The 10 Most Unlikely Super Bowl Saviors of All Time

Geoff Ratliff@@geoffratliffContributor IIIJanuary 24, 2013

The 10 Most Unlikely Super Bowl Saviors of All Time

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    The Super Bowl is one of the few championship games in sports that lives up to the hype more often than not.

    While fans expect the biggest stars to come out on the most high profile stage in sports and shine brightest, sometimes it's the lesser-known contributors that make the difference.

    While those key cogs are not always recognized as the game’s most valuable player, they do make a memorable play or two that impacts the outcome of the game. 

    Quarterbacks and running backs often get the glory when their team emerges from the Super Bowl victorious. But as this list shows, the biggest names don't always hog all the spotlight on the NFL’s biggest stage. 

10. Larry Brown, Super Bowl XXX

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    Dallas Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown may have walked away with the MVP trophy for his two-interception performance in Super Bowl XXX, but he owes a big assist to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell.

    Anyone who remembers the game knows that O'Donnell had no business throwing either of those errant passes. O'Donnell's overall performance that day was pretty awful, as his three total interceptions never gave the Steelers a realistic chance to beat the Cowboys.

    Nonetheless, credit Brown for taking advantage of those poor throws. 

9. Dexter Jackson, Super Bowl XXXVII

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Dexter Jackson won the MVP trophy after picking off two passes throw by Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon in Super Bowl XXXVII. However, if you believe Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, Jackson owes a lot of the credit to then Oakland Raiders head coach Bill Callahan.

    In a hotly debated story that ran in Tuesday's edition of USA Today, Brown accused Callahan of "sabotaging" Oakland's chances of winning by changing the game plan to a pass-happy attack just 36 hours before kickoff. Brown's statements were later backed by Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice.

    While Callahan has vehemently denied the claims to the point of demanding that they be retracted, everyone can agree that changing your team's gameplan less than two days before the biggest game of your career is a bad idea.

    Whether it was sabotage or stupidity, don't expect Jackson to return that MVP trophy any time soon.

8. Desmond Howard, Super Bowl XXXI

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    Desmond Howard's NFL career was not as spectacular as his Heisman Trophy-winning career at the University of Michigan. But for one day, in Super Bowl XXXI, he was the best player in the league.

    Howard took NFL fans down memory lane with a Super Bowl-record 244 total return yards. That included a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown that proved to be the final scoring play in Green Bay's 35-21 victory over the New England Patriots.

    The Packers' return specialist was named the Most Valuable Player for his efforts in helping Brett Favre win his only Super Bowl title.

7. Mike Jones, Super Bowl XXXIV

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    Linebacker Mike Jones was a key member of the St. Louis Rams defense during the "Greatest Show on Turf" era, but his career is best remembered by a touchdown-saving tackle he made in Super Bowl XXXIV.

    The Tennessee Titans appeared to be driving in for the game-tying touchdown, but Jones would have none of that.

    On the game's final play, he wrapped up Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson a yard short of the end zone, creating one of the most memorable images in Super Bowl history.

6. Tom Brady, Super Bowl XXXVI

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    Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's MVP efforts would have all been for naught had Adam Vinatieri not ended the game with a 48-yard field goal to secure a 20-17 victory. However, this win officially began the legend of Tom Terrific.  

    New England's upset of the St. Louis Rams is one of the biggest in Super Bowl history—the Patriots came into the game as 13.5-point underdogs—largely thanks to the performance of the then-unheralded, second-year QB.

    Brady's overall numbers from Super Bowl XXXVI were far from spectacular (16-of-27 for 145 yards and one touchdown). But with no timeouts remaining, he led the Patriots on the final drive that put Vinatieri in position to make the type of clutch kick that he had already proved himself capable of making.

5. Timmy Smith, Super Bowl XXII

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    Timmy Smith is yet another non-MVP who stole the show on Super Bowl Sunday.

    Then just a rookie running back, Smith exploded for a Super Bowl-record 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns in helping the Washington Redskins defeat John Elway and the Denver Broncos, 42-10, back in 1988.

    So how did that record-breaking performance not earn Smith MVP honors that day? More on that later. 

4. "Broadway" Joe Namath, Super Bowl III

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    Quarterback Joe Namath was far from an unknown player during his heyday. But when he led the New York Jets to a stunning 16-7 upset of the Baltimore Colts, he definitely delivered on an unlikely guarantee.

    Before the first NFL championship game was officially called the "Super Bowl," many NFL experts still questioned whether teams from the former AFL could compete against NFL teams.

    Namath and the Jets obviously proved the pundits wrong.

    Aside from the brash pregame guarantee, Namath's MVP nod was a bit unusual in that he did not throw a touchdown pass during the game. Nevertheless, the legend of "Broadway Joe" was officially born on that day, elevating him to a celebrity status that he still enjoys today.

3. New York Giants Defensive Line, Super Bowl XLVI

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    I really wanted to give this spot to Tom Brady and Wes Welker because of their roles in the most decisive play of Super Bowl XLVI.

    However, I would be remiss if I didn't recognize the efforts of Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and the rest of New York's defensive line in making Brady look uncomfortable in the pocket all day long. 

    People can't seem to agree on whether or not Welker dropped the pass that would have sealed a Patriots victory or whether it was a poorly thrown ball by Brady. It was probably a little bit of both, but the Giants deserve props for not making it easy on the Patriots in crunch time.

    Eli Manning may have walked away with his second Super Bowl MVP award for orchestrating the game-winning drive, but that drive would not have been possible if it weren't for the defense holding the Brady bunch to 17 points.

2. Doug Williams, Super Bowl XXII

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    So, how is it again that Timmy Smith's 204-yard, two-touchdown outburst failed to net him MVP honors after Super Bowl XXII?

    Well, because quarterback Doug Williams upstaged his rookie running back with a 340-yard, four-touchdown performance of his own, leading the Washington Redskins to a 42-10 dismantling of the Denver Broncos.

    Williams became the first black quarterback to start, let alone win a Super Bowl in 1988. However, he was an even more unlikely hero because he was not Washington's starting quarterback (he took over for Jay Schroeder) when the season began. He was promoted to starter midway through the season before leading the Redskins on a championship run.

    If that story sounds familiar, it should. Colin Kaepernick is seeking to duplicate Williams' rise to stardom by also taking over as his team's starter midseason and leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory. 

1. David Tyree, Super Bowl XLII

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    I promise I am not intentionally trying to anger Patriots fans, but no list of unlikely Super Bowl heroes would be complete without wide receiver David Tyree's infamous helmet catch. The 32-yard, fourth-quarter play kept the Giants' game-winning drive alive, allowing New York to end New England's bid for a perfect 19-0 season.

    Tyree was not one of New York's top receivers that year and was certainly not the primary target on that play. Quarterback Eli Manning was forced to heave the ball in his direction after miraculously avoiding a sack, and Tyree managed to secure the ball against his helmet between two Patriots defenders.

    Making Tyree's game-saving play even more astounding is the fact that he was out of the NFL a mere two years later. He never did anything of note on the field before or after that incredible play.