July 11, 2019

The Larry Browns of Super Bowl M.V.P.s

Chasing the Ghost, Harv Aronson, American Football

When a player in the National Football League reaches the Super Bowl with his respective team and then wins the game’s Most Valuable Player Award is it a case of that player having the game of his life or how often does one of the league’s best players actually win the M.V.P.?

Most of the time, the winner of the award is, in fact, one of the best players in the NFL. But on some occasions, a player simply has one great game that garners him the coveted Super Bowl M.V.P. In Super Bowl XXX, the Pittsburgh Steelers were trying to hand the Dallas Cowboys their third consecutive league title loss when playing Pittsburgh.

The Cowboys were favored but when the final gun sounded, the game was closer than the final score. The final tally was 31-17 Dallas, but the Steelers led in nearly every offensive category. The M.V.P. was given to cornerback Larry Brown because thanks to Neil O’Donnell’s two terrible passing attempts that Brown picked off, he won the award. The two interceptions were almost a gift. Easy pickoffs that some even think O’Donnell may have purposely thrown because of how off-target they were. Regardless, the Cowboys won and Larry Brown became an instant star.

But looking back at Larry Brown’s career it appears he was on the side of good luck in Super Bowl XXX and didn’t have much success before or after that season. In the 1995 season, Brown had six interceptions two of which were pick-sixes. His career began in 1991 with Dallas and he was a 12th round draft selection, the 320th overall. His rookie season he had two interceptions.

The year before Dallas won that Super Bowl Brown had four picks. But from 1991 until he retired with the Cowboys in 1998, Brown amassed just four other interceptions. Take away his rookie season and the 10 interceptions he had from 1994-1995, and Larry Brown only had an additional two picks in five seasons.

Following his Super Bowl M.V.P. winning campaign, he never had less than 45 tackles on the field. Given his heroics of Super Bowl XXX, Brown signed with the Oakland Raiders the following season. There he played in just eight games and made just 22 tackles. A year later he was in just four games and had very little stats to record. His final season was back in Dallas where he played in just four games and made one tackle then his career was over just like that.

Is Brown the only player to win a Super Bowl M.V.P. and then have very little success in the league before or after? Certainly not. In 1991 the New York Giants won the Super Bowl by beating the Buffalo Bills 20-19 on the infamous Scott Norwood missed field goal at the end of the game that would have given the Bills their only Super Bowl triumph in history. The focus on that game was entirely on Norwood’s miss and continues to be to this day.

However, Super Bowl XXV’s M.V.P. went to Ottis Anderson, running back for the Giants who rushed for only 102 yards in that game and scored one touchdown. For Anderson, he had been in the NFL since 1979 where he got his start with the St. Louis Cardinals. He had been one of the league’s better rushers and ran for 784 yards scoring 11 times in that Super Bowl-winning year for New York.

But the M.V.P. award would be Ottis Anderson’s last taste of success because the following season he played in 10 games but finished the season with just 141 yards rushing on a single touchdown on the ground. The season after that, he appeared in 13 games and carried the ball just 10 times and his career was over.

A year after Larry Brown won the Super Bowl M.V.P., the Green Bay Packers became NFL champs when they defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. The Most Valuable Player for Green Bay was kick/punt return specialist Desmond Howard. Howard also played wide receiver in the NFL but in this championship game he was assigned solely to return punts and kicks and he had 10 opportunities to do so.

On four kickoff returns, Howard averaged 38.5 yards per return but that was on the strength of a 99 yarder that went to the house. On six punt returns, Desmond Howard averaged 15 yards per return. Those efforts won him the big award but what was the shape of his career before and after Super Bowl XXXI?

Coming out of the University of Michigan the Washington Redskins drafted Howard knowing he would be a return specialist. In his rookie season on 28 returns, he had one punt return touchdown. He would not reach the end zone again on a return until he had gone through Jacksonville for one season with the Jaguars then was on the roster of the Packers for the championship season.

