With Super Bowl XLIV looming on Sunday, we’re taking this week to look back at some of the most memorable Super Bowl moments in recent Patriots history. We’ve listed the five most underrated Super Bowl moments in franchise history, as well as the five best individual Super Bowl performances. Today, we examine the five most nightmarish Super Bowl moments in franchise history.
5. Lawrence McGrew getting knocked sideways by William Perry in the third quarter of Super Bowl XX
This was a case of a good player simply having a bad day at the office. McGrew, one of the most popular players in the New England locker room, was taken in the second round of the 1980 draft and had become an important part of the New England linebacking corps — he had a career-high 167 tackles in 1984 and led the Patriots in tackles in 1985.
But in Super Bowl XX, McGrew was forever immortalized as an image of Chicago's dominance over the Patriots. Defensive lineman-turned-running back Perry bulled his way into the end zone from a yard out late in the third quarter. In the process, he knocked McGrew sideways, sending the linebacker reeling and giving the Bears a 44-3 lead.
Despite the fact that he was effectively “posterized” by Perry, McGrew, who passed away in 2004 at the age of 46, apparently maintained a sense of humor about the whole thing.
“ ’Grew was on his back,” fellow New England linebacker Don Blackmon recalled years later to The Boston Globe on the occasion of McGrew’s passing. “By then, we were all pretty surly about the situation. I leaned down to ask him if he was all right. He looked up and said, ‘Ah, shoot, I just made the highlight films for the next 50 years.’ He was exactly right. That was ’Grew. He was always laughing.”
McGrew played 11 years in the NFL, nearly all with the Patriots. After a brief stint in Cleveland, he signed with the Giants in 1990. That season, McGrew returned to the Super Bowl, playing in 11 regular-season games and the playoffs as a reserve linebacker and helping the Giants win the Super Bowl.
4. Max Lane’s second half in Super Bowl XXXI
Like McGrew, Lane was a good player who picked the wrong day to have a bad game. In simple parlance, Lane was simply the guy standing on the tracks when the express came pulling through the station. After all, someone had to be the guy who had to try to block the legendary Reggie White.
To that point, Lane had built a good career — he had risen from relative obscurity as a sixth-round pick out of Navy in the 1994 draft to become a key cog on the New England offensive line as the right tackle. (In that Super Bowl season, Lane started every game at right tackle for the Patriots and helped anchor a line that allowed only 30 sacks all season and just one sack for every 21.9 pass plays, the sixth-best mark in the NFL.)
But it was clear that few offensive linemen could handle the Green Bay defensive end one-on-one for an extended period of time, so the Patriots utilized tight end Ben Coates as a blocker for much of the first half, helping Lane slow down White and the Green Bay pass rush. However, needing to pass the ball to get back into the game, the New England coaching staff decided to use Coates more as a pass-catcher in the second half.
Bad move. In one-on-one situations, White blew past Lane twice on consecutive plays in the second half, picking up back-to-back sacks on Drew Bledsoe. White would pick up a third sack at Lane’s expense later in the game, leaving Lane as a footnote in the great career of White. Lane would retire after eight seasons and 100 games in the NFL, but the image of him getting beaten badly by White on consecutive plays remains one of the indelible images of Super Bowl XXXI.
3. Desmond Howard running back a kickoff 99 yards in the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXI
A seven-play, 53-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown run from Curtis Martin had allowed New England to close the score to 27-21 in the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXI, and the Patriots were feeling pretty good about themselves. So good, in fact, that the Patriots decided to kick the ball to Howard, Green Bay’s top return man.
Oops. Adam Vinatieri delivered the kickoff to Howard, who gathered in the ball in at the 1-yard line and was off. Howard may have had a little help (some believe Vinatieri was held on the play by Green Bay’s Keith McKenzie), but 99 yards later, it was Howard who was doing the robot over the final few feet of his record-setting return.
Howard would go on to be the only special teams player in the history of the Super Bowl to win MVP honors — he ended up with a Super Bowl-record 90 punt return yards and 154 kickoff return yards with one touchdown. (His 244 all-purpose yards also tied a Super Bowl record.)
“We had a lot of momentum and our defense was playing better, but [Howard] made the big play,” Patriots coach Bill Parcells said after the game. “That return was the game right there. He's been great all year and he was great again today.”
“To be able to return that touchdown ... it was such an ebb and flow of emotion where there was a huge swing to their side once they scored a touchdown,” Howard would say a few years later. “The whole sideline is jumping up and they’re all excited, and then it just switches back to the Packers. It just took all the wind out of their sails, and from that point on we went on to play dominant football and we won the game.”
2. Plaxico Burress beating Ellis Hobbs in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII
With just over 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII and the Patriots holding on to a 14-10 lead, the Giants faced a first-and-10 at the New England 13. New York went four-wide, while the Patriots had six pass rushers and four defensive backs on the right side of the field.
That left Ellis Hobbs all alone in coverage on the left side with Burress — a size mismatch (Burress is eight inches taller than Hobbs) that had the Giants google-eyed. In addition, the Patriots were in a Cover Zero blitz, and Manning took advantage, hitting Burress in the corner of the end zone for what would be the game-winning score.
“It was just a fade route, and they came with an all-out blitz,” Manning would later say of the play. “They had been playing zone coverage. They came with an all-out blitz, and the corner sat because he thought we might run something short. Plaxico ran right by him and made a great catch to win the game.”
1. David Tyree holding on to the ball — despite the best efforts of Rodney Harrison — in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII
This is the all-time, "Reagan beats Mondale" landslide winner. (Or loser, as it were.) As far as nightmares go for Patriots fans, this one is “Halloween,” “Psycho” and “House of 1000 Corpses” all rolled into one.
With 1:15 left and the Giants driving, they faced a third-and-5 from their 44. Eli Manning took the snap and dropped back to pass. He was quickly flushed out of the pocket by a bunch of New England defenders, most of whom had his jersey at one time or another. However, Manning was able to evade them, stay on his feet and scramble backward to his own 34 or so. From there, he let fly.
On the other end, Tyree was waiting. He later said he initially was in a deep route but had come back to give Manning another option. He stopped at about the New England 30-yard line and went up for the ball next to Harrison. After a brief struggle between the two (and with a host of Patriots defensive backs simply standing around and watching the play unfold), Tyree pinned the ball against his helmet with his right hand and came down safely with the catch at the New England 24. It went for 32 yards and gave the Giants a first down.
The play has been immortalized as one of the great moments in Super Bowl history and has been featured in several places, including a Pepsi commercial. While Tyree continues to be celebrated (it was the end of a roller-coaster year for him, which included the death of his mother), for his part, Harrison remains relatively cavalier about his spot in history, even agreeing to write the introduction for Tyree’s book, “More Than Just a Catch.”
“I heard what he went through with his mom, her passing, and everything he kind of endured this season,” Harrison wrote. “You can see why he was blessed at that particular time. God has a way of showing different things through different people, and I'm not a hater. You beat us, so I congratulate you and we move on.”