The Patriots’ victory lap after winning Super Bowl LI has already featured plenty of memorable moments. First you had Brady’s handshake with Goodell in the game’s immediate aftermath–note the subtle tug as Goodell starts to pull away. That moment was certainly satisfying, but the joy was just beginning. Two days later, Boston was treated to yet another parade, which featured Gronk beer spikes as well as a couple bizarre, Belichickian chants of “No Days Off!” and “Do Your Job.” Speaking of Belichick, he also appeared on The Late Show alongside Julian Edelman. That was a sight. And amidst it all, the Patriots have already been busy coining slogans for next year’s championship run while Brady has had a field day making self-deprecating Instagram posts.
Yet I’d argue the most satisfying part so far is that James White got his pickup truck. You might remember that in the aftermath of Super Bowl XLIX, Brady gifted the free Chevy he received for winning that game’s MVP award to Malcolm Butler, who was arguably even more deserving of the award after his game-winning interception. Brady hoped to make the same gesture to White, considering that he scored the winning touchdown in overtime. Only problem, though, was that the NFL discontinued this promotion.
Fortunately Conan O’Brien–of all people–came through, as he surprised the new record holder for receptions in a Super Bowl with a truck. Safe to say White was pleased.
Brady rightfully deserved the MVP for LI, but it is still rewarding to know that White’s career-defining performance, replete with not only a Super Bowl record fourteen receptions, but a record-tying three touchdowns as well, will be remembered by many. Yet in addition to the truck, Check Down Sports would also like to honor White with the inaugural Most Valuable Non-MVP Award for Super Bowl LI!
Oh, great! What do I win? NOTHING!
Anyway, while I’m at it, let’s go back in time and make sure that the other James White’s are remembered properly. Here are the Most Valuable Non-MVP’s of the ten most recent Super Bowls, along with a nod to worthy non-MVP’s from some of the earlier ones.
Super Bowl 50: Kony Ealy, DE Carolina
That’s right: I’m giving the non-MVP award to a player on the losing team. If it wasn’t for their relatively unknown second-year defensive end, Carolina would not have even had a chance in the fourth quarter. Not only did Ealy tie a Super Bowl record with three sacks, but he also intercepted Peyton Manning when the Broncos were driving to take a commanding lead in the second quarter and forced a crucial fumble early in the fourth with the Panthers still in the game. Though his unbelievably disruptive performance was overshadowed by Von Miller’s heroics, Ealy should still be remembered for having one of the more dominant defensive games in Super Bowl history.
Honorable Mention: DeMarcus Ware, OLB Denver (compiled two sacks opposite Miller)
Super Bowl XLIX: Malcolm Butler, CB New England
Rather obvious, right? Butler made the most game-altering play in NFL history. Without it, the Patriots–who seemed destined to lose after the Jermaine Kearse catch–simply would not have won the game. Plus, when you consider that Butler, who came in to replace an ineffective Logan Ryan, neutralized Chris Matthews, Seattle’s top receiving threat for most of the game, Butler’s MVP-caliber performance goes beyond that single play.
*Super Bowl XLVIII: Kam Chancellor, S Seattle
Note the asterisk. That signifies that the player I identify as the most valuable non-MVP is really the player that should have won MVP. Credit actual MVP Malcolm Smith for being in the right place at the right time for his pick-six. But Chancellor was the single biggest reason why the Seahawks held the highest scoring team in NFL history to eight points. He was active throughout, laying the boom–literally–on helpless Denver receivers and intercepting Manning early in the second quarter when the game was still in relative doubt.
Super Bowl XLVII: Jacoby Jones, WR/KR Baltimore
Jones undoubtedly made the two most exciting plays of Super Bowl XLVII. First, he caught a 56-yard touchdown from Joe Flacco to put the Ravens up 21-3 near the end of the first half. He then immediately started the second with the longest scoring play in Super Bowl history, an 108-yard kickoff return that seemed to break the 49ers’ back. Jones was quiet outside of those two big plays, but his impact was certainly felt.
