The Super Bowl is without a doubt the biggest event on the American sports calendar. In short, nothing else comes close. Even if you don’t like football, the chances are you’ll still go to a Super Bowl watch party because it’s just such a big occasion. In America, it does feel like a holiday.
But with all the chicken wings and beer, it’s easy to forget the importance of the actual game. For the players on the playing field, this is the pinnacle of their careers. When you step onto that grass, they know it is a massive moment because they have the chance to be immortal.
So in remembrance of that, today we’re going to look at 30 of the best performances in Super Bowl history. First of all, it’s not all quarterbacks. Also, not every player on this list won Super Bowl MVP honors. But every player on this list put in a spectacular showing on the biggest of stages in professional sports. Enjoy.
30. Mike Jones vs. Tennessee Titans
Of course, Kurt Warner got most of the plaudits for the Rams’ Super Bowl XXXIV win. He threw for a Super Bowl-record 414 yards and two touchdowns. But when a quarterback plays well, this usually means everyone else gets put in the shade. Rams linebacker Jones can definitely feel aggrieved.
He put in a tremendous effort against the Titans. Most significantly, he tackled Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson on the 1-yard line on the last play of the game. It was a game-saving tackle, but he had already put his body on the line throughout the game. A heartfelt performance.
McGee scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl history. That was a surprise because he probably shouldn’t have been playing. In 12 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Max McGee totaled 345 catches for 6,346 yards and 50 touchdowns. However, he became a bit-part player in his last three seasons.
Despite this, he came up big when it counted. McGee came in for starting wideout Boyd Dowler and played excellently. He made seven receptions for 138 yards and two scores. The defending NFL champions went on to win 35-10, with McGee playing a key role for the Packers.
Super Bowl XXVII saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decimate the Oakland Raiders 48-21. It’s hard to imagine now but Tampa Bay actually elite. Dexter Jackson won MVP honors, but looking back, many people agree that Smith should have got the award.
Both men picked off two passes in the big game. Jackson returned his two picks for 34 yards. Smith returned his for 94 yards and two scores. He became the first player to return two interceptions for touchdowns in Super Bowl history.
The Seattle Seahawks wide receiver had the strangest 2013. Harvin arrived to the team in a trade from the Minnesota Vikings, but only played one regular-season game due to injuries. However, he was available for the Super Bowl and he made those minutes count. This was a display of pure efficiency. He didn’t win MVP but was still brilliant.
Harvin only touched the ball four times and those touches added up to 137 yards and a score in the lopsided win. He ran twice for 45 yards, caught a five-yard pass and returned the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown. What an impact he had in their lopsided championship win.
Now to meet the man who did win the 2013 Super Bowl MVP award. The former Seahawks linebacker put in one of the best games of his career against the Broncos as Seattle won the NFL Championship. This was a blowout for the Seahawks as they won 43-8.
Smith was excellent as he recorded 10 combined tackles, deflected a pass, and recovered a fumble in an all-action win. He also intercepted a pass by Peyton Manning and returned it for a 69-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Smith was the first defensive player to win the MVP award since Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Howard was the first and so far, only, special teams player to win the Super Bowl MVP. That should say a lot about how good he was for the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. He tied a Super Bowl record with a combined 244 yards on punt and kickoff returns. Everything he touched put the Packers in a better position.
Even when the Packers came under fire, Howard’s influence saw them through. At one point, the Patriots narrowed the gap to 27-21. But then Howard returned the kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Finally, the Packers could breathe and became 35-21 winners.
It’s astounding that Davis didn’t win MVP honors in Super Bowl XI. Instead, Fred Biletnikoff won the coveted award. But without Davis’s brilliance, the Raiders would never have won the championship after coming so close throughout the ’70s. The halfback was fantastic.
Davis gained 137 yards on only 16 carries, an average of 8.5 yards per rush. He had rushes of 16, 20, and 35 yards during the game. He was the driving force that turned Oakland into a powerhouse. The Raiders gained 429 yards in the game, including 288 in the first half. In short, he deserves more respect.
In 1980, the Oakland Raiders became the first Wild Card team to win the Super Bowl. They were dominant from start to finish against the Philadelphia Eagles, holding out for a 27-10 win. Quarterback Jim Plunkett played a key role in this game, but credit has to also go to distinguished linebacker Martin.
Plunkett threw for three scores, but Martin’s contribution was equally vital. He intercepted three of the Eagles’ quarterbacks’ passes, including his first of the game, to totally disrupt their play. Martin also completed five successful tackles in a relentless, grinding win.
Smith only played six games in the regular season for the Washington Redskins. But the rookie running back stunned the world with the game of his life at Super Bowl XXII. He was a fifth-round pick in 1987 and there really wasn’t much expected of his career, but this just shows you miracles do happen.
During the regular season, Smith had rushed for a total of 126 yards on 29 attempts. However, the Super Bowl showed us just how good he could be. He carried 22 times for a record 204 yards and a pair of scores in the team’s 42-10 win.
