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What it's like to score a Super Bowl touchdown

These six pros remembered everything about their big play.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Joy is more nuanced than despair. The symptoms of happiness range from smiling to even bigger smiling. Some celebrate more loudly than others, but even that takes more discerning than, say, telling the difference between resigned defeat and outright rage.

Catching a Super Bowl touchdown is one of the most joyous things a person can do on Earth. Any player will say that winning a championship is even better, of course, but again that's a different sort of joy. That's a wholesome satisfaction, whereas scoring is a single, brief, selfish rush to appreciate everything one man has accomplished. Though players only hint at it, there's no denying that they enjoy the spotlight.

SB Nation spoke with six former NFL players -- Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith, Ravens wide receiver Brandon Stokley, Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, Packers safety Nick Collins, Falcons kick returner Tim Dwight and Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce -- and asked them to recall as much as they could about the moment they scored in the Super Bowl. Below are their edited recollections.

Rod Smith -- Super Bowl XXXIII, Broncos vs. Falcons

A Morten Andersen field goal gave the Falcons a brief 3-0 lead. Then the Broncos pummeled the Falcons, outscoring them 34-10 the rest of the way until late in the fourth quarter. John Elway's 80-yard touchdown pass to Smith in the second quarter was the early dagger. On the first play of the Broncos' fourth possession, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak gave Smith a special assignment to take advantage of an overeager Falcons secondary.

What was the play call?

That play, we actually made up on the sidelines during the game. We didn't actually have that play in the game plan. And the fact of how it worked, was just a combination of us as a group of being so connected, from the coaching staff to the players.

Every time we were running boot, [Falcons safety] Eugene Robinson would jump the crossing route. We have a deep crossing route around 12 or 15 yards, and he would always jump that guy, he would always try to rob that pass, and the outside guy would go outside, and so he was not really a focal part of the play. So when [offensive coordinator] coach Kubiak saw it, I guess he talked to [head coach] Mike [Shanahan] and said, 'Hey listen, this guy is jumping this crossing route, let's send Rod on a post.'

So I took off. [Falcons defensive back] Ronnie Bradford came up in a cover 2, and I stand up for about 12 to 14 yards, and I run this post and next thing you know I see Eugene [laughs], he was chasing me and I was just laughing. I was laughing in my head, because this is the same guy that was talking noise about us in the previous Super Bowl, so to me it was kind of fitting to get him twice in two years.

Were you nervous?

Why would I get nervous? It's the same stuff we've been doing. The Super Bowl doesn't make a difference, the venue didn't matter. Most people think the venue matters, like, 'Oh you've got to step it up in the playoffs.' And this has always been my answer: 'That means you were slacking all season.'

It was nothing to get excited about, it was part of the deal of Rod Smith. My job is to do this job. He gave me an assignment. I don't ask why. He told me a little bit, 'Hey, we've got a guy jumping on a crossing route, hey on this run a post, it'll be just between you and John.' He didn't tell nobody else on the team, I don't think, but me and John. John knew and I knew, and of course the coaches knew. But I don't think [wide receiver] Eddie [McCaffrey] knew. [Tight end Shannon] Sharpe, I don't think he knew.

No one else knew you were running a post?

They were probably wondering how the hell did I end up over there, because I usually go outside, and basically just hanging on the sideline. When John boots that way, you always go with the flow, but I went against the flow. And he threw it back across his body a little bit, and right in the middle of the field.

What were you aware of when you got in the end zone?

When I hit the end zone, we always had this thing about -- especially me and my buddy [linebacker] Keith Burns -- we always had this thing about doing the thumbs up. Like when something good happened we threw a little thumbs up real quick. And what people probably didn't see was, at the end of the play, at the end I turned around and I had a little thumbs up right in the middle of my chest with the ball in my hand.

And the cool thing was the ref was No. 80, too. So I got a picture of my No. 80 and the ref who was holding up 'touchdown,' he was No. 80, too, so stuff like that is cool to me. Probably some off the wall stuff that most people probably wouldn't think.

So you're close with the current Broncos?

