• Golden Anniversary All-Time Super Bowl Team

    With the Golden Anniversary of the Super Bowl officially upon us, last Monday I decided to begin to research an All-Golden Anniversary Super Bowl team to put together for your enjoyment. I knew it was likely that I wouldn’t be the only person to put together such a list, and sure enough, by the middle of last week, the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame put together an impressive list containing a total of 26 players and 1 coach, including 23 Hall of Famers that comprise the official “Golden Team”. This list followed ESPN’s vast array of experts putting together their list of the 50 greatest players in Super Bowl history.

    By that point, I had put a lot of time and effort into comprising my own list, and was admittedly a bit discouraged that I didn’t at the very least beat them to the punch. I mean, why should anyone listen to some random music teacher who happens to freelance on this site? Well, the answer is that you probably shouldn’t listen to me, but that’s never stopped me from previously subjecting all of you to my opinion, so it’s certainly not going to stop me now. Especially since for the most part, the lists are, you know, wrong. OK, so much of what has been printed is certainly defensible, but in many cases, it seems the voters have merely bowed to the biggest stars in the history of the game in favor of rewarding some of the greatest performances in the history of the Super Bowl. So while I certainly don’t have the credibility of the many fine people charged with putting together these lists, please indulge me while I take a look at the “true” list of players that deserve to be a part of the Super Bowl Golden Team. (And yes, if any of these players are reading this, {as I’m sure roughly 37% of them will}, or any biographers, wikipediators, next of kin, whatever, I give you permission to mark this list as “official”).

    I've detailed my reasoning for each pick below, and have included some 2nd team selections, but if you're just interested in the 1st Team list, you'll find it at the bottom of the article.

    *Golden Team Members are noted in italics
    Head Coach- Bill Belichick
    Chuck Noll

    We’ll start with one of the areas where it’s tough to go wrong. Chuck Noll and his 4 for 4 record in the Super Bowl is very deserving of making the writers’ list, even if that selection was a bit surprising. And of course, Vince Lombardi is the name forever etched on the trophy. But both Noll and Lombardi worked in a day without the restrictions of Free Agency and a Salary Cap. In an age of parity, Bill Belichick’s sustained excellence while facing these restrictions, leading the Patriots to 6 Super Bowls and 4 victories over a 13 year period gives him the nod.

    Special Teams- Adam Vinatieri (K), Ray Guy (P), Desmond Howard (KR)
    Vinatieri, Guy, Howard

    No arguments from me on any of the selections from the Golden Team committee. When performing this exercise, one of the most difficult distinctions to make is how to account for quantity of games vs. quality of performance. Obviously a measure of both is needed, but for this list, it is most important to reward the players that performed the best when it mattered most. Howard only had one Super Bowl opportunity, the only player on my list to play in only one Super Bowl, but turned that opportunity into a Super Bowl MVP, the only pure Special Teams player to win that honor. Add in the greatest punter of all-time (6 punts inside the 20 vs. just 1 touchback in 3 total games), and the greatest clutch kicker of all-time, and the special teams representatives are no-brainers.

    Defensive Line- L.C. Greenwood (DE), Willie Davis (DE), Justin Tuck (DE), Joe Green (DT), Randy White (DT)
    Green, White, Reggie White, Charles Haley

    The newly retired Justin Tuck was one of the most egregious omissions from the Golden Team. While Eli Manning was not completely undeserving of his 2 Super Bowl MVPs, there is a strong case to be made that Tuck should have won both of those awards, living in New England's backfield both games, and combining for a total of 4 sacks. L.C. Greenwood is the all-time leader in sacks with 5 in 4 games, including 4 sacks of Roger Staubach in Super Bowl X, and Willie Davis had a total of 4 sacks in Super Bowls I and II. I will certainly not argue with the voters’ selection of Charles Haley, who remains the only player with 5 Super Bowl victories to his credit, but while Reggie White put up a dominant performance in Super Bowl XXXI, my lean is toward the multi-game dominance of Davis and Greenwood.

