Ranking the Best Super Bowl Performances of All Time
When the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams face off in Super Bowl LIII, it will mark quarterback Tom Brady's ninth appearance in the title game. The 2000 sixth-round pick has seen a lot in his eight previous Super Bowl appearances, including some of the greatest individual performances of all time.
It's entirely possible that another historic performance will take place this Sunday. With this in mind, it's a great time to look back at some of the top performances of years past.
We're going to count down the 10 best Super Bowl performances of all time based on statistics, end results and degree of difficulty—comeback performances get extra weight.
Joe Namath, Super Bowl III
Quarterback Joe Namath was an efficient 17-of-28 for 206 yards against the Baltimore Colts. While those numbers aren't eye-popping, Namath helped the New York Jets produce one of the biggest upsets in pro football to that point in history.
Reggie White, Super Bowl XXXI
Super Bowl XXXI marked the only time quarterback Brett Favre delivered a title to the Green Bay Packers. However, it was pass-rusher Reggie White who truly dominated in the game. He sacked New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe three times, pressured him frequently and helped deliver a four-interception performance by the Green Bay defense.
Max McGee, Super Bowl I
Packer wideout Max McGee has one of the best Super Bowl stories ever. He didn't expect to play in the game and went out drinking the night before the first Super Bowl. After borrowing a teammate's helmet, he proceeded to torch the Kansas City Chiefs for 138 yards and two scores, including the first receiving touchdown in Super Bowl history.
Rod Martin, Super Bowl XV
Retired linebacker Rod Martin may not be a household name among younger fans, but longtime Oakland Raiders fans know him well. He picked off Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski three times, helping lead the Raiders to a 27-10 blowout win.
10. Joe Montana, Super Bowl XXIV
Seeing as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana started and won four Super Bowls, you probably expected to see his name on this list. His masterpiece against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV kicks off our official rankings.
Montana didn't just beat the Broncos in January 1990. He broke them. He finished the game 22-of-29 for 297 yards and five touchdowns. Denver was never able to find an answer for Montana, and the Broncos ended up getting blown out 55-10.
This was the last of Montana's Super Bowl appearances, and it marked the third time he won MVP honors.
9. John Riggins, Super Bowl XVII
Former Washington Redskins running back John Riggins played with a beautifully violent running style. He was fast and nimble, and he could almost single-handedly break a defense's spirit with his physicality.
This is precisely what Riggins did in Super Bowl XVII to the Miami Dolphins, who had the league's best defense (256.9 yards per game allowed). Washington used Riggins to repeatedly pound the Miami defense like a human battering ram. He carried the ball 38 times and finished with 166 yards rushing and a touchdown, along with 15 yards receiving.
Because of Riggins, the Redskins were able to control the tempo and grind out a decisive 10-point victory.
8, James White, Super Bowl LI
28-3. That's the deficit the New England Patriots were looking at in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI. The Atlanta Falcons battered the Patriots for most of the game, but New England took control in the third quarter and scored every point from then on.
Tom Brady rightfully deserves a lot of credit for orchestrating the comeback, but there is no way the Patriots win without running back James White.
White was a one-man wrecking crew in Super Bowl LI. He caught an incredible 14 passes for 110 yards, rushed for 29 more yards and scored three total touchdowns and a two-point conversion. One could easily make a case that White deserved to be named MVP instead of Brady.
7. Nick Foles, Super Bowl LII
We mentioned that degree of difficulty would play a role in our rankings. Well, it's hard to imagine a player who faced more difficulty before even starting a Super Bowl than Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.
If you're a football fan, you know the story already. Foles was forced under center for Philadelphia when starting quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending ACL tear. He successfully led the Eagles through the playoffs, but few gave him a chance to outduel Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Foles didn't shrink under the immense pressure, though. Instead, he delivered one of the great Super Bowl performances of all time. He passed for 373 yards and three touchdowns with one interception and earned MVP honors for his efforts. That's incredible for a guy who considered giving up football two offseasons prior.
