‘The Worst Loss Ever’: NFC

The MMQB asked readers to send us stories of their team’s worst loss ever. We received many great (or should we say awful?) submissions. Here, the misery of the 16 teams of the NFC. Next week, AFC. 

GREEN BAY PACKERS

“Fourth-and-26,” NFC divisional playoff
Jan. 11, 2004 | Eagles 20, Packers 17

When I saw the question posed, only one thing popped into my head. Fourth-and-26. In Philly, where we just didn't win games, we were going to take down the Eagles in their home stadium and be in a really solid spot going forward in the playoffs. All we had to do was stop their offense from getting more than 25 percent of the field in one play. That’s it. Game over. Pack moves on. Then somehow... No one covers the middle of the field, letting Eagles receiver Freddie Mitchell to get loose. Shock and outrage. How can we not stop them from getting 26 yards? It wasn't even a bomb over the top, just a throw right at the first down mark, and the defense wasn't prepared for it. Philly kicks the field goal and we go to overtime. Packers have the ball and the chance to win. And this is the forgotten part about the fourth-and-26 game, but equally as brutal: Future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre has the chance to get the Pack in field goal range. Kick, and we go home. But instead he throws (what my brain remembers as) the worst ball I've ever seen. Overshoots everyone in a gold helmet by at least five yards and drops the ball right into the waiting hands of Brian Dawkins.

— Nate Offord, 28, Wasilla, Alaska

“Fourth-and-26 is a curse word in Wisconsin.”

Every long yardage situation, whether it’s third or fourth down, sends Packer fans back to this gut-wrenching game. The 2003 team was supposed to be a team of destiny. Brett Favre playing for the memory of his father. Green Bay's new favorite son Nate Poole making an unbelievable catch just to get the Pack in the playoffs. Al Harris with the walk-off interception in the wild card game. Dominating Philadelphia for 3.75 quarters of the game. Donovan McNabb running for his life in the pocket. Fourth-and-26, the game was over...

— Jason Breaker

The season was charmed. The game was won. It was over. How do you convert fourth-and-26? With a slant route to Freddie Mitchell? Really? Who plays Cover Two on 4th-and-26? Forget Favre’s awkward, Favrian pick in overtime to set up the Eagle’s winning field goal– fourth-and-26 is the reason we lost that game. With the way Favre played after the death of his father, the way the Packers won the division on the last play of a game they weren’t even playing in, Packers fans truly believed that this team was destined for the Super Bowl. This was the year we would recover from Mike Holmgren's abandonment and Favre would put himself in the conversation as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Instead, it became the most painful, most disappointing moment in my entire Packers fandom. Fourth-and-26 is a curse word in Wisconsin.

— Anthony Pero

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CHICAGO BEARS

2010 NFC Title Game
Jan. 23, 2011 | Packers 21, Bears 14

For a team that arguably hasn't had a franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman, there can be no greater gut punch than the 2010 NFC title game—watching Jay Cutler frown on the sidelines as Aaron Rodgers walked out of Soldier Field on his way to win the Super Bowl. A loss at the hands of a quarterback who, if he plays his whole career in green and gold, will ensure that the Packers have a top-five quarterback for the better part of 30 straight seasons.

— Nathaniel E.

The Bears had finished 11-5 and on the last game of the regular season could have eliminated the Packers, who needed to win to just be the No. 6 seed. The Bears played a conservative game and the Packers beat us 10-3. I said that day to all my friends in the stadium that keeping the Packers out of the playoffs was a requirement because they were playing really good football and I did not want to face them in the NFC title game. Sure enough, Packers win both playoff games on the road and roll into Solider Field for a battle for the ages, the first playoff game between the two storied franchises since 1941!

There is nothing worse than losing to your rival, But losing at home on the national stage with an opportunity to play for the NFC title with your third-string quarterback is a stomach punch that still hurts to this day. Bears have not been in the playoffs since, have gone through two coaches and a myriad of bad drafts, poor management and a lack of vision.

Joe Balitewicz

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MINNESOTA VIKINGS

“The Miss,” 1998 NFC championship game 
Jan. 17, 1999 | Falcons 30, Vikings 27

I was a young sportswriter living in Colorado. My editor had already said he would send me to Super Bowl XXXIII to cover the Broncos; but I had grown up in Minnesota and was a Vikings fan. I was watching the game with a couple of other writers from our local paper, convinced I was going to go see Broncos and Vikings in the Big Game. So much so that I already had story ideas running through my head—Daunte Culpepper this, Randy Moss that, Gary Anderson this. And then... Anderson missed his first kick of the entire season, a 38-yard chip shot (for him) with two minutes left that would have made it an insurmountable two-score Vikings lead. An overtime loss later, and I was devastated. But as much as I wanted to cover the Vikings, I was more devastated as a fan. We finally had a chance to erase the 0-fer we’d put up in previous Super Bowls. I was so upset I took off my Hassan Jones number 84 jersey and tossed it over the balcony in the back yard, where it lay for a week. The good news is that I still enjoyed my time in Miami and covered John Elway's last game. But the sting still lingers all of these years later of being the third team in history to win 15 regular season games, but the first of those three to not win the Super Bowl. (Postscript—I rescued the Hassan Jones jersey and still have it hanging in my closet).

— Andy Clendennen, St. Louis

Dallas wide receiver Drew Pearson (88) completes the game-winning touchdown moments after the controversial "Push Off."
AP

“The Push-off,” 1975 NFC divisional playoff 
Dec. 28, 1975 | Cowboys 17, Vikings 14

Perhaps "The Miss" in '98 is a younger generation's most painful loss. By then I had become numb, expecting the shoe to drop in that game or in the Super Bowl. Four Super Bowl losses will do that to you. But the greatest, most painful Vikings loss to me was the ’75 NFC Championship Game. Say "1975" or "The Hail Mary" or "The Push-off" to any older Vikings fan, and they know immediately what you mean. Second-and-10, thirty-some seconds to go, Roger Staubach heaves a deep pass to a well-covered Drew Pearson, who pushes off Nate Wright, catches the ball and goes into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. Paul Krause, who was coming over to help, points at Pearson after the play because he saw the offensive pass interference. Remember, this is before players called for a flag after every pass play. The loss hurt to the point that I still feel it with pain and bitterness. What galled my 14-year-old self was how everyone wrote and talked about the great play that was made by Staubach and Pearson, without mentioning that one of them broke the rules to achieve it. It may have been my first lesson that sports and life are not always fair. Years later, Pearson admitted he pushed off and I felt some small vindication. I guess now I'm always waiting for the "Push-off" that ends a Viking game or season.

— Craig Holbrook

2009 NFC championship game 
Jan. 24, 2010 | Saints 31, Vikings 28

As a lifelong Vikings fan born in the ’90s it has to be the 2009 NFC Championship Game against the Saints. Brett Favre, the sworn enemy of Vikings fans for over a decade, almost leads the team to the promised land, only to rip our guts out by throwing an interception on third down, in field goal range, late in the fourth quarter. What many people don't talk about is the 12 men in the huddle penalty after the Vikings called a timeout before the play, backing them up five yards and forcing Brad Childress into calling a pass. Or, the countless points the Vikings left on the board by Adrian Peterson's fumbles.

The pain and emotions that every fan felt is best summed up by play-by-play man Paul Allen’s call of the Porter interception. Even listening to it now makes me feel sick to my stomach.

— Jack M, 24, Minneapolis

Favre covers his face on the sideline during the NFC championship.
AP Photo/Morry Gash

It had to end like that, didn’t it? Brett Favre with the Minnesota Vikings. I was so naïve to think the man I had hated for 15 years would somehow lead my team to the promised land. I’m a Vikings fan. It doesn’t end like that. I should have known better.

 

