The Catch That Changed The NFL

Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Greg Frith, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers

Ten years ago, in a week 17 must-win game, the Minnesota Vikings fell victim to a frantic comeback by the 3-12 Arizona Cardinals. In the final two minutes, the Cardinals scored on a 4th down touchdown pass from Josh McCown to Steve Bush, recovered an onside kick, and pulled off a miracle walk-off touchdown on 4th and 25 to the wide receiver featured in a recent NFL Films Presents segment below. It was a catch often forgotten in the list of memorable touchdown catches. Perhaps it is because it was the Arizona Cardinals; maybe it’s because the hero was a guy who caught just one other touchdown pass in his career. But if you like to play the WHAT IF game, it’s a play that changed the last decade in the NFL.

–          The Minnesota Vikings would have won the NFC North with the win. Instead, the Green Bay Packers took the division and advanced to the playoffs. A week later they beat Seattle after Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck famously won the overtime coin toss and proclaimed “we want the ball, and we’re going to score!”

–          A week later, the Packers were eliminated in Philadelphia. They had made the playoffs when Arizona converted a 4th and 25, and were knocked out after the Eagles pulled off a just-as-unlikely 4th and 26 pass from Donovan McNabb to Freddie Mitchell on their way to a game-tying field goal.

–          The Cardinals would have had the first overall pick had they lost to Minnesota. The catch dropped them to 3rd in the draft. As a result, San Diego picked first, selected Eli Manning, and traded him to New York, paving the way for the Giants to win two Super Bowls. If Arizona picks first, do they draft Eli and keep him? Is Eli more inclined to play in Arizona than he was San Diego?

–          The Chargers would have picked second. Do they still take Philip Rivers, the guy they received in the trade for Eli? Or do they take Larry Fitzgerald, and pair him with Drew Brees? And Super Bowl victories follow in San Diego? And New Orleans is still without a title?

–          Do all the quarterbacks taken that year end up in different places? No Eli – and no Super Bowls in New York? No Ben Roethlisberger – and no Super Bowls – in Pittsburgh? The entire landscape of the league is different.

–          The Cardinals took Larry Fitzgerald third overall, which ultimately led to the demise of the hero wide receiver. He was bumped further down the depth chart, and a year later, ended up signing with New Orleans before a knee injury ended his career. In a sense, his miracle catch cost him his job.

–          The catch was ruled a touchdown on the force out rule. Now, the rule states a receiver must get both feet in bounds. Previously, the ref could rule a force out, predicting that had the receiver not gotten pushed out, his feet would have come down in bounds. This season ending play helped lead to a rule change.

–          The Cardinals were victims of bad karma down the road. The catch that eliminated the Vikings in ‘03 looked eerily similar to Santonio Holmes catch in Super Bowl 43 that knocked off Arizona.

If you are still unable to name the receiver that became the hero on one unlikely play, don’t worry… you are not alone. The answer is in our piece NFL Films Presents: Undercover Receiver.

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