There’s no bigger or brighter stage in professional sports than the Super Bowl. While the NHL, NBA, and MLB offers extended excitement through seven-game series to determine league champions, there’s something special about the NFL’s single-game championship. It’s often the most watched program of the year in North America and, as such, advertisers pay millions of dollars for 30-second or one-minute commercials. In short, there’s nothing like it.
Because of its high-profile, some players simply can’t live up to such high expectations and crumble under the pressure. In the Super Bowl, the cream rises to the top, which is why quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Terry Bradshaw, and Joe Montana have won multiple Super Bowl Most Valuable Player awards. On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, is the little-known player who contributes in a massive way en route to leading his team to a championship. That player might not have been the MVP of the game, but became an unlikely hero through his big-moment contributions. Below, we detail 15 former and current players – both prominent and not-so-well-known – who had a tremendous impact on the biggest game in pro sports as well as what those players are doing today. And don’t fret that we missed Tom Brady and other recent Patriots’ heroes – you already know what they’re doing today.
15. Bart Starr: Underwent Successful Surgery
While not an unlikely hero, we have to start with the MVP of the first ever – and second – Super Bowl. The 83-year-old Hall of Fame quarterback won back-to-back MVP awards in 1967 and 1968 after leading the Green Bay Packers to championships over the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. A 16-year veteran, Starr played his entire career with the Packers and recorded 152 touchdowns in an era where running the ball was viewed as a better, safer option to passing.
He suffered two strokes and a heart attack in 2014 as well as a broken hip that left him struggling to walk, but he has since undergone successful stem cell treatments in Kazakhstan and Mexico. Now healthy and doing well, he recently detailed a dark hazing incident that led to the derailment of his college career. While attending Alabama, Starr injured his back from paddling received by teammates.
14. Santonio Holmes: Selling Properties
Santonio Holmes has been a secondary receiver for most of his nine-year career, save for a career-high campaign in 2009 during which he recorded 1,248 receiving yards and scored five touchdowns. He was a good receiver, but nowhere near Hall of Fame level. However, he could have put together a Hall of Fame career and still been known for his catch during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl win over the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.
After the Cardinals overcame a 20-7 deficit to take a 23-20 lead in the game, the Steelers marched down the field and Holmes capped off the game-winning score with a toe-dragging catch in the back corner of the end zone with virtually no room to move. Holmes retired following the 2014 season and, according to the properties he has listed for sale recently, it appears he isn’t doing quite as well financially now that he’s out of the game.
13. Desmond Howard: TV Analyst
A wide receiver who played for six teams throughout his decade-long career in the NFL, Desmond Howard is primarily known as a kick-return specialist; in fact, he’s the only kick returner in NFL history to win Super Bowl MVP, having done so in 1997 for his championship performance against the New England Patriots. Howard finished the game with 244 all-purpose yards, including 90 punt return yards and 154 kickoff return yards; he scored a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown which essentially secured a win for the Packers.
Howard, a former Heisman Trophy winner as the best player in college football, was the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NCAA Football ’06 and presently serves as a college football analyst for ESPN. He also worked as an analyst for one season with NFL on Fox.
12. Chris Reis: Author/Ministerial Church Staff Member
It’s not often a safety is recognized as a hero of the Super Bowl, especially one that isn’t even in the starting unit and had just 41 career tackles and one career interception. However, that was the case in 2010 when Chris Reis, an undrafted free agent out of Georgia Tech, made a game-changing play for the New Orleans Saints in their Super Bowl win over the Indianapolis Colts. Trailing 10-6 at half-time, the Saints attempted an onside kick to open the second half. It was the first time such a risky move had been attempted in Super Bowl history. Nevertheless, after a massive scrum, Reis emerged with the football in his hands. It was a career-defining play that helped lead a Saints comeback.
Today, Reis resides in Lafayette and is on the ministerial staff of Our Savior’s Church. He’s married to an elementary school teacher and has co-authored a book along with his father titled Recovery of a Lifetime, in which he details the impact of his father’s addictions on their family.
11. Jake Scott: Retired
Regarded as “The Forgotten Super Bowl MVP,” Jake Scott had a profound impact on the outcome of Super Bowl 7, snagging two interceptions for the undefeated Miami Dolphins in a 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins. Scott was a dominant defensive back at the time and finished his nine-year career with 49 career interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries.
