Ranking Super Bowl's 20 best QB's: Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes headline list; Eli Manning cracks top-10



tom brady super bowl li

In the 57-year history of the Super Bowl, six quarterbacks stand out from the rest of those who have played in the game. The history of the Super Bowl — and thus the NFL — wouldn’t be the same without them and their performances on pro sport’s biggest stage. 

Many legendary quarterbacks have won Super Bowls. Brett Favre, Steve Young, Ken Stabler, Bob Griese, and Kurt Warner parlayed their success in Super Bowls into Hall of Fame careers. Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers will join them in Canton, at least partly because of their Super Bowl wins. Russell Wilson might, too, although his career still has some chapters left to it. 

Our list of the 20 greatest Super Bowl quarterbacks of all-time is not purely based on talent and career accomplishments. It’s about their impact on the Super Bowl, both in the moment and in the following years. 

20. Drew Brees 

For whatever reason, Brees’ performance in the Saints’ first Super Bowl win hasn’t gotten enough love over the years. Well, Brees is getting his due here. He did, after all, go 32 of 39 for 288 yards and two touchdowns. His touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey with just under six minutes left gave the Saints the lead for good. 

19. Aaron Rodgers 

  • 1-0 record
  • Super Bowl MVP (XLV) 

Rodgers’ was exceptional in his lone Super Bowl. He threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns against a Steelers defense that had allowed the fewest points in the NFL during the regular season. 

  • 1-0 record 
  • Super Bowl MVP (LII)

Foles capped off his stellar playoff run with the Eagles with an MVP performance in Super Bowl LII. Foles, who replaced an injured Carson Wentz with three games to go in the regular season, threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns in Philadelphia’s 41-33 win over the Patriots. His touchdown catch on the “Philly Special” has gone down in Super Bowl lore. 

17. Steve Young 

  • 1-0 record
  • Super Bowl MVP (XXIX) 

Young’s performance against the Chargers is on the short list of the greatest individual performances by a quarterback in Super Bowl history. The league’s MVP that season, Young threw for a still-standing Super Bowl record six touchdowns. Young threw for four touchdowns in the first half alone as the 49ers built a commanding 28-7 lead en route to a 49-26 win. He also led both teams with 49 yards rushing. 

16. Phil Simms 

  • 1-0 record
  • Super Bowl MVP (XXI) 

No one has completed a higher percentage of his passes in a Super Bowl than Simms, who went 22 of 25 (an 88 percent completion percentage) in leading the Giants to the franchise’s first Super Bowl win. Simms, who threw three touchdowns against the Broncos, completed all 10 of his second-half pass attempts. 

15. Doug Williams 

  • 1-0 record 
  • Super Bowl MVP (XXII)

Williams’ performance against the Broncos was nothing short of legendary. The first Black QB to win the Super Bowl as a starter, Williams and his teammates overcame a slow start to record the greatest quarter a team has ever put together in a playoff game, let alone a Super Bowl. 

Trailing 10-0 after one quarter, Washington scored 35 points in the second quarter, an NFL playoff record for points in a quarter. Williams threw four touchdowns during that span that included 80 and 50-yard bombs to Ricky Sanders. 

Williams finished the game with a then-Super Bowl record 340 yards and four touchdowns, as Washington rolled to a 42-10 win. 

14. Kurt Warner 

  • 1-2 record
  • Super Bowl MVP (XXXIV) 

Warner played an integral role in three of the most exciting Super Bowls of all-time. He won his first Super Bowl start, a thriller against the Titans that saw Warner give the Rams the lead for good on a 73-yard bomb to Isaac Bruce. Warner’s 414 yards in the Rams’ 23-16 win broke Joe Montana’s 11-year Super Bowl single-game record. 

Two years later, Warner led a furious comeback bid that ultimately fell short in one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history. The Rams lost the game when Tom Brady led the Patriots on a last-minute scoring drive en route to his first Super Bowl win. 

Warner made it back to the big game seven years later while helping the Cardinals reach the franchise’s first Super Bowl. Arizona trailed 29-7 before Warner and Larry Fitzgerald connected for two scores, the second one a 64-yard strike with 2:37 left. Warner and the Cardinals came up short, though, thanks to the efforts of the next quarterback on our list. 

13. Ben Roethlisberger 

Against the Seahawks, Big Ben recorded the worst passer rating of any Super Bowl-winning quarterback. But what the stat line doesn’t show is Roethlisberger’s 37-yard completion on a 3rd-and-28 play that set up his touchdown run moments later or his key block on Anwtaan Randle El’s touchdown pass to Hines Ward that clinched Pittsburgh’s 21-10 win. 

Roethlisberger was driven to play better when Pittsburgh made it back to the Super Bowl three years later. He delivered by engineering an 88-yard, game-winning drive that was punctuated by his touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes that is considered one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history. 

