New England Patriots

Dan Connolly of the New England Patriots waits for Tom Brady's signal in the first half against the Dallas Cowboys on October 16, 2011 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Nine years ago today, Dan Connolly executed what may very well be the greatest return ever made on a National Football League field. Well, by an offensive lineman. OK, by a right guard. Definitely the best run ever by a Patriots right guard.

In case this unforgettable play has somehow exited your consciousness, it’s worth spotlighting Connolly’s incredible 71-yard kick return against the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 19, 2010. The only downside of this play is that Connolly didn’t find the end zone, finally getting tackled at the 4-yard line. But man oh man did the Packers have trouble bringing the big man down.

The return did set up a touchdown, as Tom Brady found Aaron Hernandez in the end zone three plays later. They needed it, because it made the score 17-14 Packers at the time and the Patriots ultimately escaped with a win by a narrow 31-27 margin.

Connolly got plenty of help from the Patriots’ typically impeccable special teams unit. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski (then in his rookie year) and Alge Crumpler sealed off the first level of potential tacklers. Then Dane Fletcher, Rob Ninkovich, Jarrad Page, James Sanders, and Tracy White combined to form the Great Wall of Blockers, synced perfectly like they’d opened a bank vault for Connolly to power through it. Sergio Brown prevented a tackle attempt at about the 35. Sammy Morris … got away with a block in the back on Packers kicker Mason Crosby, but the damage had been done on the return and it’s likely Connolly would have flattened Crosby anyway.

It’s a shame that the Patriots fell on their faces in the playoffs that season, especially after Tom Brady delivered an MVP season and they rolled to a 14-2 record with home field secured. Because this play would be even more iconic and memorable than it already is.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.