Fifty years of Super Bowls, so it’s time for a 50-player all-time Super Bowl team.
As expected, it has its share of Hall of Famers. It also has some forgotten men who produced magic moments.
What goes into selecting it? The group — a first team and second team on offense and defense — includes players based on body of work or iconic performances on the NFL’s biggest stage. It’s not simply a player’s reputation.
That made for some controversial calls. Starting with Joe Montana over Tom Brady for first-team quarterback.
First-team tight end Jay Novacek and second-team running back Roger Craig are Midlands representatives.
Kick returner Desmond Howard gives us 25 players on the first team. Since return men have had minimal impact through the years, we didn’t put one on the second team. Since Adam Vinatieri has virtually no competition, we skipped a second-team place kicker. We also skipped a second-team punter. Instead, we added a deserving trio on the second-team offense: quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman, and running back Terrell Davis.
Dallas leads the way with nine players selected to Pittsburgh’s eight. Others with more than one: San Francisco (6), New England (6), Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders (5), Green Bay (4), Miami (4), New York Giants (3), Denver (2) and Seattle (2). Hopefully, the lists will evoke memories and spark arguments. Let the discussion begin.
First team: Joe Montana, 49ers (Super Bowls: 16, 19, 23, 24)
>> Tom Brady, Patriots (36, 38, 39, 42, 46, 49)
>> Terry Bradshaw, Steelers (9, 10, 13, 14)
>> Troy Aikman, Cowboys (27, 28, 30)
Montana, who led the San Francisco 49ers’ 1980s dynasty to four championships, gets the slightest of nods over Brady. Brady has directed New England to four crowns this century and would have gained first-team status had he just reached Sunday’s game. He and defensive tackle Mike Lodish (Bills, Broncos) have played in six Super Bowls.
As it is, you’re splitting hairs. Take nothing away from Brady, who put the Patriots in position for the wins — although field goals decided two games and the defense preserved last season’s thriller over Seattle.
The 49ers’ third championship, a 20-16 squeaker past Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII for the 1988 title, epitomized Montana’s clutch ability. He led a 92-yard drive in the closing minutes, capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor with 39 seconds left.
Joe Cool, indeed.
Bradshaw, who led Pittsburgh’s great teams of the 1970s, joins Montana and Brady as four-time champions. Aikman, who quarterbacked three Dallas title teams in the 1990s, belongs with the 50 greatest. He is too often overlooked.
>> Franco Harris, Steelers (9, 10, 13, 14)
>> Marcus Allen, Raiders (18)
>> Larry Csonka, Dolphins (6, 7, 8)
>> Roger Craig, 49ers (19, 23, 24)
>> Terrell Davis, Broncos (32, 33)
The top Super Bowl ground gainer, fullback Franco Harris, had 354 yards rushing for the four Pittsburgh title teams of the 1970s. Harris was a symbol of the Super Bowl’s early years, when the run was often as important as the pass. The fullback was a key position in many two-back sets.
The other first-team back, Marcus Allen, made the most of his only Super Bowl. Allen ran for 191 yards as the 1983 Raiders hammered Washington 38-9 for their only title while based in Los Angeles.
The game’s most valuable player, Allen had two touchdown runs, including a dazzling 74-yarder. The game wasn’t in doubt, but it was an iconic moment, a highlight-reel play, with Allen reversing his field and zooming past defenders.
The other great fullback of the 1970s, Miami’s Larry Csonka, is in the second-team backfield. You can’t ignore the heart and soul of the NFL’s only “perfect” team, the 1972 Dolphins.
Csonka is joined by San Francisco’s Craig, the former Nebraska star who had four combined rushing and receiving touchdowns in three Super Bowls. He had three TDs in the 49ers’ 38-16 victory over the Dolphins for the 1984 title. Four years later, in the classic with the Bengals, he had 71 yards rushing and eight catches for 101 yards, the first running back in Super Bowl history with a 100-yard receiving game.
Davis provided the punch in the 1997 Denver Broncos’ win over favored Green Bay. He rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns. A year later, he had 102 yards as the Broncos beat Atlanta.
There’d be no complaints if you flipped Allen and Craig. It’s tough to leave Dallas’ Emmitt Smith off the list. Timmy Smith, who had a 204-yard rushing game for the Redskins in beating the Broncos 42-10 for the 1987 title? He was overshadowed that day, when teammate Doug Williams had four TD passes in the second quarter.
>> Jerry Rice, 49ers, Raiders (23, 24, 29, 37)
>> Lynn Swann, Steelers (9, 10, 13, 14)
>> John Stallworth, Steelers (9, 10, 13, 14)
>> Deion Branch, Patriots (38, 39, 46)
Jerry Rice and the Steelers’ Lynn Swann are easy first-team choices.
