BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — James Harrison and Malcolm Butler can probably trade notes when it comes to Super Bowl-changing defensive plays.
The two New England Patriots teammates are the authors of perhaps the two most memorable from the first 51 Super Bowls. One a game-sealing interception and the other a 100-yard return that provided a 14-point swing.
“They’re both all-time great plays,” said NFL Network analyst Willie McGinest, who played in four Super Bowls with the Patriots. “I don’t want to rank them against each other. They both were game-changers.”
Butler’s interception at the goal line that turned what looked like a Seattle repeat title into the fourth championship for Tom Brady and the Patriots three years ago might be the most impactful play of any kind in the Super Bowl when it comes to determining the champion.
“It feels like yesterday, but life goes that fast,” Butler said.
Butler was an unlikely hero that game. He played just one-sixth of New England’s defensive snaps all season and was on the field for just 17 defensive plays before being put in on the goal line at the end of the game.
He then stepped in front of Ricardo Lockette on a slant pattern and intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass to stake his place in Super Bowl history.
“Just be ready. Just be ready,” he said of his attitude that day. “I might not play, but I’m going to prepare like I’m going to play and I got the result.”
Harrison’s impact was much less of a surprise considering he was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 when he helped lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl.
Arizona appeared set to take the lead in the closing seconds of the first half when Harrison stepped in front of Anquan Boldin and intercepted a pass at the goal line before racing 100 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the half to put Pittsburgh up 17-7.
While the Steelers still needed a last-minute TD pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes to win 27-23, Harrison’s play was still one of the biggest in Super Bowl history, providing a potential 14-point swing.
Here are some other memorable defensive plays in Super Bowl history:
VON STRIP-SACK: Von Miller set the tone for the Super Bowl two years ago on Carolina’s second drive of the game. Miller sped past helpless right tackle Mike Remmers and ripped the ball away from league MVP Cam Newton on the sack. Malik Jackson pounced on the ball in the end zone to give Denver a 10-0 lead. Miller later iced the game with another strip-sack in the fourth quarter to earn Super Bowl MVP honors.
PICK-SIX: Peyton Manning had the Colts driving for a potential tying touchdown late in the game played in 2010 against New Orleans when everything changed on one play. With Indianapolis facing a third-and-5 at the Saints 31, Manning looked for favorite target Reggie Wayne over the middle. Tracy Porter stepped in front of Wayne to intercept the pass and raced 74 yards for the title-sealing touchdown.
GOAL-LINE STOP: Few Super Bowl endings have been as dramatic as the one between the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans in the game played in 2000. The Titans rallied back from a 16-point deficit to tie the game only to have the Rams take the lead on the next play from scrimmage on a 73-yard pass from Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce. Steve McNair took over with less than two minutes left and drove Tennessee down to the 10 with time for one more play. McNair found Kevin Dyson on a short slant and for an instant it looked as if he might be able to run it in the end zone, but Mike Jones wrapped him up for the tackle at the 1 , just short of a potential tying score.
MOMENTUM-CHANGER: Having lost three straight Super Bowls, the Buffalo Bills took a 13-6 halftime lead against Dallas in trip four and started with the ball in the third quarter. But instead of adding to the lead, the Bills lost it when Leon Lett stripped Thurman Thomas of the ball and safety James Washington scooped it up and weaved his way to a 46-yard touchdown . Emmitt Smith added two TD runs to earn MVP honors as Dallas ran away for a 30-13 win, but it was Washington’s play that was most important.
ROCKET SCREEN: Washington trailed the Raiders 14-3 late in the first half of the game played in 1984 when the Redskins took over at their 12 with 12 seconds to play. Rather than taking a knee, Washington coach Joe Gibbs called “Rocket Screen,” a play that had led to a big gain late in the half in the regular season against the Raiders. Los Angeles was ready this time, putting backup linebacker Jack Squirek in place of starter Matt Millen just for this moment. Joe Theismann faked a pass to his right before floating a screen to Joe Washington to his left. Before the ball could reach Washington, Squirek grabbed it and walked for a 5-yard score that set the scene for a second-half blowout.
AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower contributed to this report