The 20 Most Beloved Athletes in Sports

The most beloved athletes in sports: 2018: Chiefs at Rams, Week 11, 1994: Chiefs at Broncos, Week 6, 2000: Jets at Dolphins, Week 8, 2003: Colts at Buccaneers, Week 5, 1986: Patriots at Dolphins, Week 16, 1983: Washington at Green Bay, Week 7…..

Here are 20 of the most loved athletes in all of sports.

2018: Chiefs at Rams, Week 11

Another Chiefs westward trek produced more fireworks, and these teams having each gone on to win Super Bowls not too long after this Los Angeles epic enhances its legacy. Defensive production, believe it or not, decided the Rams’ 54-51 win/survival of Patrick Mahomes’ onslaught (478 yards, six touchdown passes). Mahomes threw three INTs; Jared Goff (413 yards, four TDs) threw none. Rams edge rusher Samson Ebukam also secured a place in this game’s lore, returning an INT and a fumble for scores. Following a Goff-to-Gerald Everett strike that put both teams in the 50s, ex-Chief Marcus Peters exacted some revenge on the team that traded him by picking off Mahomes. The Chiefs’ defense crumbling in the AFC title game prevented a rematch from occurring in Super Bowl LIII.

1994: Chiefs at Broncos, Week 6

These rivals ended their 1994 seasons 9-7 and 7-9. But nearly 30 years later, this remains a legendary quarterback duel. Playing his final season, Joe Montana (393 yards) feasted on a Broncos defense that struggled throughout ’94; that unit played a part in one of the QB legend’s iconic endings. It looked like John Elway would lose this battle early, but after Marcus Allen fumbled on a potential clock-killing drive, Denver’s 12th-year gunslinger gave his team a four-point lead on a QB draw. Montana’s counter — a 75-yard drive that ended with a Willie Davis TD with 6 seconds left — gave Kansas City a 31-28 triumph that doubled as both Montana and Marty Schottenheimer’s first wins in Denver.

2000: Jets at Dolphins, Week 8

Months after Bill Belichick bailed on succeeding Bill Parcells, leading to Al Groh taking over, the Jets notched the greatest comeback in team history. Down 23 entering the fourth quarter, the Jets eliminated the Dolphins’ lead by scoring 23 points over the next 10 minutes. However, the sudden 30-all tie did not break the Dolphins, an eventual playoff team. Dan Marino’s successor Jay Fielder found Leslie Shepherd deep to give Miami another lead, but tackle-eligible Jumbo Elliott’s juggling grab retied the game and gave a fairly definitive signal that this would end badly for the visitors. John Hall’s 40-yard overtime field goal gave Groh’s team a 40-37 conquest.

2003: Colts at Buccaneers, Week 5

Peyton Manning’s 2003 level jump earned him the first of a record five MVPs; the Colts’ shocking win in Tampa certainly helped the then-sixth-year QB’s cause. Trailing by 21 with less than 4 minutes left, the Colts erased the deficit and won 38-35 in overtime. Manning (386 yards) put together three touchdown drives, aided by an onside kick from Mike Vanderjagt, to bounce back after Ronde Barber’s pick-six had the Colts down 35-14. A rare Bucs infraction on a Vanderjagt overtime field goal miss — a leaping penalty — gave the Manning teammate/nemesis a second shot. His OT make kept the Colts unbeaten and signaled the Bucs were not coming close to defending their title.

1986: Patriots at Dolphins, Week 16

The Dolphins’ Orange Bowl finale, and 1986’s final regular-season game, brought high stakes. A Patriots win meant they clinched the AFC East title; a Dolphins triumph would send the Bengals to the playoffs. ABC had a crew filming Boomer Esiason, Cris Collinsworth and Co. watching this game. Dan Marino, whose team had nothing to play for, did his best. But Steve Grogan helped the Pats win in the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1966. Relieving an injured Tony Eason, Grogan matched Marino. As the teams traded second-half TDs, Grogan booked his team a return playoff trip by hitting Stanley Morgan on a 30-yard fade route in the final minute. After the 34-27 win, the Pats beat the Jets the AFC’s wild-card game.

