If you haven't noticed, the College Football Retirement League is having their big game this weekend, so it's time to enjoy America's biggest secular holiday. And don't get me wrong, I love the Super Bowl. Complaining about how big and bombastic it is sort of misses the point: that's a feature, not a bug.
One of the great things about the game is that not only do we crown a champ, the league hands out an MVP award, usually reserved for star quarterbacks and NFL royalty. The names read like a precursor to Canton: Rice, Montana, Bradshaw, Elway... Dexter Jackson.
And that's the fun of the award. Sometimes, an NFL lifer manages to sneak on to the biggest stage and take home the game's biggest individual honor. This is a salute to the guys who weren't supposed to be legends, but now have their name in the record book for all time.
10 XXII & XXVI Doug Williams & Mark Rypien, Redskins
Both Williams and Rypien were awesome in both the Super Bowl and the full season leading up to the title, but it is odd two Redskin quarterbacks have won the MVP, and not Joe Theismann. Doug Williams famously had to put up with all sorts of nonsense, as the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl, leading to the outstanding query during Media Day, "How long have you been a black quarterback?" Still, in the context of the times, neither was that big a surprise, it's only in retrospect it looks sort of weird. Or maybe I just hate Joe Theismann.
9 XII Harvey Martin, Cowboys
Actually, Harvey Martin was awesome, his star has just faded for some reason. OK, he has since admitted he had a bit of a problem with cocaine, and he quit football over his refusal to take a drug test, so I guess we do know the reason his star has faded. He was named co-MVP with Randy White, so the award was really a stand-in for the Doomsday Defense. The NFL didn't keep sack numbers back in the 1970's, but he had 23 sacks in 1977 and was named the NFL Defensive MVP, and he likely had two unofficial sacks in the Super Bowl. He's never even been a finalist for the Hall of Fame despite being one of the most feared defensive players of the 1970s. He died in 2001, and is the only deceased Super Bowl MVP, so it is too late to rehabilitate his reputation.
8 VII Jake Scott, Dolphins
Scott's not even the most famous #13 in Miami Dolphins history. Scott made six Pro Bowls and was one of the key players in the No Name Defense, but part of having a No Name Defense is, well, no names. If you had to guess who won the MVP for undefeated Dolphins team, you'd probably guess Mercury Morris for all of the times he's on TV, or a big name like Griese or Csonka. But it was the somewhat anonymous safety who recorded two interceptions in the game, including the game-sealing one in the fourth quarter. When all previous MVP's of the game were honored in Super Bowl XL, he was one of three no-shows, along with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana. So at least one 1972 Dolphin isn't helplessly trapped in the past.
7 XXXIX Deion Branch, Patriots
Of all of the great receivers Tom Brady has played with, Deion Branch is the only one to win the Super Bowl MVP. Not Welker. Not Moss. Deion Branch. Branch is a good player, but he's not Randy Moss, is all I'm saying. But he had a hell of a Super Bowl, catching 11 balls for 133 yards, tying the catch record with Jerry Rice. His big catch late in the game set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winner against Carolina. He's had a good NFL career, but on one night, he was equal to the best receiver ever.
6 XXXI Desmond Howard, Packers
Desmond Howard essentially won the MVP award for one play. The Packers seemed on the verge of blowing a two touchdown lead when the Patriots kicked off late in the third. 99 yards later, the Packers were back up by two touchdowns and the rout was essentially on. Howard was an amazing college player of course, winning the Heisman Trophy, but he was not much of pro as a regular. However, he was always an outstanding special team player with a knack for big plays in big games, a pretty useful skill in the biggest of games. He ended the game 244 return yards, still a Super Bowl record, and is the only special team player to ever win the MVP.
5 V Chuck Howley, Cowboys
Super Bowl V is so infamous for being a terrible game that Bubba Smith reportedly refused to wear his ring from the game. The Colts won a dismal affair on a last second field goal, but come on, we're not giving the MVP to a kicker. Howley is the first, and only, player from the losing team to ever win the MVP, and he was a defensive player to boot, which gives you a keen insight to just how awful the game was. Then again, Howley had two interceptions and a fumble recovery, so at least he had a great game. He was a Hall of Fame finalist once, but was never a real threat to get inducted.
4 XV Jim Plunkett, Raiders
Plunkett is the only QB to win two Super Bowls and not be in the Hall of Fame. He was a former #1 pick of the New England Patriots, but his star had long since faded and he was bouncing around the league by the time he made it to the Raiders as a backup. After an injury to the starter early in the year, Plunkett came off the bench to lead the Raiders to a 9-2 regular season record, and then four straight playoff wins, becoming the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl. Oh, and he was awesome in the game, throwing for three touchdowns in a largely uncompetitive 27-10 win over the Eagles. This would be like Sam Bradford surfacing as the backup QB in Cleveland or something, and then winning the MVP.
3 XXXVII Dexter Jackson, Bucs
Dexter Jackson recorded 17 interceptions in his NFL career. And then he had two in the Super Bowl. He is the beneficiary of the fan vote, which is why fans should never be allowed to vote on anything. Simeon Rice won the polling among media members, and is a better representative of one of the great NFL defenses (and why don't defenses have cool nicknames anymore?), but the fans carried it for Jackson and his two interceptions. After Super Bowl XXXVII, he'd bounce around the league and never quite reach these heights again.
2 XLVIII Malcolm Smith, Seahawks
Of all the great players on the Seahawks defense, especially the aptly named Legion of Boom secondary, it was the largely unheralded Malcolm Smith who took home the MVP honors. He did have a 69 yard interception return to put the Seahawks up 22-0, effectively ending any chance that this would be an interesting game, and he topped it off with a fumble recovery and nine tackles. Kam Chancellor also had nine tackles and a crucial interception which set up a one-yard TD run. Russell Wilson went 18/25 for 206 yards and two TD's with no picks. Heck, Percy Harvin had a kickoff return for a touchdown and two rushes for 45 yards. Smith beat out a pretty crowded pack of viable options for the award which is honestly pretty cool.
1 XXX Larry Brown, Cowboys
Larry Brown was a 12th round draft pick. The draft doesn't even last that long anymore. He was only a three-year starter, and the Cowboys signed Deion Sanders to replace him earlier in the year, but injuries allowed him to stay in the starting lineup. Brown was considered the weak link of those outstanding Cowboys teams which, ironically, enabled him to win the MVP. Neil O'Donnell made the logical decision to throw away from Deion Sanders and towards the unheralded Brown, who ended up with two interceptions on the game, including the game's most memorable play.