TV Heaven - my top 5 unforgettable NFL Playoff moments
Posted on the 6th Jan 2021 in the category sport

January might be the month everyone hates, divorces go up, depression levels rise but not for me, it’s my favourite month, all that festive shit is out the way and its Playoff month in the NFL. 

Forget the Superbowl, the action happens in Wild Card Weekend, Divisional Rounds and the Conference Championships. The intensity is incredible, one mistake can end a season. There is a reason why quarterbacks playing their first Playoff game usually lose. Kickers who've not missed a field goal all season suddenly go wobbly and coaches call crazy plays which can ruin careers. Stars are made during the post season as the whole country is watching, because they can watch. Unlike England where only a small minority of the country can watch Premiership and Champions League games live in America almost anyone can watch the Playoffs. Competing networks work together so as one game ends, another one starts so all the TV viewer has to do is switch channels. 

And Wild Card Weekend is TV sports heaven. On Saturday there are three back to back games and then again on Sunday. This is the first time this has happened due to fears Covid would ravage the season two extra teams made it through to the post-season, as it was all 256 regular season games were played, which was a minor miracle.   

I am Generation Luckhurst, first introduced to the wonder of NFL by a gawky Englishman who as a kicker sweetalked his way around Georgia for a few seasons picking up a transatlantic accent and a Channel 4 presenting contract as well as points. 

I was a Washington Redskins fan then, I've no idea why but I had their shirt and wore it to Perry Hall Playing Fields as my friend Sunil and I tried to throw spirals to each other with my official NFL merchandise Christmas present. I'd have to check Tuesday's paper to get Sunday night's results but if the wind blew in the right direction I could listen to games on American Forces FM radio. 

Now all these decades later I have the NFL at my fingertips thanks to GamePass. VAR is final nail in the football coffin for me, it’s not even a contact sport anymore and the contrast between the play acting, diving and thespian anguish of the Premiership during the day and the full pelt action of Sunday night NFL became more obvious. Football selling is soul for money has not helped either, from oil rich dictatorships' buying clubs to TV deals taking live games off terrestrial TV and the predictability of the league table mirroring club’s wage bills. Whereas NFL’s salary cap and draft system means if you support a team there is more than a strong chance you will live to see it successful, which unless a Turkimanstani oil billionaire buys your club by sticking a pin in a map will not happen in English football.  

I watch every Aston Villa game but to watch a sport for entertainment, its NFL for me now. I purposely do not support one particular team, I’ve not got the emotional energy to support two clubs. I’ve spent so much time in America I want many teams to do well, but often you’ll find me rooting for the team who is behind.  The creation of The RedZone on the NFL Network is eye-popping, pulse racing sports entertainment at its best, I watch it every week and then any full game outside the Redzone. I devour any NFL broadcast I can during the season including The Rich Eisen Show and every week I hear every second of the frankly brilliant Crime in Sports (tip of the week listen CIS and James Pietragallo and Jimmie Whisman's other weekly output Small Town Murder). 

Thanks to the sacrifices of everyone in the NFL this season, going months not seeing families for our entertainment and due to Covid lockdown preventing me from talking to people in pubs I’m going to share my thoughts about the Playoffs. 

Here are my top five unforgettable Playoff moments from the last ten years. 


Seahawk Richard Sherman scares middle America on a sleepy Sunday  

Divisional Championship Sunday is one of the great days in world sport, back to back games to see who goes the Superbowl. When the first game finishes and the second one starts, on terrestrial TV. 

Six years ago the NFC championship was between the Seattle Seahawks against the San Francisco 49ers, who play each other twice a year as NFC West rivals, so there was plenty of needle.  

As so often with NFL the whole game, season, shooting match came down to the last play of the game. The 49ers, a "storied franchise" whose history is festooned with Superbowl wins, led by Colin Kaepernick (when he was just a great quarterback before being a kneeling blacklisted civil rights hero) had to score a touchdown to win the game.  

