In the Super Bowl, the Most Valuable Player isn't always the guy who makes the biggest difference in the game. If there's a question, the default setting is "give it to the quarterback", and once in a while, an oddball selection will happen. In Super Bowl V, a guy from the losing team even won the award, as Dallas Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley was deemed to be more valuable than any member of the victorious Baltimore Colts squad.
Inevitably, in 44 Super Bowls, there are going to be erroneous selections. Here are the names of 10 players who could (and often should) have taken that MVP award home.
1. Super Bowl III -- Matt Snell, RB, New York Jets
One has to wonder if the selection of Jets quarterback Joe Namath as the first AFL Super Bowl MVP was simply the result of a band of NFL writers too stunned by what they had just seen to think of any other names. Because when you do the math, any MVP vote not for Snell doesn't make sense. The Jets didn't throw the ball once in the fourth quarter of their 16-7 win, Snell rushed for 121 yards on 30 carries against the formerly dominant Baltimore defense, and he scored the game's only meaningful touchdown. Far from a one-game wonder, Snell was a three-time AFL All-Star, the 1964 AFL Rookie of the Year, and he starred in the first Miller Lite commercial featuring football players. What more do you want?
2. Super Bowl VII - Manny Fernandez, DT, Miami Dolphins
It was easy to name Larry Csonka the MVP of Super Bowl VIII - after all, his 145 rushing yards on 33 carries and two touchdowns smashed Snell's numbers of a few years before. But Csonka was helped by one of the best offensive line performances in Super Bowl history, while Miami's "No-Name Defense" featured one man who proved to be unstoppable. Racking up eight solo tackles in the 24-7 game - an amazing number for a defensive tackle - Fernandez displayed astonishing lateral speed and an almost superhuman ability to shed blocks. You'll often hear Fernandez's name mentioned when overlooked Super Bowl performers are mentioned, and this No-Name's legacy deserves better.
3. Super Bowl XI - Clarence Davis, HB, Oakland Raiders
When a team blows out a Super Bowl as the Oakland Raiders did with their 32-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings in XI, there will be an embarrassment of riches when it comes to deciding who gets the MVP award. But Fred Biletnikoff? The veteran receiver didn't even score a touchdown in the game, and though his four receptions for 79 yards - including a 48-yarder - certainly helped the team, how does anyone overlook Davis and his 137 rushing yards on only 16 carries? Was he penalized because Pete Banaszak scored touchdowns of one and two yards that probably should have been Davis'? Quite. In any case, the most impressive Raiders Super Bowl rushing performance not authored by Marcus Allen has never received the credit it was due.
4. Super Bowl XV - Rod Martin, LB, Oakland Raiders
Four defensive players have won the MVP based on their interceptions - Chuck Howley, Jake Scott(notes), Larry Brown and Dexter Jackson (we'll get to him later). So why did Martin get shut out of this group? All he did was pick off Ron Jaworski three times - a Super Bowl record that still stands - in Oakland's 27-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. No doubt MVP Jim Plunkett was a great story, but how can you overlook a guy who killed three enemy drives when the overwhelming trend is to reward such thievery?
5. Super Bowl XXV - Thurman Thomas, RB, Buffalo Bills
Since Chuck Howley already took care of the weird precedent of a losing player winning MVP, let's go ahead and slap another one on a member of the losing side. New York Giants running back Ottis Anderson won the MVP in the game that featured Scott Norwood's "wide right" kick in a 20-19 squeaker, but Thomas outgained Anderson on the ground (135 rushing yards to 102), and most certainly through the air (55 yards to 7). Little doubt that Thomas would have been the game's MVP had Norwood made the kick - he was simply the best player in the game. So why deny him that small nod just because one guy couldn't make a field goal?
6. Super Bowl XXVIII - James Washington, DB, Dallas Cowboys
Emmitt Smith won the MVP in Dallas' second-straight Super Bowl win over the Bills, but as impressive as Smith's game was (30 carries for 132 yards and two touchdowns) the lesser-known Washington had one of the best Super Bowls a defensive player has ever enjoyed. What did he do? Oh, not much - he just recorded 11 solo tackles, intercepted a Jim Kelly pass, and got the fumble trifecta - forced fumble, fumble recovery, recovery return for a touchdown. And Washington's touchdown tied the game - the Cowboys hadn't seen the end zone before that score, and they never trailed after it.
7. Super Bowl XXXI - Reggie White, DE, Green Bay Packers
Perhaps the most egregious omission in Super Bowl MVP history, White absolutely dominated the Patriots' offense when the Packers beat New England, 35-21. Desmond Howard won the award for the 99-yard kick return touchdown that put the Packers' last points on the board, but it was what White did after that kick that sealed the fate of Bill Parcells' team. On New England's next drive, White sacked Drew Bledsoe twice, and the quarterback never recovered. White picked up his third sack of the game - a Super Bowl record since tied by Arizona's Darnell Dockett(notes) - on New England's final drive. Kudos to Howard for his return feats, but this award should have been White's. He had waited years in a career that saw him as perhaps the best pass rusher of all time, and he played the game with all the intensity you'd expect.
8. Super Bowl XXXVI - Ty Law(notes), DB, New England Patriots
Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole deemed Law's interception of a Kurt Warner(notes) pass to be the most important pass theft in Super Bowl history, and it's hard to argue the point (though I'd give the nod to Tracy Porter(notes) of the Saints). However, that wasn't all Law did. He also led the Patriots in tackles with seven, and led the brilliant Bill Belichick defensive game plan that had the Patriots' defenders smacking St. Louis' Greatest Show on Turf in the mouth over and over. Tom Brady(notes) got the first of his two MVP awards for the drive that led to Adam Vinatieri's(notes) game-winning field goal, but Brady wouldn't have been in that position without the efforts of Law and that defense. And when you're the best player on a defense that defines the game, the MVP award should be yours.
9. Super Bowl XXXVII - Dwight Smith(notes), CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Remember Super Bowl XII, and the Co-MVP awards given to Harvey Martin and Randy White of the Dallas Cowboys? It's likely that Dwight Smith does. Though FS Dexter Jackson picked off two Rich Gannon passes in Tampa Bay's 48-21 smashup of the Raiders, Smith picked off two of his own - and both of them for touchdowns. Though one of those scored was the last of the game, Smith's first TD was answered by three straight Oakland touchdowns. Therefore, the "Meaningless Play" argument doesn't really hold water. Would it have been too much to share the wealth?
10. Super Bowl XXXIX - Rodney Harrison(notes), DB, New England Patriots
It was all well and good for Deion Branch(notes) to get the MVP for his 11-catch, 133-yard performance against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the man who has never put together a 1,000-yard season in his career was more the inevitable recipient of Tom Brady's cannon shots than a specifically dominant presence. After all, this was the pre-Randy Moss(notes) Pats, and the team years before Belichick drafted two tight ends for Brady to target in the seams. Branch had been Brady's primary target against the Panthers in the previous Super Bowl as well - the quarterback simply had fewer options. A more deserving recipient of the award would have been Harrison, who picked Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb(notes) twice, had two passes defensed, a sack, and seven solo tackles. As with all of New England's Super Bowl wins, three points was the difference, and I find it somewhat amazing that no defensive player was ever singled out in any of those wins.
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- Chuck Howley