Rice had 589 yards receiving in four Super Bowls. He was the MVP of Super Bowl XXIII with 215 yards receiving and a spectacular 27-yard catch and run on the drive to Taylor’s winning touchdown for the 49ers. (Did you forget Rice caught a TD pass from Rich Gannon when the 2002 Oakland Raiders were blasted by Tampa Bay in XXXVII?)
Swann had 364 yards and three TDs in the first four Steeler Super Bowls. He did a lot more than make a couple of acrobatic catches.
Swann’s running mate, John Stallworth, joins New England’s Deion Branch, one of Brady’s top targets in the early 2000s, as second-team wideouts. Stallworth’s huge game vs. the Rams capped the Steelers’ fourth Super Bowl title in the 1970s.
These players’ volume of work gives them a slight edge over Taylor and one-time wonders Santonio Holmes (2008 Steelers) and David Tyree (2007 Giants).
First team: Jay Novacek, Cowboys (27, 28, 30)
Second team: Shannon Sharpe, Broncos, Ravens (32, 33, 35)
Novacek, the Gothenburg, Nebraska, native who played at Wyoming, had a combined 17 catches for 148 yards and two TDs in three Dallas Super Bowl victories in the 1990s.
His impact in the Big Game dwarfs that of Shannon Sharpe (Broncos, Ravens) and Raiders greats Dave Casper and Todd Christensen. Even legends John Mackey (Colts) and Mike Ditka (Cowboys), who scored touchdowns. Sharpe gets the second-team nod.
>> Forrest Gregg, Packers, Cowboys (1, 2, 6)
>> Art Shell, Raiders (11, 15)
>> Orlando Pace, Rams (34, 36)
>> Anthony Munoz, Bengals (16, 23)
Forrest Gregg anchored the line as Green Bay won the first two Super Bowls, then helped Dallas take the 1971 title. The Packers’ Vince Lombardi called Gregg the best player he ever coached.
Tackle Art Shell and guard Gene Upshaw were so good at controlling Minnesota’s defensive linemen that some felt they should have been co-MVPs of Oakland’s 32-14 triumph for the 1976 crown in XI.
Orlando Pace, a mainstay of the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf, and Anthony Munoz, anchor of the Bengals’ two Super Bowl teams, are on the second unit.
>> Gene Upshaw, Raiders (2, 11, 15)
>> Russ Grimm, Redskins (17, 18, 22, 26)
>> Larry Little, Dolphins (6, 7, 8)
>> Larry Allen, Cowboys (30)
Upshaw reached Super Bowls in three decades with the Raiders.
No all-time Super Bowl O-line is complete without a “hog.” Russ Grimm helped open holes for Washington runners in three victories in the 1980s.
Larry Little of the early 1970s Dolphins and Larry Allen of the 1995 Cowboys are next in line. Allen, who made 11 Pro Bowls, was one of the game’s strongest players.
First team: Mike Webster, Steelers (9, 10, 13, 14)
Second team: Jonathan Goodwin, Saints, 49ers (44, 47)
Mike Webster was the iron man in the middle of the 1970s Steeler powerhouse.
Second-teamer Jonathan Goodwin centered the 2009 Saints’ offense in their victory over the Colts, and helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl three years later.
First team: Adam Vinatieri, Patriots, Colts (31, 36, 38, 39, 41)
Vinatieri is hands-down the best clutch kicker of his era. He won Super Bowls with the 2001, 2003 and 2004 Patriots — the first two with late field goals — and the 2006 Colts.
>> Richard Dent, Bears (20)
>> Reggie White, Packers (31, 32)
>> L.C. Greenwood, Steelers (9, 10, 13, 14)
>> Bruce Smith, Bills (25, 26, 27, 28)
>> Justin Tuck, Giants (42, 46)
Richard Dent, MVP of the 1985 Chicago Bears’ victory over New England, and Reggie White, the defensive star of the 1996 Packers’ triumph over the Patriots, simply took over those games.
Dent was disruptive, getting in on 1½ sacks, forcing two fumbles and blocking a pass.
After the Packers built a 14-point lead, White sacked Drew Bledsoe on back-to-back plays, then recorded a third sack late in the fourth quarter.
With so much talent at the position, our second-team defensive line has three ends and one tackle. The ends: L.C. Greenwood, the all-time Super Bowl sacks leader (5) and part of Pittsburgh’s 1970s juggernaut; Bruce Smith, who played in four showcase games for Buffalo and was particularly effective in a tight loss to the 1990 Giants, in which he sacked Jeff Hostetler in the end zone for a safety; and Justin Tuck, whose four sacks helped Giants defenses harass the Patriots’ Brady in wins for the 2007 and 2011 titles.
