The Top Ten Super Bowl Duos of All Time
Individuals don't win Super Bowls.
Teams win Super Bowls.
Football is the ultimate team sport: No QB succeeds without blockers, neither does any rusher. No offense breaks through without some help from their defense. No wide receiver looks great without someone getting the ball to him.
Mistakes, even the tiniest ones, are magnified when teams get to the biggest stage.
Here are the top duos ever to shine when the brightest lights were on them.
10. Joe Theismann and John Riggins (QB/RB Washington Redskins)
Super Bowl XVII (143 passing/166 rushing/15 receiving/3 total TDs): W
Super Bowl XVIII (243 passing/64 rushing/1 receiving/3 total TDs): L
When fans today think about Theismann and Riggins, the former is remembered for a broken leg and the latter not much at all.
A shame really. Theismann entered the NFL from the CFL, telling the Redskins he would be their kick returner if needed. Riggins was one of the best rushers of the 80's and was as exciting as he was dependable.
The duo got to two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XVII.
The play of that day was a fourth-and-one call in a close game. Theismann handed off to Riggins who could get a yard in his sleep. Riggins proceeded to scamper for a 43-yard touchdown.
Theismann would pass for one more to seal the victory for the Redskins.
9. Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman (QB/WR Green Bay Packers)
Super Bowl XXXI (246 passing/105 receiving/2 total TDs): W
Super Bowl XXXII (256 passing/126 receiving/3 total TDs): L
Not many words are so ingrained in modern football speak. Favre to Chumura, Favre to Sharpe, Favre to Driver, Favre to Jennings...
None more important than Favre to Freeman.
In both Super Bowls, Favre to Freeman was the connection for the biggest play from scrimmage.
In Super Bowl XXXII, Freeman caught a 27 yard pass and a 22-yard touchdown. In Super Bowl XXXI, Freeman had a 81-yard catch.
Freeman retired in 2004, and Favre never had another Super Bowl partner like him.
8. John Elway and Terrell Davis (QB/RB Denver Broncos)
Super Bowl XXXII (126 passing/157 rushing/8 receiving/3 total TDs): W
Super Bowl XXXIII (336 passing/102 rushing/50 receiving/1 total TDs): W
Favre and Freeman lost Super Bowl XXXII because a new duo was springing onto the scene.
It was long clear that John Elway was the man for Denver, but Super Bowl XXXII was won on the ground as Terrell Davis racked up 157 yards an an MVP Trophy.
The next year, it was Elway's turn, torching his former coach as the Broncos beat Dan Reeves and the Atlanta Falcons, 34-19. Elway won his MVP and retired.
If these two had been healthy and able to play a few more years together, odds are they would be much higher on this list.
7. Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas (QB/RB Buffalo Bills)
Super Bowl XXV (212 passing/135 rushing/ 1 total TD): L
Super Bowl XXVI (275 passing/13 rushing 27 receiving/3 total TD): L
Super Bowl XXVII (82 passing/19 rushing/10 receiving/1 total TD): L
Super Bowl XXVIII (260 passing/37 rushing/52 receiving/1 total TD): L
Speaking of duos that could be much higher on this list.
Call this the lifetime achievement award. Call it a consolation prize.
Kelly and Thomas may never have been lights out in their four Super Bowl appearances, but both men had their moments.
In Super Bowl XXV, Thurman Thomas had a 31-yard, fourth quarter TD run that gave the Bills the lead.
The next year, Buffalo came roaring back in the second half before falling short. Kelly and Thomas had three TDs.
For better or for worse, the Super Bowls of the early 90s were defined by these two guys...always good, but never good enough.
6. Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin (QB/WR Dallas Cowboys)
Super Bowl XXVII (273 passing/114 receiving/4 total TDs): W
Super Bowl XXVIII (207 passing/66 receiving): W
Super Bowl XXX (209 passing/76 receiving/1 total TDs): W
By numbers alone, this duo could drop a little.
Winning three Super Bowls together begs a little extra attention.
Against the Buffalo Bills, Michael Irvin was unstoppable. Although he only had 11 catches between the two games, he could have tripled that. In both games, the Cowboys were up by a sizable margin, and Emmitt Smith closed out the game.
Always able to make the big throw and the tough catch, this duo gave Dallas fans a whole lot to cheer about.
5. Tom Brady and Deion Branch (QB/WR New England Patriots)
Super Bowl XXXVIII (354 passing/143 receiving/3 total TDs): W
Super Bowl XXXIX (236 passing/133receiving/2 total TDs): W
Although these two don't share the immediate name recognition of many on this list, the numbers don't lie: Two Super Bowl wins, a Super Bowl MVP for each, nearly 300 yards per game passing, and 135 receiving.
These two were Super Bowl magic during the 2000s, but New England let Branch walk before they could do any more damage.
4. Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith (QB/RB Dallas Cowboys)
Super Bowl XXVII (273 passing/108 rushing/27 receiving/5 total TDs): W
Super Bowl XXVIII (207 passing/132 rushing/26 receiving/2 total TDs): W
Super Bowl XXX (209 passing/49 rushing/3 receiving/3 total TDs): W
Troy Aikman gets the distinction of being one of only two athletes who appears twice on this list.
Emmitt Smith gets the distinction of being that much better than Michael Irvin.
Irvin may have had the flash, the glitz, the glamour...but Emmitt was the horse that pulled the Dallas championship wagon. Behind a behemoth offensive line, Emmitt Smith ran for more career Super Bowl touchdowns than any other man.
3. Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann (QB/WR Pittsburgh Steelers)
Super Bowl IX (96 passing/-7 rushing/1 total TD): W
Super Bowl X (209 passing/161 receiving/2 total TDs): W
Super Bowl XII (318 passing/124 receiving/5 total TDs): W
Super Bowl XIV (309 passing/79 receiving/2 total TDs): W
These two get a pass on Super Bowl IX (against the Minnesota Vikings' Purple People Eaters) only because they were golden in three other Super Bowl victories.
Winning four Super Bowls is good enough, but Swann and Bradshaw made it look good.
They retired holding most of the career Super Bowl passing and receiving records.
2. Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris (QB/RB Pittsburgh Steelers)
Super Bowl IX (96 passing/158 rushing/2 total TDs): W
Super Bowl X (209 passing/82 rushing/26 receiving/2 total TDs): W
Super Bowl XIII (318 passing/68 rushing/22 receiving/ 5 total TDs): W
Super Bowl XIV (309 passing/46 rushing/66 receiving/ 4 total TDs): W
If one person were more integral than Swann or Bradshaw to the Pittsburgh Steelers success, it would be Franco Harris.
Harris still holds the career Super Bowl rushing record, a feat unlikely to be equaled anytime soon. He also showed versatility as a weapon in the passing game as well as on the ground.
Most importantly, he got the tough yardage when it was needed.
1. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice (QB/WR San Francisco 49ers)
Super Bowl XXIII (357 passing/215 receiving/2 total TDs): W
Super Bowl XXIV (297 passing/148 receiving/5 total TDs): W
Much of this duo's status as the top Super Bowl duo is based on the success they had before and after they were together. As history drives on, many of the facts of the past begin to blur.
In all honesty to Pittsburgh fans, this was a close decision.
Although Bradshaw, Aikman, Swann, Harris, and Smith had amazing careers and showed the ability to rack up big numbers in the big game, no duo put up the dominance that Montana and Rice did.
Over 300 yards passing, and 150 yards receiving on average, two Super Bowl wins, and two MVPs.
The real tiebreaker here was not the name recognition but rather the huge game both had in Super Bowl XXIV: Montana threw for five touchdowns, three to Rice, in a huge victory where the two could have further padded stats.
Just Missed the List
Kurt Warner deserves special mention because he easily could have made this list three times over. In this metric, he simply spread the ball around too effectively. Still, Warner retires as one of the great Super Bowl QBs.
Many of these honorable mentions are superb one-time performances by a great Super Bowl duo.
Steve Young and Jerry Rice: Super Bowl XXXVII
Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk: Super Bowl XIV/XVI
Kurt Warner and Issac Bruce: Super Bowl XIV/XVI
Kurt Warner and Torry Holt: Super Bowl XIV/XVI
Doug Williams and Timmy Smith: Super Bowl XXII
Jim Plunkett and Cliff Branch: Super Bowl XV/XVIII
John Elway and Rod Smith: Super Bowl XXXIII
Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald: Super Bowl XLI
Michael Schottey is a Detroit Lions Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and the producer and host of The Average Joe Sports Show on 860AM KNUJ (New Ulm, MN). He is also an NFL Analyst and Senior Writer for DraftTek.com. Follow Him on Twitter.com/Schottey