It takes a lot to be the MVP during the NFL season. But, it takes even more grit, skill, and mental discipline to be the MVP when it matters the most. Super Bowl MVPs put their team on their back in the biggest game of the year. It’s an award that any NFL player would be honored to have.
There have been some iconic performances in the Super Bowl. From Tom Brady’s incredible comeback in Super Bowl LI, to Steve Young’s six touchdowns in Super Bowl XXIX, there are some very deserving winners. But, there are also MVP winners who will make you scratch your head.
Here are the best AND the worst of the Super Bowl MVPs, so take some deep breaths Joe Namath fans (sorry in advance).
Steve Young, Super Bowl XXIX
MOST: Steve Young had the game of his life in Super Bowl XIXX. He threw six touchdown passes, which are a Super Bowl record, in the San Francisco 49ers 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
The game started out very hot for Young as he found his favorite target, Jerry Rice, for a 44-yard touchdown on their third offensive play of the game. For a guy who spent a lot of his career in Joe Montana’s shadow, this was a huge performance for him.
Bart Starr, Super Bowl II
LEAST: The Green Bay Packers’ QB had a VERY average night during Super Bowl II. His MVP pick was probably a result of people feeling bad for him having to throw a football in the second-coldest game ever played.
His Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 and they ended up winning the game on his crafty quarterback sneak. But, his 202 yards passing was anything but special. His teammate Willie Davis dismantled the Cowboys defense with three sacks in the game.
Tom Brady, Super Bowl LI
MOST: It’s safe to say that it doesn’t get much better than Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI. After leading his team back from a 28-3 deficit, and then delivering a 34-28 win in overtime for his fifth championship, he’s in the conversation as the greatest of all time.
Not only was it one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, but he did it on the biggest sporting stage in the world. He threw for 466 yards, two touchdowns and had a Super Bowl record 62 attempts.
Dexter Jackson, Super Bowl XXXVII
LEAST: Two first-half interceptions for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense made safety Dexter Jackson the early leader among MVP candidates. To say the 48-21 Bucs win over the Oakland Raiders was a dismantling would be an understatement.
The MVP choice was even more surprising considering the fact that Jackson’s teammate, Dwight Smith, returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the second half. The Raiders ended up finishing that game with five turnovers and only 11 first downs.
Joe Montana, Super Bowl XXIV
MOST: This isn’t all that shocking. Montana and his San Francisco 49ers came about as close to perfection as you could possibly come. They routed the Denver Broncos 55-10 on the back of Montana’s five touchdown passes.
He had a lot of impressive stats that game, but one that stands out was his ability to go long. He completed three of four passes on throws traveling at least 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. It goes to show that it’s nearly impossible to beat one of the NFL’s greatest when he’s functioning at his best.
Julian Edelman, Super Bowl LIII
MOST: Julian Edelman looked like he was taking revenge on the NFL during his 2019 MVP performance in the Super Bowl. He finished the game with 10 catches for 141 receiving yards and was barely touched by Ram defensive backs all game.
For the small wide receiver, winning the award is the ultimate achievement after a season marred by controversy. At the start of the year, Edelman was suspended four games for PED use. At the time, he said he needed to held accountable. On Super Sunday he held the league accountable for doubting his championship drive.
Joe Namath, Super Bowl III
LEAST: Another famous “Joe” has made the list, and probably not for the reasons he would’ve wanted to. Namath was famous for calling a Super Bowl victory for his New York Jets in Super Bowl III.
Once they actually won 16-7, it was almost a guarantee he’d win the MVP no matter how mediocre his night was. He had a rather average day with 206 yards passing and no touchdown passes to show for it.
Terry Bradshaw, Super Bowl XIII
MOST: Super Bowl XIII was an instant classic. The Pittsburgh Steelers squeezed out a victory over the defending champion Dallas Cowboys 35-31. Steelers’ QB Terry Bradshaw passed for 318 yards and four touchdowns.
The Cowboys’ Doomsday Defense had sacked Bradshaw four times on third down in that game. For him to be able to complete 8 of 9 passes and two scores on third down is an incredibly impressive feat. In fact, no other starting quarterback has had a higher third-down completion rate in the Super Bowl.
Jake Scott, Super Bowl VII
LEAST: Anyone who bothered to watch Super Bowl VII would’ve seen that Jake Scott wasn’t even the best player on the Miami Dolphins defense. Their defensive tackle Manny Fernandez was dominant from the first snap. He was literally unblockable. Fernandez had 17 tackles and even added a sack as well.
Scott had two interceptions in the game that saw the Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins 14-7. The league missed the mark on this pick, that’s for sure.
Doug Williams, Super Bowl XXII
MOST: If you want to know just how good Doug Williams was in Super Bowl XXII, just know that he completed nine of eleven passes and four touchdowns in the second quarter alone.
His Washington Redskins went on to crush the Denver Broncos 42-10. It was an interesting end result considering the Redskins found themselves down 10-0 early in the game. A 35-point second quarter was exactly what the doctor ordered, and the Broncos just couldn’t keep up.
