CANTON, OH - AUGUST 9: A.J. Trapasso #4 of the Tennessee Titans celebrates with teammates after running for a touchdown on a fake punt against the Buffalo Bills during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium on August 9, 2009 in Canton, Ohio.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Greatest Moments in NFL Preseason History

The NFL preseason may not always have the most exciting games, but it has still produced some iconic moments in league history.

August has arrived and brought with it one of the great traditions in American sports in NFL preseason football.

The NFL preseason is here and while some may see it as just meaningless scrimmages, football fanatics around the nation know it's much more that. Football is back, and it's time for teams and fans league-wide to prepare for another daunting gauntlet of the new season ahead. The games played in August may not count in the record books, but they have certainly produced their fair share of highlights and memorable moments. Here are the some of the greatest moments in NFL preseason history.

DeMarcus Ware Sings the National Anthem

The 2023 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game had an incredibly special moment before the game even kicked off. In a touching National Anthem tribute former NFL All-Pro and 2023 Hall of Fame inductee DeMarcus Ware stepped up to the mic to honor his friend and former teammate Demaryius Thomas. Thomas tragically passed away in December 2021 and Ware said he wanted to sing in memory of their time together.

"That was the reason I ended up doing it, was because me and Demaryius, we would be on the sidelines singing the national anthem," Ware said to NBC's Melissa Stark, "He's not here right now, and I knew he was going to be there with me out there when I was singing. And so it meant so much."  An emotional rendition of The Star Spangled banner was a wonderful salute to Thomas and reminder of the brotherhoods forged on and off the field.

The Fake Punt Heard Round the World

Another classic routine of pre-season football is seeing coaches throw the kitchen sink in with their play calls. Experimental Wildcat? Double WR Reverse? Run the wishbone? Why not?

The preseason is the gadget play's time to shine. One of the more legendary trick plays of preseason lore is the Titans fake punt at the 2009 edition of the Hall of Fame game against the Buffalo Bills.  Early in the first quarter the Tennessee offense, dressed in Houston Oilers throwback jerseys, stalled on Buffalo's 40-yard line and the Titan's punt team ran onto the field.

The unsuspecting Bills return team had no idea Jeff Fisher had cooked up one of the greatest special-teams trick plays ever drawn on a whiteboard. Titans punter A.J. Trapasso took the snap as safety Michael Griffin ran toward him for an apparent end around, only to fake the pitch and keep it himself. The entire stadium thought Griffin had the ball, until it was too late. Trapasso scampered into the end zone untouched and cemented his status as a preseason hero. Unfortunately, Trapasso's story reveals the truly bizarre nature of the NFL preseason as he was cut by the Titans before the season and never played a down of regular-season football in the league. 

Kurt Warner's Unexpected Debut

28 Nov 1999: Kurt Warner #13 of the St. Louis Rams runs to pass the ball during a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Trans World Dome in St. Louis, Missouri. The Rams defeated the Saints 43-12.

Mandatory Credit: Elsa Hasch /Allsport

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The year was 1999 and the St. Louis Rams were on the rise. Former Super Bowl winner Dick Vermeil had recently come out of retirement to be their new head coach and hot shot free agent QB Trent Green was a brand-new signing destined to take the Rams to new heights.

The San Diego Chargers and a young Rodney Harrison had different ideas when they faced off with St. Louis in a preseason contest on August 28 1999. Leading 14-7 in the second-quarter Green dropped back and completed a pass to the sideline just before the oncoming defender made the hit. That defender was Harrison and that hit blew out Green's knee, ending his season. The Rams would-be high-flying offense would now rely on the arm of a backup quarterback who was bagging groceries not long before.

An inexperienced and unproven Kurt Warner entered the game for Green and closed out a 24-21 preseason victory for the Rams. The rest is history as Warner proceeded to have one of the greatest debut seasons ever for a starting quarterback, winning the 1999 MVP. He wrapped it all up with a Super Bowl XXXIV victory and Super Bowl MVP trophy. To think it all started on an August preseason night.

Victor Cruz's Preseason Breakout Performance

When Victor Cruz entered the league in 2010 there probably weren't many New York Giants diehards who recognized the rookie wideout out from UMass, let alone fans around the league. That would change quickly and largely due to one preseason performance. After going undrafted Cruz was signed by the Giants, having impressed New York's front office enough in a pre-draft workout to take a chance on the young wide receiver.

Cruz was on the team leading into the preseason, but like many NFL hopefuls, would somehow need to make an even more lasting impression to secure a coveted 53-man roster spot. He would make those impressions and more on August 16, 2010.

In his first preseason game against the Jets, Cruz showed his explosive speed and athleticism to look nearly un-guardable. He finished the game with three touchdowns and 145 yards on six receptions. It turned out to be a fantastic omen of what was to come, as Cruz went on to become a Pro-Bowler and win a Super Bowl with the Giants. His incredible performance is still one of the greatest examples ever of a player using the preseason to blaze a trail in the league.

Craziest NFL Ending Ever?

One of the true glories of watching preseason football is the wildly unpredictable nature of the contests. You never know what's next in an NFL preseason game, a fact proven beyond any doubt after the matchup between Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants on August 11, 2000. Deep in the fourth-quarter the Jags trailed 9-13 in a standard, low-scoring preseason affair. Driving with 13 seconds left in the game Jaguars' QB Jonathan Quinn tried to force a ball into the end zone and it was intercepted by Giants' cornerback Fred Lewis at the goal line.

For some reason Lewis' teammate, linebacker Jack Golden, decided that was the perfect moment to violently tackle his own man to the turf. Lewis fumbled into the end zone and Jacksonville's Brandon Christenson, a fourth-string tight end, recovered a fumble in the end zone with seven seconds remaining to give the Jaguars a 16-13 victory. A finish up there with craziest ending to a football game you'll ever see, and so many missed out just for writing off the preseason.

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