Perhaps we oversell quarterback matchups, which really aren’t matchups in the literal sense.
Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes never will be on the field concurrently in Super Bowl 55, and the performance of one has minimal bearing on the other. Theirs is not so much a duel as it is a statistical comparison.
So maybe we should dispense with such hype. And maybe blitzing should be outlawed.
Which is to say: Are you kidding?!! A Super Bowl with two A-list quarterbacks provides an extra dimension of flavor to the buildup, and the one being staged at Raymond James Stadium has a Cajun spice kick.
But will Mahomes-Brady be the greatest quarterback matchup in the game’s history? We’ll defer until Mahomes adds a few more layers to his potentially Canton-bound career. But for now, these are the 10 we deem the best.
Mind you, the in-game performance of the quarterbacks had no bearing on our list (presented in chronological order). These selections were based on the seasons, careers and star power generated by the pair entering the game.
Super Bowl 1 (Jan. 15, 1967)
Bart Starr vs. Len Dawson
Packers 35, Chiefs 10: The inaugural game featured the highest-rated quarterback in the NFL (Starr) and the highest-rated AFL passer (Dawson). Can’t get much better than that. Starr passed for 2,257 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions while leading Green Bay to a 12-2 regular season. Dawson passed for 2,527 and 26 touchdowns for the 11-2-1 Chiefs.
Epilogue: The Packers led 14-10 at halftime before pulling away. Willie Wood picked Dawson early in the second half and returned it 50 yards to the Chiefs’ 5, setting the blowout in motion. Starr finished 16-for-23 for 250 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, earning game MVP honors. Dawson was 16-for-27 for 211 yards, with a touchdown and a pick.
Super Bowl 6 (Jan. 16, 1972)
Roger Staubach vs. Bob Griese
Cowboys 24, Dolphins 3: Sprawled across the nation’s 1970s landscape was a constellation of backyard games featuring fledgling quarterbacks mimicking Staubach and Griese. The Cowboys went 7-0 down the regular-season stretch after Staubach was anointed full-time starter, and he finished as the NFL’s top-rated passer (101.8). Griese, the AFC MVP, threw for more than 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Epilogue: The Cowboys dominated on the ground (252 rushing yards) and held Miami’s normally-daunting run game to 80 yards. Griese threw for more yards (134) than Staubach (119), but the latter had two scoring passes (to Griese’s none) and was named game MVP.
Super Bowl 11 (Jan. 9, 1977)
Ken “Snake” Stabler vs. Fran Tarkenton
Raiders 32, Vikings 14: Tarkenton, already the NFL career leader in passing yards (41,802) and touchdown passes (308), had thrown for nearly 3,000 yards and was seeking his first Super Bowl title in his third attempt. Stabler, the league’s resident renegade, finished the regular season as the AFC’s top-rated passer (2,737 yards, 27 touchdowns) and his 66.7 percent completion rate was the NFL’s second-best.
Epilogue: The Raiders ran the Vikings out of the Rose Bowl, collecting 266 yards on the ground. Stabler played a supporting role, throwing for 180 yards and a touchdown. Tarkenton finished 17-for-35 for 205 yards and a touchdown, but tossed two fourth-quarter interceptions, the second of which Willie Brown returned for a 75-yard touchdown.
Super Bowl 13 (Jan. 21, 1979)
Terry Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach
Steelers 35, Cowboys 31: Bradshaw, seeking his third Super Bowl title as Steelers quarterback, won the NFL’s MVP award for the 1978 season, tossing a league-best 28 touchdowns and finishing as the No. 2-rated passer (84.8). The top-rated passer? Staubach, also seeking his third world title as a starting quarterback. Liberally employing the then-innovative shotgun formation, Staubach and Co. led the league in scoring (24.0 ppg) and total yards (372.4 ypg).
Epilogue: Things got away from Dallas in the second half when 38-year-old tight end Jackie Smith, isolated in the back of the end zone, dropped a short pass from Staubach on third down, forcing Dallas to settle for a field goal that cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 21-17. The Steelers responded with 14 unanswered points (with a Dallas fumble on a Steelers kickoff setting up the second touchdown) to seal things. Bradshaw set then-Super Bowl records for passing yards (318) and TD passes (four), and was named the game’s MVP.
