Earlier this month, we were treated to that one night a year when women actually want to watch football. The fiftieth Super Bowl in the history of the NFL was really nothing special. It was a defensive battle, and wasn't one sided like the 2014 game, but number fifty didn't stack up against last year's final minute end zone interception.
The Carolina Panthers and victorious Denver Broncos put on a half decent show and four-time All-Pro outside linebacker Von Miller took the MVP award for his 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Peyton Manning, widely considered to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game, was below average in the game.
For the most part, if you're getting into the Super Bowl, you're playing for a top tier team. Additionally, as the quarterback is (at least in modern football), the most important player on the field, only teams who have invested in solid field generals are making it to the big game, with some notable exceptions.
Plenty of quarterbacks such as Kerry Collins (XXXV), Craig Morton (XII) and Rich Gannon (XXXVII) rank among the most notorious quarterbacks to make the Super Bowl and absolutely abort the game, but what about those who make it, win it, but end up thanking their entire teams for covering their butts while they almost blow it? Here are the fifteen worst Super Bowl performances of quarterbacks who won.
15 Terry Bradshaw - Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl IX
An absolute legend, Terry Bradshaw is the first quarterback to have won three, and then four Super Bowls and did so with the Pittsburgh Steelers. There is some speculation regarding whether he can be called one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, because any blunders on his part were offset by a punishing rush offense and the Steel Curtain; one of the most notorious defensive lines in the history of the game.
Bradshaw always threw plenty of picks, but ended up with more touchdown throws than interceptions in his career. In Super Bowl IX, against the Minnesota Vikings, Bradshaw threw no picks, but completed just 9 of 14 passes for under 100 yards. He threw a touchdown, but running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier combined for 51 carries for a total of 223 yards, carrying most of the offensive load. The defense also managed three forced fumbles, two of which were recovered by the Steelers and three interceptions. The game ended 16-6 for the Steelers.
Of the four Super Bowls Terry Bradshaw won, this performance was arguably the least remarkable. In 1980, his final Super Bowl victory, he threw three picks and the team was down at the end of the third quarter, but Bradshaw threw a 73 yard touchdown to Jon Stallworth and later in the fourth Franco Harris punched it in from the one to put the game out of reach for the L.A. Rams. We thought of including the 1980 game as well, but he was the MVP of that game, in part due to his late heroics.
14 Bob Greise - Miami, Super Bowl VII
To say that Bob Griese's performance at Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles was particularly bad is a tough case to make. Rather, with a powerful running defense (different game back then, of course), Griese's job was to call for the snap, not fumble it, and pass only as a change of pace from their dominant run game that involved Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka and Pro Bowlers Eugene "Mercury" Morris, and Jim Kiick. Between the three of them, they rushed 35 times for 184 yards, while Griese passed just 11 times, completing 8 with a single touchdown toss and one pick. So it wasn't a terrible game for him, but rather a run of the mill performance that can be called "nothing special whatsoever".
13 Len Dawson - Kansas City Chiefs, Super Bowl IV
For those under fifty years old and not versed in the history of NFL football, Len Dawson may not be a familiar name. He is a Hall of Fame quarterback who played from 1957 until 1975, earning a Super Bowl win at number IV back in 1970. Playing for the Kansas City Chiefs at the time, Dawson and his team were the underdogs but were able to defensively overwhelm the Minnesota Vikings, coming away with a final score of 23-7.
While Dawson was named Super Bowl MVP, his performance was decent at best, and in retrospect, he followed his coaches and carried out their game plan, but did little that was as impressive as his defense and rushing counterparts were in the game. His running backs combined for 140 yards, and his defense were able to cause three crucial interceptions and two fumbles. Dawson himself had a day, but nothing too special, throwing 12 for 17 with a touchdown and a pick, but his entire team pulled together and there were a few others on the field who could have easily been named MVP.
12 Joe Namath - New York Jets, Super Bowl III
Broadway Joe is the only quarterback to have been named Super Bowl MVP without throwing a touchdown pass. That isn't to say that his 1969 performance in the third big game in history was absolutely dreadful. It was, like a few others early in this list, just nothing incredible or special. This was, of course, the infamous game with Namath's guarantee, in which he said that his underdog team would win the game, despite most people predicting a decisive win for the opposing Baltimore Colts. "The guarantee" did make the victory something special and remains a major part of Namath's legacy. Despite not putting up flashy numbers throughout his career, he is remembered today as much for his play on the field as his antics on the field.
Ultimately, however, Namath's MVP performance was a defensive victory, as the Jets made four interceptions and stonewalled a struggling Baltimore offense throughout the game. Neither Johnny Unitas or Earl Morrall could get anything going, combining for a measly 17 completions on 41 passes.
