Every sports fan knows that the playoffs are where true legends are made. After all, professional sports isn’t about mere participation. Every player, coach, and fan desperately wants to win, and if you make it to the playoffs, you can etch your name in history.
New York Jets – 2009
If you’ve followed the NFL at any time, you’d know that the New York Jets and the playoffs don’t exactly go together like hot dogs and ketchup.
The Jets have qualified for the playoffs only 14 times in the history of the NFL, a rather dismal record considering more than a third of other teams didn’t even exist when the Jets were established in 1960.
But all that changed in the 2009-10 season when the Jets, under head coach Rex Ryan, reached the AFC Championship game, only to be denied a Super Bowl spot by the Indianapolis Colts led by Peyton Manning. Ever Heard of him? Yeah me too.
The Jets reached the playoffs as wild cards after finishing second in the AFC East division. They defeated the third-ranked Cincinnati Bengals and second-seeded San Diego Chargers on their way to the Championship game, despite most writing them off when they were at a 4-6 record after ten games.
Commentators, analyst, and fans alike were taken aback by the Jets’ performance. Despite the odds, the Jets’ playoff antics have become a part of NFL folklore, and many fans still fondly remember their run.
New York Giants – 2007
After an underwhelming 2006 season, expectations were low for the Giants in 2007. Head coach Tom Coughlin and starting QB Eli Manning were under immense pressure.
Eli’s reputation wasn’t helped by the fact that his 2004 draft classmates, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers, were leading their respective teams with great joy, while his older brother reigned as Super Bowl champion and MVP.
The season started off rocky for him, with defeats in their first two games. However, the team rebounded with a 10-6 overall record and snagged a wildcard spot for the playoffs.
Again, no one gave the Giants much of a chance, primarily because Eli Manning hadn’t yet won a playoff game. That quickly changed as the Giants claimed a 24-14 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and moved on.
They followed it with a win against the Dallas Cowboys and an overtime triumph against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game, securing their spot in the Super Bowl.
True glory was seemingly a step too far, as the Giants faced the Patriots and Tom Brady, already with three Super Bowl wins under his belt.
But the Giants were undeterred, and following an incredible play between Eli Manning and David Tyree, famously known as the “helmet catch” with just 1:15 left in the final quarter, they clinched the win.
This victory made the Giants the fifth team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl as a wild-card team, solidifying the greatness of the Manning football dynasty.
Baltimore Ravens – 2000
Defense wins championships; just ask the victors of Super Bowl XXXV, the Baltimore Ravens.
Qualifying as a wild card, the Ravens dominated their opposition throughout the playoffs with daring defensive prowess. Notably, the Ravens’ defense allowed only 23 points in total across their four playoff games.
Their offense had its struggles throughout the season, but they did their job in dominating the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, finishing with a 34-7 win.
Considered one of, if not the greatest NFL defense of all time, the Ravens were led by 13-time Pro Bowler, Ray Lewis.
The hall of Famer was named Super Bowl XXXV MVP and inspired throughout the playoffs. He recorded 31 tackles, two interceptions, nine pass deflections, one fumble recovery, and a rushing touchdown—a true game-changer.
The Baltimore Ravens rightly claim their spot in the annals of NFL playoff history. One for the purists, indeed.
New England Patriots – 1985
The Patriots have become synonymous with success over the past two decades in the NFL, primarily due to the Belichick/Brady combination that brought no fewer than six Super Bowl victories to Foxborough.
Belichick (six) and Brady (seven) lead the lists of head coaches and quarterbacks with the most Super Bowl victories respectively. Not too shabby.
But before this dynamic duo reshaped modern football, the Pats had not a single Super Bowl win to their name.
This is despite the best efforts of the 1985 team which, against all odds, made it to the Super Bowl, only to be defeated by another all-time great defense, the Chicago Bears.
Notice a theme here?
The Patriots became the first team in NFL history to win all three road games on their way to the Super Bowl, defeating the Jets, Raiders, and Dolphins, in that order.
No one in the league gave them a chance, especially since the Patriots had lost to all of these teams at those very stadiums during the regular season.
1985 wasn’t their year, but it was an all-time great playoff run. And things eventually did turn out well for the Patriots. Indeed good things come to those who wait!
Pittsburgh Steelers – 1972
The most extraordinary moment in NFL playoff history, and possibly the entire history of the NFL, came in a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders in the AFC Divisional playoff game in 1972.
Broadly known as the “Immaculate Reception,” a game of sheer madness saw the Steelers score a touchdown when trailing 7-6 with only seconds left in the game. Fourth down, with 22 seconds on the clock.
Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw was under intense pressure from the Raiders’ defensive line.
He scrambled out of the pocket, evading tackles before hurling the ball towards his running back, John Fuqua.
The pass was contested, Raiders safety Jack Tatum made the hit, and the game appeared to be over. Or so it seemed… The ball ricocheted off Tatum’s helmet.
It arched in the air and landed miraculously in the grateful arms of on-running Steelers fullback, Franco Harris.
He scooped up the ball near the 40-yard line, evaded scattered Raiders defenders, and sprinted it home for the touchdown.
Though the Steelers were defeated in the AFC championship game by the Miami Dolphins the following week, this game will always be remembered for that one singular play.
The play needs to be seen to be believed, and the shock on the Raiders defenders’ faces said it all.
It was cruel to lose in such a manner, but for all of us, it’s a play we’ll never forget.