Creating the all-time 53-man roster from Super Bowl players only: Tom Brady, Jerry Rice lead the way – CBS Sports

Since the Packers and Chiefs faced off in 1967, thousands of players have taken part in the Super Bowl. Several of those players became household names by virtue of their performance in the big game. Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and many others etched their name in football lore after leading their teams to victory multiple times. 

With Super Bowl LV just around the corner, we decided to take on the task of creating an all-time, 53-man roster comprised of some of the best players in Super Bowl history. The roster includes players from all but four of the previous 54 Super Bowls. The construction of our roster included the following criteria. 

  • Super Bowl MVPs
  • Multiple Super Bowl appearances an advantage 
  • Did their performance significantly contribute to the success of their team?
  • Was their performance critical to the outcome of the game(s)? 

Choosing performance over a specific player also played a role in the building of the roster. Yes, being a big name certainly doesn’t hurt, but this is not a roster of the biggest names that have played in the Super Bowl. If that was the case, Walter Payton, arguably the greatest running back would have made the list. Below, we’ll include the biggest roster cuts while explaining some of our choices. 

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the all-time, 53-man Super Bowl roster, with a practice squad to boot. 

Offense

QB

Tom Brady

Joe Montana

Terry Bradshaw

RB 

Emmitt Smith 

Terrell Davis

FB

Franco Harris

LWR

Jerry Rice

Cliff Branch

RWR

Michael Irvin

John Stallworth

SWR

Lynn Swann

Julian Edelman

LT

Art Shell

Orlando Pace

LG

Gene Upshaw

Nate Newton

C

Mike Webster

Tom Nalen

RG

Larry Little

Mark Schlereth

RT

Forrest Gregg

Anthony Munoz

TE Rob Gronkowski Jay Novacek

Quarterbacks: Brady, Montana, and Bradshaw are a combined 14-3 in Super Bowl competition, with nine MVP trophies to boot. Brady currently holds the Super Bowl single-game passing record (505 yards), a record that had been previously held by both Montana and Bradshaw. Brady’s greatest Super Bowl moment may have been his first one when he led the Patriots past the heavily-favored Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Montana’s signature Super Bowl moment took place in Super Bowl XXIII, when he led the 49ers on a 92-yard, game-winning drive that was capped off with his game-winning pass to John Taylor. A decade earlier, Bradshaw threw for then Super Bowl records 318 yards and four touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s 35-31 win over Dallas. 

The MVP of Super Bowl XXVIII, Smith is the Super Bowl’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns. Harris, who took home MVP honors in Super Bowl IX, is the Super Bowl’s career rushing leader with 354 yards. Davis tallied 321 yards and three touchdowns in Denver’s back-to-back Super Bowl wins. His 157 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXII helped Denver upset the defending-champion Packers and ending the NFC’s run of 13 consecutive Super Bowl wins. 

Receivers: Rice is the Super Bowl’s all-time leader in catches (28), yards (589) and touchdowns (8). His 215 receiving yards in Super Bowl XXIII is still the single-game record. Flanking Rice in the starting lineup is Super Bowl X MVP Lynn Swann, who caught 16 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns in his last three Super Bowls. Also cracking the starting lineup is former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin, who caught 16 passes and two touchdowns in three Super Bowl wins. Stallworth caught six passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl XIII and XIV. Branch caught three Super Bowl touchdowns while helping the Raiders win three rings in a seven-year span. Edelman caught 24 passes for 337 yards in New England’s three most recent Super Bowl wins. He was named Super Bowl LIII MVP after catching 10 passes for 141 yards. Edelman also made several clutch catches in the Patriots’ Super Bowl wins over the Seahawks and Falcons

Tight ends: Gronkowski caught 21 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns in his three Super Bowl wins in New England. His first Super Bowl touchdown contributed to New England’s come-from-behind win over Seattle. Three years later, he caught nine passes for 116 yards and two scores in the Patriots’ eight-point loss to the Eagles. In his last Super Bowl with New England, Gronkowski’s 29-yard catch set up the game-winning touchdown. 

A longtime Cowboy, Novacek caught 17 passes and two touchdowns in three Super Bowl wins. He caught a team-high seven passes in Dallas’ win over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVII. His touchdown catch in Super Bowl 30 helped power the Cowboys to a 27-17 win over the Steelers. 

Offensive line: You’d be hard-pressed to find a better offensive line than this one. Shell and Upshaw anchored a powerful Raiders offensive line that had their way against the Vikings and Eagles in Super Bowls XI and XV. Webster started in three of the Steelers‘ four Super Bowls during the ’70s. Little and Gregg both won back-to-back Super Bowls as members of the Dolphins and Packers, respectively. Little helped pave the way for Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick in three straight Super Bowls. One of the key cogs in Vince Lombardi’s legendary Packers sweep, Gregg helped Green Bay win the first two Super Bowls and three straight NFL titles. 

