USA Today

Careers, especially for quarterbacks, are often defined by performances in big moments. For a select group of quarterbacks, their performances in Super Bowls have vaulted their careers in ways both tangible and intangible. 

Some quarterbacks were key focal points of dynasties. Others were one-hit wonders who made the most of their day in the sun. A handful of quarterbacks made their fame by leading their teams to historic Super Bowl upsets. For two quarterbacks, their success in Super Bowls prompted many to declare them the greatest of all-time. 

While dozens of quarterbacks have started in Super Bowls, a handful of them left a unique mark that has added to the Super Bowl becoming the spectacle that it is today. With Super Bowl LVII on the horizon, here's a look at the 15 greatest quarterbacks in Super Bowl history, with a honorable mention to boot. Also, be sure to click here to see a ranking of the greatest single-game performances by Super Bowl quarterbacks, which will be updated at the conclusion of Super Bowl LVII. 

Listed below was the criteria that was used when making the list: 

  • Super Bowl appearances
  • Performance in Super Bowls 
  • MVPs won
  • Records set
  • Significance (or lasting impact) of performance(s)
  • Strength of opponent

Honorable mention: Bob Griese, Dolphins

  • 2x Super Bowl champion (2-0 record)
  • 1st QB to start in three consecutive Super Bowls 

You can't have an all-time Super Bowl QB list without the quarterback who led the NFL's only perfect team. Miami's play-caller and quarterback, Griese made key throws in the Dolphins' back-to-back Super Bowl wins over Washington and Minnesota. 

In Super Bowl VII, Griese's 18-yard completion to Paul Warfield set up his 28-yard touchdown pass to Howard Twilley to give the Dolphins an early lead they wouldn't relinquish. His 27-yard strike to Warfield in Super Bowl VIII set up the final score in a 24-7 win. Griese completed all but one of his seven attempts against the Vikings while setting a Super Bowl record for fewest passing attempts by a starting quarterback. 

15. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

  • 2x Super Bowl champion (2-1 record)

One of 12 quarterbacks to start in at least three Super Bowls, Roethlisberger led one of the most iconic game-winning drives in Super Bowl history. Roethlisberger capped off the 88-yard drive with his unforgettable touchdown pass to game MVP Santonio Holmes as Pittsburgh edged Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII. 

Roethlisberger struggled in his first Super Bowl three years earlier, but he still made an impact while becoming the youngest starting quarterback to win the Super Bowl. He scored the game's first touchdown on a short run that was set up by his 37-yard completion to game MVP Hines Ward on a third-and-28 play in Super Bowl XL.

14. Phil Simms, Giants

  • Super Bowl XXI MVP 
  • Holds Super Bowl record for highest single-game completion percentage 

One of the '80s most underrated players, Simms' near flawless performance in Super Bowl XXI is a lasting testament to his passing prowess. He completed a whopping 88% of his throws (22 of 25) in a 39-20 win over the Broncos. Simms threw three touchdowns in the win and was a perfect 10 of 10 passing in the second half. 

13. Steve Young, 49ers

  • Super Bowl XXIX MVP 
  • Holds Super Bowl record for single-game passing TDs

Joe Montana's backup for two Super Bowl wins, Young enjoyed a game for the ages in his lone Super Bowl start. He shredded a talented Chargers defense to the tune of 325 yards and a still-standing record of six touchdown passes. Young also led both teams with 49 yards on the ground. 

12. Joe Namath, Jets 

  • Super Bowl III MVP 
  • Quarterbacked the greatest upset in Super Bowl history

Namath's career is largely defined by his role in helping author the Jets' historic win over Colts as nearly 20-point underdogs. Namath, who boldly guaranteed a victory prior to kickoff, backed up his claim by playing a near perfect game against a Baltimore defense that had wreaked havoc on the NFL's top quarterbacks. Knowing the Colts would blanket future Hall of Fame wideout Don Maynard, Namath threw instead to George Sauer Jr., who set then-Super Bowl records with eight receptions for 133 yards. 

With victory nearly in hand, Namath spent the entire fourth quarter handing the ball to running backs Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer, as the Jets became the first AFL team to win the Super Bowl. 

11. Jim Plunkett, Raiders

  • 2x Super Bowl champion (2-0 record) 
  • Super Bowl XV MVP 

A decade after being the No. 1 overall pick, Plunkett resurrected his career after an injury forced him into the Raiders' starting lineup during the 1980 season. The then-33-year-old Plunkett took full advantage of his opportunity by helping the Raiders become the first wild-card team to win the Super Bowl. He won MVP honors on the strength of his three touchdown passes against the favored Eagles in Super Bowl XV. Plunkett's 80-yard touchdown pass to Kenny King was at the time the longest play in Super Bowl history. 

