“Big Time Players Make Big Time Plays in Big Time Games”
That quote has been said by many athletes in all sports over the years, but it’s actually traced back to a college player who went on to a Pro Bowl NFL career, Santana Moss. Moss made the comment while at the University of Miami after the Hurricanes defeated rival Florida State in the 2000 Orange Bowl.
What does the quote have to do with this article? Well, the games get no bigger than the Super Bowl, and the highest individual honor a player in the Big Game can get is the Super Bowl MVP. It’s usually many great plays which lead a player to this honor, but sometimes all it takes is one big time player making a big time play in this big time game in order to walk away with the trophy.
Forty-one different players have won the Super Bowl MVP prior to Super Bowl LII. Twenty-one of those players are already enshrined in the Hall of Fame and many more will join them once they become eligible such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. But those are the players and the names that everyone remembers hoisting up the trophy after the game. What about those long-forgotten Super Bowl MVPs who had their 15 minutes of fame in the Big Game and did nothing before or afterwards? We will look back at those forgotten heroes as we present the 15 worst players to win Super Bowl MVP.
15 Joe Flacco - Super Bowl XLVII
In terms of Super Bowl and postseason performance, they get no better than Joe Flacco’s 2012 season. He tied an NFL record with 11 touchdown passes in a single postseason and became the first QB to have a passer rating over 100 in all four games of a single postseason. But let’s be honest, outside of that four-game stretch, Flacco has been the definition of mediocre. He’s been good enough to keep his job as a starter, but not good enough to even merit a single Pro Bowl selection.
In fact, no quarterback in NFL history has thrown for more yards or more touchdowns without making a Pro Bowl than Flacco has.
Even journeymen like Derek Anderson and Matt Cassel have gotten invites to Hawaii/Orlando, and at 33, Flacco’s best days are behind him. But thanks to that postseason run coming at the best possible time with Flacco in his contract year, he’s set to earn $75 million over the next four years so he won’t be leaving Baltimore anytime soon.
14 Santonio Holmes - Super Bowl XLIII
The recipient of one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history, Santonio Holmes robbed James Harrison of the Super Bowl XLIII MVP. Just kidding Santonio, but who would have imagined that the Super Bowl after the 2008 season would be the last postseason game for Holmes in a Steelers uniform. After one more season in Pittsburgh, Holmes ran afoul of the law, which means he ran afoul of the Rooneys and was traded to the Jets. Holmes played five more lackluster seasons in the NFL, four with the Jets and one with Chicago. For all of his talent, he posted just one 1,000-yard receiving season in his career and never made a Pro Bowl.
Three years after his last NFL game, Holmes returned to the Steelers on a ceremonial one-day contract and retired as a member of the Black & Gold.
13 Larry Brown - Super Bowl XXX
For as pass-happy the NFL has become, it’s hard to believe that Larry Brown is the only cornerback to be the Super Bowl MVP. Brown benefitted from the fact that Deion Sanders was lined up at the other cornerback position for the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX, and thus, Neil O’Donnell of the Steelers threw at whomever Brown was covering. Two of those passes ended up being off-target ,which enabled Brown to nab two interceptions.
Those two INTs would be one more than Brown would have over the remainder of his career as he was a free agent bust in Oakland for two years and then finished out his career back with the Cowboys in 1998.
Brown then turned to broadcasting and hosts the pre-game and post-game shows for the Cowboys. His son, Kameron Brown, is a wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2019 and has committed to Arizona State.
12 Mark Rypien - Super Bowl XXVI
One of two Super Bowl MVPs who was born outside America (the Korean-born Hines Ward is the other), Rypien originally hailed from Canada. Rypien was raised in Washington state, but made his name in Washington, DC as one of three quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl under Joe Gibbs. Rypien threw for 292 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Redskins win over the Bills on his way to the MVP in the HHH Metrodome in Minnesota. Thus, if the question of “Who won the Super Bowl MVP the last time the game was held in Minnesota?” pops up during Super Bowl LII’s broadcast, you’ll know the answer.
The quarterback won 14 games during the 1991 season with the Redskins, but would win just 14 more over the remainder of his career, which ended in 2001. Rypien and his family have been involved in many sports as he was a NASCAR team owner and won a celebrity golf tournament. He also had two cousins who played in the NHL, has a nephew who is Boise State’s starting quarterback, and his daughter, Angela, played in the LFL.
