Pick-Six: Best quarterback matchups in Super Bowl history
As much as players and coaches like to say that football is a team sport, the focus always seems to land on the quarterbacks.
Stepping under center as each NFL team’s most important asset, the quarterback possesses the power to take over a game and lead a team to victory, and also takes the brunt of the blow when their franchise falters.
But, the best quarterbacks are those that can thrive under pressure, and lead their team to the league’s last game of the year: the Super Bowl.
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Luckily for football fans, the NFL has seen plenty of superstar quarterbacks come and go in more than five decades of the Super Bowl’s history, with some stellar duels taking place on the biggest stage of them all.
As the league prepares for a Super Bowl LV battle between two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever grace a football field, we figured it was time to breakdown the best quarterback matchups in Super Bowl history.
6. John Elway vs. Brett Favre
John Elway and Brett Favre are likely the two most similar quarterbacks on this entire list, and the two gunslingers put on a show when Elway’s Denver Broncos defeated Favre’s Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.
In a game that featured touchdowns in every quarter and just one quarter where only one team scored a touchdown, Elway and Favre showed out as the former looked for his first Super Bowl win and the latter looked for his second in as many years.
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While the two quarterbacks have their similarities as mobile quarterbacks with strong arms, they put up very different stat lines through the game.
Favre went 25-for-42 with 256 yards and three touchdowns throughout the game, while Elway did more of his talking on the ground (and once in the form of a helicopter), running in a touchdown from one yard out to give the Broncos a 14-7 in the second.
Terrell Davis was the real MVP of this quarterback duel, evident by his Super Bowl MVP honors, but this matchup between two of the greatest to ever step foot under center can’t be ignored when discussing the best quarterback matchups of all time.
5. Tom Brady vs. Russell Wilson
It’s fitting that one of the quarterbacks who inspired the making of this countdown would kick off the top five on the list, but it may not be the iconic quarterback matchup many would immediately think of when looking at Tom Brady’s 10 Super Bowl appearances.
Many would likely pinpoint Brady’s first Super Bowl with the New England Patriots against Kurt Warner’s St. Louis Rams, known as the “Greatest Show on Turf,” as his toughest challenge. Or, they would even consider his wars with Jake Delhomme’s Carolina Panthers or Donovan McNabb’s Philadelphia Eagles.
But, the one that stands out most in history came against Russell Wilson’s Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
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In a game that many figured would be more focused on the defensive side of the ball, Brady and Wilson respectively put on a show in a back-and-forth battle that legitimately went down to the last pass of the game.
The Patriots came back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, led by Brady’s 37 completions for 328 yards and four touchdowns, but all still looked bleak as the Seahawks drove down the field in the game’s final few minutes.
After completing 12 of his first 20 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown, Wilson threw an infamous interception to Malcolm Butler at the goal line to seal the four-point win for Brady’s Patriots.
It has a legitimate case as one of the league’s greatest Super Bowls of all time, and gets this top five started on a high note.
4. Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning
Trying to prioritize the Super Bowl XLIV battle between two future Hall of Famers in Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, and the Super Bowl XLIX masterpiece between Tom Brady and Russell Wilson felt as difficult as a father being forced to pick one of two children.
It’s especially tough when one of those games, Super Bowl XLIX, will go down as one of the greatest in Super Bowl history.
But, between the overall careers of both Brees and Manning, Brees’ race to pass Manning at the top of the all-time passing yards list, and their respective performances in a pass-heavy Super Bowl XLIV, it seemed tough to pick against the two future Hall of Famers.
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As of this writing ahead of Super Bowl LV, it seems like this game from the 2009 season will go down as Brees’ lone Super Bowl appearance, and subsequently will be remembered as his lone Super Bowl win, as well.
But, it’s tough to put on a better showing than the New Orleans Saints legend did under the brightest lights of his career, when he completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
Add in Manning’s 31 completions for 333 yards and a touchdown, and this one will likely go down as the most underrated quarterback duel in Super Bowl history.
