Mike Prior

"I knew he wasn't going to slide. He was going for it."

Former Green Bay Packers safety Mike Prior didn't have any idea that he was about to make a place for himself in history. He only wanted to make a play on a key third down in the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXII. At stake were Green Bay's hopes of winning a second consecutive NFL championship. Standing in the way -- or more accurately, galloping -- was the Denver Broncos' future Hall of Fame quarterback, John Elway.

By that point in the game, the Broncos had proved they were much better than the oddsmakers who made them 11 1/2-point underdogs had predicted. The score was tied at 17, and Elway had dropped back to pass from Green Bay's 13-yard line, thoroughly intent on putting his team in the lead again. Prior was operating as Green Bay's fifth defensive back on that play, and he watched Elway's eyes closely while backpedaling into coverage. A few seconds later, Prior realized the quarterback was about to scramble.

Prior was in a difficult position. He was on the backside of Green Bay's defense, which meant he had to hustle across the field to help tackle Elway. "I tried to get over there as fast as I could," said Prior, who played 13 NFL seasons. "I saw [Packers safety] LeRoy Butler coming from the outside-in and [Packers linebacker] Brian M. Williams coming from the inside-out. But I'd also played against John. I knew he wasn't going to slide. He was going for it."

As soon as Elway leapt for the first down, Prior launched his body toward the quarterback. Prior instantly knew he had put a solid lick on the signal-caller -- "I knew it was good because I got into his shoulder and he didn't land forward," Prior said -- but the end result wasn't what the Packers wanted. When Elway landed, the Broncos had more than a first down. The 8-yard run had super-charged their entire team.

Prior sensed the game had changed as well. "Football is about executing and putting things together," he said. "I think we approached that game thinking more about not losing it than going out and winning. We didn't get the big play, the big hit or that spark we'd always gotten. But they got it from John Elway on that play."

-- Jeffri Chadiha, ESPN.com

Elway, shown diving for a crucial first down in Super Bowl XXXII,

said, "It's certainly my favorite play ever."

Photo: Sporting News/Getty Images