Super Bowl XLVI: Steve Weatherford, P New York
No, this isn’t a joke. In a game in which the Giants held the mighty Patriots to 17 points, the difference maker was not their defense, but their punter. Weatherford only punted four times on the day, but each pushed the Patriots deep into their own territory. New England’s average field position after Weatherford’s punts was their own nine-and-a-half yard line. With the average offensive possession starting at roughly the 26, that amounts to a seventeen yard differential per series! Time for the special teamers to get their respect!
Honorable Mention: Hakeem Nicks, WR New York (finished with 10 receptions for 109 yards and was the most
difficult player for New England to stop)
Super Bowl XLV: Jordy Nelson, WR Green Bay
Tough call, but I’m giving the slight edge to Nelson, who hauled in nine receptions for 140 yards and the first of Aaron Rodgers’ three touchdown passes, over Greg Jennings, who caught two TD’s himself. This game also served as the launching point for Nelson’s career as one of the NFL’s top receivers.
Super Bowl XLIV: Tracy Porter, CB New Orleans
Porter receives this honor because he made the single biggest play of Super Bowl XLIV that effectively captured New Orleans’ first title. His 74-yard pick-six with a little over three minutes to go came at just the right moment, as the Colts looked to be driving to tie the score at 24. This play still stands as the greatest moment in Saints history.
Super Bowl XLIII: James Harrison, OLB Pittsburgh
I had to stick with the pick-six theme here because James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return at the end of the first half has a case to be the most remarkable defensive play in NFL history. Simply put, Pittsburgh does not capture their sixth Super Bowl without this fourteen-point momentum swing.
*Super Bowl XLII: Justin Tuck, DT New York
Tuck was the primary force behind New York’s herculean effort to neutralize arguably the greatest offense in NFL history. His final tally of two sacks, six tackles, and a forced fumble really don’t even do his performance justice: He and the rest of the Giants’ defensive line disrupted Brady all night. Manning’s final drive is one of the greatest all-time, but the Giants aren’t in that position if it weren’t for Tuck and company.
Super Bowl XLI: Dominic Rhodes, RB Indianapolis
People often forget that Peyton Manning’s only Super Bowl MVP performance was far from spectacular. He played admirably, especially considering the quality of Brian Urlacher and the Bears’ defense as well as the adverse weather conditions. But let’s not forget that Rhodes, the unsung hero of Super Bowl XLI, ran for 113 yards and a touchdown, allowing the Colts to completely control the game in the second half. He also, impressively, was one of the only players to protect the ball in a sloppy game that featured eight turnovers.
That wraps up the honors for the ten most recent Super Bowls. But since I can’t help myself, here are some other non-MVP’s that deserve recognition as well.
Super Bowl XXXIX: Rodney Harrison, FS New England
Harrison is most remembered for his game-clinching interception at the tail end of Super Bowl XXXIX; but it was actually his first interception–one of two on the night for Harrison–on the Eagles’ 4-yard line that proved to be the biggest.
Super Bowl XXXVII: Dwight Smith, FS Tampa Bay
Smith returned a Super Bowl record two interceptions for touchdowns, but still got slighted for MVP in favor of Dexter Jackson, who hauled in two picks of his own but returned neither of which for scores. Jackson’s picks, however, came when the game was still a contest while Smith’s pick-sixes occurred with the game well in hand. Nonetheless, Smith absolutely deserves to be recognized in this context.
*Super Bowl XXXVI: Ty Law, CB New England
Sorry, Tom: You weren’t the most deserving candidate for MVP of XXXVI. Game-winning drive aside, the primary reason New England upset the heavily-favored Rams was because their defense suffocated the Greatest Show on Turf. And if one player were to receive most of the credit, it’s Law. Not only did he take a pick back to the house to give the Patriots an early lead, but he held one of the NFL’s best receivers, Torry Holt, to just five receptions on twelve targets.
*Super Bowl XXXI: Reggie White, DE Green Bay
Desmond Howard may have made the most exciting play in Super Bowl XXXI–a 99-yard kickoff return–to earn the MVP award, but White’s performance was more significant. The future Hall of Famer was an absolutely unblockable, as he set a Super Bowl record, at the time, with three sacks. You could also argue he was responsible for Drew Bledsoe panicking into throwing four costly interceptions.
