10 Unforgettable AFC Championship Games In NFL History

The 10 best AFC Championship Games In NFL History

After four of the best playoff games ever, the NFL moves to its Conference Championship round this Sunday with the Cincinnati Bengals traveling to face the Kansas City Chiefs at 3 p.m. in the AFC Championship game.

A spot in Super Bowl LVI is on the line.

Kansas sports fans can bet legally on the game at multiple offshore sportsbooks. However, many are hopeful this year could see legal sports betting in Kansas on the voting ballot.

The Chiefs are listed as 7-point favorites at Caesars and the over/under total posted as 53.5. The Bengals beat the Chiefs in Week 17 of the regular season, 34-31.

This will be the 52nd AFC (American Football Conference) Championship game in history. Past games are some of the greatest in the NFL.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most unforgettable moments in AFC Championship game history.

1991: Norwood’s redemption

Football fans know the story of Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood. He missed a potential game-winning field goal in Super Bowl XXV, wide right from 47 yards, allowing the Giants to beat the Bills, 10-7.

Fewer know the story of Norwood’s redemption. The 1991 AFC title game saw the Bills host the Broncos and star quarterback John Elway (much more on him later). At the time, Denver was 4-0 in AFC Championship games.

In a tight game, it was Norwood who drilled a clinching 47-yard field goal with 4:18 left in the fourth quarter to lift the Bills to a 10-7 win. Broncos kicker David Treadwell missed three kicks that day.

1979: Feeling blue

The Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) and star running back Earl Campbell were in their prime when they faced the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Oilers led 7-0 early and were going for a game-tying score when quarterback Dan Pastorini connected with Mel Renfro on a pass in the corner of the end zone.

I dare you to watch the replay and not think it’s a touchdown.

Replay showed Renfro had complete control, but the officials disagreed, calling it an incomplete pass. The Oilers settled for a field goal. Rocky Bleier scored a late touchdown to seal a 27-13 win for the Steelers who went on to win their fourth Super Bowl in six years.

1977: Loose ball

Ever wonder why the NFL has instant replay? I mean wonder how the idea got started.

Look no further than the 1977 AFC Championship Game between the Raiders and the Broncos.

The then-Oakland Raiders were defending Super Bowl champions and had iconic Coach John Madden. The Broncos were the upstarts under coach Red Miller and featured the “Orange Crush” defense.

Denver led 7-3 in the third quarter and had the ball at the Raiders two. Running back Rob Lytle took the handoff and went to leap over the pile of players when he was hit by Raiders star Jack Tatum.

The ball is loose – before Lytle even gets off the ground – and recovered by Raiders defensive lineman Mike McCoy.

Officials never saw the fumble and kept the ball with Denver. They penalized the Raiders for protesting. Denver scored on the next play to go up 14-3 and advanced to their first Super Bowl with a 20-17 win.

“It was a fumble and we were wrong on the call,” said former NFL director of officiating Art McNally a decade later.

1981: The deep freeze

The game? Blah. The weather? Unforgettable.

This AFC Championship game between the then-San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals has its nickname, “The Freezer Bowl” as it was played with an air temperature of -9 (that’s a minus sign) with wind chills making it feel like, gulp, -59. 

It’s still the coldest temperature ever recorded for an NFL football game. The high-powered Chargers offense went cold, naturally, turning the ball over four times and the Bengals won 27-7.

Somehow Bengals offensive linemen played the entire game in short sleeves.

2019: The tightrope

This was Patrick Mahomes introduction to the World.

The Chiefs trailed the Tennessee Titans 17-14 late in the first half when Mahomes, the Chiefs star quarterback, rolled out of the pocket, began dashing down the sidelines, avoiding Titan tacklers and winding his way 27 yards in the end zone.

It was the signature play of Mahomes career to that point (he has added a few since) and propelled the Chiefs to a 35-24 win and their first Super Bowl berth in 50 years.

2011: The shank

People say there’s luck and then there’s Tom Brady’s luck.

The star quarterback for the Patriots and now Buccaneers has seen his fair share of breaks go his way. None more than in the 2011 AFC Championship game when the Patriots met the Ravens.

Baltimore was lining up a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to tie the score.

I mean, 32 yards, for an NFL kicker? That’s a gimme.

Instead, the Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff hooked it into the Foxboro night, giving Brady and the Patriots a 23-20 triumph.

1987: The fumble

The AFC title game in 1987 was a rematch from the memorable one the year before between the Broncos and Browns. Denver led 21-3 early, but the Browns and quarterback Bernie Kosar rallied back and tied the score at 31 in the fourth quarter.

Broncos QB John Elway led a drive and put the Broncos back on top on a TD pass to Sammy Winder. Cleveland battled back, getting to the Broncos 8.

On second-and-five, Browns running back Earnest Byner had a hole on the left side and was about to score a touchdown (or at least get the first down) when Jeremiah Castille knocked the ball away from Byner and recovered the fumble. Denver held on for a 38-33 win.

2006: Call it a comeback

Peyton Manning is a beloved pitchman and football icon now, but early in his career, he had a reputation for not being able to win big games.

That all changed in 2006. Facing the Patriots (who else?) Manning and his Colts trailed 21-3 in the second quarter after a Manning Pick Six. But the Colts were just getting going.

Manning led Indianapolis on six scoring drives and Joseph Addai scored on a three-yard run with a little more than a minute left to give the Colts a 38-34 win. That Brady fella? He threw an interception on the Patriots last drive.

It’s the biggest comeback in championship game history.

1986: It’s the drive

You may already know the story of The Drive, but do you know about the “Marathon” by the lake?

There have only been six “double overtime” games in NFL history. The Browns beat the Jets 23-20 in the AFC Divisional round the week before the AFC title game in 1986 in double overtime.

The next week, Cleveland hosted the Broncos and when the Browns took a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter, Cleveland could smell its first Super Bowl.

John Elway had other ideas. In a series that has its own Wikipedia page, Elway led the Broncos on a 15-play, 98-yard drive to tie the score with 37 seconds left. 

The game went to overtime. Cleveland got the ball, punted (another fact lost to history) and the Broncos drove and kicked the game-winning field goal.

The Marathon by the Lake is largely forgotten, but The Drive lives on in NFL lore.

1995: Captain comeback comes up short

These days they call Jim Harbaugh Coach at the University of Michigan.

When he was a quarterback, he was nicknamed “Captain Comeback.”

Harbaugh had the underdogs Colts on the verge of a Super Bowl spot in the 1995 AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh

The Steelers scored with 1:34 left to take a 20-16 lead on a run by “Bam” Morris, setting the stage for one final drive for Harbaugh. He led the Colts to the Steelers 29 with five seconds left and lofted a pass in the corner of the end zone.

The ball landed in Colts wide receiver Aaron Bailey’s stomach as he hit the ground, but Bailey couldn’t control it and the ball just barely hit the turf as Steeler players converged. Incomplete. Coming off the field, then Steelers coach Bill Cowher had tears rolling down his face.

Football and sports betting fans in Kansas can tune in to this year’s showdown for more unforgettable moments.

Photo Credit: Ed Andrieski / Associated Press