The Best Super Bowl Performance from Each Position in NFL History
These kinds of pieces make writing fun when it comes to the NFL.
Here’s a look at the best Super Bowl performance from each position in this game’s glorious 47-year history.
While some of the answers may be obvious since they resulted in MVP awards, we all know what happens when you assume.
In other words, forget the numbers and the honors. In many of these instances, we simply gave it the ET...as in eye test.
Besides our choices, we also take some time to mention some other great games from other players at each position.
Sit back and enjoy another fun stroll back in time. Don’t forget to share your own memories as well.
Quarterback: Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers (Super Bowl XIX)
When you are a three-time Super Bowl MVP, it’s almost splitting hairs when it comes to naming your best performance in the Big Game.
There are plenty of cases to be made for other quarterbacks here. But the nod goes to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and his sensational performance in his team’s 38-16 rout of the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. That afternoon in Palo Alto, California, the future Hall of Famer proved he could beat a defense in many ways.
The Niners field general completed 24 of 35 passes for 331 yards and three scores. He also added 59 yards rushing and a touchdown as Bill Walsh’s club rolled up 537 yards of total offense. It was a fitting finish for the team, which had gone 15-1 during the regular season en route to the franchise’s second Super Bowl title.
Yes, there’s plenty to choose from in this category. In 47 Super Bowls, the quarterback has been named MVP 26 times.
49ers quarterback Steve Young threw six touchdown passes to beat the San Diego Chargers (XXIX), and Montana threw for five to beat the Denver Broncos 24 years ago (XXIV).
Elsewhere, New York Giants signal-caller Phil Simms hit on 88 percent of his throws (22-of-25) when his team beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, 39-20. And Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams threw four touchdown passes in the second quarter of Super Bowl XXII in drubbing the Broncos, 42-10.
Who could forget Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams holding on for a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV at the Georgia Dome? Warner threw for a pair of touchdowns and a total of 414 yards, which remains a Super Bowl record.
Still, we will take Montana in his second Super Bowl appearance. When it comes to these other performances, though, there are no losers here.
Running Back: John Riggins, Washington Redskins (Super Bowl XVII)
Here is a number to contemplate: The 47 Super Bowl champions have combined to average basically 36 rushing attempts per game.
John Riggins topped that.
In the Washington Redskins’ exciting 27-17 win over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII, the Pro Football Hall of Fame running back set a Super Bowl record with 38 carries. Those attempts amounted to 166 yards rushing and a stirring 43-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Joe Gibbs’ team trailed Miami most of the afternoon before Riggins turned 4th-and-1 into six points, breaking the tackle of Dolphins defensive back Don McNeal on his way to the end zone.
There are plenty of other candidates, since a player has rushed for 100 or more yards in a Super Bowl on 20 occasions.
You could make a case that Los Angeles Raiders running back Marcus Allen’s 74-yard touchdown jaunt in Super Bowl XVIII is perhaps the greatest run in Super Bowl history. He finished with 191 yards and a pair of scores in the team’s 38-9 victory over the Redskins.
Speaking of Washington (again), Timmy Smith owns the record for most rushing yards in a Super Bowl. The one-hit wonder ran for 204 yards and two touchdowns in the ‘Skins 42-10 win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII.
Pro Football Hall of Famers Larry Csonka (Dolphins) and Franco Harris (Pittsburgh Steelers) came up big in Super Bowls VIII (145 yards) and IX (158 yards), respectively. And who could forget Broncos running back Terrell Davis and his 157-yard, three-touchdown performance in Denver’s 31-24 upset of the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII?
Wide Receiver: Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers (Super Bowl XXIV)
We could argue that the Super Bowls are filled with more memorable receptions than great receiving performances.
No player has more career catches (33), receiving yards (589) and touchdown catches (eight) in Super Bowl history than Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. He compiled those numbers in four games with the San Francisco 49ers (three) and Oakland Raiders (one).
He was the game’s MVP in Super Bowl XXIII when he totaled 11 catches for 215 yards and a score in the team’s 20-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. However, a more dominating performance by Rice gets the nod here.
The 49ers rolled to a 55-10 win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV at the Louisiana Superdome. While quarterback Joe Montana was voted MVP that afternoon and with good reason, Rice appeared unstoppable. He totaled seven catches for 148 yards, piercing the Denver secondary for touchdown receptions of 20, 38 and 28 yards.
