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Top 10 All-Time Greatest Super Bowl Quarterback Matchups

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Sunday will be the 55th version of what is routinely called the “Biggest Game on Planet Earth,” otherwise known as the Super Bowl.

The game this year will feature what looks to be an epic quarterback matchup between 43-year-old Tom Brady and 25-year-old former MVP Pat Mahomes.

While the quarterbacks never actually “play” each other or are even on the field at the same time, it’s always fun to look at the biggest high-profile players on each team. In almost every case, it’s the quarterback.

Since the start of the Super Bowl in 1967 (actually it was then known as the AFL-NFL Championship Game), there have been some amazing quarterback battles between No. 1 picks, Hall of Famers, and players who were clutch in the big game.

Today we take a look at the “Top 10 All-Time Greatest Super Bowl Quarterback Matchups,” highlighting some of the great performances on the biggest stage of the biggest game.

10. Super Bowl III – Joe Namath vs Johnny Unitas

Two legendary quarterbacks going at it in an early Super Bowl down in Miami in a game known for Joe Namath’s “guarantee” of a Jets win.

This might have been higher on the list, but first off Unitas wasn’t even the starter for the Colts, it was actually Earl Morrall, who played awful as the Jets’ defense dominated.

Namath, who won the MVP for the game didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard with his numbers, going 17-for-28 for 206 yards without a touchdown. He truly was ‘game manager’ in the Jets’ upset 16-7 win.

Unitas, who was a shell of his old self, was 11-for-24 for 110 yards with a pick in relief of Morrall.

Nevertheless, it was a game that you can look back on with two legendary quarterbacks vying for a title. It also put Namath and the Jets on the map.

9. Super Bowl XLV – Ben Roethlisberger vs Aaron Rodgers

Two of the NFL’s bedrock franchises went at it in Dallas as the Packers took the Lombardi Trophy home, beating the Steelers 31-25 in a game defined by big plays and a lot of offense.

Rodgers outplayed Roethlisberger, throwing for 304 yards and three scores on 24-for-39 passing. He always seemed to come up with the big plays against a soft Steelers secondary when needed.

Down 21-3, the Steelers rallied behind Roethlisberger as he hit Hines Ward from 8 yards out with :39 seconds to play in the first half to close it to 21-10.

Pittsburgh would get close a few times in the second half, but it was Rodgers who shined just a bit brighter on this night. He and the Pack did enough to pull out the six-point win.

8. Super Bowl XLIX – Tom Brady vs Russell Wilson

Many call this the greatest Super Bowl of all time, a battle between Tom Brady and Seattle’s vaunted “Legion of Boom” defense.

The game was a back and forth affair, with New England down 24-14 entering the fourth quarter.

Leave it to Tom Brady to do what he does best. He put together two touchdown drives, the second of which came with 2:02 to go, making it 28-24.

Brady went 37-for-50 for 328 yards with four scores and two picks, while his counterpart, Russell Wilson, went 12-for-21 for 247 yards with two scores and a pick.

Everyone remembers the pick. Malcolm Butler of New England stepped in front of intended receiver Ricardo Lockette to steal the win.

If you were a fan of either team you probably needed to check your heart rate after the interception that sealed New England’s win.

7. Super Bowl XI – Ken Stabler vs Fran Tarkenton

It was the coming out party for the silver and black, as the team finally got over the hump winning a Super Bowl for future Hall of Fame coach John Madden.

Oakland dominated Fran Tarkenton and the Vikings 32-14, and the future Viking Hall of Fame QB was mostly ineffective, going 17-for-25 for 205 yards with a touchdown and two picks.

Kenny “The Snake” Stabler was solid, going 12-for-18 for 180 yards and a touchdown with a QB rating of 111.7.

The Raiders running game was the biggest story, running over the famed “Purple People Eaters,” for 266 yards on 52 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per rush.

Tarkenton was pulled late in the game for backup Bob Lee, who led Minnesota to their second touchdown of the game with :25 seconds left.

6. Super Bowl XLIV – Peyton Manning vs Drew Brees

Both of these quarterbacks will be sitting in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton some day, but on this day in Miami, the two legendary QBs went back and forth in a memorable shootout that the Saints eventually won 31-17.

Brees was sensational, going 32-for-39 for 288 yards and two scores with a 114.5 QB rating. He was the MVP of the win, coming up with big plays for the Saints when needed.

Manning, playing in his second Super Bowl, made the critical mistake of the night, throwing a pick-six, which Tracy Porter took for 74 yards to put the Saints up by two scores with 3:12 to play.

New Orleans scored the last 18 points for the win. Their defense held Manning to 31-of-45 passing for 333 yards with a pick and score in the Colts setback.

5. Super Bowl XXXVI – Tom Brady vs Kurt Warner

The beginning of the Pats dynasty, this game featured a wide-eyed Tom Brady outplaying Kurt Warner who had won a Super Bowl the season before gaining the game’s MVP award.

This day belonged to the Patriots’ defense, which hammered the Rams’ receivers and made life tough for Warner all day.