1983: Washington at Green Bay, Week 7

Washington went 14-2 in 1983; the eventual NFC champions were 1-2 on Monday night. This 48-47 Green Bay win held Monday shootout GOAT status for a generation, and it stands as a peak point for the post-Lombardi/pre-Favre Packers. Lynn Dickey went toe-to-toe with ’83 MVP Joe Theismann, throwing for 387 yards and three TDs. Theismann went 398/2, but his kicker lost the defending champs this battle. After Joe Washington’s 5-yard TD catch gave the visitors a two-point lead, Dickey drove the Pack near the goal line to set up Jan Stenerud’s 20-yard field goal. Theismann’s formidable force marched into game-winning field goal range, but reigning MVP Mark Moseley’s 39-yard miss prevented a Washington 50-spot.

1989: 49ers at Rams, Week 14

This space has made the argument for the 1989 49ers’ place as the greatest team ever. They do not have an argument for that position without John Taylor’s Monday mastery. In this NFC championship preview, Taylor led the defending champions back from a 17-point hole. Although the Rams still led by three scores after Taylor’s 92-yard second-quarter TD, his 95-yard catch-and-run in the final stanza keyed a 30-27 comeback win. Roger Craig’s 1-yard run finished off the Rams, but this was Taylor’s night. Taylor’s 286-yard explosion clinched the 49ers’ NFC West title, setting them on course for a dominant postseason spree.

2006: Bears at Cardinals, Week 6

Rookie Matt Leinart threw two first-quarter TD passes and helped the Cardinals to a 20-point halftime lead. Despite scant contributions from their offense — a recurring theme during the Rex Grossman period — the Bears roared back to steal a 24-23 win. Cornerstone Chicago defenders laid the groundwork for the main event. Mike Brown’s scoop-and-score preceded Charles Tillman doing the same — via a Brian Urlacher strip, not a “Peanut Punch.” Devin Hester finished the effort. Amid the NFL’s premier return-man season, Hester capped Chicago’s comeback with an 83-yard punt-return TD. Neil Rackers’ ensuing missed field goal set up Dennis Green’s memorable tirade.

1978: Colts at Patriots, Week 2

One of his era’s most versatile players, Joe Washington showcased that skillset in his second game as a Colt. The Chargers drafted Washington fourth overall in 1976 but traded him to the Colts for their starting back (Lydell Mitchell) and a fifth-round pick in 1978. On a rainy Foxborough night, Washington accounted for three fourth-quarter touchdowns in a game that saw Baltimore and New England combine for 41 final-stanza points. Washington caught a TD pass, threw another, and dazzled ABC audiences with a 96-yard kick-return score that broke a tie with just more than a minute left in the visitors’ 34-27 win.

2019: Texans at Saints, Week 1

Three final-minute scores gave this season-opening matchup of 2019 playoff teams an action-movie arc; it showcased the brilliance of a Hall of Fame quarterback and strong-legged kicker. Two pinpoint Deshaun Watson deep strikes — the second to ex-Saint Kenny Stills — gave the Texans a one-point lead with 37 seconds left. Drew Brees, beginning his age-40 season, managed the clock masterfully, completing three passes and saving New Orleans’ final timeout for the 2-second mark. Still, this required a Mt. Rushmore MNF game-winner from Wil Lutz. The Pro Bowl kicker’s 58-yard field goal gave the Saints a 30-28 win.

1978: Dolphins at Oilers, Week 12

Perhaps the defining night of Earl Campbell’s Hall of Fame career came during his rookie season. The Heisman winner’s 199-yard, four-touchdown night lifted the Oilers to a 35-30 win over the Dolphins — an Astrodome conquest that helped book a long-awaited playoff spot. An A.J. Duhe safety on Dan Pastorini gave the Dolphins a 23-21 fourth-quarter lead, but Don Shula’s team could not corral Campbell to protect it. The bulldozing back’s 12-yard TD run gave Houston the lead back; his 81-yarder sealed the hosts’ win. The Oilers made their first playoff berth since 1969, beat the Dolphins again, and extended their season to the AFC title game.

2020: Ravens at Browns, Week 14

After squandering their 2019 hype, the Browns belatedly lived up to it. Despite the Ravens rostering the reigning MVP and being far more accustomed to high-profile TV windows, the Browns matched the ex-Browns blow-for-blow. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for four touchdowns, and Baker Mayfield’s 5-yard TD run erased a 14-point Baltimore lead. Lamar Jackson then left the game due to cramps, only to re-emerge from the locker room to hit Marquise Brown on a 44-yard score on his first play back. Hunt’s counterstrike TD left the Ravens 1:04 to work with. Justin Tucker downed a 55-yard field goal to finish the 47-42 road win. Each team voyaged to the AFC divisional round that year.

