Super Bowl Quarterbacks Special: Every Super Bowl QB Matchup Ranked 1-46

Two weeks between the NFC and AFC Championship games and the Super Bowl seems like way too long.

I’m a Packers fan, so I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. Last season, I could not wait for the Super Bowl to come, the anticipation building each and every day.

This season? I can’t wait for it to be over.

Super Bowl Quarterbacks

The one thing that the down time between the games does provide is time to analyze and break down individual matchups, specifically at quarterback.

This year’s Super Bowl QB matchup, between Tom Brady and Eli Manning and their four combined rings, is a great one. It’s perhaps one of the most highly anticipated QB matchups in Super Bowl history.

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Super Bowl quarterbacks Tom Brady and Eli Manning (Charles Krupa, AP)

But where does Eli-Brady XLVI rank all time?

What I’m going to do is rank all 46 quarterback match-ups in the history of the Super Bowl, based on what the stature of each quarterback was entering the game. I’ll look at where each quarterback was at the moment we are in right now, before the game, rather than how they were viewed after it.

The rankings here are based on the build-up to the Super Bowl, not the game itself.  For example, last season Aaron Rodgers was a still-unproven quarterback looking to break out of Brett Favre’s shadow, not the Super Bowl champion, MVP-caliber quarterback he is today. I’ll also put the most stock in previous Super Bowl experience as well as recent individual play. Make sense?  Let’s get started.

(And I won’t rank my hypothetical Aaron Rodgers vs. TJ Yates match-up, although it obviously would have been No. 1.)

Super Bowl QB Matchups: The 8 Greatest

#1 – Super Bowl XIX: Joe Montana (49ers) vs. Dan Marino (Dolphins)

The 15-1 49ers were making their second Super Bowl appearance in four years under Montana,  while Marino had one of the greatest statistical seasons ever, throwing for a then-record 5,084 yards that stood for over 25 years.

This matchup was the ultimate combination of proven Super Bowl success (Montana’s ’81 Super Bowl), superlative statistical success (Marino’s record, just broken this year), rising star power, and quarterback swagger.

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First (and only) time Super Bowl quarterback Dan Marino v Super Bowl QB legend Joe Montana

Montana v Marino may not have been the most decorated QB matchup in NFL history going into the game, but it was certainly one of the most intriguing. I say the most intriguing ever.

#2 – Super Bowl XXXII: Brett Favre (Green Bay) vs. John Elway (Denver)

Looking at this match-up in it’s context, it’s just incredible.

Favre was coming off his third MVP season, with 3,867 yards and 35 touchdowns, as well as a Super Bowl victory the previous year. Elway, then 37, was at the tail end of his career, but still was considered one of the premier quarterbacks in the league.

This was the Broncos’ fourth of five Super Bowl appearances under Elway, having lost three in the first decade-plus of his career. It was the MVP gunslinger looking to repeat against the future Hall of Famer, making it great, but only good for second-best.

 #3 – Super Bowl XIII: Terry Bradshaw (Steelers) vs. Roger Staubach (Cowboys)

Bradshaw not only had two Super Bowl wins on his resume, but he also had an MVP season in 1978. To win his third Super Bowl, Bradshaw would have to lead the Steelers past two-time Super Bowl winner Roger Staubach and the defending champion Cowboys, who had just rolled over the Rams 28-0 in the NFC championship game.

Very close to being a top-two game, and lost out by the slimmest of margins.

#4 – Super Bowl XXIV: Joe Montana (49ers) vs. John Elway (Broncos)

Montana already had three Super Bowl wins on his resume, while Elway was finally looking to break through in the win column after losing his first two.

Montana won the MVP that season as the Niners went 14-2; Elway threw for 385 yards against Cleveland in the AFC Championship to lead Denver to its third Super Bowl in four years.

The result was a lopsided San Fran win (55-10) but the quarterback match-up heading into the game was among the best ever.

#5 – Super Bowl I: Bart Starr (Packers) vs. Len Dawson (Chiefs)

It may have been just the first championship game pitting the AFL champion against the NFL champion, but it by no means the beginning of Starr’s and Dawson’s careers. Dawson was the top rated passer in the AFL that season as well as the 1962 AFL MVP, while Starr had led the Packers to three of the previous five NFL championships.

