The Super Bowl quarterback bloodbath

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 14, 2010



(Ed. note: click here for our super-duper Super Bowl spreadsheet showing the performances of every player who's attempted at least one pass in the Super Bowl.)
 
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Super Bowl road warrior
 
Several years ago, we sized up the performances of every Super Bowl quarterback with our Bloodbath of Data. It measured the performance of each quarterback who appeared in more than one Super Bowl.
 
Well, since then, two quarterbacks have joined the list of those who appeared in multiple Super Bowls: Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Also, since then, Kurt Warner played in his third Super Bowl.
 
The addition of Manning and Roethlisberger gives us 20 quarterbacks who have made multiple Super Bowl appearances. Their performances vary wildly, from legends nearly flawless in the Super Bowl to dysfunctional performers who could barely piece it all together in the biggest game of the year.
 
We rank all of them here, from the obvious No. 1 to a well deserving No. 20.
 
Pedigree, it turns out, has little bearing on Super Bowl status. Jim Plunkett was considered washed up when the Raiders snatched him out of oblivion. But he was brilliant in two Super Bowl victories, and earns a surprisingly high spot on the list of Super Bowl quarterbacks.
 
Hall of Fame legends like Jim Kelly, John Elway, Fran Tarkenton and Johnny Unitas were dreadful in the Super Bowl. They stand among the worst ever in the big game.
 
So here goes, the ranking of the 20 Super Bowl quarterbacks. Remember, this list includes only those players who appeared in more than one Super Bowl. Our super-duper spreadsheet here includes the performance of every player who attempted at least one Super Bowl pass, including the one-hit wonders like Phil Simms, Steve Young and Ken Stabler.
 
They're divided by groups, from the Legends, to the Champions, to the Cling-Ons, to the wounded, feeble Gimps.
 
THE LEGENDS
These are the quarterbacks who, time and again, put up the biggest numbers in the biggest game. Our five Super Bowl legends boast the top five Super Bowl passer ratings of all time  – all of them above 100.  Not so coincidentally, these five QBs – the most prolific passers in Super Bowl history – have won better than one third of all the Super Bowls ever played (15 of 44). They are a sterling 15-0 on football's biggest stage. Bottom line: Great passers and clutch performers will lead you to victory each and every time.
 
1. Joe Montana, San Francisco
Games – 4 (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV)
Wins – 4
MVPs – 3 (XVI, XIX, XXIV)
 
Overview: Montana is the undisputed king of Super Bowl quarterbacks. The Cold, Hard Football Facts say it all: Montana boasts the highest passer rating in Super Bowl history and has completed more passes for more yards and more TDs, while winning more Super Bowl MVP awards, than any quarterback in history.
 
The signature moment: Is there any other? In Super Bowl XXIII, the 49ers trailed the Bengals, 16-13, with just over three minutes remaining when they took over on their own 8-yard line. Legend has it that Montana broke the tension in the huddle by pointing out comedian John Candy, who was in the stands that day. The Cold, Hard Football Facts have it that he led the 49ers on an 11-play, 92-yard drive culminating in a 10-yard TD pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds to play. Montana passed for a then-Super Bowl record 357 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs. San Francisco won, 20-16.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
XVI
14
22
63.6
157
1
0
100.0
W 26-21
XIX
24
35
68.6
331
3
0
127.2
W 38-16
XXIII
23
36
63.9
357
2
0
115.2
W 20-16
XXIV
22
29
75.9
297
5
0
147.6
W 55-10
TOTALS
83
122
68.0
1,142
11
0
127.8
4-0
 
 
2. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh
Games – 4 (IX, X, XIII, XIV)
Wins – 4
MVPs – 2 (XIII, XIV)
 
Overview: Bradshaw was the No. 1 pick in the 1970 draft and came out of Louisiana Tech as the proverbial big-armed country quarterback. He was one of the most athletic players ever to take a snap from center. But he was prone to mistakes. He did not throw more than 18 TD passes in a season until his 9th year in the league, but he could rack up interceptions with the best of them, tossing 19, 22 and 25 INTs in three of those same eight years.
 
But in the bright lights of the Super Bowl, he became that gunslinging southern QB Pittsburgh fans had expected back in 1970. He completed just 58.3 percent of his Super Bowl pass attempts, but Bradshaw is the only QB to average more than 10 yards per attempt (11.1 YPA) during his Super Bowl appearances.
 
His long-bomb aerial assault in the biggest game of the year is the sole reason why his two top targets, Lynn Swann (pictured here making one of his spectacular Super Bowl catches) and John Stallworth, are both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Both had regular-season receiving numbers that simply do not warrant the sport's top individual honor. But paired with Bradshaw, they caught one Super Bowl deep ball after another. Bradshaw was the first QB to toss four TD passes in a single game (Super Bowl XIII, a 35-31 win over Dallas) and his 318 yards in that game, at the end of his 9th year in the league, were a personal best at the time.
 
