Fairly or not, NFL quarterbacks get all of the attention when things are going well for a team. Conversely, when things aren’t going as well, quarterbacks get the lion’s share of the grief. For proof of that, just look at the Oakland Raiders right this moment. Matt Schaub is taking all of the heat for the team underperforming so far this preseason when his receivers have done him no favors by dropping a lot of balls, and his offensive line has done a less than stellar job keeping the defense off of him.
Like it or not, the quarterback is the glory position in the NFL. But teams over the decades have shown us that you actually don’t need a great quarterback to win. If you have a dominant running back, or even better, a dominant defense, you can scale your way to the top of the NFL mountain and take home football’s most coveted prize – the Lombardi Trophy. Just look at the Chicago Bears in 1985, the Baltimore Ravens in 2000, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, among others, if you need proof. More times than not, a dominant defense will render even the most prolific quarterback moot. Last season’s Seattle Seahawks also showed us that.
That being said, NFL history is filled with quarterbacks who were average – or even below average – who have gotten to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Some of the quarterbacks who were part of a Super Bowl winning team were shockingly bad over the course of their careers. It seems that in some of these cases, their biggest achievement and impact in their team’s Super Bowl win was holding on to the ball and simply not screwing up.
It’s with this in mind that we explore 10 of the worst quarterbacks to ever win a Super Bowl…
10. Terry Bradshaw (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Oh, I know, we all love Terry Bradshaw, don’t we? He seems like such a goofy, likable character on tv! And there is no doubt that some out there will say, “hey, he won 4 Super Bowls, surely he doesn’t belong on this list! You’re an idiot!” It would be for sentimental reasons to exclude him from this list because based purely on football reasons, he absolutely belongs on it, 4 rings or not. As a rookie in 1970, Bradshaw put together one of the worst seasons in NFL history. In 13 games that year – including 8 starts – he threw 6 touchdowns and a whopping 24 interceptions. Over his 14 year career, Bradshaw would throw double digit interceptions 10 times, topping the 20 pick mark 5 times. For his career, Bradshaw threw 212 touchdowns against 210 interceptions, and compiled a 70.9 quarterback rating – not terribly great numbers. If Pittsburgh hadn’t had the “Steel Curtain” on defense, Bradshaw likely wouldn’t have 1 ring, let alone 4, because he never would have gotten a team there on his own.
9. Jim Plunkett (Oakland/LA Raiders)
Though it pains me personally – as I am a proud member of the Raider Nation – two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Jim Plunkett must go on this dubious list. In Super Bowl 15, Plunk had a stellar game. His 13-21 for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns were good enough to net him Super Bowl MVP honors, but that great game was something of an outlier. Over the course of his career, he was a pretty average quarterback – at best. His 67.5 career quarterback rating is the second-lowest of any Super Bowl winning quarterback. In his 15 seasons, Plunkett threw 164 touchdowns against 198 interceptions and amassed a 72-72 record as a starter. Though he did help the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins, there’s a reason why the Pro Football Hall of Fame isn’t beating down his door.
8. Joe Theismann (Washington)
The legend of Joe Theismann is actually a lot bigger and better than the reality of Joe Theismann. He was a shameless and relentless self-promoter long before pro athletes were regular fixtures on TV and advertisements. Theismann created this whole mythology about himself and still today, many believe he’s one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Except that statistics don’t lie, and the facts don’t really bear that out. Over the course of his 12 year NFL career, Theismann threw 160 touchdowns against 138 picks, throwing double digit interceptions in 8 of his seasons. And for his career, Theismann compiled a 77.4 quarterback rating – not exactly the stuff of legends. But hey, he was named one of the 70 greatest players in Washington history, so he’s got that going for him.
7. Jim McMahon (Chicago Bears)
To be perfectly honest, McMahon is better known for his swagger and childish antics than he is for anything he did on the football field. He was the face of that dominant 1986 Chicago Bears team, mainly because of his rock star attitude. But despite having a pretty terrific Super Bowl in helping his Bears to a lopsided win over the New England Patriots, McMahon was pretty average over his 15 year career. He posted 100 touchdowns to 90 interceptions, threw for just over 18,000 yards, and put together a 78.2 career quarterback rating. Make no mistake about it, McMahon had a good Super Bowl back in 1985, but it was that smothering Buddy Ryan defense – a defense that surrendered just 10 points in the playoffs – that won the title for Chicago, not the quarterback.
