With his team’s convincing defeat of the Denver Broncos in this year’s Super Bowl, Russell Wilson joined the illustrious group of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. A Super Bowl victory is an indelible accomplishment in any football player’s career; for quarterbacks, however, Super Bowl victories tend to separate the elite ones from the good ones. A second-year quarterback this past season, Russell has taken that all-important step to elite status. Analysts did not rate him as highly as other quarterbacks in his draft class, but he has effaced any residual doubt in his abilities. As a corollary, as with any Super Bowl-winning quarterback, he will face exceedingly high expectations next season.
These high expectations can quickly turn the attendant boons of winning a Super Bowl into banes for a quarterback. Whether he likes it or not, Russell Wilson is a household name. In the immediate wake of his championship, Wilson appeared on talk-shows, and analysts extolled his play and maturity. His marketability has skyrocketed, and endorsements await him around every corner. But, in turn, Wilson now faces tremendous pressure. Indeed, the paradigm has changed for Wilson. He is no longer chasing success, but trying to stay on top. Given the vagaries of professional football, as any fan knows, the pedestal atop the ladder of success is oftentimes more precarious than the bottom rungs. Wilson’s play in the future will be analyzed to wearisome extents; his missteps will be magnified as a result. In other words, the spotlight will follow Wilson for the rest of his career.
Elite quarterbacks often find ways to sustain this kind of pressure. After winning the Super Bowl in 2001, Tom Brady struggled through a 9-7 season wherein his team did not make the playoffs. He bounced back to lead his team to two consecutive Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004. The quarterback whom Brady beat in 2001, Kurt Warner, followed a similar route after winning his first Super Bowl. Warner’s St. Louis Rams won the title in 1999, struggled in 2000, and returned to the Super Bowl in 2001 as heavy favourites. Great quarterbacks find ways of getting back to the Super Bowl, and now that task of getting back faces Russell Wilson.
That first year after winning the Super Bowl, though, can be the toughest, as the examples of Brady and Warner make manifest. Aside from back-breaking expectations, every team guns for the Super Bowl champions, and vanquishing last year’s winners usually starts with disrupting the quarterback. Perhaps Russell Wilson is prepared for the pressure emanating from fans and the media, but he may not be ready for his on-field opponents. Opposing defenses will try to do whatever it takes to confuse, undermine, and irritate the league’s newest golden boy. In twenty years, Wilson might look back on the 2014 Super Bowl as his greatest career achievement, but, as things stand currently, his career has just begun—a career in which he has a big target on his back.
As we all wait with bated breath to see what Wilson and the Seahawks muster next season, this list looks back at the last ten Super Bowls before this past season. This list is not a homage; it is not interested in eulogizing Super Bowl performances. Rather, it looks at what the Super Bowl-winning quarterback from each championship team did the year after winning it all. While some of the following quarterbacks floundered the year after winning the Lombardi, some continued their amazing play.
10 2004: Tom Brady - Superbowl XXXVIII
The 2004 Super Bowl marked Tom Brady’s second NFL title, so when he returned to action in the 2004 season, Brady was ready for what his opponents threw at him. He led his New England Patriots squad to a 14-2 record, which equalled the team’s record from 2003. From the beginning of 2004 and on, countless experts favoured the Patriots to repeat and were already beginning to talk of the team as the NFL’s newest dynasty. For his part, Brady improved on his 2003 stats, trying a then-career best in touchdown passes with 28. The team returned to Super Bowl to face an explosive Philadelphia Eagles squad. Brady led them through thick and thin, and the team won its third Super Bowl in four years.
9 2005: Tom Brady - Super Bowl XXXIX
After winning the 2005 Super Bowl, the Patriots were, according to several league experts, the NFL’s newest dynasty, and Tom Brady was labelled as the second coming of Joe Montana. 2005, however, was year of transition for the Patriots. Brady still played well, throwing for over 4,000 yards and completing 26 touchdown passes. His QB rating was an impressive 92.3. However, injuries and the team’s age became real factors as the season progressed, and the Patriots were only able to muster a 10-6 record. They lost in the AFC playoffs, but through no fault of Brady’s.