Underdogs again in Super Bowl XVIII, Plunkett played an integral role in one of the most shocking results in Super Bowl history. After a special teams score gave the Raiders early momentum, Plunkett's 50-yard bomb to Cliff Branch set up the duo's 12-yard touchdown connection as Los Angeles streaked out to a 14-0 lead. Washington, the defending champion, never recovered and was on the short end of a 38-9 final score. 

10. Kurt Warner, Rams/Cardinals

  • Super Bowl XXXIV MVP 
  • Started in three Super Bowls for two different teams 
  • First QB to throw for 400 yards in a Super Bowl 

If not for two late game-winning drives by two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Warner would have three Super Bowls rings and would be much higher on this list. But Warner still cracked the top-10 after re-writing the Super Bowl record book and authoring his own late-game heroics in the Super Bowl he did win. 

Following his breakout 1999 regular season, Warner's 73-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce proved to be the game-winning score in Super Bowl XXXIV. Warner's 414 yards that day stood as the Super Bowl record until Tom Brady broke it 17 years later. 

Warner's 365 yards in Super Bowl XXXVI and 377 yards in Super Bowl XLIII were at the time the second- and third-highest single-game totals in Super Bowl history. In defeat, Warner led late-game charges in his last two Super Bowls. He scored two late touchdowns in both games before falling victim to last-minute heroics by Brady and Ben Roethlisberger

9. Peyton Manning, Colts/Broncos

  • 2x Super Bowl champion (2-2 record)
  • Super Bowl XLI MVP
  • 1st starting QB to win Super Bowls with two teams 

One of six quarterbacks to start in at least four Super Bowls, Manning was also the first QB to win Super Bowls with two franchises until Tom Brady joined that exclusive club. 

Manning's performance in rainy conditions against the Bears is one of the most under-appreciated MVP performances in Super Bowl history. While he did complete a 53-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne, Manning wisely spent the majority of the night dissecting Chicago's talented defense with short passes. His favorite target that night was running Dominic Rhodes, who caught each of his 10 targets. 

In his final game, Manning played well enough to help the Broncos upset the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. He had three completions of 22 yards or longer on two Denver scoring drives. Manning then helped ice the Broncos' 24-10 win by completing a two-point conversion that ended up being the final throw of his Hall of Fame career.

8. Bart Starr, Packers

  • 2x Super Bowl champion (2-0 record)
  • 2x Super Bowl MVP 

The only quarterback in the modern passing era to win three straight NFL titles, Starr is also the proud owner of the first two Super Bowl MVP awards. His 250 passing yards in Super Bowl I was the single-game mark until Terry Bradshaw eclipsed it in Super Bowl XIII. Starr, facing a formidable Chiefs defense, threw a pair of touchdown passes to Max McGee in Green Bay's 35-10 win. 

Starr set the tempo early in Super Bowl II, as his 62-yard scoring heave to Boyd Dowler gave the Packers an early 13-0 lead en route to a 33-14 win over Oakland. Super Bowl II was the fifth and final title for Vince Lombardi's Packers, who were 9-1 in the playoffs with Starr as their starting quarterback. 

7. Roger Staubach, Cowboys

  • 2x Super Bowl champion (2-2 record)
  • Super Bowl VI MVP 

The first quarterback to start in four Super Bowls, Staubach won MVP honors in the Cowboys' first Super Bowl win. He threw a pair of touchdowns against Miami's "No Name" defense while going a perfect 13-0 as Dallas' starting quarterback that season. 

Six years later, Staubach tamed Denver's "Orange Crush" defense while helping the Cowboys win their second Super Bowl. His 45-yard touchdown strike to Butch Johnson contributed to the Cowboys' 27-10 triumph. 

Staubach also had gamely performances in two close Super Bowl losses to Pittsburgh. His late touchdown pass set up a Hail Mary heave on his the final play of Dallas' 21-17 loss in Super Bowl X. Trailing the Steelers, 35-17, late in Super Bowl XIII, Staubach led two late scoring drives before coming up just short. 

6. Eli Manning, Giants

  • 2x Super Bowl champion (2-0 record)
  • 2x Super Bowl MVP

You can't talk Super Bowls without talking about Manning, who led the Giants to the NFL's biggest upset since the Colts' upset win over the Jets in Super Bowl III. Manning's poise and performance against the then-undefeated Patriots helped produce one of the most memorable plays in NFL history. The play set up his game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress. 

Four years later, Manning foiled the Patriots again on the strength of his 38-yard dime to Mario Manningham that set up the game-winning score. 

