It’s almost time for another Super Bowl. As we scrounge up money from our Christmas-depleted bank accounts to bet on the big game, our thoughts inevitably turn to playoffs and Super Bowls from long, long ago. Winning a championship trophy isn’t everything, but great Super Bowl play can rocket any player, especially a quarterback, to legendary status. Some Hall of Fame quarterbacks get in because they win Super Bowls. Others get voted in even though they miss every available Super Bowl opportunity.
Let’s think about the Hall of Fame QBs who delivered on the championship gridiron — and those who went home empty-handed. Is it enough to be great every day if you don’t deliver in the big moments? That’s for the voters to decide.
If you needed a QB you could count on for Super Bowl Sunday, you could always trust Joe Cool. His most memorable performance came during Super Bowl XXIII, when he delivered an incredible win for the 49ers, who were down 16-13 with just 3:20 left.
Montana, as he got his players into the huddle, wasn’t consumed by the big moment. He looked up into the stands and said to his guys, “Isn’t that John Candy?” And then, with his characteristic Montana magic, he pushed the 49ers 92 yards down the field. With 34 seconds left, he threw the touchdown pass to John Taylor, and the 49ers won, 20-13.
Long before this loveable Louisiana native became one of America’s favorite sportscasters, Terry Bradshaw led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl rings and eight AFC championships. Nicknamed L’il Abner and dismissed as a dumb hick for a good portion of his career (Dallas Cowboy Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson once said that Terry Bradshaw was so dumb he couldn’t spell “cat” if you spotted him the “C” and the “A”), Bradshaw let his performance speak for him.
In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XIII, Bradshaw had just been roughed up by Henderson, and he was nursing a bruised shoulder. He knew that the Cowboys expected him to pass, so he called a quick trap to RB Franco Harris. Harris ran for the touchdown, and the Cowboys never recovered. The Steelers won 35-31, and MVP Bradshaw (who also got NFL Player of the Year honors) passed for 318 yards and four touchdowns.
Troy Aikman’s undefeated Super Bowl record (XXVII, XXVIII, and XXX) and his three consecutive 3,000-yard-plus seasons made him a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame. Aikman suffered a concussion the NFC Championship before Super Bowl XXVIII and says that he hardly remembers playing in the big game. Fortunately, the Cowboys took advantage of Emmitt Smith’s incredible running and some free gifts — in the form of turnovers — from the Buffalo Bills.
Super Bowl loser Fran Tarkenton told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 2013 that he was the greatest QB who ever played. Although he does say that Peyton Manning is close to his caliber — “I give him a 1b.”
Tarkenton doesn’t hesitate to trash talk today’s up-and-comers, and he implies that the NFL tolerates bad behavior (e.g., Adrian Peterson) because the players are African-American. Too bad we can’t cram a few Super Bowl rings into his big mouth to quiet him down. In the end, he’ll be known for his bloviating as much as for his career.
Four Super Bowl appearances, but no trophy. That legacy might have dogged Jim Kelly forever had he not impressed us so much off the field.
America watched Kelly lose his 8-year-old son, Hunter, to a rare genetic disorder. Then, we watched Kelly go through two bouts of oral cancer. Unlike Tarkenton, Kelly has shown class and grace off the gridiron. He might not have a Super Bowl ring, but he has our respect.
Super Bowl XLIX
So will this year’s Super Bowl feature a matchup between the Patriots and the Packers, the Cowboys and the Colts, or a rematch pitting the Seahawks against the Broncos? It’s too early to tell, but there is one sure bet: No Hall of Fame berth feels complete for a quarterback without a Super Bowl ring on his finger.