— Brett Stott

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DETROIT LIONS

2015 Week 13, Lions vs. Packers 
Dec. 3, 2015 | Packers 27, Lions 23

Being a season ticket holder for the Lions is heartbreaking in and of itself. Being one who lives in New Jersey when the team plays in Michigan is even more heartbreaking. So when a business trip got canceled last week, someone made a joke asking if I’d make my first Lions game appearance this year in Detroit on Thursday. On further research, I was able to work it out and booked my flight on Tuesday afternoon, leaving Newark at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, arriving back to Newark at 8:00 a.m. Friday morning. We arrived to the stadium with plenty of time to watch the team warm up. I was glued to my seat for four quarters—losing my voice and battling through two phone batteries with non-stop chatter from my friends and co-workers. We were up 10-0…17-0… Here we come! Everything that Martha Ford was doing was working, and we were about to sweep the Pack! And then it happened…and not only did it happen, but I happened to be sitting about 10 rows up in the corner of the end zone where it happened. I might have been able to reach out and bat that ball down, so ANYONE in a Lions jersey should have been able to. Still now, I have no words for how I felt—after the game I simply looked over at my friend and said, “Okay, guess we are leaving now.” The perfect way to explain the total heartbreak is to include the fact that my 5:50 a.m. flight out of Detroit got canceled and the 9:15 a.m. flight I was placed on was delayed until noon. Salt in a heartbreak wound.

— Holly Dwyer

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PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

2008 NFC Championship Game
Jan. 19, 2009 | Cardinals 32, Eagles 25

I never thought an Eagles loss would hurt more than the 2002 NFC Championship Game. I had no doubt we were going to beat the Bucs that day. Final game at The Vet—I had never been so sure. It was our year. But that was until we lost to the Cardinals and fell one game short of the Super Bowl six years later. It wasn't the details of the loss that hurt so much, it was what the loss represented.

I believed. We all did. We believed deep down that we were watching one last improbable shot at glory for icons Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb. A crazy final day of the regular season, two road playoff wins and all that stood in our way was the Cardinals. The Cardinals? The stars were finally aligned. It was our year. But it wasn't, and there was no solace the morning after. Not this time. You just knew this was the end of an era. The greatest era of Eagles football in my lifetime. I didn't even know it was B-Dawk’s last game in midnight green or it was Jim Johnson’s last game ever. It didn't matter. I just knew that the window had finally slammed shut. And that was worst of all.

— Steve Tuckerson

2007 Week 7 Eagles vs. Vikings

Oct. 21, 2007 | Bears 19, Eagles 16

Asking an Eagles fan to pick the team's worst loss is like asking them to choose an individual grain of sand on the Atlantic City beach. The obvious choices are the two Super Bowl losses, the four NFC Championship Game losses or the 21-20 loss to the Cowboys when Tommy Hutton fumbled a perfect snap on a 22-yard field goal attempt with four seconds left in the game.

But for me, the worst loss was an obscure 19-16 home loss to Da Bears on October 21, 2007. The immortal Brian Griese drove the Bears 97 yards in less than two minutes with no timeouts and threw the winning touchdown pass with nine seconds left. Why is that game the worst loss, you ask? Because on leaving the game I witnessed a father walking with his 10-year-old son who was sobbing. A 50-year-old Eagles fan wearing a Kelly green jersey looked at the crying boy and said, “Get used to it little man. This is going to be your life." And that is what it means to be an Eagles fan ,where excruciating losses are our lives.

— Robert Fox

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DALLAS COWBOYS

“The Catch,” 1982 NFC Championship Game
Jan. 10, 1982 | 49ers 28, Cowboys 27

No loss was more painful than the 1982 NFC championship. I still refuse to watch any highlight of “The Catch.”  I was 11 and cried so hard after the game. I knew Dallas would have crushed Cincinnati in the Super Bowl and Danny White would finally get a Super Bowl ring of his own. Instead, that game sent Dallas on a downward spiral for the next 10 years, and watching the pretty-boy 49ers become the team of the ’80s only made it worse.  

—Bradley Smith

49ers receiver Dwight Clark leaps high to make "The Catch" that tied the game late in the fourth quarter.
Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated

I remember the words of Vin Scully, “Montana… looking, looking, throwing in the end zone… Clark caught it! Dwight Clark!... it’s a madhouse at Candlestick!” It might have been a madhouse in San Francisco, but for a 14-year old boy in Texas it was just the opposite. I didn’t realize at that moment that I had witnessed the beginning of one dynasty and the end of another. I didn’t know Joe Montana would lead the team of the ’80s to four Super Bowl Championships. “The Catch” became the watershed moment in the historic fortunes of two great franchises. But on January 10, 1982,  I didn’t know that. I also didn’t give up. Most people forget that the Cowboys had the ball with 51 seconds left to play. I had seen this before. I had watched Tom Landry orchestrate miracle after miracle, and I was sure he would do it again.