It was a remarkable transformation for a QB whose best moments early in his career had come when he handed the ball off to Franco Harris. In Super Bowl IX, for example, Pittsburgh's first championship, the Steelers attempted just 14 passes and rushed the ball a record 57 times as Harris earned MVP honors.
 
Signature moment: The Steelers held a 15-10 lead over Dallas with just over three minutes to play in Super Bowl X when Bradshaw connected on a 64-yard TD pass to Swann that put the game out of reach. Pittsburgh held on for a 21-17 win. The game-winning bomb was a portent of things to come. In Super Bowls XIII and XIV, Bradshaw proved the greatest big-game, big-play passer in football history, as he threw TD tosses of 28, 75, 7, 18, 47 and 73 yards. His 9 Super Bowl TD passes averaged 36.1 yards.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
IX
9
14
64.3
96
1
0
108.0
W 16-6
X
9
19
47.4
209
2
0
122.5
W 21-17
XIII
17
30
56.7
318
4
1
119.2
W 35-31
XIV
14
21
66.7
309
2
3
101.9
W 31-19
TOTALS
49
84
58.3
932
9
4
112.8
4-0
 
 
3. Jim Plunkett, Raiders
Games – 2 (XV, XVII)
Wins – 2
MVPs – 1 (XV)
 
Overview: Plunkett won the 1970 Heisman Trophy at Stanford, but his NFL career was considered something of a bust before he became one of Al Davis's prized reclamation products in 1979. He was virtually flawless in his two Super Bowl appearances. Plunkett backed up Dan Pastorini in 1980 but came off the bench in the sixth game of the season. He eventually led the Raiders to a 27-10 upset over Philadelphia in Super Bowl XV and was named the game's MVP. The 1980 Raiders were the first wild-card team to win a Super Bowl and one of just three in history. He also guided the 1983 Raiders to a dominating 38-9 upset over Washington in Super Bowl XVIII. He joins Montana as the only quarterbacks to appear in more than one Super Bowl and never throw an INT. Cold, Hard Football Facts.com loyalists know about the importance of not throwing INTs in the playoffs.
 
Signature moment: Philly quarterback Ron Jaworski got most of the hype heading into Super Bowl XV. But Plunkett quickly stole the show. He threw two first-quarter TD passes. The second was an 80-yard hook-up with running back Kenny King, which stood as the longest play in Super Bowl history for many years.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
XV
13
21
61.9
261
3
0
145.0
W 27-10
XVIII
16
25
64.0
172
1
0
97.4
W 38-9
TOTALS
29
46
63.0
433
4
0
122.8
2-0
 
4. Troy Aikman, Dallas
Games – 3 (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX)
Wins – 3
MVPs – 1 (XXVII)
 
Overview: Aikman, a 2006 Hall of Fame finalist, doesn't finish high on the career lists in most major passing categories. And he played on a team whose most famous player was Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher. Loudmouth wideout Michael Irvin, meanwhile (a fellow 2006 Hall of Fame nominee), did his fair share to steal headlines. But Aikman proved he was much more than a role player, and earned Hall of Fame consideration, on Super Bowl Sunday. He completed a record 70 percent of his Super Bowl pass attempts and was picked off just once in three games. While opposing QBs in the Super Bowl (Jim Kelly of Buffalo twice and Neil O'Donnell of Pittsburgh) melted down on game day, Aikman was a rock of stability for a team otherwise known for its wild antics on and off the field.
 
Signature moment: Aikman proved he was a big-time player in his very first Super Bowl appearance (XXVII, a 52-17 win over Buffalo), the first of Dallas's three titles of the 1990s. He passed for 273 yards and 4 TDs with no INTs and was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
XXVII
22
30
73.3
273
4
0
140.7
W 52-17
XXVIII
19
27
70.4
207
0
1
77.2
W 30-13
XXX
15
23
65.2
209
1
0
108.8
W 27-17
TOTALS
56
80
70.0
689
5
1
111.9
3-0
 
 
5. Bart Starr, Green Bay
Games – 2 (I, II)
Wins – 2
MVPs – 2
 
Overview: The only thing keeping Bart Starr from the top of the all-time Super Bowl quarterback list is his moment in history. Starr was simply born too early. He won three NFL titles before the invention of the Super Bowl, and then won the first two Super Bowls and was the MVP of both. Starr played in six NFL championship games in an eight-year period and was a dominant performer in the big games. His postseason passer rating of 104.8 remains No. 1 all time – better than Montana, Bradshaw, Aikman and a slew of other legendary modern QBs. And remember, Starr played in an era dominated by defense when current pass interference rules did not exist. One shudders to think what his playoff numbers would have looked like had he played in the post-1978 NFL, which opened up the passing game.
 
