The status of a Super Bowl hero in American culture lies somewhere between the President of the United States and an Academy Award-winning actor.
As much as we like to say that defenses win championships in the NFL, an elite quarterback has been proven to be the difference time and again on the biggest stage — the Super Bowl. And let’s be honest, we’d prefer a back-and-forth shootout than a tense defensive affair.
A quarterback won the Super Bowl MVP in 11 of the 16 editions of the biggest game between 2007-22. Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Patrick Mahomes have all claimed the award and all of them have one thing in common: They’re all-time great passers.
The highest-scoring Super Bowl in history was when the San Francisco 49ers beat the San Diego Chargers 49-26 back in 1995. With Joe Montana at quarterback, the 49ers scored seven touchdowns in that game – six through the air. Another high-scoring affair, Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, saw the Dallas Cowboys score seven TDs in a blowout win over the Buffalo Bills. Four of those were passing touchdowns.
If you’re going to score a lot of points in the Super Bowl, you have to pass a lot. Equally, it seems if you lose a Super Bowl, there’s also a chance you’ll have to throw a lot. Brady holds the record for most passing yards in a Super Bowl when the New England Patriots lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. Not surprisingly, Brady also happens to hold the records for completions and passing attempts in leading the Pats to a historic comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons a year prior to the loss to the Eagles.
Unlike the most receiving yards in a Super Bowl, the list of the most passing yards in a Super Bowl is littered with Hall of Famers. Brady, Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb, John Elway of the Denver Broncos, Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Peyton Manning are all among the top passers in the history of the NFL’s biggest game. Having said that, the Super Bowl is an equal-opportunity, one-off game in which anyone can shine. The likes of Jake Delhomme for the Carolina Panthers and Matt Hasselbeck of the Seattle Seahawks are both in our top 50. Phil Simms of the New York Giants has the highest passing percentage (88.0) in a Super Bowl among players in the top 50 and Rich Gannon of the Oakland Raiders holds the record for most interceptions (five).
The list is a reminder of how hard it is to win a Super Bowl. Making it through the playoffs alone is a treacherous path and the likes of Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs are far down the list. As good as Manning was with the Indianapolis Colts, he doesn’t even crack the top 10.
5. 373 Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles vs. New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII (Feb. 4, 2018)
A surprising entry in the top five but a sign of the times in the NFL and a nod to the quality of the opposition the Eagles faced. They surprised the world by, firstly, making it to the Super Bowl, and then beating the Patriots 41-33 in February 2018. The Lombardi Trophy, which had traveled back to Boston five times by the 2017 season, could nearly make its own way to Foxborough, Massachusetts, by this time.
Brady would end up with the most passing yards in Super Bowl history in this game, but Foles went toe-to-toe with the greatest quarterback of all time. Foles got the last laugh with a short touchdown pass to Zach Ertz to seal the victory for the NFC champs. With Doug Pederson as the head coach, the Eagles won the NFC West with a 13-3 record before beating the Atlanta Falcons (15-10) and obliterating the Minnesota Vikings (38-7) in the NFC title game before outscoring the Patriots. It was the first time the Eagles had won the Super Bowl.
4. 377 Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII (Feb. 1, 2009)
This wouldn’t be Warner’s one appearance in the top five. But he didn’t finish on the winning side of this thriller as the AFC champion Steelers beat the Cardinals 27-23 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
The Cardinals dug themselves into a hole and trailed 20-7 going into the fourth quarter before scoring 16 unanswered points to take the lead. Warner found star wideout Larry Fitzgerald for two scores and the Arizona defense added a safety. However, Ben Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes in the back of the end zone for the winning score with 35 seconds remaining. Warner didn’t get the Super Bowl ring, but he completed 31 of 43 passes for 377 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He ended up being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017. Not bad for an undrafted quarterback.
3. 414 Kurt Warner, St Louis Rams vs. Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV (Jan. 30, 2000)
The Greatest Show on Turf led the NFC with a 13-3 record during the regular season before marching on to the Super Bowl. Warner collected his first and only Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP award in a 23-16 victory that came down to the final play against the Titans, who were making their first playoff appearance since the 1993 season when they were known at the Houston Oilers.
Warner completed 24 of 45 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns – a 9-yarder to Torry Holt and a 73-yard pass to Isaac Bruce. Holt and Bruce both had over 100 yards receiving and Marshall Faulk added five catches for 90 yards, but he had a tough day on the ground with 17 yards on 10 carries. It was the team’s one and only title in St. Louis before beating Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals back as the Los Angeles Rams at the end of the 2021 season.
2. 466 Tom Brady, New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI (Feb. 7, 2017)
Yep, Brady dominates at the top of this list. It helps that he appeared in 10 Super Bowls, winning seven with five Super Bowl MVP awards. Going into the 2016 season, the Patriots had only appeared in one Super Bowl in the previous four years. That came in the 2014 season when they defeated the Seahawks.
But in February of 2017, the Patriots stormed back from 21-0 and 28-3 deficits to put together the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history with a 34-28 win over overtime. James White would have been a good MVP choice with three touchdowns (one receiving, two rushing), but it was Brady who took home the honors. He ended up completing 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Epic.
1. 505 Tom Brady, New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII (Feb. 4, 2018)
Brady came back the next year and obliterated even more records, setting the single-game record for passing yards in a 41-33 loss to the Eagles. This was his second-to-last appearance in a Super Bowl game with the Patriots before he added another ring and Super Bowl MVP with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This game provided us with two of the top passing performances in a Super Bowl. Foles earned MVP honors with his effort and Brady completed 28 of 48 passes for 505 yards, though he’d no doubt rather have the win than the record. Three New England receivers went over 100 yards receiving: Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan.