There is no better way to enter into the fabric of American folklore than to break a record in a Super Bowl.
Whether it’s the most passing yards, most receiving yards, longest interception return, most sacks or even most interceptions (sorry, Rich Gannon). A stand-out performance in pro football’s biggest game of the year will make you a household name and the answer to hundreds of trivia questions for as long as that record stands.
Some of the most iconic moments in Super Bowl history have been catches: David Tyree’s helmet catch from Eli Manning in Super Bowl XLII as the New York Giants marched down the field to beat the previously unbeaten New England Patriots. Santonio Holmes’ catch from Ben Roethlisberger in the back of the end zone as the Pittsburgh Steelers edged the Arizona Cardinals. They are images etched into collective American culture.
The NFL is a passing league now, which means we have more catches than ever. We have seen increases in pass attempts, receiving yards, touchdowns and every other passing metric, but the Super Bowl is the perfect game for a one-hit wonder. The beauty of the event is that anything is possible as the AFC champions take on the NFC champions. All it takes is a favorable matchup and some inspiration and the record books await you as we will see in our top-receiving performances in a Super Bowl.
The list of top receiving performances is a who’s who of wide receivers in the NFL. All of the best receivers to have ever run a route seem to be in there, including Jerry Rice (multiple times), Travis Kelce, Larry Fitzgerald, Hines Ward and Terrell Owens. But there are names among the top 50 who barely made a ripple when they played. James White, for example, is a running back who holds the record for most receptions in a Super Bowl. He caught 14 passes for 110 yards in Super Bowl LI as the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles in overtime.
Most Receptions in a Super Bowl
- 1. 14 James White, New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons (Feb. 5, 2017)
- 2. 13 Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks (Feb. 2, 2014)
- T-3. 11 Deion Branch, New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Feb. 6, 2005)
- T-3. 11 Dan Ross, Cincinnati Bengals vs. San Francisco 49ers (Jan. 24, 1982)
- T-3. 11 Shane Vereen, New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks (Feb. 1, 2015)
- T-3. 11 Wes Welker, New England Patriots vs. New York Giants (Feb. 3, 2008)
Jerry Rice, the king of the postseason, accounts for three of the top 10 spots. He also has the most career receiving yards in Super Bowl history, catching 33 receptions and gaining 589 yards across four Super Sundays. He also caught eight touchdowns in those games.
For all the talk of passing records being broken, only twice in the 2000s have we seen receivers break into the top 10. Danny Amendola did it in 2017 with New England and Deion Branch did it all the way back in 2003 when Tom Brady was still a kid appearing in his second Super Bowl and Bill Belichick was a much younger, less curmudgeonly coach.
The list is littered with Patriots players who all benefited from Belichick and Brady’s excellence. The most recent inclusion in the top 50 is Kelce, who caught 10 passes for 133 yards from Kansas City Chiefs star QB Patrick Mahomes against Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the end of the 2020 season.
T-5. 152 Danny Amendola, New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Feb. 4, 2018)
This was one of the highest-scoring season finales of all time as the Eagles soared past the Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII behind Nick Foles’ unforgettable performance. Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan and Amendola all had over 100 receiving yards from Brady, but it wasn’t enough against Doug Pederson’s Eagles.
Amendola had eight receptions for 152 yards and Gronkowski had two touchdowns. This was the Patriots’ eighth Super Bowl with Brady as the quarterback. They would bounce back to beat the Los Angeles Rams a year later in a much lower-scoring affair (13-3).
T-5. 152 Andre Reed, Buffalo Bills vs. Dallas Cowboys (Jan. 31, 1993)
This was a one-sided contest, but it wasn’t until Troy Aikman hit Alvin Harper for a 45-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that it got completely out of hand. It was the Bills’ third consecutive Super Bowl loss after losing to the New York Giants and then Washington in the previous two seasons. They would go on to lose to the Cowboys again the following season. They have not been back to another Super Bowl. The Bills had beaten the Houston Oilers in the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history before topping the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins in the playoffs before this 52-17 loss at the Rose Bowl.
