Ask a 6-year-old, what is the most prestigious award in all of sports, and they will tell you without batting an eye that it is the Super Bowl MVP, as it is the only award that will grant you a free pass to Disney World. Beyond the free trip to the happiest place on earth, the award has long been the mark of excellence in the league's most esteemed event. However, with it being awarded on the basis of performance in a single game it has caused for much scrutiny among some of its winners.
The MVP is selected by a committee of 16 writers and broadcasters, and a fan vote. The writers' and broadcasters' votes count for 80%, while the fan vote makes up the remaining 20%. The fan vote only began in 2001. The quarterback position leads the way, taking home more than half of the MVPs with 26. With running backs and wide receivers combining for 13, it makes 39 of 49 MVPs on the offensive side of the ball, leaving only 10 defensive or special team players as winners.
The Super Bowl MVP seems to be a crowning moment in the legacy of a football player. Of the 48 winners, 19 are already inducted in the Hall of Fame. With another six (Warner, Lewis, Brady, Brees, Manning and Rodgers) likely on their way to Canton once they are eligible. That would make more than half of the winners Hall of Famers. But, that does not leave the list as undisputed, even some of these Hall of Famers put up less than dominant performance in their crowning moment. For this list we look at the top 10 worst Super Bowl MVPs. The criteria we're looking at is their performance in the game itself, and not the caliber of player they are. This just accounts for their less than convincing performances, yet they still got a free trip to Disneyland.
10 Desmond Howard (Super Bowl XXXI)
The former Heisman trophy winner is the only special teams player to have won the award. He had a total of 244 return yards in the game (154 on kickoffs, and 90 on punts). Howard ripped the Patriots on every return, but his crowning moment came late in the third quarter when he returned a kick 99 yards to re-give the Packers a two score lead, seconds after the Patriots had closed the gap to six points.
Howard’s performance cannot be denied as changing the game, but the purest will argue that a returner, who plays only a fraction of snaps during a game, is not deserving of the award. The player with the most legitimate argument would have been Brett Favre who had 246 yards and two touchdowns, but much of that came on the two touchdowns of 54 and 81 yards to Andre Rison and Antonio Freeman. What should have put him over the edge is that he added a third touchdown rushing the ball. Many fans would have loved to have seen Favre take home the award, as it was the one award that eluded his Hall of Fame career.
9 Ray Lewis (Super Bowl XXXV)
If there ever was an MVP won on leadership, Ray Lewis's MVP in Super Bowl XXXV would be it. There is no denying to anyone who watched that game, that Lewis was the heart and soul of that team, and willed them to victory. But, in terms of stats, they just weren't there to justify Lewis as an MVP. Lewis who was known as a sideline to sideline tackler had only three solo tackles in the game. In a game where the Ravens forced five turnovers, none were credited to Lewis.
Though he did force one of the interceptions as he tipped the ball to Jamie Sharper who picked it off. Lewis did finish with four passes defend in the game, but if any other player put up the stat line that Lewis did, they would not have been even close to the discussion for MVP. Lewis probably deserved this award, because he inspired that team to play beyond their talents, but based solely on numbers Lewis’s performance is one of the weaker ones by a Super Bowl MVP.
8 Terry Bradshaw (Super Bowl XIV)
With four Super Bowl wins under his belt, Terry Bradshaw has staked s claim to being one of the Super Bowl's greatest quarterbacks. In the four wins he has won two Super Bowl MVPs. His first MVP came in Super Bowl XIII with a 318-yard, four touchdown performance. He would make it back to back Super Bowl MVPs in Super Bowl XIV, but the performance was less than impressive. He would throw for over 300 yards again, and added two touchdowns, but the stat that stands out is the three interceptions.
The Steelers were heavy favorites in the game, and trailed at the half 13-10. Bradshaw threw two long touchdowns in the 2nd half to Swann and Stallworth, but also threw two costly interceptions in the third quarter that kept the Rams in the game far longer than they should have been. The most worthy Steeler would likely have been Lynn Swann. Swann had a leaping 47-yard catch for the opening touchdown of the 2nd half, and finished with five catches for 79 yards, but this was done in only three quarters, as he left the game with an injury. John Stallworth had three catches for 121 yards, and a touchdown, but both of Stallworth’s big catches (a 73-yard touchdown, and a 45-yard reception in the 4th) came after Swann had left the game. A dark horse for the award might have been Steelers kick returner Larry Anderson who set a Super Bowl record with 162 yards on five kickoff returns.