Desmond Howard, Super Bowl XXXI
LEAST: Who would’ve figured that a Super Bowl featuring Brett Favre and Reggie White would need a return specialist to close out the game for the winning team?
Desmond Howard remains the only player to win a Super Bowl MVP because of what he was able to do on special teams. He ran for 244 yards, including a 37-yard punt return. The lack of touchdowns in his stat line has many wondering the merit of the award that year.
Jerry Rice, Super Bowl XXIII
MOST: All Jerry Rice did in Super Bowl XXIII was compile 11 receptions for 215 yards, which is a Super Bowl record. Not only that, but he also caught a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter which sparked the flat 49ers offense.
They would go onto win the game 20-16 over the Cincinnati Bengals thanks to John Taylor’s iconic winning catch, which only happened because of Rice’s 109 receiving yards in the fourth quarter alone. It was a great way to send 49ers coach Bill Walsh into retirement.
Chuck Howley, Super Bowl V
LEAST: Super Bowl V was a game that featured 11 turnovers and only 23 first downs. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Somehow a game that sloppy still needed to crown an MVP.
Chuck Howley, an LB for the Dallas Cowboys, had two interceptions, including one in the end zone. Those catches didn’t prove to be enough as the opposing Indianapolis Colts still ended up winning the Super Bowl that year. Howley remains the only player from the losing team to win Super Bowl MVP.
Emmitt Smith, Super Bowl XXVIII
MOST: This game came down to the wire. After the Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys were tied in the third quarter, Emmitt Smith decided to take over the game.
He accounted for 18 carries and one reception during three Cowboys’ touchdown drives. He helped Dallas pull away in a 30-13 win, which made him the obvious Super Bowl MVP choice. It’s interesting to note that the starting quarterbacks for each team, Troy Aikman and Jim Kelly, combined for no touchdowns in that game.
Malcolm Smith, Super Bowl XLVIII
LEAST: This is not about saying that Malcolm Smith, the linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks, didn’t deserve the MVP, but he didn’t deserve the MVP. He had an interception in the second quarter that he ran for a touchdown which made the game 22-0.
The Seahawks would go on to win the game 43-8, hardly a barn-burner. It was a rollercoaster during the playoffs for Smith, who was just a part-time starter at the time.
John Riggins, Super Bowl XVII
MOST: Washington Redskins fans got to witness one of the great comeback victories in their franchise’s history during Super Bowl XVII. John Riggins’ iconic 43-yard run on fourth down in the fourth quarter to give the Redskins their first lead was electric.
The Redskins ended up winning the game 27-17 and Riggins finished his MVP performance tallying 38 carries for 166 yards. His 38 carries in a Super Bowl still remains a record to this day.
Fred Biletnikoff, Super Bowl XI
LEAST: The wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders caught four passes for 79 yards and no touchdowns. Oakland had a dominant victory over the Minnesota Vikings in that game and piled up 429 passing yards.
Fred Biletnikoff’s stats were hardly impressive considering the Raiders ran the ball for 266 yards and two scores in the victory. Biletnikoff’s catches set up three easy touchdowns, but he was unable to get a touchdown of his own.
Joe Flacco, Super Bowl XLVII
MOST: Nothing seemed to be able to stop Joe Flacco during his Super Bowl XlVII MVP performance. Well, I guess the 34-minute power outage in the Superdome kind of slowed him down, but Flacco’s performance didn’t show it.
He threw for three touchdowns in the first half alone. He finished the day passing for 287 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Impressively, he was 7-out-of-10 for 158 yards and two scores on third down.
Ottis Anderson, Super Bowl XXV
LEAST: This was quite the game. The New York Giants edged out the Buffalo Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV. But, the choice for Super Bowl MVP had many people scratching their head. The most memorable play from the game was the 47-yard field goal attempt from Buffalo’s Scott Norwood that missed the mark and ultimately lost them the game.
Ottis Anderson had 21 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown. Nothing to scream about. His claim to fame during that game was the four touches and 37 yards he ran for during the winning drive for the Giants.
Mark Moseley, 1982
LEAST: We’ve seen some of the best and worst in the Super Bowl MVP picks, but there are a few notable regular season MVP picks that are awful too.
In 1982, Mark Moseley won the MVP award as a kicker. Yes, a kicker. He ended up finishing the season making 95% of his field goal attempts, which is impressive. But, there must’ve been something in the water during the mid-80s to give this much clout to a kicker. Moseley never even came close to an 80% success rate for the rest of his career.
Rich Gannon, 2002
LEAST: Similar to Moseley, Rich Gannon also won the NVL MVP honors in 2002 under sketchy circumstances. He was admittedly good during the 2002 season, but his Oakland Raiders were a dynamic offense even without him.
The Raiders made the Super Bowl and lost to the New England Patriots. But Gannon was an ageless wonder that year considering he was hardly an elite QB throughout his career. He took advantage of a weak AFC in what would be his last full year in the league.