While Super Bowl victories are often used to determine the greatness of NFL quarterbacks, not all quarterbacks with a Super Bowl ring were necessarily great.
Some were the benefactors of unstoppable teams around them, some of self-defeating performances by their opponents. Others managed to scrape together the best 60 minutes of their otherwise average careers when it mattered most.
Nevertheless, with only 31 names on it – including the likes of Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Joe Montana, Brett Favre, John Elway and Tom Brady – the list of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks is short and exclusive and just to be on it is a rare and impressive accomplishment. And given that the sport of football is – above all others – a team game, each and every quarterback played at least a part in their squad winning the Big One.
That said, some of those 31 names are less worthy of the list than others. Here are 5 quarterbacks who had no business winning the Super Bowl.
5. Brad Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Super Bowl XXXVII
Anytime a team’s defense records five sacks, forces five interceptions and scores 21 points in a single game, it stands a pretty good chance of winning. That was the case in 2003, when the Buccaneers shut down Rich Gannon and the Oakland Raiders’ top-ranked offense and won Super Bowl XXXVII by a score of 48-21. As Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback, all Brad Johnson had to do was hold on to the ball and manage the clock, as evidenced by his less-than-spectacular numbers: 18/34 for 215 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. While Johnson was a serviceable and consistent quarterback in the NFL for many years (61.7 completion percentage, 29,054 passing yards, 166 touchdowns vs. 122 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 82.5), it’s safe to say the Buccaneers would have won their first and only Super Bowl with or without him.
4. Doug Williams, Washington Redskins, Super Bowl XXII
If careers could be determined by a single game, Williams’ Super Bowl MVP performance in 1988 would put him among the all-time greats. Not only did Williams manage to lead his Redskins to a 42-10 upset victory over the John Elway-led Denver Broncos, but he did it by completing 18 of 29 passes for a Super Bowl-record 340 yards and four touchdowns (along with one interception). Unfortunately, a single game does not a quarterback make – and while Williams’ performance will always be remembered, it was the sole highlight in an otherwise very average career. In his nine-season NFL career (broken up by a stint in the USFL), Williams threw only 100 touchdowns versus 91 interceptions, completed less than 50 per cent of his passes and finished with a record of 38-42-1 and a less-than-stellar quarterback rating of 69.4. In fact, he started his Super Bowl-winning season as a backup to Jay Schroeder and played in only five games leading up to the playoffs. Following his improbable Super Bowl victory in 1988, Williams went on to struggle with injuries, lose his starting job to Mark Rypien and retire after the 1989 season.
3. Jeff Hostetler, New York Giants, Super Bowl XXV
Right place at the right time. That essentially sums up Hostetler’s first and only Super Bowl appearance – a 20-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills in 1991. A former third-round pick and career backup, Hostetler was accustomed to sitting on the bench while Giants’ starting quarterback Phil Simms and their dominant defense won games. Then, with only two games left in the 1990 season, Simms went down with a broken foot and – despite having only thrown 109 passes in his seven seasons up to that point – Hostetler was handed the ball. Given his strong supporting cast, Hostetler had to do little more than manage the two playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl and threw a total of only 44 passes in the process. In the Big Game, he went 20/32 for 222 yards and a touchdown while the Giants’ running backs ran for 172 yards and chewed up more than 40 minutes of the clock. And while the Giants were the better team that day, the only reason Hostetler owns a Super Bowl ring is because Bills’ kicker Scott Norwood missed a last-second field goal to win the game.
2. Trent Dilfer, Baltimore Ravens, Super Bowl XXXV
Much like Brad Johnson in Tampa Bay, Dilfer can attribute his Super Bowl ring simply to his team’s outstanding defense. Led by linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens’ defense carried the team throughout the 2000 season, and their 34-7 Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants was no different. In addition to four sacks, four interceptions and a fumble recovery, the Baltimore D held the Giants to only 152 yards of total offense. As for Dilfer, his mediocre numbers in the Big Game (12/25 for 153 yards and a touchdown) were consistent with those of his career. In his 13 seasons in the NFL, Dilfer played for five teams and finished with a 55.5 completion percentage, more interceptions than touchdowns (129/113) and a quarterback rating of only 70.2. If there was ever any question about Dilfer’s role – or lack thereof – in the Ravens winning the Super Bowl, it was answered when the team released him before the start of the next season.
1. Joe Namath, New York Jets, Super Bowl III
Yes, Namath led his Jets to the biggest upset in Super Bowl history when they defeated the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in 1969. And yes, Namath’s performance earned him MVP honors. But the truth is, if it wasn’t for his famous guarantee (“We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee it.”), Namath would likely be remembered as just another quarterback who pulled off an unlikely upset. Other than that miraculous victory in Super Bowl III, Namath’s 13-year career was anything but spectacular. In his 140 starts (all but four with the Jets), Broadway Joe completed only 50.1 per cent of his passes, tossed 220 interceptions to his 173 touchdowns and compiled a quarterback rating of only 65.5 – the lowest career rating for any quarterback who has ever won the Super Bowl. Even in the game of Namath’s life, his numbers were hardly worth writing home about: 17/28 for 206 yards with no touchdowns. In fact, without his defense intercepting four passes, his running backs controlling the clock with 142 yards on 43 carries and the Colts’ self-destruction, it’s a game Namath would likely have never even won.
His career numbers are absolutely awful and his Super Bowl MVP numbers are not much better. To repeat, Joe had only 173 touchdowns and tossed 220 interceptions! That’s not even game manager style, that is horrid. How they beat the Colts is completely beyond me. If he really should be in the Hall of Fame, then almost every QB on this list should be a shoe-in first ballot Hall member. He only had two seasons with more touchdowns than interceptions.