7 Tom Brady (Super Bowl XXXVI)
Calm down! We'll explain it; a reminder this is not based on the caliber of player, it's the single-game performance.
Tom Brady is a two-time Super Bowl MVP, his first coming in his magical sophomore year. The Rams' vaunted “Greatest Show on Turf” was as advertised as they outgained the Patriots 427 yards to 267, but it was three costly turnovers that did them in. Brady’s face is synonymous with that win, and we tend to think he had a far more dominant performance than he actually did. He finished the game 16-of-27 for 142 yards, and a single touchdown. On the drive he is praised for, he completed five passes, four were check downs, the only downfield pass he completed was to Troy Brown for 23 yards. The drive was impressive as it was done with no timeouts, but it was a lot more safely played then we tend to remember. It was that drive that tipped the scales in Brady’s favor,
The question remains, if you don’t give it to Brady, then who do you give it to? When analyzing the four quarters, three candidates stand out. Troy Brown, who was on the other end of that big catch that set up the winning field goal, and finished with six catches for 89 yards. Ty Law who had a 47-yard interception return to open the scoring for the Patriots and shifted the momentum early. Law also finished as the leading tackler for the Pats with 8 tackles (7 solos). Finally Adam Vinatieri, if ever a kicker deserved the award this might have been it. Vinatieri had an incredible playoff with the two key kicks in the snow versus Oakland, and then adding two more in this game, including the difficult 48 yarder in the most pressure packed moment. That performance and the total summation of what he did in that playoff could have very well netted him the MVP.
6 Joe Montana (Super Bowl XVI)
Joe Montana is the only player who has won three Super Bowl MVPs, and is one of the most decorated players in the prestigious game. Two of the three MVPs were without dispute. In Super Bowl XIX he threw for over 300 yards, and 3 touchdowns, while running for over 50 yards. In Super Bowl XXIV he would throw 5 TD passes. It was his first win in XVI was a less than stellar performance. Voters might have been swayed by his last game against Dallas, where he hit Dwight Clark for “The Catch”. It is fair to say that without Montana, the Niners would not have been in the Super Bowl to begin with.
Montana finished the game 14-of-22 for 157 yards, and only a single touchdown. He did add 18 yards rushing and another touchdown, but the stats still do not scream Super Bowl MVP. The most worthy Niner might have been cornerback Eric Wright who had an interception and a forced fumble in the game. The game could have also made an argument to giving the MVP to the losing team. Regular Season MVP Ken Anderson was 25-of-34 for 300 yards, and two touchdowns. The best Bengal performance, and arguably the game's, came from tight end Dan Ross, who had 11 catches for 104 yards, and two touchdowns. The 11 catches are the most by a tight end in the Super Bowl, and were tied for the most ever by any receiver until Demaryius Thomas broke the record last year.
5 Len Dawson (Super Bowl IV)
Len Dawson’s MVP winning stats were a pedestrian 12-of-17 for 142 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. That is Trent Dilfer Super Bowl XXXV type numbers, not MVP quality. The only argument you can make in favor of Dawson was that he played in less than ideal weather conditions, but even then, it is hard to justify Dawson as an MVP when his defense was so dominating.
The Vikings entered the game leading the NFL with 379 points scored. They had eclipsed 50 points three times that season, and had strung together a 12-game winning streak in the year. The Vikings had a vaunted defense in the “Purple People Eaters”, but it was the Kansas City defense that stepped up, limiting the Vikings to 266 total yards, intercepting three passes, forcing two fumbles, and knocking out starting quarterback Joe Kapp in the 4th quarter. The problem was that it was truly a team effort, and no one player stood out. If an offensive player had to be chosen, wide receiver Otis Taylor seemed like the better choice catching half off Dawson’s completions for 81 yards, and the lone touchdown of the game.
