46 Super Bowls. 92 Quarterbacks. Let’s Rank ‘Em.

Jim Jividen ranks all of the quarterbacks who have ever played in the Super Bowl.  

Super Bowl 47 is Sunday. Maybe you’ve heard. Here’s a list to read.

Normal football qualifiers apply; it’s an interdependent game to the point where individual statistics aren’t as valuable as in other sports; you want adjustments for era and opponent and they aren’t as reliable as are they in baseball; to really do this, you’d want to crunch every play.

The numbers you’ll see here are completions/attempts, yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns/interceptions, quarterback rating, rushes/yards. The number after the opponent is the Pro-Football Reference metric that evaluates defense based on points allowed and strength of schedule. Higher the number – the better the defense which means the tougher the job for the quarterback.

Exciting!

The Top 5 Quarterbacked Games in SB History.

1. Joe Montana Niners XXIV 22-29 297 10.2 5td/0int 147.6 2/15 Win-Den(5.7)
-Somewhere, in the debate over best QB ever, one should consider that Joe met not just Marino, but also Elway, and these were the results. To my eyes, this game combines the best numbers of Simms (Joe threw for 4 more incompletions, but almost 40 more yards)and Young (Joe’s 5 scores are second only to Young’s 6, Joe edges him in completion% and yds/att, giving him the higher QB rating). It’s playing on the margins with these three games; I think you have to pick one of the three, and all are reasonable. The huge edge in TDs helps Young/Montana, I think, over Simms; and the completion%/QB rating helps Joe over Young. There’s a rock/paper/scissors quality to evaluating these final 3 performances; the solid edge in quality of opponent (Denver had a really good defense) makes Joe the final call.

2. Steve Young Niners XXIX 24-36 325 9.0 6td/0int 134.8 5/49 Win-SD(.7)
-No, I’m not sure how a 6 touchdown/no interception SB doesn’t wind up as the best game ever. Young even added 49 rushing yards. But the Chargers had a nothing defense, and in this type of air that’s the balance.

3. Phil Simms NYG XXI 22-25 268 10.7 3td/0int 150.9 3/25 Win-Den(1.8)
-22 of 25. That’s really all you have to say. Nothing not to like; a QB rating of over 150. Simms earned his paycheck. Ranking him third might be a function of Young throwing for twice as many scores, also with no picks. The yardage total is also a little soft, sixty yards less than Steve.

4. Jim Plunkett Oak XV 13-21 261 12.1 3td/0int 145.0 3/9 Win-Phil(6.8)
- Plunkett, like Bradshaw, did not have a special regular season career; Bradshaw has reasonably become immortalized for his SB success – Plunkett’s overlooked. This is the third highest SB QB rating ever, and done in an offensive era that didn’t support those numbers. Rod Martin had 3 picks in SB15, and revisiting past MVP Award selections sometimes finds those who would say he deserved it here – hard to agree in the face of Plunkett’s 12+ yds/att. The Eagles had the best defense of any of the top 5 performances.

5. Joe Montana Niners XIX 24-35 331 9.5 3td/0int 127.2 5/59(1td) Win-Mia(1.5)
-I love me some Jerry Rice; I believe him to be the greatest football player ever; Michael Irvin calls him “Jesus in cleats” and I think your lord and savior should be humbled by the comparison. But occasionally, an “analyst” will credit Montana’s career to Jerry and other all-time greats. Go look at the Niner wideouts for this one. Any list of the all-time greatest QB ever has to have both Montana and Marino in the top 5; they met here and this was the result. Joe also had the 59 yards rushing and a score, still the second highest QB total ever in a SB.

The Next Five, Rounding Out the Top 10.

6. Troy Aikman Dall XXVII 22-30 273 9.1 4td/0int 140.7 3/28 Win-Buf (-.4)
-Aikman’s 4 score/140+ QB rating game winds up 6th here; the Bills weren’t as good as any of the 5 defenses faced by the quarterbacks who are higher on the list and was way, way below Plunkett’s opponent.

