As the country and the world prepares for Super Bowl Sunday this weekend we thought it would be fun to look back at over forty Super Bowls and select the football heroes that surprised us all. Our favorite sports writer Chuck Bednar has compiled a wonderful list of the top 10 most unlikely Super Bowl MVPs. Any football fan would find this top 10 list well worth the time to read…and disagree with. Keep your comments civil. Hut, hut, hike!
10. Fred Biletnikoff, Oakland Raiders, Super Bowl XI
Edging out the likes of Mark Rypien and Deion Branch, the Hall of Fame receiver makes our list because he is just one of two wide receivers to win the MVP award without scoring a touchdown (Branch is the other) and the only one to do so without gaining at least 100 yards receiving. Biletnikoff had just four catches for 79 yards on the game, setting up a trio of Raider touchdowns and helping the Oakland offense rack up 429 yards of total offense on the game en route to a 32-14 win over Minnesota. Ironically, tight end Dave Casper had just as many catches as his award-winning teammate for 70 yards and the only touchdown reception of the day. Food for thought.
9. Jake Scott, Miami Dolphins, Super Bowl VII
Scott was an impressive player throughout his career, picking off 49 career interceptions and making five Pro Bowls in the process. While his two INTs in Miami’s win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII definitely made him a worthy candidate, no one could have imagined going in that it would be he and not someone like Hall of Fame QB Bob Griese or the record setting backfield of Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris that would be the star of the show. Likewise, it stunned many that Manny Fernandez, who had 17 tackles and a sack in the game, wasn’t honored as at least a co-MVP.
8. Dexter Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Super Bowl XXXVII
While it may be hard to believe that a guy can pick off a pair of passes in the Super Bowl and NOT be a likely MVP candidate, but when the fan balloting pushed Bucs safety Jackson over the edge, it raised a few eyebrows. He edged out DE Simeon Rice, who had a pair of sacks on the day and was consistently pressuring Raiders QB Rich Gannon. And what about fellow Tampa Bay defensive back Dwight Smith, who also had two interceptions but returned both of his for touchdowns? There were plenty of heroics to go around in the team’s 48-21 shellacking of the Raiders, but one has to wonder what made Jackson a more popular pick amongst the home viewers than his arguably more deserving teammates.
7. John Elway, Denver Broncos, Super Bowl XXXIII
Like Scott, Elway seems an unlikely candidate to be considered an unlikely MVP. Not only is the former Broncos quarterback a Pro Football Hall of Famer, but he retired as a nine-time Pro Bowler and the holder eight franchise records, including most career passing yards, most career completions and most touchdown passes. However, the 38-year-old Elway was not the featured star in Denver during the 1998 season–that honor belonged to NFL MVP Terrell Davis. Still, it was Elway, not Davis, who led the way by throwing for 336 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns in the Broncos 34-19 win over the Falcons.
6. Doug Williams, Washington Redskins, Super Bowl XXII
None would argue that Williams, who set a Super Bowl record by throwing for 340 yards and tossed four touchdowns in the first half, was a deserving MVP recipient. Likewise, few would debate that, early on in his career, he seemed an unlikely candidate for such success. After all, he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1978, went 31-34-1 there as a started before defecting to the USFL following a contract dispute, then returned to the NFL in 1987 as a backup to Washington QB Jay Schroeder. Injuries wound up knocking Schroeder out of action and Williams would go on to lead the Redskins to a 42-10 rout of the Denver Broncos. He ended his career in 1989 on the Washington bench, and counting playoffs, was just 8-9 as the starting quarterback in the nation’s capital.
5. Ottis Anderson, New York Giants, Super Bowl XXV
Anderson was an unlikely MVP for two reasons. First, the Giants weren’t expected to win the game. They were facing the potent offensive attack of the Buffalo Bills, led by the likes of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed. Secondly, the former Cardinals running back and 1979 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year had supposedly been washed up by the time he made it to New York. Yet, Anderson’s startling career resurgence wound up in his being named the 1989 Comeback Player of the Year, and rushing 21 times for 102 yards and a touchdown in the Giants 20-19 upset of the Bills. It would also be his last major hurrah in the NFL, as New York drafted Georgia RB Rodney Hampton to replace him just months after winning the NFL Championship and he would retire in 1992.
4. Joe Namath, New York Jets, Super Bowl III
Certainly a controversial choice, as “Broadway Joe” is easily the most recognizable figure in New York’s upset of Baltimore in 1969. That said, if you take away his guarantee of victory and his larger-than-life persona and look simply at on-the-field production, Namath was far from the most valuable player on the field that day. He threw for just 206 yards on the game, failed to throw a touchdown pass and didn’t even have a completion in the fourth quarter. More likely or more deserving choices could have included RB Matt Snell, who carried the ball 30 times for 121 yards and a touchdown, or CB Randy Beverly, the first player in Super Bowl history to record two interceptions.
3. Desmond Howard, Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl XXXI
Entering Super Bowl XXXI, fans and prognosticators knew that the former Heisman Trophy winner out of Michigan could have an impact on the game, but certainly few realized he would put forth an MVP performance with the likes of Brett Favre, Reggie White and Curtis Martin on the field. Yet Howard did just that, scoring what would be the decisive touchdown in Green Bay’s 35-21 victory over New England on a 99-yard punt return while setting Super Bowl records for most total return yards and most net yards gained (both 244) in the process. Howard was the first and thus far only special teams player to win the Super Bowl MVP award.
2. Larry Brown, Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl XXX
Sometimes earning MVP honors isn’t about being good, but being in the right place in the right time. Such is the case with former 12th round draft pick Larry Brown, who’s MVP performance in the Cowboys’ 27-17 win over the Steelers in 1996 had as much to do with the miscommunication between Pittsburgh QB Neil O’Donnell and his receivers as it did with Brown’s own prowess. Granted, Brown did lead Dallas with six interceptions that season, but with Hall of Famers like Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith on his team’s roster, few could have predicted that Brown would pick off two passes, return them for 77 yards and set up a pair of touchdowns for his ballclub. Ironically, Brown would leave the Cowboys the following season after earning a big free-agent deal from the Raiders, but would wind up with just 14 interceptions during an eight-year NFL career.
1. Chuck Howley, Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl V
Topping our list is the first defensive player to ever win the Super Bowl MVP award, and thus far the only player from a losing team to earn the honor, Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley. In many ways, it’s amazing that anyone was deemed worthy of the Most Valuable tag in Super Bowl V, a game so filled with turnovers, penalties and mistakes that it has been dubbed the “Blunder Bowl”. Both Johnny Unitas and Craig Morton threw touchdown passes in the game, but combined for five interceptions on the evening as well, and Colts RB Tom Nowatzke ran for 33 yards and a score as well. Howley, on the other hand, picked off two passes on the game and was determined to be the best player on the field. However, he refused to accept the award, deeming it meaningless in defeat.
Written by Chuck Bednar