He threw the game winning touchdown to receiver Michael Crabtree. Against the bright winter's sky the ball arched its way into the endzone but out of nowhere Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman's hand came out of nowhere and tipped the ball out of Crabtree's outstretched glove. Que pandemonium.  

The Seattle Seahawks (an organisation littered with failures) make it to the Superbowl and Fox goes live to their sideline reporter to interview Richard Sherman, already wearing a "divisional champs" hat seconds after the final play, and Erin Andrews asks him to take her through the last play. The deadlocked black man towered over the white blonde reporter and with more adrenalin pumping through his body than Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction he looked at the camera and delivered one of the best TV sports moments in history. 

He shouted: "I'm the best corner in the game. Don't come at me with a sorry ass receiver like Crabtree. Thats what you gonna get. DON'T YOU TALK ABOUT ME!" Erin, a former Iraq correspondent could not have looked more scared if she had just been asked to play hopscotch in a Basra minefield, asked: "Who was talking about you?" Sherman: "Crabtree! Don't try and come up against the best. LOB (which stands for the self titled Seahawks defence Legion of Boom)"  

Erin: "Right, err, back to you in the studio." My tipsy draw hit the floor as it approached midnight in the UK after first seeing an incredible sporting moment and then an even better TV moment. Over in America where Sunday afternoon social media exploded, and it being America a racism reared its head. Terrified hicks seeing a black man screaming at them in primetime could not cope and racial slurs peppered timelines everywhere accusing Sherman of being everything from disrespectful to being a gangster scaring women.  

But this being America and the amazing human beings it creates Sherman is not some wanna-be rapper or gangster off the street, despite being was brought up in NWA's Compton, LA, he went to Ivy League University Stanford and is a renaissance man and was seared on the nation’s consciousness because of these thirty seconds https://youtu.be/7PH35C7Fhq0 - the Seahawks went on to win their first and only Superbowl. 

Miracle at Mile High  

The last gasp Baltimore Ravens 4th and long touchdown in the 2012 AFC Divisional Round. It was in the dark days before I discovered Game Pass and I was listening under the covers on a Ravens radio feed. The Ravens play by play commentator Jerry Sandusky (same spelling, same sport, but different bloke than the nonce Penn State coach) and the colour caller had given up, the Ravens were at Denver and were about to be eliminated. 

The commentary went something like this: Jerry: "This is the season right now. Are you listening? If so pray. Get down on your knees and pray. Pray. Pray like MC Hammer is tickling your balls (ok I made that up). Pray. Everyone in Baltimore pray now, everyone in Maryland pray (this resonated with me because legendary Brummie radio man Tony Butler used to say "get yer prayer mats out" before a big Aston Villa game when I was a kid so thousands of miles away in a Perry Barr bed I prayed) Joe Flacco will make this play. Do you think we can do it?  

Colour commentator: "No." Jerry, in shock, "No? Flacco drops back,  Flacco throws deep to Jacoby Jones oh. To the 20. Touchdown! OOOOHHHHHAAAWWOOOOOAAHH  

Colour man: "Ohhh."  

Both: "Aaaahhhhhhhahhhhahhhohhhhhh"  

The Ravens made the play, ended up winning the game and then went on to win the Superbowl. 


The Minneapolis Miracle. 

The New Orleans Saints is as close as I get to supporting an NFL team and the Vikings are as close as I get to disliking a franchise, besides the Patriots (constant winning and rule bending) obviously. I support Aston Villa and am saddled with them for life so I was not going to make the same mistake with NFL. Gridiron is one of the worst games on earth to watch if your team is shit, its painful watching three and out, over and over again. So I’m not going to watch one team every week I’d rather enjoy my Sunday evenings not endure them. But because the places I’ve been in America there are teams I root for, the Saints being one of them.  