Signature moment: Starr wasted no time putting his stamp on Super Bowl lore. Halfway through the first quarter of Super Bowl I, he connected with backup receiver Max McGee for a 37-yard touchdown, the first score in Super Bowl history. Starr completed 16 of 23 passes for 250 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT (one of just three INTs in his entire postseason career) and earned MVP honors.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
I
16
23
69.6
250
2
1
116.2
W 35-10
II
13
24
54.2
202
1
0
96.2
W 33-14
TOTALS
29
47
61.7
452
3
1
106.0
2-0
 
 
THE CHAMPIONS
These are quarterbacks who had mixed success in their Super Bowl careers. All were champions at least once, but all suffered disappointments as well. They generally played well in their Super Bowl appearances, but each committed key turnovers in their losses, too. The Champions went 9-8 in Super Bowl play.
 
6. Tom Brady, New England
Games – 4 (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII)
Wins – 3
MVPs – 2 (XXXVI, XXXVIII)
 
Overview: Brady became the first quarterback to lead his team to a walk-off game-winning Super Bowl drive in Super Bowl XXXVI at the end of just his second year in the league and his first as a starter. He won Super Bowl XXXVIII in similar fashion, leading New England to another game-winning field goal, this time with a full 5 seconds to play. Brady won Super Bowls in his 17th, 52nd and 71st NFL starts. No quarterback has had so much success so quickly. Comparisons early in his career to Montana were laughed off by many of the "pundits" but their passing stats are very similar, both in the regular season and in the Super Bowl. Look at how the two stack up after their first three Super Bowls. The numbers virtually mirror each other, game by game. It was in the fourth game that Brady stumbled from Legend status, as his undefeated Patriots suffered a humiliating 17-14 defeat to a Giants squad that had gone just 10-6 in the regular season.
 
Signature moment: In a 17-17 tie against St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI, the heavy-underdog Patriots took over on their own 17-yard line with no timeouts, 81 seconds on the clock and an inexperienced QB at the helm – Brady was in just his 17th NFL start. While Super Bowl commentator John Madden urged New England to play for overtime, Brady coolly led the Patriots into field goal position by completing 5 of 8 passes (two balls were thrown away intentionally) for 52 yards. Kicker Adam Vinatieri nailed a 48-yard field goal to give New England the first of three Super Bowl championships in four years.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
XXXVI
16
27
59.3
145
1
0
86.2
W 20-17
XXXVIII
32
48
66.7
354
3
1
100.5
W 32-29
XXXIX
23
33
69.7
236
2
0
110.2
W 24-21
XLII
29
48
60.4
266
1
0
82.5
L 14-17
TOTALS
100
156
64.1
1,001
7
1
94.5
3-1
 
 
7. Brett Favre, Green Bay
Games – 2 (XXXI, XXXII)
Wins – 1 (XXXI)
MVPs – 0
 
Overview: For a five-year period from 1994 to 1998, Favre stood as the greatest quarterback who ever lived. He averaged 35.2 TD passes (and 15.8 INTs) per season and threw for more than 3,860 yards each year. He won three NFL MVP awards during this span, and his run peaked with a 35-21 win over New England in Super Bowl XXXI. Favre completed 14 of 27 passes for 246 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INT. He played well again in Super Bowl XXXII (25 for 42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT), but his two second-quarter turnovers led to 10 Denver points and proved to be Green Bay's downfall.
 
Signature moment: Just two plays into his first Super Bowl appearance, Favre tossed a 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison. He struck again early in the second quarter, with a then-Super Bowl record 81-yard bomb to Antonio Freeman. The score gave the Packers a 17-14 lead and they never trailed again. The image of Favre excitedly running off the field  following the TD, his helmet in hand and a smile on his face, marked the height of the Favre Era in Green Bay.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
XXXI
14
27
51.9
246
2
0
107.9
W 35-21
XXXII
25
42
59.5
256
3
1
91.0
L 31-24
TOTALS
39
69
56.5
502
5
1
97.6
1-1
 
 
8. Roger Staubach, Dallas
Games – 4 (VI, X, XII, XIII)
Wins – 2 (VI, X)
MVPs – 1 (VI)
 
Overview: Staubach won the Heisman Trophy as a junior at Navy in 1963, but his military obligations kept him out of the NFL until 1969. When he got a shot as a regular starter in 1971, he quickly paid dividends for a Dallas franchise that had a reputation as one that could not win the big game. (The Cowboys lost NFL championship games to Green Bay in 1966 and 1967 and lost Super Bowl V to Baltimore.) With Staubach clearly in charge in 1971, the Cowboys hammered Miami in Super Bowl VI, 24-3. Staubach earned MVP honors for completing 12 of 19 passes for 119 yards and 2 TDs. It was Miami's last loss before going undefeated in 1972. Staubach also played well in Super Bowl XII, a 27-10 win over Denver. He led furious comebacks in Super Bowls X and XIII, but his total of 4 INTs in those two games helped contribute to a pair of four-point losses to Pittsburgh (21-17 and 35-31).
 
