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Ranking the Most Clutch Super Bowl Performances in NFL History

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2013

Ranking the Most Clutch Super Bowl Performances in NFL History

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    Super Bowl XLVII looms, providing another opportunity for players to immortalize themselves on the NFL's biggest stage.

    But will we see clutch performances, those that are game-altering in a rare or special way? It might come on one play, one drive or throughout the game. But we can spot clutch when we see it.

    Great performances in blowouts did not qualify here. They may have been good shows, but clutch is reserved for close-game situations. 

    What are some of the most clutch Super Bowl performances in NFL history? Click through to find out.

Adam Vinatieri, New England Patriots—Super Bowl XXXVIII

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    Two years after hitting the most clutch field goal in Super Bowl history (see: future slide), Adam Vinatieri did it again in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

    It wasn't quite as dramatic—it was his only field goal of the game, and he left four seconds on the clock, after all—but Vinatieri added to his legacy by kicking a game-winning, 41-yarder as the Patriots won their second Super Bowl of the decade, defeating the Carolina Panthers, 32-29.

Chuck Howley, Dallas Cowboys—Super Bowl V

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    The Colts and Cowboys were locked in an epic race to the bottom during Super Bowl V. The teams combined for a record-11 turnovers in what became known as the "Blunder Bowl."

    Perhaps there was no more clutch player in the game than MVP Chuck Howley, despite his team's losing effort. Howley intercepted two passes while keeping the Cowboys in it. Too bad they couldn't cash in as the Colts prevailed 16-13.

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers—Super Bowl XLIV

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    Aaron Rodgers was so hot heading into Super Bowl XLV that it's surprising Alicia Keys didn't write a song about him being on fire.

    Facing a tough Steelers defense didn't faze him one bit. Brett Favre's successor succeeded in stepping out from the veteran's shadow, slicing up the tough Steelers defense en route to a 31-25 victory.

Max McGee, Green Bay Packers—Super Bowl I

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    Max McGee holds the distinction of being the first player to score a touchdown in Super Bowl history. That he did it after expecting to ride the pine all day, however, makes the accomplishment phenomenal.

    The first scoring play in Super Bowl history could have been disastrous for the Packers and Bart Starr. The star quarterback threw the pass well behind McGee, who reached back and snagged it with one hand before racing down the middle of the field for the score.

    Willie Mitchell was in a great position to intercept the errant pass had McGee been unable to snatch it with his right hand. It was an excellent play by the 34-year-old receiver, who went on to catch seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals—Super Bowl XLIII

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    The Cardinals were supposed to have no shot at winning Super Bowl XLIII. They had barely made the playoffs, and, despite sweeping through the NFC with some offensive fireworks, they were going up against the battle-tested and stout Pittsburgh defense.

    It was no wonder they were seven-point underdogs heading into the championship game.

    Kurt Warner would have none of it. Despite throwing a game-altering pick six just before halftime, Warner led the Cardinals to a late lead before they eventually fell 27-23.

Jake Scott, Miami Dolphins—Super Bowl VII

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    The perfect season might have had an imperfect ending had Jake Scott not been on that Dolphins defense.

    Scott was named the MVP after picking off two Redskins passes, one in the end zone, in the 14-7 victory. Had Washington scored there, it might have gone on to tie the game.

    Instead, the 14-0 lead was preserved when Scott stepped in front of a Billy Kilmer pass and returned it 55 yards.

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers—Super Bowl XLIII

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    It fell to Ben Roethlisberger to bring the Steelers back when the Cardinals took a late lead in Super Bowl XLIII, and he delivered.

    The big quarterback marched Pittsburgh down the field and threw the game-winning touchdown with a perfectly placed ball to Holmes in the corner as the Steelers prevailed 27-23.

Ottis Anderson, New York Giants—Super Bowl XXV

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    Phil Simms was injured, leaving Jeff Hostetler to start against the high-powered Bills. Naturally, the Giants were underdogs.

    While New York's defense should get much of the credit for stopping Buffalo's no-huddle attack, it was Ottis Anderson who kept the pressure off Hostetler and paced an offense trying to control the clock as the Giants prevailed 20-19..

Mike Jones, St. Louis Rams—Super Bowl XXXIV

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    He might only be known for one play, but "The Tackle" was one of the most clutch moments in Super Bowl history.

    The Rams had just taken a late lead against the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV before Steve McNair led his offense down the field in the waning moments of the game. Tennessee had a brilliant play call that nearly worked. The Titans lined up Kevin Dyson behind Steve Wycheck on the right side, loading up in an attempt to get Rams linebacker Mike Jones to cover the wrong guy.

