The NFL celebrated its 50th Super Bowl last year, marking a half-century since the AFL-NFL merger. The game has grown exponentially from its humble inception. It’s no longer possible for an intimate group of reporters to gather around a star quarterback while he sunbathes. The poolside Joe Namath photograph from Super Bowl III has transformed into scheduled press conferences and weeklong media extravaganzas.
One thing has not changed. The greatest players deliver on the game’s biggest stage. This is as true today as it was in 1966. The mark of a champion often relies on his performance when the lights are brightest and these athletes proved their mettle decades ago. Among the fifteen, eleven are NFL Hall of Famers.
The first fifteen Super Bowl MVPs include some of the most interesting stories, both on and off the field. The list includes the only MVP from a losing team, the only co-MVPs in Super Bowl history, and three repeat winners of the award.
Once the lights faded on their storied careers, these legends took different paths. What did they go on to achieve outside the lines? “First 15 Super Bowl MVPs: Where Are They Now” takes a look at a few of the league’s historic names and forgotten faces.
15 Bart Starr (Super Bowl I, II)
Quarterback Bart Starr followed up his 1966 NFL MVP award with consecutive Super Bowl MVP trophies. In the AFL-NFL World Championship, now known as Super Bowl I, he threw for 250 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Both touchdown receptions went to Max McGee, a wide receiver who never expected to get off the bench and drank until 6:30 the morning of the game. Starr led Green Bay to a second Super Bowl victory over the Raiders the following year, adding another touchdown through the air. Now 82 years old, Starr was not well enough to attend Super Bowl 50. In September 2014, he suffered two strokes, a heart attack and several seizures. A bronchial infection and broken hip also slowed the lifetime Packer. He’s currently undergoing his third round of therapy using experimental stem cells in Tijuana.
14 Joe Namath (Super Bowl III)
Broadway Joe set the standard for Super Bowl guarantees. Up against the Colts and Johnny Unitas, the result seemed a foregone conclusion. Namath had other ideas, promising a New York victory. He backed up his swagger with a 16-7 victory. Life off the field has not always gone so smoothly. After 14 years of sobriety, Namath resumed drinking following a divorce from his wife in 2000. His alcoholism came to a head during a 2003 nationally televised interview with Suzy Kolber. When asked about the Jets’ season, he drunkenly revealed he couldn’t care less about the team struggling. Namath told her he wanted to kiss her. Mortified by his actions, Namath committed himself to a life without alcohol. More recently, Namath ventured into business and tackled the NFL’s concussion problem. He founded Namath Products in 2012, which sells grills and steaks. Along with Jupiter Medical Center, Namath also launched the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center. He advocates the use of hyperbaric oxygen chambers to rejuvenate the brain’s blood flow. Other researchers have discovered no lasting benefits from their controlled studies, but Joe stands by his claim. To the surprise of no one, he guarantees it.
13 Len Dawson (Super Bowl IV)
Remember when the Internet exploded because Mark Sanchez ate a hot dog in the middle of a game? That’s amateur hour compared to Len Dawson. The Hall of Fame Chiefs quarterback was photographed smoking a cigarette and enjoying a Fresca between halves of Super Bowl I. He rebounded from his losing effort three years later to defeat the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. He only threw for 142 yards and one touchdown, but he earned MVP honors. His second career as a sports broadcaster has spanned 50 years. He actually began broadcasting during his playing career. In 1966, Jack Steadman, the team’s general manager, talked KMBC into doing a sports segment during the 10 o’clock news by letting them use Dawson. He still does segments for the station three times a week during football season. From 1977-2011, he hosted HBO’s Inside the NFL. Dawson received the 2012 Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television award and he still serves as Kansas City’s color commentator.
12 Chuck Howley (Super Bowl V)
Chuck Howley’s MVP performance is perhaps the most empty of all. He’s the only recipient to play for the losing team, as his Cowboys fell to the Baltimore Colts 13-16. Howley led the Doomsday Defense to seven forced turnovers, intercepting two passes and recovering a fumble on his way to becoming the first defensive player to win the award. He currently lives on Happy Hollow Ranch in Wills Point, Texas. Former teammate Lee Roy Jordan introduced Howley to ranching during their playing days. Howley splits time between his quarter horses at Happy Hollow and his rental/retail clothing operation, Uniforms Inc., in Dallas. A five time First-Team All Pro, Howley is a common name when discussing Hall of Fame snubs. It’s up to the Senior Committee if he ever receives his deserved enshrinement.
