Ranking 15 Of The Greatest Performances In Super Bowl History

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Joe Montana And 15 Of The Greatest Super Bowl Performances

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It’s that most wonderful time of year again – the Super Bowl is less than two weeks away, and the teams are set. The Denver Broncos, led by Peyton Manning and a high-powered offense, have fulfilled all but one of their season’s goals by defeating the New England Patriots to claim the AFC crown. In the NFC, Russell Wilson steadies the ship, but it’s the running game of Marshawn Lynch and the loud, proud defense anchored by Richard Sherman that have given the Seattle Seahawks a prized championship shot.

The Super Bowl is the grandest stage of them all. For one night, the eyes of the world focus on the best the NFL has to offer. It’s the stuff legends are made of. Think about it for a moment. Without the Super Bowl, would we look back quite the same way on the likes of Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Bart Starr or Roger Staubach? The game defines the dynasties of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers.

Without a doubt, when the game kicks off at Giants Stadium, someone will step up and etch their name in Super Bowl lore. Even if it’s just for a brief, shining moment, it will define careers and legacies. David Tyree may not find himself enshrined in Canton, but his helmet catch will live forever.

What follows here are 15 of the greatest single performances in the history of the Super Bowl. Each of these players elevated their games to the next level when everything was on the line. As always, feel free to leave a comment below to include some of your favorites as well.

Brandon Raper is a golf writer and NFL contributor for “Like” him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @Brandon__Raper, and join him on Google+.

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15. Larry Fitzgerald, Super Bowl XLIII

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It’s tough to put a player from a losing team on this list, but Larry Fitzgerald caught seven Kurt Warner passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, including the one that could (should?) have won the Arizona Cardinals the championship. Still, this was the capper to one of the best postseason runs ever as Fitz went for 546 yards and seven scores, falling just two inches and two minutes short of history.

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14. John Elway, Super Bowl XXXIII

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John Elway got to ride off into the sunset at the top of the game, defeating the Atlanta Falcons 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami. Elway’s performance was outstanding, passing for 336 yards and one touchdown while adding one rushing score for good measure. At 38-years-old, he became the oldest Super Bowl MVP in history. As the Broncos’ Vice President of Football Operations, he might see something similar happen in just a few weeks’ time.

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13. Reggie White, Super Bowl XXXI

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The early inclination from Super Bowl XXXI is to pick Brett Favre (246 yards, two touchdowns, one more rushing) or Desmond Howard (99-yard kick return TD) as the most impressive performance. However, White helped seal the championship with his three fourth-quarter sacks of New England QB Drew Bledsoe and stopped any hope of a Patriots comeback.

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12. Drew Brees, Super Bowl XLIV

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As a fan of the Indianapolis Colts, this one sticks in my mind, but even I have to admit that Drew Brees put together a remarkable game by completing 82.1 percent of his passes for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns to defeat Peyton Manning and the favored Colts. That Saints team has since had a shadow cast on it by the "Bounty-gate" allegations against Gregg Williams and several defensive players, but that doesn't diminish Brees' accomplishment one bit.

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11. John Riggins, Super Bowl XVII

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In the strike-shortened, nine-game 1982 season, the Miami Dolphins were heavy favorites to win the championship with their “Killer B’s” defense. However, Washington’s “Hogs” took over, clearing the way for John Riggins who went off for a then-record 166 yards on 38 carries in a 27-17 upset win.

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10. Joe Montana, Super Bowl XIX

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Montana’s second Super Bowl title is just his first appearance on this list. The Niners rolled up a stunning 537 yards on offense, led by Montana’s 331 passing to go with three touchdowns. The Miami Dolphins’ Dan Marino was coming off one of the greatest seasons in league history, but the combination of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana just could not be denied.

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9. Terrell Davis, Super Bowl XXXII

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This one may have been for John, but it couldn’t have happened without the dominating performance of No. 30 in the backfield. Elway’s “helicopter” run may be the most famous play of the game – and justifiably so – but Terrell Davis’ 157 yards and three touchdowns wore down the Green Bay Packers and gave them the go-ahead score with less than two minutes to go. Brett Favre led his team down the field, but when they fell short, Elway’s 0-3 record in the Super Bowl became ancient history.

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8. Phil Simms, Super Bowl XXI

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Phil Simms knew he was going to be good. He couldn't have known he'd have the best game of his career on the sport’s biggest stage, going 22-of-25 for 268 yards and three scores on the way to a 39-20 win over the Broncos.

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7. Timmy Smith, Super Bowl XXII

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Washington's rookie running back had carried the ball only 29 times in the entire strike-shortened season, but coach Joe Gibbs put him in for the start in the Super Bowl. Playing behind red-hot quarterback Doug Williams, Smith went off for a record 204 yards and two scores on 22 carries, including a back-breaking 58-yard scamper in the middle of Washington’s second-quarter touchdown spree.

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6. Kurt Warner, Super Bowl XXXIV

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Today, we all know the rags-to-riches story of Kurt Warner, who went from the Arena Football League to grocery clerk to Super Bowl MVP. This was the performance that put him in the history books as he led the “Greatest Show on Turf” with 414 yards and a pair of touchdowns. When the Tennessee TitansKevin Dyson fell just short of the goal line on the game’s final play, a new NFL legend was born.

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5. Lynn Swann, Super Bowl X

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Although Lynn Swann lost in his 2006 bid to become governor of the great state of Pennsylvania, his performance in Super Bowl X was anything but a failure. Those Pittsburgh Steelers were loaded with future Hall of Famers like Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, "Mean" Joe Greene and Jack Lambert, but it was Swann who really sealed the title for the black and gold. Swann racked up 161 yards on just four catches, and it was his 64-yard touchdown on a late third-and-6 that put the Steelers up for good.

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4. Marcus Allen, Super Bowl XVIII

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Marcus Allen carried the then-Los Angeles Raiders to the Super Bowl title, and it was the finishing touch on one of the best overall postseason runs of all time. With 191 yards on just 20 carries, Allen’s 74-yard scoring run to close the third quarter put away the Washington Redskins, owners of the league’s best rushing defense, once and for all.

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3. Joe Montana, Super Bowl XXIV

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Montana's stat line from Super Bowl XXIV: 22-for-29, 297 yards, five touchdowns. Pretty much any time Montana was in this game could make the list. Jerry Rice actually had three scores and 148 yards on seven catches, but this was one of Montana’s best games ever. He would go on to lead the 49ers to the best record in the league again the following season, but this was the last title Montana would win in red and gold.

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2. Jerry Rice, Super Bowl XXIII

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In January of 1989, the San Francisco 49ers were the undisputed kings of the sport, and this game was one of Jerry Rice's finest. While most people remember Joe Montana orchestrating a 92-yard, game-winning drive capped by a touchdown pass to John Taylor, Rice carried the team. His 215 yards on 11 catches still stands as the highest output by a receiver in any Super Bowl in history. Throw in the touchdown that tied the game and his performance can barely be outdone.

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1. Steve Young, Super Bowl XXIX

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Steve Young needed somebody to get the monkey off his back, and this is when it finally happened. Replacing a legend like Joe Montana is hard enough, but after years of people questioning if he had what it takes, six touchdowns and 325 yards have a way of quieting the critics. It was Young's third championship as a member of the Niners, but winning it himself allowed him to step out of Montana's shadow and create his own legacy.