6. Doug Williams (Washington Redskins)
Like McMahon in Chicago – and truth be told, many of the QB’s on this list – Doug Williams had one spectacular game on the NFL’s biggest stage, Super Bowl 22, in which he carved up the Denver Broncos. But that game was the high point of his otherwise very average, to below average, pro football career. In his 9 year career (5 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 4 with Washington), Williams compiled a 38-42-1 record as a starter, and threw 100 touchdowns to 93 interceptions. For his career, Williams compiled a 69.4 QB rating – 3rd lowest career rating of any QB who’s won a Super Bowl. But he had one great day, won a ring, and that can never be taken from him.
5. Jeff Hostetler (New York Giants)
Had Phil Simms never been hurt, we likely never would have known who Jeff Hostetler was. In his 12 years in the league, Hostetler was mostly a career backup QB. But what can be said for him is that when he got his chance, he took advantage of it and helped the Giants win a title. He has 94 touchdowns against 71 picks and a 58% completion percentage for his career. He also amassed an 80.5 career QB rating. It’s not that Hoss was a terrible quarterback, he was just very average for a very long time. If not for being in the right place at the right time – on the Giants’ roster when Simms went down – he would have been completely irrelevant.
4. Ken Stabler (Oakland Raiders)
“The Snake” is a huge part of Raider lore. Sadly though, Stabler has been mythologized to a point that doesn’t quite match the reality. Though in his defense, over his 10 years with the Raiders, his numbers – 19,000 passing yards, 150 touchdowns, 143 picks, 80.2 QB rating – weren’t terrible. But they weren’t as good as they’ve been inflated to be. For his career, Stabler threw for just under 28,000 yards to go along with 194 touchdowns against his 222 interceptions, and with a career 75.3 QB rating. Stabler was good, he just wasn’t as good as the old legends say.
3. Brad Johnson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The best thing about Brad Johnson is that he was a very effective game manager. That term has come to have something of a derogatory meaning these days, but he was very effective at limiting mistakes and being a steady presence in the huddle. But the fact of the matter is that Brad Johnson is a very, very average quarterback. He won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay back in 2002, but that win needs to be credited to the defense who scored just as many points as the offense. Johnson put together a career 72-53 record as a starter, threw 166 touchdowns against 122 interceptions and threw for just under 30,000 yards. But he also recorded a career 82.5 QB rating. Not overwhelming, and not great – but good – which is how you can sum up Brad Johnson.
2. Joe Namath (New York Jets)
Broadway Joe is another of those larger than life personalities who’s off the field persona has been conflated with his on the field achievements. Most people remember him for his “guarantee” of a Super Bowl win, and tend to think that Namath was one of the NFL’s best QB’s – and to be fair, Namath himself probably believes it. But as with many other QB’s on this list, Namath was a great showman, but a very below average quarterback. And definitely one of the worst to win a Super Bowl. Over his 13 season career (12 with the Jets, and 1 with the Rams), Namath compiled a 62-63-4 record as a starter. He threw for more than 27,000 yards, and 173 touchdowns to 220 interceptions. He also has a career 65.5 QB rating – the lowest of any Super Bowl winning QB in NFL history. His one great, non-Super Bowl, moment was being the first QB to throw for 4,000 yards. However, one good season isn’t enough to be classified as elite. Flashy personality he was. Flashy NFL quarterback or even effective game manager, he was not.
1. Trent Dilfer (Baltimore Ravens)
You knew he was going to end up on this list. You had to have known. Except for his one trip to the Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in 2000, Dilfer spent most of his career bouncing around from the Buccaneers to the Ravens, to the Seahawks, to the Browns, to the 49ers. He’s posted 113 career touchdowns against 129 interceptions, and compiled an 70.2 career QB rating. Definitely not the stuff of legend. In the 2000 season, the Ravens defense was so dominant, they could have put my mother under center, and they still would have won. Dilfer’s only job in that game was to not screw anything up – which he didn’t, going 12-26 for 153 yards and a touchdown. Very pedestrian numbers, but the defense so stifling, that’s all they needed. And if Baltimore wanted to underscore the point that Dilfer is the worst starting QB to win a Super Bowl, the team released him shortly after their title run.
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