Lett. Following an infamous strip of Lett by Don Beebe in Super Bowl XXVII, the two-time Pro Bowler would take center stage, again, as the goat against the Dolphins in 1993.

Due to snow and icy field conditions, Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano had the idea to play Lett on special teams for some push in the middle. Head coach Jimmy Johnson agreed with the move and Lett found himself on the field.

The Cowboys had the weather on their side with a 14-13 lead as Dolphins kicker Peter Stoyanovich dug in for a 31-yard field goal attempt. Stoyanovich gingerly approached the hold on shaky footing — and the kick was low, blocked by the Cowboys. The Dallas sideline erupted in celebration, but the ball was still live. As the Dolphins players huddled around it, Lett broke through, sliding in the snow, but failed to secure the ball. Miami guard Jeff Dellenbach fell on it, giving the Dolphins another chance. His 19-yard attempt was good, as Don Shula and the Dolphins gladly took the win.

It wasn’t all bad for Leon Lett and the Cowboys, as they would go on to win their final eight games en route to a second straight Super Bowl victory. As for Lett, he played in Dallas until 2000 and currently works as an assistant defensive line coach for the Cowboys.

Wide Right, Giants Win

Super Bowl XXV is not remembered for the prime matchup of the Bills’ high-powered, no-huddle offense that led the league in points (428) against the Giants’ stout defense that allowed the fewest points (211) on the season. It isn’t remembered for a great defensive scheme put together by Giants coordinator Bill Belichick. It isn’t remembered for being Bill Parcells’ second and final career Super Bowl victory. It isn’t remembered for the great running back performance by Thurman Thomas (135 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown) and game MVP Ottis Anderson (107 yards on 20 carries, touchdown).

The lasting image of Super Bowl XXV is Scott Norwood’s kick just missing the uprights as the Giants won 20-19.

Norwood, an All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 1988, was not known to be a great kicker from distance making just 1 of 5 kicks from 40-plus yards on the season. Nevertheless, he lined up a kick from 47 yards with 8 seconds to go.

The Giants’ strategy to confuse Jim Kelly by mixing coverages on each possession, while dominating the time of possession (just over 40 minutes for the game) had worked. Backup QB Jeff Hostetler was sharp, completing 20 of 32 passes for 222 yards with a touchdown.

Still, the Bills had a chance to win and their fate rested on the foot of Norwood. The snap was true, the hold was good, the kick was away and it sailed … wide right.

The 1- point loss would be the closest Buffalo would come to a Super Bowl victory, as the Bills would lose four straight years. As for the Giants, they had their second Lombardi trophy in franchise history.