Throughout the years, the NFL has been chock-full of craziness. Between fat guy touchdowns, on-field fights and fans losing their ever-loving minds, it’s a place where the possibilities are endless and literally nothing is off limits. There have been some crazy times, and one play back in December 2003 was as wacky and dramatic as it gets.
Back before the Miracle in Miami, there was the River City Relay. It was an unbelievable play in the final seconds between the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars at Alltel Stadium, and it would go down in history as one of the greatest and worst moments ever.
A three-lateral touchdown with no time remaining. A missed extra point. Everyone in disbelief and desperate playoff hopes squashed. All in a matter of seconds. It had every emotion possible attached to it, and it’s why this legend will never die.
The River City Relay
With seven seconds remaining, and trailing 20-13, the Saints needed a miracle. They were looking to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2000 and a win over the Jaguars was a must to make it happen.
The shotgun snap went to Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks at their own 25-yard line. He stood confident in the pocket and found wide receiver Donte Stallworth streaking toward the right sideline at midfield. Stallworth then avoided a couple of tackles, including one from Fernando Bryant, and made his way upfield.
Eventually, Stallworth pitched the ball to wide receiver Michael Lewis. He was about to get blasted, so he found running back Deuce McAllister. And when the defense quickly collapsed on him, McAllister threw it across the field to Jerome Pathon, who ran into the end zone for the touchdown.
It was bold. It was daring. It was beautiful. It even won an ESPY Award for Best Play in 2004. However, thanks to Saints kicker John Carney, there was no overtime that day.
Carney, the team’s trusted field goal kicker, missed the extra point attempt. No NFL playoffs. No NFC Wild Card berth. No Divisional Round hope. No Super Bowl possibility. Nothing. Byron Leftwich and the Jags escaped, 20-19.
Play-by-play announcer Jim Henderson summed up every Saints fan in that moment, too.
“NOOOO! He missed the extra point wide right! Oh my God! How could he do that?”
There’s honestly not a more hurtful way to end the hopes of an NFL season. It could have happened to the Atlanta Falcons, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Titans, or even Alabama in college football, but the crushing matchup loss forever belongs to the Saints.
Of course, losing in regulation eventually didn’t matter. The Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys both had won that day and would have eliminated the Saints anyway.
Still, it’s one of the greatest comebacks and most painful losses in NFL history, and really only one question remains:
Should Saints head coach Jim Haslett have gone for two?
This post was originally published on February 19, 2020.