I love New Orleans and Nawlins love the Saints, the whole place stands still when they play. I’ve never been lucky enough to get in the Metrodome but I’ve been in the city during a game and it’s a place like no other. Fans get on it early and this being the only American city you can walk from bar to bar with the same drink the French Quarter becomes a sea of black and gold drunkenness. If there is a blank wall then the game will be projected on it, whether it be a huge apartment block or a hot dog stand’s fridge, for those four hours it is impossible to escape the game.  And from the richest businessman to a panhandler, everyone has something to say about the team that helped the city recover from Hurricane Katrina.   

As for the Vikings, the only fella I’ve had a mano-o-mano tet-e-tet over a woman was/is a Vikings fan so when I can remember I want them to lose because wherever the idiot is he will be annoyed if they lose. Still not as annoyed as his meltdown when he found me lipsing up his “friend” (crush) at her house in 2014. My phone had died so I didn’t get the text from a mate telling me our new friend had a gun in his glove compartment and was driving to her house after six whiskies where he kicked the door in and all hell broke loose.  

So in 2017 when the Saints, who were good enough to win a Superbowl that year, had seconds left needing a miracle drive from Drew Brees I was full-on member of the Who Dat Nation. And they pulled it off, taking the lead with just seconds to go. All their renowned defence had to do was stop the last play against an average quarterback Case Keenan in his own half. And then it happened. The miracle of Minneapolis. Keenan threw the ball to the receiver, like a million of plays before and since. All defender Michael Williams had to do is stand his ground and tackle or push Stefon Diggs out of bounds and the Saints were in the Divisional Championship game. It wasn’t even worth watching the play, and then, Diggs is jogging towards the endzone and there is pandemonium in the stadium. The Saints sideline was dumbfounded, something mad had happened but what? And then the replay. In all its slow motion glory. Instead of grabbing Diggs or the ball Williams did a flying headbutt on an invisible man.  Diggs was left unchallenged and was surprised as anyone to win the game the second it ended with a 65 yard play.  

Because of this moment of inexplicable idiocy Brees’ incredible final drive is forgotten and America was robbed of a competitive Championship game as the Vikings were thrashed by the Eagles. The “miracle” ruined my night, reminding me supporting a team is rarely a choice. 

Saints headcoach Sean Payton was brilliant in front of the cameras afterwards saying a team defeat can never be one player’s fault and explained why the team should have not needed to rely on the last play. Williams never played for the Saints again. And the next year they were knocked out by one of the biggest refereeing injustices of all time, only something similar to happen the year after despite the rule being changed because of the travesty. The window to win a Superbowl with Drew Brees is closing, only garnering one for far, and their bad luck/misfortune also deprived the NFL of a Superbowl between this generation’s greatest (and rule bending/breaking) coaches – Sean Payton and Bill Belichick. 

God’s favourite quarterback’s Almighty night in Denver 

Tim Tebow transcended his sport but not enough to make him a transatlantic success because there were not enough NFL moments like this. There was a time in America you could not escape the clean living Christian quarterback. Home-schooled before attending the University of Florida he electrifed the state by leading the Gators to winning seasons and national championships all whilst preaching the Gospel and alluding to his virginity. 

After seeing Obama win the 2008 General Election I came home an avid listener (and UK correspondent) to South Florida’s Paul and Young Ron Show (now the Paul Castronovo Show) and regularly heard how Heisman Trophy winner Tebow made grown men cry with his exploits on and off the field. But the NFL is a different beast than college football, the players get some of the billions of dollars generated by the sport for a start, and professional coaches were not convinced Tebow’could excel in the hardest position in team sports. There were concerns about his decision making, accompanying media circus and throwing. Being home-schooled he obviously had problems with evolution but the lack of revolutions on his pigskins caused concern amongst coaches.  

All eyes, cameras and lenses were on Tebow for the 2010 NFL draft and every time another player was chosen ahead of him we had a front row seat to the excruciating embarrassment. The Denver Broncos ended up sending in the cavalry to save him from making small talk with the staff as they cleared the room away around his table. He was the 25th player of draft.  

