NFL stars are stars for a reason. Play after play, game after game, season after season, they wow fans and help their team, perhaps more than any other players, achieve victory. Several of the most memorable moments in NFL history involve these stars. Franco Harris, a Hall of Famer, reeled in the Immaculate Reception from Terry Bradshaw, another Hall of Famer. Ben Roethlisberger, a future Hall of Famer, threw an unforgettable touchdown to Santonio Holmes -- not quite a Hall of Famer, but an everyday starting wideout. In other words, none of these guys are no-name players.
But it seems that a disproportionate amount of unforgettable NFL moments, some of which are unanimous choices to be ranked among the greatest of all time, come not from the Terry Bradshaws, the Ben Roethlisbergers, and the Tom Bradys of the world. Instead, they come from the guys that we've compiled below. All of these occurred after 2000, so there are many more throughout the course of NFL history (hit us up with those memories on Twitter @RDCSports!).
Let's look at 10 guys who broke out of hiding to turn in some of the greatest performances in NFL history, never to be heard from in the same capacity again.
Kevin Dyson - January 8, 2000
We'll kick off our list with perhaps the greatest moment in the past 20 years of NFL action, though another contender on our list may have a certain fan base strongly opposed to that thought. The ball leapt from Frank Wycheck's hands -- not a no-name player at all, considering he was a three-time Pro Bowler -- into Dyson's, who scampered 75 yards for the score to win the game. Forward pass? You be the judge.
Dyson had his best season in the following year, bringing in 54 balls for 825 yards, but was out of Tennessee by 2002 and out of the NFL following the 2003 season. He only played for six seasons.
Mike Jones - January 30, 2000
Dyson's time in the spotlight only lasted for so long. Three weeks later, Mike Jones made one of the greatest tackles -- if not the greatest -- that we've ever seen, stopping Dyson just short of the goal line and saving the game, the season, and the Super Bowl ring for his St. Louis Rams.
Jones may not be a no-name player for Rams fans, but many of the current generation of football fans may not be familiar with the Rams linebacker, especially given that he never made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team and was largely a backup before and after his time in St. Louis.
Nate Poole - December 28, 2003
Nate Poole was only targeted 56 times throughout his four-year NFL career, bringing in 34 of those throws for 418 yards. But Josh McCown, as a second-year quarterback in the league for the Arizona Cardinals, didn't care who the ball was going to when he unleashed a heave to the end zone with time expiring... and what an announcing job!
Freddie Mitchell - January 11, 2004
Freddie Mitchell had 22 catches for 377 receiving yards in the 2004 regular season. He caught fewer balls than Terrell Owens, Brian Westbrook, Todd Pinkston, L.J. Smith and Chad Lewis. He was not Donovan McNabb's target of choice, I can pretty safely say.
So of course he was McNabb's target on a 4th-and-26 attempt with a minute to go and with the season on the line.
Mitchell was released from the team in May and never played another NFL snap after the 2004 season.
David Tyree - February 3, 2008
David Tyree a no-name player? But everyone has heard of David Tyree! But not before this play, they didn't.
I mean, this guy had four catches for 35 yards the entire 2007 regular season. That's it. And he had a grand total of zero yards after that Super Bowl performance. And yet, he's the proud owner of one the greatest catches in NFL history.
Greg Lewis - September 27, 2009
Lewis was on the same Eagles team as Freddie Mitchell when the latter made the 4th-and-26 grab, but he was only a middling threat with a career high of 561 yards in 2005. By the time he was sent to Minnesota, he was coming off a season where he brought in only 19 balls the whole season. And in 2009, that number decreased to just eight. But one of them was absolutely unforgettable.
Jerome Harrison - December 20, 2009
One does not simply dethrone Jim Brown in the Cleveland Browns record books. For more than half a century, Brown's 237 yard rushing performance from 1957 (which he tied in 1961) stood strong as the single-game record on the ground in Cleveland. Jamal Lewis came close with 216, but to no avail. The same can be said for Greg Pruitt (214), Earnest Byner (188) and Lee Suggs (186).
But no, it was Jerome Harrison, who had only ever recorded a 100-yard performance one time in his then 44-game career. He had only ever received over 20 carries in one game, which happened to be that 100-yard performance. But against the Chiefs, Harrison was unleashed.
Unfortunately, a brain tumor ended his career in 2011, but his road to recovery, though slow, brought some good news in 2018.
Jonas Gray - November 16, 2014
At least Harrison had posted one good game in his NFL career before exploding for 286 yards. But Jonas Gray hadn't done much of anything; in fact, he had only 131 rushing yards in his entire NFL career on 32 carries, all given to him in the games leading up to Week 11 of the 2014 season.
So of course Bill Belichick gave him 37 carries against the Colts, and of course Gray converted those totes into 201 yards and four touchdowns... why wouldn't he?
And of course he found his way into Belichick's doghouse, didn't step on the field the following week against the Lions, and earned a total of three carries in the subsequent two games.
Chris Matthews - February 1, 2015
This play was just one of several big ones Chris Matthews made in Super Bowl XLIX, a game where he brought in four catches for 109 yards and that one touchdown. He hadn't caught any balls in the divisional round or in the NFC Championship, probably because he hadn't been targeted. Oh, and he had also never caught a ball -- or been targeted -- ever in his NFL career before this somewhat important game. The success in the Super Bowl didn't translate into a lengthy NFL career. He never had another big game and was out of the league entirely after only three seasons.
But the play that everyone remembers, of course, was from Malcolm Butler. Butler, not a huge name himself, was a Pro Bowler the following season.
Jeff Janis - January 16, 2016
Though it was ultimately all for naught, thanks to Larry Fitzgerald's brilliance, Jeff Janis made two huge catches, both with less than a minute to go in regulation, in one of the best football games many of today's fans have ever watched.
The first was a 60-yard heave on 4th-and-20, which is a play that's practically impossible to overshadow. And yet, Aaron Rodgers and Janis found a way to do just that three plays later.
7 catches, 145 yards and two touchdowns was his final stat line. His entire career's regular-season stat line consists of 17 catches for 200 yards and only one touchdown.