That day was devastating for a 14-year old boy and in some strange melancholy way still brings some pain. But without the pain, the good times aren’t as sweet. I couldn’t tell that boy in Texas in 1982 that the ’90’s were coming and the Cowboys would become the first team in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in four years, but now he knows. So bring the pain. I welcome it, because the next dynasty is one great catch away.

— Ethan Rolen

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WASHINGTON REDSKINS

2007 Week 13, Washington vs. Buffalo 
Dec. 2, 2007 | Buffalo 17, Washington 16

For an NFC East team, a home game against an AFC opponent wouldn’t normally register on a list of worst losses. That ignoble distinction would be reserved for those grind-it-out, nail-biter finish, Hail Mary sort of divisional games in late December, with the playoffs on the line, a hated rival on the other sideline and the crowd on its feet.

The first Sunday of December 2007 was anything but normal for Washington. Sean Taylor, the Redskins’ 24-year-old All-Pro, all-terror safety, had been shot in his home and had died five days before the game. Taylor had come into his own under the tutelage of Joe Gibbs and embodied a ferocious, fearless, consequential secondary on a 5-6 team. His tenaciousness was a symbol of the new ’Skins. And he was gone.

A memorial service was held for number 21 before the game. There were few dry eyes. On the first defensive snap, the Redskins played with 10 men on the field, leaving a safety on the sideline in honor of Taylor. The stadium was more full than usual; the emotions were humming; tactile. Grief and shock were deeply etched on the faces of players, coaches and fans. This was a game to win for Taylor. The pain showed in spurts throughout the game. Washington wide receiver Santana Moss flashed 21 with his hands after a catch; running back Clinton Portis scored a touchdown and lifted his jersey to reveal a shirt dedicated to his friend.

Fourth quarter: The Redskins were up 16-14 as the clock wound down on the victory in honor of a fallen teammate. The defense stood their ground; the Bills would have to try for a 51-yard field goal in the rain, just three yards shy of Rian Lindell's career long.

Coach Gibbs called a timeout, icing the kicker. Lindell again lined up for the kick. Gibbs called another timeout. Yellow flags flew. Unsportsmanlike penalty. 15 yards. Lindell's 36-yard shot would clear the uprights, sealing a on-point loss for a reeling and devastated Washington team.

How does a Hall of Fame coach, the mastermind of three Super Bowl-winning teams, not know that teams cannot call two timeouts in a row? HOW? In a way, the loss to the Bills fit the brutal randomness that had taken Sean Taylor. Nothing made sense anymore, so why would a football game fit in the folds of the expected? Washington lost the game honoring the loss of a young teammate. No mere divisional game could ever compare.

— Sarah Spooner

I've been a Redskins fan for almost 24 years. I've dealt with a lot of tough losses and crappy seasons, but none of it was as devastating as losing Sean Taylor.

— Jin Kim

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NEW YORK GIANTS

The DeSean Jackson Game/The Miracle at the New Meadowlands
Dec. 19, 2010 | Eagles 38, Giants 31

The most crushing loss I witnessed in person as a Giants fan was the DeSean Jackson game. The Giants dominated the entire game and led by 21 points midway through the fourth quarter. Our Eagles fan friend sitting next to us was telling us how much his team stinks while my dad and I kept saying, “It's not over yet,” because we’d seen our share of blown games. As the Eagles mounted their comeback, I at least knew we would have a chance in overtime, and there was no chance we could lose in regulation punting with only a few seconds left in the clock. Sure enough, Matt Dodge didn't punt it out of bounds, and DeSean ran it back right into our end zone for the walk-off touchdown. My dad and I just stood there in disbelief long after the stadium emptied. Ushers had to force us out—we were literally the last ones there. I will never forget that feeling of disgust (although the five games the Giants have blown this year have come close).

— Josh Sobin, Warren, NJ

"My dad and I just stood there in disbelief long after the stadium emptied. Ushers had to force us out - we were literally the last ones there."

For Giants fans like my dad, born in the ’40s or ’50s, they'll tell you it's the Joe Pisarcik game, the “Miracle at the Meadowlands.” But for Giants fans born in the ’80s or early ’90s, it’s simple. The Desean Jackson game. The NFC East title was on the line. The Giants blew a 31-10 lead with 10 minutes to go in the game, culminating in a DeSean Jackson punt return for a touchdown to end the game that had him taunting Giants fans the whole return. Or at least it feels that way.

