The 25 Best Individual Performances in Super Bowl History

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IJanuary 30, 2015

The 25 Best Individual Performances in Super Bowl History

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    Quarterback Doug Williams and running back Timmy Smith were among many Washington Redskins who enjoyed Super Bowl XXII.
    Quarterback Doug Williams and running back Timmy Smith were among many Washington Redskins who enjoyed Super Bowl XXII.Mike Powell/Getty Images

    In advance of Super Bowl XLIX, we recently power-ranked all 48 Super Bowl MVPs. It was a lot of fun and, not surprisingly, sparked a lot of conversation among NFL fans.

    Now we take a look at the 25 top performances by a player in Super Bowl history.

    Keep in mind that there is a difference between a game’s most valuable player and a great individual performance. They can certainly be one in the same. But you will notice that there are some instances where two or three performers from the same team enjoyed a great game on Super Sunday.

    So how did we narrow down literally thousands of showings by talented players over the course of 48 years to a list of 25? From record-setting numbers to individual greatness, the focus here is on the overall play of the performer for the entire game, not just a single moment. You will notice that all have of these performances have come in winning efforts, hence each player’s impact was significant on his team’s success.

    Of course, we do not expect everyone to agree with our choices. That's inevitable when narrowing down 48 years of performances.  

25. OLB Mike Jones, St. Louis Rams (Super Bowl XXXIV)

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    MICHAEL CONROY/Associated Press

    Super Bowl XXXIV: St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16

    St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner capped off a Cinderella season by throwing for a Super Bowl-record 414 yards and two touchdowns in his team's 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

    But if outside linebacker Mike Jones hadn't come along late in the game, the magic of 1999 may have gone by the wayside. On the final play of the game, Jones tackled Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson on the 1-yard line after he caught a pass from quarterback Steve McNair, who had helped Tennessee rally from a 16-0 deficit to get back into the game.

    What sometimes goes unnoticed is that Jones' game-saving stop was his ninth tackle of the game. The former undrafted free agent discussed it in detail with Fox Sports' Mike Hill and called the memorable moment "just another play."

24. WR Max McGee, Green Bay Packers (Super Bowl I)

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    Super Bowl I: Green Bay Packers 35, Kansas City Chiefs 10

    In 12 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Max McGee totaled 345 catches for 6,346 yards and 50 touchdowns.

    But the veteran wide receiver was virtually a non-factor in his final three seasons with the club. In 1966, he managed only four receptions in a dozen games.

    Forced into Super Bowl I after starting wideout Boyd Dowler was injured, McGee came up big when it counted most. The Packers pass-catcher made seven receptions for 138 yards and two scores (including the first touchdown in Super Bowl history) as Vince Lombardi's defending NFL champions broke open a close game at halftime (14-10) with 21 second-half points.

    It’s safe to say the Packers got the "max" from McGee on this Super Sunday.

23. WR/KR Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks (Super Bowl XLVIII)

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    Super Bowl XLVIII: Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8

    Percy Harvin, the Seattle Seahawks barely knew ya.

    Obtained in a trade from the Minnesota Vikings in 2013, the versatile big-play threat played in one regular-season game that season due to a hip injury. He would come back to play in the NFC Divisional Round but was injured again in the team's win over the New Orleans Saints.

    Harvin would be available for Super Bowl XLVIII against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium.

    Would he ever…

    Make no mistake. Harvin only touched the football four times, but it added up to 137 yards and a score in the lopsided win. The speedy triple threat ran twice for 45 yards, caught a five-yard pass and returned the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown.

22. CB Mike Haynes, Los Angeles Raiders (Super Bowl XVIII)

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    Lennox McLendon/Associated Press

    Super Bowl XVIII: Los Angeles Raiders 38, Washington Redskins 9

    As the wondrous voice of John Facenda states so eloquently via NFL Films, "On came Marcus Allen…running with the night."

    The future Hall of Famer rushed for 191 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Los Angeles Raiders' 38-9 demolition of the Washington Raiders. There will be more on Allen later.