Both went on to be Hall of Famers, and having the first Super Bowl feature such great talent helped pave the way for the growth of the NFL.

#6 – Super Bowl X: Terry Bradshaw (Steelers) vs. Roger Staubach (Cowboys)

Both quarterbacks were Super Bowl champions at this point, but their rematch three years later was a bit more anticipated. Aren’t they always?

#7 – Super Bowl XXVII: Troy Aikman (Cowboys) vs. Jim Kelly (Bills)

This matchup was a repeat of the year before, and it was Kelly’s fourth straight Super Bowl appearance, while Aikman had earned Super Bowl MVP honors the season before.

The question was whether or not Dallas would be able to repeat, as Aikman had played phenomenally in the NFC Championship game against San Francisco but had left the game with a concussion. Kelly was clearly playing at a high level, as Buffalo had gone 12-4 that season, but the question remained whether he would finally be able to win the big one.

#8 – Super Bowl XLVI: Tom Brady (Patriots) vs. Eli Manning (Giants)

This is where I think this year’s Super Bowl quarterback matchup ranks.

There are obviously plenty of people talking about it, especially since it’s the rematch of Super Bowl 42. It is Brady’s chance to cement himself as one of the top-3 quarterbacks of all time, while a win for Eli could push him into permanent elite conversation.

All-Time Super Bowl Quarterback Matchups Poll

Let’s take a quick poll break. The top 8 pretty much has it all: both of the Staubach-Bradshaw matchups, one each of the Aikman-Kelly and Brady-Manning matchups, as well as legends like Montana, Marino, Favre, Elway, Starr, and Dawson.

You’ve seen my top 8. Which one do you think should be #1?

Which Super Bowl quarterback matchup, going into the Big Game, was the greatest of all-time?

View Results

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Super Bowl QB Matchups: The Best Of The Rest

#9 – Super Bowl VIII: Bob Griese (Dolphins) vs. Fran Tarkenton (Vikings)

Griese led Miami, in the year after he led the Dolphins to a perfect season, to a third straight Super Bowl appearance, the first team to accomplish such a feat. Minnesota was perhaps better known for the “Purple People Eaters” on defense, they did feature Fran Tarkenton, a future Hall-of-Famer in his own right.

#10 – Super Bowl XXIII: Joe Montana (49ers) vs. Boomer Esiason (Bengals)

While Montana had the 49ers in the Super Bowl for the third time in eight seasons, it was Esiason who was the league MVP in 1988. The game was good too, with Montana leading San Fran on the “Joe Cool” drive to win the game.

#11 – Super Bowl XI: Ken Stabler (Raiders) vs. Fran Tarkenton (Vikings)

Tarkenton was the headliner of this matchup, who at age 36 had led the Vikings to their third Super Bowl in four years. But Stabler led Oakland to a 15-1 record entering the game, and The Snake had also won the MVP just two years prior, in 1974.

#12 – Super Bowl XLIII: Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) vs. Kurt Warner (Cardinals)

Another instance of two previous Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks competing against each other.

Roethlisberger had Pittsburgh in its second Super Bowl in four years, but Warner, in his third Super Bowl appearance, was the story. He had to earn the starting job from Matt Leinart and had Arizona in the playoffs at just 9-7. He played spectacular in the playoffs, however, leading the Cardinals to 30-plus points in each of the three playoff games up to that point.

#13 – Super Bowl XLIV: Drew Brees (Saints) vs. Peyton Manning (Colts)

Brees-Manning was perhaps the better straight quarterback match-up than Roethlisberger-Warner the season before, but this was Brees’ first appearance in a Super Bowl, so he did not have the stature he does now.

Still, Manning was the MVP that season, and Brees was no slouch, throwing for 4,338 yards and had a passer rating of 109.6, so this was a highly anticipated matchup between two prolific quarterbacks.

#14 – Super Bowl XXVII: Troy Aikman (Cowboys) vs. Jim Kelly (Bills)

Aikman’s first Super Bowl, Kelly’s third straight. Better the next year.

