Not every Super Bowl is like No. 29, when Steve Young threw six touchdown passes, or No. 22, when Doug Williams threw four touchdown passes in one quarter, and there’s no doubt who the game MVP is going to be.
Sometimes, the game lands in that fuzzy area, where no one player truly stands out. Super Bowl 30 is an oft-cited example, as Dallas Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown didn’t exactly do anything special, other than be standing in the right place at the right time twice for two of the most inaccurate passes in NFL history by Neil O’Donnell. Brown was named MVP, but you go back and look at that game, and it’s not like anyone else really stood out to claim it.
There have been other times, however, where the MVP trophy definitely went to someone who did not deserve it. We see you, Joe Namath. We see you.
5. Tom Brady, Super Bowl 36 (Ty Law)
Undeserved might be a little harsh to describe this baby GOAT’s MVP award. Tom Brady did lead the New England Patriots on the final game-winning drive to beat the Greatest Show on Turf.
But that’s really the point here: Brady did not limit the prolific St. Louis Rams’ offense to 17 points for the game and just three for the majority of it, before Ricky Proehl turned into Jerry Rice and the Rams nearly stole the game back.
A brilliant defensive game plan by Bill Belichick and Romeo Crenel was personified in the game by cornerback Ty Law, who set the tone for the entire game with his pick-six in the second quarter that gave the underdog Patriots a 7-3 lead.
It’s likely that had the MVP voters been forced to make their selection based on the first three quarters, Law would have won it. The Rams’ 14-point rally, combined with Brady coolly leading the Patriots on their winning drive changed the calculus. But without the suffocating defense and the momentum-shifting touchdown by Law, those final 81 seconds probably wouldn’t have mattered.
4. Fred Biletnikoff, Super Bowl 11 (Clarence Davis)
Sometimes the MVP voters get a little too cute. No one questions Fred Biletnikoff’s credentials as one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history. The guy made Stick-Um look cool. And he had himself a nice little Super Bowl for the Oakland Raiders against the Minnesota Vikings, catching four passes for 79 yards in the 32-14 rout.
This was the quintessential blowout Super Bowl where no one player really stands out as the MVP and the voters have to go looking for reasons to name someone.
The problem here is that Raiders totally dominated the game on the ground, totaling 266 rushing yards, with running back Clarence Davis leading the way with 136. He was the MVP of this game, but Pete Banazak vultured two short touchdown runs from him, diluting the candidacies of both backs.
So the voters took note of the fact that while Biletnikoff didn’t score any touchdowns either, the fact that three of his four receptions ended inside the Vikings’ two-yard line, made him most valuable. It’s a creative way of looking at things, but ignores the fact that the running game is what won it for Oakland, and Davis was the best back on the field.
3. Terry Bradshaw, Super Bowl 14 (John Stallworth)
Terry Bradshaw did throw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns as the Pittsburgh Steelers rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Los Angeles Rams. But he also threw three interceptions, two in the third quarter when the Rams took their final lead of the night, entering the final 15 minutes with a 19-17 lead.
To the voters, this is where Bradshaw won his MVP award, throwing for the go-ahead touchdown, then salting the victory away with another deep ball that set up the final touchdown at 31-19 victory.
But the same receiver, John Stallworth, caught both the 73-yard touchdown that gave the Steelers the lead and the 45-yard completion, both on third downs, that put the game away. With Lynn Swann injured in the second half, Stallworth saved the Steelers. He should have been rewarded with the MVP.
2. Tom Brady, Super Bowl 51 (James White)
This one is really hard to figure, except for the old cliché about awarding the quarterback the award in a high-scoring game, especially considering the size of the comeback involved.
We all know the story, we’ve all seen the meme: Falcons 28, Patriots 3, 2:12 remaining in the third quarter. Stipulated that it was the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
But guess what, folks, Tom Brady did not make this comeback happen. James White did.
It was White who scored the first touchdown of the comeback to make it 28-9.
It was White who ran in the two-point conversion with 5:56 left that made it a one-possession game at 28-20.
And it was white who scored the touchdown with 57 seconds left that set up the tying two-point conversion.
Then it was White who scored the only overtime touchdown in Super Bowl history. Throw in his Super Bowl-record 14 receptions for 110 yards and what are we doing here, people? Tom Brady has the rings and the GOAT status and Gisele. He didn’t need this MVP, and considering his pick-six helped put his team down by 25, did he even deserve it? Brady himself didn’t think so: He gave White the MVP car.
1. Joe Namath, Super Bowl 3 (Matt Snell, Randy Beverly, George Sauer)
This is the only Super Bowl MVP awarded for something that didn’t even happen in the game.
Put it this way: If Joe Namath doesn’t guarantee a New York Jets victory over the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts, and the guarantee doesn’t become an over-hyped pregame media sensation, Namath doesn’t even make the top 3 of Jets MVPs in this game.
The Jets scored one touchdown in their 16-7 victory. Namath neither threw it, ran it or caught it. That distinction went to running back Matt Snell, who gave the Jets a 7-0 lead in the second quarter. But Snell did so much more than score the lone Jets touchdown.
Snell carried the ball 30 times for 121 yards and caught four passes for another 40. Namath merely played game manager, as the Jets ran the ball 43 times and threw it 28. The most damning stat against Namath’s MVP credentials is that he did not attempt a single pass in the fourth quarter, as Snell and the running game muscled down the clock.
And don’t forget receiver George Sauer, who caught 8 passes for 133 yards, and Randy Beverly, who had two huge interceptions in the end zone to thwart Colts scoring changes. Both were better MVP candidates than Namath.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference