Our beloved Super Bowl is turning 50 years old this season! Formed by the begrudging unification of the NFL and AFL in 1966, the game quickly changed from a way for the NFL to exert its superiority, to legitimately the biggest sporting event on earth. (Suck it, soccer!) And much like a birthday party for anyone else turning 50, we want to spend it reminiscing about what it’s done in the past. Y’know, back when it was young and cool.
The Super Bowl has had some fantastic moments over the last 49 years. And I’m sure some other day we’ll relive those; but for now, we want to live in the negative.
Today, we look at the big games where the most important position on the field was occupied by some of the most unimpressive, overrated, or just downright terrible players. (Guys I like to refer to as “scrubs.”) These are the worst matchups under center that the Super Bowl has ever seen.
Honourable Mention. Super Bowl XLVII: Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens) vs Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco)
We don’t know how history will look back on these two quarterbacks. Flacco seems to have his niche carved out as the Toyota Corolla of QBs: no one is awed by it, but it gets you where you need to go. As for Kaepernick, the jury is still out on if he can really play the position, or if he’s just a displaced running back. All I know is I was shocked when I watched that matchup the first time, and I’m still kind of bewildered it happened.
7. Super Bowl XIV: Terry Bradshaw (Pittsburgh) vs Vince Ferragamo (Los Angeles Rams)
I know what you’re thinking: Bradshaw’s a Hall of Famer! But Terry got that gold jacket because he was a four-time Super Bowl winner, not because he was an outstanding passer. He had a career completion percentage that was barely over 50. In Bradshaw’s quest for his fourth ring, he went up against the 9-7 Los Angeles Rams and quarterback Vince Ferragamo, a guy who had made his first career start just two months prior.
The Rams only passing touchdown of the game came from a running back; so despite throwing three interceptions that game, Bradshaw won the quarterback duel and the Steelers won the game (31-19). Ferragamo ended up running off to the CFL when they somehow offered him more money than the Rams (although you can’t blame L.A. for low-balling him). He was never really relevant after that.
6. Super Bowl XVII: Joe Theismann (Washington) vs David Woodley (Miami)
Long before Rex Grossman was getting carried to Super Bowl’s on the back of a great defense and a strong run game, David Woodley was making it look cool. In 1982, during a ridiculous strike-shortened season that somehow saw a kicker win MVP, the Dolphins “Killer Bees” defense led the team through an expanded playoffs and into a date with Joe Theismann and the Redskins.
While you question the inclusion of Theismann, another Hall of Famer, on this list, it’s mostly due to the fact that he was greatly overshadowed in his only Super Bowl win by running back John Riggins. “The Diesel” plowed through the vaunted Dolphins D for 181 total yards, almost double what Woodley passed for. Going just 4 of 14 for 97 yards (76 of which came on one play), Woodley had one of the more forgettable performances of all-time, actually getting benched late in the game for Don Strock.
5. Super Bowl V: Johnny Unitas/Earl Morrall (Baltimore Colts) vs Craig Morton (Dallas)
Regarded by many as the GOAT, Johnny Unitas was unstoppable in the 50s and 60s. Sadly, Super Bowl V took place in the 70s, when Unitas was on his way out. Injuries had often forced him from games during the regular season, so when it happened during the Super Bowl, backup Earl Morrall stepped in and didn’t miss a beat, throwing an interception and turning the ball over on downs. The duo combined for three interceptions and a fumble; and they were on the winning the side.
Craig Morton was chosen to start in the playoffs over Roger Staubach. It wasn’t the wrong decision, unless you like winning. Morton went 12 of 26 for 127 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Despite winning the turnover battle 7 to 4, Dallas lost the aptly named “Blunder Bowl”.
However, Morton would have a shot at redemption seven years later when he led the Broncos to their first Super Bowl against his old team, the Cowboys. But he threw another four interceptions in that game and reminded us all that some people are just born to be backups.
4. Super Bowl XXXVII: Brad Johnson (Tampa Bay) vs Rich Gannon (Oakland)
New NFL fans would be shocked to hear the Raiders and Buccaneers played for the Lombardi Trophy as recently as last decade, but it was even more shocking that these were the men under center. To Gannon’s credit, the longtime backup and journeyman propelled his career to new heights in Oakland, winning the MVP in 2002 as he guided the Raiders to the Super Bowl.
