- Listing the greatest performances in Super Bowl history
- Many Hall of Famers feature in our list
- What’s your pick for the greatest ever individual SB performance?
As Super Bowl LV approaches, and hype for the biggest day on the sporting calendar grows, everybody is talking about who will make the difference.
Superstar players on the biggest stage, trying to put their names in the history books. Through the decades, there have been hundreds of touchdowns, endless memorable moments and plays, and some phenomenal games of football.
With all that being said, some players elevated above and beyond when it mattered most, and in this list, we are going to try and rank the top 10, and count down to the most dominant individual Super Bowl performance of all-time.
After more than fifty games of football have been played, it is very difficult to narrow down the top 10 best performances. So, I want to start by giving a quick shoutout to two outlier Super Bowl MVP’s, who by all accounts deserve to be on any list of best Super Bowl performances. So here are my honourable mentions for the 12th and 11th best performances, with two very unique entries.
12. Randy White and Harvey Martin, Cowboys – SB XII
The most unique possible Super Bowl MVP – the time that they named two of them.
After the Dallas Cowboys absolutely dominated on defense in the twelfth Super Bowl, both Randy White and Harvey Martin were awarded co-MVP awards. This was earned by their part played in a defensive effort that concluded with 8 turnovers, and a final score of 27-10 over the Denver Broncos. White and Martin had 3 sacks between them, and the history books went from never having a defensive lineman as SB MVP to having two.
11. Desmond Howard, Packers – SB XXXI
154 yards and a TD on 4 Kick Returns, and 90 yards on 6 Punt Returns
You surely didn’t think I could ignore the Super Bowl MVP who won it on special teams?
In Super Bowl XXXI, the Green Bay Packers defeated the New England Patriots, and in large part thanks to Desmond Howard. The return specialist had 10 opportunities in the game, 6 punts and 4 kick-offs, and turned them into 244 yards and a touchdown – a score which shut the door by immediately shutting down the comeback attempt after the Patriots scored in the third quarter.
Top 10: Greatest individual performances in Super Bowl history
10. John Riggins, Washington – SB XVII
166 rushing yards and a TD, 38 carries
Riggins rushed 38 times and turned the work into 166 rushing yards and a TD. He also caught a pass for 15 yards, and his 181 scrimmage yards, which meant he actually outproduced the entire Miami offense. Washington won 27-17, and Riggins’ 43-yard touchdown run on a tense fourth-down sealed the deal.
9. Marcus Allen, Los Angeles Raiders – SB XVIII
191 rushing yards and 2 TDs, 20 carries
The Los Angeles Raiders won a dominant 38-9 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. Marcus Allen’s efficiency was ridiculous.
The Raiders halfback rushed the ball just 20 times, but turned the opportunities into 191 rushing yards and scored twice. Washington couldn’t stop Allen, and their offense failed to match up to their previous year’s heroics. Allen doing this against John Riggins’ team one year after his 38 carry game cements him one spot ahead on our list.
8. Phil Simms, Giants – SB XXI
268 passing yards, 3 TDs, 88% completion rate
He led them to victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, and earned both the highest completion rate (88%) and highest passer rating (150.9) in SB history. He went 22/25 and threw for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 39-20 win.
The plays weren’t all flashy and he didn’t even have to throw many yards compared to other QB’s on our list, but he was practically unstoppable and holds two records that will be incredibly difficult to break.
7. Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams – SB XXXIV
414 passing yards and 2 TDs
Possibly the opposite performance of the previous entry, Kurt Warner’s game in the 34th Super Bowl was one of brute force.
He threw the ball 45 times in the St. Louis Rams’ 23-16 defeat of the Tennessee Titans. He completed 24 of his attempts for 414 yards and 2 TDs, and set the record for both passing yards and most pass attempts without an interception in Super Bowl history.
Unfortunately, both of these records have been broken by someone else who will feature on this list, but this performance was incredibly impressive, and Warner’s role in ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ will always go down in NFL history. SB XXXIV was one of the most narrowly contested games of all time, literally, but after winning by inches, the Rams QB had secured the SB MVP to go alongside his NFL MVP.
6. Doug Williams, Washington – SB XXII
340 passing yards and 4 TDs, 1 INT
Trailing 10-0 to the Denver Broncos going into the second quarter, the Washington Redskins’ quarterback Doug Williams had one of the greatest 15 minutes in the history of the sport, throwing four touchdowns before halftime.
The game ended 42-10, and Williams became the first African American starting QB to win the Super Bowl.
His 340 yard and 4 touchdown performance, with one interception, landed him the SB MVP, too. A showing of this magnitude was the only way that Timmy Smith could have possibly failed to receive the award, as he set the all-time rushing record with 204 yards and 2TD’s on just 22 carries.
5. Joe Montana, 49ers – SB XXIV
297 passing yards and 5 TDs
As we enter the top five best performances of all time, we mention the first of a few players from one of the most dominant franchises, the San Francisco 49ers.