He retired in 1978 and, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “pretty much dropped off the face of the earth.” That is, however, until he resurfaced at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2016 to check out some drag races. The truth is, he has been a bit of a recluse in retirement, only being noted as living in Hawaii as of 2006, “In the last state. On the last island. Down the last road. At the last speck of a no-stoplight town before the United States drops into the Pacific Ocean.”
10. Richard Dent: Owner & CEO of Energy Enterprise
Hall of Famer Richard Dent was only the second defensive end and third defensive player to win Super Bowl MVP when he accomplished the feat in 1986 with the Chicago Bears. The Bears defeated the New England Patriots 46-10, but despite the high-scoring affair, Dent was given the award for his defensive presence, which included 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Dent retired in 1997 after a 15-year career in which he racked up 137.5 sacks and 37 forced fumbles. He played 12 of those 15 seasons with the Bears and ended his career with successive one-year stints in San Francisco, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia. He’s now the owner and CEO of a Chicago-based energy enterprise. In 2015, he was arrested for excessive speeding for driving at 107 miles per hour (mph) on a 55 mph road.
9. Jim O’Brien: Project Manager For Real Estate Company
Being a kicker sounds like the easiest job in professional sports. That is until the Super Bowl is on the line and you’re being asked to kick the last-second, game-winning field goal. You make the kick and you’re a legend; you miss and you’re a villain. That was the scenario Jim O’Brien found himself in during Super Bowl 5 with the Baltimore Colts. Tied at 13 with the Dallas Cowboys, O’Brien stepped up in the final minute of the game to hit a 32-yard field goal.
O’Brien was a rookie in 1970 when Baltimore won the Super Bowl and he had a disastrous 55.9 percent field goal percentage in the regular season. He only played four seasons in the league, but none of that matters given the massive field goal he made. Today, O’Brien is a project manager for a real estate company in Los Angeles.
8. Ottis Anderson: Entrepreneur/Charity Work
An alumnus of Miami University, Ottis Anderson was a dynamic running back when he debuted with the St. Louis Rams in 1979, averaging over 100 yards per game as a rookie. He topped 1,100 yards in four of the next five seasons with the team before being dealt to the New York Giants during the 1986 season. With the Giants, Anderson was pushed to a backup role after just one season as a starter, which is why it was incredibly surprising when he was named MVP of Super Bowl 25 in 1991.
Anderson started just 11 games during the regular season that year and averaged only 49 yards rushing per game. Yet, in the Super Bowl, the 33-year-old rushed for 102 yards and scored a third-quarter touchdown in a 20-19 win over the Buffalo Bills. In retirement, he is an entrepreneur who has contributed heavily to the Jimmy V Foundation, the American Heart Association, and United Way. In 2016, he sold a mini replica of the Vince Lombardi Trophy at an auction for $60,000.
7. Ricky Sanders: Retired
A 16th overall pick in the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft, Ricky Sanders is similar to Santonio Holmes above in the sense that, while a very good wide receiver (especially during a two-year run), he is nowhere near Pro Bowl level; in fact, he only started 66 of 134 career games. A two-time Super Bowl champion, however, Sanders had one of the better games of his career against the Denver Broncos in the 1986 Super Bowl.
Sanders recorded 193 of his 285 playoff receiving yards in the game against Denver. In comparison, the Broncos’ receivers only combined for 230 yards. Sanders resides in his home state of Texas these days, but continues to make sporadic trips to D.C., where he is often given a hero’s welcome.
6. Timmy Smith: Salesman For Energy Services Company
Timmy Smith is a former fifth round pick who only played three seasons in the NFL and started just nine of 22 games, recording a combined 602 yards on 190 carries. Putting it bluntly, he was not a good running back. However, he played on the same Super Bowl-winning team as Ricky Sanders and, after backup roles in the team’s first two playoff games, he was given a surprise start in the Super Bowl and came up with the game of his life.
