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Which Husker Had the Best Super Bowl?

February 02, 2020

Editor’s Note: This was originally published before Super Bowl LIII in 2019. One year later, we’re sharing the story again but things look a little different. The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers are set to meet in Super Bowl LIV.

There are no former Huskers on the roster of either team. However, former Husker Daniel Bullocks coaches the safeties for the 49ers. 

Super Bowl LIII kicks off Sunday in Atlanta at 5:30 p.m. CT on CBS and will feature two of the more beloved former Huskers of the past decade, extending Nebraska's streak with a former player in the game to 26 consecutive seasons.

In the blue corner you have New England Patriots running back Rex Burkhead. An all-conference performer who bridged the transition at Nebraska from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, Burkhead rushed for 3,329 yards and 30 touchdowns as a Husker. (He also had a streak of 10 consecutive games with a touchdown in 2011, tying the Nebraska record.) It felt plenty familiar to Nebraska fans when Burkhead, in his sixth NFL season, found the end zone twice in the Patriots' 37-31 AFC Championship Game win over the Kansas City Chiefs. He had 41 yards rushing and 23 receiving in the win.

In the, well, other blue corner is Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The 2009 Heisman Trophy finalist and Outland-, Lombardi-, Nagurski- and Bednarik-award/trophy winner as a Husker is in his ninth professional season. Suh signed a one-year deal worth $14 million with the Rams last offseason and played perhaps his best game with the franchise in the NFC Championship Game, tallying four tackles, including 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries in a 26-23 win over the New Orleans Saints.

There have been years during Nebraska's Super Bowl run when the streak remained intact with a Husker simply being on the roster, but that's not the case here. Suh and Burkhead each have a real chance to impact the game on Sunday. The two former Huskers are about equal when it comes to Super Bowl MVP odds with Suh at +7500 and Burkhead at +8000.

No Husker has ever won the award, but plenty of former Nebraska footballers have made a big impact on the big game. Which one has had the biggest impact? Here are, in my opinion, the top five:

5. Super Bowl XI (1977) – LB Monte Johnson, Raiders

Johnson wasn't the first Huskers to appear in a Super Bowl, but he was the first to make a big splash. A two-time national champion as a defensive tackle at Nebraska, Johnson was an inside linebacker for the rough-and-rowdy Raiders of the 1970s. A full-time starter from 1975-79, Johnson came up big in his Super Bowl debut unofficially recording eight tackles, including a tackle for loss (that John Madden would later cite as the turning point) and a forced fumble in the Raiders' 32-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings. 

4. Super Bowl XXXII (1998) – CB Tyrone Williams, Packers

Williams came to Nebraska in 1993 from Manatee High School in Bradenton, Florida, where he was a teammate of Tommie Frazier. Like Frazier, Williams would win two national titles as a Husker, earning All-Big 8 honors in 1995. He spent nine years in the NFL, seven of those with Green Bay where he started all but one game over his final six seasons with the Packers. Williams won a Super Bowl ring with Green Bay the season prior, recording a pass breakup and tackle in the Packers' 35-21 win over New England.

A year later, Williams stuffed the stat sheet with six tackles, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. It wasn't enough for a Packers win, however, as a late Terrell Davis touchdown delivered the first Super Bowl championship in Denver Broncos history.

3. Super Bowl XXIII (1989) – RB Roger Craig, 49ers

Craig may have had better Super Bowls––spoiler alert––but XXIII was him at his most lethal. A threat as a runner and receiver in Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense, Craig made the Pro Bowl in 1985 and 1987 but reached a higher level in 1988, earning first-team All-Pro honors and Offensive Player of the Year. His 1985 season was better statistically (1050 yards rushing, 1016 yards receiving, 6.8 yards per touch), but Craig's repeated success, by '88, made him impossible to ignore as he again eclipsed 2,000 total yards (on 5.3 per touch).

