The Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams met for Super Bowl LVI, the most recent Lombardi Trophy battle, at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. It's not altogether surprising that these two teams made it (even if the Bengals' win over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs was a bit of a surprise) considering they both feature star quarterbacks: Matt Stafford for L.A. (having finally been freed this season from the desolate purgatory of Detroit) and Joe Burrow for Cincinnati. Teams picked both these guys with first-overall picks. They have justified their Super Bowl start throughout their careers.
However, with the Kansas City Chiefs taking on the Philadelphia Eagles, it's clear that Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes are two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
But sometimes, the winning Super Bowl QB doesn't quite deserve it so much. Sometimes, describing them as "average" is being incredibly kind. A few of them did have legitimately great games in the big game itself, but their careers were less than inspiring. These guys weren't exactly racking up passing yards and Super Bowl rings like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Troy Aikman or John Elway. And that's putting it mildly. They weren't even Eli Manning, Joe Theismann or Joe Flacco.
It's not surprising when a guy like Packers legend Bart Starr, Dallas Cowboys star Roger Staubach, San Francisco's Joe Montana or Steelers signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger wins a Super Bowl. But these guys? How on Earth did one of them ever win a championship? More teams than you might expect have won a title with an albatross calling plays behind center, and none were more so than these ten guys.
10. Joe Namath
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Wait, what? What's Joe Namath doing here?
He was an MVP and a five-time Pro Bowler who made the Hall of Fame. Okay, but he also wasn't outstanding. Joe Namath played 13 seasons in the AFL and NFL (all but the final one for the Jets) and had more TDs than INTs in a season just twice. He threw more INTs than TDs in his MVP season! Namath threw 173 career touchdown passes to 220 interceptions, and his career completion percentage is barely over 50 percent.
He's the single greatest case study in a player's personality aiding their historical reputation. Namath was a consummate performer (evidenced by his game-winning guarantee in Super Bowl III against the Colts) and a larger-than-life character. That's why people think he was great.
He did win an AFL Championship Game in addition to the Super Bowl, but come on. Those numbers speak for themselves. He threw for many yards, but you weren't that good when your career TD-INT ratio is worse than Rex Grossman's.
9. Mark Rypien
Mark Rypien looked at minimum like an average starting QB and something much more through his first four seasons. He made two Pro Bowls and finished fourth in regular-season MVP voting in 1991 and deserved it, lighting up the league with a passer rating of 97.9 and eventually winning MVP for Super Bowl XXVI with the Washington Redskins.
Then, after his postseason success, his career careened directly into a ditch, his rating dropping to 71.7 and then 56.3. He hung on for a few more years as a backup. Rypien's sudden career spiral is still one of the most inexplicable in NFL history.
8. Ken Stabler
Hey, remember when I said Joe Namath made the Hall of Fame despite not deserving to? That goes triple for Ken Stabler. Stabler was hilariously nicknamed "Snake" despite having only 93 rushing yards for his entire career (not a typo). For all the flak Terry Bradshaw gets as an "overrated" QB, at least the Pittsburgh Steelers signal-caller had more career TDs than INTs (barely, but still).
Put it this way: we remember Brett Favre as a guy who threw a ton of interceptions -- and he did, too, with 336 of them for his career. But he also threw 506 TD passes. Ken Stabler threw 194 TDs compared with 222 INTs. That's still a better ratio than Namath, but not by much.
7. Nick Foles
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The thing about Nick Foles is he's never been able to stay healthy. He made the Pro Bowl in 2013 for the Eagles and deserved it, with a 119.2 Rating. He has had three seasons of a QBR more than 60! But he's never started more than 11 games in any year, and his inconsistency after that insane 2013 season has doomed him to marginal starting status. The fact he beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the 2017 Super Bowl -- winning the MVP award in the process -- is genuinely hilarious.
6. Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson is often regarded as one of the worst QBs to win a Super Bowl, and to my mind, that's kind of unfair.
After a late start to his career (he didn't debut until age 26 with the Vikings and didn't start an entire season until age 31 with Washington), Johnson had several good seasons. He made two Pro Bowls, had a solid TD-to-INT ratio, had a 4000-yard season and had a career completion percentage of 61.7 (in an era when that was an excellent number). I mean, who doesn't love a QB who can limit turnovers?