    It was another "resident" of Canton that came up big in this game. Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes (as well as fellow corner Lester Hayes) did a number on a Washington team that had set an NFL record by scoring 541 points during the regular season. Haynes and Hayes shut down the Redskins' receiving duo of Art Monk and Charlie Brown, the tandem combining for only four catches for 119 yards.

    Meanwhile, Haynes had one of the team's two interceptions of Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann.

21. KR Desmond Howard, Green Bay Packers (Super Bowl XXXI)

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Super Bowl XXXI: Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21

    The first and only special teams player named MVP of a Super Bowl (at least to date), former Heisman winner Desmond Howard tied a Super Bowl record with a combined 244 yards on punt and kickoff returns and consistently put the Green Bay Packers in advantageous field position against the New England Patriots.

    After the Pats had narrowed Green Bay's advantage to 27-21 late in the third quarter, Howard returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. The score gave Mike Holmgren's club a little breathing room in an eventual 35-21 victory.

20. OLB Rod Martin, Oakland Raiders (Super Bowl XV)

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    Super Bowl XV: Oakland Raiders 27, Philadelphia Eagles 10

    Head coach Tom Flores and his Oakland Raiders became the first wild-card team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Led by quarterback Jim Plunkett, the Silver and Black built a 24-3 fourth-quarter lead against the Philadelphia Eagles and held on for a 27-10 win.

    While Plunkett was throwing for three scores, Raiders outside linebacker Rod Martin was busy intercepting three of Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski's passes, including his first attempt of the game. He also amassed five solo tackles in Oakland's impressive victory, as well as its second Super Bowl title in five seasons.

19. RB Timmy Smith, Washington Redskins (Super Bowl XXII)

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    BOB GALBRAITH/Associated Press

    Super Bowl XXII: Washington Redskins 42, Denver Broncos 10

    His unexpected performance remains a Super Bowl record to this day.

    It's also safe to say that Washington Redskins rookie running back Timmy Smith was one of the Super Bowl's great one-hit wonders.

    A fifth-round pick in 1987, Smith was a surprise starter in Super Bowl XXII against the Denver Broncos. The Texas Tech product carried 22 times for a record 204 yards and a pair of scores in the team's 42-10 win over the Broncos in San Diego.

    During the regular season, Smith played in just seven games and rushed for a total of 126 yards on 29 attempts.

    Who knew?

18. LT Art Shell, Oakland Raiders (Super Bowl XI)

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    Super Bowl XI: Oakland Raiders 32, Minnesota Vikings 14

    Those Oakland Raiders teams of head coach John Madden were formidable indeed.

    While those clubs didn't win a lot of championships, they were always in the hunt. Unfortunately, they shared the AFC stage those years with the well-schooled Miami Dolphins and the powerful Pittsburgh Steelers.

    But the Raiders always featured one of the best offensive lines in the league. And in Super Bowl XI against the Minnesota Vikings, future Pro Football Hall of Famer and left tackle Art Shell was on center stage.

    Oakland would roll up 429 total yards, including 266 yards on the ground, in the convincing 32-14 win. So dominant was Shell in this game that Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall failed to total a tackle in the contest.

17. DT Manny Fernandez, Miami Dolphins (Super Bowl VII)

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    Associated Press

    Super Bowl VII: Miami Dolphins 14, Washington Redskins 7

    Only once in the 95-year history of the National Football League has a team pursued perfection and captured it.

    You could also make the case that Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Manny Fernandez played a near-perfect game in his team's 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

    One of the steady defenders on Don Shula's "No Name Defense" helped clog the middle all afternoon and posted a game-high 10 tackles, an impressive total for any defensive lineman.

    Washington's offense never reached the Miami end zone, and Fernandez, who also totaled a sack in the victory, made life easier for game MVP Jake Scott. The strong safety recorded a pair of interceptions as the Dolphins made history via their undefeated 17-0 season.

16. QB Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (Super Bowl XLIV)

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Super Bowl XLIV: New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17

    It's not how you start but certainly how you finish.

    The New Orleans Saints, making their first Super Bowl appearance, trailed the Indianapolis Colts 10-0 in Super Bowl XLIV after 15 minutes of play.