John Madden’s Oakland Raiders probably didn’t achieve as much as they could have. Unfortunately for the ‘Silver and Black,’ the AFC was especially strong back then, with the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers particularly good. However, Super Bowl XI saw them get their hands on the silver.
Their center Shell was their most important figure during the big game against the Vikings. Oakland totaled 429 yards, including 266 yards on the ground. Shell was key to this dominance and he completely shut down Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall, who failed to register a tackle in the contest.
The Miami Dolphins put in a perfect 17-0 season and won the NFL Championship in 1972. Miami Safety Jack Scott won the MVP award, but Fernandez should have gotten it. He was absolutely immense against the Redskins, putting in one of the most dominant games a defensive tackle has ever played.
His speed and dynamism were just too much for Redskins center Led Hauss. He made play after play to shackle Washington’s attack. Fernandez put in 17 tackles and achieved one sack during the game. It was a magnificent display of attrition from the Miami nose tackle.
Some teams take time to get going. The New Orleans Saints were down 10 points to the Colts after just 15 minutes into Super Bowl XLIV. Things weren’t looking good until quarterback Brees caught fire. He would immortalize himself in Saints’ folklore.
Brees is a prolific passer and made almost every one count in South Florida. He connected on 29 of his final 32 attempts in a near-perfect showing. He finished with 288 yards and two touchdown passes as New Orleans brought home its first Super Bowl.
Warner wasn’t meant to be the Rams’ starting quarterback in 1999. But a preseason injury put Trent Green out of action for the entire year. This was the start of an incredible journey for Warner and St. Louis. Before long, they found themselves playing in Super Bowl XXXIV.
The St. Louis quarterback threw for a record 414 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the way to glory. The second score was the most impressive, as he threw a 73-yarder to Isaac Bruce with less than two minutes to play. Warner got the touchdown and the Rams won 23-16.
It’s tough playing on the same team as Tom Brady because you may never get the love you deserve. After Super Bowl XXXVIII, Vrabel found himself in that situation. The linebacker was incredibly effective against the Panthers as the Patriots ran out 32-29 winners.
He put in the performance of his career. Vrabel totaled six tackles, two sacks, and one forced fumble. Furthermore, he scored a one-yard touchdown after catching a pass from MVP Brady to give his team the lead. Time to show the linebackers some respect.
Tom Brady rightfully got most of the plaudits after Super Bowl LI, but he couldn’t have done it without the efforts of White. In fact, he was effectively the most dangerous player on the field because the Falcons just didn’t concentrate on him enough. It was a breakout night for the running back.
White became the fourth player to score three touchdowns in a Super Bowl. His third was the overtime winner that saw the Patriots complete an astounding comeback. He hauled in a Super Bowl-record 14 passes for 110 yards and carried the ball six times for 29 yards.
Sanders is the first of two players from this ridiculous game. Super Bowl XXII came at the end of a disastrous season for the NFL due to the labor disputes. Finally, the Broncos ended up in the final against the Redskins. Doug Williams was the MVP – more on him later – but Sanders was almost as important to the Redskins’ victory.
His display was excellent. Without the other man, neither of them would have excelled the way they did. At one point, Sanders hauled in an 80-yard touchdown pass from his quarterback. Later, he hauled in a 50-yard score from Williams too. Sanders totaled nine receptions for a whopping 193 yards and two touchdowns.
You could make a strong argument that Super Bowl XXXII was one of the best. The Denver Broncos came into the showpiece as Wild Cards against the defending champions the Packers. In sum, most people weren’t giving the Broncos much hope. Considering how good the Packers were, it’s not surprising.
What was shocking, though, was the fight the Broncos gave them. At the heart of their victory was Davis, who enjoyed a fantastic game, scoring three touchdowns in the process. With less than two minutes left in the game, he got the decisive score. Finally, he won the MVP award.
The first three-time Super Bowl MVP, Montana is a true legend of the league. In the space of nine years, he played in four Super Bowls and shone brilliantly in all of them. In the 24th installment, he put on an absolute clinic against the Broncos to win yet another ring.
Montana completed 22 of his 29 throws for 297 yards and five touchdowns, three of those scores to wide receiver Jerry Rice. The 49ers were emphatic winners, beating the Broncos 55-10. In short, when you have a player of Montana’s ilk on your side, you can expect to do well.
It’s tough being a defender because you have to do something truly incredible to be remembered. Quarterbacks and running backs get all the credit because they’re the ones who provide the most exciting moments. But Lamberts’ showing against the Rams proves why defenders need some love too.
He put in a brilliant effort at Super Bowl XIV in the Rose Bowl. The Steelers got the job done, but they had to put in a real grind to get their victory. Without Lambert’s 14 tackles and interceptions, they may have melted under the Rams’ pressure. It was a display of a true warrior spirit.
The LA Raiders put in a perfect game to beat the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. It was even more remarkable because the Redskins had set an NFL record for points scored during a season. While the entire Raiders team deserved accolades for their play, Allen was the standout in Tampa.
His most amazing moment was when he ran 74 yards to score a touchdown. This was football at its most breathtaking, as he sliced through the heart of the Redskins defense before veering left towards the endzone. If it happened today, we’d never be able to stop watching the replays.
