On football’s biggest stage, they’ve hardly been “small school” players.

That may be a moniker for NFL players who arrive from FCS college football, but as they’ve proven time and again in the Super Bowl, they thrive in the spotlight.

Here’s a look back at many of the greatest single-game performances by former FCS players.

(Note two exceptions: there’s an extended picture, not just a single-game performance, for both an offensive and defensive GOAT among FCS legends. Also, greats such as Adam Vinatieri and Doug Williams aren’t included because their college careers predated their schools joining the FCS.)

Robert Alford, S, Atlanta Falcons (Southeastern Louisiana)

  • Super Bowl 21: New England Patriots 34, Falcons 28, OT (Feb. 5, 2017)
  • 11 tackles (9 solos), 82-yard interception return for TD, 3 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery

Alford’s overall dominance – his two takeaways included the second-longest interception return in Super Bowl history – was overshadowed that night by New England posting the largest comeback win (from 28-3 down) with the game advancing to overtime for the first time.

Steve Christie, PK, Buffalo Bills (William & Mary)

  • Super Bowl 28: Dallas Cowboys 30, Bills 13 (Jan. 30, 1994)
  • 2 of 2 FG, 54 long, 1 of 1 PAT, 7 points

Christie’s 54-yard field goal to cap the Bills’ first possession against Dallas stood for 30 years as the longest field goal in Super Bowl history, finally surpassed twice in Super Bowl 58, with the Kansas City Chiefs’ Harrison Butker setting the new long at 57 yards against the San Francisco 49ers.

Gary Clark, WR, Washington (James Madison)

  • Super Bowl 26: Washington 37, Buffalo Bills 24 (Jan. 26, 1992)
  • 7 receptions, 114 yards, TD, 2 25+ yards, 5 first downs  

Clark hauled in a 30-yard touchdown catch while picking the right time to match his season high in receptions.

Richard Dent, DE, Chicago Bears (Tennessee State)

  • Super Bowl 20: Bears 46, New England Patriots 10 (Jan. 26, 1986)
  • 5 tackles (3 solos), 1.5 sacks (12 yards), 2 forced fumbles, 1 blocked pass

Dent earned the MVP award in a Bears mauling of the Patriots. On a sack that Dent shared with Wilbur Marshall, quarterback Tony Eason fumbled the ball away to the Bears.

Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens (Delaware)

  • Super Bowl 47: Ravens 34, San Francisco 49ers 31 (Feb. 3, 2013)
  • 22 of 33, 287 yards, 3 TDs, 56 long

Flacco didn’t exactly turn the lights out on the 49ers – there was a power outage at the Superdome in the third quarter – but he earned the MVP award. He threw for the game’s first three touchdowns as the Ravens built a 21-3 lead.

Charles Haley OLB/DE, San Francisco 49ers/Dallas Cowboys (James Madison)

  • Super Bowl 23: 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16 (Jan. 22, 1989) – 6 solo tackles, 2 sacks (10 yards)
  • Super Bowl 24: 49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10 (Jan. 28, 1990) – 1 solo tackle, 2 passes defended
  • Super Bowl 27: Cowboys 52, Buffalo Bills 17 (Jan. 31, 1993) – 5 solo tackles, 1 sack (8 yards), 1 forced fumble
  • Super Bowl 28: Cowboys 30, Buffalo Bills 13 (Jan. 30, 1994) – 4 tackles (2 solos), 0.5 sack (6.5 yards)
  • Super Bowl 30: Cowboys 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 17 (Jan. 28, 1996) – 4 tackles (3 solos), 1 sack (10 yards)

Here’s the FCS defensive GOAT for Super Bowls. Haley’s teams were 5-0 in Super Bowls, giving him the second-most rings behind quarterback Tom Brady. His combined 4.5 sacks were later tied by Von Miller for the most overall.

Rodney Harrison, S, New England Patriots (Western Illinois)

  • Super Bowl 39: Patriots 24, Philadelphia Eagles 21 (Feb. 6, 2005)
  • 7 solo tackles, 1 sack (1 yard), 2 interceptions

Harrison finished with more tackles in two other Super Bowls, but his two interceptions answered in a big way following his verbal feud with Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell in the week prior to the game. He stopped a potential scoring drive in the first half, then iced the win with a late pick.

Chris Hogan, WR, New England Patriots (Monmouth)

  • Super Bowl 52: Philadelphia Eagles 41, Patriots 33 (Feb. 4, 2018)
  • 6 receptions, 128 yards, TD, 3 25+ yards, 5 first downs, 42 yards after catch

The Eagles are more remembered for their “Philly Special” touchdown and upset win, but the three-year college lacrosse/one-year college football player posted one of his career’s bigger games, including a 26-yard TD.

Billy Jenkins, SS, St. Louis Rams (Howard)

  • Super Bowl 34: Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16 (Jan. 30, 2000)
  • 12 tackles (9 solos), 1 forced fumble

The Titans’ Steve McNair (Alcorn State) is the most-remembered FCS player in this thriller, but another HBCU product also stood out. Jenkins posted the game high in tackles and pressured McNair into an incomplete pass.

