What is it about New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning? The two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player seemingly cannot help but consistently be on one end of some of the greatest catches to ever happen during National Football League games. One occurred on the biggest stage of all of North American professional sports. The other took place during a Sunday Night Football game that the Giants lost.
Rating the greatest catches in the history of the NFL is no easy task. Highlight reel grabs occur every weekend of every season, after all, and picking just 15 from the thousands upon thousands of worthy candidates is all a matter of opinion. When the catch occurred during the game, how it impacted the outcome of the contest, if it did at all, and the degree of difficulty regarding the athleticism required to make the catch all impact where the plays fall in this list.
It is worth noting that not all of the grabs highlighted in this piece are tremendous athletic feats that were positive offensive plays. Some were downright flukey plays, moments more about luck than about individual skill. Take the most famous play in the career of the younger Manning brother. He could not have guessed, after escaping the pass rush of the New England Patriots in impressive fashion, that he was about to make history when he tossed what was essentially a prayer down the field.
A wide variety of players have produced spectacular catches in NFL games over the decades. Some are all-time greats who are either in the Hall of Fame already or will be at some point in the future. Others, however, either made a name off of one or more spectacular grabs or have not yet proven themselves in pro football. Take the guy who is atop this list as an example. He hasn't played in the NFL for two months as of this time, but he has already made our jaws drop to the floor with a catch for the ages.
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15 Victor Cruz vs. Seattle Seahawks
Surprise, surprise. A play that involves Eli Manning kicks off this list. Manning and the New York Giants were hosting the Seattle Seahawks when Manning looked for wide receiver Victor Cruz down the right sideline. Cruz was surrounded by two defenders, and he and a Seattle player made contact with the ball in the air. The master of the salsa then used his right hand to keep the ball alive before securing it. Not satisfied with his work, Cruz darted down the field for one of the more impressive scores of what has already been a career filled with memorable touchdowns.
14 Jason Avant Makes One-handed Catch
Before New York Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made a ridiculous catch in front of a Sunday Night Football national television audience, Jason Avant of the Philadelphia Eagles hit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a similar grab. Avant, while approaching the sideline, left his feet and, with one hand, grabbed the football as if he was a centerfielder robbing a home run. Avant completed the play by holding possession as he landed on the field with some force, refusing to allow the ball to hit the ground.
13 Randy Moss Beats Darrelle Revis
The wide receiver who will be enshrined in Canton soon enough is one of the only players at the position who wouldn't mind spending Christmas on Revis Island. Moss, while playing for the New England Patriots when Revis was with the Jets, sped past the best cornerback in the NFL and toward the end zone. The pass from Tom Brady was a touch overthrown, but that did not prevent Moss from using only his right hand to bring in the ball for a touchdown that was made to look as common as a one-yard run across the goal line.
12 Tony Moeaki vs. San Francisco 49ers
The tight end earned himself Catch of the Year consideration when featuring for the Kansas City Chiefs in a game against the San Francisco 49ers. Moeaki sped toward the middle of the end zone when a pass headed his way seemed destined to land well over his head. He never gave up on the play, though, fulling extending himself so that his right hand could cradle the football. Moeaki quickly used his empty hand and his body to secure the football, scoring a touchdown for the Chiefs.
11 Dwayne Bowe vs. Indianapolis Colts
Fantasy football owners may not be happy with Bowe for what he has done in 2014, but he once rewarded owners who played him with a fantastic touchdown catch that left those in the Indianapolis crowd stunned. Bowe, arguably guilty of offensive pass interference, went over a defensive back to prevent an interception. The Kansas City wide receiver then, as he was falling to the ground, tapped the ball upward with his right hand multiple times to prevent it from hitting the ground. Bowe ultimately wound up securing the ball for a touchdown.
10 Calvin Johnson vs. Dallas Cowboys
When Megatron is at his best, he literally cannot be stopped. The Cowboys found that out the hard way when playing against the Detroit Lions in 2011. Johnson was covered by not one, not two, but three Dallas players when quarterback Matthew Stafford looked for his superstar wide receiver in the end zone. Johnson, not to be outdone, went up and got the ball over all three of his opponents, and he then held onto the ball despite being hacked by the Dallas players looking to force an incomplete pass. When he is healthy, Megatron is the top wide receiver in all of pro football.