7. Terry Bradshaw Pit XIII 17-30 318 10.6 4td/1int 119.2 2/-5 Win-Dall(5.2)
-The best of Bradshaw’s 4 games; if SB 38 (Delhomme/Brady) wasn’t the best quarterbacked game, then it was SB13. Bradshaw and Staubach threw for 7 scores and each had 100+ QB ratings. Bradshaw gets the nod over Williams because of era adjustment and quality of opponent’s defense.

8. Doug Williams Wash XXII 18-29 340 11.7 4td/1int 127.9 2/-2 Win-Den(.8)
-Something fun about putting together a list like this is seeing what otherwise unrelated games have very similar statistical lines; look at how Williams and Bradshaw had the same numbers, all the way down to the negative rushing yards. I’ve also got a list of the 25 best performances in Super Bowl history; this Williams game is the last QB to make that list.

9. Aaron Rodgers GB XLV 24-39 304 7.8 3td/0int 111.5 2/-2 – Win Pittsburgh(7.7)
-The Steelers had the best defense of any opponent for a quarterback in the top 10 and that’s what jumps Rodgers ahead of the third Montana.

10. Joe Montana Niners XXIII 23-36 357 9.9 2td/0int 115.2 4/9 Win-Cin(-1.0)
-Two down, two to go for Joe. Hard to unring the bell that his performance also included a 90+ yard game winning drive. Poor quality of opponent sticks him below Rodgers. There are plenty who make reasonable arguments about someone not named Joe Montana as best quarterback of all time – but while none of those suspects, from Favre to Elway to Marino to Manning to Brady is found in the top ten, Joe’s here three times.

The Second Ten, Including Two Who Lost The Game.

11. Jake Delhomme Carol XXXVIII 16-33 323 10.1 3td/0int 117.1 0/0 Loss-NE (4.9)
-Jake Delhomme had an up and down career; he once threw for six picks in getting the Panthers bounced in the playoffs – but he’s the best SB loser ever: 3 scores, a 10+ yds/attempt adding up to a 117+ QB rating. He outplayed Brady in what was the best quarterbacked game in SB history. Losing is the only reason Delhomme doesn’t make the top 10. If the Panthers win that game, the worst, the very worst he’s ranked is 7th.

12. Kurt Warner Ari XLIII 31-43 377 8.8 3 td/1int 112.3 0/0 Loss – Pit(8.2)
-Quality of the opponent makes this the second best ever losing performance. The key number here is the quality of the opponent; it’s the best defense we’ve seen so far on the list and Warner had a 112.3 rating.

13. Kurt Warner Rams XXXIV 24-46 414 9.0 2td/0int 97.6 1/1 Win-Tenn(-1.0)
-Did you know Warner was a bagboy at a grocery store? True story. An undercovered aspect of SB43 was that it matched two previous SB winning QB for the first time since SB 18 a quarter century prior, also in Tampa (Plunkett/Thiesmann). The huge difference between his and Delhomme’s opposition causes Warner to be ranked below our top loser ever.

14. Roger Staubach Dall XII 17-25 183 7.3 1td/0int 102.6 3/6 Win-Den(9.4)
-There’s a solid step down evident; under 200 yds passing, only 1 touchdown – but the quality of the Orange Crush defense, the best we’ve seen so far on the list, is what takes what was just a good Staubach game up to the level of the 14th best overall game.

15. Brett Favre GB XXXI 14-27 246 9.1 2td/0int 107.9 4/12(1td) Win-NE(.2)
-Some really similar games coming up; Favre has a solidly higher yds/attempt than Brees/Brady and added a rushing touchdown; that gets him this spot.

16. Drew Brees NO XLIV 32-39 288 7.4 2td/0int 114.5 – Win – Indy(1.5)
-Brady and Brees have very similar games, Brees had a yardage advantage that outweighs Brady’s quality of opponent. Both are far behind Staubach for quality of opponent.

17. Tom Brady NE XXXIX 23-36 236 7.2 2td/0int 110.2 1/-1 Win-Phil(3.5)
-Brady’s best game, by the numbers a tick better than Staubach, but adjusting for era and quality of opposition pushes him below.

