When Jonas Gray and Darius Fleming take the field for the New England Patriots Sunday in Phoenix, it will mark the 16th straight season a Notre Dame alumnus has participated in the Super Bowl. In fact, Gray and Fleming are the 74th and 75th former Notre Dame players to dress for the Super Bowl.
Notre Dame has been well-represented through the years. It was former Irish running back Bill “Red” Mack who is credited with making the first tackle of the first Super Bowl as a member of the Green Bay Packers versus the Kansas City Chiefs. A year later, quarterback Daryle Lamonica started Super Bowl II for the Oakland Raiders against the Packers.
Mack and 38 other Notre Dame alums came away from their Super Bowl experience with a ring commemorating their conquest in the NFL’s ultimate game, led by quarterback Joe Montana and running back Bob “Rocky” Bleier with four apiece, offensive lineman Steve Sylvester with three, and two each by quarterback Terry Hanratty, wide receiver David Givens, tight ends Mark Bavaro and Jerome Collins, offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg, defensive linemen Justin Tuck and Eric Dorsey, linebacker Nick Buoniconti, and defensive back Dave Duerson.
Which Notre Dame players performed the best during the first 48 Super Bowls? Here is Irish Illustrated’s top 10.
10) RB-Jerome Bettis (Super Bowl XL/40) – It wasn’t the big, bruising numbers the powerful Bettis – who rushed for 13,662 yards and 91 TDs in 13 years in the league – was accustomed to posting. But the 5-foot-11, 255-pounder carved out 43 yards on 14 carries as Pittsburgh rushed for 181 yards in its 21-10 victory over Seattle.
9) TE-Dave Casper (Super Bowl XI/11) – Still considered one of the great athletes to play for the Fighting Irish, Casper spent time at offensive tackle as well as tight end. He evolved into a dynamic tight end in the NFL, catching 378 passes for 5,216 yards and 52 TDs. His four catches for 70 yards in Super Bowl XI – including a one-yard second-quarter touchdown reception from Kenny Stabler – contributed to the Raiders’ 16-0 halftime lead en route to a 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
8) DL-Ross Browner (Super Bowl XVI/16) – His 10 tackles, including a sack of former Irish teammate Joe Montana, was one of the top performances of Super Bowl XVI. Considered by many to be the greatest defensive lineman in Notre Dame history, Browner’s efforts against the 49ers weren’t quite enough in the 26-21 loss.
7) TE-Mark Bavaro (Super Bowls XXI/21 & XXV/25) – In nine seasons, including a pair of Super Bowl titles with the New York Giants, Bavaro caught 351 passes for 4,733 yards and 39 touchdowns. Bavaro played an integral role in the 39-20 victory over John Elway and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, catching a 13-yard touchdown pass from Phil Simms as part of a four-catch, 51-yard performance. He added five catches for 50 yards four years later in the Giants’ 20-19 win over the Buffalo Bills.
6) WR-David Givens (Super Bowls XXXVIII/38 & XXXIX/39) – Amaze your friends with this trivia question: Other than Joe Montana, who is the only Notre Dame player to score touchdowns in two different Super Bowls? It’s the unsung Givens, who caught five passes for 69 yards in Super Bowl XXXVIII, including a five-yard touchdown grab from Tom Brady in the 32-29 victory over Carolina. A year later, Givens added three catches for 19 yards in the Patriots’ 24-21 win over Philadelphia, including a four-yard touchdown pass from Brady.
5) RB-Rocky Bleier (Super Bowls IX/9, X/10, XIII/13 & XIV/14) – He wasn’t very big and he wasn’t very fast, but make no mistake, Bob “Rocky” Bleier played an integral role in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dynasty. All told, Bleier carried 44 times for 144 yards in four Super Bowls to go along with three catches for 18 yards, including a seven-yard scoring grab in Super Bowl XIII. The Steelers won all four of their Super Bowls in a six-year span.
4) QB-Joe Theismann (Super Bowl XVII/17) – John Riggins dominated the headlines for the Washington Redskins in their 27-17 victory over Miami in Super Bowl XVII. But Theismann became the first Notre Dame quarterback to win the big game, completing 15-of-23 passes for 143 yards, two short touchdown tosses and two interceptions. He also rushed three times for 20 yards.
3) RB-Ricky Watters (Super Bowl XXIX/29) – Notre Dame/Super Bowl trivia question No. 2: Who is the only Notre Dame alum to score three touchdowns in a Super Bowl? It’s the versatile Watters, who rushed for 10,643 yards and 78 touchdowns while catching another 467 passes for 4,248 yards and 13 scores during regular-season play. In Super Bowl XXIX with the 49ers, Watters carried 15 times for 47 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown, and caught three passes for 61 yards and two scores, including a 51-yarder from Steve Young in the 49ers’ 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
2) DE-Justin Tuck (Super Bowls XLII/42 & XLVI/46) – Some would argue that Tuck was a worthy recipient of the MVP award in Super Bowl XLII when the Giants upset New England, 17-14, to hand the Patriots their only loss of the season. It was quarterback Eli Manning who won the award, but it was Tuck who led the five-sack performance by the Giants against Tom Brady. Tuck had six tackles, two sacks and a fumble caused. He picked up his second ring in Super Bowl XLVI – also against the Patriots – in a 21-17 Giants victory.
1) QB-Joe Montana (Super Bowls XVI/16, XIX/19, XXIII/23 & XIV/24) – The hands-down top Irish performer in Super Bowl history. Including the more than 40,000 yards passing and 273 regular-season touchdowns, Montana completed 83-of-122 passes (68.0 percent) for 1,142 yards with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in four Super Bowls. Five of those 11 touchdown passes came in the 49ers’ 55-10 victory over Denver in Montana’s fourth and final Super Bowl – all victories. He also added rushing touchdowns in his first two Super Bowls, including a 59-yard rushing effort in Super Bowl XIX. Three-time Super Bowl MVP.