Saturday, January 21, 2012

Most Memorable Conference Championship Games post-1980

10.  Dallas Cowboys 30, San Francisco 49ers 20 (January 17, 1993)
This game was essentially the beginning of the Cowboys run of 3 Super Bowl Titles.  They had to go to San Francisco and beat the dynasty of the 1980's to start their run.  A 10-10 game at halftime, the Cowboys broke the game open with two long touchdown drives sandwiched around a Mike Cofer field goal to take a 24-13 lead early in the fourth.  A Jerry Rice TD with 4 minutes to play got the 49ers within four, but Troy Aikman hit Alvin Harper on a 70-yard slant and run that led to the game-sealing touchdown.

9.  Washington Redskins 24, San Francisco 49ers 21 (January 8, 1984)
Two of the dominant franchises of the 1980's met in one championship game and it turned out to be a good one.  Washington took a 21-0 lead on the 49ers in the third quarter after a Joe Theismann to Charlie Brown TD pass and the game appeared over.  Joe Montana responded with three 4th quarter TD passes, the last to Mike Wilson tying the score with 7 minutes to play.  The Redskins responded with a drive eating up all but the final 40 seconds that ended in a Mark Mosely 25-yd FG.  Mosely had previously missed four field goals in the game, but was able to connect on the short game-winner.

8.  Indianapolis Colts 38, New England Patriots 34 (January 21, 2007)
The Patriots had dominated the previous playoff games with the Colts, but Indianapolis finally had them indoors in their building.  It did not look like that was much of an advantage when New England forged a 21-6 halftime lead.  Peyton Manning would guide 5 second half scoring drives, the final one culminating in a Joseph Addai touchdown run with one minute remaining.  Tom Brady got the Pats in Colt territory, but was intercepted by Marlin Jackson sending Indy to the Super Bowl and defeating their long-time nemesis.

7.  New York Giants 15, San Francisco 49ers 13 (January 20, 1991)
The 49ers came in to this game winners of back-to-back Super Bowls and were poised for a 3rd by defeating the visiting Giants.  A Joe Montana to John Taylor TD pass gave San Francisco a 13-6 lead in the third quarter and was the only touchdown of the day.  After Matt Bahr cut the score to 13-9, Joe Montana was knocked out of the game on a hit by Leonard Marshall.  After another Bahr field goal, Roger Craig fumbled a hand off from Steve Young giving the Giants one more shot.  Jeff Hostetler marched them down the field and Bahr connected from 42 yards on the games final play to put an end to the San Francisco dynasty.

6.  Denver Broncos 38, Cleveland Browns 33 (January 17, 1988)
Meeting in the AFC Championship Game for the second year in a row, the Browns and Broncos would be hard-pressed to come close at matching the drama of the year before.  At least they came close, although it didn't start out that way.  A mistake-filled first half left the Browns behind 21-3, but when Earnest Byner scored from four yards out late in the 3rd quarter, Cleveland had closed to 28-24.  A 4 yard TD pass from Bernie Kosar to Webster Slaughter tied the game at 31 in the fourth before John Elway and Sammy Winder connected from 20 yards with 4 minutes to go giving Denver a 38-31 lead.  The Browns were marching for the game-tying score when Byner was stripped at the 3-yard line and "The Fumble" was born.  Denver took an intentional safety for the final margin and went to a second consecutive Super Bowl, while the Browns suffered a second consecutive heart-wrenching defeat and have yet to make it to football's biggest stage.

5.  Atlanta Falcons 30, Minnesota Vikings 27, OT (January 17, 1999)
The host Vikings were poised for a trip back to the Super Bowl, riding a 15-1 regular season into the NFC Championship Game vs the Falcons.  When Randall Cunningham hit Matthew Hatchette with a 5-yard TD pass with 13 minutes to go, the Vikings held a 27-17 lead.  After Atlanta cut the score to 27-20 and the teams traded possessions, Minnesota marched into Falcon territory with just over two minutes to play and set-up for the game-clinching field goal.  Gary Anderson, who had not missed all season, proceeded to be wide left from 38 yards, giving Atlanta new life.  With 49 seconds left, Chris Chandler hit Terrance Mathis to even the score and send the game to overtime.  After several punts, Morten Andersen connected from 38 yards sending the Falcons to their first Super Bowl appearance.  Minnesota became the first 15-1 team to fall short of the Super Bowl.