Other worthy candidates include Washington Redskins wideout Ricky Sanders in Super Bowl XXII (nine receptions for 193 yards and two touchdowns) and Green Bay Packers wide receiver Max McGee (seven catches for 138 yards and two scores) in Super Bowl I. And both Swann (Super Bowl X) and Holmes (XLIII) had big games to go along with their aforementioned unforgettable grabs.
Tight End: Dan Ross, Cincinnati Bengals (Super Bowl XVI)
It’s interesting to note that a tight end has never been named the game’s MVP in 47 Super Bowls.
It’s also worth noting that there have been 38 100-yard receiving performances in Super Bowl history, and only two of those came from the tight ends.
The second came last February when San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis hauled in six passes for 104 yards in the team’s 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
The other came 31 years earlier in the first Super Bowl played in the northern states, and it also happened in a losing effort. Cincinnati Bengals tight end Dan Ross caught 11 passes for 104 yards and a pair of scores in the club’s 26-21 loss to the 49ers in Super Bowl XVI in the Pontiac Silverdome.
The 11 receptions set a Super Bowl record that has since been tied three times, the last time by New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker in his team’s 17-14 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
Could we see some Super Bowl history when the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos clash in Super Bowl XLVIII? There’s certainly promise when you’re talking about Broncos tight end Julius Thomas.
Offensive Lineman: T Art Shell, Oakland Raiders (Super Bowl XI)
Face it. No team wins a championship in the National Football League without those men up front.
The cohesiveness of an offensive line is the key to success in this game. So picking out just one performance by one offensive lineman in the history of the Super Bowl is not only difficult but in some ways unfair.
Still, we have a job to do, and the nod here goes to Oakland Raiders left tackle Art Shell, who spent Super Bowl XI at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena lined up opposite Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall.
The Hall of Fame blocker and his teammates helped the Silver and Black roll up 266 yards rushing in a 32-14 win. If you are looking for Marshall’s stat line from that game, good luck. The standout defensive end failed to record a tackle in the contest, thanks namely to Shell.
Meanwhile, we'll take some time to point out a few other units that excelled on this big stage. Running back Ottis Anderson was the MVP of the New York Giants' 20-19 win over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. But here’s a shout out to left tackle John Elliott, left guard William Roberts, center Bart Oates, right guard Eric Moore and right tackle Doug Riesenberg for their performances.
The Miami Dolphins totaled 196 yards rushing in their team’s 24-7 win over the Vikings in Super Bowl VIII. Don Shula’s blockers kept the “Purple People Eaters” in check at Rice Stadium.
Finally, the “hogs” and “counter trey” became temporary fixtures in NFL vocabulary after watching the Washington Redskins ring up 276 and 280 yards rushing, respectively, in the team’s league championship wins over the Dolphins (XVII) and Denver Broncos (XXII).
Defensive Lineman: DT Manny Fernandez, Miami Dolphins (Super Bowl VII)
For lovers of sports trivia, two defensive linemen own the Super Bowl record for most sacks in a game.
Green Bay Packers defensive end Reggie White (XXXI) and Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (XLIII) each totaled three sacks in their respective Super Bowls. Neither White nor Dockett was named the game’s MVP, and Dockett’s performance came in a losing effort.
Twice, the defensive line has been accorded Super Bowl MVP honors. The Dallas Cowboys' defensive tackle Randy White and defensive end Harvey Martin were co-MVPs in the team’s 27-10 manhandling of the Denver Broncos offense in Super Bowl XII.
Eight years later (XX), Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent was the star of the team’s 46-10 win over the Chicago Bears at the Superdome.
Still, the choice here is a near-perfect performance for the perfect Miami Dolphins. Defensive tackle Manny Fernandez put on a show at the Los Angeles Coliseum for Don Shula’s team at the expense of the Washington Redskins.
George Allen’s club featured running back Larry Brown, the league’s MVP in 1972. But the Miami defense limited him to 72 yards rushing on 22 carries, and the Washington offense never found the end zone.
Fernandez was on point, totaling a game-high 10 tackles, including six solo stops and a sack of Redskins quarterback Billy Kilmer.
