When ESPN decided to re-air classic “Monday Night Football” games, the network started strong.
First up? The game recognized by many as the greatest regular season game in NFL history.
The Kansas City Chiefs-Los Angeles Rams game on Nov. 18, 2018 had everything. Two 9-1 teams threw haymakers all night at the historic Los Angeles Coliseum. The Rams won 54-51. There were 35 points and four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone. ESPN will show it again at 8 p.m. ET tonight. It’s as good as NFL football can get.
Is it really the greatest regular season game in NFL history? Is it the greatest regular season game in sports history? Let’s find out.
Why was ‘Rams 54, Chiefs 51’ such a great game?
First we have to establish why Chiefs-Rams was great. It’s not so far in the rear-view mirror that we don’t remember it. But it’s fun to take a look back.
Both teams were excellent: The Rams and Chiefs were both 9-1 in 2018. The Rams went to the Super Bowl that season, and the Chiefs went to an AFC championship game before winning the Super Bowl this past season. As Joe Tessitore says before the opening kickoff, it was the first time in NFL history two teams averaging at least 33 points per game met that late in the NFL. This was a game we were waiting for, and it delivered.
It was on “Monday Night Football”: Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but it does. There is an extra weight to a big prime time game. There have been some phenomenal games that don’t resonate like they should because they happened on a Sunday afternoon, like the 1992 “no punt game” between the 49ers and Bills or the great Peyton Manning-Tony Romo 51-48 shootout in 2013. There’s a reason an inordinate amount of famous NFL moments happened on “Monday Night Football.”
This was not a case of bad defensive football: If you looked at the final score and decided it was just a bad defensive game, you’re wrong. No, neither team was the Steel Curtain. But you’re missing the point if you’re griping. This was offensive football at its absolute finest. The talent, coaching and execution was startling. Patrick Mahomes was authoring one of the greatest quarterback seasons ever and the Rams were absolutely loaded. And let’s not forget there were three defensive touchdowns. If you watched the Rams and Chiefs play as well as any two offenses can play in a single game and complained about the lack of defense, you also probably bemoan sunsets because they lead to it being dark outside.
The stats and records: This was the highest-scoring game in Monday night history. The 51 points the Chiefs put up are the most for a losing team in NFL history. Mahomes had 478 yards and six touchdowns; Jared Goff had 413 yards and four touchdowns. The teams combined for 1,001 yards. Wow.
The drama: In the two highest-scoring games in NFL history, both games were decided by double-digits, so a lot of points and yards alone doesn’t make a great game. But Rams-Chiefs had a ridiculous amount of ebbs and flows. The Rams started fast and led 13-0. The Chiefs rallied and tied it 23-23 at halftime on a touchdown in the final seconds of the second quarter. There were eight second-half touchdowns, including the game winner to Gerald Everett with 1:49 to go. Even if you weren’t a fan of either team, you were drained by the end.
Is Rams-Chiefs the greatest NFL regular season game?
There are some worthy contenders, including the aforementioned 49ers-Bills game in 1992 and the Broncos-Cowboys thriller in 2013. The Miracle at the Meadowlands II, with DeSean Jackson’s punt return touchdown on the final play capping a crazy comeback for the Eagles over the Giants in 2010, was fantastic. John Elway and Joe Montana dueling on “Monday Night Football” at Mile High Stadium in 1994 is up there. The 1985 Miami Dolphins beating the undefeated Chicago Bears is remembered fondly, and though it was not a great game (the Dolphins dominated from the start) it was memorable. Earl Campbell shredding the Miami Dolphins on “MNF” is up there. Had more people watched rookie Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson put on a high-flying show in a 2017 Texans-Seahawks thriller, it would be higher on these lists.
But it’s hard to deny Chiefs-Rams. It checks every box. Miracle at the Meadowlands II might be the strongest challenger — Mike Vick had a second half for the ages that got forgotten with Jackson’s iconic walk-off touchdown — but there’s no reason to complicate this. Rams-Chiefs is the best regular season game in NFL history. Now let’s think bigger ...
Is Rams-Chiefs the greatest regular-season game in any sport?
All right, let’s buckle in.
It’s practically impossible to compare games across sports but hey, we have some free time to try.
For this we’ll limit it to NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and college football and basketball. I’m sure there were some great Arena Football League games or a classic MLS game, but we have to cut it off at some point.
Also, most regular season games mentioned in this stratosphere are due to great individual performances, but they weren’t really compelling games. We’re just looking for great, competitive games. Kobe Bryant scoring 81, Kerry Woods striking out 20, Mario Lemieux scoring in five different ways — all remarkably entertaining, but a different category.
MLB, NBA, NHL: The problem picking one game from any of these sports is that there are so many. It’s hard to feel a major impact from a Major League Baseball game when it’s one of 162. There are exciting games all the time, and then they play again the next day.
Still, there have been some great ones. For MLB: Phillies beat the Cubs 23-22 in 1979; Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn each pitched into the 16th inning (!) until Willie Mays’ walk-off homer in a 1-0 Giants win over the Braves; the Rays’ classic comeback over the Yankees on an unforgettable night to end the 2011 regular season. NBA: Tracy McGrady’s 13 points in 33 seconds; Pistons beat Nuggets 186-184 in triple OT; Magic Johnson’s bank shot at Boston Garden beats the Celtics; Steph Curry pulls up from about half court to beat the Thunder (Mike Breen’s “Bang! BANG!” call is a classic too). NHL: A brawl-filled overtime thriller between the Avalanche and Red Wings in 1997 — “Fight Night at The Joe” that included a rare goalie fight — probably takes the title.
Those are all great games. I wouldn’t take any of them, or any others I didn’t name, over Chiefs-Rams.
College basketball: Notre Dame breaking UCLA’s 88-game winning streak with a 12-0 run or Houston and Elvin Hayes knocking off UCLA and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the two titans. I’d also nominate a great Kansas-Oklahoma triple overtime game from 2016 (Buddy Hield’s fantastic effort, both teams were ranked No. 1 in different polls). Certainly some contenders. But ...
College football: Due to the shortest season of the major sports, college football has many great regular-season games. There’s the Oklahoma-Nebraska “Game of the Century” in 1971, Doug Flutie beating Miami on a Hail Mary, Kordell Stewart’s Hail Mary at Michigan, the “Kick Six” Iron Bowl with Auburn beating Alabama, the Cal-Stanford band game, “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29” ... the list could go on for dozens more.
College football has a monopoly in this category. I’d pick the “Kick Six” as the greatest regular season game in sports history — it was a fantastic game in a classic rivalry even before Chris Davis’ one-of-a-kind walk-off touchdown — though the Flutie game checks many of the same boxes.
But I wouldn’t argue too much if you picked Chiefs-Rams for the top spot. Watch it again tonight and judge for yourself.