While the Philadelphia Eagles celebrated a Super Bowl LII victory over the New England Patriots, two common refrains (from the non-Malcolm Butler Didn’t Play Division) frequently pop up in any social media feed remotely related to the game.As is the case with LeBron James or most iconic athletes these days, fans were all too ready to point out Tom Brady’s shortcomings out of his third Super Bowl loss:
“tOm BRAdy DiDN’T Catch The BaLL!”
“yOu CAN’t bE thE gOAT if YOU losE tO A backUP QUARTerbACK!!>##$!”
The latter point is among the most hilarious statements ever made by any football fan for a few reasons. First, Nick Foles (the aforementioned backup that conquered Brady’s Patriots last February) was a backup quarterback in sense that Jennifer Lopez used to be a dancer on the legendary 90s comedy show In Living Color.
Both were good at their respective roles and should probably branch off for meatier projects. We all Jennifer Lopez would go on to become J-Lo, Jenny From The Block, star actress, A-Rod’s girlfriend, etc. Obviously, the jury is still out on what will happen to Foles.
The point is Foles was not the poor slouch that Eagles fans indirectly portrayed him to be. He was more than qualified to be in his position.
Foles, the last quarterback to throw a record-tying seven touchdown passes in a game (2013) and who threw 27 touchdown passes to just three interceptions in the same season, was no pushover despite concerns by some heading into the playoffs.
It was somewhere in his football DNA to deliver big numbers and to his credit, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson made sure to drag it out of him when it mattered most.
His turn as Super Bowl MVP has been, in my opinion, undermined in order to demean Brady, because you know, it’s the whole Evil Empire, Spygate, Deflategate, Dynasty, You Wouldn’t Have Anything Without Adam Vinatieri, supermodel wife, TB12 Method, etc.
Alas, here we are. Yet, all of the hand-wringing over Foles one-upping Brady in Super Bowl LII as if they were two starting pitchers in the middle of an MLB playoff game got me thinking about that earlier point.
How crazy and demeaning is it for a future Hall of Fame quarterback and arguably the greatest of all-time to lose to a backup quarterback in any postseason setting.
So, I did a deep dive into the Super Bowl era of Hall of Fame or future Hall of Fame quarterbacks that lost to a backup quarterback in a playoff game. It’s a heck of a lot longer than you think. Unfortunately, because of recency bias and people tending to forget what happened two hours ago let alone five to ten years ago, these things happen.
What you will see below is a list of the other most notable “Backup beats Hall of Fame stock quarterback” games ever.
Let’s start off with a weird and commonly forgotten one:
TERRY BRADSHAW VS. FRAN TARKENTON – SUPER BOWL IX
Terry Bradshaw was an unconventional backup in 1974. He had already been in the NFL for four seasons and led Pittsburgh to the playoffs in 1972 and ’73.
Then, during the 1974 preseason, Bradshaw lost his job to an upstart named Joe Gilliam. Yet, in Week 7, Bradshaw’s number was called to replace the struggling first-year starter.
Pittsburgh reached the playoffs for a third-straight season and won the AFC by defeating the Oakland Raiders (who had just defeated the Dolphins in the famous “Sea of Hands” game) to reach Super Bowl IX.
Unlike subsequent Super Bowl appearances that were built around Pittsburgh’s big-play ability in the passing attack, the team’s first Super Bowl trip featured old-fashioned meat and potatoes football.
Running back Franco Harris (Super Bowl IX MVP) led the charge offensively; while the “Steel Curtain” Defense laid the foundation for one of the most historic defensive runs in NFL history.
As for the Vikings, their future Hall of Fame quarterback was no match for Pittsburgh. The Steelers used their rugged rushing game to maul Minnesota’s defense – the famed Purple People Eaters.
Bradshaw didn’t need to do any heavy lifting to knock off Tarkenton’s Vikings. He completed just nine passes. Harris carried the load with 158 yards rushing and a touchdown; while Pittsburgh’s defense held the Vikings to 119 yards of total offense and forced five turnovers.
As Bradshaw quickly learned, when a quarterback has a defense like The Steel Curtain backing them, life can be very good.
Tarkenton lost another Super Bowl two years later but was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986. As for Bradshaw, he’d go on to win three more Super Bowls and reach the Hall in 1989.
Sadly, the story of Gilliam had a depressing conclusion. He got hooked on drugs during the ’74 season and lived out of a cardboard box underneath a bridge after leaving the NFL. He died at the age of 49.
TARKENTON: 11 OF 26, 102 YARDS, 0 TDS 3 INT
BRADSHAW: 9 OF 14, 96 YARDS, 1 TD, 0 INT
VINCE FERRAGAMO VS. ROGER STAUBACH – 1979 NFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
This was the final game in the career of Roger Staubach’s storied career. As arguably the most famous figure in Cowboys history, Staubach led Dallas to four Super Bowls – winning two of them. Captain Comeback’s only losses on Super Sunday came in two tight games with dynastic Pittsburgh Steelers.