— Devin Baer

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ATLANTA FALCONS

2012 NFC Championship Game
Jan. 20, 2013 | 49ers 28, Falcons 24

Picking a Falcons worst loss is a like picking which deadly disease you don’t want to contract. Close your eyes, hold your nose, and point in any direction and each option is worse than the one before. But the gut-wrenching home loss in the 2012 NFC Championship Game to San Francisco drop-kicked our team into a tailspin from which we have yet to recover.

We headed into the playoffs that season as a No. 1 seed. We had a bye week in hand. We dispatched of the Seahawks to get the “Smith and Ryan can’t win in the playoffs” monkey off our back. We even sprinted out to an early 17-0 lead against the blue-blood 49ers. The noise in the Georgia Dome was so loud it quite literally hurt. Our Super Bowl dreams were so tantalizingly close, made even more special because the game was to be played on the home turf of our archrival. But then, the same as so many times before, we let our opponents hang around and ultimately take the lead with not much time to spare. We drove down the field, our hopes rising with each first down, but fully cognizant of the ticking clock. On fourth down, our last shot at glory faded away when Roddy White was hit (more than a little) early, dislodging the ball. Everyone waited on a yellow hankie to save us; it never came.

As San Francisco celebrated the largest comeback in NFC Championship Game history and yet another trip to the Super Bowl, on our side the loss seemed almost inevitable. We had just let Lucy pull the football away at the last second, once again. The loss shook the entire organization. We were unable even to sniff the playoffs the next two seasons, costing Mike Smith his job. Like so many times over this franchise’s history, we are only left to mull over what might have been and promise ourselves we won’t fall for the same trick ever again. Or count our blessings that we are not Detroit.

— Chris Young and Bert Brantley

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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

River City Relay,” Saints at Jaguars
Dec. 21, 2003 | Jaguars 20, Saints 19

Having been just 12 years old at the time, I was all but aware of the woeful Saints. Each Sunday I would catch my family huddled around the TV, cursing the Saints lower than dirt and making comments such as, “Whip out the paper bags!’ Or, “I’m never watching the Saints again.” (Sidenote: The Saints would be on the following Sunday.) But this loss took the cake. I distinctly remember watching when all hope was lost during the game: Jaguars kick, and Saints players start playing backyard football with the hook and laterals. All of a sudden the house lit up! The Saints had done the unthinkable! All that has to happen is for the usually reliable John Carney to kick the extra point and send it into overtime. But what do you know—he shanks it. That play singlehandedly summed up Saints history. To this day it is still gut-wrenching.

— Brad Melancon

My brother had given me tickets to this game for my birthday. We drove from Washington D.C. for the holiday break—he from law school, and I from graduate school at Catholic University. I grew up as a Saints fan, but my brother adopted the Jags when they began in 1995. It was a perfect matchup for us. The atmosphere was great: beautiful weather, exciting plays, and plenty of Joe Horn parodies (this was the season of his cellphone touchdown celebration). It looked like the Saints were down for the count until THE PLAY happened: three lateral passes for a touchdown. We couldn’t believe it, and stood on baited breath for the official review. Once the officials confirmed the play, I was ecstatic. The Saints needed to win out to get a playoff spot, and they just got a miraculous lifeline. All John Carney had to do was make the extra point. And… ugh… same old Saints. I went from super high to gut-punching low. Luckily my brother was a good sport about it, as were the Jags fans.

— David Binet

* * *

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 

2003 Week 5, Bucs vs. Colts
Oct. 6, 2003 | Colts 38, Bucs 35 (OT)

This was the most devastating loss for me. Monday night, Dungy’s return to Tampa Bay. Bucs had a 35-14 lead. Then we fold like an origami convention and lose in overtime on a Mike Vanderjagt field goal. I called in sick the next day. I literally threw up when the Colts tied the game. Bucs had a Super Bowl hangover, and that game was the kid banging pots with a wooden spoon at 6 a.m.