Rather than Namath, the MVP award could have gone to George Sauer Jr, who caught eight of Namath's passes for 133 yards or Matt Snell, the Jets running back who posted 30 carries for 121 yards and the lone touchdown of the first half.
11 Bob Griese - Miami Dolphins, Super Bowl VIII
Remember what we said about Bob Griese earlier in this same article? Repeat it for this one. So to recap, it wasn't by any means a bad performance, but he was vastly overshadowed by his running backs and the Dolphins defense. Running backs Csonka, Morris and Kiick combined for 51 carries and 189 yards. Griese threw no picks or touchdowns, but he did go 6 for 7 with seven yards on the ground. The game ended 24-7 victory for the Dolphins.
That defense, which was instrumental in the victory, kept the Minnesota Vikings scoreless through the first three quarters. Again however, his performance must be put into context. Of course, back in the early 1970s, a team could easily win until the metaphorical cows come home with very little passing and a consistent rushing attack.
10 Troy Aikman - Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl XXVIII
This was the last of those pesky four Super Bowls that the Buffalo Bills lost in the early 1990s. It was 1994 and Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and the Bills took on the same Dallas Cowboys team that trounced them in the previous Super Bowl to the tune of 52-17.
Aikman tore the Bills defense apart in 1993, throwing four touchdowns, but 1994 was a different story. The Bills were leading 13-6 by the end of the first half, but in the third quarter, safety James Washington recovered a fumble and returned it for a score. Shortly thereafter, Emmitt Smith found his rhythm. In what would turn into a 30-13 win for the Cowboys, Emmitt Smith rushed 30 times for 132 yards and two scores, both of which occurred in the second half. Troy Aikman completed 19 of 27 passes, but was intercepted once, and failed to throw for a touchdown, in what was a less than outstanding Super Bowl performance.
9 John Elway - Denver Broncos, Super Bowl XXXII
John Elway and the Broncos beat the Green Bay Packers in 1998, 31-24 in a game that saw a brilliant performance out of Terrell Davis, who carried the ball 30 times for 157 yards and three touchdowns. His quarterback, however, did not have such an outstanding day. Elway did manage to find the end zone on a one yard run early in the second quarter, but other than that, his play was poor. He had a pass picked off in the end zone by Eugene Robinson and went just 12 for 22 passing on the day, with zero touchdowns, for a total of 123 yards.
8 Joe Theismann - Washington Redskins, Super Bowl XVII
In 1983, Pasadena, California hosted the big game and it saw the Miami Dolphins lose to the Washington Redskins. Joe Theismann, whose career would end just two years later with one of the gnarliest injuries the football world has ever seen, was under center for the Skins at the time and had achieved a Pro Bowl season in that year.
The Redskins defense and offense both got off to a slow start and trailed until the start of the fourth quarter. Ultimately, they came back with 14 points in the fourth quarter to win 27-17. The defense played well, but Theismann gave up two costly interceptions in the game that put the Redskins in a precarious position. He added the last seven points late in the fourth quarter, after running back John Riggins put the team up 20-17. Theismann ended up 15 for 23 with two touchdown throws and two picks, but his defense was excellent, keeping the Dolphins to less than 200 offensive yards. The run game also helped out with 256 yards on the ground.
7 Jim Plunkett - Los Angeles Raiders. Super Bowl XVIII
Jim Plunkett, who won two Super Bowls with the Oakland and L.A. Raiders in the 80s, is a contentious topic in the pro football community. His record and stats are nothing special, but many people consider his two Super Bowl victories (one of which brought an MVP trophy) to be more than enough to warrant a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1981, at Super Bowl XV, Plunkitt and the Raiders spanked the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10. Plunkett completed 13 of 21 for 261 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He was a shoe in for the MVP award. Three years later, the Raiders won it again, but Plunkett's performance involved a single touchdown and he was vastly overshadowed by his defense and running backs. His defense dominated the Redskins, causing three turnovers. The run game for the Raiders was also superb, with several runners combining for 32 rushes and a total of 233 yards.
6 Brad Johnson - Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Super Bowl XXXVII
Remember when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl? For his two interceptions, safety Dexter Jackson was named MVP, but the real hero for the Bucs was Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon who threw a Super Bowl record five interceptions. The Tampa Bay defense was on fire, and for their offense it was another day at the office. Mike Alstott put his head down a few times and scored a short touchdown, Michael Pittman rushed 29 times for just over 120 yards, and Brad Johnson showed up and did not suck.
