The Super Bowl is the highest level of NFL football, culminating in an entire season’s worth of greatness. Usually, to win the biggest event on the calendar, one or two players have to elevate their team above the competition and cement themselves in NFL lore. These greatest performances in Super Bowl history won their teams a ring and created lasting memories for millions of fans who tuned in for great football and not just for halftime entertainment!
1. Steve Young, Super Bowl XXIX
It took years for Steve Young to climb out of the shadow of Joe Montana. When he finally did, it must have felt euphoric! Young’s performance against San Diego transcended all others. He passed for six touchdowns and 325 yards of offense, obliterating the haters and the Chargers simultaneously.
2. Tom Brady, Super Bowl LI
Tom Brady’s most famous performance mythologized his impeccable grit and desire to win. Trailing by 25 points in the second half, Brady rallied the Patriots against a high-powered Atlanta offense to knock off MVP Matt Ryan in overtime. After this game, fans and players alike understood the aura of the New England Patriots was unlike anything in the NFL.
3. Joe Namath, Super Bowl III
Joe Namath guaranteed victory against the Colts in Super Bowl III and delivered on his bravado with 206 passing yards and no turnovers. The lack of interceptions was an accomplishment that came as a surprise for the usually sloppy Namath. While his statistics weren’t impressive, Namath’s leadership ushered in a new era for quarterbacks in football.
4. Joe Montana, Super Bowl XXIV
Joe Montana made everything look easy for the San Francisco 49ers throughout the 1980s. His obliteration of the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl XXIV set a new standard for quarterback excellence during the decade with five touchdowns and nearly 300 passing yards.
5. Jerry Rice, Super Bowl XXIII
Jerry Rice produced over half of Joe Montana’s offense in this close victory over the Bengals. It takes a lot for a wide receiver to get more credit than a quarterback, but Rice seemingly had magnets on his hands against Cincinnati, forcing the MVP voters to recognize his greatness.
6. Eli Manning, Super Bowl XLII
Eli Manning never thought about the ramifications of losing to the perfect New England Patriots in 2007, instead ending their season by delivering an all-time gut punch to Tom Brady. Manning loved playing backyard football and did so again in the closing minutes to take the lead once and for all.
7. James Harrison, Super Bowl XLIII
James Harrison’s goosebump-inducing 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Cardinals resulted in perhaps the greatest defensive performance in Super Bowl history. In a franchise with so many defensive legends and championships, Harrison still stands above the rest.
8. Von Miller, Super Bowl L
Peyton Manning’s name often received the headlines for Denver, but Von Miller’s defensive destruction shut down the Carolina Panthers and brought a title back to Colorado. Miller’s intimidation can’t be measured in statistics. He had Carolina quarterback Cam Newton running for his life and seeing ghosts when Miller wasn’t even there to tackle him.
9. Terry Bradshaw, Super Bowl XIII
People can call Terry Bradshaw a game manager all they want, but make sure to call him a four-time champion. Bradshaw often saved his best performances for late January, with his Super Bowl XIII masterclass consisting of four touchdowns.
10. Aaron Rodgers, Super Bowl XLV
Aaron Rodgers floated footballs through the air with grace and precision against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Rodgers displayed all his unique talents with lasers over the middle and twisting arm angles nobody else can replicate. This performance led many to believe Rodgers would win many more chips, but this remains his only appearance in the Super Bowl.
11. Reggie White, Super Bowl XXXI
Reggie White saved one of his best performances of the season for the biggest stage when he accumulated three sacks and sent a message to the NFL that the Packers were back on top. White’s nose for the ball kept Green Bay on top for most of the game and held the Patriots to only seven points after the first quarter.
12. Doug Williams, Super Bowl XXII
Doug Williams made Hall of Fame passer John Elway look pedestrian by putting up a passer rating over 90 points better. Williams showed teams that Black quarterbacks could be franchise cornerstones with a four-touchdown beatdown against the Broncos.