Andre Reed caught eight passes for 152 yards, but it didn’t matter as the Cowboys put up the second-highest point total in Super Bowl history. The Super Bowl record for most points had been set by Joe Montana and the 49ers against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV. Reed finished his career with 27 catches in the four Super Bowls he played in, but of course, he didn’t win a single one.
T-5. 152 Rod Smith, Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons (Jan. 31, 1999)
This was John Elway’s life’s work in one game as the Broncos beat the Falcons 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII. He would call it quits on his Hall of Fame career after the season. The Broncos finished the regular season as AFC West champions with a 14-2 record. They would beat the Miami Dolphins in the divisional round and the New York Jets in the AFC championship game to advance.
At the time, Elway was the oldest player to be named MVP at the time (Brady has since become the oldest). But he couldn’t have done it without Smith, who finished with five receptions for 152 yards and a touchdown – including an 80-yard TD from Elway.
4. 161 Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Dallas Cowboys (Jan. 18, 1976)
Despite Swann’s heroic performance that led to the Super Bowl MVP award, this was not a high-scoring affair. The Cowboys lead 10-7 going into the fourth quarter before Swann caught a 64-yard touchdown reception from Terry Bradshaw to put the Steelers up 21-10. Despite a late push, the Cowboys fell short in a 21-17 heartbreaker.
Swann ended the game with just four receptions, but the 161 yards and key TD helped him become the first wide receiver to be named Super Bowl MVP. It remains a pretty exclusive club with just Swann, Fred Biletnikoff, Jerry Rice, Hines Ward, Deion Branch, Santonio Holmes, Julian Edelman and Cooper Kupp having won the award.
3. 162 Isaac Bruce, St. Louis Rams vs. Tennessee Titans (Jan. 30, 2000)
Super Bowl XXXIV is known for its spectacular finish after the Rams stopped the Titans at the 1-yard line to hold on for a 23-16 victory. But it was also the last Super Bowl win for the team known as “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
Bruce had seven receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown, while Torry Holt caught seven for 109 and a score. Marshall Faulk, one of the most versatile backs in the history of the NFL, only had 17 rushing yards, but he piled up 90 through the air. Kurt Warner was named the MVP after finishing with 414 passing yards – the third-highest total in Super Bowl History.
2. 193 Ricky Sanders, Washington vs. Denver Broncos (Jan. 31, 1988)
Sanders had nine receptions for 193 yards and a pair of touchdowns from Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams as Washington eviscerated the Broncos 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII. It was Joe Gibbs’ second title with Washington after beating the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII.
Sanders’ 80-yard touchdown catch from Williams was tied for the longest reception in Super Bowl history with Kenny King of the Oakland Raiders. That record has since been eclipsed by Antonio Freeman, who caught an 81-yard bomb from Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers. Muhsin Muhammad went four yards better in February of 2004 when he caught an 85-yarder from Jake Delhomme of the Carolina Panthers in a loss to the Patriots.
1. 215 Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Jan. 22, 1989)
The 49ers, who had finished first in the NFC West with a 10-6 record, arrived in the Super Bowl after beating the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round and the Chicago Bears in the conference championship game. They then beat the Bengals 20-16 in a thrilling Super Bowl XXIII in Miami, Florida. Rice was named MVP after catching 11 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown from Joe Montana.
The Hall of Famer would go on to compete in four Super Bowls, winning three of them. He had seven catches for 148 yards and three scores against the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV and 10 receptions for 149 yards and three TDs against the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. Rice has many of the top performances in NFL history, whether it be in the regular season, postseason or Super Bowl.
This was the Bengals’ last appearance on Super Sunday until finally getting back in a 23-20 loss to Matthew Stafford and the Rams in Super Bowl LVI.
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