2007: Patriots at Ravens, Week 13

Brian Billick’s final Ravens season primarily featured Kyle Boller at quarterback, with Steve McNair injured. The Billick-Boller tandem came closest to stopping the Patriots’ 16-0 regular season. Baltimore’s perennially menacing defense made Tom Brady’s night difficult (18-for-38), and for two brief moments late in the fourth quarter, it looked like The Pats’ “0” was gone. A timeout from Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, however, negated one fourth-down stop; a Jamie Winborn hold prevented the other. Brady paid the Ravens with a final-minute strike to Jabar Gaffney, securing a 27-24 escape. The Ravens finished that season 5-11.

1983: Dallas at Washington, Week 1

This 1982 NFC championship rematch featured a Washington team that would go on to break the NFL’s single-season scoring record, and despite missing Art Monk due to injury, Joe Theismann’s team carried a 20-point halftime lead. Losers of the previous three NFC title games, the Cowboys erased zoomed back with four second-half touchdowns. Danny White’s top target, Tony Hill, scored on 51- and 75-yard TD strikes to help Dallas to a 31-30 win at RFK Stadium. Theismann’s MVP march was beginning, and he posted 325 passing yards. But the Cowboys’ defense stiffened throughout the second half. Washington lost just one more regular-season game in 1983.

1987: Bears at Broncos, Week 10

As the Bears kept trying to recapture their 1985 magic, their quarterback was often unavailable. That was not the case on this chilly Denver night. Jim McMahon and John Elway dueled in a hidden-gem shootout; each star QB threw three TD passes and topped 300 yards. On his way to 1987 MVP acclaim, Elway brought the Broncos back from two two-score deficits. The all-time great hit each of his “Three Amigos” receiving corps for second-quarter scores — one on a ricochet to Vance Johnson — but the Bears still led by two scores entering the fourth stanza. A William “The Refrigerator” Perry goal-line fumble kept the Broncos in it, and Steve Sewell’s leaping 4-yard TD run gave them a late lead in a 31-29 victory.

2000: Rams at Buccaneers, Week 16

The 1999 NFC championship rematch produced a wildly different game flow, with the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” offense fully revved up against one of that era’s best defensive nuclei. On his way to MVP honors, Marshall Faulk scored four touchdowns in Tampa; the Bucs consistently countered. Their running back finished the job in a 38-35 Tampa Bay victory. Warrick Dunn and quarterback Shaun King combined on a drive-turning lateral play, sling-shotting the Bucs toward a final-minute game-winner — Dunn’s third TD. Dunn’s 198 scrimmage yards helped the Bucs back to the playoffs, though neither NFC power advanced past the wild-card round that year.

1988: Raiders at Broncos, Week 4

Before he guided the Broncos to two Super Bowl wins, Mike Shanahan started his head-coaching career with the 1988 Raiders. Shanahan’s Raiders’ high-water mark came in Denver. The Raiders erased a 24-point halftime deficit in a 30-27 overtime thriller. A Raiders barrage tied the game at 24 in the fourth quarter. Bo Jackson was still in his post-Royals period (fall training), so 1987 third-rounder Steve Smith did the heavy lifting (six carries, 122 yards, two TDs). Although the Broncos retook the lead, John Elway’s fourth interception gave the Raiders OT field goal real estate. Al Davis fired Shanahan early during the ’89 season.

2008: Eagles at Cowboys, Week 2

This game is better known for DeSean Jackson’s premature touchdown celebration. But the Eagles kept the ball on Jackson’s fumble; officials blew the play dead. But the NFC East rivals waged one of their best games. Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo dueled to the end on a seven-lead-change night, which ended with a 41-37 Cowboys win. This game produced 54 first-half points. Terrell Owens scored two touchdowns vs. his former team, and Marion Barber delivered the knockout blow. The young running back scored Dallas’ two second-half TDs, one on a 17-yard wheel route and the other the 1-yard game-winner. Fifteen weeks later, as chronicled in “Silver Linings Playbook,” the Eagles avenged this loss en route to the NFC title game.

2000: Vikings at Packers, Week 10

The first of the two Dennis Miller “Monday Night Football” seasons kept delivering action-packed games, though Al Michaels took over in the clutch here. The “He did what?” game pitted a Vikings team bound for the NFC’s No. 2 seed against the slumping Packers, and while Cris Carter’s final game at Lambeau Field would not be on here had one of his Packer counterparts not dropped an all-time walk-off, Antonio Freeman’s 43-yard TD/magic act that sealed a 26-20 overtime win remains a signature NFL sequence. A Vikings blitz prompted Favre’s lob to Freeman, who stayed with the ball as Cris Dishman assumed it fell incomplete. Freeman and Michaels then linked up on a memorable soundbite.