Swann was the star of the Super Bowl X when the Steelers won their second straight title. One of the most astounding moments in this game was Swann’s amazing 53-yard catch in the second quarter. They didn’t score on it, but it looked spectacular. However, his all-round game was on fire that day.
The Pittsburgh wideout caught a total of four passes for 161 yards. That included a 64-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter as the Steelers battled hard to beat the Cowboys. It should come as no surprise that Swann walked away with MVP honors.
This was the second of the Dallas Cowboy’s three Super Bowls in four years. Emmett Smith was the game’s official MVP with two touchdowns and rushing for 132 yards. However, Washington arguably put in a bigger performance. As a defender, he’s obviously not as glamorous but it’s true.
He totaled 11 tackles, forced a fumble, and intercepted one Jim Kelly pass. To cap it off, he scooped up a fumble by Thurman Thomas and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown. That play in effect gave the Cowboys the momentum to score 24 unanswered points and defend their Super Bowl title.
It takes a lot to overshadow Joe Montana, but somehow Rice managed to do exactly that in Super Bowl XXIII. Montana had one spectacular moment when he orchestrated a 92-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown. However, it was Rice who set the tone for the afternoon.
He tied the second-most catches in a Super Bowl game with an astounding 11. Rice also set a Super Bowl record with 215 receiving yards in the Niners’ 20-16 triumph. After a tepid start to the game, he was directly responsible for it exploding into life. Definitely the highlight of his career.
The first of two Brady installments, this just goes to show how influential he is. The indefatigable Patriots quarterback delivered a show for the ages in a stellar comeback against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. With the Patriots facing a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit, the game seemed out of reach. But love or hate them, you can never count them out.
Brady recovered from two earlier interceptions to stifle the Seattle defense. He completed 14 of 16 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots finally won the game 28-24 after their late rally. Without Brady would they have been able to achieve the same result? Unlikely.
1982 was a very messy year for the NFL because labor issues limited the season to nine games. The NFL got around this by putting 16 teams in the playoffs. Finally, the Washington Redskins and the Dolphins were the last teams standing. The former won the game 27-17 with Riggins their star man.
The running back 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. Riggins just totally overwhelmed the Dolphins, who had no answer for his questions. As the fans used to say, “Crank up that diesel.”
Brady is in the twilight of his career, but what a player he is. The Patriots quarterback put on one of the most influential performances of all-time when he helped his side to glory against the Falcons. Down 28-3 in the third quarter, it looked like it was all over. But then we got the greatest Super Bowl comeback ever.
The Patriots won 34-28 in overtime to stun the Falcons. Meanwhile, Brady had broken Super Bowl records for completions and pass attempts. Not only that, but he scored two touchdowns and finished the game 43 of 62 for 446 yards. One of the best individual games you’ll ever see.
Williams wasn’t supposed to be the Redskins’ starting quarterback in Super Bowl XXII. The veteran started their Super Bowl-winning year as a backup to Jay Schroeder. But he regained his place as their signal-caller for the biggest game of them all, and what a show he put on. It’s fair to say the Redskins wouldn’t have won without him.
They were 10-0 down in the first quarter, with Williams carrying a knee injury. To sum up, it all looked lost before it even began, but Williams had a different idea. He guided an attack that scored an exceptional 35 points and 356 yards in the second quarter alone. In short, this was a relentless display from Williams.
In 1984 all eyes were on Dan Marino. The Miami Dolphins quarterback looked like the most important player in the game. He was just two seasons into his pro career when the Dolphins reached Super Bowl XIX against the 49ers. Marino had massive star potential. But then Montana said, ‘hold my beer.’
The 49ers quarterback was the man behind their intense offense. They overwhelmed the Dolphins in a 38-16 win, with Montana their main man. First of all, he threw for 331 yards and three scores. Then he ran for 59 yards and a touchdown while helping guide his club to a 537-yard performance.
Simms was the star of Super Bowl XXI, as the New York Giants ran out winners over the Broncos. With just two minutes left in the first half, he threw his final incompletion of the game. But from then on, he was absolutely perfect as the Giants went on to claim glory in the NFL’s showpiece event.
His play was out of this world. Simms finished the day 22-of-25 for 268 yards and three scores in his team’s 39-20 victory. Meanwhile, his completion percentage is still a Super Bowl record as he turned in an 88% success rate. That’s an absolutely insane statistic. In short, Simms turned in one of the best individual efforts on this list.
After back-to-back losses in the NFC Championship game for two years running, the San Francisco 49ers finally made it to the Super Bowl. Their opponents in the showpiece event were the unfavored Chargers. Super Bowl XXIX was an absolute doozy, with 49ers quarterback Young in the middle of it all.
Fans were saying that he was never going to win it. Well, he definitely proved them wrong as he put in the performance of a lifetime. To sum up, he completed two-thirds of his passes (24-of-36) for 325 yards and a Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes. Young also ran 49 yards on five carries as the 49ers became the first franchise to win five Super Bowls.