Unexpected Heroes in Super Bowl History
The pantheon of Super Bowl legend is filled with heroes we can rattle off the tops of our heads.
From Bart Starr to Tom Brady and Joe Montana to Jerry Rice, there are dozens of Hall of Fame and otherwise well-known players who have made their mark in the greatest game of them all.
The heroics don't always come from the legends, however. Sometimes the hero is like a Frodo Baggins or Arthur Dent—unlikely protagonists in their stories, someone you never expected to play a big role.
Here are the 10 most unexpected heroes in Super Bowl history.
Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
10. Deion Branch, New England Patriots: Super Bowl XXXIX
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How often do receivers win Super Bowl MVP honors? To the point before Tom Brady and Co. took the field for Super Bowl XXXIX, only Lynn Swann, Fred Biletnikoff and Jerry Rice had won it at the position.
Did you expect a guy named Deion Branch to be the next one?
True, he has been relatively productive as a NFL player, but nobody will put Branch anywhere near the top of the list at his position.
Branch caught 11 passes for 133 yards against the Eagles, garnering Super Bowl MVP honors in the process. He was the biggest reason the Patriots won that day.
9. Tracy Porter, New Orleans Saints: Super Bowl XLIV
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Super Bowl XLIV was to be an epic battle between two heavyweights under center.
Manning was on the comeback trail in Super Bowl after the Saints took a lead. Down 24-17, Manning was marching down the field with just over three minutes to play in the game.
He must not have seen Tracy Porter when he threw the ball right at the cornerback, who intercepted the pass and raced down the field to ice the game with a touchdown. It was a stunning play that gave the Saints their first title, and it came from an unexpected place.
8. Dexter Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Super Bowl XXXVII
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Jon Gruden was going up against his old team in Super Bowl XXXVII, and it wasn't pretty.
Setting aside any allegations of misconduct on Bill Callahan's part, the Raiders were simply terrible in the game. Nothing was more telling of this than the fact little-known defensive back Dexter Jackson wound up hoisting the game's MVP trophy.
The Tampa Bay free safety was just a part of the defensive onslaught the Buccaneers brought to San Diego that day. Cornerback Dwight Smith had two interceptions of his own—both returned for touchdowns—and Derrick Brooks had a pick six-as well.
Jackson was barely voted in as the MVP, but his Super Bowl-record pair of interceptions in the first half put him at the forefront of the minds of voters.
7. Jeff Hostetler, New York Giants: Super Bowl XXV
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Defense was the New York Giants' strong suit during the late '80s and early '90s, but they also had a fellow named Phil Simms at quarterback. He had turned in one of the best quarterbacking performances in Super Bowl history just a few years before the big game in 1991, completing 88 percent of his passes en route to a title.
The Giants were rolling toward a Super Bowl XXV appearance when disaster struck. Simms was injured, forcing Jeff Hostetler into the NFC title game and ultimately the starting gig in the main event.
He was facing a Bills team that was known for its high-powered offense more than anything, but how many backup quarterbacks are expected to win a Super Bowl?
Hostetler did, completing 20 of 32 attempts for 222 yards and a touchdown in guiding New York to the victory.
6. Desmond Howard, Green Bay Packers: Super Bowl XXXI
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Green Bay was in a dogfight with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. It was a seesaw battle that saw the Patriots closing on the Packers with a third-quarter touchdown.
Then Desmond Howard happened.
The special teams ace returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, a Super Bowl record, earning himself MVP honors in the process. He is the only special-teamer to ever win the award.
5. James Washington, Dallas Cowboys: Super Bowl XXVIII
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Buffalo had a high-powered offense that often featured three-receiver sets. It is for that reason that James Washington, the nickelback on the Cowboys defense, was on the field so much in Super Bowl XXVIII.
The veteran defensive back had seen zero playing time during the playoffs leading up to the Super Bowl. The title game was his first action, and he made the most of it.
Washington wound up with 11 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.
That would be the only touchdown of his career, and it helped Dallas defeat Buffalo 30-13 for its second consecutive Super Bowl title.
4. Mike Jones, St. Louis Rams: Super Bowl XXXIV
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Michael Anthony Jones had one great season in his career. It came in 1999 with the Rams, and he capped it off with a championship-saving tackle for the ages.
The Rams let a 16-point lead slip away in the second half of the Super Bowl, allowing the Titans to tie the game with 2:12 left. Kurt Warner came to the rescue, finding Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard scoring bomb. Unfortunately, the Rams left enough time for the Titans to march down the field for one last try to tie the game.
Tennessee made to the 10-yard line with six seconds left and no timeouts. Steve McNair passed the ball to Kevin Dyson over the middle, who only had to beat Mike Jones for the game-tying score.
Jones wrapped him up as Dyson extended for the end zone, leaving the Titans one yard short of overtime.
The veteran linebacker spent one more season with the Rams as a starter before moving on as a backup.
3. David Tyree, New York Giants: Super Bowl XLII
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The Patriots were undefeated. Their offense was made of thermite, and Tom Brady lit the fuse.
The Giants had barely made the playoffs and lost to the Patriots during the regular season. They were on a roll in the postseason, but who could stop New England?
New York proved to be the answer to that question despite the odds, and David Tyree was the hero of the day.
Tom Coughlin's defense does not get the credit it deserves for slowing down that mighty New England offense, but it is the little-known Tyree's sensational "helmet catch" that is etched in Super Bowl lore.
Not only did his catch define the game, he also caught a touchdown. Tyree's score actually gave New York a 10-7 lead. The helmet catch, of course, is what he is truly remembered for.
He never caught a pass again in the NFL.
2. Timmy Smith, Washington Redskins: Super Bowl XXII
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Denver's defense was a sieve during Super Bowl XXII, but that shouldn't take away from Timmy Smith's accomplishment.
The title tilt would be the rookie's first start largely due to George Rogers' ineffectiveness at the position, and Smith obliterated the Broncos and the record book with his performance. The newly minted starter rattled off several big runs en route to a record 204-yard performance, leading the Redskins to a 42-10 romp over the Broncos.
Who saw this one coming?
Quarterback Doug Williams also had a huge game; otherwise Smith might have won MVP honors.
Sadly, Smith was more of a one-hit wonder than Dexys Midnight Runners. Injuries plagued him, and his career fizzled to a halt in 1990.
1. Max McGee, Green Bay Packers: Super Bowl I
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Max McGee is the answer to many a pub quiz question about who scored the first Super Bowl touchdown. The thing is, he wasn't even supposed to be in the game.
The Packer veteran was 34 when Vince Lombardi led his team against Kansas City in Super Bowl I. Having caught just four passes for 91 yards during the regular season, McGee didn't expect to play because he broke curfew the night before the game.
Just imagine the ruckus that would cause in today's day and age.
Starter Boyd Dowler separated his shoulder early in the game, and McGee had to borrow a helmet to play because he had left it in the locker room.
Soon after entering the game, he snagged a Bart Starr pass with one hand and rumbled down the field for a 37-yard scoring strike, the first in the Super Bowl era.
McGee wound up catching seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns, a marvelous performance that might have been more MVP-worthy than the contributions of Starr, who won the award.