As the big game approaches it’s always important to look back and get a grasp on the history that preceded the event to help frame just how significant it is. Today we look at the best performers in the Super Bowl in a roster format. This includes a 22 man starting lineup (11 on each side of the ball) and four special teamers. It must be noted this team is based solely on a player’s performance in the Super Bowl:
QB: Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers
Tom Brady is in the discussion here and depending on how he performs against one of the better defenses he’s ever faced he may have a strong case for leapfrogging Montana. For the time being, though, Montana is the man. He’s won all four Super Bowls he’s played in, he threw for 5 touchdowns in Super Bowl XXIV (only Steve Young has thrown for more with 6) and his career passer rating in four game is a Super Bowl record 127.8. Montana played pretty close to perfection in all four appearances. He’s the only player in NFL history with 3 Super Bowl MVPs.
HB: Timmy Smith, Washington Redskins
Smith played in just one Super Bowl but put together a legendary performance with a Super Bowl record 204 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns. Marcus Allen would rush for 191 and his performance deserves note as well. Allen averaged 9.6 yards per carry and Smith averaged 9.3. The next best in Super Bowl history with a minimum of 20 carries is 5.4. Smith gets the nod, slightly, for the most dominant performance by a running back ever.
FB: Franco Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
He has the most total yards rushing in Super Bowl history with 354 yards over 4 games (all wins). Anyone would argue Harris was more of a runner than a blocker, but in those days he was regarded as a fullback. Larry Csonka of the Dolphins also deserves mention with 297 yards. He was named Super Bowl MVP once.
WR: Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers
It’s hard to imagine anyone ever coming close to his Super Bowl records. He was only MVP once because of Montana but consider the numbers: 33 career receptions (next best 27), tied for most receptions in a game with 11, most yards gained in a career with 589 in 4 games (next best is 364), most yards in a game with 215, most touchdowns in a game with 3 and most touchdowns in a career with 8 (next best is 3). Unquestionably the best Super Bowl receiver of all time. He’s also the leading scorer in Super Bowl history with 48 points.
WR: Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh Steelers
This was close between he and Andre Reed. I also considered Ricky Sanders who exploded for 193 yards in XXII. Ultimately I picked Swann because he won all four Super Bowls he was in (Reed was 0-4) and he 364 yards to Reed’s 323, though Reed had more receptions. Swann is also tied for 2nd in career touchdowns with 3.
TE: Dan Ross, Cincinnati Bengals
Ross is tied the Super Bowl record for receptions in a game with 11, including 2 touchdowns in the same game. Though the Bengals lost to the 49ers in XVI, Ross carried the offense with 104 yards receiving in a very close 26-21 game.
T: Forrest Gregg, Green Bay Packers
Widely respected as one of the best linemen of all time, Gregg was the anchor to the dominant Packers in Super Bowls I and II. Vince Lombardi said Gregg was the best player he ever coached.
T: Joe Jacoby, Washington Redskins
Tackle for the “Hogs”, Jacoby was the best player on a dominant offensive line that rushed for 276 and 280 yards in two different Super Bowls. He won 3 Super Bowls in total.
G: Nate Newton, Dallas Cowboys
If you remember how much time Troy Aikman had to throw or how good Emmett Smith was in the Super Bowl, Newton had a lot to do with it. He was the key player on three champion Super Bowl teams.
G: Mark Schlereth, Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos
Nicknamed “Stinky”, Schlereth was also a member of the “Hogs” and won a Super Bowl with the Redskins before winning two more with the Broncos, paving the way for Terrell Davis’s three touchdown runs.
C: Mike Webster, Pittsburgh Steelers
I thought about Bart Oates here who won 3 Super Bowls with two different teams (Giants and 49ers) but Webster was a prominent starter on four Super Bowl champion teams and a 9 time Pro Bowler.
E: Richard Dent, Chicago Bears
Dent was named Super Bowl MVP for his performance in XX with 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and a defended pass. This was the Bears’ only Super Bowl win, in a blowout over the Patriots.
E: Reggie White, Green Bay Packers
Picking a second defensive end was tough. Harvey Martin (co-MVP of one Super Bowl) and Charles Haley (most career sacks with 4.5) deserve consideration but there is no denying there was no better defensive end in his prime than Reggie White. He is tied for the most sacks in one game with 3.
DT: Randy White, Dallas Cowboys
Along with Harvey Martin he was named co-MVP in Super Bowl XII. That is the only time two players have shared the award, though many demanded all 11 starters on the Cowboys’ defense be named for their suffocating performance in a 27-10 win over the Broncos. Unfortunately sack stats were not kept then but it is said that White and Martin were in the backfield making hits on almost every play.
DT: Darnell Dockett, Arizona Cardinals
Tied with White for Reggie White for the most sacks in one Super Bowl with 3.
LB: Malcolm Smith, Seattle Seahawks
The most recent MVP was named as such after a pick six and a fumble recovery to pace the Seahawks’ dismantling of Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
LB: Rod Martin, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
Martin is a two time Super Bowl champion and he’s the only player in Super Bowl history to intercept 3 passes in one game (coming off Ron Jaworski). How he wasn’t named MVP in that game is shocking, but they decided to give it to Jim Plunkett.
LB: Chuck Howley, Dallas Cowboys
Howley was the first defensive player to be named MVP and the only player in history to get that distinction despite being on the losing team. In Super Bowl V he intercepted two passes in a 16-13 loss to the Baltimore Colts. He has 3 career Super Bowl interceptions, tied for the most ever.
CB: Larry Brown, Dallas Cowboys
His three career Super Bowl interceptions are tied for the most ever and he was named the MVP in Super Bowl XXX for his two interceptions in that game.
CB: Randy Beverly, New York Jets
He intercepted two passes in Super Bowl III including one in the end zone to prevent a score, helping the Jets to one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history over the Baltimore Colts. I thought about Tracy Porter of the Saints for his game clinching pick six against Peyton Manning.
S: Dexter Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
His teammate Dwight Smith deserves careful consideration here too for having two pick sixes but Jackson was the one that got the MVP vote. Jackson also had two interceptions in the game.
S: Jake Scott, Miami Dolphins (recovered a fumble too)
Dwight Smith was under consideration here too for being the only defensive player in Super Bowl history to score two touchdowns, though his scores were somewhat meaningless with the game already out of hand in the second half. Scott was a Super Bowl MVP in VII where he intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble in a 14-7 win.
K: Adam Vinatieri, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts
Vinatieri has played in the Super Bowl five times (4-1) and is 7 for 10 career on kicks. The next most made for a career is Ray Wersching of the 49ers who is 5 for 5 career. Don Chandler of the Packers also went 4 for 4 in one game in Super Bowl II. I considered Wersching here because of his perfect record, but none of his kicks had the kind of high pressure Vinatieri dealt with. Vinatieri made game winning kicks in the dying seconds of Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII from 48 and 41 respectively. He is second in scoring to Rice in Super Bowl history with 34 points.
P: Thomas Morstead, New Orleans Saints
Morstead averaged 44 yards on two punts in Super Bowl XLIV with no return yards, including pinning one of them down on the Colts’ 4 yard line. Most notably he was also the Saints’ powerful kickoff specialist and he was responsible for the famous “ambush”, which was a successful surprise onside kick to start the second half.
KR/PR: Desmond Howard, Green Bay Packers
The only special teams MVP in Super Bowl history, he was named that after XXXI for his 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown which would be the last score in the game. From Wikipedia: “He had a total 154 kickoff return yards, and also recorded a Super Bowl record 90 punt return yards, thus tying the Super Bowl records of total return yards (244) and combined net yards gained (244)”.