Big Ben and the Steelers came up short in Super Bowl XLV, but just by getting there, Roethlisberger became one of just 12 quarterbacks to start in at least three Super Bowls. 

12. Jim Plunkett 

  • 2-0 record 
  • Super Bowl MVP (XV)

Plunkett is very deserving of mention. He quarterbacked the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins over teams that were favored. Plunkett torched the Eagles to the tune of 261 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl XV, a performance that included a then-record 80-yard touchdown pass to Kenny King. Three years later, Plunkett’s early success throwing to Cliff Branch set the stage for the Raiders’ shocking 38-9 win over Washington. 

11. Roger Staubach 

  • 2-2 record
  • Super Bowl MVP (VI) 

Staubach led the Cowboys to the franchise’s first Super Bowl win at the end of the 1972 season, a win that came against a Dolphins team that would win the next two Super Bowls. Captain America then led Dallas to its second Lombardi Trophy five years later in a blowout win over the Broncos and their Orange Crush defense. In between, Staubach and the Cowboys battled but came up short in two epic Super Bowls against the Steelers, the NFL’s other elite team during the ’70s. 

10. Bart Starr 

  • 2-0 record 
  • Super Bowl MVP (I, II) 

Starr set the standard for elite quarterback play in Super Bowls. His 250 yards in Super Bowl I stood as the single game record for a dozen years. Starr completed nearly 70 percent of his passes in Green Bay’s 35-10 win over AFL champion Kansas City, an absurd number in those days. 

  • 2-0 Super Bowl record
  • Super Bowl MVP (XLII, XLVI) 

I’m sure many of you are surprised to see Eli included in this list. But consider that he is just one of five players with multiple Super Bowl MVPs. And in case you forgot, one of those performances came against a team that was going for the title of greatest team of all-time. Both of his wins came against the greatest QB of all-time. 

If those facts aren’t enough to convince you, look back at some of the plays Manning made in those games, starting with his go-ahead touchdown pass to David Tyree that occurred before his helmet completion to Tyree that set up his came-winning touchdown to Plaxico Burress. The Patriots complete their quest for an undefeated season if not for Manning. 

As clutch as he was that night, Manning’s best pass in Super Bowls took place in the Giants-Patriots rematch four years later. His 38-yard dime to Mario Manningham set up the game-winning score in New York’s 21-17 win. 

8. Joe Namath 

  • 1-0 record 
  • Super Bowl MVP (III) 

Namath could be higher; his role in the greatest upset in NFL history, an upset that was huge in the Super Bowl becoming the phenomenon that it is today, is hard to put into words. But he played in just one Super Bowl, which is why No. 8 is where Broadway Joe ultimately landed on my list. 

An 18-point underdog, Namath guaranteed a win over Don Shula’s Baltimore Colts, who lost just once en route to winning the NFL crown. The AFL’s previous two champions were hammered in the Super Bowl; no one expected the Jets to put up a fight against the Colts, let alone win. 

But that’s exactly what happened. The Jets’ defense came up with five big turnovers, while Namath kept Baltimore’s ferocious pass rush off at bay by shortening his drop back and releasing the ball much quicker than he usually did. The result was a 16-7 win that forever changed pro football. 

  • 2-2 record
  • Super Bowl MVP (XLI) 

Honestly, you could put Namath ahead of Manning and you wouldn’t get any argument from me. As alluded to above, Manning’s four Super Bowl appearances to Namath’s one went a long way in the five-time league MVP getting this spot. Manning’s distinction as the first starting quarterback to lead two different franchises to Super Bowl wins was the icing on the cake. 

Manning split his four Super Bowl starts, but each one was a memorable chapter in Super Bowl lore. His first win, which occurred in pouring rain (the only Super Bowl that has had heavy rainfall) was Indianapolis’ first Super Bowl win since the franchise moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis. Manning’s second Super Bowl win nine years later was also the final game of his Hall of Fame career. 

Manning’s losses were perhaps more memorable than his losses. His pick-six late in Super Bowl XLIV abruptly ended the Colts’ comeback bid while sealing the Saints’ first Super Bowl win. Three years later, Manning’s Broncos were blindsided by Seattle in one of the most shocking outcomes in Super Bowl history. 

Win or lose, a Peyton Manning Super Bowl was memorable simply because it was a Peyton Manning Super Bowl. He’s on the Mount Rushmore of any all-time QB list, and for good reason. His participation in those games added even more zest to what is already the world’s most anticipated sporting event. 

Mahomes’ first three Super Bowls — and his performance in each of them — were memorable. Mahomes threw two touchdowns (including the game-winner) in the Chiefs’ win over the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. He tossed three touchdowns and had a huge run that set up the game-winning field goal against the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. 

He and the Chiefs fell well short of the mark in Super Bowl LV, but Mahomes’ performance against the Buccaneers is still memorable. Playing with an out-manned offensive line, Mahomes did his best Fran Tarkenton impression as he desperately tired to keep the Chiefs in the game. 