4.  New York Giants 23, Green Bay Packers 20, OT (January 20, 2008)
A cold day at Lambeau Field in 2008 turned out to be the swan song for the Packers legendary quarterback.  A Brett Favre to Donald Driver touchdown pass covering 90 yards was the only first half touchdown as the Packers led 10-6.  Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw had 3rd quarter touchdown runs sandwiching a Favre to Donald Lee TD pass that gave the Giants a 20-17 lead entering the 4th.  Mason Crosby tied the game early in the final stanza before New York kicker Lawrence Tynes missed twice leaving the game tied and headed to overtime.  On the second play of overtime, Favre was intercepted in Packer territory by Corey Webster and Tynes made good on his third game-winning field goal attempts sending the visiting Giants to the Super Bowl.  This would be the last pass Favre would throw as a Packer, but not the last interception he would throw in an NFC Championship Game...

3.  New Orleans Saints 31, Minnesota Vikings 28 (January 24, 2010)
Favre brought the Vikings into New Orleans, site of his biggest victory as a quarterback, trying to get them back to the Super Bowl after a long drought.  Minnesota outgained the Saints 475 to 257 on this day, but several Viking turnover left the game tied at 28 late in the fourth quarter.  Favre would lead his team to the Saints 33 before a 12-man in the huddle penalty would movie back to 3rd and 15 from the 38, just on the edge of field goal range.  Minnesota elected to try and get closer, and Favre rolled out to his right and threw back to Sidney Rice, but Saint DB Tracy Porter stepped in and intercepted the pass sending the game to overtime.  New Orleans won the coin toss and marched down for the game-winning 40 yard field goal by Garrett Hartley, aided by three replays upheld in their favor and two defensive penalties on the Vikings.  While Favre would come back for one more season, his last playoff pass for both the Packers and Vikings ended with the same result.

2.  San Francisco 49ers 28, Dallas Cowboys 27 (January 10, 1982)
In a tough decision, "The Catch" comes in at #2 on the list.  San Francisco, who had never been to a Super Bowl, battled "America's Team" at Candlestick for the NFC Championship.  Tony Dorsett gave the Cowboys a 17-14 halftime lead with a 5-yard touchdown run capping a back and forth first half.  Trailing 21-20, Everson Walls recovered a 49er fumble and Danny White connected with Doug Cosbie from 21 yards with 4:54 to play giving Dallas a 27-21 lead.  San Francisco took over at their own 11 yard line as Joe Montana directed them down the field.  On 3rd and 3 from the Cowboy 6, Montana rolled to his right looking for Freddie Solomon who was covered, pumped to get Ed "Too Tall" Jones off his feet and threw the ball toward the back of the end zone.  The pass appeared headed out of the back of the end zone when the two hands of Dwight Clark reached up and snatched the ball for a touchdown.  Eric Wright made a touchdown saving horse-collar tackle on Drew Pearson before a sack and fumble by Danny White sealed the game for San Francisco.  This game would start the 49er dynasty of the 1980's.

1.  Denver Broncos 23, Cleveland Browns 20, OT (January 11, 1987)
The #1 Championship Game happened at old Cleveland Stadium in 1987.  The game stayed tight throughout, tied 10-10 at halftime.  It wasn't until Bernie Kosar hit Brian Brennan from 48 yards out with 5:43 to play that the Browns appeared to have taken control.  Ken Bell misplayed the kickoff and was only able to fall on it at the 2 yard line, leaving the Broncos 98 yards from the game-tying score.  John Elway started the Broncos on the march, converting a huge 3rd and 18 pass to Mark Jackson with 1:47 to go.  Elway also had two scrambles for 20 yards on the drive, the second leaving them with 3rd and 1 at the Browns 5 with 39 seconds left.  Elway would again find Jackson, this time with a 5 yard TD pass to tie the score at 20 and send the game to overtime.  Cleveland would get the ball first and be forced to punt, giving Elway the ball one last time.  The future Hall-of-Famer would lead only a 60 yard drive this time, culminating in a Rich Karlis field goal and a Super Bowl date for Denver.

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