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Starkey: Five greatest plays in Super Bowl history

| Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
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The Steelers' James Harrison returns an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1, 2009, at in Tampa, Fla.
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The Giants' David Tyree (right) makes a catch against the Patriots during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3, 2008, in Glendale, Ariz.
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Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes catches the winning 6-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIII against the Cardinals on Feb. 1, 2009, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
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The Patriots' Malcolm Butler (right) intercepts a pass intended for the Seahawks' Ricardo Lockette late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz.
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The Seahawks' Jermaine Kearse (15) makes a catch against the Patriots' Malcolm Butler (21) and Duron Harmon (30) during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz.

Funny thing about the five greatest plays in Super Bowl history: Two of them happened on the same drive.

Two others happened in the same game.

That leaves a whole bunch of plays in 49 years worth of Super Bowls. But with apologies to Marcus Allen, Lynn Swann and others, I'm going with these five:

5. Insane, Jermaine

If ever there was a time for Al Michaels to dust off the “Do You Believe in Miracles?” line, this was it. Seattle's Jermaine Kearse, on a potential go-ahead drive, somehow caught a 33-yard pass that tipped off his hands, then both legs, then his right hand before settling into his grasp as he rose from being flat on his back. Or something like that.

Cris Collinsworth said, “I can't believe he didn't get up and get in the end zone.”

If he had, we'd be talking about maybe the greatest play in football history. Instead, only minutes later, this happened ...

4. Butler did it

I had never seen New England's “Director of Football Research” Ernie Adams — the mysterious figure in Bill Belichick's shadows — until an NFL Network piece on Malcolm Butler's amazing interception that sealed Super Bowl XLIX. Adams, as it turned out, diagramed Seattle's goal-line pick play for practice that week. Butler did not play it correctly in practice but in tandem with Brandon Browner played it perfectly in the game.

What rarely gets talked about is how amazing it was that Butler, burned on Kearse's incredible catch, held onto the ball despite a collision forceful enough to send him and receiver Ricardo Lockette reeling.

3. Holmes at last

A play after Santonio Holmes let Super Bowl XLIII slip through his hands, he made one of the great clutch catches of all-time, tip-toeing the back of the end zone.

But in one man's opinion — the man who called the winning play (“62 Scat Flasher Z Level”) — the throw was even better.

“Probably the best throw I've ever seen,” Bruce Arians told me at Steelers camp five months later.

Indeed, Ben Roethlisberger fired a bullet into a window the size of an ant. Holmes was his third option.

After his drop, Holmes was approached by tight end Heath Miller.

“He tapped me on my hip and kept telling me, ‘Tone, don't worry, it's coming right back to you,' ” Holmes recounted to me recently. “I didn't want to hear it. But once the next play was called, it was all smiles.”

2. Book of David

Every time I watch this Super Bowl XLII play — and we're probably going on 700,000 times — I expect Eli Manning to get sacked and David Tyree to drop the ball, instead of pinning it with one hand to his helmet. Neither ever happens.

“They needed a miracle on third-and-5,” said the late, great Steve Sabol on NFL Films. “And they got two.”

1. The longest yards

Somebody should dedicate one of those “30 for 30” documentaries to James Harrison's 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII. Or perhaps a full-length feature film. Goodness knows, it had enough interesting characters, action, subplots and drama.

An unforgettable ending, too.

The Steelers were leading, 10-7, with 18 seconds left in the first half. The Cardinals were first-and-goal at the 1. Harrison was supposed to blitz but dropped into coverage. Kurt Warner never saw him. And thus began on odyssey that saw Harrison escape at least six would-be tacklers on his way to the then-longest play in Super Bowl history.

He nearly stepped out of bounds. He nearly didn't break the plane. He nearly passed out.

The part of the play that has always stood out to me: Steelers' defenders taking off like fighter planes to pave Harrison's way. Ten yards into his journey, all 10 teammates are in the television frame sprinting. Ryan Clark blew somebody up. Deshea Townsend toppled Warner. Brett Kiesel and Lawrence Timmons peeled back for big hits. LaMarr Woodley got the last block.

Harrison, doing his best Darrelle Revis from that punt return against West Virginia, kept chugging along. At the end, he pulled Larry Fitzgerald — literally sledding on Harrison's legs — into the end zone as Steve Breaston knocked Harrison to the ground.

If they showed a thousand clips of that play right now, you'd watch every one of them. So would I.

It's the greatest play in Super Bowl history.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at

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