    Saints quarterback Drew Brees also stumbled a bit out of the gates that day in South Florida. But after completing three of his first seven passes (for 27 yards) in the first quarter, the eventual Super Bowl MVP caught fire.

    Brees would connect on 29 of his final 32 attempts and finish the game with an 82.1 completion percentage. The prolific passer finished with 288 yards through the air and two touchdown passes as New Orleans captured its first NFL championship.

15. QB Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams (Super Bowl XXXIV)

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    Super Bowl XXXIV: St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16

    "We will rally behind Kurt Warner. And we will play good football."

    You can still hear St. Louis Rams head coach Dick Vermeil utter those words back in the summer of 1999. That was after his starting quarterback Trent Green went down in the preseason with a season-ending knee injury.

    Enter Warner, who would lead his team on an amazing journey. Keep in mind that the previous nine seasons, this was a Rams team that had compiled a dismal 45-99 record.

    But before you could say "The Greatest Show on Turf," Warner and Vermeil and the rest of the team were playing for a title in Super Bowl XXXIV. The former undrafted free agent capped off an amazing season by throwing for a Super Bowl-record 414 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His second score was a 73-yard throw to wide receiver Isaac Bruce with only 1:54 to play, snapping a 16-all tie with the Tennessee Titans and paving the way for a 23-16 win.

    Of course, the victory didn't come without the help of Rams outside linebacker Mike Jones, who we heard from earlier in this piece.

14. OLB Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots (Super Bowl XXXVIII)

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    ELISE AMENDOLA/Associated Press

    Super Bowl XXXVIII: New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29

    Yes, we are very aware that more times than not, the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player turns out to be the quarterback. There have been a total of 48 Super Bowls; on 26 occasions, the man behind center wound up going to Disney World.

    However, could New England Patriots outside linebacker Mike Vrabel do much more to help the cause of his team in its eventual 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII?

    The versatile performer totaled six tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. He also caught a one-yard touchdown pass from MVP Tom Brady in the fourth quarter to give his team a short-lived lead.

    That's what you would call a good day's work.

13. WR Ricky Sanders, Washington Redskins (Super Bowl XXII)

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Super Bowl XXII: Washington Redskins 42, Denver Broncos 10

    It didn't look good for head coach Joe Gibbs, quarterback Doug Williams and the rest of the Washington Redskins.

    Down 10-0 early in Super Bowl XXII to the Denver Broncos, Williams had just injured himself and watched backup quarterback Jay Schroeder come into the game…and get sacked.

    Fortunately for Redskins wide receiver Ricky Sanders, Williams would return. He would soon be catching an 80-yard touchdown pass from the eventual game MVP. He would later haul in a 50-yard score from Williams as well.

    By game's end, Washington earned a 42-10 win. Sanders totaled nine receptions for a whopping 193 yards and those aforementioned two touchdowns.

12. RB Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos (Super Bowl XXXII)

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    Ed Reinke/Associated Press

    Super Bowl XXXII: Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24

    You could easily make a case that Super Bowl XXXII was the best game in the 48-year history of the Super Bowl.

    It was certainly one of the bigger surprises of the series as the wild-card Denver Broncos not only dethroned the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, 31-24, but snapped a 13-game winning streak by NFC teams in the Super Bowl.

    The star this day was running back Terrell Davis, who was enjoying a solid postseason for Mike Shanahan's club and would cap it off with 157 yards on the ground and three touchdowns (all one-yard runs).

    His final score with just 1:45 remaining proved to be the difference in the game, as Davis walked away with MVP honors and the Broncos won the first of what would be consecutive Super Bowls.

11. MLB Jack Lambert, Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl XIV)

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    Associated Press

    Super Bowl XIV: Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Los Angeles Rams 19

    The Pittsburgh Steelers won back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1974 and 1975 seasons.

    With a win in Super Bowl XIII, the franchise became the first to capture three Lombardi Trophies.