Assuming he plays up to his normal level against the 49ers, the two-time league MVP will either stay at No. 6 or will find himself a little higher this time Monday morning. 

5. John Elway 

  • 2-3 record
  • Super Bowl MVP (XXXIII) 

Elway is the classic example of a great player who doesn’t win it all until he has a great team around him. He led the Broncos to three Super Bowls in the late ’80s, but Denver was blown out in each game by a combined score of 136-40. 

He didn’t get back to his fourth Super Bowl until he was 37, but the wait was more than worth it for Elway and the Broncos. The Broncos shocked the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, with Elway’s helicopter leap serving as a key play in Denver’s 31-24 win. Elway didn’t do much via the air that night, but he didn’t have to, not with Terrell Davis running for 157 yards and three touchdowns and his defense forcing two key turnovers from Brett Favre. 

Elway was named MVP in Super Bowl XXIII a year later (a 34-19 win over the Falcons) in what was the final game of his Hall of Fame career. 

4. Troy Aikman

  • 3-0 record 
  • Super Bowl MVP (XXVII) 

One of four starting quarterbacks with three Super Bowl rings, Aikman was named MVP of his first Super Bowl, which also happened to be the final Super Bowl played at the historic Rose Bowl. Aikman threw four touchdowns and completed 70 percent of his passes in leading the Cowboys to a 52-17 thumping of Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVII. His 46-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Harper early in the fourth quarter put the game on ice. 

Aikman was overcoming a serious concussion during the following year’s Super Bowl, but he still make several key plays in Dallas’ 30-13 win. His early success in Super Bowl XXX (that included a 47-yard completion to Deion Sanders) helped the Cowboys become the first franchise to win three Super Bowls over a four-year span. 

While Montana and Brady have most of the Super Bowl’s passing records, Aikman holds the record for the Super Bowl’s highest career completion percentage with at least 50 pass attempts (70 percent). 

3. Terry Bradshaw 

  • 4-0 Super Bowl record 
  • Super Bowl MVP (XIII, XIV) 

The Blonde Bomber remains the only quarterback to throw a game-winning touchdown pass in four separate Super Bowls. Of those touchdowns, the two that have most resonated over the years were his 64-yard bomb to Lynn Swann in Super Bowl X and his 73-yard strike to John Stallworth in Super Bowl XIV. 

Bradshaw’s best Super Bowl was his second Super Bowl win over the Cowboys. He set then-Super Bowl records with 318 yards and four touchdowns as Pittsburgh dethroned Dallas while earning the title of Team of the ’70s.

Adding to Bradshaw’s legend was that, unlike most quarterbacks on this list, he called his own plays. 

2. Joe Montana 

  • 4-0 Super Bowl record
  • Super Bowl MVP (XVI, XIX, XXIV) 

It was actually a hard call between Bradshaw and Montana. Joe Cool ultimately got the nod for a few reasons, one of them being that he simply took the baton from Bradshaw and raised it to an even higher level. 

Montana never threw an interception in a Super Bowl despite putting the ball in the air 122 times in his four appearances. He made big plays in each of San Francisco’s four Super Bowl wins and because of that became the first player to win Super Bowl MVP three times. 

Montana’s last three Super Bowls were masterpieces. He threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns while also running for 59 yards (a Super Bowl record for a QB at the time) while besting Dan Marino and the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. Three years later, Montana engineered the most famous drive in Super Bowl history (at the time) that culminated with his game-winning touchdown pass to John Taylor. 

A year after breaking the Bengals’ hearts, Montana and the 49ers put on a clinic against the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV. Montana threw for a then-Super Bowl record five touchdowns as the 49ers recorded the largest margin of victory (45 points) in Super Bowl history. 

  • 7-3 Super Bowl record 
  • Super Bowl MVP (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XLIX, LI, LV) 

Brady’s status as the greatest quarterback of all-time was largely a byproduct of his excellence in Super Bowls. It started with his game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXXVI and ended with his three touchdown performance in Super Bowl LV. In between, Brady played in eight other Super Bowls, won five more rings, was named MVP three additional times and won the only Super Bowl that’s been decided in overtime. 

Brady also took down the defending champion Seattle Seahawks despite facing a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. The Patriots’ comeback started, fittingly enough, with a 21-yard completion from Brady to Julian Edelman on a 3rd-and-14 play. The duo later gave New England the lead for good in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played. 

Even Brady’s Super Bowl losses were memorable. He nearly completed a desperation heave to Randy Moss that would have saved the ’07 Patriots’ undefeated season. In New England’s loss Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, Brady threw for a Super Bowl record 505 yards. 

Brady proved his greatness once and for all after winning a ring with Tampa. By doing so, he broke his own record as the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl (43) and joined Manning as the only starting quarterbacks to win Super Bowls with multiple franchises. 





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