In Super Bowl XXIV, Joe Montana put up an absolutely incredible stat line in arguably the most dominant Super Bowl of all time. He threw 297 passing yards and 5 scores in a 55-10 demolition of the Denver Broncos.
This was the final of four Super Bowl wins for one of the greatest QB’s of all time, and ‘Cool Joe’ earned his third SB MVP award in style. Montana had a passer rating of 147.6, which remains second to Simms’ record, that was set just three years prior.
4. Terrell Davis, Broncos – SB XXXII
157 rushing yards and 3 TDs, 30 carries
The greatest running back Super Bowl performance in NFL history was that of Terrell Davis in Super Bowl XXXII.
The Denver Broncos star halfback put up a line of 157 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns on 30 carries, despite missing almost the entire second quarter with a migraine.
His three scores are tied for the SB record. His production in just three quarters, and while battling the migraine, is absolutely incredible. He didn’t just win the MVP, he also won them the game, with his final score putting them up 31-24 with just 1:42 to go. He is still the only player in history to score 3 rushing TDs in the Super Bowl.
3. Tom Brady, Patriots – SB LII
505 yards and 3 TDs passing
This list could not be completed without mention of the greatest football player of all time, Tom Brady. Honestly, if I hadn’t decided to only feature any player once, he would probably be on this list three times.
It’s fairly easy to narrow down to two games that were the best of Tom Brady’s 9 Super Bowl appearances – soon to be an absolutely unthinkable 10 – and those two games came in 2016 and 2017, two of the four times he made it within just a five season stretch from 2014-2018. He won Super Bowl LI with the greatest comeback in sports history, and then one year later he put up what I believe to be the third best individual performance in Super Bowl history, at least.
In Super Bowl LII, Brady and the New England Patriots faced the underdog Philadelphia Eagles and lost in one of the best games of all time. The 41-33 scoreline made it the second-highest scoring Super Bowl, shy of the record by one point.
Tom Brady's performance today just makes the Eagles' victory in Super Bowl LII all the more impressive.
— Brian Leighton (@phillyleighton) January 24, 2021
Now onto Brady’s game itself. Despite losing the game, Tom Brady threw for a record 505 passing yards on 28 completions, breaking his own record from the year before (466). He threw three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Patriots are the only team in Super Bowl history to have three receivers with over 100 yards in the game, with Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan. This game will always go down in history as the legendary game of the ‘Philly Special’ and Nick Foles, but on the other side of it, the Patriots became the highest-scoring loser ever, and Tom Brady had one of the best performances in Super Bowl history.
2. Jerry Rice, 49ers – SB XXIII
215 receiving yards and a TD, 11 receptions
We return to the San Francisco 49ers, who were an absolute powerhouse in the ‘80s and the ‘90s.
The period in which they dominated the league also included the window in which they had the greatest wide receiver of all time on the roster, Jerry Rice.
Rice was drafted in 1985, directly after the Niners won their second championship of the decade, and in his fourth season in the league, Rice got the chance to play in his first Super Bowl. He won three of them in his time in San Francisco, and we’ll speak about another one of those in a minute, but it was his debut on the big game where he truly exploded. In Super Bowl XXIII, with Joe Montana at QB, Rice put up a frankly ridiculous 215 receiving yards and a touchdown, on 11 receptions.
Three of these receptions took place on the most iconic drive in playoff history, with Montana marching down the field for 92-yards, and finally finding John Taylor with the game-winning touchdown. Rice’s 215 yards are still the most of any player in Super Bowl history and it is one of the most impressive records attached to the big game. He fills three of the top 10 spots in history for passing yards in a game, but his 215-yard game is the one that represents the most dominant receiving performance in any Super Bowl.
1. Steve Young, 49ers – SB XXIX
325 passing yards, 6 passing TDs on 24/36, and an extra 49 yards rushing
Here we are ladies and gentlemen. The greatest Super Bowl performance in NFL history belongs to Steve Young, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. After joining San Francisco behind Joe Montana, and spending four years as his backup, Young knew a thing or two about championships, and two of his three Super Bowls were in this second-string role.
In January 1995, though, Young got his chance to start in the Super Bowl. It was the only chance he ever got to start in one, and damn did he make the most of it.
Young threw the ball 36 times, completing 24 of them for a ludicrous 325 passing yards and 6 touchdowns. Six.
As you will know from reading this list, this usurped his old teammate’s record, and he now owns possibly the hardest record of all to break. As well as his outrageous passing output, Young also rushed for an extra 49 yards. While he was breaking the TD record, he threw three of those touchdowns to the aforementioned Jerry Rice, who tied his own record for 3 receiving TDs in a game, which he set in Super Bowl XXIV, which landed ‘Cool Joe’ on our list. 374 all-purpose yards and 6 passing touchdowns – the greatest individual performance in Super Bowl history.