Trade in Manning’s fateful pick-six in the fourth quarter for an Indianapolis Colts touchdown, and we may have been able to witness the first overtime Super Bowl in the game’s history, years before the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons marked the first in Super Bowl LI.
It’s an all-time quarterback matchup in any scenario, let alone the Super Bowl, and seems like an ideal candidate for the top five on this list.
3. Terry Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach
After two Super Bowl’s from the big game’s fourth decade, it’s time-travel back to its tenth rendition to celebrate the duels between Pittsburgh Steelers legend Terry Bradshaw and Dallas Cowboys legend Roger Staubach.
In their first Super Bowl that took place all the way back in 1976, Bradshaw’s Steelers looked like they would roll to victory with the likes of Franco Harris and Lynn Swann on offense. But, Staubach, Drew Pearson and Percy Howard helped keep the Cowboys in the mix, even taking a 10-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
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After a safety and two field goals, Bradshaw hit Swann for a 64-yard touchdown, to make it a 21-10 Steelers lead, which was enough to seal the victory in what would turn out to be a 21-17 game.
Bradshaw completed just nine passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, while Staubach completed 15 of his own for 204 yards and two touchdowns, as well.
They would up the ante a bit more in Super Bowl XIII, as Bradshaw hit on 17 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns, compared to Staubach’s 17 completions for 228 yards and three touchdowns.
While Bradshaw had the upper-hand in each of this duo’s two Super Bowl battles, it will go down as one of the classic rivalries between two of the sport’s greatest quarterbacks of all time.
2. Dan Marino vs. Joe Montana
While the game wasn’t exactly close, the Super Bowl XIX matchup between Dan Marino and Joe Montana in January of 1985 was the Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes of its time.
In what would be the second of Montana’s four Super Bowl victories, Montana showcased exactly why he’s in the conversation towards the top when discussing the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. And, with a flawless 4-0 record in the NFL’s final game of the season, he has an argument in some fans’ minds as the G.O.A.T.
Montana went 24-for-35 with 331 yards and three touchdowns, and even added 59 yards and one touchdown on the ground to solidify his Super Bowl MVP candidacy.
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Meanwhile, Marino was forced to throw 50 passes on the night as a result of his team’s 28-16 halftime deficit, throwing 29 completions for 318 yards and a touchdown of his own.
While Montana goes down as one of the greatest Super Bowl performers of all time, Marino is instead remembered as one of the best players to never win a Super Bowl.
Regardless, fans were surely buzzing in the days leading up to this one, and
1. Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes
This one is admittedly a controversial pick, seeing as Super Bowl LV hasn’t even taken place at the time of this writing.
However, similar to the second-place finisher on this podium, this one takes the cake when factoring in the two quarterbacks’ history, and the sheer excitement that fans have shown in the weeks leading up to the big game.
On one hand, you have Brady, the six-time Super Bowl winner who’s statistically more likely to reach the NFL’s final game of the year than Michael Jordan was to hit a shot in his NBA career.
Entering his 10th Super Bowl appearance, Brady already holds Super Bowl records for career pass attempts, completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns, and will get the opportunity to expand on them all in his 21st year in the league.
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On the other hand, you have Mahomes, the reigning Super Bowl MVP who already has one ring entering Super Bowl LV, and will look to become the first quarterback to pull off a championship repeat since Brady did it with the New England Patriots in 2004.
While he will have just one-fifth of Brady’s Super Bowl appearances after this year’s rendition is completed, Mahomes has proven that he’s here to stay, evident by the fact that his Kansas City Chiefs have hosted three straight AFC Championship games.
Fans and analysts have compared the matchup to what it would have been like to watch Michael Jordan and LeBron James in an NBA Finals, and it’s the perfect analogy.
This one will feature two of the sport’s greatest quarterbacks of all time, with one representing the past and likely clocking in as the sport’s G.O.A.T., and the other representing the present and future.
It’s everything a football fan could ever ask for, and the lead-up and spectacle alone make this one the biggest and best quarterback matchup in Super Bowl history.
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