9 Immaculate Reception
Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers would suggest that having the "Immaculate Reception" so low on this list is blasphemy. It comes in here because luck played a significant role in the play, and also because we still don't know for sure if it was legal. Had the ball made contact with either John Fuqua of the Steelers or with the ground, it would/should have been ruled an incomplete pass per the rules of the NFL at the time. Play was allowed to continue despite the controversy of that moment, giving Franco Harris the opportunity to make the most famous run of his storied career.
8 Lynn Swann at Super Bowl X
The second Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver to make this list may not have had a deity on his side at Super Bowl X, but he did have a catch that is relived via television every Super Bowl Sunday. Swann, while blanketed by a defensive back, left his feet to catch a Terry Bradshaw pass. The ball bounced off of Swann as he attempted to reel in the pass, but the legendary wide receiver immediately collected himself and completed the catch as he fell to the ground, making one of the most acrobatic plays in Super Bowl history in the process.
7 Brandon Lloyd Against the Seahawks
The body control put on display in a game involving the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers is what you would expect to see out of a gymnast and not a NFL wide receiver. Lloyd twisted his body while in the middle of the air, tipped the ball toward his body, grabbed full possession of the ball as he was falling to ground AND he touched his toes in play before falling out of bounds. Lloyd actually banged himself up on the play because of what he had to do in order to make the catch.
6 The Catch
It is a play so famous that it has two names; "The Catch" and "Montana to Clark." The San Francisco 49ers were trailing the Dallas Cowboys late in the 1981 NFC Championship Game when quarterback Joe Montana looked toward the end zone to make a play. Montana, while on his back foot, threw a high pass toward the back of the end zone, and tight end Dwight Clark rose above everybody else and caught the ball for a game-winning score. It is a moment that will live on in highlights and in San Francisco history so long as the league and the club exist.
5 Oronde Gadsden vs. Raiders
The Miami Dolphins were losing to the Oakland Raiders 27-0 in the third quarter of a playoff game when Gadsden was running a route down the left sideline. Gadsden, who was responsible for plenty of memorable catches during his career, left his feet and extended one arm to reach for the ball. He also had to hold off a defensive back as he grabbed the football with his hand. Gadsden then brought the ball into his body as he fell, completing the catch and earning Miami a first down.
4 Freeman Fluke
All Minnesota Vikings defensive back Chris Dishman had to do was make what should have been a routine interception, and we wouldn't be talking about this play. The ball instead sailed through Dishman's hands before bouncing off of the back of Green Bay Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman, who was down on the ground. Freeman rolled over and completed the catch, and, with everybody else believing the play to be dead, Freeman rushed to his feet and made his way into the end zone for a game-winning score.
3 Santonio Holmes Wins Super Bowl
Catches get no bigger than the one made by Holmes at Super Bowl XLIII. With the Pittsburgh Steelers in need of a score with under a minute to play, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dropped back and looked for Holmes in the corner of the end zone. Big Ben put the ball where only his wide receiver could get it, and Holmes did well to stretch his body out and grab the ball while also getting both feet down in the end zone. It was a fantastic play overall, one that helped Holmes win Super Bowl MVP honors.
2 David Tyree's Helmet Catch
Just imagine if the referee would have blown the whistle when it appeared as if Eli Manning was going to be dragged to the ground. We never would have watched Manning somehow escape the pass rush, we never would have watched Manning heave the ball down the field, and we never would have seen Tyree grab the ball and use the side of his helmet to keep possession while being mauled by safety Rodney Harrison. Remember, refs, that doing nothing at all is often the right decision during games.
1 Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Dallas Cowboys
Beckham didn't just contort his body when going up for an Eli Manning pass. He didn't just do well to hold off a defensive player flagged for pass interference. He didn't just reel the ball in with one hand -- three fingers to be exact -- and then hold onto it as he fell back-first to the ground. He didn't just make sure to remain in play en route to scoring a touchdown. Beckham achieved all of that. It is, simply put, the greatest catch in NFL history. Rookies aren't supposed to be this good, but it seems that nobody told that to Mr. Beckham.
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