    It nearly worked as Jones trailed Wycheck into the end zone. Had he decided not to glance back at Dyson, who was running a slant with a free release, the Titans would have waltzed into the end zone.

    Instead, Jones peeled off and made the game-saving tackle at the 1-yard line as Dyson stretched for the goal line to preserve a 23-16 victory. The iconic play lives on as one of the best in Super Bowl history.

Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh Steelers—Super Bowl XLIII

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    Santonio Holmes came up huge for Pittsburgh, catching nine passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. It was that touchdown catch that made his performance special.

    The Steelers were in a dogfight with the underdog Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. Down 23-20 late in the game, Ben Roethlisberger drove them down the field. Holmes was pivotal on the drive, catching several passes, including a 40-yarder that got them down to the 6-yard line.

    Two players after that, Roethlisberger would find Holmes in the corner of the end zone, where he made a toe-tapping catch for the game-winning touchdown before falling out of bounds.

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals—Super Bowl XLIII

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    Kurt Warner brought the Cardinals to the brink of unexpected glory in Super Bowl XLIII, and Larry Fitzgerald was his navigator.

    He caught two touchdown passes, including a 64-yard strike that put the Cardinals ahead in the fourth quarter. Too bad his defense couldn't hold the lead.

Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers—Super Bowl XIV

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    The Steelers were a 10.5-point favorite heading into Super Bowl XIV, but you wouldn't know it at halftime.

    Pittsburgh trailed a Rams team that was supposed to roll over by a score of 13-10. The Rams led 19-17 heading into the fourth quarter before Terry Bradshaw and John Stallworth happened.

    Bradshaw wound up leading the first fourth-quarter comeback in Super Bowl history, driving the Steelers to 14 unanswered points while the Steel Curtain finally closed on the Rams.

Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams—Super Bowl XXXIV

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    Kurt Warner's sudden and surprising rise to greatness was capped with a Super Bowl victory, and his heroics had everything to do with it.

    The Rams let a 16-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter as the Titans tied it up with 2:12 left in the game.

    He only needed 24 seconds to retake the lead. Warner found Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown strike that would be the difference in a 23-16 victory. The rest was up to Mike Jones and that Rams defense.

Dan Bunz, San Francisco 49ers—Super Bowl XVI

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    Dan Bunz does not immediately come to mind when discussing Super Bowl greats, but he was a key part of the greatest goal-line stand in Super Bowl history.

    The 49ers got out to a 20-0 halftime lead on the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI but the second half nearly belonged to Cincinnati.

    After giving up Cincinnati's first touchdown, San Francisco couldn't move the ball in the third quarter, and the Bengals were knocking on the door for their second touchdown. 

    On third down, Bunz was isolated in coverage against running back Stephen Alexander, who leaked out on a play-action pass. The 49ers linebacker tackled him short of the goal line, preserving the 20-7 lead. On the subsequent fourth down play, Bunz was in on the tackle as the Bengals tried to punch it in.

    The 49ers would wind up letting the Bengals score on their next drive, but Bunz had keyed a goal-line stand that stemmed the tide in San Francisco's 26-21 win.

Adam Vinatieri, New England Patriots—Super Bowl XXXVI

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    New England's rise to prominence may not have happened without the clutch leg of Adam Vinatieri.

    Most people remember the AFC Championship Game for the infamous "Tuck Rule" play, but it was Vinatieri who kept New England's Super Bowl hopes alive with three big field goals in the snow.

    He hit an even bigger field goal in the Super Bowl, winning the game on a 48-yarder as time expired. It was the first time a Super Bowl was decided on the game's final play, and Vinatieri was just getting started.

Lynn Swann, Super Bowl X

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    Fred Biletnikoff may have won the first Super Bowl MVP award at wide receiver, but Lynn Swann might have been the first deserving recipient of the award at that position.

    Swann was practically the entire Pittsburgh offense, accounting for 161 of Terry Bradshaw's 209 passing yards.

    Those yards included an incredible leaping catch known as the Swann Dive and a 64-yard bomb that gave Pittsburgh a 21-10 lead in what became a 21-17 win over the Cowboys.

Franco Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers—Super Bowl IX

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    It was the Steel Curtain versus the Purple People Eaters in Super Bowl IX, but it was Franco Harris who chewed up the Vikings' defense.

    Harris was the difference in a 16-6 slugfest, toting the ball 34 times for 158 yards and the only touchdown Pittsburgh needed. It was a gutsy, clutch performance for the Steelers' fullback.

John Elway, Denver Broncos—Super Bowl XXXII

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    John Elway wasn't exactly known for clutch performances in his previous Super Bowl appearances, but he redeemed himself against the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.