4 Chuck Howley (Super Bowl V)
This Super Bowl was aptly dubbed the "Blunder Bowl”. The game was littered with penalties, and turnovers. The game had a ridiculous 11 turnovers, seven of those being committed by the WINNING Colts team. Star quarterback Johnny Unitas threw two interceptions before being knocked out of the game. Backup Earl Morrall would throw another one once he entered the game. Dallas’s “Doomsday Defense” was known as a hard hitting bunch, and they caused five fumbles, recovering four of them. The aggressive nature of the Dallas defense also cost them, as they would set a Super Bowl record with 10 penalties for 133 yards.
When the dust settled on the game it would be Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley who won the MVP. Howley was the first, and only player to win the MVP award from a losing team. In an era where tackles and sacks were not being recorded, all we know of Howley’s performance was that he had two interceptions. One of those interceptions occurred in the endzone where he picked off Morall in the 2nd half. Neither of Howley’s interceptions led to any points for the Cowboys. In a game where nobody deserved an award, Howley was dubbed the best of the worst. Even Howley would agree, as he refused to accept the award after the game, claiming it was meaningless after the loss.
3 Dexter Jackson (Super Bowl XXXVII)
Dexter Jackson was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXVII while playing for the Tampa Buccaneers. He was the first safety since 1973 to win the award, and only the third defensive back to win the award. The Raiders were led by Rich Gannon in his MVP season where he had only thrown five interceptions all year, but he matched that total in the Super Bowl. Dexter Jackson was the recipient of two of those picks, both occurring in the first half of the game. Dwight Smith also had two picks in that game, and returned both for touchdowns, yet Jackson got the nod over him, and Simeon Rice who had two sacks, and five tackles. Jackson squeaked out the victory based on the fan vote, where he obtained an additional four votes from the internet poll. If it were not for those votes, Rice would have won the MVP.
Jackson would parlay the Super Bowl MVP into a lucrative 5-year, $14 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals the next year. He did well in his one season in Arizona with six picks. He was released by the Cardinals the next season with an injury settlement, and then went back with Tampa Bay, before ending his career with a whimper in Cincinnati.
2 Fred Biletnikoff (Super Bowl XI)
Fred Biletnikoff name is synonymous with wide receiver excellence. His name graces the award for the best collegiate wide receiver, and he is a member of both the college and pro football Hall of Fame. He has six pro bowls to his name, but his most prestigious individual award was his Super Bowl MVP in Super Bowl XI. The final numbers for Bilentnikoff in that game totalled four catches for 79 yards, and no touchdowns. A far cry from what we would consider MVP numbers.
Bilentikoff set up two of the Raiders scores with a 17-yard catch in the first half which brought them to the 1 yard line, and a big 47-yard grab that brought them to the 2-yard line. Both catches were capped by Pete Banaszak touchdown runs. Banaszak had the two touchdowns, but only had 19 yards on 10 carries. Fellow running back Clarence Davis made a case for himself with 137 yards rushing on only 16 carries for an impressive 8.5 yards per carry. If Davis put up a touchdown, he would have been a lock for the MVP. Even tight end Dave Casper with four catches for 70 yards, and a touchdown, would have been a better candidate for the award.
1 Randy White and Harvey Martin (Super Bowl XII)
Having two MVPs is such an easy cop out, and it takes the glamour away from the award. Luckily this insistence only happened one time in the Super Bowl. Even by awarding it to two players, there is still a debate if either of these two were worthy of winning the award. The voters actually wanted to give the award to the entire 11-man defense, and that would have been more satisfying, then having co-MVPs.
The numbers themselves don’t speak highly for the two selected. Martin had two sacks, while White had one, but in a game where the Cowboys forced six fumbles, White and Martin were not responsible for any of these. If any duo deserved the award, it might have been the less heralded pair of Randy Hughes and Aaron Kyle in the Cowboys secondary. The two combined for five turnovers, with Hughes himself having an interception and recovering a Super Bowl record two fumbles. If one player had to be chosen, Hughes seemed like the best candidate, but for him not to have been one of the co-MVPs goes to show what a mess the selection was for this Super Bowl.