Signature moment: In the third quarter of Super Bowl XIII, Staubach tossed a 10-yard scoring strike to Hall of Fame tight end Jackie Smith – who dropped the ball (the play is pictured here). Dallas had to settle for a field goal and lost by four points. If the ball had been caught, it might have made Dallas, and not Pittsburgh, the team of the 1970s. It might also have given Staubach a third ring, a second Super Bowl MVP award and a Super Bowl passer rating of 100.0, propelling him up the list of greatest Super Bowl QBs.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
VI
12
19
63.2
119
2
0
115.9
W 24-3
X
15
24
62.5
204
2
3
77.8
L 21-17
XII
17
25
68.0
183
1
0
102.6
W 27-10
XIII
17
30
56.7
228
3
1
100.4
L 35-31
TOTALS
61
98
62.2
734
8
4
95.4
2-2
 
 
9. Kurt Warner, St. Louis
Games – 2 (XXXIV, XXXVI)
Wins – 1 (XXXIV)
MVPs – 1 (XXXIV)
 
Overview: Warner burst onto the pro football scene like an NFL MOAB. A former supermarket stock boy and arena league player, he got the starting nod for St. Louis in 1999 when intended starter Trent Green went down with a preseason injury. Warner surprisingly orchestrated one of the greatest seasons by a passer in NFL history, completing 65.1 percent of his throws for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns. This truly remarkable Cinderella season concluded with a 23-16 victory over Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV. Warner was back at his bombing best in 2001, the P.T. Barnum of "the Greatest Show on Turf," completing 68.7 percent of his passes for 4,830 yards and 36 TDs. It all fell apart in Super Bowl XXXVI against New England, however. Warner was beat up and bloodied and picked off twice in a 20-17 loss. His career appeared to day in the years after that defeat. But he re-emerged in spectacular fashion again with the Cardinals in 2008, leading this historically dysfunctional franchise to its only Super Bowl appearance. But another pick-six led to another Super Bowl defeat, this time a 27-23 loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.
 
Warner today stands as the true Jekyll & Hyde of Super Bowl quarterbacks: his three Super Bowl appearances are the three most prolific passing days in Super Bowl history. He's led two different otherwise unsuccessful franchises to their greatest periods of success int eh Super Bowl Era. Yet he also threw crushing pick-sixes that cost him victory in each of his Super Bowl losses.
 
Signature moment: The heavily favored Rams sported a 3-0 lead halfway through the second quarter of Super Bowl XXXVI when Warner stepped back and eyed Isaac Bruce along the right sideline. He pulled the trigger under a heavy pass rush (some say Warner has hit with an illegal blow to the head by New England linebacker Mike Vrabel) and his pass was picked off by New England cornerback Ty Law, who returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. The Rams never regained the lead and Warner, a two-time NFL MVP, watched as his career appeared to die before it's 2008 renaissance.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
XXXIV
24
45
53.3
414
2
0
99.7
W 23-16
XXXVI
28
44
63.6
365
1
2
78.3
L 20-17
XLIII
31
43
72.1
377
3
1
112.3
L 23-27
TOTALS
83
132
62.9
1,156
6
3
96.7
1-2
 
 
10. Len Dawson, Kansas City
Games – 2 (I, IV)
Wins – 1 (IV)
MVPs – 1 (IV)
 
Overview: Dawson was an NFL backup for five years before being rescued by the AFL's Dallas Texans and head coach Hank Stram in 1962. The Dawson-led Texans won the 1962 AFL title but then moved to Kansas City for the 1963 season, changing their name to the Chiefs somewhere around Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA. Their success continued with another AFL championship in 1966. After that game, Kansas City became ceremonial cannon fodder in the first AFL-NFL Championship Game (Super Bowl I), a 35-10 loss to mighty Green Bay at the peak of the Packers dynasty. Green Bay led just 14-10 at the half, but a Dawson pass was picked off by Willie Wood, who returned the ball 50 yards to set up a short Green Bay TD drive that broke open the game. Dawson and the Chiefs returned to the Super Bowl three years later and hammered a Vikings squad that entered the game as one of the most powerful teams in NFL history.
 