Warner played well in the final quarter as the Rams rallied from down 17-3, scoring two touchdowns in the final 9:31 to tie up the game.

On the day, Warner went 28-for-44 for 365 yards with a touchdown and two picks. Brady was efficient, going 16-for-27 for 145 yards and a touchdown.

Brady’s pinpoint passing on the final drive was the reason the Pats pulled out the win, as he drove the ball to the Rams 30 to allow Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal on the final play to seal the win.

4. Super Bowl XXXII – John Elway vs Brett Favre

The NFC had dominated the Super Bowl throughout most of the 1980s and 90s, and finally on this day John Elway got the monkey off of his and the AFC’s back with an exciting 31-24 win over the Green Bay Packers.

Brett Favre was at the top of his game, but the Broncos defense was up for the task against the Hall of Famer.

The Packers QB went 25-for-42 for 256 yards with three touchdowns and a pick in the seven-point Packer loss.

Elway went just 12-for-22 for 123 yards with a pick, but his main job on this day was giving the ball to running back Terrell Davis who ran for 157 yards and three scores.

The play of the game that everyone recalls is the famous Elway ‘helicopter’ run that resulted in a first down deep in Green Bay territory.

The following year, Elway went out the perfect way, on a platform holding up another Lombardi after winning the game’s MVP against the overmatched Atlanta Falcons.

3. Super Bowl XXVII & XXVIII – Jim Kelly vs Troy Aikman

The Dallas Cowboys were in the midst of a dynasty of their own in the early 90s, and they had the Buffalo Bills’ number in two straight Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993.

Aikman took home the MVP of the first Dallas win, as they crushed Buffalo 52-17 in a game remembered for the Bills’ nine turnovers.

The Cowboys QB went 22-for-30 for 273 yards with four touchdowns, no picks and a QB rating of 140.7.

Kelly was knocked out early after attempting just seven passes. Before he left, he threw for just 82 yards and two interceptions.

The next year, Buffalo looked a lot more poised as they held Dallas to just six first half points, leading the game 13-6 at half.

Then the bottom dropped out, as just 45 seconds into the third quarter Thurman Thomas fumbled, James Washington took it 46 yards to tie the game at 13.

Aikman played well enough, going 19-for-27 for 207 yards with a pick. Kelly was 31-for-50 for 260 yards with an interception.

Emmitt Smith who ran for 132 yards and two scores was the MVP of the second Dallas victory.

2. Super Bowl XIX – Dan Marino vs Joe Montana

All the talk entering Super Bowl XIX was about Dolphins strong-arming QB Dan Marino, who had thrown for over 5000 yards and 48 scores in leading Miami to a 14-2 mark.

Joe Montana didn’t say much in the week leading to the game, but let his play on the field speak for itself as the 49ers dominated the Dolphins 38-16.

Montana, who was the game’s MVP, was sensational, using play action and quick passes to keep the Dolphins defense on their toes.

In the end, Montana went 24-for-35 for 331 yards and three scores, while his counterpart in Marino was held to 29-for-50 passing for 318 yards with a touchdown and a pair of interceptions.

San Francisco’s defense combined with Montana broke the game open in the second quarter, as they outscored Miami 21-6 to take a 28-16 lead at halftime.

The Niners scored 10 more third quarter points to put the game away. Oddly enough, Montana and Marino did a Diet Pepsi commercial together that aired after the game.

1. Super Bowl X & XIII – Terry Bradshaw vs Roger Staubach

It’s hard to overlook this amazing pair of matchups between two Hall of Famers Bradshaw and Staubach, who played in a pair of Super Bowls in 1975 and 1978.

These were two tremendous Super Bowls that could have gone either way, but in the end, Bradshaw was just a little bit better in each, holding off Staubach and Dallas.

The first game was a 21-17 slugfest in Miami in which Lynn Swann made three amazing plays on passes from Bradshaw, earning the game’s MVP.

Bradshaw went just 9-for-19 for 202 yards and two scores in the first game, while Staubach threw for 204 yards but was intercepted three times by the Steel Curtain defense.

Game Two a few years later was an even better game, as the Steelers built what looked to be a insurmountable 35-17 lead with 6:51 left, but it was Staubach who put on his comeback cape and nearly pulled out a win.

He threw a touchdown with 2:27 left in the game. After the Cowboys got an onside kick, they scored again with :22 seconds left to make it 35-31.

Rocky Bleier recovered the second onside kick, sealing the win for the Steelers.

Bradshaw played excellent in this game filled with Hall of Famers, throwing for 318 yards with four touchdowns and a pick.

Staubach threw for 228 yards, three scores and an interception. The MVP went to Bradshaw, who would go on to win another MVP the next year as the Steelers defeated the Los Angeles Rams 31-19 to end their dynasty.

Written by Matt Loede

Matt has been a part of the Cleveland Sports landscape working in the media since 1994 when he graduated from broadcasting school. His coverage beats include the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Cavaliers. He's written three books, and won the "2020 AP Sports Stringer Lifetime Service Award."

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