The Best Super Bowl Quarterbacks

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2013

The Best Super Bowl Quarterbacks

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    Quarterbacks get all the credit and much of the blame in the NFL, and that doesn't change much when it comes to the Super Bowl. MVP awards come easier for field generals, even when teammates outplay them.

    There are certainly Super Bowl quarterbacks who stand above the rest, those who led their teams to victory in the NFL's greatest game multiple times or in historic fashion. But who's the cream of the crop?

    Apologies to guys like Doug Williams and Drew Brees, who had fantastic Super Bowl performances in their sole appearances, but just missed the cut. Johnny Unitas was in his mid-30s by the time the Super Bowl came into existence, and he had a pair of poor appearances despite getting a victory in Super Bowl V.

     

    Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

15. Bob Griese, Miami Dolphins

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    Bob Griese was 2-1 in his Super Bowl career, but he didn't have to break much of a sweat doing it. Defense and the run game did the heavy lifting for him.

    The Dolphins' quarterback totaled just 295 yards and one touchdown—considered one mediocre game by Drew Brees standards nowadays—in three championship games.

    Still, two Super Bowl victories will stick out on any resume for a quarterback, his contributions—or lack thereof—notwithstanding.

14. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts

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    It is difficult to believe Peyton Manning has made the Super Bowl just twice throughout his illustrious career. His playoff failures have tarnished his otherwise amazing career in the minds of many.

    Furthermore, what was once a healthy rivalry with Tom Brady has turned into a lopsided laugher in favor of the New England quarterback.

    When Manning has made the Super Bowl, however, he's been pretty good.

    His first crack at a championship came against a tough Chicago Bears defense that propelled a team with Rex Grossman at the helm.

    The game was played in rainy, muddy conditions unconducive to passing. Manning managed to complete nearly 66 percent of his passes for 247 yards and a touchdown, overcoming the weather and a game-opening kickoff return for a score from Devin Hester.

    Manning is best remembered for a game-clinching pick-six thrown to Tracy Porter in his second Super Bowl appearance against the Saints. But he still completed nearly 69 percent of his passes for 333 yards and a touchdown.

13. Phil Simms, New York Giants

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    Injury robbed Phil Simms of a second Super Bowl appearance in 1990, but he turned in one of the greatest performances in Super Bowl history with his only shot.

    Simms completed 22-of-25 passes—88 percent, a Super Bowl record—for 268 yards and three touchdowns en route to a rout of the Denver Broncos.

    He may not have multiple titles under his belt, but Simms deserves a spot in the pantheon of greatest Super Bowl quarterbacks for his nearly flawless Super Bowl XXI performance.

12. Eli Manning, New York Giants

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    He might not have the flair or appeal that some other Super Bowl quarterbacks have emanated, but Eli Manning belongs in the discussion of top performers in the big dance.

    After all, who else could have slayed the dragon that was the undefeated 2007 New England Patriots? Granted, his defense was a critical factor—it did hold Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Co. to two touchdowns—and David Tyree bailed him out with, perhaps, the Super Bowl's craziest play.

    Manning didn't light up the Patriots in both Super Bowl appearances—he totaled 551 yards and three touchdowns—but he was clutch in each of those games.

11. Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers

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    It is unfortunate for Steve Young that he made just one Super Bowl appearance after taking the reins from Joe Montana. The 49ers were just as lethal, but the rest of the NFL had caught up.

    The 49ers were a whopping 18.5-point favorite heading into Super Bowl XXIX, and Young proved why after torching the Chargers.

    Young made the most of his single championship-game appearance, single-handedly crushing the San Diego Chargers by throwing for a Super Bowl-record six touchdowns.

10. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Ben Roethlisberger didn't have to do much in his first Super Bowl appearance as a second-year player.

    The sophomore completed just nine passes for 123 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns, though he did run for a score. Willie Parker, Antwaan Randle El and that tough defense did the rest of the work.

    However, he was much better in his next two appearances.

    He threw for 256 yards and one touchdown against Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII, but the solitary touchdown came at the most pivotal time. Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone for a pretty throw and catch that won the game for the Steelers.

    He couldn't overcome Aaron Rodgers in Super Bowl XLV despite his 263 yards and two touchdowns, but Roethlisberger has been one of the best Super Bowl quarterbacks nonetheless.

9. John Elway, Denver Broncos

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    These days, John Elway is mostly remembered for his Super Bowl triumphs of the '90s, his three previous failures almost a footnote.

    Elway's Super Bowl career is not all that illustrious outside the fact that he is tied with Tom Brady for most appearances. Twice, he threw for less than 150 yards and more interceptions than touchdowns.

    In fact, he averaged just 226 yards passing and threw just three touchdowns to eight interceptions in the Big Game. Funny enough, he had four rushing scores, one more than the number of passing touchdowns he threw.

    His two victories came in games where he attempted just 29 and 22 passes (having Terrell Davis certainly helped him get over the hump).

    Statistics aside, getting there five times and winning twice is an accomplishment in and of itself. Elway is one of the game's greatest quarterbacks, and we would be remiss to exclude him from a list like this.

8. Jim Plunkett, Los Angeles Raiders

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    Jim Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy, but his NFL career was a bit of a roller coaster. The stud prospect was the first Hispanic to be selected first overall, taken by the Patriots in the 1971 draft.

    A good rookie season with the Patriots gave way to injuries and a trade to the 49ers, with whom he spent one entire season as the starting quarterback. The Raiders picked Plunkett up after their Bay Area rivals released him, putting him in a backup role.

    It seemed like that was where he would wind down his career before an injury to starter Dan Pastorini in 1980 forced Plunkett into game action.