But when he got there, he went up against his former head coach Jon Gruden, who knew every throw he was going to make before he made it. Gannon threw a Super Bowl-record five interceptions that day and the Bucs crushed the Raiders, 49-21. Any quarterback duel that sees James Bradley Johnson come out on top is not a good one!
3. Super Bowl XX: Jim McMahon (Chicago) vs Steve Grogan/Tony Eason (New England)
McMahon will always be worshiped as a legend around Chicago, but that’s largely because Bears fans have no idea what good quarterbacking actually looks like. In reality, McMahon was a slightly above average play-maker that couldn’t stay healthy. But he was still superior to the men who took the field opposite him in Super Bowl XX.
Tony Eason was the Patriots starter. He lost his job to Steve Grogan, but then won it back thanks to injury. He improved once reinstated and his reward was going up against one of the best defenses of all-time. After getting sacked twice, fumbling once, and throwing six straight incomplete passes to start the game, Eason retreated to the safety of the bench and watched Grogan get destroyed for three quarters.
That ’85 Bears D made some great quarterbacks look foolish that year: this game didn’t count as one of those times.
2. Super Bowl XV: Jim Plunkett (Oakland) vs Ron Jaworski (Philadelphia)
If you think it’s strange that Brad Johnson has a Super Bowl ring, I have more unsettling news: Jim Plunkett and his career QB rating of 67.5 have two. Below average over his 15-year career, Plunkett at least had the presence of mind to play well on the game’s biggest stage, and Super Bowl XV was probably the best game of his career. Plunkett threw for three touchdowns and 261 yards, out-dueling his counterpart Ron Jaworski and grabbing MVP honors.
Feeding to the unending bitterness of Eagles fans, Jaworski gave the game away by throwing three costly interceptions to linebacker Rod Martin (how was he not MVP?). While only one quarterback was awful on the day, any fans outside of Philadelphia or California that say they were excited by this matchup were lying. I certainly know what word “Jaws” would use to describe this game.
1. Super Bowl XXXV: Trent Dilfer (Baltimore Ravens) vs Kerry Collins (New York Giants)
This is the only logical choice for number one. These two teams combined for the fewest yards gained in a Super Bowl, and while Baltimore was rocking a defense for the ages, offensive incompetency was to be expected with these two under the helm.
Collins was an inspiring story that year, having put down the bottle and resurrected his career with the Giants. But against that fierce Raven D, the turnovers that plagued him in Carolina returned. He tossed four interceptions and completed just 38-percent of his passes for 112 yards.
Dilfer, on the other hand, had one of the best games of his career, completing 48-percent of his passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. (Suffice it to say, he did not have a great career.) In an ugly, awful game that probably never should have even been played, Dilfer emerged victorious in a 34-7 blowout. The Ravens promptly cut him the very next season. He is still widely regarded as the worst QB to ever win a Super Bowl.
The One That Could Have Been. Super Bowl XXXI, Mark Sanchez (New York Jets) vs Caleb Hanie (Chicago)
As this list shows, bad QBs find their way into championship games all the time. But, in recent years, where you usually need a franchise quarterback to succeed, we were so close to having the worst matchup of all time! Mark Sanchez, in his second straight AFC Championship, fell behind early and came up just short of completing a comeback against Pittsburgh, falling 24-19.
Had he pulled it off, he might have matched up with Jay Cutler’s Bears. Cutler/Sanchez, itself, would have been one of the worst quarterback battles ever, but if you remember, the 2010 NFC Championship Game was the one where Cutler got knocked out. That meant Caleb Hanie was the one whose comeback fell 29 yards short of forcing overtime.
Hanie vs Sanchez: it sounds like a civil suit between neighbors over a giant beech tree, yet it was almost a battle for a Lombardi Trophy. We were actually pretty close to having a Super Bowl that would’ve gotten crushed in the ratings by season 40 of Survivor. Damn your competency, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers!
(Photo Credit: Au Kirk [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)
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