— Chuck, Melbourne

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CAROLINA PANTHERS

Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri kicks his game-winning 41-yard field goal.
(AP Photo/G. Newman Lowrance)

Super Bowl XXXVIII
Feb. 1, 2004 | Patriots 32, Panthers 29

That was a special Carolina team. The “keep pounding” speech before the Dallas game. X-Clown in double overtime against the heavily favored Rams in St. Louis. To take the lead late in that Super Bowl and then kick the ball out of bounds for a penalty on the ensuing kickoff... I still believed we would win. Not because we were the better team, or because I thought our defense could stop the mighty Patriots. I believed because I was an 11-year-old kid who loved these Cardiac Cats. To lose that game was one thing. To become a footnote to a dynasty was another. To wake up the next day and watch the news expecting to hear that this was one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played, and how much heart this Panthers team had shown the world, and instead to hear nothing but controversy and scandal over Janet Jackson’s halftime show, truly crushed me.

— Matt Dittrich

Super Bowl XXXVIII ended with the Patriots defeating the Panthers on another clutch Adam Vinatieri field goal. For me, this was the most excruciating loss as a Panthers fan. An excruciating loss must include a major failure to execute a play, an egregious officiating mistake, or a once-in-a-lifetime dagger. I could also add the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction as an aggravating factor for this loss, but we’ll let that one go. Losing a Super Bowl is painful enough, but this season had so many cardiac moments, big plays, and clutch moments. The Panthers just had to win this game.

The Panthers were down 21-10 when DeShaun Foster scored on a 33-yard touchdown run. Inexplicably, John Fox called for a two-point conversion and the Panthers failed to convert. But fate smiled upon the Panthers, and they scored again to lead 22-21. Another two-point try was attempted and it failed again. At this point, I was happy to be leading, but I had a sinking feeling that the missed conversion attempts would haunt us. After the Patriots scored and made their two-point conversion, we needed a touchdown to tie. Miraculously, the Panthers scored and kicked the extra point to tie the game with 1:08 left. I was shaking my head though thinking about the two missed points and how we should be up 31-29 at this point. Then, the worst thing happened. John Kasay kicked the ball out of bounds on the kickoff. We gave Brady the ball on the 40-yard line with the game tied. I knew the game was over, and I left the room to listen from behind the wall.

The Panthers just don’t have seasons like this. Imagine if Valvano’s Wolfpack had lost, if Rudy never suited up for his senior game, if Gene Hackman’s team lost the final game in Hoosiers. That is what this game felt like, the what-should-have-been for this team. This should have been our moment.  Maybe this will be the year this changes.

— Jason Sanders

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ARIZONA CARDINALS

Super Bowl XLIII Feb. 2, 2009 | Steelers 27, Cardinals 23

My dad has had season tickets for the Cardinals since they moved to Arizona, and his 21 years of suffering were finally rewarded in the lottery to be able to purchase two tickets for the Super Bowl game at face value. Everyone said the Cardinals had no business being in the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. This was the year they won the NFC West with a 9-7 record and hosted the 11-5 Atlanta Falcons in the wild-card round. The Cardinals worked their way through the Falcons, Panthers and Eagles to reach their first (and only) Super Bowl.

Game day in Tampa Bay was sunny and warm—a gorgeous day for a Super Bowl. After a slow start, the Cardinals were matching the effort of the Steelers and had turned the momentum in their favor near the end of the first half. With a first-and-goal from the onw-yard line, the Cardinals were going to head into the locker room at halftime either tied at 10 or with a 14-10 lead (after falling behind 10-0). But Kurt Warner tried to force the ball inside to Anquan Boldin, and a 100-yard interception return by James Harrison gave the Steelers a 17-7 halftime lead. Unbelievable. A little boy behind me started crying, “I wish we were Steelers fans.” The adults around him chuckled (but understood, and winced a little.)

Then things started clicking for the Cardinals, and we pulled to 20-16. Finally, the most gorgeous play in Cardinals history. We were sitting in the top section around midfield, so we could easily see the play develop—Larry Fitzgerald splitting two defenders to get open in the middle of the field, and Warner hitting him perfectly in stride for a 64-yard touchdown pass. 23-20 Cardinals lead! Up to that point I hadn't seriously expected anything other than a Steelers victory. This was a new feeling—I think it's called euphoria.