    Now with a victory over the Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh would win consecutive Super Bowls for the second time. Chuck Noll and Co. would eventually get the job done, but a 31-19 victory didn't come easily.

    Middle linebacker Jack Lambert may have been the best football player at the Rose Bowl that day. The fiery defender totaled 14 tackles and made the key interception in the fourth quarter off Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo to preserve Pittsburgh's narrow triumph.

10. RB Marcus Allen, Los Angeles Raiders (Super Bowl XVIII)

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    Associated Press

    Super Bowl XVIII: Los Angeles Raiders 38, Washington Redskins 9

    We told you we would get back to Marcus Allen.

    The Silver and Black played a near-perfect game against a Redskins team that at the time had set the NFL record for points scored in a season.

    With his Raiders ahead 28-9 in the third quarter, Allen (the game's MVP) headed left, reversed his field, ran up the middle of the Washington defense and veered left toward the sidelines and into the end zone.

    When it was all said and done, his scintillating run covered 74 yards, and the score broke the spirits of Joe Gibbs' team for good. Allen finished the game with 191 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the 38-9 victory.

9. WR Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl X)

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    Associated Press

    Super Bowl X: Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17

    The Pittsburgh Steelers were on their way to a second straight Super Bowl win, rallying in the fourth quarter to defeat the wild-card Dallas Cowboys, 21-17.

    There are few Super Bowl memories more vivid than Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann's amazing 53-yard catch in the second quarter. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw launched a deep pass down the middle in which Swann leaped over Cowboys cornerback Mark Washington—both men falling to the Orange Bowl field—while Swann kept his concentration and pulled down the ball just before he hit the turf.

    Of course, some forget that play wound up leading to zero points.

    However, the Pittsburgh wideout and game MVP would pull down a total of four passes for 161 yards by afternoon's end, including a 64-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter as the Black and Gold held off the Cowboys.

8. S James Washington, Dallas Cowboys (Super Bowl XXVIII)

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    David Longstreath/Associated Press

    Super Bowl XXVIII: Dallas Cowboys 30, Buffalo Bills 13

    The Dallas Cowboys were in the midst of winning three Super Bowls in four years. In this Super rematch with the Buffalo Bills, Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns on his way to capturing game MVP accolades.

    But Dallas free safety James Washington had quite the afternoon at the Georgia Dome himself in his team's 30-13 victory.

    The opportunistic defender totaled 11 tackles, forced a fumble, intercepted one Jim Kelly pass and scooped up a fumble by Bills running back Thurman Thomas very early after intermission and returned the miscue 46 yards for a touchdown.

    That play would lead to a 13-all tie in the third quarter and was the start of 24 unanswered points by the Cowboys, who would successfully defend their Super Bowl title.

7. WR Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers (Super Bowl XXIII)

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    PHIL SANDLIN/Associated Press

    Super Bowl XXIII: San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16

    How many people turned off Super Bowl XXIII at halftime when the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals were knotted at 3-3 and both offenses spent the first 30 minutes trying to get out of their own way?

    Of course, this contest is best remembered for its thrilling ending. 49ers quarterback Joe Montana orchestrated a 92-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Taylor with 34 seconds to play.

    However, it was future Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice who set the table most of the afternoon. He would total 11 catches, tied for the second-most in a game in Super Bowl history, and set a Super Bowl record with 215 receiving yards in the Niners' 20-16 triumph.

6. RB John Riggins, Washington Redskins (Super Bowl XVII)

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    Associated Press

    Super Bowl XVII: Washington Redskins 27, Miami Dolphins 17

    "Crank up that diesel."

    The Washington Redskins would be the eventual winner of the NFL's 1982 Super Bowl. Labor issues had limited the season to nine regular-season games, so the league opted to put 16 teams in the playoffs (eight in each conference).

    The Redskins were tied with the league's best record that year at 8-1. And they would win all four of their postseason games thanks to a relentless ground game and a defensive unit that held hold each of its opponents to 17 points or less.

    That aforementioned running game was spearheaded by "The Hogs" up front and Hall of Famer John Riggins out of the backfield. In Super Bowl XVII against the Miami Dolphins, Don Shula's "Killer Bees" got an F when it came to slowing down Riggins, who set a Super Bowl record with 38 carries while running for 166 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown in his team's 10-point victory.