18. Roger Staubach Dall VI 12-19 119 6.6 2td/0int 122.2 5/18 Win-Mia(5.3)
Staubach number two; here we get into a run of quarterbacks who didn’t throw the ball very much. Staubach only had 12 completions here, and even though he had the same 2 score/0 pick game as did everyone from Warner down, a 12 completion game/119 yard game is a little too leather helmet to be ranked higher than this.

19. Ken Stabler Oak XI 12-19 180 9.4 1td/0int 117.0 0/0 Win-Min(5.7)
-Does Stabler’s extra yardage outweigh Staubach’s extra TD pass? I’m going to say not quite and rank them like this.

20. Len Dawson KC IV 12-17 142 8.4 1td/1int 90.8 3/11 Win-Min(10.6)
-So, why does Dawson, the first QB on the list with a sub 100 rating and who didn’t throw more scores than picks crack the top 20? It’s the quality of opponent – the People Eaters had the best ever SB defense and Dawson was solid in taking them out.

The Next 20.

21. Terry Bradshaw Pit X 9-19 209 11.0 2td/0int 122.5 4/16 Win-Dall(.1)
-It’s quality of opponent that keeps Bradshaw out of that bottom end of the top 20.

22. Jim McMahon Chi XX 12-20 256 12.8 0/td/0int 104.2 5/14(2td) Win-NE(3.8)
-He had no TD passes, but McMahon had two on the ground and almost 13 yds/attempt.

23. Eli Manning NYG 46 30-40 298 7.4 1 td/0int 103.8 Win-NE(-.1)
The best Manning through 46 Super Bowls? Eli in SB46.

24. Tom Brady NE XXXVIII 32-48 354 7.5 3td/1int 102.6 2/12 Win-Car(.6)
Ton of yards for Brady in his second best SB, but he’s only the 4th QB on the list so far with a pick (picks kill you in a SB) and did so against a run of the mill defense.

25. Bart Starr GB I 16-23 250 10.9 2td/1int 116.2 0/0 Win-KC(1.2)
26 John Elway Den XXXIII 18-29 336 11.6 1td/1int 99.2 3/9(1td) Win-Atl(3.0)
27. Troy Aikman Dall XXX 15-23 209 9.1 1td/0int 108.8 4/-3 Win-Pit(1.2)

When adjusting for era, Starr gets closer to Brady than does he to Elway, and even with the pick, Elway’s massive yard advantage sticks him ahead of Aikman.

28. Roger Staubach Dall XIII 17-30 228 7.6 3td/1int 100.4 4/37 Loss-Pitt(5.6)
29. Bob Griese Dolphins VIII 6-7 73 10.4 0td/0int 110.1 2/7 Win-Vikes(6.9)
30. Joe Namath NYJ III 17-28 7.4 206 83.3 0td/0 int 0/0 Win-Balt(9.9)

Some really good defenses to round out the top 30; Staubach’s got a 3TD game against a really good, not great, Steel Curtain – but he lost, of course. Griese’s got the highest passer rating left on the list and the highest since Bradshaw, but you just can’t rank a 6 completion/73 yard game higher than this. Namath didn’t throw a TD pass, playing a game manager in what was probably the most famous NFL performance to that date; the brutal opposition is what gets him to the top 30.

31. Joe Montana Niners XVI 14-22 157 7.1 1 td/0int 100.0 6/18 (1td) Win-Cincy (1.0)
32. Terry Bradshaw Pit IX 9-14 96 6.9 1td/0int 108 5/33 Win-Vikes(2.5)
33. Eli Manning, Giants XLII 19-34 255 7.4 2td/1int 87.3 2/4 Win-Pats(4.2)
34. Bart Starr GB II 13-24 202 8.4 1td/1 int 96.2 1/14 Win-Oak (5.5)
35. Jeff Hostetler NYG XXV 20-32 222 6.9 1td/0int 93.5 6/10 Win-Buff(2.9)
36. Jim Plunkett Raiders XVIII 16-25 172 6.9 1td/0int 97.4 Win-Skins(2.2)
37. Mark Rypien Skins XXVI 18-33 292 8.8 2td/1int 92.0 6/-4 Win-Buff(-4.1)
38. Terry Bradshaw Pit XIV 14-21 309 14.7 2td/3int 101.9 3/9 Win-Rams(.6)
39. Brett Favre GB XXXII 25-42 256 6.1 3td/1int 91.0 0/0 Loss-Den(2.6)
40. Len Dawson KC I 16-27 211 7.8 1td/1int 80.9 3/24 L-GB (10.0)