11 Deion Branch - Super Bowl XXXIX
Sometime in 20 years, the trivia question people will ask will be, “Who was the New England Patriot who stole a Super Bowl MVP from Brady?” The answer to that question will be Deion Branch who tied an NFL record with 11 catches along with 133 receiving yards as the Pats defeated the Eagles. What’s funny is that through Brady’s first seven Super Bowl appearances, his highest passer rating came in that SB vs. Philadelphia but his receiver was rewarded the game’s MVP. However, Brady also had a key fumble on the four-yard line which halted a Patriots drive and kept the game closer than it should have been.
Branch had a pretty good career with two stints in New England but he never made a Pro Bowl or posted a 1,000 yard season.
After retiring following the 2012 season, Branch retreated to his native Georgia where he runs the Deion Branch Foundation which helps support the well-being of children.
10 Jake Scott - Super Bowl VII
With the Dolphins winning Super Bowl VII 14-7, you can see that the defenses controlled the game. The two quarterbacks combined for jus 192 yards, and while Larry Csonka rushed for 112 yards, Scott was named the MVP thanks to two interceptions. It was the perfect ending to a perfect season as that game made the Dolphins 17-0 including the playoffs. The Dolphins would win the Super Bowl again the next year, and while they didn’t go undefeated and Scott wasn’t MVP, he did have two recovered fumbles in The Big Game. In just six seasons with the Dolphins, Scott became the team’s all-time leader in interceptions and remains there today. He finished his career with three years in Washington and picked off 49 passes in just nine NFL seasons. Scott became a bit of a recluse after his playing days ended, and he retired to Hawaii, where he still lives today.
9 Phil Simms - Super Bowl XXI
“That might be the best game a quarterback has ever played.” – Bill Parcells on Phil Simms’ performance in Super Bowl XXI. Simms rewrote the record books by completing 22 of 25 passes (2 of the incompletions were drops) and 3 touchdowns. It remains the highest completion percentage and highest passer rating in a Super Bowl game as the Giants routed the Broncos 39-20. Simms was a very good quarterback for the Giants, but the fact that career backup Jeff Hostetler was able to win a Super Bowl with the team just a few years later has taken some of the luster off Simms’ Super Bowl. After retiring in 1994, Simms went into broadcasting, first with ESPN, then with NBC and is now with CBS. He also has two sons who played in the NFL, with Chris Simms and Matt Sims.
8 Chuck Howley - Super Bowl V
Howley holds two distinct honors. He was the first defensive player to win Super Bowl MVP and he is the only Super Bowl MVP to come from the losing team. Howley’s Cowboys fell to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V by a score of 16-13, and while Howley was showering after the game, a teammate told him “Congratulations.” It took him a while for it to sink in that he was MVP and he said he’d rather not win MVP but win the game. Both the Cowboys and Colts threw three interceptions in the game and no running back had more than 65 rushing yards. The game is considered one of the sloppiest in Super Bowl history so Howley’s two interceptions and one forced fumble stood out in the minds of voters.
The MVP award was bittersweet for Howley because his team lost, but he got the taste of team success the next year as the Cowboys won Super Bowl VI and Roger Staubach was named MVP. Today Howley is 81-years-old and lives in the Dallas area, where he breeds quarterhorses.
7 Desmond Howard - Super Bowl XXXI
Just four people on the planet can claim to have won the Heisman Trophy and a Super Bowl MVP and Desmond Howard is one of them. Howard may not have had the NFL career that many expected, but he was an elite return specialist and his 99-yard kick return touchdown essentially sealed a Super Bowl victory for the Packers in 1996.
Ironically, that was the only kick return touchdown in Howard’s career as he never did it in the regular season.
Howard totaled 244 all-purpose yards in the victory over the Patriots which tied a Super Bowl record and he remains the only special teams player to win the Super Bowl MVP. He retired after the 2002 season ranking fourth all-time in kick & return yards combined. Today you can see and hear Howard overlaughing at Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit on ESPN’s College Gameday set.
6 Malcolm Smith - Super Bowl XLVIII
Smith became just the third linebacker to win the Super Bowl MVP award and he may be the only player to win the award off the bench. Playing for the Seattle Seahawks, he didn’t even start in the Big Game vs. the Broncos, but still registered a pick-six, had a team-high 10 tackles and recovered a fumble. That game was undoubtedly Smith’s high point as the following year he went back to being a reserve. He played one more year in Seattle before joining the Oakland Raiders where he finally got the opportunity to be a full-time starter and ranked third in tackles from 2015-2016. He missed the entire 2017 season due to a torn pec muscle suffered during training camp.