Signature moment: In the third quarter of Super Bowl IV, against the heavily favored Vikings, Dawson completed a 46-yard TD pass to tight end Otis Taylor that capped the scoring in a 23-7 Kansas City victory. The clip of the play makes every Super Bowl highlight show to this day. Dawson, the game's MVP, was highly efficient, completing 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT.  It was a historic moment in pro football history, the last game before the AFL-NFL merger was finalized for the 1970 season. Everyone remembers that Joe Namath and the Jets legitimized the AFL with a victory over the Colts in Super Bowl III. But Dawson and the Chiefs proved that the New York victory was no fluke and that the AFL had indeed become the equal of the NFL on the eve of the merger. In fact, the 1968 Colts and 1969 Vikings were two of the most powerful teams in NFL history, and they had dominated the older league. But they were manhandled by a combined score of 39-14 against their AFL opponents.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
I
16
27
59.3
211
1
1
80.9
L 35-10
IV
12
17
70.6
142
1
1
90.8
W 23-7
TOTALS
28
44
63.6
353
2
2
84.8
1-1
 
 
11. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis
Games – 2 (XLI, XLIV)
Wins – 1
MVPs – 1 (XLI)
 
Overview: The Chosen One has always put up great regular-season numbers, but has never been known as a premier big-game quarterback. His performances in the Super Bowl confirm the reputation. Pedestrian might be the best word to describe his two efforts in the big game. He dink-and-dunked his way to MVP honors in Super Bowl XLI, a 29-17 win over the Bears. In typical fashion, though, the pigskin "pundits" raced to bequeath upon Manning honors that should have gone to other players. Manning led the league with 31 TD passes (against 9 INTs) and with a 101.0 passer rating in 2006, but looked nothing like that player in the Super Bowl. Instead, the true MVP of Super Bowl XLI was running back Dominic Rhodes, who carried the load for the Indy offense that day with 21 rushes for 113 yards (5.4 YPA) and 1 TD. Overall, Manning was highly accurate in his two Super Bowls (67.5%), but highly mediocre by any standard: 2 TD passes in two games, with an 85.4 passer rating.
 
Signature moment: Trailing 24-17 to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, Manning and the Colts took over at their own 30 with 5:35 to play in the fourth quarter. It was a perfect opportunity for Manning to prove to the world that he was in fact a premier big-game quarterback. Instead, Manning threw a bad pass to his left to receiver Reggie Wayne, who appeared to make only a tepid effort to go after the ball. Saints cornerback Tracy Porter jumped the route, and returned it a Super Bowl record 74 yards for the game-sealing TD. The INT typified the rather odd career for Manning, who routinely reserved his biggest gaffes for the biggest games of the year.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
XLI
25
38
65.8
247
1
1
81.8
W 29-17
XLIV
31
45
68.9
333
1
1
88.5
L 17-31
TOTALS
56
83
67.5
580
2
2
85.4
1-1
 
 
 
THE CLING-ONS
These are quarterbacks who played in multiple Super Bowls and won at least one championship despite putting up pedestrian numbers. The quarterbacks on this list share something in common: They played for teams with dominant running games that could overcome their quarterback's inability to produce in the passing game, and/or with dominant defenses that helped them win Super Bowls despite poor play at QB (a very rare phenomenon). The best move these quarterbacks made was handing the ball off to a Super Bowl MVP running back. The Cling-Ons went 7-5 in Super Bowl play.
 
12. Bob Griese, Miami
Games – 3 (VI, VII, VIII)
Wins – 2 (VII, VIII)
 
Overview: Griese stands as proof that football prizes team accomplishments over individual statistics. He was ushered into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990, but he rarely did anything more notable than hand the ball off while leading arguably the most lethal ground attack in modern NFL history. Even his Hall of Fame bio describes him as "the poised leader of a classic ball-control offense that generated an awesomely efficient running attack." This legacy was never more evident than it was in Griese's three Super Bowl appearances. In his two victories, Griese attempted just 18 total passes. His Super Bowl passer rating of 72.7 is only slightly below his pedestrian career passer rating of 77.1.
 
Signature moment: Griese handed the ball off a then-record 51 times in Miami's 24-7 victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl VIII. He attempted just 7 passes, completing 6 for 73 yards, 0 TDs and 0 INTs.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
VI
12
23
52.2
134
0
1
51.7
L 24-3
VII
8
11
72.3
88
1
1
88.4
W 14-7
VIII
6
7
85.7
73
0
0
110.1
W 24-7
TOTALS
26
41
63.4
295
1
2
72.7
2-1
 
 
13. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Games – 2 (XL, XLIII)
Wins – 2 (XL, XLIII)
 
Overview: Roethlisberger is known as one of the ulitmate winners, and deservedly so. The Steelers enjoyed a renaissance when he took over the quarterback position. He's won in the regular season. He's won in the playoffs (active best 8-2 postseason record). And he's won in the Super Bowl (2-0). He's won when he's played poorly by most standards and he's won when he pulled victories out of his ass ... and we've seen both in his Super Bowl career. Roethlisberger could do virtually nothing right in Super Bowl XL, as evidenced by his 22.6 passer rating, the worst by any quarterback in a Super Bowl win. Yet he made enough plays with his feet and made his few pass completions keep several drives alive and at the end of the day it was an ugly win in the worst Super Bowl ever. He did not play particularly well in Super Bowl XLIII, either ... until it counted. 
 