    2nd Team- Charles Haley, Willie McGinest, Manny Fernandez, Buck Buchanan

    Linebackers- Jack Lambert (MLB), Ray Lewis (MLB), Chuck Howley (OLB), Mike Vrabel (OLB)
    Lambert, Lewis, Jack Ham, Lawrence Taylor

    Spoiler alert- the Steelers are going to be well represented on this list. If someone can make the case for a MLB not named Lambert or Lewis, I’m all ears, but I can’t think of a good one. The one interesting name to keep an eye on though is Bobby Wagner, who’s already played 2 really good games for the Seahawks. Chuck Howley had 3 INTs in his 2 Super Bowl appearances, and is the only losing player to win MVP, taking the honors in Dallas’ 16-13 loss to Baltimore in Super Bowl V. The next year, Howley played a key role in the most dominant defensive performance in Super Bowl history. He should be in the hall of fame. Mike Vrabel is certainly the least distinguished defensive player to make this list, but he is the one player that best represents the Bill Belichick era in New England. Not only did Vrabel record a total of 3 sacks in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX, he also had a receiving TD in each game as the goal line TE. Jack Ham is the most technically sound LB of all time, but Vrabel deserves this spot.

    2nd Team- Jack Ham, Bobby Wagner, Bill Romanowski

    Secondary- Mel Blount (CB), Ty Law (CB), Deion Sanders (CB), Ronnie Lott (S), Jake Scott* (S)
    Golden Team- Blount, Sanders, Lott, Scott

    Ty Law was a key defensive cog for 3 Super Bowl teams in New England, and as one of the few New England players with prior Super Bowl experience, helped to ignite one of the greatest upsets in the history of the game with his 2nd quarter INT return for a TD against the heavily favored Rams that put the Patriots on the board in Super Bowl XXXVI. Also, can we get Jake Scott into the Hall of Fame already? He’s one of those players I simply assume is there until I check his page on PFR, then I immediately yell at my computer screen. He may not be in the Hall (yet—GET IT DONE!), but he does have some additional hardware that the others in the secondary do not as MVP of Super Bowl VII.

    2nd Team- Herb Adderly, Rodney Harrison, Kam Chancellor

    Offensive Line- Mike Webster (C), Gene Upshaw (G), Russ Grimm (G), Erik Williams (T), Forrest Gregg (T)
    Webster, Upshaw, Larry Allen, Art Shell, Gregg

    With no real discernable stats to back up any arguments for or against players on the offensive line, I’m using this as a way to commemorate the best lines in Super Bowl history. The 1st team has combined for 15 Super Bowl appearances and 15 championships won (19 appearances and 18 championships if we count Green Bay’s pre-Super Bowl run). My 2nd teamers include Randy Cross to represent San Francisco, Tom Nalen to represent Denver’s run in the late 90s, Larry Little to represent the Dolphins of the early 70s, and Art Shell since he and Upshaw were probably the best OL tandem in history. Larry Allen was a great player, but wasn’t drafted until 1994, and therefore only played in Super Bowl XXX. When it comes to the offensive line, one game is not enough to make this list.

    2nd Team- Art Shell, Randy Cross, Larry Little, Tom Nalen, Orlando Pace

    Receivers- Jerry Rice (WR), Lynn Swann (WR), Deion Branch (WR), Jay Novacek (TE)
    Rice, Swann, Novacek

    Jerry Rice is a legend who continued to perform as a legend even on the biggest stage, holding the record for most receiving yards in a game (215 in Super Bowl XXIII), along with the career receiving yardage mark of 589 yards in 4 games. Lynn Swann is a legend because of his performance on the biggest stage, most notably his ridiculous performance in Super Bowl X. Swann is 2nd in career Super Bowl yardage while averaging nearly 23 yards per reception. As for Deion Branch, not only was he MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX, but did you know that he’s the only receiver not named Rice to play in at least 3 Super Bowls and average over 100 yards receiving per game? In Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX, Branch combined for 21 receptions, 276 yards, and a TD. Jay Novacek was a solid player for the Cowboys and is really the only TE option to consider unless we want to include Dan Ross’ performance for Cincinnati in a losing effort in Super Bowl XVI against San Francisco.

