The 20 Best Super Bowl Performances
Super Bowl XLVII approaches, and with it another opportunity for players to etch their names in Super Bowl lore. Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco, Michael Crabtree, Ray Lewis and the rest of the championship game's participants will attempt to make their mark next week.
But what are some of the game's best performances of yesteryear? Forty-six years of history have given us plenty from which to choose. Legends have been made with fantastic performances, while others have all but faded from memory.
Will any of this week's players carve their name in Super Bowl tradition alongside the greats? Perhaps. In the meantime, here are the top 20 performances in title tilt history.
Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
20. Chuck Howley, Dallas Cowboys: Super Bowl V
The most amazing part of Chuck Howley's MVP performance in Super Bowl V is that the Cowboys lost. It shouldn't come as a surprise that it was one of the worst Super Bowl games in history, earning itself the nickname "The Blunder Bowl."
Tackles weren't tallied back then, but Howley was a force for the Cowboys. The linebacker intercepted Johnny Unitas and Earl Morrall as the Cowboys forced seven turnovers.
Dallas wound up losing on a field goal in the waning moments, but Howley's efforts nearly paid off. To this day, Howley is the only Super Bowl MVP that played for the losing team.
19. Jim Plunkett, Oakland Raiders: Super Bowl XV
The Raiders won Super Bowl XV with great defense and a great performance by Jim Plunkett.
The veteran quarterback got the Raiders out to a quick 14-0 lead with two touchdown passes, winding up with 261 passing yards and three touchdowns altogether. He won the MVP for his efforts, though linebacker Rod Martin might have been deserving as well.
It might be worth mentioning that Plunkett did this as a 33-year-old backup after taking over the starting gig midseason and barely getting into the playoffs.
18. Jake Scott, Miami Dolphins: Super Bowl VII
The 1972 Dolphins were special, but they might not have won Super Bowl VII were it not for Jake Scott.
Scott was the second defensive player—and first on a winning team—to win MVP honors thanks to his pair of interceptions. The second one, which came in the end zone during the fourth quarter, was returned to midfield.
Had the Redskins scored there on top of Garo Yepremian's nightmare field-goal attempt, we might not have any undefeated teams in NFL history.
17. Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh Steelers: Super Bowl X
Lynn Swann had two huge moments in Super Bowl X, including one of the more memorable plays in championship game history.
The first is known as the Swann Dive.
Terry Bradshaw dropped back at his own goal line and heaved a prayer over the middle to Lynn Swann. The graceful receiver leaped over Mark Washington and caught the ball twice on the way to the ground. The 53-yard play didn't net the Steelers any points before halftime, but his second great play certainly did.
Facing a 3rd-and-6 at their own 36-yard line, Bradshaw took a seven-step drop while Swann ran a deep post pattern. He launched the pass about 64 yards in the air just before getting leveled, and it hit Swann in stride for a touchdown.
Swann's 161-yard performance earned him MVP honors as the Steelers went on to win 21-17.
16. Ricky Sanders, Washington Redskins: Super Bowl XXII
Super Bowl XXII was was an offensive supernova for the Washington Redskins, who have three players on this list.
Receiver Ricky Sanders was a big part of that explosion, hauling in nine catches for a then-record 193 yards and two touchdowns.
The Redskins mopped the floor with the Broncos, and quarterback Doug Williams won MVP honors thanks in large part to Sanders' efforts.
15. Rod Martin, Oakland Raiders: Super Bowl XV
Jim Plunkett got the MVP honors in Super Bowl XV, but Rod Martin had a fantastic game on the other side of the ball.
He picked off Ron Jaworski three times—a Super Bowl record—while leading the Oakland Raiders to a romp over the Philadelphia Eagles.
14. Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos: Super Bowl XXXII
John Elway was a three-time Super Bowl loser before Terrell Davis came along. The running back's performance in Super Bowl XXXII was one for the ages.
His 157-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Packers that day finally got Elway over the hump, leading the Broncos to a 31-24 victory.
Davis pummeled the Packers, earning him MVP honors after the masterful performance.
13. Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers: Super Bowl XXIII
Joe Montana was already an all-time great—though his statistics may not have been among the most impressive in Super Bowl history—but the 49ers quarterback became a god in Super Bowl XXIII.
He threw for 357 yards and San Francisco's only two touchdowns, but his final drive is the stuff of legend.
Seven years after "The Catch," Montana capped a 92-yard game-winning drive with a touchdown pass to John Taylor over the middle. The 10-yard scoring strike would give the 49ers a 20-16 lead over the Bengals with just 34 seconds left, as Montana and the 49ers would go on to win their third title of the decade.
12. Max McGee, Green Bay Packers: Super Bowl I
One of the greatest Super Bowl performances was also one of the most unexpected.
Max McGee was out partying the night before the game, earning himself a permanent spot on the bench. Or so he thought.
He was called to action when Boyd Dowler was injured early in the game, and the Packers were all the better for it.
McGee snagged an off-target Bart Starr pass with one hand and rumbled down the field for the first touchdown in Super Bowl history. He wound up with seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, but he gave way to Starr for the game's MVP award.