Signature moment: After a ho-hum effort against the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, Big Ben put it all together when it counted most. He led the Steelers on an 88-yard drive in the final 2:30, capping the drive with a game-winning TD toss to Santonio Holmes with just seconds remaining. It was and remains one of the greatest drives in Super Bowl history and a moment that will define his career no matter what happens the rest of the way.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
XL
9
21
42.9
123
0
2
22.6
W 21-10
XLII
21
30
70.0
256
1
1
88.4
W 27-23
TOTALS
30
51
58.8
379
1
3
64.1
2-0
 
14. John Elway, Denver
Games – 5 (XXI, XXII, XXIV, XXXII, XXXIII)
Wins – 2 (XXXII, XXXIII)
MVPs – 1 (XXXIII)
 
Overview: Elway has a reputation as a big-game gunslinger. The Cold, Hard Football Facts prove he was anything but a big-game player on Super Bowl Sunday. Elway threw at least 1 INT in all five of his Super Bowl appearances, including six in the three losses. His performance in Super Bowl XXIV, a 55-10 loss to San Francisco, was one of the worst by a quarterback in Super Bowl history (10 of 26, 108 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs, 19.4 rating). With the arrival of Mike Shanahan as its coach, Denver became a team powered by the run and Elway rode the coattails of running back Terrell Davis to victory. The Broncos shed their cloak of vincibility with a 31-24 win over Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII. Elway had his usual subpar Super Bowl passing performance (12 of 22 for 123 yards with 0 TDs, 1 INT), but MVP Davis rushed for 157 yards and a Super Bowl record 3 TDs. Elway pulled it all together in Super Bowl XXXIII, a 34-19 win over Atlanta. He passed for 336 yards in the final game of his career, earned MVP honors, erased a legacy of Super Bowl duds and rode off into the sunset one of the most celebrated players in league history. Denver rushed 75 times and passed 51 times in its two Super Bowl victories.
 
Signature moment: Denver and Green Bay were locked in a 17-17 tie late in the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXII when the Broncos faced a 3rd and 6 at the Green Bay 12. Elway dropped back to pass but then ran through an opening in the Green Bay defense. He dove for the first down, only to get whacked by safety LeRoy Butler. Elway spun around in midair like a helicopter, but had reached the first-down marker. Davis soon scored to give the Broncos a 24-17 lead. It's only fitting that the most memorable play of Elway's Super Bowl career is not a spiraling pass hanging in the air, but a gritty rush attempt near the goal line. Elway also rushed for a 1 yard TD in the second quarter of Super Bowl XXXII.  
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
XXI
22
37
59.5
304
1
1
83.6
L 39-20
XXII
14
38
36.8
257
1
3
36.8
L 42-10
XXIV
10
26
38.5
108
0
2
19.4
L 55-10
XXXII
12
22
54.5
123
0
1
51.9
W 31-24
XXXIII
18
29
62.1
336
1
1
99.2
W 34-19
TOTALS
76
152
50.0
1,128
3
8
59.3
2-3
 
 
15. Joe Theismann, Washington
Games – 2 (XVII, XVIII)
Wins – 1 (XVII)
 
Overview: Theismann spent the first three years of his career in Canada and did not become a full-time NFL player until 1978, his eighth year in pro ball. His legacy took a dramatic turn for the better with the arrival of head coach Joe Gibbs and offensive line coach Joe Bugel in 1981.
 
By 1982, Washington's offensive line – "the Hogs" – had become the most powerful force in the NFL. The Redskins ended the strike-shortened 1982 season with an 8-1 record. Riggins led the team into the postseason, amassing 510 yards on 136 carries in four playoff games. The season concluded with a 27-17 victory over Miami in Super Bowl XVII. Theismann earned NFL MVP honors in 1983, leading what was then the most prolific scoring offense in NFL history (541 points). The 1983 Redskins were a perfectly balanced offensive machine, scoring 29 touchdowns through the air and 30 on the ground. But the Raiders shut down the Washington ground game in Super Bowl XVIII and without his safety net, Theismann proved incapable of carrying the Redskins. He threw two INTs, including one at the end of the half that was returned by Raiders linebacker Jack Squirek for a back-breaking touchdown.
 