Stanford Jennings, KR, Cincinnati Bengals (Furman)

  • Super Bowl 23: San Francisco 49ers 20, Bengals 16 (Jan. 22, 1989)
  • 2 kickoff returns, 119 yards, 93-yard TD

The 49ers had just tied the game 6-6 in the final minute of the third quarter when Jennings answered with the second kickoff return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.

Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (Eastern Washington)

  • Super Bowl 56: Rams 23, Cincinnati Bengals 20 (Feb. 13, 2022)
  • 8 receptions, 92 yards, 2 TDs, 5 first downs, 25 yards after catch

Capping a season of securing the NFL’s receiving Triple Crown and earning AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Kupp was the Super Bowl MVP. His second TD catch – a 1-yarder with 1:25 left – was the game-winner.

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) catches the game-winning touchdown as the Cincinnati Bengals’ Eli Apple defends in Super Bowl 56. (AP photo)

Steve McNair, QB, Tennessee Titans (Alcorn State)

  • Super Bowl 34: St. Louis Rams 23, Titans 16 (Jan. 30, 2000)
  • 16 of 23, 214 yards; 8 carries, 64 yards, 6 first downs

McNair’s work within and outside the pocket helped the Titans rally from a 16-0 deficit to tie the game. His rushing yards and first downs gained were the most by a Super Bowl quarterback until surpassed by Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles 23 years later.

Nate Newton, LG, Dallas Cowboys (Florida A&M)

  • Super Bowl 28: Cowboys 30, Buffalo Bills 13 (Jan. 30, 1994)
  • Cowboys overcome 13-6 halftime deficit, hold nearly 10-minute edge in time of possession

In the second of the Cowboys’ three Super Bowl wins over a four-season span, their legendary O-line powered a decisive, 24-point second half, with Newton – aka “The Kitchen – often pulling to his right to help spring Emmitt Smith, who rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns after halftime.

Terrell Owens, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (Chattanooga)

  • Super Bowl 39: New England Patriots 24, Eagles 21 (Feb. 6, 2005)
  • 9 receptions, 122 yards, 5 first downs, 65 yards after catch

Owens went against his doctors’ advice and returned to play in the Super Bowl after suffering a broken leg and torn ligament in his right ankle just seven weeks earlier. He was targeted 14 times, the most in his 12 postseason games.

Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers/Oakland Raiders (Mississippi Valley State)

  • Super Bowl 23: 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16 (Jan. 22, 1989) – 11 receptions, 215 yards, TD, 4 25+ yards, 9 first downs
  • Super Bowl 24: 49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10 (Jan. 28, 1990) – 7 receptions, 148 yards, 3 TDs, 6 first downs
  • Super Bowl 29: 49ers 49, San Diego Chargers (Jan. 29, 1995) – 10 receptions, 149 yards, 3 TDs, 9 first downs, 38 yards after catch
  • Super Bowl 37: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Raiders 21 (Jan. 26, 2003) – 5 receptions, 77 yards, TD, 3 first downs

Here’s the FCS offensive GOAT for Super Bowls, and basically for all time. The legendary Rice earned Super Bowl 23 MVP after posting a record 215 receiving yards, and he’s the only player with three TD catches in a game (SB 24 and 29). He had a TD reception in all four of his games, and 27 of his 33 overall catches (81.8%) produced first downs.

Dan Ross, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (Northeastern)

  • Super Bowl 16: San Francisco 49ers 26, Bengals 21 (Jan. 24, 1982)
  • 11 receptions, 103 yards, 2 TDs, 5 first downs

Including a pair of TD catches in the fourth quarter, Ross holds the Super Bowl single-game record for receptions by a tight end.

Phil Simms, QB, New York Giants (Morehead State)

  • Super Bowl 21: Giants 39, Denver Broncos 20 (Jan. 25, 1987)
  • 22 of 25, 268 yards, 3 TDs, 150.9 passer rating; 3 carries, 25 yards

In winning the MVP award, Simms set the Super Bowl’s single-game record for completion percentage (88.0) and passer rating.

Also noteworthy: Quarterback Phil Simms, from Morehead State, was the first FCS player selected in the NFL Draft, taken by the New York Giants at No. 7 overall in 1979. (MSU Athletics)

Michael Strahan, DE, New York Giants (Texas Southern)

  • Super Bowl 42: Giants 17, New England Patriots 14 (Feb. 3, 2008)
  • 3 tackles (2 solos), 1 sack (6 yards), 2 QB hurries, 1 pass defended

The statistics don’t reflect the dominance of Strahan’s career, but he was part of the Giants’ effective defensive line that stunned a Patriots team that coming in 18-0 was denied the best record in NFL history.

Kurt Warner, QB, St. Louis Rams (Northern Iowa)

  • Super Bowl 34: Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16 (Jan. 30, 2000)
  • 24 of 45, 414 yards, 2 TDs, 4 25+ yards

Warner earned the MVP award after setting what at that time was the Super Bowl record for passing yards. He threw downfield to Isaac Bruce for a game-winning, 73-yard TD pass with just under two minutes remaining.

Research supports provided by Stats Perform U.S. Data Insights senior editor Chase Weight.