I was in the locker room after the AFC Championship game, Sharpe and I, and we were just looking at the guys. You know, they were happy, they put on smiles for the camera -- they weren't really happy, I'll be honest. I'll say this, they weren't satisfied. They knew they had another hurdle that they had to overcome, after all the stuff on the year, they've got themselves in a position to do something special, and that was not special enough.

Becoming the Super Bowl Champion is what means everything.

Brandon Stokley -- Super Bowl XXXV, Ravens vs. Giants

Just like the Falcons against the Broncos, the Giants didn't stand much of a chance against the Ravens in 2001. The Giants' only score came on a kickoff return late in the third quarter of a 34-7 loss. Stokley broke the game open in the first quarter. What had been a quiet start was shaken up by a good punt return, putting the Ravens securely in Giants territory to start their third possession.

What was the play call?

It's pretty much two verticals by the two inside guys, which I was on the right side and Shannon Sharpe was on the left side. And then the outside guys either run comebacks, or they run go routes depending on the coverage. We got good luck where I figured it was probably coming to either me or Shannon because they were doubling the two inside guys. And [Ravens quarterback] Trent [Dilfer], he dropped back and did a great job of looking the safety off, and I think Shannon ended up having three people on him. Just me and [Giants cornerback] Jason Sehorn, and I tried to set it up good like I was running a sharp route, like a five-yard option route.

Just went up the seam and Trent threw a great ball, and I just remember -- like when the ball's in the air you're just kinda, you know you're wide open and you're like, 'Don't drop it, don't drop it.' So much is going through your head.

And then once I caught it I realized I was about at the 4- or 5-yard line I guess, and I realized I was close to the end zone. Just fighting as hard as you can to get in there.

What ran through your head as you went into the end zone?

First of all, I was still in shock that I was just playing in the Super Bowl. It was my second year in the NFL and I never would imagine that would happen for me. And then when you catch a touchdown, you know, it's just such a great feeling. I remember just thinking about, you know, my mom had just passed away a few years before, you've got so much going in your head there, and just looking for my family in the stands, just a lot of emotion and you think about everything that you've worked so hard for, given all that you've done to put into that moment.

It was really a surreal moment.

Was that play emphasized in practice?

It sure was. We worked on the play in practice, and my receiver coach -- who has since passed away, Milt Jackson -- did a great job of just going over what kind of different looks we might see. I remember seeing a look where I was going to get doubled and Shannon Sharpe was going to get doubled, and I remember him, his coaching was, 'Hey, pick one of the guys and beat that guy. And the quarterback's job, if he's going to throw it to you, is to beat the other guy.' So that's what I did.

Was it hard to calm down afterward?

Oh yeah. Just so much excitement, and so much just really shock: 'I can't believe I just scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl.' That wasn't even a dream because it was so far-fetched. Just being in the Super Bowl was the wildest dream ever. So actually doing that, it is -- I was in shock, and adrenaline was flowing, and you're so excited, and then you've got to just tell yourself, 'Hey, I've got more than three quarters left to play, let's get this win.'

What was the first thing you were aware of after you scored?

I remember Qadry Ismail telling me before the game -- it was a pretty cool thing -- that I was getting heckled by some fans in that same end zone, and he said that I was going to score a touchdown in that end zone.

Actually, actually, sorry, I told him that I was going to score a touchdown in that end zone, and I remember him saying, 'Hey, you prophesized that.' I didn't really understand what he was talking about, but afterwards I was like, 'I don't know if I did that.' I was kinda just running my mouth a little bit, but it worked out that way.

I was looking for [my family]. I knew they were in that end zone. You're kinda scanning the crowd for them, I remember just pointing up into the section over there where they were sitting. That's what you think about, you know? Because something like that, I want to share that excitement with them. So that's a way to let them know, 'Hey, you all are a part of this with me.'

And my mom, like I said she passed away a few years before that. Remembering her, because how much that she would've wanted to be a part of that, and how much she was a part of getting you to that moment. I just pointed to the sky for her, in remembrance of her and all that she had done for me.

Muhsin Muhammad -- Super Bowl XXXVIII, Panthers vs. Patriots

No one can ever be called "unfortunate" to have scored a Super Bowl touchdown, but it's seems unfair that the longest offensive touchdown in Super Bowl history was made by a losing player. Muhsin Muhammad's 85-yard touchdown reception briefly gave the Panthers the lead in the midst of one of the wildest fourth quarters in Super Bowl history. The play was ultimately overshadowed by Adam Vinatieri's 41-yard field goal as time expired to give Bill Belichick and Tom Brady their second of four championships together.