Super Bowl XXIII was a continuation of that, Craig rushed 17 times for 71 yards while making eight catches for 101 (7.3 yards per touch). That made Craig the first running back in Super Bowl history with 100 receiving yards. The only thing missing was a score, but points were hard to come by. San Francisco needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the first set up by a 40-yard completion to Craig, to beat the Cincinnati Bengals 20-16 on John Taylor's touchdown reception with 34 seconds remaining.

Over three Super Bowls with the 49ers Craig gained 410 yards from scrimmage. That ranks third on the all-time list behind 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice (604) and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris (468), both of whom made four Super Bowl appearances.

2. Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004) – SS Mike Minter, Panthers

Here's yet another two-time national champion from Nebraska excelling in the Super Bowl. (It's almost like there's a correlation there.) Minter, from Lawton, Oklahoma, was a part of the 1994 and 1995 championship teams as a Husker, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors as a senior in 1996. Carolina selected him with the 56th overall pick (second round) in 1997. Minter played all 10 years of his NFL career with the Panthers, starting 94 consecutive games over the last eight seasons and all 126 games for which he was available.

The Panthers entered the game as touchdown underdogs to Tom Brady and New England, but took the Patriots down to the wire, the game decided on a field goal with four seconds remaining. Minter was a big reason why Carolina nearly pulled off the upset. The former Husker made nine tackles, five assisted tackles and had a pass breakup. His 14 total tackles are the second-most in a Super Bowl, but he didn't even lead the team that day. Linebacker Dan Morgan had 18.

You probably remember the halftime show from this game thanks to the "wardrobe malfunction."

1. Super Bowl XIX (1985) – RB Roger Craig, 49ers

It was billed as Dan Marino vs. Joe Montana, but Craig nearly stole the show. He became the first Husker to score in a Super Bowl, hauling in an 8-yard pass from Montana in the second quarter.

And then he never really stopped. Craig would find the end zone twice more––on a 2-yard run and 16-yard reception––becoming the first player to score three touchdowns in a Super Bowl. He finished the game with 58 yards rushing on 15 carries and 77 yards receiving on 7 catches. It still wasn't enough to take home MVP honors, however. Those went to Montana who was 24-of-35 passing for 331 yards with three touchdowns. (The non-Craig touchdown pass went to Craig's backup, Carl Monroe. What might've been.)

The following season ('85) Craig became the first player in NFL history with 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. He is one of six players to score three touchdowns in one Super Bowl, third on the career touchdowns list (4) and sixth in career Super Bowl points (24).

That's the bar, Suh and Burkhead. Good luck out there.

A few other random Nebraska/Super Bowl notes:

>>Honorable mention here to New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Shanle who had six total tackles, a quarterback hurry and two pass breakups in Super Bowl XLIV (2010), a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

>>Craig was the first Husker to score in a Super Bowl, but, one year later, Super Bowl XX was the first to feature a Husker score on each side. Wide receiver Irving Fryar scored the Patriots' only touchdown, an 8-yard catch in the fourth quarter, in New England's 46-10 loss to Chicago. Bears' defensive tackle Henry Waechter, a transfer who played one year at Nebraska, sacked backup quarterback Steve Grogan in the end zone for a safety.

>>There were three fumbles in Super Bowl XXXII, all three tinted scarlet. Tyrone Williams forced and recovered the Broncos' lone fumble. Denver cornerback Tony Veland forced a Green Bay fumble on special teams (recovered by the Broncos), and defensive end Neil Smith recovered the other Packers fumble.

>>Quarterback Vince Ferragamo is the only Husker to attempt a pass in the Super Bowl. He was 15-of-25 for 212 yards, no touchdowns and an interception for the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV (1980). Pittsburgh won the game 31-19. (And it's here that we should perhaps note that Burkhead played some quarterback in high school and was 4-of-7 passing as a Husker with three touchdowns and a career 253.8 passer rating. You know what to do, Belichick.)

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