13. Phil Simms, Super Bowl XXI
Phil Simms may be more known for his media work on CBS these days, but he was a key component of Big Blue back in the 1980s. Simms only missed three passes the entire game in a routine route of the Broncos during Super Bowl XXI.
14. Bart Starr, Super Bowl I
Bart Starr started Green Bay’s odyssey as the NFL’s preeminent quarterback haven when he led the team to the first-ever Super Bowl victory in football history. Starr always made the right decisions and often looked like a modern signal caller during a much different period in football.
15. Kurt Warner, Super Bowl XXXIV
Kurt Warner revolutionized NFL passing schemes with the Rams in the late 1990s with plenty of aerial artistry while other teams tried to pound the ground. Warner’s 414 yards were par for the course, capping off a season in which St. Louis usually made putting up points look easy.
16. Lynn Swann, Super Bowl X
Nobody has ever been more efficient than Lynn Swann catching the ball during Super Bowl X. Swann was Terry Bradshaw’s favorite receiver, as the graceful superstar was to credit for 161 of Bradshaw’s 209 passing yards despite only making four catches.
17. Marcus Allen, Super Bowl XVIII
Marcus Allen’s triumphant trot through the Washington defense made for a boring game but a memorable MVP night for the halfback. Allen’s 191 rushing yards don’t tell the whole story of how thoroughly mesmerizing he was in the defeat of the Redskins.
18. Aaron Donald, Super Bowl LVI
Aaron Donald might be the best defensive player of the last decade, and he capped his resume with an outstanding night against the Bengals in 2022. Donald’s multiple sacks forced Cincinnati into tough spots on offense and allowed the Rams to execute a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
19. Nick Foles, Super Bowl LII
Nick Foles paired with the underdog city of Philadelphia perfectly to deliver the Eagles their first Super Bowl. Foles out-dueled Tom Brady with just a few more clutch throws, but the defining play was when he lined up as a receiver and caught a pass for a touchdown. Foles’ creativity and willingness to try anything symbolized his heart.
20. Tom Brady, Super Bowl LII
Tom Brady didn’t lose very often in the Super Bowl, but his Super Bowl LII outing against the Eagles deserves a shoutout despite not resulting in a victory. Brady produced over 500 yards of offense for the Patriots on a day that Bill Belichick’s defense was uncharacteristically shoddy.
21. Marshawn Lynch, Super Bowl XLIX
Marshawn Lynch should have taken MVP honors home after this game against the Patriots if not for Pete Carroll’s decision to pass the ball on the one-yard line with just seconds remaining. Russell Wilson’s misfire into the arms of Malcolm Butler ruined a night in which Lynch trampled New England on nearly every possession.
22. Emmitt Smith, Super Bowl XXVIII
The Cowboys had a variety of superstars who would take over a game on any given Sunday. On the rare occasion Dallas was down in a game, they usually turned to Emmitt Smith to pound the ball on the ground and tire out the other team’s defense. This happened for much of the second half during Super Bowl XXVII against the Buffalo Bills, and Smith proved his legendary greatness.
23. Joe Flacco, Super Bowl XLVII
Joe Flacco has been nothing more than a solid starting quarterback throughout his career, but he elevated to star status when Beyonce shut the lights down during Super Bowl XLVII. Flacco’s accuracy and three touchdowns pushed Baltimore to a second title in franchise history.
24. Drew Brees, Super Bowl XLIV
Drew Brees’ high level of play against Peyton Manning and the Broncos meant so much more to New Orleans than just a championship. The Saints’ victory in Super Bowl XLIV meant that Louisiana had persevered against all odds inside and outside of sports after Hurricane Katrina.
25. Terrell Davis, Super Bowl XXXII
Terrell Davis carried John Elway and the Broncos to their first Super Bowl with three touchdowns on the ground against the Packers. He doesn’t get the credit of someone like Michael Jordan during his flu game, but Davis played through his own illness: migraine headaches.