Joe and Bradshaw are the last 100 rated QBs, Joe gets the slight nod given the rushing touchdown and the extra yardage; the quality of opponent is what keeps them out of the top 30. Kaepernick’s got a little bit to live up to Sunday; 4 of the Niners quarterbacked games are in the top ten, the lowest of all of them is Joe at #30. Eli’s got more yards than both but threw a pick (note, still no Peyton, but both Elis). Starr’s got the best opponent in this entire section, other than Dawson down at 40, and he was playing Starr’s group from the year previous. Really similar lines from Hoss and Plunkett, the yardage advantage puts Hostetler slightly ahead. They both are ahead of Rip because of the pick; Bradshaw’s the first on the entire list to throw even 2 picks and he threw 3 which was more than he had touchdowns. But he also had the record for yards/attempt, and did what Favre didn’t in the next spot, that’s win the game.

Let’s get to 50, as we cross over to the back half of performances…

41. John Elway Den XXI 22-37 304 8.2 1td/1int 83.6 6/27(1td) Loss-NYG(5.8)
42. Ken Anderson Cincy XVI 25-34 300 6.8 2td/2int 95.2 4/15(1td) Loss-Niners(4.9)
43. Tom Brady NE XXXVI 16-27 145 5.4 1td/0int 86.2 1/3 Win-Rams(2.9)
44. Peyton Manning Indy XLI 25-38 247 6.5 1td/1int 81.8 1/10 Win-Chi(3.0)
45. Bob Griese Dolphins VII 8-11 88 8.0 1td/1int 88.4 0/0 Win-Skins(3.7)
46. Trent Dilfer Balt XXXV 12-25 153 6.1 1td/0int 80.9 1/0 Win-NYG(3.8)
47. Brad Johnson TB XXXVII 18-34 215 6.3 2td/1int 79.9 1/10 Win-Oak(4.3)
48. Joe Theismann Wash XVII 15-23 143 6.2 2td/2int 75.1 3/20 Win-Miami(5.6)
49. Troy Aikman Dall XXVIII 19-27 207 7.7 0td/1int 77.2 2/2 Win-Buff(3.0)
50. Ben Roethlisberger Pit XLIII 21-30 256 8.5 1td/1int 93.2 2/4 Win-Cards(-.6.0)

Two more losers start this ten; Elway and Anderson both faced tough defenses, but not as tough as Dawson’s as that’s why the ordering is how it is. Brady and Manning go back to back; Brady’s mistake free game beats Manning’s yardage advantage. Griese and Dilfer are next as game managers, Griese is ahead due to era adjustment and Johnson’s pick sticks him below both. Thiesmann threw two picks, Aikman one and without a TD pass, but both go in ahead of Big Ben as he faced the worst defense in SB history.

Let’s go all the way to 75.