#15 – Super Bowl IX: Terry Bradshaw (Steelers) vs. Fran Tarkenton (Vikings)

Perhaps the best defensive matchup ever, featuring the Steel Curtain against the Purple People Eaters, but Tarkenton was in his second straight Super Bowl and Bradshaw was in the middle of his Hall of Fame career.

#16 – Super Bowl XXVIII: Jim Plunkett (Raiders) vs. Joe Theismann (Redskins)

Maybe not the most elite of matchups from a name value perspective, but both already had a Super Bowl win on their resume entering the game, which had only happened twice to date.

#17 – Super Bowl XXXIX: Tom Brady (Patriots) vs. Donovan McNabb (Eagles)

Brady was playing in his third Super Bowl in four years against a perennial Pro Bowler in McNabb playing in his first.

#18 – Super Bowl XLVI: Eli Manning (Giants) vs. Tom Brady (Patriots)

The build-up was there based on the Patriots being 18-0 at the time, but there were serious doubts about Eli Manning. Why does everybody doubt this kid again?

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Eli Manning finally earned some respect by leading the Giants to a Super Bowl 42 upset of New England. He can gain even more respect on Sunday.

#19 – Super Bowl VI: Roger Staubach (Cowboys) vs. Bob Griese (Dolphins)

The first Super Bowl appearance for each of these quarterbacks, at least one of whom would appear in five of the next seven Super Bowls.

#20 – Super Bowl XLV: Aaron Rodgers (Packers) vs. Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)

This ranking is actually based of it being Roethlisberger’s third Super Bowl appearance, and it came in the midst of Rodgers’ ascendance to one of the game’s elite, but he wasn’t truly there until this game was played.

#21 – Super Bowl II: Bart Starr (Packers) vs. Daryle Lamonica (Raiders)

Lamonica was that season’s (1967) AFL MVP, and that Starr guy was pretty good too.

#22 – Super Bowl XXXI: Brett Favre (Packers) vs. Drew Bledsoe (Patriots)

The two had combined for six Pro Bowls plus two MVPs, both of which were awarded to Favre, including his second straight in 1996.

#23 – Super Bowl XXI: Phil Simms (Giants) vs. John Elway (Broncos)

This was Elway’s first Super Bowl, on the heels of The Drive, but the Broncos ran into Simms’ 14-2 Giants, better known for the Lawrence Taylor-led defense.

 #24 – Super Bowl XVI: Joe Montana (49ers) vs. Ken Anderson (Bengals)

Both were young quarterbacks coming into their own, and while Montana would eventually win four Super Bowls, Anderson was the 1981 MVP.

#25 – Super Bowl XXX: Troy Aikman (Cowboys) vs. Neil O’Donnell (Steelers)

Aikman’s third appearance in four years, while O’Donnell was an effective manager of 11-5 Pittsburgh, throwing for just under 3,000 yards and 17 touchdowns against just seven interceptions.

#26 – Super Bowl XII: Roger Staubach (Cowboys) vs. Craig Morton (Broncos)

Both quarterbacks’ second Super Bowl appearance, with Staubach leading Dallas to the win in Super Bowl VI and Morton coming up short for those same Cowboys in Super Bowl V.

#27 – Super Bowl XXVI: Mark Rypien (Redskins) vs. Jim Kelly (Bills)

Kelly was making his second straight Super Bowl appearance, while Rypien led the NFC in passer rating at 97.9 with protection from “The Hogs”.

#28 – Super Bowl XXXIII: John Elway (Broncos) vs. Chris Chandler (Falcons)

Chandler led the Falcons to a surprising 14-2, but Elway’s fifth Super Bowl appearance, and second straight, was the talk.

#29 – Super Bowl XXXIX: Steve Young (49ers) vs. Stan Humphries (Chargers)

Humphries had the surprise Chargers in the Super Bowl, but this was about Steve Young finally getting his shot at a title and monkey off his back.

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Steve Young finally became a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and emerged from Joe Montana's considerable shadow with a historic performance against the Chargers.

#30 – Super Bowl VII: Bob Griese (Dolphins) vs. Billy Kilmer (Redskins)

Griese was looking to avenge the Super Bowl loss and did so with a perfect Dolphins team; and then there was Billy Kilmer, and you don’t know who he is either.