    2nd Team- Michael Irvin, John Stallworth, Mark Bavaro

    Running Backs- Terrell Davis, Roger Craig, Franco Harris (FB)
    Emmitt Smith, Harris

    Taking into account only Super Bowl performances, Terrell Davis is the greatest RB in the history of the event. While his regular season career is quite comparable to Gale Sayers (minus the super cool NFL Films highlights), it’s his status as one of the greatest playoff performers in history, much like that of Lynn Swann, that should have made him a Hall of Fame lock years ago (Sayers career playoff carries- 0). That the HOF voters have also kept him off of this list is a complete embarrassment. For my 2nd RB, I’m sure many will disagree, but I’m taking Roger Craig over Emmitt Smith. Smith was great in his 2 games against Buffalo, but he did struggle pretty mightily against Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX despite scoring a couple of TDs. While Craig has 91 fewer rushing yards than Smith, he’s still 8th all-time in rushing, 5th in receptions with 20, is 3rd with 410 yards from scrimmage (75 yards more than Smith), and is tied for 3rd (one behind Smith) with 4 rushing/receiving TDs. Craig had over 100 yards from scrimmage in all 3 of his Super Bowl appearances, including 135 with 3 scores against Miami in Super Bowl XIX, and 172 total yards (101 receiving) against Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII. His all-around performance in all 3 games slightly outweighs Smith’s slight TD advantage and MVP. Franco makes the list as a FB, narrowly edging out Larry Csonka. Each has an MVP to his credit, and while Csonka’s 5.3 YPC is far superior to Harris’ 3.5, Harris did add 114 yards receiving and has twice as many TDs as Csonka.

    2nd Team- Emmitt Smith, Larry Csonka

    Quarterback- Terry Bradshaw
    Joe Montana
    ESPN #1 Super Bowl Performer- Tom Brady

    Of the top 10 players in Super Bowl history according to ESPN, 8 are QBs. Of those 8, none are named Bart Starr. Terry Bradshaw is rated as the 7th best player, but only 5th best QB, behind a group that includes John Elway. Joe Montana is ranked 3rd, behind Troy Aikman.

    Call me crazy, but I’m not simply going to bow to Brady’s 6 appearances, 4 victories, and 3 MVPs. His place in history is secure, but when it comes to actual performance in the Super Bowl, Brady barely squeezes into my top 5... maybe. By the same token, I’m not of the camp that starts and ends their discussion with Joe Montana. Quantity of games certainly plays a factor, but when deciding on the QB that should be honored with 1st team Golden Anniversary status, we have to find a way to compare eras. When taking into account expected Super Bowl performance based on era, career performance, and opponent, 3 QBs quickly separated themselves from the pack. The two QBs to miss the cut were Troy Aikman and Tom Brady, while Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, and Joe Montana earned their way into the final evaluation stage.

    My focus was on three stats—QB Rating, Yards Per Attempt, and Adjusted Yards Per Attempt, which is a formula used by Pro-Football-Reference that adds TDs and INTs into the traditional YPA equation. I then compared those numbers from each game with individual in-season performance, the league average in-season performance, and their opponent’s in-season performance.

    I’m not going to list my entire analysis here because it’s quite extensive. Instead, in this space I’ll simply use the best performance of each player when it comes to QB Rating so you can catch a glimpse of how I compared each player. If you are interested in the entire comparison involving every game, I’ll link to it here, and below the final list.

    For our baseline, Starr’s best performance with regard to QB Rating was 116.2 in Super Bowl I, Bradshaw’s was 122.5 in Super Bowl X, and Montana’s was 147.6 in Super Bowl XXIV. While Montana’s rating is clearly superior, those numbers normalize a bit when taking into account other era-related factors:

    In-Season QB Rating (Super Bowl % vs. Season Performance)
    Starr- 105.0 (+11%)
    Bradshaw- 88.0 (+39%)
    Montana- 112.4 (+31%)

    League QB Rating (SB% vs. League Performance)
    1966 (Starr)- 64.2 (NFL- +81%), 60.6 (AFL- +92%)
    1975 (Bradshaw)- 62.8 (+95%)
    1989 (Montana)- 73.3 (+101%)

    Opponent In-Season QB Rating Allowed (SB% vs. Opponent Performance)
    Chiefs (Starr)- 48.8 (+138%)
    Cowboys (Bradshaw)- 53.3 (+130%)
    Broncos (Montana)- 64.1 (+130%)

    Add in similar analysis regarding Y/A and AY/A, and I did this exercise for each of the 10 Super Bowls represented by these 3 QBs. The one caveat is that it is tough to truly gauge the level of competition that Starr faced, considering the AFL was just a 9-team league.