Super Bowl 19 (Jan. 20, 1985)
Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino
49ers 38, Dolphins 16: To our taste, this is the Michelangelo of matchups. In only his second NFL season, Marino essentially had revolutionized how the game is played offensively, becoming the first player to pass for more than 5,000 yards. He also set NFL records for touchdown passes (48), completions (362) and 300-yard games (nine). On the other sideline was Montana, already a Notre Dame folk hero and operator of the fledgling 49ers dynasty. Montana had thrown for 3,630 yards and 28 touchdowns in the regular season, leading San Francisco to a 14-2 record.
Epilogue: Marino (29-for-50, 318 yards, two interceptions) was sacked four times as the 49ers held Miami to 25 rushing yards, a record low for a Super Bowl. Montana, meantime, threw for 331 yards (then a Super Bowl record) and four touchdowns.
Super Bowl 23 (Jan. 22, 1989)
Joe Montana vs. Boomer Esiason
49ers 20, Bengals 16: Esiason, the league MVP (3,572 passing yards, 248 rushing yards), was the NFL’s top-rated quarterback (97.4) in the regular season and one of the few dual threats of his day. Montana, who had thrown for nearly 3,000 regular-season yards, was seeking his third Super Bowl title.
Epilogue: Esiason (11-for-25, 144 yards, no touchdowns, one interception) became a footnote to another fabled Montana finish. After the Bengals took a 16-13 lead on a field goal with 3:20 remaining, Montana led an 11-play, 92-yard scoring drive, capped by his 10-yard scoring strike to John Taylor with 34 seconds to play. He passed for 357 yards, two touchdowns and — for the third consecutive Super Bowl — zero interceptions.
Super Bowl 32 (Jan. 25, 1998)
John Elway vs. Brett Favre
Broncos 31, Packers 24: The clear sentimental favorite, Elway — finishing off a Pro Bowl season that included more than 3,600 passing yards — was seeking his first Super Bowl win in his fourth attempt. Favre, the league’s resident gunslinger, had won his third consecutive NFL MVP award, throwing for 3,867 yards and 35 touchdowns for the reigning world champs.
Epilogue: Broncos tailback Terrell Davis (157 rushing yards, Super Bowl-record three rushing touchdowns), overshadowed Elway, who probably didn’t mind a bit. Favre threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns (with a pick), but was stymied by the Broncos defense on his final three possessions.
Super Bowl 44 (Feb. 7, 2010)
Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning
Saints 31, Colts 17: Brees finished the regular season as the NFL’s top-rated quarterback (109.6), completing a league-record 70.6 percent of his passes for 4,338 yards and 34 touchdowns. All Manning did was pass for 4,500 yards — on the nose — and win a league-record fourth MVP award.
Epilogue: For most of the night, this was a quarterback clinic; Brees and Manning combined for a Super Bowl-record 75 percent completion rate (63-for-84), and accounted for the most combined pass completions in a Super Bowl. But Manning committed the fatal flaw with a fourth-quarter interception that Tracy Porter returned for a 74-yard touchdown.
Super Bowl 46 (Feb. 5, 2012)
Eli Manning vs. Tom Brady (Part II)
Giants 21, Patriots 17: Arguably the most hyped sequel in Super Bowl lore featured Manning at the top of his game, albeit for a 9-7 team. He set new career highs in nearly every statistical category, passing for a franchise-record 4,933 yards with 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Brady, seeking atonement for the Super Bowl loss to the Giants four years earlier (that quashed the Patriots’ perfect season), had thrown for a career-high 5,235 yards (second-highest total in NFL history at the time).
Epilogue: More Manning magic. Manning led a nine-play, 88-yard scoring drive in the waning moments, capped by Ahmad Bradshaw’s 6-yard touchdown run with 57 seconds to play. Brady was whistled for intentional grounding while throwing out of his own end zone in the first quarter, resulting in a Giants safety, and threw an interception inside the New York 10 in the fourth. Manning earned game MVP honors, finishing 30-for-40 for 296 yards and a touchdown.
Super Bowl 51 (Feb. 5, 2017)
Tom Brady vs. Matt Ryan
Patriots 34, Falcons 28 (OT): “Matty Ice” was at a career apex in the 2016 season, leading the NFL in passer rating (117.1) while throwing for nearly 5,000 yards and earning league MVP honors. Brady was suspended for the season’s first four games as a result of the “Deflategate” scandal, but still tossed 28 touchdown passes with only two picks. His passer rating (112.2) ranked second only to Ryan.
Epilogue: Ryan (17-for-23, 284 yards, two touchdowns) owned the outset, but Brady set Super Bowl records for completions (43), attempts (62) and yards (466) while rallying New England from a 28-3 second-half deficit. The victory gave him a record fifth Super Bowl ring as a starting quarterback.
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