>> Manny Fernandez, Dolphins (6, 7, 8)
>> Leon Lett, Cowboys (27, 28, 30)
>> Joe Greene, Steelers (9, 10, 13, 14)
Manny Fernandez of the 1972 champion Dolphins had a game for the ages: 17 tackles, including a sack, against Washington. He is often overlooked because tackles didn’t become an official NFL statistic until 2001. In three Super Bowls, he totaled 28 tackles and three sacks.
Look beyond the gaffe in Super Bowl XXVII and you’ll find that Dallas’ Leon Lett was no clown. His sack, fumble recovery and two forced fumbles were among the keys in a romp over Buffalo. All anyone remembers is Lett celebrating prematurely on the fumble return and Don Beebe knocking the ball out of Lett’s hands as he reached the end zone, resulting in a touchback.
In the rematch the next year, Lett forced a fumble that James Washington returned 46 yards for a tying score, a turning point in another Cowboys victory.
Mean Joe Greene is the second-team tackle. It was fitting that the player who turned the Pittsburgh franchise around set the pace for the 1974 team’s breakthrough against Minnesota. He had an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
>> Chuck Howley, Cowboys (5, 6)
>> Charles Haley, 49ers, Cowboys (23, 24, 27, 28, 30)
>> Willie McGinest, Patriots (36, 38, 39)
>> Lawrence Taylor, Giants (21, 25)
>> Tedy Bruschi, Patriots (31, 36, 38, 39, 42)
>> Bobby Wagner, Seahawks (48, 49)
Chuck Howley’s first-team selection is no fluke. The Dallas veteran had two interceptions against the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V and was the first MVP from a losing team. He had an interception in the next Super Bowl to set up a score in the Cowboys’ victory over Miami.
Charles Haley fits here because he was first a pass-rushing outside linebacker for the 49ers’ 1988 and ’89 champs. He was then a defensive end on the three Dallas title teams of the ’90s. That’s five wins for the undisputed king of rings.
Willie McGinest was a consistent big-game player in the first three Patriots Super Bowl wins. His teammate Tedy Bruschi makes our second team, along with Giants legend Lawrence Taylor and current Seattle star Bobby Wagner. The always-busy Wagner tops the modern charts with 22 total tackles in the past two Super Bowls.
>> Herb Adderley, Packers, Cowboys (1, 2, 5, 6)
>> Mel Blount, Steelers (9, 10, 13, 14)
>> Larry Brown, Cowboys (27, 28, 30)
>> Kam Chancellor, Seahawks (48, 49)
>> Ronnie Lott, 49ers (16, 19, 23, 24)
>> Willie Brown, Raiders (2, 11)
>> Jake Scott, Dolphins (6, 7, 8)
>> Rodney Harrison, Patriots (38, 39)
Herb Adderley was a prime-time performer as Green Bay won the first two Super Bowls. He had the series’ first interception return touchdown in II, picking off Oakland’s Daryle Lamonica. Adderley then helped the 1971 Cowboys to their first title.
Mel Blount, another of the ’70s Steeler stalwarts, made big plays. His interception near the goal line killed a Minnesota drive in the low-scoring Super Bowl IX. Four years later against Dallas, his interception set up the go-ahead score late in the first half.
Some say Larry Brown is overrated, but he came up big for Dallas’ ’90s champs. He had an interception in the first meeting with Buffalo. Three years later, his two interceptions of Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O’Donnell helped lift the Cowboys to their third championship in four seasons.
Seattle’s hard-hitting Kam Chancellor rounds out the first string. He’s had 10 tackles in each of the past two Super Bowls to rank just behind Wagner.
The second unit is a Who’s Who of DBs. Jake Scott of the Dolphins was MVP in Fernandez’s huge game. Patriots safety Rodney Harrison was a productive teammate of Brady, McGinest and Bruschi. The 49ers’ Ronnie Lott, who was with Montana for four championships, played cornerback in two and safety in two others. Willie Brown had a 75-yard pick-six and was part of an Oakland secondary that frustrated Minnesota quarterback Fran Tarkenton in Super Bowl XI.
First team: Steve Weatherford, Giants (46)
Steve Weatherford helped the 2011 Giants beat the Patriots for a second time in five years.
He averaged 40.8 yards per punt as New York pinned the Pats deep several times; one of his kicks led to a safety after an intentional grounding penalty on Brady in the end zone.
First team: Desmond Howard, Packers (31)
Green Bay’s Howard is the only special teams man to win a Super Bowl MVP. He had 244 total return yards against New England in Super Bowl XXXI — including a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown and 90 yards in punt returns.
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