    The 33-year-old backup would go on to lead the Raiders to the first Super Bowl victory by a wild-card team, throwing for 261 yards and three touchdowns and earning MVP honors in the process. 

    The trailblazing quarterback won a second Super Bowl with less flair—his heroics weren't needed with Marcus Allen's record-breaking performance—before finally riding into the sunset as a backup. He currently sits second in Super Bowl history with a 122.8 passer rating (minimum 40 attempts). 

    Not bad for a guy who didn't get to the dance until he was 33.

7. Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys

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    Troy Aikman got off to a huge start in his Super Bowl career, throwing for four touchdowns against an overmatched Bills defense and winning MVP honors in the process.

    The Super Bowl XXVII hero brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Dallas 15 years after Roger Staubach had delivered the last one to the city, and things were looking up for the Cowboys.

    He followed that up with a decent performance in another victory over Buffalo the following Super Bowl, but Emmitt Smith and the defense did most of the heavy lifting in that game.

    Aikman led the team to three championships, throwing for 689 yards and five touchdowns combined in those title tilts.

6. Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys

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    Roger Staubach was an American hero if the Dallas history books have anything to say about it.

    After all, the Cowboys' quarterback led America's team to four Super Bowl appearances throughout his career, winning two of them.

    Staubach totaled 734 yards and eight touchdowns in those games. Despite losing twice to the powerful Steelers, he remains one of the Super Bowl's biggest legends.

5. Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals

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    The further removed he is from playing in the NFL, the more underrated Kurt Warner seems to become. This is especially true for his Super Bowl appearances.

    For starters, Warner got a late start on the action. He was bagging groceries a few years before getting a shot in the NFL, entering the league at 27 after spending time in the Arena Football League. He only got in because Rams starter Trent Green was injured in the 1999 preseason.

    He had an immediate impact on the Rams.

    Warner was the ringmaster of the Greatest Show on Turf, leading them to a Super Bowl victory in his first season as a starter. The star quarterback threw for a record 414 yards in the Big Dance.

    Two years later, he came back and almost beat the New England Patriots—the Rams were favored in that game because Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were just getting started—throwing for 365 yards, the second-highest total in Super Bowl history.

    After a few injury-riddled years, Warner became the first quarterback to lead a second team to a Super Bowl appearance, nearly beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII after throwing for 377 yards and three touchdowns.

    To date, Warner owns the three highest-yardage games in Super Bowl history, putting him just behind Tom Brady for the most yards in Super Bowl lore.

    Though Warner has just one victory to his name, he was truly one of the best Super Bowl quarterbacks in NFL history.

4. Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers

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    The Super Bowl had its first star quarterback right out of the gate with Bart Starr.

    Green Bay's grizzled quarterback was no stranger to winning championships, having led the Packers to three pre-Super Bowl titles before the ultimate game's inception.

    Starr won the game's first two MVP awards as he helped the Packers win consecutive championships.

    He threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns in Super Bowl I—thanks in large part to a hungover Max McGee—and followed it up with a 202-yard, one-touchdown performance in Super Bowl II.

    Had the Super Bowl existed throughout Starr's career, he might be considered the best quarterback in the game's history. He'll have to settle for fourth here.

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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    Were it not for a sheared blood vessel in Drew Bledsoe's leg, Tom Brady might not have risen to great heights.

    The veteran gave way to the second-year quarterback after a hit forced him out of a game against the New York Jets in 2001, and the rest is history.

    Brady went on—Tuck Rule Game and all—to win the first of three championships in four seasons.

    The second half of Tom Brady’s career has been filled with playoff and Super Bowl disappointment, but that should not take away from his accomplishments as a championship quarterback.

    Brady can thank a good defense and a clutch kicker for big assists in those three championships, but he has been pretty good himself.

    The Patriots legend has the second-most touchdowns and most passing yards in Super Bowl history with nine and 1,277, respectively. 

    If he can get back to another Super Bowl or two and catch Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, he will move up the ladder. Until then, however, Brady sits comfortably behind the only four-time winners.

2. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Steel Curtain blotted out the sun for the rest of the league in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and Terry Bradshaw was a big reason why.

    Though those teams were driven by incredible defenses, Bradshaw led the Steelers to four Super Bowl championships during his career, tied for the most in NFL history with Joe Montana.

    He did little during his first Super Bowl victory, completing just nine passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. The defense stifled the Vikings in Super Bowl IX, though, holding them to just six points and ensuring a victory.

    The following year, the Steelers again made the Super Bowl, where Bradshaw threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He threw a 64-yard bomb to Lynn Swann—one that traveled about that distance in the air—a split second before getting crushed.

    His latter two Super Bowl appearances were fantastic, throwing for a then-record 318 and 309 yards in Super Bowls XIII and XIV, respectively.

    He remains tied with Montana for most Super Bowl victories despite Tom Brady's best efforts to join them. 

1. Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers

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    Was there even the tiniest doubt who would be No. 1 on this list? The greatest Super Bowl quarterback in history is an easy call to make.

    Joe Montana is simply the Godfather of Winning.

    The list of title-game accomplishments is lengthy for Montana, who won three Super Bowl MVPs. He threw for a then-record five touchdowns against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, annihilating the NFL's top defense in the process.

    Montana is the top-rated Super Bowl passer in history at 127.8. He has the most touchdown passes in Super Bowl history with 11. He is third in passing yards with 1,142 and second in completion percentage at 68.

    Of course, the most impressive statistic is the fact he won all four of his Super Bowl appearances.

    Statistics are just a part of the story with Montana, who won with style and authority. His last-minute touchdown pass to John Taylor exemplified how clutch he really was.

    In short, there is no man that can come close to Montana in Super Bowl lore.