5. Troy Aikman, Cowboys

  • 3x Super Bowl champion (3-0 record)
  • Super Bowl XXVII MVP 
  • 70% career Super Bowl completion percentage 
  • 1st QB to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span 

Aikman's stats in his last two Super Bowls don't jump off a page. But he made big throws in both games that helped the Cowboys solidify their dynasty. With Super Bowl XXVIII still up for grabs, Aikman's 16- and 35-yard completions to Alvin Harper on third downs set up the Cowboys' final two scores. In Super Bowl XXX, his 47-yard completion to Deion Sanders set up the game's first touchdown. His 17-yard completion to Michael Irvin in the second half set up Emmitt Smith's game-winning score. 

One doesn't have to dig too deeply to see Aikman's impact on the Cowboys' first Super Bowl win of the 1990s. In winning Super Bowl MVP, Aikman carved up Buffalo's defense to the tune of 22 of 30 for 273 yards and four touchdowns in a 52-17 rout. 

4. John Elway, Broncos

  • 2x Super Bowl champion
  • Super Bowl XXXIII MVP
  • 5 Super Bowl starts

Elway willed the Broncos to three Super Bowls in the late '80s. While the Broncos came up woefully short in each Super Bowl, Elway still managed to make his mark in each game. He threw for over 300 yards against the Giants' stingy defense in Super Bowl XXI and was responsible for the Broncos' only touchdowns in Super Bowls XXII and XXIV.

It would be eight more years before Elway made it back to another Super Bowl. Facing the heavily-favored Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, Elway and the Broncos leaned on running back Terrell Davis, who won MVP honors after rushing for 157 yards and three touchdowns. While playing a supporting role, Elway still turned in the game's biggest play on his "helicopter" run that kept momentum in Denver's favor.

The following year, with the Falcons defense intent on stopping Davis, Elway made them pay by throwing for 336 yards and scoring two touchdowns in a 34-19 win. Elway won Super Bowl MVP honors in what was the final game of his career. 

3. Terry Bradshaw, Steelers

  • 4x Super Bowl champion (4-0 record) 
  • 2x Super Bowl MVP 
  • Super Bowl's first 300-yard passer
  • First to throw 4 TD passes in one Super Bowl 
  • Had Super Bowl completions of 75, 73, 64, 53 and 47 yards 
  • 4 TD/0 INT in Super Bowl fourth quarters 

Making nearly as big of an impact as Bradshaw's right arm in Super Bowls was his mind. Bradshaw called the plays in each of the Steelers' four Super Bowl wins during the 1970s. When he wasn't calling deep throws to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth (which produced some of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history), Bradshaw was calling effective running plays for Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. 

Bradshaw's savviness as a play caller was evident late in Super Bowl XIII. Recognizing that Harris was hot after Cowboys linebacker Thomas Henderson threw Bradshaw down after the whistle moments earlier, Bradshaw called Harris' number despite the Steelers facing a third-and-9. The result was a 22-yard touchdown run that helped Pittsburgh record a 35-31 win. 

Bradshaw was at his best when the game was on the line. He threw game-clinching touchdowns in the fourth quarter in all four of his Super Bowl wins. Throw in the fact that he did so against three of the era's best defenses in Minnesota, Dallas and Los Angeles, and there is no disputing the fact that Bradshaw is firmly on the Mount Rushmore of Super Bowl quarterbacks. 

2. Joe Montana, 49ers

  • 4x Super Bowl champion (4-0 record) 
  • 3x Super Bowl MVP 
  • 11 TD/0 INT in Super Bowls 
  • Quarterbacked the greatest margin of victory in SB history (45 points) 

Three of Montana's Super Bowl performances were nothing short of epic. Matched up against Dan Marino, Montana had 400 total yards and four total touchdowns (he also ran for a then-Super Bowl QB record 59 rushing yards) in the 49ers' blowout win over the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. Four years later, Montana engineered the most famous drive in Super Bowl history, a 92-yard drive that was punctuated by his 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor. 

In his final Super Bowl act, Montana completed 76% of his passes with a then-Super Bowl record five touchdown passes before exiting early. 

1. Tom Brady, Patriots/Buccaneers

  • 7x Super Bowl champion
  • 5x Super Bowl MVP
  • 10 Super Bowl starts 
  • Super Bowl career passing leader (attempts, completions, TD passes) 
  • Super Bowl single-game passing yards leader 
  • Led greatest comeback in Super Bowl history (28-3) 

Brady led four game-winning drives in the big game. Among them was his game-winning drive during the Super Bowl's first overtime. That also so happened to be the game when Brady and Co. mounted the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.  

His comeback against the defending champion Seahawks is in the running, but his first comeback in his first Super Bowl was arguably Brady's greatest moment on the game's biggest stage. Many forget that Brady's game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXXVI finished off the second-greatest upset in Super Bowl history. 

Brady is the greatest quarterback of all-time, and his brilliance in Super Bowls is a big reason why.