Every sports fan knows that the playoffs are where true legends are made. After all, professional sport is not about taking part.
Every player, coach, and fan desperately want to win, and if you put a run together in the playoffs, you could go down in history.
Here are some of the biggest stories from the history of the NFL playoffs, including some all-time great wild card teams that will forever be in fans’ hearts.
New York Jets – 2009
If you’ve followed the NFL for any length of time, you’ll know that the New York Jets and the playoffs don’t exactly go together like a hot dog and ketchup.
The Jets have qualified for the playoffs just 14 times in their history, which is a pretty terrible record considering over a third of the other teams didn’t even exist when the Jets were founded in 1960.
But, that all changed in the 2009-10 season when the Jets and head coach Rex Ryan reached the AFC Championship game, only to be denied a Super Bowl spot by the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts.
Ever heard of him? Me neither.
The Jets reached the playoffs as wild cards after finishing second in the AFC East division.
They beat the third-ranked Cincinnati Bengals and second-seeded San Diego Chargers on the way to the Championship game, but no one even gave them a chance of making the playoffs when they slumped to a 4-6 record after 10 games.
Sportsbooks, commentators, and fans alike were equally shocked by the Jets’ performance.
Despite falling short, the Jets’ playoff antics went down in NFL folk law, and many fans still remember their run fondly.
New York Giants – 2007
Thanks to a poor season in 2006, expectations were low for the Giants in 2007. Head coach Tom Coughlin and starting QB Eli Manning were both under massive pressure.
Eli wasn’t helped by the fact that 2004 draft alumni Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers were leading their respective teams with aplomb, while his older brother was reigning Super Bowl champion and MVP.
The season started badly, too, losing their first two games. However, the team recovered to an overall record of 10-6 and clinched a wildcard spot in the playoffs.
Again, no one gave the Giants a chance to go deep, with Eli Manning having never won a playoff game before.
That quickly changed when the Giants claimed a 24-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and were off to the races.
They followed this up with a win over the Dallas Cowboys and an overtime victory against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game to book their place in the Super Bowl.
Surely glory was a step too far, as the Giants faced the Patriots and Tom Brady, who already had three Super Bowl wins to his name.
But the Giants would not be denied, and following an incredible play by Eli Manning and David Tyree, which has since become known as the “helmet catch”’ (with just 1.15 on the clock in the final quarter), they secured victory.
This made the Giants just the fifth team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl as a wild card team and confirmed the greatness of the Manning football dynasty.
Baltimore Ravens – 2000
Defense wins championships; just ask Super Bowl XXXV winners, the Baltimore Ravens.
After qualifying as a wild card, the Ravens dominated their opposition throughout the playoffs with outrageous defensive prowess.
Remarkably, the Ravens’ defense gave up just 23 points to their playoff opponents in total across four games.
Their offense struggled throughout the season but did their job as they dominated the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, running out as 34-7 victors.
Regarded as 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 was inspirational throughout the playoffs.
He recorded 31 tackles, two interceptions, 9 pass deflections, one fumble recovery, and a touchdown during the run. Big game player.
The Baltimore Ravens rightfully take their place in NFL playoff history. Maybe one for the purists, though.
New England Patriots – 1985
The Patriots are synonymous with success over the last two decades in the NFL, largely due to the Belichick/Brady combination that brought no less than six Super Bowl wins to Foxborough.
Belichick (six) and Brady (seven) top the lists of head coaches, and quarterbacks with the most Super Bowl wins in history. Not too shabby.
But, before this dynamic duo changed the face of modern football, the Pats didn’t have a single Super Bowl win to their name.
This was despite the best efforts of the 1985 team, who, against all odds, made the Super Bowl, only to be outdone by another all-time great defense, the Chicago Bears.
Noticing a theme here?
The Patriots became the first team in NFL history to win all three road games on the way to the Super Bowl, beating the Jets, Raiders, and Dolphins, respectively.
No one in the league gave this a chance, especially because the Patriots were beaten by all of these teams in those stadiums in the regular season.
It wasn’t to be in 1985, but it was still an all-time great playoff run.
And it worked out alright for the Patriots in the end, too. Good things come to those who wait.
Pittsburgh Steelers – 1972
The greatest moment in NFL playoff history, and possibly NFL history in general, came between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Divisional playoff game in 1972.
Widely known as the “Immaculate Reception,” a play of sheer madness saw the Steelers score a touchdown while trailing 7-6 with just a few seconds remaining in the game.
It was fourth down, and there were 22 seconds on the clock.
Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw was under huge pressure from the Raiders’ defensive line. He scrambled out of the pocket and dodged a tackle before throwing the ball toward his running back, John Fuqua.
The pass was overthrown, and the Raiders safety Jack Tatum broke it up, and that was game over. Or so it seemed…
The ball actually cannoned off Tatum’s helmet. It ricocheted up into the air and the grateful arms of the on-running Steelers fullback, Franco Harris.
He picked the ball up on about the 40-yard line, evaded the scattered Raiders defenders, and ran the ball home for a touchdown.
Although the Steelers lost the AFC championship game to the Miami Dolphins the following week, this game will always be remembered for this single play alone.
The play has to be seen to be believed and the shock on the faces of the Raiders’ defenders said it all.
They were incredibly unlucky to lose in such a way, but for everyone else, it was a play we’d never forget.
Lead image: All Pro Reels/Wikimedia Commons