Super Bowl XXIX: Jerry Rice, WR San Francisco
Not trying to take anything away from Steve Young, who tossed for a mere six touchdown passes in this contest. But it helps when you have the greatest receiver ever to play the game reel in ten receptions for 149 yards and three touchdowns.
*Super Bowl XXVIII: James Washington, DB Dallas
Credit Emmitt Smith for running for 132 yards and two touchdowns, but I think he won the MVP for this game out of respect for his Hall of Fame-bound career. The more deserving player, unequivocally, was defensive back James Washington. You’d be hard pressed to find a better all-around defensive performance in a Super Bowl than this: Not only did he lead the Cowboys with eleven tackles, but he forced a fumble, recorded an interception, and, most importantly, returned a fumble for a touchdown at a time when Dallas was trailing 13-6 in the second half.
Super Bowl XXV: Thurman Thomas, RB Buffalo
Here is another example of a losing player being recognized for the most valuable non-MVP award. Thomas, simply put, was the best player on the field in Super Bowl XXV, rushing for 135 yards on just fifteen carries. He also contributed 55 receiving yards. It’s a shame the Bills had to lose because Thomas’ performance should’ve earned its place in Super Bowl lore.
Super Bowl XXIII: Joe Montana, QB San Francisco
Crazy to think that Montana wasn’t even recognized for MVP despite delivering the signature game-winning drive of his career. But I guess that’s what happens when Jerry Rice drops over 200 receiving yards. Nonetheless, Montana is a rare example of a quarterback very much deserving of Super Bowl MVP that didn’t receive the honor.
Super Bowl XXII: Washington’s Offensive Line
I was tempted to recognize Timmy Smith here, seeing that he ran for a Super Bowl record 204 yards. But isn’t there something fishy about a reserve running back making his first NFL start running for an absurd amount of yards like that? For that reason, I’m crediting the Redskins’ offensive-line, which featured Pro Bowlers Joe Jacoby, Raleigh McKenzie, Jeff Bostic, and Mark May, for being the driving force behind Washington’s 42-point explosion.
Super Bowl XIX: Roger Craig, RB San Francisco
Roger Craig was James White before James White was even born. No, he didn’t score a game-winning touchdown in this game; but he did find the end zone three times, once on the ground and twice through the air.
*Super Bowl XV: Rod Martin, DB Oakland
Jim Plunkett, I know you played a great game. But it’s a crime that defensive back Rod Martin, who had a remarkable three interceptions, didn’t win MVP of Super Bowl XV.
Super Bowl X: L.C. Greenwood, LB Pittsburgh
I feel like I’ve said the phrase “tied a Super Bowl record with three sacks” at least a couple times already. What’s ironic, though, is that if sacks were recorded during the 1970’s, Hall of Fame defensive end L.C. Greenwood would’ve been credited with four takedowns of Roger Staubach during the Steelers’ second Super Bowl victory.
*Super Bowl III: Matt Snell, RB New York
It’s unusual to think that a quarterback won Super Bowl MVP without throwing a touchdown pass, as Joe Namath did in III. But I suppose after you deliver on a poolside conversation saying your team will pull off an upset as an eighteen point underdog, then you’re a deserving choice. I’d still like to recognize Snell, though, because he was the best player on the field for the Jets in Super Bowl III. He rushed for 121 yards on 30 carries and scored New York’s only touchdown.
Last but not least, the granddaddy of all non-Super Bowl MVP’s…
*Super Bowl I: Max McGee, WR Green Bay
The story behind McGee’s performance in Super Bowl I is even more legendary than the performance itself. Long story short, the reserve receiver, who caught only four passes during that year’s regular season, was essentially hungover for this game. He even told the starting receiving in front of him, “I hope you don’t get hurt. I’m not in very good shape.” As luck would have it, that receiver separated his shoulder early in the first quarter, forcing McGee–who didn’t even bring his helmet onto the field with him!– into the game.
Somehow, McGee finished with a staggering 138 receiving yards (remember, this was in 1967) and two touchdowns. Bart Starr might have finished as the game’s MVP, but it was McGee who was the real legend.