It’s the Super Bowl, the best against the best. Each team has superstars littered across their lineups, you look into the stands and see their jerseys everywhere. It’s the superstars that play at the highest level that win you games but sometimes on the biggest stage players have come out of nowhere to be household names. These players go from being only known by the die-hard fans to household names. Here are my top 10 breakthrough Super Bowl performances.
It was Butler’s game winning interception of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with just 26 seconds left. That shot him into worldwide fame, Butler made the play of his life to help the Patriots win Super Bowl XLIX. He became a starting cornerback for the Patriots the season after, he would help them beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Controversially he was benched during Super Bowl LII versus the Eagles, increasing his status even more. He’s since made the move to Tennessee to play for the Titans, earning a 5-year $61 million contract. However, for Butler he will always be known for his goal line interception to win Super bowl XLIX.
I doubt many people outside of Foxborough knew who James White was prior to Super Bowl LI. But with a performance worthy of MVP, White put himself into the public eye. He scored a crazy 20 points by himself, with 3 touchdowns and a two-point conversion. His 14 receptions broke the Super Bowl record. Despite him not winning MVP, Tom Brady who did thought White’s efforts were so crucial that he gave him his MVP prize of a pickup truck. White became known by fans and people all across the league after he scored the winning touchdown in the first overtime Super Bowl. He helped complete the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
It was 2013 and the ‘Legion of Boom’ was at its peak. The Seattle Seahawks defence was loud, tough and historically great. Something they weren’t afraid to tell you about. With star players like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner and Michael Bennett on the team. It seemed destined for one of them to win Super Bowl MVP; But in a game that was over by the first quarter due to their dominance. It was unsung linebacker Malcom Smith who took a deflected Peyton Manning pass back for a 69 yards for a touchdown, had nine tackles and fumble recovery, who took home the award. Smith won the award and was put on every talk show and box of cereal in America, but since then he’s had injury issues and moved teams.
He was picked number 1 in the 2004 NFL draft, is the younger brother to one of the best players of all time and plays for one of the biggest teams in America the New York Giants. So, you’d have thought that Eli Manning was already a big time NFL player but on the contrary, he was known for his mistakes and being not as good as Peyton. But this all changed in Super Bowl XLII when Manning won the Super Bowl, Super Bowl MVP and defeated the previously undefeated New England Patriots. His miracle play for David Tyree’s ‘Helmet Catch’ has now become the most famous play in Super Bowl history. This win by Manning was his breakthrough into becoming a respected and clutch NFL quarterback not simply known as Peyton’s little brother.
As a 2nd round rookie safety out of Indiana, big things were expected of him. But a wrist injury he suffered just five games into his rookie season sent him to Injured Reserve and his missed the rest of the season. As the next rolled around, not having played much as a rookie because of his injury he wasn’t at the fore front of New Orleans Saints’ fans minds when thinking about the team. He certainly wasn’t known outside of the ‘Big Easy’ but as his play got better and better. For example, he forced a fumble and got an interception in the NFC Championship against the Minnesota Vikings. He became more widely recognized. However, it was his game sealing pick six of Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV that gave the Saints their first ever Super Bowl. It was particularly special for the Saints as it came just years after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
It was 31st January 1988 when 5th round rookie Timmy Smith had the game of his life catapulting him into NFL lore. His performance was incredible, he rushed for a Super Bowl record 204 yards as well as two touchdowns in the Washington Redskins 42-10 win in Super Bowl XXII. It was such a breakthrough because it was Smith’s first ever start in an NFL game, previously he’d come in to take some snaps in order to let starter George Rodgers rest. But when Rodgers suffered an injury, head coach Joe Gibbs decided that Smith would play in the Super Bowl. However, due to his fear that Smith would become overwhelmed with fear if he told him in the week before that he was starting in the Super Bowl. Gibbs left it until the warmups of the game. Smith afterwards, never replicated his Super Bowl form, sustaining injuries, suspensions. He would be out of the NFL by the 1990 season.
Sometimes a breakthrough Super Bowl performance where you become known nationwide isn’t for the best. Scott Norwood knows first-hand about that. With just 8 seconds left, his team the Buffalo Bills down by a point. Norwood came out to attempt the game winning field goal from 47 yards out. The ball was snapped, Norwood kicked the ball and it just missed the uprights. With play being immortalized by the TV call “Wide Right”. From then on in his career and in life that’s all that Norwood has been remembered for, with the 1994 film Ace Ventura, creating a pot point around a fake kicker doing the same thing as Norwood. Proving that despite his team losing it was Norwood’s breakthrough performance.
Williams is one of the most important players in NFL history. He was the first African-American quarterback to play in the Super Bowl. That would be enough to cement his name in NFL folklore forever, but what Williams did during Super Bowl XXII was incredible. He led the Redskins to a 42-10 win over the Denver Broncos by throwing for 340 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He became the first quarterback to throw for four touchdowns in a quarter and a half in a Super Bowl. With this performance he won Super Bowl MVP, breaking down barriers and stereotypes for every African-American quarterback after him.
As the greatest return man of all time, holding the NFL record for most return touchdowns in a season and most special teams return touchdowns ever. Hester showed off his skills instantaneously during his rookie season as he had five return touchdowns. He was then in his second season a marked man with the whole NFL knowing his outrageous skills. But still teams kicked his way and he had 5 return touchdowns during the regular season. As he was part of a Bears team which was led by a strong defence and special teams, that made it all the way to Super Bowl XLI. It was here on the very first play of the Super Bowl that Hester cemented his legacy. He took the opening kick-off of the Super Bowl back for a 92-yard touchdown. It was the first time that had ever happened in Super Bowl history and hasn’t happened since. Despite his heroics, the Bears would go on to lose against the Colts. It made Hester a nationwide sensation, with it undoubtedly in my mind the go to play for his soon to be Hall of Fame induction.