While Smith victimized Peyton Manning in one Super Bowl, his older brother, Steve Smith, helped a Manning in another. Steve was a receiver on the Giants and helped Eli Manning and the G-Men upset the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
5 Doug Williams - Super Bowl XXII
After starting just two games during the 1987 regular season (and losing both), Williams accumulated three wins in the 1987 playoffs including in a Super Bowl rout of the Broncos. Williams set a Super Bowl record with 340 passing yards and tied a record with 4 touchdown passes. It was the crowning moment of Williams’ playing career as he was viewed as a bust after being a first-round pick by the Bucs in 1978. Williams would play two more years as a backup after the Super Bowl victory before embarking on a coaching and administrative career.
He’s had two stints as head coach of his alma mater, Grambling State, and has served as an executive with both the Buccaneers and Redskins.
Today he is the senior vice president of player personnel for the Redskins and has also been inducted into the Rings of Fame for the Redskins and Bucs, in addition to the College Football Hall of Fame.
4 Ottis Anderson - Super Bowl XXV
As OJ Anderson he was an All-Pro with the Cardinals in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As Ottis Anderson he was simply a running back in a committee with the Giants that was employed by coach Bill Parcells. Anderson was the personification of three yards and a cloud of dust as he averaged just 3.2 yards per carry during his seven years in New York, but he performed his best when it counted the most. He was the clock-killing component of the Giants upset over the Bills as Anderson ran for 102 yards and 1 touchdown. At 34 years old, he remains the oldest player in Super Bowl history to have a 100 yard rushing game and the second-oldest in any postseason game behind John Riggins.
Anderson has stayed in the Tri-City area and is the president of Ottis J. Anderson Enterprises which is involved with several business ventures in New York and New Jersey.
3 Dexter Jackson - Super Bowl XXXVII
The original D-Jax in Tampa, Jackson played on one of the greatest defenses in NFL history: the 2002 Buccaneers. They had stars such as Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch, but it was Jackson who walked away with the MVP of Super Bowl XXXVII thanks to two interceptions. Fellow defensive back Dwight Smith also had two interceptions, and two INTs returned for touchdowns, but his plays came when the game was already decided so Jackson was awarded the MVP.
The timing was perfect for D-Jax as he entered free agency right after the game and signed a five-year deal with the Cardinals in 2003.
However, he lasted just one year in Arizona before returning to Tampa for two seasons. He played four more pro seasons before retiring in 2009 and becoming a radio show host in the Tampa area. He then went into coaching and is now the defensive backs coach at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia.
2 Jim Plunkett - Super Bowl XV
In 1980 the Philadelphia Eagles had the league’s best scoring defense but they were no match for Jim Plunkett and the Raiders. Plunkett threw for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns as the Raiders defeated Philly 27-10. Plunkett started the year as a backup but ended it as the Super Bowl MVP. Three years later he would again start the season on the Raiders bench, but would again lead the team to a Super Bowl victory. Even with his two Super Bowl victories as a starter, Plunkett is not in the Hall of Fame due to his pedestrian regular season numbers. He finished his career with more interceptions than touchdowns and is career record was 72-72. But you still can’t take away his two Super Bowl rings, one Super Bowl MVP, oh yeah, and the Heisman Award that he won at Stanford.
However, Plunkett may regret ever stepping onto a football field as he now says he’s in constant pain from his playing days, where he claims to have suffered over 10 concussions.
1 Joe Namath - Super Bowl III
Yes, I went there and put a Hall of Famer on a list of the worst Super Bowl MVPs. Super Bowl III may be the most famous Super Bowl in NFL history as it came after Namath made his infamous guarantee that the New York Jets of the AFL would defeat the Baltimore Colts of the NFL. But in all honesty, Namath won the MVP award before the game was even played by saying, “We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it.” Namath could have thrown 5 interceptions in the game, but as long as the Jets pulled off the upset, he would be the likely MVP. Well, the Jets did pull off the upset and while Namath didn’t throw 5 interceptions, he also didn’t throw a single touchdown. Namath didn’t even attempt a single pass in the fourth quarter as the Jets had a 16-0 lead and held on for a 16-7 win.
Joe Namath won the MVP on the strength of his pre-game guarantee as he is the only quarterback to win Super Bowl MVP without throwing a touchdown pass.
Like most people his age, Namath now lives in Florida and can often be found on Twitter either praising or critiquing his beloved Alabama Crimson Tide.