6. Timmy Smith, Super Bowl XXII
If you're a younger or more casual NFL fan, you may have never heard of former Redskins running back Timmy Smith. Heck, you may not have known who he was before Super Bowl XXII even if you were around to see it.
Smith, a rookie, only carried the ball 29 times in the 1987 regular season.
However, he stole the show during Washington's dominance of the Broncos. He carried the ball 22 times for a record 204 yards and two touchdowns. This is a Super Bowl rushing record that still stands today.
While Redskins quarterback Doug Williams (340 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) also played well and won MVP honors, Smith really put the stamp on the 42-10 rout of Denver.
5, Kurt Warner, Super Bowl XXXIV
Quarterback Kurt Warner was the Rams' starting quarterback by the start of Super Bowl XXXIV, but he didn't start the season that way. He was the backup to Trent Green before Green tore his ACL in the preseason. He finished the season as a first-team All-Pro, though, and made his mark in history against the Tennessee Titans in the big one.
While the game was a back-and-forth affair, Warner was dominant. He finished 24-of-45 for a then-record 414 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Unsurprisingly, he was named Super Bowl MVP for his performance.
Warner's outing would probably be more recognized if not for Mike Jones' game-defining tackle on the final play of regulation.
4. Marcus Allen, Super Bowl XVIII
The Los Angeles Raiders may have made things look simple against Washington in Super Bowl XVIII—they won 38-9—but running back Marcus Allen didn't have the easiest time cutting through the defense. After all, the Redskins had the league's best run defense (80.6 yards per game allowed) during the regular season.
However, thanks in large part to an incredible 74-yard burst, Allen made it look like Washington's defense wasn't even there at times. He finished with 20 carries, a whopping 191 yards and two touchdowns, adding 18 yards on two receptions.
In what was likely an incredibly easy decision, Allen was named Super Bowl MVP.
3. Steve Young, Super Bowl XXIX
Steve Young's performance in Super Bowl XXIX stood out for a number of reasons. The game was his chance to finally fully emerge from Joe Montana's shadow. While the 49ers were heavily favored over the San Diego Chargers, Young still had to prove he could go out and deliver a championship.
Young didn't just deliver the Lombardi Trophy to San Francisco. He went out and delivered one of the most obscene postseason performances in modern history. The 49ers rolled to a 49-26 victory, and Young refused to take his foot off the gas.
The game's MVP passed for 325 yards and a ridiculous six touchdowns. That's just one touchdown short of the NFL's all-time record for touchdowns in a game—for both the regular season and the playoffs.
2. Tom Brady, Super Bowl LI
We've already mentioned the massive deficit faced by the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. We also mentioned the role James White played in that game. It was huge, but the comeback engineered by Tom Brady was even more impressive.
Now, this was a total team comeback, and even Brady admitted that everything had to go right to come back from that 25-point deficit.
"Coach talks about how you never know which play it's going to be in the Super Bowl," Brady said on Fox after the game (h/t Chris Wesseling of NFL.com). "There were probably 30 of them tonight. Any one of those would have been different, the outcome would have been different."
Brady threw an early pick-six that upped the adversity level tremendously. However, he responded in a big way, finishing with 466 yards, two touchdowns and the greatest comeback in championship history.
1. Jerry Rice, Super Bowl XXIII
There's a reason why former 49ers receiver Jerry Rice is the GOAT—even more so than Tom Brady. It's not just because he is the most prolific pass-catcher of all time; it's also because Rice has consistently delivered on the biggest stages in the biggest ways.
His remarkable performance against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII is the ultimate example of this.
Cincinnati never figured out a way to slow Rice, who finished the game with 11 receptions, 215 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Joe Montana was also brilliant in this game. However, the 49ers had to mount a comeback to beat the Bengals, and they never would have been in position to do so if not for Rice's domination through all four quarters.