What was the play call?

Gosh, I wish I remember the name of the play but I don't remember the exact name of it. I know it was an iso play for Steve Smith. I'm sorry, it was an iso play for me, and then Steve Smith had another route on the back side. I basically had a go route on that play. I had a tendency sort of to improvise a little bit, and I knew that [Patriots cornerback] Ty Law was sort of sitting on my out routes. So I ran a double move, I ran an out and up, and he bit on it and I was wide open.

At the time, [quarterback] Jake [Delhomme] was sort of looking at the other side where Steve was matched up with Tyrone Poole. It took him a second to sort of get back over to me in his reads, so he saw me a little late. And so I kind of slowed down a little bit, because I didn't know if he was going to be able to get the pass off, or if he was going to see me. So I was running this route, I was open, and I just sort of went in cruise control a little bit. And so he saw me, threw the ball, and I noticed that he sort of, he threw it high and long, so I had to speed up.

Not only did he throw it high and long, but he threw one of those balls that sort of comes over your inside shoulder and falls on your outside shoulder. It didn't sort of just drop in the bread basket, so it was one of those tough balls to adjust to. But I looked it in, and I caught it. There was a safety coming over and I gave him a stiff arm, and the rest is in the history books.

It was the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history. It still is.

How hard was it waiting for the ball when you were so open?

I threw the flag for it up, sort of like 'I'm over here.' [Laughs]. I had my hand up in the air, and I'm like, 'Man, do you see me? Do you see me?', kind of deal.

I beat Ty Law really bad on the route. He had man-to-man coverage, and he either busted the coverage or he tried to just sort of play it off like he was trying to do something else.

Was it difficult to stay calm after catching a big score late in the game?

It wasn't easy, you know? I felt like there was no way -- we had been in so many of those games during the year. I think we broke the record, I think we had five overtime games that we won or lost. We just had been battle tested. We had been in the middle of those fires over and over again, come-from-behind victories, overtime victories, nip-and-tuck close games the whole season. I mean we had a season made of those kinds of games, and that's when we adopted that name, the Cardiac Cats.

We had very few blowout kind of wins, and it helped mold the mentality that, no matter what the situation is, we felt like we can come back and win games.

When did it feel like you were playing in a normal game?

The worst part about the Super Bowl is just the anticipation. You go through media day. You don't do that every week, during the season or during the playoffs. The amount of interviews, most of the questions are pretty focused around the same things, and it seems like you answer the same questions over and over, and it gets so repetitive. You get to a point where it's so monotonous that you can't wait to play the game just to get that piece of it over with, because you talk about it so much that you're just ready to play.

The other part of the routine is pretty normal. You go to practice. You're going to be in a different facility. There's going to be a lot of excitement around practice, it's going to be spirited. By the time you start breaking a sweat and you're going through your warmup, you're in football mode.

Did you plan out a touchdown celebration?

I don't think I really celebrated. I might have just sorted of skated across the back of the end zone a little bit. I didn't do anything special. And I came on the sideline, and I remember me and Smitty talking trash a little bit, but that was about it.

Trash talk?

To each other, just getting each other hyped up.

Jaw jacking back and forth about where we were at that point in the game. I think I made a comment about Tom Brady being a great quarterback, and we got this but we gotta be careful because they got a great quarterback. We just kind of went back and forth on that kind of stuff.

Is this year's Panthers team better than the last one that went to the Super Bowl?

Well, there's only one way to prove it. In theory, I would say I believe that they are better because I believe that they are going to win and we didn't win. But if they don't win, then they went just as far as we did, so which team was better? Okay, yeah, you could say, 'You had more talent here, they had more talent there,' but you went just as far as this other team, so who cares what the stats say? Unless you win it all, then you can't necessarily say you were better.

For me, I think this team has the potential -- I think this team is going to win it. And I think at the end we will be able to say, definitively, that this was a better team.

