In the National Football League, legends are made on Super Bowl Sunday. It is, after all, the biggest stage in American professional sports, which means that an otherwise mediocre player can earn a place in NFL folklore with a dominant performance that may have been unforeseen heading into the game. With Super Bowl 50 right around the corner, we look at the top individual performances in Super Bowl history — specifically the top offensive performances.
It is important for us to point out that this is not a list of the greatest players in Super Bowl history (sorry, Tom Brady), but rather a list of what we believe to be the best single-game individual offensive performances of all time. Without further ado, here is a look at the top 10 individual offensive performances in Super Bowl history.
1. Terrell Davis, running back, Denver Broncos — Super Bowl XXXII
Heading into Super Bowl XXXII, few people outside of the Denver locker room gave the Broncos much of a chance at upsetting the heavily-favored Green Bay Packers. As it turns out, Terrell Davis and his Broncos teammates — most notably Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway — stole the show and came away with a 31-24 victory to bring home the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Part of the credit goes to Davis, who carried the ball 30 times for 157 yards and three touchdowns. What makes Davis’s Super Bowl XXXII MVP performance even more impressive is that he did so while suffering from severe migraine headaches that resulted in a loss of vision for a large portion of the game.
2. Steve Young, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers — Super Bowl XXIX
This game will always be remembered as the Super Bowl where Steve Young finally got the championship “monkey off his back.” Not only did Young finally bring home a Super Bowl title, he did so by throwing for 325 yards and a record six touchdown passes while also adding 49 yards on the ground. Behind Young’s record-breaking MVP performance, the 49ers blew out the San Diego Chargers by a score of 49-26 to win the fifth Super Bowl title in franchise history.
3. Doug Williams, quarterback, Washington Redskins — Super Bowl XXII
Once upon a time, Doug Williams was a highly regarded, first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He ultimately started 81 games during his nine years in the NFL, but, without his performance in Super Bowl XXII, Williams’ career would have gone down as a monumental disappointment. For most of the 1987 season, Williams served as the backup to Jay Schroeder.
However, he took over in time for the Redskins’ entire postseason run, which was capped by one of the greatest individual performances in Super Bowl history. For the game, Williams threw for 340 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception, leading the Redskins to a dominating 42-10 victory over the Denver Broncos. For his efforts, Williams took home Super Bowl MVP honors.
4. Timmy Smith, running back, Washington Redskins — Super Bowl XXII
Heading into Super Bowl XXII against the Denver Broncos, Timmy Smith — a rookie who the team selected in the fifth round of the 1987 NFL Draft — had only played in seven regular season games and carried the ball a total of 29 times for 126 yards. All he would go on to do against the Broncos is rush for a Super Bowl record 204 yards on 22 carries and score two rushing touchdowns. Were it not for his teammate, quarterback Doug Williams, having a career game, Smith would have been a slam-dunk choice to take home MVP honors for his record-breaking performance.
5. Jerry Rice, wide receiver, San Francisco 49ers — Super Bowl XXIII
In Super Bowl XXIII, the greatest wide receiver in NFL history turned in the greatest performance by a wide receiver in Super Bowl history. Jerry Rice hauled in 11 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown, en route to winning Super Bowl MVP honors for his massive role in the 49ers’ 20-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
6. Marcus Allen, running back, Los Angeles Raiders — Super Bowl XVIII
Were it not for Marcus Allen’s MVP-winning, 191-yard, two-touchdown performance, the Raiders likely would not have pulled off their stunning 38-9 upset win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. For his efforts, Allen took home MVP honors and secured his place as one of the greatest Raiders of all time.
7. Joe Montana, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers — Super Bowl XXIV
In this game, Joe Montana led the 49ers to a 55-10 win over the Denver Broncos in what was arguably the most dominant Super Bowl victory in NFL history. He completed just under 76% of his passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns, making him an easy choice to take home Super Bowl MVP honors for the third time in his illustrious career.
8. Joe Montana, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers — Super Bowl XIX
In the second of his three Super Bowl MVP-winning performances, Montana led the 49ers to a 38-16 win over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. He out-dueled former Miami Dolphins great Dan Marino, throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns in addition to another 59 yards and a score on the ground.
9. Phil Simms, quarterback, New York Giants — Super Bowl XXI
The man who served as the color commentator for Super Bowl 50 also happened to turn in one of the greatest individual performances in championship game history, against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI. Phil Simms had a near-perfect day, completing 88% of his passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns on his way to taking home MVP honors.
10. Lynn Swann, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers — Super Bowl X
There may have been other wide receivers throughout the years who put up bigger numbers than Lynn Swann did in Super Bowl X — four catches for 161 yards and a touchdown — but we chose to include him here because of the fact that he came up with big-time plays during the biggest moments in the game. All said, Swann was the best player on the field during Super Bowl X.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.