Pace protected Kurt Warner’s blind side during both of his Super Bowls with the Rams. Newton helped plow open running lanes for Emmitt Smith. Nalen and Schlereth won a combined five Super Bowls that included two rings as teammates in Denver. In losing efforts, Munoz played well in the Bengals‘ two Super Bowl matchups with the 49ers

Defense

DE

Reggie White

Bruce Smith

DT

Joe Greene

Alan Page

NT Reggie Kinlaw

DT

Randy White

Warren Sapp

DE

Richard Dent

L.C. Greenwood

OLB

Lawrence Taylor

Charles Haley

ILB

Jack Lambert

Mike Singletary

ILB

Ray Lewis

Nick Buoniconti

OLB

Jack Ham

Von Miller

CB

Mel Blount

Richard Sherman

Lester Hayes

CB

Deion Sanders

Herb Adderley

FS Ronnie Lott Willie Wood
SS Ed Reed Donnie Shell 

Defensive line: This group is as good as it gets. White, who retired as the NFL’s career sack leader, tallied three sacks in Green Bay’s win over New England in Super Bowl XXXI. Greene was the anchor of four Super Bowl championship defenses in Pittsburgh. His interception and fumble recovery in Super Bowl IX helped the Steelers become the second team to shutout an opposing offense in the Super Bowl. White’s dominance in Super Bowl XII earned him co-MVP honors. Dent’s 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles earned him MVP honors in Super Bowl XX. Smith, Page and Greenwood each played in four Super Bowls. Smith recorded a safety in Super Bowl XXV, while Greenwood’s three deflected passes helped neutralize Frank Tarkenton in Super Bowl IX. A year later, Greenwood sacked Roger Staubach three times in Pittsburgh’s 21-17 win over Dallas. Warren Sapp’s presence contributed to Tampa Bay’s 48-21 rout of Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII. 

The defensive line’s lucky charm is its least-known member. In Super Bowls XV and XVIII, Reggie Kinlaw wreaked havoc on Philadelphia and Washington. With Kinlaw plugging the middle, the Raiders’ defense held Wilbert Montgomery and John Riggins (the MVP of the previous year’s Super Bowl) to a combined 110 yards on 42 carries (a 2.62 yards per carry average). 

Linebackers: A player who revolutionized the linebacker position, Taylor’s tackle of John Elway in Super Bowl XXI was part of a crucial goal line stand by the Giants.  Lambert played big in each of Pittsburgh’s four Super Bowl wins during the ’70s. His 14 tackles in Super Bowl X led both teams. In Super Bowl XIV, his fourth quarter interception set up the Steelers’ game-clinching score. Lewis, the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV, won two Super Bowls with the Ravens. Ham’s quickness and savvy helped the Steelers dominant opposing rushing attacks. En route to becoming the first player to win five Super Bowls, Haley recorded 4.5 sacks for the 49ers and Cowboys. In Super Bowl XXVII, his sack/forced fumble of Jim Kelly set up a touchdown by teammate Jimmy Jones, as Dallas took the lead for good. Singletary and Buoniconti presided over legendary defenses. Miller’s 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in Super Bowl 50 earned him Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Secondary: Mel Blount, whose physical dominance over receivers ushered in new league rules, picked off two passes in Super Bowl play. In Super Bowl XIII, his second quarter interception set up the Steelers’ go-ahead touchdown. Sanders, arguably the greatest cover corner in history, is the only player in Super Bowl history to record an interception (Super Bowl XXIX) and also catch a pass (Super Bowl XXX). Safety Ronnie Lott led the 49ers to their first Super Bowl win as a rookie. Seven years later, his jarring hit of Bengals running back Ickey Woods helped set the tone for the 49ers’ victory. Lott is flanked by Ed Reed, who recorded an interception is his only Super Bowl appearance. 

Adderley, who won Super Bowls with the Packers and Cowboys, had a 60-yard pick-six in Green Bay’s win over Oakland in Super Bowl II. Willie Wood, Adderley’s teammate on those legendary Packers defenses, recorded a game-changing interception during the second half of Green Bay’s win over Kansas City in Super Bowl I. Richard Sherman was the leader of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense, a unit that overwhelmed Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Three decades earlier, Lester Hayes won his second ring after shutting down Washington’s talented receiving corps in Super Bowl XVIII. Shell made several touchdown-saving tackles during the Steelers’ wins in Super Bowls XIII and XIV. 

Special Teams

LS

Mike Webster

K

Adam Vinatieri

P

Ray Guy

KR Desmond Howard Deion Sanders
PR Deion Sanders Lynn Swann

A four-time champion, Vinatieri made two game-winning field goals with the Patriots. Guy, the only punter who resides in the Hall of Fame, saved a potential disaster when he made a one-handed catch following a high snap in Super Bowl XVIII. Howard, the only special teams player to win Super Bowl MVP, returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in Green Bay’s 35-21 win over New England. Howard also tallied 90 yards on punt returns. 

Practice squad

QB Troy Aikman

RB Larry Csonka

WR Andre Reed

OT Winston Hill 

TE Mark Bavaro

DT/DE Richard Seymour

LB Willie Lanier 

LB Chuck Howley

CB Ty Law

FS Jake Scott