Nick Collins -- Super Bowl XLV, Packers vs. Steelers

Collins' career highlight was also one of the last plays he ever made as a football player. After returning an interception 37 yards against the Steelers before winning the Super Bowl, he appeared in just two more regular season games before suffering a career-ending neck injury while trying to tackle Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart. Collins says his children still remind him of the play he made.

At what point did you know you were going to run the pick all the way back?

Once I got around the first guy, I was able to make it in the end zone. Once I got past him, the rest was history. I was able to catapult myself into the end zone by jumping over, through a couple guys and land in the end zone.

It was a little surprising, but at the same time, it was a little bit of knowing what the Steelers were trying to do to us. And I was in that position, and being in the right position to make a play like that. And a lot of credit goes to my defensive line for getting pressure on [Steelers quarterback] Big Ben [Roethlisberger] to kind of take something off that throw, and I was able to get underneath it and make that play for our team and for our organization.

What was the first thing you were aware of in the end zone?

Once I got in the end zone, everything kind of blacked out. I'm going to say it was kind of a selfish act, but it was like, it's my moment. This is something I dreamed of doing when I was in high school, and I had the opportunity to do it in real life. And everything kind of went black for a second.

I was one of those guys where I was underrated for the most part. A lot of guys didn't talk about my style of play. ... 'Oh he the next Ed Reid, Troy Polamalu.' But I think that kind of put me on a pedestal of greatness when I got into the end zone.

And when you came to?

All I wanted to do, I had just lost my father at that time and I was just, you know, excited. I was playing against his team, his team was the Steelers. And to be in that position, his son going in the end zone against his team, I just wanted to get on my knees and give the glory to him because he put me in a position to learn the game, and he taught me so much to help me get to that point.

And a lot of credit goes to my family, friends, Green Bay for taking the chance on me. It's a lot that goes through your mind at that point. You just thank God that you were able to be in that position.

How did your teammates react?

Aww man, they were so excited for me. It was so much emotion going on, it was so exciting. After I got to the sideline, giving guys high-fives, hugs, and all that type of stuff. I had to go get some oxygen because I couldn't breathe, it was just so overwhelming. Like, I think I missed the next three plays because, like, everything happened. I was just so jacked up, it took a while for myself to calm down.

How did you calm yourself down?

What I had to do is just take a couple deep breaths and, 'Okay, we still got a game going on. Okay, once you get it together, get back in there, get in the game, and do what you need to do to finish the deal off.' And that's what I did. I was able to finish, go into halftime, halftime, take a break, take the shoulder pads off, get more oxygen, and go seal the deal.

What was the best part of that day?

I think the moment we left the hotel on our way to the stadium, and just looking at everybody's eyes, the focus that everybody had, and the calmness that we had approaching that game. We were on a mission, and everybody bought into that mission. We played with one heart, and we played with one mind, and then we went out there and got the job done.

How did your kids react when they saw you?

Aww man, they were so excited for me, for the Green Bay Packers to get a -- they were able to experience something that they didn't think they were ever going to get to experience. They were just overwhelmed, and running around, jumping.

To this day, I think my daughter and my oldest son, they can remember everything, like they're sports fanatics. It's like, 'Do you remember? You made that play in the Super Bowl?' So they enjoyed it.

Any final words?

For the guys that are preparing to play in the Super Bowl, just cherish this moment, just go out there and have fun. Because at the end of the day, no one can take this moment from you. This is your moment, and just enjoy it and have fun. Don't worry about what the critics are saying or what people are saying. Just go out there and do your job.

Tim Dwight -- Super Bowl XXXIII, Falcons vs. Broncos

Special teams are overlooked too often in football. It's a common refrain, but it bears repeating. The Falcons didn't stand much of a chance against a stellar Broncos team on Jan. 31, 1999, but Tim Dwight and the Falcons' kickoff return team were fully expecting to take the ball to the house.

Did you think you'd be able to run a kick back before the play?

That night, we had a good feeling something was going to happen.

Our first return we almost took back. I squeezed through that front line and just got tackled by the safety and the backside safety. And we were like, 'Ooh, we're going to get one tonight boys.'