Unfortunately for “Roger the Dodger”, his career came to a shocking end at the hands of the Vince Ferragamo-led Rams in the divisional playoff round.
Ferragamo, who was in his third season, replaced injured starter Pat Haden earlier in the regular season. Heading into the Dallas playoff game, Ferragamo was the proud owner of only five career starts through his first three seasons.
Trailing Dallas 19-14 with just over two minutes left, Ferragamo made one of the biggest plays of his career. He found receiver Billy Waddy for a game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass off a deflection.
Staubach’s last gasp proved futile. His Cowboys were done and so was his career. Los Angeles went on to reach Super Bowl XIV.
The ’79 run for Ferragamo was a career flashpoint. He never got remotely close to this level again. Staubach retired soon after this game.
FERRAGAMO: 9 OF 21, 210 YARDS, 3 TDS 2 INT
STAUBACH: 13 OF 28, 150 YARDS, 1 TD, 1 INT
DOUG WILLIAMS VS. JOHN ELWAY – SUPER BOWL XXII
This is the mother of all backup quarterback games.
Here are the five most memorable things form the 1987 season:
- The 1987 Players Strike
- The Redskins replacement players defeating a veteran-laden Dallas Cowboys squad.
- San Francisco shockingly losing to Minnesota in divisional round.
- Ernest Byner’s fumble in 1987 AFC title game.
- Doug Williams and the Redskins destroying the Denver Broncos in the second quarter of Super Bowl XXII.
You know what people may not remember? Jay Schroeder. He served as Washington’s starting quarterback for the majority of the 1987 season until Williams replaced him in Week 16.
The tale of Williams and his road to NFL nirvana was a strange one. He started for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1978 to 1982. His run included three playoff appearances and a trip to the NFC Championship game in 1979.
Following the ’82 season, Williams left Tampa over a contract dispute. After a two-year stint in the USFL, Williams wouldn’t take another NFL snap until the ’86 season.
By the time Super Bowl XXII arrived, it looked John Elway was ready for his close-up. A season earlier, his Broncos lost Super Bowl XXI. A year later, the tested Broncos would discard of Washington and their backup quarterback.
Washington spotted Denver a 10-0 lead and then launched the greatest quarter in NFL history – 35 second-quarter points against the league’s ninth ranked defense.
Williams was named the game’s MVP and it still holds up as the greatest quarter in Super Bowl history. After the game of his life, the Grambling product was out of football two years later.
Elway followed this stinker up with this biggest blowout in Super Bowl history two seasons later – a 55-10 pummeling courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers.
Luckily for Elway, a defense and all-time great rushing attack would eventually join him in the mid-90s and lead Denver to back-to-back Super Bowl victories.
WILLIAMS: 18 OF 29, 340 YARDS, 4 TDS 1 INT
ELWAY: 14 OF 38, 257 YARDS, 1 TD 3 INT
JOE MONTANA VS. JEFF HOSTETLER – 1990 NFC CHAMPIONSHIP:
Joseph Clifford Montana lost a conference championship game at home to a backup quarterback that had FIVE career starts prior to the ’90 title game…over his first seven seasons.
San Francisco entered as the two-time defending Super Bowl champions, poised to make history by becoming the first team to ever win three straight Vince Lombardi trophies. They left Candlestick Park that day as a franchise in transition.
Hostetler, drafted in the third-round of the 1984 NFL Draft, didn’t get a chance to start for the Giants until an injury sidelined starter Phil Simms in 1988. Desperate to play, he spent time playing on special teams and at wide receiver. Finally, Hostetler got his chance on December 15, 1990 to lead the G-Men for an extended period due to a leg injury suffered by Simms.
Nonetheless, the odds of the Giants scratching a victory against the mighty 49ers to reach Super Bowl XXV with the Hoss at the helm seemed long at best.
Of course, the most memorable play was Leonard Marshall knocking Joe Montana out of the game and essentially ending his career as a 49er (shoutout to the runner-up biggest play: Roger Craig’s dynasty-ending fumble shortly after the Montana play).
In the end, the Giants and their rising defensive coordinator (some guy named Belichick) held San Francisco’s explosive offense to just 13 points. Matt Bahr’s game-winning kick sent the Giants to Super Bowl XXV.
Former 49ers head coach George Seifert believed that he was never forgiven for losing that game. That is one hell of a statement considering he coached one of the greatest teams of all-time just three years later.
The 1990 NFC title game marked the final start as a 49er for Montana.