    Terrell Davis did much of the legwork, but Elway had the signature play of the game and of his career.

    With the score tied at 17-17 and the Broncos facing a third down at Green Bay's 12-yard line, Elway scrambled eight yards for a first down. He was hit as he dove, putting him into a spin.

    The "Helicopter," as the play is called, was not a scoring play, but it remains etched in Super Bowl lore as one of the game's more clutch and memorable moments.

Larry Brown, Dallas Cowboys—Super Bowl XXX

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    Unlike their previous two Super Bowls against the overmatched Bills, the Cowboys looked like they would have a real fight on their hands in Super Bowl XXX.

    Pittsburgh starter Neil O'Donnell was simply not up to the task, however.

    O'Donnell threw three interceptions, two to game MVP Larry Brown. The Cowboys cornerback put Dallas in easy scoring range with both interceptions as the Cowboys prevailed 27-17.

Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers—Super Bowl X

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    Lynn Swann won the MVP award in Super Bowl X on the wings of his Swann dive and a 64-yard touchdown reception, but Terry Bradshaw's performance should not be forgotten.

    That touchdown catch came on one of the grittiest plays in Super Bowl history. Bradshaw took a seven-step drop from the 36-yard line and faced a heavy rush from the Cowboys' defense.

    He avoided a sack by moving up in the pocket, reared back and fired a perfect strike that traveled about 64 yards in the air for the difference-making touchdown.

    It was a gritty play because he threw that pass a microsecond or so before getting hammered by Dallas linebacker Larry Cole and knocked out of the game.

Eli Manning, New York Giants—Super Bowl XLII

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    The Patriots and Giants were locked in a low-scoring, see-saw affair that nobody saw coming. After all, New England was perfect on the season, and the Patriots featured a high-octane offense. They were 12-point favorites.

    Despite New York's stout defense, the Giants found themselves down 14-10 with a little more than two minutes to play.

    No matter, Eli Manning has a clutch gene, or so a certain debate show host might say.

    Manning drove the Giants down the field and threw the game-winning touchdown pass, but it was his underrated role in the "Helmet Catch" that may have been the difference.

    The Giants' quarterback took a third down snap and found himself in immediate trouble. He somehow escaped Richard Seymour's grasp and scrambled out of the pocket, finding David Tyree down the field.

    Manning continued the march to score the game-winning touchdown, creating a legacy as one of the most clutch performers in Super Bowl history.

John Riggins, Washington Redskins—Super Bowl XVII

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    Despite being forced into early retirement just two years before Super Bowl XVII, John Riggins was a force during the 1982 playoffs. He extended that into the Super Bowl, where he rushed for 166 yards and a touchdown.

    His clutch moment came in the fourth quarter, when he squared up and ran over Don McNeal of the Dolphins en route to a 43-yard touchdown on a fourth down play that put the Redskins up for good in a 27-17 victory.

David Tyree, New York Giants—Super Bowl XLII

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    The Patriots were trying to make history, and they only had the 12-point underdog Giants in the way. Unfortunately for them, that included David Tyree.

    The unknown receiver caught New York's first touchdown of the game, giving the Giants a 10-7 lead that stood up for much of the second half. 

    New England took a 14-10 lead with 2:42 left in the game. The Giants were facing a third down at their 44-yard line when Tyree turned on the magic.

    Manning escaped certain doom in the pocket and launched a pass downfield to Tyree, who jumped up to make the most iconic catch in Super Bowl history.

    Tyree pinned the ball against his helmet and somehow hung on despite Rodney Harrison's dogged attempts to dislodge it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Joe Namath, New York Jets—Super Bowl III

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    The Super Bowl originated as a game between the championship teams from the NFL and AFL, only the AFL was the NFL's red-headed stepchild. Joe Namath raised eyebrows and likely a few chuckles when he guaranteed a Jets victory in Super Bowl III.

    But he got the last laugh after beating legendary Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts. Namath threw for 208 yards without a score, but this was perhaps the most clutch victory backing up a victory guarantee.

Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers—Super Bowl XXIII

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    Joe Montana is Mr. Clutch when it comes to the playoffs, but there was no better example of this than his finish in Super Bowl XXIII.

    The 49ers were locked in another tight battle with the Bengals for NFL supremacy, and San Francisco's firepower had failed it for much of the game.

    Cincinnati took a late 16-13 lead, leaving Joe Montana 3:10 and 92 yards to go for a game-winning touchdown.

    The Bengals may as well have given Montana the ball at the goal line. He rattled off completion after completion, capping the comeback 20-16 victory with a 10-yard scoring pass to John Taylor.

     

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