Every return got deeper and deeper into their territory. It was almost kind of the same as the one I had prior to that, except I had a backside safety that pushed me out of bounds when I tried to outrun him on the first one. On the second, I kind of gave him a little hint I was going outside, and kind of snuck up underneath him, and after that it was pretty much [Broncos kicker] Jason Elam and me and the goal line.

Once you get out into the open, you know you got a feeling it's going to go the distance, and things start to speed up a lot faster. And I don't even remember running by Jason. I remember seeing him, then cutting it to the right just a little bit. He's kind of in the middle of the field at that point, so he has a tough time, as a kicker, even to make a push or even a tackle when you're in the middle of the field with a guy running at you full speed.

Did you have any doubt once you broke free?

My rookie year I was pretty fast. I was coming out of college. I ran track that spring. It was late in the year so I was pretty lean. I probably weighed 175 pounds. I was rolling pretty quick. It would have been tough if somebody walked me down that night on that cut. Maybe Michael Johnson, [Usain] Bolt and those guys. They would have walked me down, easily. But a football player -- as a football player there are some fast guys, maybe [former NFL receiver] Pat Johnson, he was pretty fast.

What was running through your mind when you scored?

I kinda got a little showboated at the end of mine. I kind of backed into mine a little bit. It is the top of the stage, and you do a little showboating for fans and things. But mine was a little bit more of a frustration, and telling the guys, like, 'Listen, let's go. Come on. We have 11-some minutes left, we're down by' -- it's been done before, right?

It's pretty exhilarating. There's a lot of things that go through your mind. This is a dream come true to be in a game, to be in the NFL, and then all of sudden getting to a Super Bowl and scoring a touchdown, you're going through that. You're going through, 'Hey we've still got time to win.'

So there's a lot of emotions you're going through. You don't even think about. I think I threw the ball right to the ref, I didn't even think about saying, 'Hey, that's my ball.'

Did you appreciate the touchdown in the moment?

Not really during the game. You're hyped up and happy and all that, but you really don't think about it much until after the interviews, the bus ride and all that, everything just kind of slows down a little bit, then going into the offseason. Like, 'Man, I went to the Super Bowl last year and scored a touchdown.'

Does the touchdown still get brought up in your life?

I usually don't bring up stuff like that. And then people go, 'What!? You?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, yeah, I used to be pretty fast back then.' And they're like 'Yeah, you look like you're holding about 15 pounds more than you should.' I'm like, 'So what, I'm small.' I was tiny. But I was fast. Fast and tough, and you got guys who believe in you. That's what football is a lot about. It is a hard sport. A hard sport.

Isaac Bruce -- Super Bowl XXXIV, Rams vs. Titans

Bruce's 73-yard reception to give the Rams the lead -- for the final time -- against the Titans late in the fourth quarter was as close to a perfect Super Bowl moment as one can hope for.

Did you think it'd ever be you?

It's special in this sense. Prior to moments like that, you rehearse moments like that all the time. I had rehearsed moments like that since I was probably 8 years young in my backyard in Ft. Lauderdale. Probably catching passes from an imaginary Dan Marino.

It's everything I had dreamed of, it was the perfect scenario, it was the scenario I had rehearsed in my backyard. Just to be in that moment and then actually do it -- I don't know if you watched it, but I didn't really celebrate, I was like -- I expected to make plays like this, I had practiced plays like this, I had envisioned plays like that in my mind for years. So once it happened, all my celebration was already done. Now I'm just thinking about, I just look at the clock and say, 'How much time is left on the clock?', before we go celebrate this victory.

Did things slow down as you were running?

I'd say that once I saw the ball in the air, that's when the slow motion thing happened. Once I got it into my hands, it really slowed down. It's so funny because, I saw everything kind of like falling around, everyone falling around me. Tennessee Titans players falling to the ground. It's funny because my eyes go to the jumbotron as I'm running. I mean, who does that in an actual game? My eyes go down from there to the eyes and faces that are in the stands of fans and foes. Rams fans and people who don't want me to succeed at that time.

How did you celebrate?

As you well know, after every touchdown that year we did the bob and weave. The bob and weave didn't happen after that touchdown, not at all. I quickly hit my knee, I was thankful, giving thanks to God. After that I was mobbed when I turned around. So there was no bob and weave after that.