There are many ways to define what makes a player a Hall of Famer. But, perhaps the top trait is how players perform in big games. There are no games more important than the playoffs. So, it should come as no surprise that many of the all-time greats with bronze busts in Canton have recorded memorable games during the NFL's postseason.
Here are some of the more memorable wild card games turned in by Hall of Famers.
Maybe he would have preferred a bye in the first week of the playoffs but guard Randall McDaniel holds the distinction of playing in more wild card games than any other player in NFL history. The Class of 2009 enshrinee played in seven of the first-round contests with the Minnesota Vikings and two others with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino valiantly tried to lead his Miami Dolphins back against the division rival Buffalo Bills in the 1995 AFC Wild Card Game. In doing so, he aired it out a wild-card record 64 times. He completed 33 of those passes for 422 yards and 2 TDs as the Dolphins scored all of their points in the fourth quarter of the 37-22 loss. On the other side of the ball, Hall of Fame runner Thurman Thomas rushed for 158 yards as the Bills set the single-game wild-card record for rushing yards (341).
Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers set the wild-card game record for most consecutive passes without an interception. He threw 48 times without a pick in the 1989 AFC Wild Card Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. His efforts went for naught when Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson recovered a fumble that set up a game-winning field goal in overtime for the Steelers.
Some of the greatest rushing performances in wild-card games belong to Hall of Fame running backs. Detroit Lions great Barry Sanders gained 169 yards against the Green Bay Packers in 1993. It remains the most rushing yards ever in a NFC Wild Card game. Other notable ground games include Tony Dorsett of the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Los Angeles Rams in 1980. His 160 yards in the Cowboys 34-13 win ranks as the fifth most in NFC Wild Card game history just two yards better than fellow Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson who had 158 yards for the Rams versus the Washington Redskins in 1986.
Franco Harris, who ranks second all-time with 1,556 rushing yards in 19 career playoff games, had a memorable day as a pass catcher in the Steelers' shootout loss to the San Diego Chargers in the 1982 AFC Wild Card Game. He had 11 receptions that day which ranks him tied for third most in any Wild Card game. But, two fourth quarter touchdowns by the Chargers Hall of Fame duo of quarterback Dan Fouts and tight end Kellen Winslow overshadowed the big day by Harris. San Diego won 31-28 when Fouts found Winslow for a 12-yard TD pass with one minute left on the clock.
Class of 2010 inductee Jerry Rice had one of his many great playoff performances when he had 183 yards on 9 catches in the Oakland Raiders' 38-24 win over the New York Jets in 2001. That yardage total ranks today as the fifth most in any wild card game. His touchdown catch, a 21-yarder in the fourth quarter, made him the oldest player (39) ever to catch a touchdown pass in a NFL playoff game.