54 years ago, the NFL started calling the championship game between the AFL/AFC and NFL/NFC the “Super Bowl.”
Over the years, there have been classic games and some that are snoozers. What fans remember the most about the Super Bowl is the performances of the players on the field. These players were game changers and carried their teams to Super Bowl titles.
Here is the list of the greatest player performances in Super Bowl history.
10. Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XXIX (10 catches, 149 yards receiving, three touchdowns)
This game wasn’t even close.
The high-powered San Francisco 49ers went into Miami as heavy favorites to beat the San Diego Chargers. And they did that, convincingly. The offense of the 49ers was on fire all game long as they put up 49 points on the board. While Steve Young was the star of the game, fans can’t forget about the greatness of Jerry Rice.
Rice dominated from start to finish as he put up three touchdowns in the win. If it wasn’t for Young’s performance, Rice would have been MVP of the game.
9. L.C. Greenwood, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl X (Super Bowl record four sacks)
Love has to be given to the defense and how the term “defense wins championships” never meant as much as it did for Pittsburgh. The Steel Curtain defense of the Steelers came alive during the ’70s and ’80s with Hall of Famers like “Mean” Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, and Mel Blount.
The offense of the Steelers had their share of Hall of Famers and great performances in this game (but that’s for later in this list). The star of this game came from a non-Hall of Famer in L.C. Greenwood. He sacked Dallas Cowboys legendary quarterback Roger Staubach four times in a 21-17 win over Dallas. His defense put up a total of seven sacks, which was an NFL Super Bowl record at the time. Greenwood didn’t win the MVP, but his performance should not be overlooked.
8. Marcus Allen, RB, Los Angeles Raiders, Super Bowl XVIII (20 carries, 191 yards rushing, two touchdowns)
Marcus Allen had one of the most spectacular runs in NFL history when he ran around in the backfield before a hole opened up for him to take it 76 yards for a touchdown.
The Los Angeles Raiders took down the Washington Redskins in this game pretty comfortably, but Allen carried the offense on his back to rush for a Super Bowl title. He had a lot of open lanes to run through and the Redskins defense had a hard time wrapping him up in the backfield. Allen was too quick for them and it was apparent from the beginning what was going to happen. A strong run game led by Allen took the Raiders to an easy title.
7. Rod Martin, LB, Oakland Raiders, Super Bowl XV (Super Bowl record three interceptions)
Legendary Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden had always been known for having tough, nasty defenses who dominated on the field. Well, the Raiders made life hard for Ron Jaworski and the Philadelphia Eagles. Jaws had one of the worst performances by a quarterback in a Super Bowl after throwing three interceptions. Who got all three? Rod Martin. A linebacker.
Again, love needs to be given to the defense as Martin dropped back into coverage and read Jaworski all game long. The Raiders offense had an easy time as their defense had set them up in good field position on every turnover. Martin was dominant and should be recognized for having one of the greatest defensive performances ever.
6. Timmy Smith, RB, Washington Redskins, Super Bowl XXII (22 carries, 204 yards rushing (Super Bowl record), two touchdowns)
A mostly forgetful game as the Washington Redskins blew out the Denver Broncos.
John Elway was just terrible and was outperformed by Doug Williams, who became the first African American quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl. People shouldn’t overlook the fact that the Redskins had a running back who set records. Timmy Smith wasn’t a player that casual NFL fans may not recognize, but Redskin fans remember how well he dominated the Broncos defense. He gashed the Broncos for a Super Bowl record 204 yards and two scores. Marcus Allen may have the spectacular play, but Smith had a better game.
5. Lynn Swann, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl X (four catches, 161 yards receiving, one touchdown)
He didn’t catch many passes, but when he did, Lynn Swann dominated the field. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw knew on this day that if he threw it up to Swann, he wasn’t going to drop it. Every catch he had looked like an amazing play that is repeated on highlight reels to this day. The Dallas Cowboys defense had no answer for him and couldn’t stop him. This game for Swann helped secure his spot in the Hall of Fame easily.
4. Steve Young, QB, San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XXIX (24-for-36, 325 yards passing, six touchdowns, five carries, 49 yards rushing)
A blowout win can be very boring. Unless your team puts up 49 points in the game. Steve Young was able to “pull the monkey” off of his back with his stellar performance against the San Diego Chargers. The 49ers quarterback threw for six touchdowns in the game and proved that the team can win without Joe Montana under center. Yes, it does help to have Jerry Rice catching passes for you, but Young also led the team in rushing. His style of play was different from Montana, but his ability to be an elite quarterback proved to be the same on that day.
3. Joe Namath, QB, New York Jets, Super Bowl III (17-for-28, 206 yards passing)
A historic moment in not only NFL history but in sports history. A quarterback for the lowly AFL guaranteed a win against the almighty Baltimore Colts. So what did Joe Namath do? He led his team to the biggest upset in NFL history and his New York Jets beat the Colts 16-7.
The stats don’t look good on paper, but what Namath was able to do is amazing in itself. It’s a pivotal moment for the league as it made the AFL relevant and led to what is now the AFC and NFC under one league.
2. Terrell Davis, RB, Denver Broncos, Super Bowl XXXII (30 carries, 157 yards rushing, three touchdowns)
John Elway won his first Super Bowl after losing so many in this contest against the Green Bay Packers, but people almost forget Terrell Davis’ performance in this game. Almost forget. It’s hard to not remember the fact that he was fighting through migraines and at times, couldn’t even see because it was so bad. He battled through it and made it one of the gutsiest performances in NFL history. He ran all over the Packers defense and they had no answer for him. He was the best player on the field and the main reason Elway has that ring on his finger.
1. Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XXIII (11 catches, 215 yards receiving, one touchdown)
The greatest receiver of all time always came up big in the most important games for the teams he played for. Jerry Rice came up big for the San Francisco 49ers on every pass Joe Montana was throwing his way. Even though John Taylor caught the game-winning touchdown to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, it was Rice’s catches on the last drive that kept the team alive. Montana was exceptional in this game, but Rice’s performance was critical for them to win. He was the true definition of the most valuable player on the team.
James White, RB, New England Patriots, Super Bowl LI (six carries, 29 yards rushing, two touchdowns, 14 catches, 110 yards receiving, one touchdown)
Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl LII (28-for-43, 373 yards passing, three touchdowns, one interception)
Jacoby Jones, WR/Returner, Baltimore Ravens, Super Bowl XLVII (290 total yards, 108-yard touchdown return & 56-yard touchdown catch)
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots, Super Bowl LII (28-for-48, 505 yards passing, three touchdowns)