11 Roger Staubach (Super Bowl VI)
Chuck Howley earned his elusive Super Bowl victory one year later, but Roger Staubach received the MVP award. Roger the Dodger led Dallas to a convincing 24-3 victory over the Miami Dolphins. He threw for 119 yards and two touchdowns, adding 22 yards on the ground. Staubach played 11 years in total with the Cowboys. He retired from football after 1979 with two Super Bowl rings and six Pro Bowl appearances. Staubach worked as a real estate broker during offseasons in the 1970s. He founded the Staubach Company in 1977, two years before retirement. He expanded his company after his playing career ended. In 2008, the real estate firm Jones Lang Lasalle bought Staubach Company for a multi-year payout totaling $640 million. Forbes estimated he made a total of $12 million in 2013. Roger remains vocal regarding his beloved Cowboys. Last season, he admitted to rooting for the Cowboys but not Greg Hardy. Hardy, a domestic violence offender, is no longer with the team.
10 Jake Scott (Super Bowl VII)
Name a Super Bowl MVP for the Miami Dolphins who wore number 13. Casual fans will instinctively leap to Dan Marino before realizing the quarterback never won a ring. Jake Scott, an eccentric safety and punt returner during the team’s undefeated season, actually holds the honor. He tallied two interceptions in a 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins. Scott eventually had a falling out with Coach Don Shula in 1975. He spent his final three seasons with the Washington franchise he picked off in Super Bowl VII. The second defensive winner of the Super Bowl MVP award, he is also the second player not in the Hall of Fame.
Scott disappeared and shied away from the spotlight in his retirement. A writer named Dave Hyde caught up with him in Hanalei, Hawaii in 2006. He confirmed his legendary drinking prowess and rumored macho streak during the interview. Most of his stories involved traveling the world: visiting New Zealand, riding his motorcycle from Georgia to Mexico City, and spending four months in an Alaskan camper. Although he turned down an offer to attend Super Bowl XL, he did appear during Super Bowl 50. Scott makes a living as an investor and remains an enigma off the beaten path.
9 Larry Csonka (Super Bowl VIII)
Larry Csonka led the Miami Dolphins to their second consecutive championship with a powerful running game. He carried the ball 33 times for 145 yards, a Super Bowl record at the time. Csonka also scored two rushing touchdowns. Miami quarterback Bob Griese only needed to attempt seven passes during the 24-7 victory over Minnesota. He retired in 1980 with 8,081 yards and 64 touchdowns. Larry Csonka appeared in national Miller Lite commercials in the late 1980s and eventually settled in Alaska. He hosted and produced the adventure series NAPA’s North to Alaska from 1998 to 2013. Csonka, his partner Audrey Bradshaw, and their film crew were rescued from a stranded boat after filming a hunting trip in 2005. The Coast Guard plucked the survivors from the Bering Sea. A storm had rendered travel impossible for nearly 12 hours. He also serves as a motivational speaker and has created his own website to further his brand.
8 Franco Harris (Super Bowl IX)
Franco Harris wasted no time breaking Larry Csonka’s Super Bowl record, running 34 times for 158 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota the very next year. He also bested Csonka in career numbers, compiling 12,120 yards and 91 touchdowns over 13 years in the NFL. The man famous for the Immaculate Reception went into the nutritional food business after hanging up his cleats. He built his company, Super Bakery Inc., from the ground up. His signature product, Super Donut, is loaded with minerals, vitamins and protein. LeBron James once mentioned on Instagram that Super Donuts were his best memory from grade school. Harris recently formed his newest company, Silversport. Silversport focuses on antimicrobial fitness and workout gear. The company’s technology allows socks to stay odor free for days. Harris could probably have used his own product while running all over the Purple People Eaters.
7 Lynn Swann (Super Bowl X)
Lynn Swann won four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The acrobatic receiver played his biggest role in the team’s second world championship. He hauled in four catches for 161 yards. During the second quarter, Swann stumbled over a Dallas defender and bobbled the ball to himself for a 53-yard reception. It’s one of the most recognizable plays in Super Bowl history. Swann added a 64-yard game winning touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter. The score sealed a 21-17 Pittsburgh victory. He retired after nine seasons, having ended the year with a championship 44% of the time. Swann held many roles in the years after his retirement. He covered the NFL, college football, six Olympics and multiple Kentucky Derbies for ABC from 1976-2006. Swann ran for governor of Pennsylvania in 2006, but he lost to the incumbent by a sizeable margin. Most recently, the University of Southern California named Lynn Swann as their new athletic director.
6 Fred Biletnikoff (Super Bowl XI)
The Fred Biletnikoff Award is presented to college football’s most outstanding receiver every year for good reason. He’s a Hall of Famer and the second wide receiver to win the Super Bowl MVP. The honor came at the tail end of Fred’s career. He had been with the Raiders since before the NFL-AFL merger. He only caught 4 passes for 79 yards, but three of his receptions led directly to short touchdowns. The victory once again came against Minnesota, a Super Bowl punching bag during the first decade or so of the Super Bowl era. Biletnikoff pursued coaching after retirement. He eventually rejoined Oakland as their wide receivers coach in 1989. He served in that capacity from 1989-1994 and again from 1997-2006. His daughter Tracey tragically passed in 1999. She suffered from drug addiction until age 20, when she turned a corner and became a drug counselor for teens. Her ex-boyfriend murdered her over a fight about his relapse. Biletnikoff dedicated his energy to carrying on Tracey’s work. In 2016, he opened Tracey’s Place of Hope, a substance abuse shelter for girls in need.