But we know how this one ended. After the Cardinals’ go-ahead touchdown, Big Ben narrowly avoided a huge sack deep in Steelers territory early on the final drive, and then led his team to the win. The Cardinals outplayed the Steelers in the biggest game in franchise history, and outscored them 23-6 in the first 29:20 of the two halves. Unfortunately, the halves are 30 minutes long, and the Steelers scored 14 points in those last 40 seconds. I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows when the Steelers came back and won, and I'm just a fan—I can't imagine how the players must have felt. I picked up a “Cardinals Super Bowl Champions” shirt for $5 on my way back to the car and spent the next three hours stuck in a parking garage. Perfect end to the day.

— Bryan Barreras

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Super Bowl XL
Feb. 5, 2006 | Steelers 21, Seahawks 10

Super Bowl XL is easily the worst loss in Seahawks history. It is more accurately described as a crime, rather than a mere loss. Up to 2005, losses were expected Sunday fare for Seahawks fans. Decades of futility preceded the 2005 run. But no more. Hasselbeck, Alexander, Jones, Hutch and Tatupu were going to show the world.

Then Bill Leavy showed up and gift-wrapped the game to the Steelers in black and white striped paper. Sour grapes you say… I get it. Blaming the refs for a loss is a bad move. That said, in what other NFL playoff game has the referee apologized to one of the teams for making key mistakes in the game and by his own words affecting the outcome of the game? There are none. Only one. This one. If it was just a bad day, he would have also apologized to the Steelers. But he didn’t. Only the Seahawks. You think the NFL was in favor of a ref apologizing to one of the Super Bowl participants? Right. Not a chance. But he did it anyway. Clearing your conscience can be a powerful motivator.

So yeah, losing a Super Bowl, your franchise’s first Super Bowl, because of referee incompetence is about as bad as it gets. I would rather have lost in a plain old butt-kicking than be left to wonder what might have been if not for Leavy.

— Michael Barrett

* * *

ST. LOUIS RAMS

2004 NFC divisional playoff 
Jan. 10, 2004 | Panthers 29, Rams 23 (2 OT)

With future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner benched and his release from the team seeming inevitable, and with several of the star players from the “Greatest Show On Turf” era aging, you could sense the end was near for this team. This could be our last, best shot to win another Super Bowl with this group. The crowd of over 66,000 was loud. So loud that the Panthers committed multiple false starts and delay of game penalties and had to burn timeouts toward the end of the game solely because of them. The Rams took the momentum in the fourth quarter, with Marshall Faulk scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion to bring the game within reach. Then the Rams recovered an onside kick, and kicked the game-tying field goal to send it to overtime. I’ll never forget that feeling. We’ve got this! It was overwhelming, sensing that another NFC Championship Sunday was coming. And then it all came crashing down. The feeling of agonizing defeat as Steve Smith hauled in what would be the game-winning touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme, as he streaked past safety Jason Sehorn to the end zone at the start of the second overtime. It was utterly devastating. That was it, it was over, there is no next week. No NFC Championship Game, no chance at another Super Bowl. Little did we know at the time, but that game was not only the beginning of the end to the “Greatest Show,” but also the start of what has become some of the worst football ever played over a 15-year span. This loss was also possibly, sadly, the beginning of the end for our Rams in St. Louis.

— Keith Patton

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

2011 NFC Championship Game
Jan 23, 2012 | Giants 20, 49ers 17

2011 was magical for 49ers fans. Our new coach, Jim Harbaugh, was even better than advertised. Six years after draft day, our former bust of a first overall pick Alex Smith was finally paying off. Frank Gore, Patrick Willis and Justin Smith were becoming legends. We were only one week removed from one of the greatest wins in the storied franchise's history, when Smith hit Vernon Davis with seconds remaining to oust the Saints. I was in the stands that day, and it remains the greatest sporting event I have ever attended. One week later, I would attend the worst: the NFC Championship vs. the Giants. You know how it went. Two more touchdowns for Davis put the Niners ahead. Eli brought the G-Men back. We were down to one legitimate NFL receiver—no offense to Brett Swain, who started that day. Still, I never thought we would lose. Until Kyle Williams fumbled his second punt of the day on the second drive in overtime. His errors directly led to 10 Giants points. The final three points sent the Niners home, leaving the fans to watch in the pouring rain as blue jerseys stormed the field to celebrate. That season was incredible—to see all of these players who suffered through some of the worst years in franchise history come a play away from the Super Bowl is the stuff of dreams. Seeing the Giants hoist the trophy as the fans watched helplessly in a storm was a nightmare.

— Danny Munso

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