Signature moment: The Redskins trailed Miami, 17-13, with 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XVII when Theismann wisely decided to hand off to Riggins on a daring 4th-and-1 play. The Diesel raced off left tackle, ran over Dolphins cornerback Don McNeal, and rumbled 43 yards for the go-ahead TD in what ended a 27-17 Washington victory. Riggins earned MVP honors with his record 38 attempts and then-record 166 yards on the ground. The Redskins gained a Super Bowl record 276 rushing yards.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
XVII
15
23
65.2
143
2
2
75.1
W 27-17
XVIII
16
35
45.7
243
0
2
45.3
L 38-9
TOTALS
31
58
53.4
386
2
4
57.1
1-1
 
 
THE GIMPS
The five players on our Gimp list include three Hall of Fame quarterbacks and the first two quarterbacks to lead two different teams to the Super Bowl (Earl Morrall, Craig Morton). It also includes the worst Super Bowl performers in NFL history, quarterbacks who routinely hobbled around like crippled hunchbacks in the biggest game of the year. The Gimps went 1-10 in Super Bowl play and even that record is deceiving. The lone victory came in a game that pitted two Gimps against a third one, Super Bowl V. The three quarterbacks combined for six interceptions in a game that featured 11 total turnovers and was ulitmately decided by a late INT that set up a game-winning field goal. 
 
16. Jim Kelly, Buffalo
Games – 4 (XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII)
Wins – 0
 
Overview: Kelly resurrected the moribund Buffalo franchise when he arrived in 1986 after two seasons in the USFL. He quickly established himself as one of the most prolific passers in the history of the game, leading Buffalo's high-tempo, no-huddle K-Gun offense with great success. But he was a complete dud in the Super Bowl. He was picked off seven times in just 145 Super Bowl pass attempts, including four INTs in a 37-24 loss to Washington in Super Bowl XXVI (when he was shown up by journeyman QB Mark Rypien, the game's MVP). His two TD passes that day came in fourth-quarter garbage time, after Washington held a 37-10 lead. The next year he was knocked silly by Dallas in Super Bowl XXVII and was forced out of the game in the second quarter of a humiliating 52-17 loss. Kelly is the only quarterback to lead his team to four straight Super Bowls. He's also the only QB to lose four Super Bowl games.
 
Signature moment: Buffalo's Scott Norwood missed a 47-yeard field goal with seconds remaining in Super Bowl XXV. A successful kick would have given the Bills a win in their first Super Bowl appearance and, even with losses in the next three games, it would have spared the franchise, the city of Buffalo and the quarterback himself from wearing the enduring tag of big-game losers.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
XXV
18
30
60.0
212
0
0
81.5
L 20-19
XXVI
28
58
48.3
275
2
4
44.8
L 37-24
XXVII
4
7
57.1
82
0
2
58.9
L 52-17
XXVIII
31
50
62.0
260
0
1
67.1
L 30-13
TOTALS
81
145
55.9
829
2
7
56.9
0-4
 
***
 
17. Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota
Games – 3 (VIII, IX, XI)
Wins – 0
 
Overview: No quarterback routinely led better teams in the regular season. No quarterback routinely played with better defenses. No quarterback of his era was more prolific in the passing game. No quarterback routinely imploded so badly on Super Bowl Sunday. When Tarkenton retired in 1978 after 18 years in the league, he was the NFL's all-time leader in attempts (6,487), completions (3,668), passing yards (47,003), and TD passes (342). He was also one of the best running QBs in modern NFL history, rushing for 3,674 yards in his career. But more than any other quarterback in Super Bowl history, Tarkenton shows us that there is sometimes a startling gap between a player's regular-season production and his Super Bowl production.
 
The signature moment: In one of the most replayed moments in Super Bowl history, Tarkenton threw an INT in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XI that was returned 75 yards for a TD by Oakland defensive back Willie Brown. The score gave Oakland a 32-7 lead (Minnesota backup QB Bob Lee threw a late TD pass) and was Tarkenton's sixth INT (as compared to just 1 TD pass) in three Super Bowl games.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
VIII
18
28
64.3
182
0
1
67.9
L 24-7
IX
11
26
42.3
102
0
3
14.1
L 16-6
XI
17
35
48.6
205
1
2
52.7
L 32-14
TOTALS
46
89
51.7
489
1
6
43.7
0-3
 
***
 
18. Johnny Unitas, Baltimore
Games – 2 (III, V)
Wins – 1 (V)
 
Overview: Johnny Unitas may very well be the greatest quarterback of all time. He led the Colts to two straight titles in 1958 and 1959 and, in an era of defensive dominance, put up gaudy statistics that would have earned him Pro Bowl status even by modern standards. But in 1968, Unitas was 34 years old, in his 13th season and returning from a season-long injury by the time he got his first Super Bowl opportunity. He simply did not play well in either Super Bowl III or Super Bowl V. He replaced starter Earl Morrall in the second half of Super Bowl III after the Baltimore offense had been stagnant. The Colts trailed 16-0 by the time Unitas got into the game. He led Baltimore to its only score but also threw an INT that stifled any hopes of a miraculous comeback. Although Unitas got the start in Super Bowl V, he was extremely ineffective before getting injured and replaced by Morrall in an error-filled game. The two combined to lead Baltimore to a 16-13 victory over Dallas, but it remains one of the worst offensive performances by any team in Super Bowl history. How bad was it? The teams combined for 11 turnovers, including 3 INTs by Unitas and Morrall, and the MVP of the game was a linebacker on the losing team (Chuck Howley).
 