The next season Tebow (who used to take the knee before Colin without complaint as it was for Jesus not civil rights) was just another back up quarterback when he got his chance  and despite the sniggering of pundits about his throwing kept on winning games and took the Broncos to the Playoffs.  They played the Pittsburgh Steelers, a better team, in the Wildcard Weekend, but Tebow dragged them to a tie. The overtime rules were changed that season so whichever team got the ball first (from a flick of a coin) in overtime could win the game with a touchdown on their first possession. The game went to overtime and Denver got the ball. Ten seconds later it was all over Tebow connected with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on the first play for an 80-yard game-winning touchdown.  

That was Tebow’s finest moment, Denver got knocked out in the next round, and despite being a cult hero to fans he was let go by the Broncos. He hung around the league for a few more years playing for the Jets as a wildcat running back but eventually gave up and turned his hand to baseball. Still possessing a recognisable face, Tebow is currently sending up himself in an advert with Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. 


The Catch That Never Was 

VAR's wrecked football, I can’t bare seeing something and not being able to celebrate before a bloke in front of a TV says I can. Americans cannot deal with refereeing mistakes deciding games. Back in the 1970s the NFL held an emergency meeting to do a U-turn to have video replays after the TV coverage began showing replays, the whole country could not watch a mistake a referee made. However, in recent years a raft of rule changes created havoc, as I mentioned earlier the Saints lost to the Rams due to a refereeing howler but one Playoff moment which encapsulates rules and how close a team can come to getting to the Championship Round without making it was Dez Bryant’s catch / none catch for America’s Team – The Dallas Cowboys.  

On the frozen tundra of the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field Tony Romo was leading his Cowboys down the field in the last seconds of the fourth quarter. On fourth down he dropped back and threw a high pass to star receiver Dez Bryant near the touchline by the two yard lane. The moody and mercurial Bryant outleaped the cornerback, caught the ball and then tried for a touchdown by reaching for the endzone. The commentators erupted in excitement, and called it a catch, at the very least it was a first down yards from the endzone, the referees called it catch too. America had got another spectacular sporting moment for millions of TV viewers to enjoy.  

And then the zebra suited men in the booth intervened, they reversed the call claiming because Bryant did not hold onto the ball but instead tried to get the touchdown it was not a completed pass. The Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys, Romo, Bryant and Jerry Jones have never got near a Superbowl since. The outrage caused the fair catch rule to be changed but it was too late, all the hard work, training, execution and sporting destiny in the world had been beaten by rules and referees. 


Other moments...      

If you are like me then you are reading this list and calling me a knob for forgetting a moment which is more unforgettable than my five. And you’re probably right, but they were my unforgettable moments. I didn’t want to include the same team twice so that ruled out the missed field goal by the Minnesota Vikings against the Seattle Seahawks, which was all the more unforgettable because the Vikings missed out on a Superbowl after a kicker who had not missed a kick in yonks shanked it in the final seconds denying Randal Cunningham and Chris Carter a place in history. One of my favourite moments in football also missed out, the Beastquake, when Marshawyn Lynch stiff armed the entire Saints defence to score an incredible touchdown which caused the 12th Man in Seattle to register a mini-earthquake. The Seahawks and Packers also provided another unforgettable Playoff moment. Another memorable Playoff moment was the final minutes of the Bengals vs hated rivals the Steelers, why these games are so all or nothing is the fans know the team they are watching will never take to the field again, players will leave, and the chance is gone. The Bengals kept on qualifying for the Playoffs and losing but finally seemed to be proceeding against their more successful opponents, but their defence lost the plot and turned into Vinnie Jones after having his balls grabbed. There was the inexplicable 49er whose foot touched a bouncing ball and a dink doink on the posts for the Bears too. Patriots fans will be calling me out for not including all their last minute heroics, like when a Jaguars team had them on the rack only to implode under the pressure of the Dark Lord and Brady.

The Dark Lord and Bill Belichick

Hopefully this weekend’s unique double triple header Super Wild Card Weekend will create more unforgettable moments.   



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