A running back’s performance in the Super Bowl can make or break a team's chances of winning the championship; and over the years, some of the best running backs to play the game have showcased their talents on football’s biggest stage. We take a look back at 5 of the best Super Bowl performances by running backs in the history of the game.
- Terrell Davis, Super Bowl XXXII (1997) - Terrell Davis had a legendary performance in Super Bowl XXXII, leading the Denver Broncos to a 31-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers (“Super Bowl XXXII,” 2023). He rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries, earning him the Super Bowl MVP award. This performance helped solidify Davis’ place as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.
- Franco Harris, Super Bowl IX (1975) - Franco Harris was a dominant force in Super Bowl IX, leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to their first ever Super Bowl victory. He rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries, helping to secure a 16-6 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Harris, best-known for the “immaculate reception” in 1972, went on to become an NFL Hall-of-Famer and won three more Super Bowls during his time with the Steelers (“Franco Harris,” 2023). However, this performance in Super Bowl IX cemented Harris’ place as one of the greatest running backs of all time.
- Emmitt Smith, Super Bowl XXVIII (1994) - Emmitt Smith had a standout performance in Super Bowl XXVIII, helping lead the Dallas Cowboys to a victory over the Buffalo Bills. The former Gator and NFL All-Time Rushing Leader ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, earning him the Super Bowl MVP award (“NFL Career Rushing Yards Leaders,” 2023). This performance solidified Smith’s status as arguably the best running back in NFL history, and his name is now synonymous with the Dallas Cowboys’ glory days of the 90’s.
- Thurman Thomas, Super Bowl XXV (1991) - Thurman Thomas had a memorable performance in Super Bowl XXV, leading the Buffalo Bills to a close loss against the New York Giants. He rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, as well as catching five passes for 55 yards. His 190 combined offensive yards was 81 more than Super Bowl MVP Ottis Anderson, and Thomas rushed for 4.14 more yards per carry than the Bills running back (“Super Bowl XXV,” 2023). Although the Bills lost the game 20-19, Thomas’s performance was a standout moment in Super Bowl history.
- Marcus Allen, Super Bowl XVIII (1984) - Marcus Allen had a standout performance in Super Bowl XVIII, leading the Los Angeles Raiders to a victory over the Washington Redskins. He rushed for 191 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, while breaking off a 74-yard touchdown run - earning him the Super Bowl MVP award (“Marcus Allen,” 2023). His feat held the record for the longest Super Bowl touchdown run for 17 years, until Willie Parker broke it by 1 yard in Super Bowl XL (“Marcus Allen,” 2023). Allen is one of only four players to ever win a Super Bowl MVP and a Heisman in their football career, with the other three being Roger Staubach, Desmond Howard, and Jim Plunkett (“Marcus Allen,” 2023).
It is interesting to note, these five running backs all are inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and each have 1,000+ postseason rushing yards. The only other player besides the five mentioned in this article to rush for 1000+ postseason yards was fellow NFL Hall-of-Famer Tony Dorsett (“NFL Career Rushing Yards Leaders,” 2023).
In conclusion, the Super Bowl is a showcase for some of the greatest running backs in NFL history. These players have left a lasting impact on the game, have inspired generations, and will always be remembered for their dominant performances on football’s biggest stage.
Note: this article used AI software, ChatGPT, to generate the base for this article, and was expanded on with other specific stats and dialogue.
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About the Author
Marshal W. Smith graduated from Samford University in December of 2021 and is currently pursuing his M.B.A. with a concentration in Sport Business here at Samford. He would like to stay at Samford and teach Sports Business, Marketing or Analytics, or work for a major sports franchise in marketing or data analytics. Here is a link to his LinkedIn profile: www.linkedin.com/in/marshalwsmith