Signature moment: The Colts trailed the Cowboys, 6-0, early in the second quarter of Super Bowl V and had been incapable of moving against the Dallas defense. Unitas fired a pass that was mishandled by receiver Eddie Hinton, bounced off Cowboys defensive back Mel Renfro, and ended up in the hands of tight end John Mackey, who raced 45 yards to complete a 75-yard scoring play. It was the only TD pass Unitas threw in just under four quarters of Super Bowl play and was symbolic of a game that proved a comedy of errors. Fittingly, kicker Jim O'Brien's extra point attempt was blocked.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
III (off bench)
11
24
45.8
110
0
1
42.0
L 16-7
V
3
9
33.3
88
1
2
68.1
W 16-13
TOTALS
14
33
42.4
198
1
3
34.7
1-1
 
***
 
19. Earl Morrall, Baltimore
Games – 2 (III, V)
Wins – 1 (V)
 
Overview: Morrall is one of the more interesting journeymen in NFL history. He played 22 seasons for six different teams and was a Pro Bowl performer with two of them: the Steelers in 1957 and the Colts in 1968. He played second fiddle to Hall of Famer Tarkenton for a year with the N.Y. Giants, to Hall of Famer Unitas for four years in Baltimore, and to Hall of Famer Bob Griese for five years in Miami.
 
He also had more than his fair share of success when given time to play. He was the primary quarterback on two of the greatest teams in NFL history (1968 Colts, 1972 Dolphins), played on four Super Bowl teams (1968 Colts, 1970 Colts, 1972 Dolphins, 1973 Dolphins) and saw significant playing time in two Super Bowls.
 
Unitas was injured and missed the 1968 season in Baltimore. Morrall took over the team and led it to a spectacular 13-1 season. The 1968 Colts were, in fact, the most dominant regular-season team in modern NFL history. In 1972 in Miami, Bob Griese went down with a broken leg in Week Five. Morrall came off the bench to win 11 straight games, including two in the playoffs, as part of the only undefeated campaign in NFL history. Morrall was then benched for Super Bowl VII, as Griese returned from injury.
 
Perhaps Miami coach Don Shula sat Morrall for Super Bowl VII because he remembered the quarterback's performance in Super Bowl III. After all, Shula was Morrall's coach that season in Baltimore. Morrall tossed three INTs in the famous 16-7 loss to the AFL Jets and is the player most singularly responsible for the greatest upset in NFL history. 
 
Signature moment: Super Bowl V limped to an inglorious conclusion as Baltimore linebacker Mike Curtis returned an interception 13 yards to the Dallas 28 in the waning moments of the game. Morrall hardly sparkled that day, but he managed to successfully take two straight snaps without losing the football. Rookie kicker Jim O'Brien then stepped in and kicked the game-winning 32-yard field goal with five seconds to play. 
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
III
6
17
35.3
71
0
3
9.3
L 16-7
V (off bench)
7
15
46.7
147
0
1
54.0
W 16-13
TOTALS
13
32
40.6
218
0
4
24.7
1-1
 
 
20. Craig Morton, Dallas, Denver
Games – 2 (V, XII)
Wins – 0
 
Overview: Morton has two claims to fame. For the first 42 years of the Super Bowl Era (before Kurt Warner), he was the only quarterback to start for two different teams in the big game: the 1970 Cowboys and the 1977 Broncos. But he then proved to be the worst Super Bowl quarterback in history. Morton managed to defy the laws of physics by tossing 7 interceptions in just 41 Super Bowl pass attempts. His awful 3-INT effort in Super Bowl V was followed by a truly mind-numbing Super Bowl XII performance in which he completed four passes to his own Broncos teammates and four passes to Dallas defenders. Morton posted a perfect 0.0 rating in Super Bowl XII.
 
Signature moment: Morton and the 1970 Cowboys were put into perfect position for a victory in comedic Super Bowl V when they took over the ball on the Baltimore 48-yard line with just 2 minutes to play in a 13-13 ballgame. The Cowboys quickly managed to lose 25 yards (24 on a spot holding penalty). On 2nd-and-35, Morton threw to running back Dan Reeves, who completely whiffed on the ball. It was then picked off by Baltimore linebacker Mike Curtis. The ball ended up on the Dallas 28 and O'Brien kicked his game-winning field goal two plays later.
 
Super Bowl
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Result
V (Dallas)
12
26
46.2
127
1
3
34.1
L 16-13
XII (Denver)
4
15
26.7
39
0
4
0.0
L 27-10
TOTALS
16
41
39.0
166
1
7
20.0
0-2
 

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