2019: Seahawks at 49ers, Week 10

At least one Russell Wilson-era off-kilter Seahawks night game needed to be included here. This one, in which the 49ers entered 8-0, included two D-linemen fumble-sixes (Jadeveon Clowney, DeForest Buckner), a D.K. Metcalf goal-line fumble, and several timely Wilson escapes. It ultimately came down to a fill-in kicker. 49ers rookie Chase McLaughlin made three field goals, the last of which forced overtime, but shanked a 47-yard game-winner deep into OT. After throwing an overtime INT, Wilson drove Seattle into position where its kicker — Jason Myers — nailed a game-winner at the OT buzzer in a 27-24 win. The 49ers’ win in the teams’ Week 17 rematch came down to the wire, too.

1995: Chargers at Chiefs, Week 6

The Chiefs’ Joe Montana-to-Steve Bono baton pass did not produce a long-term starter, but the younger ex-49er had Kansas City unbeaten entering this game. Bono and Stan Humphries, who led the 1994 Chargers to Super Bowl XXIX, each topped 300 yards in this overtime tilt. The Chargers held a seven-point lead with seconds left in regulation, but Bono finding ex-Charger tight end Derrick Walker in double coverage extended the game with 15 seconds left. In OT, rookie return man Tamarick Vanover provided a unique extra-session finisher — an 86-yard punt-return score — to close Kansas City’s 29-23 win. The Chargers did not threaten the Chiefs, who went 13-3, the rest of the way.

2003: Cowboys at Giants, Week 2

Patrick Mahomes vexed the Bills with a stupefyingly quick drive in last year’s divisional round. Whereas “13 seconds” remains a stunning number, this game involved a similar scenario. Quincy Carter only had 11 seconds to move the Cowboys into field goal range. Granted, an illegal-procedure penalty spotted Dallas at its 40-yard line. But still. Carter (zero TD passes to Kerry Collins’ three) found Antonio Bryant on the sideline to set up a 52-yard Billy Cundiff game-tying field goal. This came just after Matt Bryant gave the Giants a three-point lead. Cundiff’s overtime make gave the Cowboys a 35-32 win (Bill Parcells’ first with the team). It helped the team to the playoffs months later.

1979: Raiders at Saints, Week 14

At opposite ends of the Monday night experience spectrum, the Raiders and Saints’ fourth-quarter showings here reflected that disparity. Oakland’s cast of national-TV mainstays erased a 21-point third-quarter lead in a 42-35 win — a last hurrah for the Ken Stabler-era Raiders. Longtime Stabler sidekick Cliff Branch did the heavy lifting. A slick 66-yard catch-and-run from the world-class speedster tied the game at 35, and a Chuck Muncie fumble gave Oakland prime field position. Branch’s 8-yard game-winner (Stabler’s fourth TD pass) only moved the Raiders to 7-7 in a non-playoff year. The Raiders traded Stabler to the Oilers in 1980.

2004: Patriots at Dolphins, Week 15

Although the Patriots were amid a 28-4 stretch that produced back-to-back Super Bowl wins, their lowest point during the 2003-04 run came in Miami. The Pats held an 11-point lead with under 4 minutes remaining, but the Dolphins. A 3-11 team playing under interim HC Jim Bates stunned the early-aughts superpower by scoring two late TDs in a 29-28 upset. Following Sammy Morris’ diving TD (pictured), Dolphins pressure forced a Tom Brady INT that set up A.J. Feeley at the Pats’ 21-yard line. Feeley hit wideout Derrius Thompson for a 21-yard TD. Another Brady INT soon finalized this upset.

1982: Cowboys at Vikings, Week 17

This game was only the NFC foes’ ninth; it was still called Week 17 following the season-reshaping players’ strike. The Cowboys and Vikings traded scores in a 31-27 game best known for Tony Dorsett’s 99-yard dash. The record-setting run was not supposed to go to Dorsett, and his full-field sprint only cut a two-score Minnesota lead to one. After the Cowboys later recaptured the advantage, Tommy Kramer found running back Rickey Young on a 14-yard game-winner. During a quarter in which the Vikings defense notched a pick-six, the unit — via two batdowns from defensive end Randy Holloway — held off the Cowboys to clinch a home game in the one-time-only 16-team playoffs.

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