51. Fran Tarkenton Min VIII 18-28 182 6.5 0td/0int 67.1 4/17(1td) L-Mia (8.3)
52. Jim Kelly Buff XXV 18-30 212 7.1 0td/0int 81.5 6/23 L-NYG(7.6)
53. Roger Staubach Dall X 15-24 204 8.4 2td/2int 77.8 5/22 L-Pitt(8.8)
54. Steve McNair Titans XXXIV 22-36 214 5.9 0td/0int 77.8 8/64 Loss-Rams(3.2)
55. Daryle Lamonica Oak II 15-34 204 6.1 2td/1int 71.7 0/0 L-GB(6.3)
56. Tom Brady, Pats XLII 29-48 266 5.5 1td/0int 82.5 0/0 Loss-NYG(.4)
57. Tom Brady NE 46 27-41 276 6.7 2td/1int 91.1 Loss-NYG(-1.5)
58. Kurt Warner Rams XXXVI 28-44 365 8.3 1 td/2int 78.3 3/6(1td) Loss-NE(3.1)
59. Donovan McNabb Phi XXXIX 30-51 357 7.0 3td/3int 75.4 0/0 Loss-Pats(6.5)
60. Ben Roethlisberger XLV 25-40 263 6.6 2td/2int 77.4 4/31 L-GB(7.9)
61. Matt Hasselbeck Sea XL 26-49 273 5.6 1TD/1Int 67.8 3/35 L-Pit(4.0)
62. Dan Marino Mia XIX 29-50 318 6.4 1td/2int 66.9 0/0 Loss-Niners(5.4)
63. Vince Ferragamo Rams XIV 15-25 212 8.5 0td/1int 70.7 1/7 L-Pit(5.1)
64. Peyton Manning Colts XLIV 31-45 333 7.4 1td/1int 88.5 Loss-Saints (-.5)
65. John Elway Den XXXII 12-22 123 5.6 0td/1int 51.9 5/17(1td) Win-GB(2.4)
66. Johnny Unitas Colts V 3-9 88yds 9.8 1td/2int 68.1 1/4 Win-Dallas(4.5)
67. Jim Kelly Buff XXVIII 31-50 260 5.2 0td/1int 67.1 2/12 L-Dallas(4.7)
68. Joe Kapp Minn IV 16-25 183 7.3 0td/2int 52.6 2/9 L-KC(8.4)
69. Ben Roethlisberger Pit XL 9-21 123yds 5.9 0td/2int 22.6 7/25(1 td) Win-Seattle(3.4)
70. Bob Griese Miami VI 12-23 134yds 5.8 0td/1int 51.7 1/0 L-Dallas(1.6)
71. Boomer Esiason Cincy XXIII 11-25 144 yds 5.8 0td/1int 46.1 1/0 L-Niners(1.7)
72. Stan Humphries Chargers XXIX 24-49 275yds 5.6 1td/2int 56.1 1/3 L-Niners(1.7)
73. Joe Theismann Skins XVIII 16-35 243 yds 6.9 0td/2int 45.3 3/18 L-Raiders(1.7)
74. Fran Tarkenton Vikes XI 17-35 205yds 5.9 1td/2int 52.7 0/0 L-Oak(2.2)
75. Rex Grossman Chi XLI 20-28 165 5.9 1td/2int 68.3 2/0 L-Indy(-1.1)

The worst of the winners are right in the middle of this section. Elway was bad against a not particularly noteworthy defense; Unitas was worse, only three completions and two picks; and then there’s Ben, the worst SB winner, with a passer rating under 25.

As for the rest, Tarkenton and Kelly were just fine as game managers losing to a terrific defense; Staubach faced the best defense in this entire section, but threw two picks; McNair’s game looks a lot like Kelly’s but against a lesser opponent; Lamonica’s game’s a lot like Staubach’s and with one fewer picik, but against a lesser opponent; here are Brady’s two losses to really pedestrian Giants’ teams; Warner threw for a mountain of yards, but more picks than scores, against Brady; McNabb threw for almost as many yards, but 3 picks, in his loss to Brady; Ben had two picks, right behind him is the guy he beat five years previous, Hasselbeck; Marino’s two pick only appearance on the list; a hundred fewer yards is why Ferragamo’s next; and even with a high yardage total, a mediocre opponent puts Manning next; another Kelly game; Joe Kapp had no scores and two picks; there’s Griese’s bad Super Bowl; two of the Niners wins; two of the Raiders wins and then Rex against the worst defense in this section.

Let’s Finish – The Worst Starting QB Games in Super Bowl History

76. Ron Jaworski Eagles XV 18-38 291 yds 7.7 1td/3int 49.3 1/0 L-Raiders(1.3)
77. Neil O’Donnell Steelers XXX 28-49 239 yds 4.9 1td/3int 51.3 1/0 L-Dall(3.5)
78. John Elway Den XXII 14-38 257 yds 6.8 1td/3int 36.8 3/32 L-Skins(2.0)
79. Chris Chandler Falcons XXXIII 19-35 219 yds 6.3 1td/3int 47.2 4/30 L-Den(-.6)

One touchdown/3 picks – a popular way to wind up with one of the twenty worst games in SB history.