HOSTETLER: 15 OF 27, 126 YARDS, 0 TDS 0 INT
MONTANA: 18 OF 26, 190 YARDS, 1 TD, 0 INT
JIM KELLY VS. JEFF HOSTETLER – SUPER BOWL XXV:
A week after dispatching the 49ers, Hostetler was back at it again in Super Bowl XXV against the favored Buffalo Bills.
Obviously though, this game will always be defined by one thing: WIDE RIGHT.
The flashy no-huddle Buffalo Bills seemed like a shoe-in for the franchise’s first Super Bowl win against Hostetler and New York’s no frills attack.
Before Scott Norwood’s Super Bowl-winning kick sailed wide right, the Giants and Bills staged one of the most entertainment big games of all-time. Hostetler took a beating from the Bills defense at times but persevered.
Jim Kelly, his counterpart, had one colossal enemy: the clock. Buffalo held the ball for just 19:27 but somehow still accumulated 371 yards of offense.
Kelly’s performance proved to be hot and cold because of their inability to get on the field. Ultimately, Norwood’s kick helped put a Lombardi Trophy right in Hostetler’s lap.
Hostetler eventually fled New York two seasons later for the Los Angeles Raiders but his win left plenty of impact in San Francisco.
Super Bowl XXV proved to be Buffalo’s best of four straight chances to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
HOSTETLER: 20 OF 32, 222 YDS, 1 TD 0 INT
KELLY: 18 OF 30, 212 YDS, 0 TDS 0 INT
FRANK REICH VS. WARREN MOON: 1992 AFC WILD CARD GAME
Before erasing a 32-point Houston Oilers lead during the second half and overtime, Bills quarterback Frank Reich had a grand total of six starts in his eight-year NFL career.
Since Jim Kelly was on the shelf with a knee injury, Reich was pressed into duty for start number seven. As the Oilers seemed poised to advance to the AFC Divisional Round against Pittsburgh, Reich (who also had staged the biggest comeback in college football history as the quarterback of the Maryland Terrapins) rallied the troops for the greatest comeback in league history.
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon must have done something to anger the football gods. It proved to be the second consecutive postseason Houston blew a lead on the road. A year earlier, his Oilers led John Elway and the Denver Broncos 21-6 before dropping the game, 26-24.
One week later, Reich struck again. The Bills upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in Three Rivers Stadium, 24-3. Kelly took the controls again for another road victory in a 29-10 win over the Dolphins in the AFC title game.
Reich would appear once again in relief for an injured Kelly in Super Bowl XXVII. Not even Reich’s backup mojo could save Buffalo from the rising Cowboys. Dallas eviscerated Buffalo 52-17.
REICH: 21 OF 34, 289 YDS, 4 TDS, 1 INT
MOON: 36 OF 50, 371 YDS, 4 TDS, 2 INT
TOM BRADY VS. KURT WARNER: SUPER BOWL XXXVI
Of course, this is the game that launched 1,000 ships or whatever cutesy tag you want to apply to it.
Kurt Warner, a grocery store employee turned NFL quarterback turned two-time league MVP and Super Bowl MVP, faced off with lowly sixth-round draft pick Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXVI.
We know the story by now. New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis mutilated Patriots starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe in Week 2. That’s when America was formally introduced to Brady, but few (if any) realistically thought he would end up in the Super Bowl that season.
While there some was controversy over who would start the Rams game (Brady suffered an ankle injury against Pittsburgh in the AFC title game a week earlier and was replaced by Bledsoe), Brady eventually got the nod.
Truthfully, he probably shouldn’t have won Super Bowl MVP (see Ty Law) but in the end, it proved to be his day.
Brady’s Patriots entered as 14-point underdogs but shocked the Rams and arguably started the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
As for the Rams, they never recovered. They seemed ready to begin their own dynasty that day and even after a slow start, recovered from a 17-3 second half deficit to tie the game.
Then, Brady became Brady.
WARNER: 28 OF 44, 365 YARDS, 1 TD 2 INT
BRADY: 16 OF 27, 145 YARDS, 1 TD 0 INT
PEYTON MANNING VS. CHAD PENNINGTON: 2002 AFC WILD CARD GAME
Peyton Manning is a two-time Super Bowl winner but he struggled mightily to make an impact on the postseason stage in the early days of his career.
Heading into a wild card game against the Jets, Manning’s Colts lost to the Tennessee Titans in the ’99 playoffs and followed that up with blowing a 14-0 lead on the road in Miami in a 23-17 wild card round loss a season later.
The 2002 Colts opposed Jets starting quarterback Chad Pennington, who took over the reigns for veteran quarterback Vinny Testaverde after Week 4.
Surely, Pennington would be overwhelmed by the moment and crumble against the playoff-tested Colts. Not exactly.