That was what he did best in his most successful year in Tampa Bay. He showed up, let the defense do their thing, handed the ball off when required to do so, threw more completions than incompletions and usually threw more touchdowns than interceptions. That was his thing, he is probably the most delightfully average quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl. But going 18 for 34, with two touchdowns and a pick, his performance was not out of this world. It was more of a humiliating loss for Raiders fans than a solid win for the Bucs. With that said however, it doesn't matter how you do it...
5 Ken Stabler - Oakland Raiders, Super Bowl XI
To all you Raiders fans out there, I am ready and more than willing to accept your hate tweets for this. My Twitter handle is listed somewhere on this page and I eagerly await any name calling and death threats. Here goes: Ken Stabler wasn't anything special in Super Bowl XI. Like a few other names on this list, he pretty much showed up and didn't lose his team the game. But remember, back in 1977, he was playing the Vikings, so the win barely even counts. Losing in the Super Bowl is a cherished tradition in Minnesota.
While Stabler does finally have that well-deserved spot in the Hall of Fame (even though it came post-mortem), his performance was deserving of little more than "atta boy, champ" in this one. Like I said, rather than decisively delivering the trophy to his team like Joe Montana or Steve Young did so many times, Stabler went 12 for 19 with a single touchdown pass. The majority of the Raiders yards came on the ground, with six rushers combining for 52 carries and 266 yards on the ground. Of course there is also the issue of defense. Oakland's squad kept the Vikings to just 2.7 yards per rush throughout the game, and caused three turnovers in that 32-14 victory.
4 Trent Dilfer - Baltimore Ravens, Super Bowl XXXV
There's no nice way to say this, but Trent Dilfer is one of the most explosively mediocre quarterbacks to ever win the Super Bowl. Such a debate could rage on for days, hence why I said "one of." As is an obvious theme of this list, Dilfer was successful in this game because he was able to rely on a solid defense, which involved a young Ray Lewis. That defensive unit was able to force five takeaways throughout the game, with four taking the form of Kerry Collins interceptions, and ultimately limit the New York Giants to 152 total offensive yards throughout the contest.
In terms of Dilfer's performance, he admirably avoided throwing any interceptions and made a very nice toss to Brandon Stokely for his only passing score of the day. Other than that it was Jamal Lewis on the ground, rushing 27 times for 102 yards and a score.
3 Peyton Manning - Denver Broncos, Super Bowl 50
This one was mentioned in the intro and there is obviously some debate over where this game should sit on lists like these. Manning's performance was, by no means, dreadful. It was just sub-par, particularly looking at a player like Peyton Manning, who ranks among the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. We all noticed his struggles over the course of the year. His arm strength was diminished in part due to nagging injuries. But ultimately, he was able to rely on some incredible defense on the part of his own squad and a poor offensive showing by the Carolina Panthers to take home his second ring.
To the tune of the Nationwide Insurance theme song, Peyton may now be singing "Von Miller got me a ring." He went 13 for 23 with a pick and 141 yards. It wasn't miserable, but it was a perfect way to cap off the worst statistical year he's ever had. While his rookie campaign with the Colts was rough in many ways, he had the lowest yards per game, and quarterback rating of his entire career in 2015, along with throwing nine touchdown passes and almost double that (17) in interceptions.
2 Ben Roethlisberger - Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl XL
In the first of his two Super Bowl victories, a 23 year old Big Ben had one of the poorest passing performances of any quarterback to ever win the Super Bowl. Granted, the big fella was able to pound the ball in from the one for a touchdown, but he went 9 for 21 and tossed two interceptions. Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis combined for 136 yards on 24 carries, and Hines Ward (MVP) caught five passes for 123 and a score. The final score was 21-10.
If there is a "saving grace" for Ben Roethlisberger in this game, it is the fact that while he had an exceptionally low completion rating (just 43%), he and the Steelers completed 8 of 15 third down conversions, including a couple that were at pivotal times in the game.
1 Johnny Unitas/Earl Morral - Baltimore Colts, Super Bowl V
This game was an absolute mess and neither team really deserved to win. Between the two, there were eleven turnovers: six interceptions and five lost fumbles. Back in 1971, the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Colts came together in Miami for a lovely game of football, and despite not a drop of rain hitting the field, they mishandled the ball as though they were in the middle of a hurricane.
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas, played part of the first half before leaving the game due to injury. During that time he went 3 for 9 with two interceptions and a miraculous 75 yard touchdown pass, which comprised most of his 88 passing yards on the day. Earl Morrall took over for the rest of the game and threw 7 for 15 completions with a lone pick.
The MVP of this game was Chuck Howley, a Cowboys' linebacker who had two interceptions. This is the only time a losing player received that award.