80. David Woodley Dolphins XVII 4-14 97 yds 6.9 1td/1int 50.0 4/16 L-Skins(5.2)
81. Jim Kelly Bills XXVII 4-7 82 yds 11.7 0td/2int 58.9 0/0 Loss-Dallas(3.5)

How about 4 completions with a pick? Or in Kelly’s case, two? That’s worth a bottom 15 slot.

82. Rich Gannon Oak XXXVII 24-44 272 yds 6.2 2td/5int 48.9 2/3 L-Bucs(9.8)
83. Drew Bledsoe Pats XXXI 25-48 243 yds 5.3 2td/4int 46.6 1/1 L-Pack(6.6)
84. Jim Kelly Bills XXVI 28-58 275yds 4.7 2td/4int 44.8 3/16 L-Skins(4.9)

Or a truckload of interceptions; 4 apiece for Bledsoe and Kelly; 5 for Gannon against an all time Buc defense.

85. Billy Kilmer Redskins VII 14-28 104yds 3.7 0td/3int 19.6 2/18 L-Miami(6.5)
86. John Elway Den XXIV 10-26 108yds 4.2 0td/2int 19.4 4/8 (1 td) L-Niners(4.9)
87. Tony Eason Pats XX 0-6 0yds 0.0 0td/0int 39.6 0/0 Loss-Bears(9.4)

88. Fran Tarkenton Vikes IX 11-26 102yds 3.9 0td/3int 14.1 1/10 Loss-Steelers(4.5)
89. Kerry Collins Giants XXXV 15-39 112yds 2.9 0td/4int 7.1 3/12 L-Baltimore(8.0)

No touchdowns and 12 picks in this section. Kilmer/Elway/Tarkenton all with passer ratings under 20; Eason’s was higher even though he didn’t complete a pass; and Kerry Collins threw four picks against a tough Ravens defense.

90. Craig Morton- Dall V 12-26 127yds 4.9 1td/3int 34.1 1/2 L-Colts(-.5)
91. Earl Morrall Colts III 6-17 71yds 4.2 0TD/3Int 9.3 2/-2 Loss-Jets(.8)

Why is Morton here instead of ten spots higher with the other 1 td/3 pick games? The Colts did not have a good defense, and he had a hundred fewer yards passing than did Chandler. Morrall comes a zero touchdown/multiple pick game with a sub 10 completion game, with a game against mediocre opposition.

And Now – the Worst Quarterbacked Performance in SB History…

92. Craig Morton Broncos XII 4-15 39yds 2.6 0TD/4Int 0.0 0/0 Loss-Dallas(.2)

So you’re Craig Morton and 7 years after your 3 pick Super Bowl V you’re back in the title game against your old team, the Cowboys – and you put up a 0.0 QB rating. Roll the Animal House clip in your head.

Zero Point Zero.

No matter how pessimistic, there was no scenario he ever conjured that had him playing that poorly.

46 years – 92 starting quarterbacks. Where will Kaepernick and Flacco be slotted come Monday morning?

 

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About Jim Jividen

Jim Jividen (@JimJividen) is a lawyer, a professionally produced playwright, a game show winner, and the owner of a 2009 Honda Accord on which he diligently makes payments. He can distinguish among dozens of different suplex variants and may be occasionally read at his two non-revenue producing blogs, Basically Gherkins and What if Steamboat Beat Hogan? Jim’s been a college instructor since the top of 2004 and is currently working in the mist as a Course Mentor for Western Governors University.

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  1. [...] score at all in the second half; for the game, Marino was sacked four times and threw two picks. I’ve evaluated every starting quarterback performance in Super Bowl history; out of 92 quarterbacked games – Dan Marino’s only ever Super Bowl was [...]

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