Doug Williams, the team’s quarterback, was asked by head coach Joe Gibbs to tell Smith he was starting: “I said, ‘Timmy, you’re going to start the Super Bowl,’ and he looked at me like I was crazy. I said if you mess this up, I’m gonna kick your ass.” Not only did he not mess it up, he ran for a Super Bowl-record 204 yards. His career was short lived and, in retirement, he found himself in trouble with the law; in 2005, on multiple occasions, he sold over half a kilogram of cocaine to an undercover DEA agent in Colorado. He served 18 months in prison and now works as a salesman for an energy services company.
5. Rod Martin: Manages Technology Department For University of Southern California
Rod Martin was a 12th round selection in the 1977 NFL Draft, but the West Virginia native carved out a decent career as a right outside linebacker, winning two Super Bowls during his 12-year career with the Oakland Raiders. In 1980, Martin played four playoff games and recorded three interceptions for a combined 44 yards, all of which were recorded in the Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles. In comparison, he recorded 14 interceptions throughout 165 career games.
In retirement, Martin has worked as an extra in McDonald’s commercials and had a small role in Married with Children. Today, he manages a technology department at his Alma mater, the University of Southern California, where he assists employees with their user-support needs. His co-workers apparently weren’t aware of his former playing career until they were told by former USC Trojan Charles White.
4. Kurt Warner: High School Football Coach
The story of Kurt Warner’s rise to fame in the NFL is one that has been told many times. A former grocery bagger at a super market shunned by NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League, Warner was picked up by the St. Louis Rams in 1998 and quickly became one of the league’s best quarterbacks. He entered the 1999 season as the team’s starting QB and scored a league-best 41 touchdowns, 109.2 quarterback rating, and 65.1 completion percentage.
Warner recorded eight touchdowns in the team’s 1999 playoff run en route to a Super Bowl championship in Super Bowl 34. He played four more seasons with the Rams, five with the Arizona Cardinals, and one with the New York Giants. He currently coaches his son, Kade, a tight end, at Desert Mountain High School in Scotsdale, Arizona.
3. Malcolm Smith: NFL Player
Before Von Miller dominated Super Bowl 50, Malcolm Smith was the first linebacker to win Super Bowl MVP in over a decade when he did so in 2014 at Super Bowl 48. Playing for the Seattle Seawhaks, Smith made 10 tackles, one defended pass, and one interception, which he returned 69 yards for a touchdown. He was certainly an unlikely Super Bowl MVP, especially given that the Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos 43-8; however, no Seahawks receiver had more than 66 yards receiving, while quarterback Russel Wilson had just 206 yards passing and Marshawn Lynch had only 39 yards rushing.
Despite winning the award, Smith played just one more season in Seattle and signed with the Oakland Raiders following the 2014 season. He had a career season in his first year with the Raiders, recording four sacks and 123 tackles in 16 games. Throughout his six-year career, Smith has accumulated six sacks, four interceptions, and 358 tackles.
2. Mike Jones: NCAA Coach
Linebacker Mike Jones (WHO?) is never going to be confused as an all-time great NFL player; in fact, he’s one of numerous Mike Jones to play in the league and you would have a hard time picking them apart from one another. The Mike Jones who played 13 years in the league from 1991-2002, however, is a legend in one city: St. Louis. Jones made perhaps the most memorable tackle in Super Bowl history at Super Bowl 34 when he brought down Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson at the one-yard line with time winding down to give the Rams a championship.
Jones’ play has since become known simply as “The Tackle.” He played just two more seasons in the league before retiring following the 2002 campaign. Today, Jones is a coach of NCAA Division-II team Lincoln and, through five seasons with the team, had led them to an 8-47 record.
1. David Tyree: New York Giants Player Development
This one really needs no introduction, but we’ll give it anyway in case you happened to live under a rock during the New York Giants stunning Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots that prevented the Tom Brady-led Pats from becoming the second ever team to complete a perfect season. Eli Manning won the MVP of the Super Bowl that year, and rightly so, as he did a tremendous job in leading the game-winning drive, especially on completing the now-famous pass to David Tyree. That said, we’re still left speechless as to how Tyree made the catch. Quite simply, he leaped into the air among a group of defensive backs and secured the catch on his helmet in what his since become one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history.
Now retired, he’s currently married to a certified nurse and midwife. He also has an active part in his sons’ wrestling endeavors. In 2014, he was brought back by the Giants in a player development role and provides counsel to young players.
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