Jerry Rice showed why he's the GOAT in Super Bowl XXIII
Both Nick Foles and Tom Brady produced exceptional performances in Super Bowl LII. But great Super Bowl performances are not just defined by MVP honors. There are so many other factors, including but not limited to, statistics, contributions to the team and the adversity the player faced. Whittling down the list is not easy, but here are 50 performances that have stood out over the past half-century.
50. Hines Ward, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers – Super Bowl XL
Ward caught five clutch passes for 123 yards, including a 43-yard toss from wide receiver Antwaan Randle El for a touchdown.
49. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals – Super Bowl XLIII
Fitzgerald caught seven passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, including one that put the Cardinals in position to win. Sadly for him, the Steelers still had time.
48. Max McGee, WR, Green Bay Packers – Super Bowl I
McGee came off the bench to score the first touchdown in Super Bowl history. He finished the day with seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns. And he did it all with a wicked hangover.
47. John Elway, QB, Denver Broncos – Super Bowl XXXIII
Elway’s MVP performance was a fitting cap to a Hall of Fame career.
46. Ricky Sanders, WR, Washington Redskins – Super Bowl XXII
The first of three players in this game to appear on this list, Sanders kick-started Washington’s second quarter explosion with an 80-yard score. He finished the day with nine receptions for 193 yards and two touchdowns, not counting a pass from President Ronald Reagan at the White House.
45. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts – Super Bowl XLI
Manning guided the Colts’ offense past the Bears in workmanlike fashion in the rain.
44. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots – Super Bowl LII
Brady set nine Super Bowl records in this game, including becoming the first to throw for more than 500 yards in the big game.
43. Clarence Davis, RB, Oakland Raiders – Super Bowl XI
Davis rushed 16 times for 137 yards, averaging 8.5 yards per carry against the Minnesota Vikings’ Purple People Eaters, one of the best defensive lines of all time.
42. Chuck Howley, LB, Dallas Cowboys – Super Bowl V
The Colts committed seven turnovers, including two interceptions by Howley, and still won. Howley remains the only member of a losing team to be named Super Bowl MVP.
41. Brett Favre, QB, Green Bay Packers – Super Bowl XXXI
Favre was excellent in his only Super Bowl victory, throwing for 246 yards and two touchdowns and running for another. He also did not make any mistakes.
40. Rod Martin, LB, Oakland Raiders – Super Bowl XV
Martin picked off Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski three times, a Super Bowl record that still stands.
39. Bart Starr, QB, Green Bay Packers – Super Bowl II
Starr called his own plays and guided the Packers’ offense in a rout of the Raiders.
38. Jake Scott, DB, Miami Dolphins – Super Bowl VII
Scott intercepted two passes, including one in the end zone in the fourth quarter, to help secure the Dolphins’ close win over the Redskins.
37. Roger Staubach, QB, Dallas Cowboys – Super Bowl VI
After earning the starting job earlier in the season, Staubach put on a passing clinic, completing 12 to six different receivers.
36. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints – Super Bowl XLIV
The Colts virtually shut down the Saints’ running game so Brees took to the air, completing 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards, and helped regain New Orleans’ pride.
35. John Stallworth, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers – Super Bowl XIV
Stallworth only had three receptions, but they were for 121 yards and included a 73-yard bomb that pulled the Steelers ahead of the Rams for good.
34. Timmy Smith, RB, Washington Redskins – Super Bowl XXII
Smith shocked everyone when he ran for a Super Bowl-record 204 yards. Then he disappeared off the face of the Earth.
33. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens – Super Bowl XLVII
Flacco did not throw any picks during the Ravens’ playoff run. He showed the same discipline in the Super Bowl, while throwing for 287 yards and three touchdowns.
32. Fred Biletnikoff, WR, Oakland Raiders – Super Bowl XI
Three of Biletnikoff’s four receptions set up Raider touchdowns.
31. Dwight Smith, DB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Super Bowl XXXVII
Smith returned two picks for touchdowns in the Buccaneers’ 48-21 dismantling of the Raiders.
30. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants – Super Bowl XLVI
In this war of attrition, Manning did not make any mistakes and made big plays when needed. What more could anyone ask for?
29. Malcolm Smith, LB, Seattle Seahawks – Super Bowl XLVIII
With the Broncos driving in Seahawk territory in the second quarter and threatening to cut into Seattle’s 15-0 lead, Smith intercepted Peyton Manning’s pass and ran 69 yards for touchdown. He also recovered a fumble and had nine tackles.
28. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots – Super Bowl LI
After throwing a pick-six in the second quarter to put his team down 21-0, Brady led the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
27. Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos – Super Bowl 50
How vital was Miller to the Broncos’ domination of the Panthers? He had six tackles, two and a half sacks and forced two fumbles. The first fumble was recovered by Malik Jackson in the end zone for a Denver score. The second squashed Carolina’s chances of winning and led to another Bronco touchdown.
26. Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas Cowboys – Super Bowl XXVIII
Smith did the heavy lifting for the Cowboys’ offense in this game, rushing for 132 yards on 30 carries and scoring two touchdowns.
25. Jim Plunkett, QB, Oakland Raiders – Super Bowl XV
After experiencing a revival of his career in Oakland, Plunkett took care of business in the Super Bowl, throwing for 261 yards and three touchdowns.
24. Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers – Super Bowl XLIII
Holmes caught nine passes for 131 yards and most importantly, he kept his toes in bounds for the game-winning score.
23. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers – Super Bowl XLV
Rodgers accounted for most of his team’s offense as the Packers held on to beat the Steelers.
22. Troy Aikman, QB, Dallas Cowboys – Super Bowl XXVII
Aikman threw four touchdown passes as the Cowboys slaughtered the Bills.
21. Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles – Super Bowl LII
The backup to Carson Wentz to start the season, Foles played the game of his life in leading a wide-open Eagles attack, throwing three touchdowns and catching another.
20. Terry Bradshaw, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers – Super Bowl XIII
Facing an equally determined foe in Roger Staubach, Bradshaw put together his best Super Bowl performance, throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns. Both were records at the time.
19. Richard Dent, DE, Chicago Bears – Super Bowl XX
Dent had 1.5 sacks, forced two fumbles and blocked a pass as the ’85 Bears crushed the Patriots.
18. Desmond Howard, KR/PR, Green Bay Packers – Super Bowl XXXI
Howard is the only player to be named Super Bowl MVP because of his special teams work. His kick and punt returns produced 244 yards and included a 99-yard touchdown that sealed the Packers’ victory.
17. Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco 49ers – Super Bowl XXIV
Montana exposed gaps in the Broncos’ coverage for five touchdowns in the biggest blowout in Super Bowl history.
16. Marcus Allen, RB, Los Angeles Raiders – Super Bowl XVIII
Allen rushed for 191 yards on 20 carries and put the nail in the Redskins’ coffin with a 74-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
15. Steve Young, QB, San Francisco 49ers – Super Bowl XXIX
A Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes. Enough said.
14. Kurt Warner, QB, St. Louis Rams – Super Bowl XXXIV
His 414 yards passing is a still a Super Bowl record. Plus, he did not throw a single interception in a game that came down to the last play.
13. Larry Csonka, RB, Miami Dolphins – Super Bowl VIII
Csonka accounted for more than half of the Dolphins’ offense as the Vikings were not able to stop him.
12. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants – Super Bowl XLII
Manning’s numbers in this game (19-of-34, 255 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) do not stand out, but he gave a gutsy performance in leading the upset of the greatest team never to win a Super Bowl.
11. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots – Super Bowl XXXVIII
Brady engaged in a shootout with the Panthers’ Jake Delhomme and came away victorious, as both quarterbacks passed for more than 300 yards.
10. Franco Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers – Super Bowl IX
Harris’ 158 yards rushing was more than the entire Vikings’ offense gained in the entire game.
9. Doug Williams, QB, Washington Redskins – Super Bowl XXII
Williams became the first African-American quarterback to win the Super Bowl with a dominant performance that included four touchdown passes in the second quarter.
8. John Riggins, RB, Washington Redskins – Super Bowl XVII
Riggins rushed for 166 yards and made the most clutch fourth down carry in Super Bowl history when he broke free for a 43-yard touchdown run.
7. Harvey Martin/Randy White, DL, Dallas Cowboys – Super Bowl XII
Martin and White led a Dallas defense that forced eight turnovers. They are the only co-MVPs in Super Bowl history.
6. Phil Simms, QB, New York Giants – Super Bowl XXI
Simms had an unbelievable 88 percent completion rate as he threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
5. Joe Namath, QB, New York Jets – Super Bowl III
Namath’s numbers were not memorable by any stretch of the imagination, but he guaranteed his victory and then called his own plays in an upset that may have saved pro football as we know it.
4. Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco 49ers – Super Bowl XIX
Montana’s best Super Bowl performance came against Dan Marino. Joe Cool threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 59 yards and another score.
3. Terrell Davis, RB, Denver Broncos – Super Bowl XXXII
The heart and soul of the Broncos’ upset of the Packers was Davis, who rushed for 157 yards on 30 carries. He did all of this while battling a migraine too.
2. Lynn Swann, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers – Super Bowl X
You have probably seen every one of his four receptions in this game in Super Bowl highlight reels.
1. Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers – Super Bowl XXIII
Rice caught 11 passes for a Super Bowl-record 215 yards and scored a touchdown. He also made a clutch first down when the 49ers faced second-and-20 on their legendary 92-yard game-winning drive.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.