New York wiped the floor with Manning and the Colts, 41-0, in one of the biggest blowouts in playoff history.
Pennington would go on to have a respectable NFL career. Also, he is the answer to an important trivia question. Who was the last quarterback to win the AFC East besides Tom Brady?
That would be Mr. Pennington as a Miami Dolphin.
PENNINGTON: 19 OF 25, 222 YARDS, 3 TDS 0 INT
MANNING: 14 OF 31, 137 YARDS, 0 TDS 2 INT
PEYTON MANNING VS. BILLY VOLEK: 2007 AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF
This one is a little unfair because it was an in-game situation but it is still very notable.
The 2007 Colts were the second best team in the NFL heading into the playoffs and would have been Super Bowl favorites in any other year except that one.
We seemed destined for a second straight Manning vs. Brady AFC Championship battle as the Colts welcomed in the San Diego Chargers to the RCA Dome.
San Diego’s Philip Rivers started the game and battled into the third quarter in a back and forth affair. Late in the third, the Chargers took the lead on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Darren Sproles.
Unfortunately for San Diego, Rivers tore his ACL in the process and was forced to leave the game (he would famously and miraculously play in the following week’s AFC title game against New England).
Enter Billy Volek. He appeared in 30 games since his rookie campaign in 2001 and was pressed into duty for San Diego’s biggest moment of the season. Trailing 24-21 in the fourth quarter, Volek led the Chargers on a drive that culminated with his one-yard touchdown run to put San Diego ahead for good.
Somehow, Manning got bested by some dude named Billy Volek.
VOLEK: 3 OF 4, 48 YARDS, 0 TDS 0 INT
MANNING: 33 OF 48, 402 YARDS, 3 TDS 2 INT
FINAL: CHARGERS 28, COLTS 24
BEN ROETHLISBERGER VS. TIM TEBOW: 2011 AFC WILD CARD GAME
The defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers had the somewhat unenviable task of trying to slow Tebowmania heading into the playoffs.
The Florida Gator quarterback took over for Kyle Orton in Week 7 and guided Denver to seven wins in eight games. Denver lost their last three games of the regular season though but somehow still managed to win the underachieving AFC West with an 8-8 record.
Denver was a healthy 7 1/2-point underdog despite playing in front of their usual rabid home fans. Surely, Tim Tebow could not stand up to the pressure in his first playoff game against a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.
The Broncos spotted Pittsburgh a 6-0 first quarter lead but then scored 20 unanswered points to close the first half. Pittsburgh rallied back thanks to a Roethlisberger touchdown pass to force overtime.
Despite having the NFL’s number one defense, Tebow somehow got it done. Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard walk-off touchdown strike on the first play in overtime to send Denver to the divisional round.
Tebow’s miracle would be his final in Denver. After getting annihilated by the Patriots in the divisional round a week later, Denver moved on to Peyton Manning in the off-season.
TEBOW: 10 OF 21, 316 YARDS, 2 TDS, 0 INT
ROETHLISBERGER: 22 OF 40, 289 YARDS, 1 TD 1 INT
AARON RODGERS VS. COLIN KAEPERNICK: 2012 NFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF
I feel like this is forgotten…especially considering current events.
San Francisco entered the 2012 season with Alex Smith as its starter and rightfully so. He led the 49ers to overtime of the 2011 NFC Championship game against the New York Giants. A season later, there was a new danger lurking for Smith – and it was on his own sideline.
Colin Kaepernick saw action in just three games during his rookie campaign in 2011. When Smith suffered a concussion in 2012, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh got his chance to take a look at the second-year quarterback.
While it was clear the 49ers were going to be a contender again in the NFC, Harbaugh didn’t appear to be quite convinced that Smith was the best option at quarterback.
Kaepernick started a pair of games in Smith’s absence and didn’t relinquish the job. En route to San Francisco’s Super Bowl run, they faced defending NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Green Bay’s chance at reaching a second Super Bowl in three years vanished quickly thanks to Kaepernick. The Milwaukee, Wisconsin native went off in San Francisco. He accounted for 444 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in a 45-31 victory.
Kaepernick’s record-setting day included 181 yards and an electrifying 56-yard touchdown run.
Aaron Rodgers, his counterpart, could not keep with Kaepernick’s big plays on the ground and through the air.
Incredibly, Kaepernick is out of football six years later. Rodgers is still looking for that elusive second Super. Bowl ring.
KAEPERNICK: 17 OF 31, 263 YARDS, 2 TDS 1 INT; 16 CARRIES, 181 YARDS, 2 TDS
RODGERS: 26 OF 39, 257 YARDS, 2 TDS 1 INT
What’s the moral of these tales?
Tom Brady is not the first Hall of Fame-level quarterback to lose a big game to a backup….and he surely will not be the last.