11. Doug Williams, Washington Redskins: Super Bowl XXII
The Super Bowl XXII offensive performances get another nod here as Doug Williams racked up 340 yards and four touchdowns against the Broncos. Washington would go on to win 42-10 in a laugher.
It would be the high point in Williams' career as Mark Rypien quickly took over for the Super Bowl MVP the following season.
10. Phil Simms, New York Giants: Super Bowl XXI
How often do quarterbacks complete 88 percent of their passes during the regular season, let alone the Super Bowl?
Phil Simms did just that, annihilating the Denver Broncos with killer precision. Simms threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl XXI, leading the Giants to their first of two championships in a span of four years.
Simms won the game's MVP award for his masterful performance.
9. Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers: Super Bowl XXIII
How telling is it that Jerry Rice makes this list three times? How much more telling is it that he broke the record for most catches and receiving yards in this game?
The only reason this is his worst entry on his list is that he scored just one touchdown.
Rice had 215 receiving yards on 11 catches that day, winning MVP honors and leading the 49ers to a 20-16 victory over the Bengals.
8. John Riggins, Washington Redskins: Super Bowl XVII
John Riggins famously held out in 1980 because he was getting paid just $300,000. The Redskins retaliated by putting him on the retired list, and he sat out the season.
Joe Gibbs coaxed him back the following year, though, and the move paid off in Super Bowl XVII.
It took Washington another year to get there after Riggins returned, but he was a fireball in the playoffs. During the championship tilt against the Dolphins, the big running back rushed for a then-record 166 yards and a touchdown.
That included a bone-crushing 43-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1 that gave Washington its first lead at 20-17. The Redskins would wind up winning the game 27-17, and Riggins wound up with MVP honors.
7. Marcus Allen, Los Angeles Raiders: Super Bowl XVIII
Marcus Allen held a couple of Super Bowl records for a time, both coming in Super Bowl XVIII.
The legendary running back rushed for a then-record 191 yards in that game, including one of the most memorable runs in Super Bowl history.
Allen took a handoff to the left, where he was walled off by Washington defenders. He wheeled around and reversed field, knifing through the Redskins defense and racing upfield into the end zone.
The 74-yard scamper would hold up as the Super Bowl's longest rush until Willie Parker broke it in Super Bowl XL.
6. Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams: Super Bowl XXXIV
Perhaps the best feel-good story in Super Bowl history manifested itself in February of 2000.
Kurt Warner was bagging groceries a scant few years before his improbable rise to the top. He spent some time in the Arena Football League before the Rams took a chance on him to back up Trent Green.
When Green was injured during the preseason, Warner took over. The Greatest Show on Turf was born.
Warner threw for a record 414 yards that day in Super Bowl XXXIV, including a game-winning 73-yard bomb to Isaac Bruce.
5. Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers: Super Bowl XXIX
New quarterback, same result. There is a reason Jerry Rice is the greatest receiver of all time.
Rice matched his three-touchdown performance from five years before, making him the only wide receiver to catch three touchdowns in multiple Super Bowls.
The legendary receiver totaled 149 yards and those three touchdowns receiving, though against a severely outmatched Chargers team. He helped Steve Young get to six passing touchdowns, as the 49ers routed the Chargers for their fifth championship in franchise history.
4. Timmy Smith, Washington Redskins: Super Bowl XXII
What other running back could top the list than the record-holding Timmy Smith?
Despite the quick burn that was his career—this game was pretty much it—Smith's 204-yard, two-touchdown performance in Super Bowl XXII was impressive.
He broke Marcus Allen's record as the Redskins broke the Broncos.
3. Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers: Super Bowl XXIV
How could Jerry Rice follow up his MVP performance from Super Bowl XXIII? By scoring a record three touchdowns, of course.
He got the scoring started with a 20-yard strike from Joe Montana, and the 49ers never looked back. Rice wound up with a scant seven catches for 148 yards—four catches and nearly 70 yards shy of his record-breaking performance from the year before—and an additional two touchdowns.
Joe Montana won his third MVP award that game on the wings of five touchdown passes, but Rice was a close runner-up.
2. Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers: Super Bowl XXIX
If there is an untouchable record in Super Bowl lore, it might be Steve Young's.
It was never a fair fight as San Francisco was favored by a staggering 18.5 points over San Diego heading into the game. Steve Young made sure his team covered the spread with ease.
The 49ers quarterback threw for six touchdowns against the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. He had plenty of help from Jerry Rice, but Young was simply spectacular.
Not only did Young throw for 325 yards to go along with those six touchdowns, he led the game with 49 rushing yards.
1. Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers: Super Bowl XXIV
The fact Joe Montana threw for five touchdowns in his ultimate Super Bowl performance should not be surprising. The fact that he did it against the NFL's top defense is cause for pause.
Montana annihilated the Broncos in his final Super Bowl victory, throwing for five touchdowns in a laugher. There was no need for dramatic, last-minute heroics like the stuff he pulled against the Bengals just a season earlier.
The future Hall of Famer won his third Super Bowl MVP as the 49ers spanked the Broncos in the biggest rout in Super Bowl history, 55-10.