In 1996 Howard led the league with 58 punt returns, three touchdowns, had the longest return of that season with a 92-yard romp, and had a league-best 15.1 average. He also had a mark of 20.9 on kickoff returns. Following his M.V.P. performance in the Super Bowl, he switched teams again moving to Oakland. With the Raiders in 1997, Desmond Howard’s punt returns diminished to 27 for the season but he did have the most kickoff returns in the NFL with 61. However, there was not a single touchdown scored on a return.

He would play one more season with the Raiders in 1998 and did score twice on punt returns but once the season concluded, his career began a downward spiral. He would play for two teams in 1999, Detroit and back to Green Bay a year that saw him score one return touchdown on 13 punt returns and 34 kick returns. Ironically, Howard is the only special teams player in Super Bowl history to win the M.V.P. award.

In 2000 with the Lions he scored the final touchdown of his career on a punt, returning it 95 yards but would have only 30 other punt returns focusing primarily on kick returns where he failed to score a touchdown. His final two seasons of his career and with Detroit saw no special teams touchdowns and only 31 punt returns. After 2002, Howard was out of football.

In 12 NFL seasons, Desmond Howard caught only 123 passes, so special teams were his M.O. In those 12 years aside from the three punt return touchdowns scored in 1996, Howard only reached the end zone five other times in the 11 other seasons. Ironically, he never scored a touchdown on a kick return in his career.

Most of the time in Super Bowl play, a quarterback, running back, or wide receiver will win the M.V.P. Award. A year after Scott Norwood’s awful field goal miss, the Bills were back in the big dance this time to face the Washington Redskins. Buffalo would lose again, this time by a not-so-close score of 37-24 and the game’s biggest award went to Washington quarterback Mark Rypien. Rypien’s stats in Super Bowl XXVI were not eye-opening with 18 completions in 33 attempts good for 292 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw one interception. But he was named M.V.P. and that season of 1991 he led Washington to a 14-2 record.

The following season the Redskins dropped to 9-7 and Rypien’s numbers began to drop. In 1993, it was his final season in Washington that began in 1988 and he played in just 12 games starting 10. He threw for just over 1,500 yards and only four touchdowns after never having less than 10 in a season.

In 1994, Rypien went to the Cleveland Browns where he played in just six games and started just three. Trying to stay in the league he shifted to the St. Louis Rams in 1995 where he played in 11 games but again started just three with very minimal numbers. Two more seasons followed with the Eagles and back with the Rams before he retired in 1998 only to try to make a comeback with the Indianapolis Colts in 2001 where he played in just four games starting none and had switched his uniform number from 11 to 16 and then when the season was over Rypien retired for good.

Finally, we have Super Bowl XLIII where the M.V.P. went to Pittsburgh’s Santonio Holmes in the Steelers 27-23 defeat of the Arizona Cardinals. The season leading up to the big show was 2008 and Holmes had been with the Steelers for just three seasons including the championship year. He was establishing himself as a premier wide receiver and against the Cardinals he made one of the greatest touchdown grabs in the history of the Super Bowl, perhaps the best ever.

Holmes would play one more season with the Steelers and while productive on the field with Pittsburgh, his off-the-field issues raised red flags with the Steelers coaching staff and front office and by 2010 he was an ex-Steeler and a new member of the New York Jets. Santonio Holmes would catch 103 passes in his first two seasons wearing green and white but then his numbers dipped dramatically beginning in 2012 when he played in just four games and caught only 20 passes. In 2013 he would start 13 games but he managed just 23 receptions and only 456 yards receiving. 2014 would be his final season and it was with the Chicago Bears where he played in only nine games and caught just eight passes.

The majority of Super Bowl M.V.P.s are players who had great and stellar careers. Among the Super Bowl Most Valuable Players are Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Bart Starr, Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, Drew Brees, and Jerry Rice of days gone by just to name a few. But then there are a handful of players such as the ones named in this story that will lay their legacy on that one trophy they have sitting in their house, the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award.


Harv Aronson
Harv Aronson

Harvard Avenue Sports