8 2006: Ben Roethlisberger - Super Bowl XL
After surprising the entire NFL with this play in the 2005 season and subsequently leading his team to a Super Bowl victory, Ben Roethlisberger did not return to form in 2006. Teams were ready for Big Ben, and his Steelers squad floundered throughout the season, finishing with an 8-8 record and missing the playoffs. Ben did a lot in 2006 to undermine his team’s chances, as he threw 23 interceptions and only 18 touchdowns. Consequently, his QB rating was a paltry 75.4. His 2006 season, however, was a hiccup, as he followed it up with a stellar campaign in 2007, throwing 32 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. Defenses were ready for Big Ben in 2006, but he proved in 2007 that he is more than a one-hit wonder.
7 2007: Peyton Manning - Super Bowl XLI
In the 2006 season, Peyton Manning finally got the monkey off his back, leading his Indianapolis Colts to victory in the 2007 Super Bowl. When he took the field again at the start of the 2007 season, Manning continued to roll, throwing the ball with surgeon-like precision and expertly managing games. Though his numbers were slightly worse in 2007 than they were in 2006—he threw for just over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns—Manning still led the Colts to a 13-3 record and another playoff berth. The Colts lost in their first game, though.
6 2008: Eli Manning - Super Bowl XLII
Eli Manning’s career will be remembered for its vicissitudes. Before their memorable playoff run that ended with a Super Bowl victory, the New York Giants looked as though they might not make the playoffs. Eli, however, rallied his team, leading the Giants to a Super Bowl victory over the heavily favoured New England Patriots. Eli returned in 2008 to have a great season, as he threw 21 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. 2008 was the first time that Eli had a QB rating above 80.0 for a season. The Giants finished 12-4 and were favourites to win it all when the playoffs started. However, the Giants were unexpectedly bounced from the playoffs in their first game.
5 2009: Ben Roethlisberger - Super Bowl XLIII
After Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to another Super Bowl in 2009, he returned to have a very good season, statistically. Indeed, in the 2009 season, Big Ben threw 26 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. He threw the ball for over 4,000 yards and finished the season with a QB rating above 100.0. However, the Steelers struggled to win games. The team wound up missing the playoffs, and thus Big Ben followed up his second Super Bowl victory with another season wherein his team did not make the playoffs.
4 2010: Drew Brees - Super Bowl XLIV
The 2009 NFL season, especially when viewed in hindsight, felt like destiny for Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. Hurricane Katrina had ravished New Orleans, and the team’s success was a boon for a city still smarting from its devastation. When the team returned to action in 2010, Brees had to prove to that he and his squad were legitimate and not the lucky picks of destiny. Like Peyton Manning, Brees followed up his first Super Bowl-winning season with another stellar performance. After throwing for 4,388 yards in 2009, Brees threw for 4,620 yards in 2010. He also threw 33 touchdown passes. However, opposing defenses were better prepared for the Saints’ all-out passing attack, and Brees wound up throwing 22 interceptions in 2010. The team lost in the first round of the playoffs.
3 2011: Aaron Rodgers - Super Bowl XLV
Aaron Rodgers followed his 2011 Super Bowl victory with a tremendously successful 2011 season. As a starter for the Green Bay Packers, Rodgers led his team to a 14-1 record. Statistically, Rodger’s numbers matched his team’s success. The former Cal Bear threw for over 4,600 yards, completing over 68% of his passes. He ended the season with 45 touchdown passes and only 6 interceptions, and his QB rating was an astounding 122.5. Rodgers was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2011, but the New York Giants vanquished Rodgers’ Packers on their way to another Super Bowl victory.
2 2012: Eli Manning - Super Bowl XLVI
After orchestrating another impressive playoff run that led to Super Bowl glory, Eli Manning returned to have another one of his signature up-and-down seasons in 2012. At times, Eli looked like the quarterback who threw for almost 5,000 yards in 2011, but at other times Eli looked bad. He finished the 2012 season with 26 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, but he threw for approximately 1,000 less yards than in 2011. The New York Giants finished 9-7, failing to make the playoffs.
1 2013: Joe Flacco - Super Bowl XLVII
Joe Flacco is a lucid example of the kind of unrealistic expectations that get foisted upon Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. For several years, so many of the league’s quarterbacks overshadowed Flacco, the strong-armed, yet inconsistent quarterback of the defensive-minded Ravens. Flacco’s Super Bowl victory, then, pushed his name to the fore, and he was awarded with a lucrative contract in the 2013 offseason. Flacco was not ready to join the ranks of elite NFL quarterbacks, though. In 2013, he threw 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions; his QB rating was 73.1. With an 8-8 record, Flacco’s Baltimore Ravens failed to make the playoffs.