Crafting a list of the greatest players in Super Bowl history is a near-impossible endeavor. Do you favor the biggest stars? Those who shone brightest on Super Sunday? The ones with a sustained level of excellence? While undertaking this fool's errand, we weighed each consideration, attempting to also make it representative of all positions rather than skew too heavily toward quarterbacks or offensive players who more easily show up in the box score (and MVP log). With that prologue in mind, here's our list of the 50 greatest players in Super Bowl history:
Joe Montana: Appropriate that the guy who set the gold standard for Super Sunday quarterback play would be a San Francisco 49er. Montana went 4-0 in the Super Bowl, and no QB has more rings (4). He also established the bar with three MVP awards. Perhaps most remarkable, Montana had 11 TD passes with nary an interception, which explains his record for passer rating (127.8). And who can forget the methodical, 92-yard TD drive he led, capping it with the game-winning throw to John Taylor in the final minute, to win Super Bowl XXIII?
Tom Brady: The New England Patriots poster boy is the equal – for now – of Montana, his boyhood idol, when it comes to titles and Super Bowl MVPs. With a record six Super starts under his belt, Brady is the all-time leader in passes (247), completions (164), yards (1,605) and TDs (13). And we're guessing the book isn't closed on TB12 quite yet.
Jerry Rice: As you'd expect of the "GOAT," he's in a class by himself. He owns Super Bowl career records for receptions (33), receiving yards (589) and TDs (8). No one else has more than three TD catches, a total Rice matched alone in Super Bowl XXIX. His single-game record of 215 receiving yards made him Super Bowl XXIII's MVP.
Terry Bradshaw: He'll always have his detractors. But it was Bradshaw, not the Pittsburgh Steelers' famed Steel Curtain, who showed the way to victory in Super Bowls XIII and XIV, taking MVP honors in both games. He was the first quarterback with four Lombardi Trophies, and his nine TD strikes trail only Brady and Montana. And what about the toughness factor? Bradshaw threw the game-winning TD pass in Super Bowl X while taking a helmet to the jaw that literally knocked him out.
Charles Haley: Count 'em, a record five Super Bowl rings (two with the 49ers, three with the Dallas Cowboys). Since sacks became official in 1982, Haley's 4.5 are the most in the Super Bowl record book. He bagged Cincinnati Bengals QB Boomer Esiason twice in Super Bowl XXIII, the Niners' narrowest Super Sunday win.
6. QB Doug Williams: He only played in one Super Bowl (XXII). But all the Washington Redskins star did was prove to any remaining naysayers that a black quarterback could win it all ... while doing it on a hyperextended knee ... while throwing four TD passes in an unreal 35-point second quarter.
Emmitt Smith: The Super Bowl XXVIII MVP was the Cowboys' closer that night (132 yards, 2 second-half TDs) and again in Super Bowl XXX. Smith's five rushing TDs are a record, and his 289 rushing yards rank third.
Eli Manning: We're not saying he's better than big brother Peyton, as some wags have suggested since Eli has two rings to Peyton’s one. But Eli is definitely more deserving of a spot on this list given his heroics in twice winning Super Bowl MVP honors for the New York Giants with some truly miraculous plays in upsets of the Patriots.
Terrell Davis: In what was arguably the greatest Super Bowl effort by a tailback, he ran for 157 yards and a record-tying three TDs, while combatting a migraine, on his way to Super Bowl XXXII MVP honors as the Denver Broncos won their first title. Davis adding 102 rushing yards and 50 more receiving when Denver repeated the next year.
Joe Namath: He was more game manager than gunslinger on Super Sunday and didn't throw a touchdown in the New York Jets' monumental upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. But Broadway Joe delivered on his epic pre-game guarantee and changed the course of pro football history by vanquishing the NFL establishment.
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