5 Harvey Martin (Super Bowl XII)
Harvey Martin shares the distinction with Randy White of being the league’s only co-Super Bowl MVPs. A ferocious defensive end, Martin led the charge with White against the Broncos’ offense. He recorded two sacks (an unofficial stat at the time) and a deflected pass. The defense forced eight turnovers in a decisive 27-10 victory. Denver only managed 8 completions on 25 attempts, the lowest Super Bowl completion percentage in history. Five years later, in 1983, Martin was one of several Cowboys players investigated by the FBI for cocaine usage. It ended up being his last year in the NFL. Martin struggled with substance abuse and bankruptcy after retirement. In 1996, he was arrested on cocaine and domestic violence charges. He took a job selling chemical products and gave anti-drug speeches upon his release from a treatment center. Martin passed away from pancreatic cancer on Christmas Eve 2001. He’s the only deceased Super Bowl MVP.
4 Randy White (Super Bowl XII)
Randy White shared the MVP award with Martin. Known as The Manster – half man, half monster – White anchored the Cowboys’ defense in the late 70s and 80s. He went to nine straight Pro Bowls at the defensive tackle position from 1977 to 1985. White was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1978. He retired in 1988, which was also Tom Landry’s final year. Randy was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994. He became a restaurant entrepreneur after his playing career ended. At one point in the 1990s, he opened Randy White’s All-American Grill & Bar. More recently, he started up Randy White’s Hall of Fame Barbecue. Between managing his investments, he practice martial arts, fulfills speaking engagements, and frequently contributes to local media coverage of the Dallas Cowboys.
3 Terry Bradshaw (Super Bowl XIII, XIV)
Terry Bradshaw is the third best quarterback to ever win four Super Bowls. He shares the record with Joe Montana and Tom Brady. While Montana and Brady both have three Super Bowl MVPs, Bradshaw has two. His best performance came in a rematch of Super Bowl X. The Steelers once again defeated their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. Bradshaw threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns in a close, high scoring game. The final was 35-31. Bradshaw threw three interceptions against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV, but still managed to win MVP. It was the second time Pittsburgh completed back-to-back championship seasons. Terry Bradshaw joined CBS as a game analyst in 1984 and became a studio analyst for The NFL Today from 1990-1994. He has worked on Fox NFL Sunday since its original airdate in 1994. Bradshaw has also written five autobiographies. In recent years, he has spoken publicly about memory loss and depression due to his physical career. As Bradshaw remains squarely in the NFL spotlight, his testimony is an important aspect in the league’s continued efforts toward player safety.
2 Jim Plunkett (Super Bowl XV)
Of the eligible quarterbacks, Jim Plunkett is the only two-time Super Bowl champion not in the Hall of Fame. He won his first Super Bowl, as well as the AP Comeback Player of the Year award and Super Bowl MVP during the 1980-1981 season. The unlikely 33-year-old hero was nearly perfect against the Philadelphia Eagles. He threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns, good for a 145.0 QB rating. Plunkett won his second Super Bowl in 1984 after losing and regaining the starting job midseason. His career ended when the Raiders released him in 1988. Like his fellow Raider Biletnikoff, Plunkett lost a child far too soon. His son died in 2008 at the age of 25. Plunkett currently owns a beer distributorship and plays a role in Oakland’s broadcast team. He sits on the board of the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The cause has special meaning for him, as both of his parents were blind.
1 Joe Montana (Super Bowl XVI)
Joe Montana won the first of four rings and three MVPs in Super Bowl XVI. He threw for 157 yards and one touchdown while adding another score on the ground. It’s not the five-touchdown performance from his final Super Bowl, but the effort was enough to defeat Cincinnati and kick-start a dynasty. Montana finished his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. He did not seek a media or coaching position. He officially became a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2000. Montana has remained out of the public eye for most of his post-NFL life.
His two sons, Nick and Nate, both played quarterback at Division I schools. He performed the Super Bowl 50 coin toss shortly after documenting his painful life from 15 years of NFL football. His banged up knees make walking difficult. Running is out of the question. He’ll likely need a knee replacement in the near future. Arthritis affects his elbows, knees and hands. Past head trauma has led to nerve damage in one eye. Montana has undergone three neck fusions. The list goes on. He’s only 60 years old.