He didn't light up the Super Bowl itself, but he had, at worst, an average performance. Brad Johnson was a pretty good player, but let's be real. The legendary 2001 Bucs defense won the title that year far more than Johnson, and it's hard to argue he was better than anyone below him on this list.
There's also this fun fact: Brad Johnson has more Super Bowl wins than Miami Dolphins legend Dan Marino, and any Cleveland Browns quarterbacks to ever play the game. But then again, tying the Seattle Seahawks with one Super Bowl win isn't terrifically difficult.
5. Jeff Hostetler
I'm going to be honest: I forgot Jeff Hostetler ever existed until this moment. The New York Giants drafted him to be a backup (they already had Phil Simms), and honestly, he should've been a backup for his whole career. But in 1990, Simms got hurt late in the year, and Hostetler took over for the playoffs as New York's starting quarterback.
He does deserve some credit here, playing well in the playoffs and very well in the Super Bowl (20-32 for 222 yards, one TD, and no INTs), and he did make a Pro Bowl a few years later. But, come on, man. Jeff Hostetler won a Super Bowl.
How much must it suck to be reading this as a Bills fan? Two of these guys beat them in the Super Bowl in four years.
4. Doug Williams
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From a career stats standpoint, you can make the case Doug Williams is the single worst QB ever to win a Super Bowl: his career completion percentage is sub-50 percent, he never made a Pro Bowl and he only had two decent-ish full seasons as a starter (1980-81 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). He threw more TDs than INTs, but his career was, at best, unremarkable.
But what complicates the narrative is this: in Super Bowl XXII against the Denver Broncos, Williams had one of the greatest games ever played, going 18-29 with 340 yards (a record at the time) and 4 TDs. In the second quarter alone, he went 9-11 for 228 and all of those TDs -- records likely never to be broken. It remains one of the most inexplicable great games from a QB not just in Super Bowl history but in NFL playoff history writ large. But still, his overall career wasn't exactly spectacular.
3. Jim McMahon
Their history of quarterback play is the single biggest reason the Chicago Bears have only ever won one Super Bowl (and rarely threatened for one). Bears QBs have been at best average and at worst shrieking toilet fires during the team's history.
But the '85 Bears were so good, with Walter Payton and an all-time great defense, that all McMahon had to do to win was not throw the ball directly into his crotch after every snap. To his credit, he did exceed that low bar. He somehow made the Pro Bowl in 1985 despite a decidedly mediocre 82.6 passer rating.
2. Jim Plunkett
For some reason, Jim Plunkett never gets mentioned in the worst Super Bowl QBs conversation. Maybe it's the fact he had two Super Bowl wins (making him unquestionably the worst QB ever to win the big game more than once). Still, that's an argument against him more than in favor. Somehow, the Oakland Raiders/Los Angeles Raiders carried him to two wins.
Plunkett had way more career INTs than TDs, never threw for 3000 yards in a season (and only threw for more than 2,550 once), had a career completion percentage of 52.5 (Drew Brees, he was not) and never made a single Pro Bowl. There's a reason he's the only quarterback to win two Super Bowls and not make the Hall of Fame.
1. Trent Dilfer
The Super Bowl MVP award often goes to the winning quarterback by default. Trent Dilfer was the test case where his performance was so bad they couldn't justify it. Dilfer was (if we're being generous) a game manager who rode a historically good defense to a Super Bowl XXXV win in his only season with the Baltimore Ravens. Improbably, he did throw one TD pass in that game, but 12 completions out of 25 attempts isn't exactly lighting the world on fire and probably angered his receivers. Adding to the madness of Trent Dilfer, his entrance into the NFL was also mired in controversy when a verbal altercation broke out between an NFL GM and ESPN Analyst Mel Kiper, Jr.
I would argue there has never been a worse QB to make a Pro Bowl than Trent Dilfer (which he did in 1997!) -- even Jim McMahon had a better career than the Dilf.
This article was originally published on February 11, 2022, and has been updated since.
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