Now that the conference championship games have arrived, it occurs to me that this might be the best weekend the NFL has to offer. For one thing, the games aren't nearly as hyped as the Super Bowl. For another, there are two games. And the conference championship games have had moments to rival the Super Bowl. Here are 10 of them:
1. The Catch
When Dwight Clark, right, jumped up, oh, about 20 feet or so to pull in Joe Montana's 6-yard touchdown pass in the back of the Dallas end zone back in January 1982, it was more than a great sports moment. It was the dawning of the 49ers' dynasty. Some forget the play capped an 89-yard drive by the 49ers, the kind Montana would repeat throughout his career.
2. The Drive
John Elway, below, drove his team 98 yards in the Cleveland cold to tie the January 1987 AFC title game with 39 seconds to play, helping to establish his legend along the way. The final play was a 5-yard touchdown pass to Mark Jackson right in front of the Dawg Pound, a section of boisterous Browns fans who threw dog biscuits at the field throughout the game. Denver went on to win the game in overtime. (Personal memory: The press elevator became stuck on the way to the field. It finally made it just before "The Drive" began.)
3. The Ice Bowl
Vince Lombardi's final Packers team wasn't his best. It was aging and injured, and in the December 1967 NFL title game, a lot of advantages belonged to the Dallas Cowboys. Still, the Packers won in minus-20 degree temperatures. The winning play, of course, came when Bart Starr wedged into the end zone on a sneak with 16 seconds to play.
4. The Pick
I know, I know. When you're talking about great moments, some people expect them to be accompanied by black-and-white game films. Still, Ronde Barber's 92-yard interception return against the Eagles in January 2003 belongs on any list of great moments. For one thing, it propelled the Bucs toward their Super Bowl victory a week later. For another, it was the final scoring play at Veterans Stadium, a place that had been a graveyard for the Bucs. For a third, it's still the best play in Tampa Bay history.
5. The Vindication
As good as they have been in the regular season, the Colts have struggled in the postseason, especially against the Patriots. By the time Indy played New England in the January 2006 title game, coach Tony Dungy and quarterback Peyton Manning had heard criticism they couldn't win big games. And when the Colts fell behind 21-3, it seemed the snipes would continue. But the Colts roared back to win that game, and Manning was spectacular in the second half and led his team on a 68-yard drive to take the lead with one minute to play.
6. The Tough Guy
Back in January 1980, Jack Youngblood played every snap of the Rams' 9-0 victory over the Bucs with a broken leg. No matter who you were pulling for, that's legendary stuff.
7. The Fumble
One year after John Elway broke the Browns' hearts with "The Drive," Earnest Byner, left, broke them again by fumbling as he seemed on his way toward the end zone. The Browns trailed 38-31, but Denver cornerback Jeremiah Castille (a former Buc) stripped Byner of the ball at the 2-yard line. In some ways, the Browns never recovered.
8. The Call
Explain it to me one more time? Why, exactly, didn't Bert Emanuel's catch count in the January 2000 NFC Championship Game between the Bucs and the Rams?
9. The Choke
Back in 1998, the Vikings looked unstoppable. But the best thing about that Viking team was kicker Gary Anderson, who had had a perfect season. He had made all 39 of his field goals and all 67 of his extra points. But Anderson missed a 38-yard field goal that would have closed out the game against the Falcons, and somehow, the Vikings found a way to lose in overtime.
10. The Drop
To this day, Minnesota fans argue about how much blame to assign to running back Darrin Nelson, below, who let a ball go through his arms at the Washington goal line in the NFC title game following the 1987 season. The Redskins' Darrell Green had something to do with the fourth-down play, and there is a question of whether Nelson could have gotten into the end zone. Still, the Vikings would have had a first down with 45 seconds or so to play.