Linebacker: MLB Jack Lambert, Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl XIV)
Linebackers have given some amazing performances on this stage. That makes it even more surprising that this position has resulted in only two MVP awards in 47 years.
One of those came in a losing effort, as Dallas Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley came up with individual honors despite his team’s 16-13 loss to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V.
A mere 30 years later, Ray Lewis was the MVP of the Baltimore Ravens' 34-7 victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
Pittsburgh Steelers middle linebacker Jack Lambert was at his best when his team seemingly was not against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw was the game’s MVP despite throwing three interceptions (and two touchdown passes). But the fiery Hall of Famer Lambert came up huge at the Rose Bowl, totaling 14 tackles and a fourth-quarter interception that wiped out any plans from Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo and his upset-minded team.
One year later, Oakland Raiders linebacker Rod Martin picked off Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski three times in his team’s 27-10 win in Super Bowl XV.
We have also seen linebackers come up with some of the biggest and crucial plays in Super Bowl history. Who could forget Mike Jones' game-clinching tackle in Super Bowl XXXIV and James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII?
Perhaps the most overlooked performance came via New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel in his club’s win in Super Bowl XXXVIII. He totaled six tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and a one-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Tom Brady in the club’s 32-29 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Cornerback: Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes, Los Angeles Raiders (Super Bowl XVIII)
Amazingly, only once has a cornerback been named the MVP of a Super Bowl.
That would be Dallas Cowboys defender Larry Brown, who picked off a pair of passes from Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell in his team’s 27-17 victory in Super Bowl XXX. The former 12th-round draft choice was in the right place at the right time, and his story is worth reading about.
Los Angeles Raiders cornerbacks Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes put on a show in Tampa against the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. The talented duo had the unenviable task of dealing with the likes of wide receivers Art Monk and Charlie Brown and a team that had scored an NFL-record 541 points during the regular season, as well as an additional 75 points in two playoff wins.
It all added up to Raiders 38, Redskins 9. Monk (one catch for 26 yards) and Brown (three receptions for 93 yards) combined for four grabs for 119 yards, and the Washington offense scored one touchdown.
Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann completed only 16 of 35 passes and threw two interceptions, one to Haynes. And Joe Gibbs’ defending Super Bowl champions were unceremoniously dethroned that Sunday.
Safety: FS James Washington, Dallas Cowboys (Super Bowl XXVIII)
Only two safeties have been fortunate enough to be named the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player.
Some think that the voters got it wrong when Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Dexter Jackson was named Super Bowl XXXVII MVP in place of teammate Dwight Smith. The pair each intercepted two Rich Gannon passes, but the latter returned both thefts for scores.
Just over 40 years ago, Miami Dolphins safety Jake Scott totaled two tackles and two interceptions in his team’s 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII, securing the Dolphins’ perfect season.
Despite those heroics, it’s hard to imagine a more productive performance at the position than the one turned in by Dallas Cowboys free safety James Washington in Super Bowl XXVIII. Teammate Emmitt Smith ran for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the team’s 30-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
However, ponder Washington’s numbers at the Georgia Dome that afternoon. He totaled 11 tackles and one interception, forced one fumble and returned another 46 yards for a score as the Cowboys won their second straight NFL championship.
Special Teams: KR Desmond Howard, Green Bay Packers (Super Bowl XXXI)
Here is a somewhat interesting fact.
There have been nine kickoff returns for touchdowns in the 47-year history of the Super Bowl, but six of them have coming in losing efforts.
Here’s to the winners. Last February, we saw Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones take back the second-half kickoff 108 yards for a score (the longest play in Super Bowl history) in the team’s 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers. A dozen years earlier, Jermaine Lewis of the Ravens took back a kickoff 84 yards for a score in the club’s 34-7 win over the New York Giants (XXXV).
But the first time was the charm. Green Bay Packers wide receiver Desmond Howard is the only special-teams player named Super Bowl MVP to date. Late in the third quarter, the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner took back a New England Patriots kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. He rolled up 244 yards on punt and kickoff returns in the Packers’ 35-21 win in Super Bowl XXXI.
For the record, there’s never been a punt returned for a touchdown in a Super Bowl. San Francisco 49ers wide receiver John Taylor took one back 45 yards for the longest punt return in Super Bowl history.
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