    Anyway, when subjectively analyzing the results based on era-adjustment, the performances seemed to best fit into 3 tiers.

    Tier 1
    Joe Montana- Super Bowl XXIV
    Terry Bradshaw- Super Bowl XIII
    Bart Starr- Super Bowl I
    Terry Bradshaw- Super Bowl X

    Tier 2
    Joe Montana- Super Bowl XIX
    Terry Bradshaw- Super Bowl XIV
    Joe Montana- Super Bowl XXIII
    Bart Starr- Super Bowl II
    Terry Bradshaw- Super Bowl IX

    Tier 3
    Joe Montana- Super Bowl XVI

    That is essentially listed in order of how I’d rank each performance. It’s crazy to think of Montana against Miami and Cincinnati as merely being in Tier 2, but that’s what happens when you compare the best of the best. Interestingly, Montana won the MVP for his performance in Super Bowl XVI against Cincinnati, but when analyzing the results, that performance is the clear outlier from the rest. It’s that relatively sub-standard performance that pushes Montana slightly below Bradshaw in my opinion. All 3 of these QBs were defined by their performances in championship games, and Super Bowl IX served as a true turning point in Bradshaw’s career. Bart Starr and Joe Montana each clearly stepped up their game on the biggest stage, but no player in the history of the Super Bowl improved his performance when compared with his average career performance as much as Bradshaw, who clearly thrived when the stakes were at their highest. He gets my vote.

    2nd Team- Joe Montana/Bart Starr

    As always, this list has been put together for my own personal entertainment/torture. In sharing, I hope that I will add a bit of entertainment/torture to your life as well. The complete list is featured below, as well as a link to my QB research. Thanks as always for allowing me to indulge my insanity.

    BW’s Golden Anniversary All-Time Super Bowl Team
    *denotes MVP

    QB- Terry Bradshaw*
    RB- Terrell Davis*
    RB- Roger Craig
    FB- Franco Harris*
    WR- Jerry Rice*
    WR- Lynn Swann*
    WR- Deion Branch*
    TE- Jay Novacek
    T- Forrest Gregg
    T- Erik Williams
    G- Gene Upshaw
    G- Russ Grimm
    C- Mike Webster

    DE- L.C. Greenwood
    DE- Willie Davis
    DE- Justin Tuck
    DT- “Mean” Joe Greene
    DT- Randy White*
    OLB- Chuck Howley*
    OLB- Mike Vrabel
    ILB- Jack Lambert
    ILB- Ray Lewis*
    CB- Mel Blount
    CB- Ty Law
    CB- Deion Sanders
    S- Jake Scott*
    S- Ronnie Lott

    Special Teams
    K- Adam Vinatieri
    P- Ray Guy
    KR- Desmond Howard*

    Head Coach
    Bill Belichick

    *QB Research

    Comments 12 Comments
    1. Bengals1181's Avatar
      no love for Munoz?
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Bengals1181 View Post
      no love for Munoz?
      If this weren't a list strictly focused on Super Bowl performance, then sure. I wasn't necessarily limiting myself to only players that played on winning teams, even though that's exactly how it turned out, but on the offensive line, it's tough to do anything but that. I explained my reasoning for my OL picks within the article. Had I gone with an offensive lineman from a team that didn't win, I'd have probably gone with Ron Yary's 4 appearances with the Vikings over Munoz's 2 with Cincinnati.
    1. Rich Gapinski's Avatar
      I really enjoyed this, Brain. Great work. Even if I think that 0 carries for Sayers thing was totally cold.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Rich Gapinski View Post
      I really enjoyed this, Brain. Great work. Even if I think that 0 carries for Sayers thing was totally cold.
      Hey, I love Sayers, and I still love the Bears. But Terrell Davis has been getting the shaft for years, and deserves much better. I'm hoping he finally breaks through on Saturday.