5. QB Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers (Super Bowl XXIV)

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    Super Bowl XXIV: San Francisco 49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10

    There is only one player (so far) who has been named Super Bowl MVP three times, and that is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana.

    Playing in his fourth Super Bowl in nine years, he put on a clinic against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV at the Louisiana Superdome. Now led by head coach George Seifert, the Niners successfully defended their NFL title from the previous year and did it in resounding fashion courtesy of a 55-10 win.

    Montana completed 22 of his 29 throws for 297 yards and five touchdowns, three of those scores to wide receiver Jerry Rice. San Francisco rolled up 461 total yards and scored a pair of touchdowns in each quarter.

4. QB Doug Williams, Washington Redskins (Super Bowl XXII)

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Super Bowl XXII: Washington Redskins 42, Denver Broncos 10

    A one-time first-round draft choice of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1978, quarterback Doug Williams would take that franchise to the NFC title game in his second season.

    Now nearly a decade later, here was Williams getting ready to start Super Bowl XXII for the Washington Redskins. Considering that the veteran signal-caller began the 1987 season backing up Jay Schroeder, it had been quite a turnaround for the strong-armed quarterback.

    Now get ready for another turnaround. Down 10-0 in the first quarter and nursing a twisted knee that sidelined him for a play, Williams keyed an attack that piled up 35 points—including four Williams’ touchdown passes—and 356 yards in the second quarter alone as the Redskins rolled to a 42-10 win.

    Williams also threw an interception in the game. But his 340 yards passing and four scores were certainly good enough to enable him to grab game MVP honors. The Redskins rolled up a Super Bowl record 602 total yards.

3. QB Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers (Super Bowl XIX)

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    Super Bowl XIX: San Francisco 49ers 38, Miami Dolphins 16

    In just his second NFL season, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino had set pro football on fire. The king of the quick release threw for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns, both new NFL standards, and the Dolphins were on their way to Super Bowl XIX.

    But that afternoon at Palo Alto, the Miami defense would run into quite an offense in the San Francisco 49ers and quarterback Joe Montana. Bill Walsh's squad would steal the show in a 38-16 win, and Montana was rarely better.

    The future Hall of Famer threw for 331 yards and three scores, ran for 59 yards and a touchdown and helped guide his club to a 537-yard performance in the Niners' impressive win.

2. QB Phil Simms, New York Giants (Super Bowl XXI)

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    Reed Saxon/Associated Press

    Super Bowl XXI: New York Giants 39, Denver Broncos 20

    Talk about a closer.

    With just under two minutes remaining in the first half of Super Bowl XXI and his team trailing the Denver Broncos 10-9, New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms overthrew second-year tight end Mark Bavaro on a third-down play.

    And that, as they say, was that.

    As it turned out, that would be Simms' final incompletion of the game. When the Gatorade finally dried this day in Pasadena, Big Blue's signal-caller had turned in a red-hot performance. Simms finished the day 22-of-25 for 268 yards and three scores in his team's 39-20 victory. His scintillating completion percentage for the game (88 percent) remains a Super Bowl record and the second-best such performance in postseason history.

1. QB Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers (Super Bowl XXIX)

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    Andrew Innerarity/Associated Press

    Super Bowl XXIX: San Francisco 49ers 49, San Diego Chargers 26

    Final score: Steve Young 1, Monkey 0.

    After coming up short the previous two years in the NFC Championship Game, a pair of losses to the eventual Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers dethroned Dallas, and the team headed to Super Bowl XXIX to face the upstart San Diego Chargers.

    49ers quarterback Steve Young, at the time the current whipping boy when it came to "not being able to win the Big One," came up huge in South Florida. He completed two-thirds of his passes (24-of-36) for 325 yards and a Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes. Young also ran for a game-high 49 yards on five carries as the 49ers became the first franchise to win five Super Bowls.

    That infamous monkey was now on someone else's back.

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