#31 – Super Bowl III: Joe Namath (Jets) vs. Earl Morrall (Colts)

Namath’s guarantee is famous, but he was a slightly-above-average quarterback on the field despite his star power, while Morrall was filling in for an injured Johnny Unitas.

#32  - Super Bowl XIV: Terry Bradshaw (Steelers) vs. Vince Ferragamo (Rams)

Ferragamo was a back-up for Pat Haden and was not great, bringing down the fact that Bradshaw was playing in his fourth Super Bowl.

#33 – Super Bowl XV: Jim Plunkett (Raiders) vs. Ron Jaworski (Eagles)

Two quarterbacks you remember being as better as they actually were.

#34 – Super Bowl IV: Len Dawson (Chiefs) vs. Joe Kapp (Vikings)

Three years after losing to Bart Starr, Dawson finally got his win.

#35 – Super Bowl XXII: Doug Williams (Redskins) vs. John Elway (Broncos)

Williams was fortunate to have a loaded Redskins team, while Elway had Denver in the Super Bowl for a second straight year.

#36 – Super Bowl XXXIV: Kurt Warner (Rams) vs. Steve McNair (Titans)

Warner was the engineer of the “Greatest Show on Turf,” but Eddie George was the main threat for Tennessee.

#37 – Super Bowl XXXVI: Tom Brady (Patriots) vs. Kurt Warner (Rams)

2001 Tom Brady was just the guy who took over for Drew Bledsoe, not the 2012 Tom Brady he is today.

#38 – Super Bowl XL: Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) vs. Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks)

Big Ben was still somewhat unproven in his second year, and while Hasselbeck was efficient for Seattle, MVP Shaun Alexander was the driving force.

#39 – Super Bowl XXV: Jeff Hostetler (Giants) vs. Jim Kelly (Bills)

Only Kelly’s first Super Bowl, and Hostetler was an injury replacement for Phil Simms.

#40 – Super Bowl V: Johnny Unitas (Colts) vs. Craig Morton (Cowboys)

Unitas was 37, and Morton was in a QB controversy all season with Roger Staubach.

#41 – Super Bowl XLI: Peyton Manning (Colts) vs. Rex Grossman (Bears)

Peyton finally got to his first Super Bowl, but this match-up is dragged waaaaay down by Sexy Rexy.

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In Rex's defense, the weather was awful and Peyton Manning didn't play particularly well either.

#42 – Super Bowl XXXVIII: Tom Brady (Patriots) vs. Jake Delhomme (Panthers)

Brady was going for two out of three, but he was facing the Panthers, who made it on the strength of their running game.

#43- Super Bowl  XVII: Joe Theismann (Redskins) vs. David Woodley (Dolphins)

Theismann wasn’t great, and Woodley wasn’t anybody.

#44 – Super Bowl XXXVII: Brad Johnson (Buccaneers) vs. Rich Gannon (Raiders)

Gannon was the MVP, but the Bucs were all about defense.

#45 – Super Bowl XXXV: Trent Dilfer (Ravens) vs. Kerry Collins (Giants)

Most people’s worst match-up, but only second-worst for me.

#46 – Super Bowl XX:  Jim McMahon (Bears) vs. Tony Eason (Patriots)

Eason had more interceptions than touchdowns in the regular season, while the Bears had Payton, Singletary and the Fridge, and McMahon was largely an afterthought outside his persona and sunglasses.

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So there are the rankings. 1-46. Every Super Bowl quarterback matchup ever.

The question now, as it was when we ranked the 13 best Super Bowl plays of all-time, and when we ranked the 10 best Super Bowl commercials of all-time, is what choices do you agree/disagree with? What did we get right, and what did we get wrong?

That’s what the comment section is for. Chime in below!



About Chris Callaway

Chris lives and works in La Crosse, Wisconsin, working primarily on-air while doing some writing as well. He is a part-owner of the Green Bay Packers, a Milwaukee Brewers die-hard, learning hockey while supporting the Minnesota Wild, and is also a fan of the Wisconsin Badgers and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow him on twitter @ccallaway33.

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