      And thanks, I appreciate it. I kind of like living in the tradition of Bobby Heenan, so Brian "The Brain" Williams has a nice ring to it.
    1. Rich Gapinski's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Brian Williams View Post
      Hey, I love Sayers, and I still love the Bears. But Terrell Davis has been getting the shaft for years, and deserves much better. I'm hoping he finally breaks through on Saturday.

      And thanks, I appreciate it. I kind of like living in the tradition of Bobby Heenan, so Brian "The Brain" Williams has a nice ring to it.
      One of my few on-purpose typos. Was hoping you didn't catch it.

      If I can always introduce you with a Jim Ross-ian "OhhhMiiiiiiiii GAWWDDDDD, the Humanity!.....Has he no respect for _____'s family?? MmmmiiIIII GAWD," then the nickname is all yours. In short, you are a heel and are banned.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Rich Gapinski View Post
      One of my few on-purpose typos. Was hoping you didn't catch it.

      If I can always introduce you with a Jim Ross-ian "OhhhMiiiiiiiii GAWWDDDDD, the Humanity!.....Has he no respect for _____'s family?? MmmmiiIIII GAWD," then the nickname is all yours. In short, you are a heel and are banned.
      I'm still disappointed that Jim Ross didn't get the open Pirates play by play gig. When their #2 guy left to fill Don Orsillo's vacancy with the Red Sox (Greg "Raise The Jolly Rodger" Brown is still there), Ross expressed heavy interest. The Pirates didn't reciprocate.

      Too bad, that would have been awesome.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      This is excellent work, Brain.
    1. Hoser's Avatar
      Great list.
      Of course I would choose Montana over Bradshaw. Shocker.
      Stunning that Roger Craig is still not a HOF member.
      John Riggins?
      I think Jesse Sapolu deserves mention. 4 rings and played both guard and center.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Sullivan View Post
      This is excellent work, Brain.
      Thanks Big Man. And it's "The Brain".
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Hoser View Post
      Great list.
      Of course I would choose Montana over Bradshaw. Shocker.
      Stunning that Roger Craig is still not a HOF member.
      John Riggins?
      I think Jesse Sapolu deserves mention. 4 rings and played both guard and center.
      Thanks Hoser, glad you enjoyed it.

      Good call on Sapolu. I'd still have him no higher than 3rd, though, and probably lower. A great case could also be made for Jim Langer of the Dolphins.

      I think most would choose Montana, or someone else, over Bradshaw, and I really can't argue with it. But if you haven't, check out the link of the 10 performances by Montana, Bradshaw, and Starr. It's pretty amazing how great all 3 of those guys were, how close the debate truly is, and how anyone who names any other QB as the best Super Bowl performer is wrong .

      I think Bradshaw was generally a little better, and I give him bonus points for using Super Bowl IX to catapult his career, and for playing at such a high level in all 4 of his games, especially when compared with the era (2 games prior to Mel Blount rule, 1 game in the transition year of the Blount rule where the new normalization of stats still hadn't fully taken shape, and then averaging nearly 15 YPA in Super Bowl XIV against a top 10 pass defense in the 2nd year after the rule had passed. His Super Bowl relative to career performance is unmatched.

      Roger Craig, Terrell Davis, I could have easily mentioned Jerry Kramer in the OL portion. Still a lot of great players that are on the outside looking in when it comes to the HOF.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Brian Williams View Post
      Thanks Big Man. And it's "The Brain".
      Let's just go all B1G and make it "THE Brain".
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Von Miller made a strong case for future inclusion on this list. I can already make an argument that he could be considered 2nd team (no lower than 3rd team).

      Another name to keep an eye on when it comes to future performances is Kony Ealy, who may have played even better than Miller on Sunday night.

      Greg Olsen did not live up to my prediction that he'd be challenging for a spot as the TE on this list by the end of the game.