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How Is the Super Bowl MVP Chosen?

By Jennifer Hassan in Super Bowl
| January 15, 2020 9:17 am PDT
Pete Rozelle Trophy With Gold NFL Logo Sitting on Field

When the Super Bowl is over, it still isn’t over.

Yes, the final whistle has blown, and the players are practically overcome with exhaustion and emotion. But there are still processes, including interviews and award ceremonies, in which the players participate.

It’s a big day for everyone, and even those devastated in defeat don’t get to hide their pain in the locker room.

The most notable post-game ceremony is the recognition of the Most Valuable Player of the game, the famed Super Bowl MVP award.

It’s a big deal. Here’s what you need to know about how the Super Bowl MVP is chosen.

Has There Always Been a Super Bowl MVP Award?

Yes, right from Super Bowl I, there has been a recipient of this award. The first winner was Bart Starr, quarterback of the almost-unbeatable Green Bay Packers. He won the award the next year as well, in Super Bowl II.

Bart Starr is considered one of the greatest NFL players of all time. He was famous for climbing over piles of downed players between him and the endzone and making the touchdown himself. Half man, half mountain goat, he was a player as intelligent as he was powerful.

Starr set the precedent for the prestige of the Super Bowl MVP award. It’s taken seriously in football by players, coaches, and the media.

Is the Super Bowl MVP Always Someone From the Winning Team?

A player’s performance stands out as exceptional if it helps to win the game. Therefore, the MVP is almost always chosen from the winning team. However, there has been one exception.

As you’ll read below, a player from the losing team was granted MVP status at Super Bowl V.

Linebacker Chuck Howley kept Colts superstar quarterback Johnny Unitas from completing passes, as he made powerful interception after interception. He also forced a fumble, keeping the Colts from gaining a comfortable lead.

It was a close game, but the Colts deservedly won this Super Bowl with some exceptional plays, including a 75-yard pass-tip-run into the endzone. And yet, Howley’s performance is the one that stood out to the professionals who choose the MVP.

Howley and the Cowboys fought their way back to the Super Bowl the next year to face down the Miami Dolphins. This time, they took the championship, dealing the Dolphins a humiliating 24-3 defeat.

Does the Super Bowl MVP Have to Be a Quarterback?

Even though the rest of the team does the lion’s share of the work of getting the ball into the endzone, the quarterback seems to reap the most glory. Probably because it’s the QB who’s in charge of getting offensive plays into motion — plays which ultimately result in a score or a failure to score.

Consider this: There have been 53 Super Bowls, and 29 of the MVPs have been quarterbacks. But that means there were 24 that weren’t. Here are the standouts, in my opinion.

Chuck Howley (Linebacker)

In 1971, at Super Bowl V, the MVP award was bestowed upon linebacker Chuck Howley. What’s interesting and rare is that he was on the losing team. The MVP is typically chosen from the winning team, but Mr. Howley put on such a good show that he reaped the reward.

Jake Scott (Safety)

Two years later, in Super Bowl VII, a safety named Jake Scott was given the award. He was on the winning team, the Miami Dolphins, a team that had been to the Super Bowl just the year before and had been beaten badly by the Cowboys.

Jake Scott made a spectacular run during this game, threading his way through defenders like a graceful bullet. This win and this MVP award created an unforgettable moment for safety Jake Scott.

Harvey Martin (Defensive End) and Randy White (Defensive Tackle)

At Super Bowl XII, two MVPs were chosen. It’s the only time that has happened. Dallas Cowboys defensive end Harvey Martin and Cowboys defensive tackle Randy White were given the award.

If you watch the highlights, you can see Martin making some spectacular sacks, shaking off opposing players like lint from a tie. Randy White, such a monster on the field that he was known as the “manster,” threw players to the ground like he was enjoying a pillow fight. I can see why the committee couldn’t choose

Richard Dent (Defensive End)

In Super Bowl XX, Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent was made MVP. Dent was not a man of grace, but when he was near, piles of players seemed to just fall to the ground.

Larry Brown (Cornerback)

In Super Bowl XXX, cornerback Larry Brown was given the recognition of being the game’s most valuable player after he made an interception that sealed the win for the Cowboys.

Desmond Howard (Kick Returner)

The next year, in Super Bowl XXXI, kick returner Desmond Howard received the award, the only time a player in that position has been named MVP. Howard showed classic football skills that day, feinting and dodging and running and making serious yardage for the Green Bay Packers.

Ray Lewis (Linebacker)

Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis had the award bestowed upon him in Super Bowl XXXV for his superb support of his team that day as he tackled, leaped, and showboat-shimmied the Ravens to a win.

Dexter Jackson (Safety)

The next non-quarterback to win Super Bowl MVP was Buccaneers safety Dexter Jackson in Super Bowl XXXVII. Jackson later asserted that he’d had a premonition before the game that he’d win MVP that day. When he did, he claimed the moment was “perfect.”

This is considered one of the greatest football upsets in the history of the game, as Super Bowl newbies Tampa Bay showed up and beat down Super Bowl veterans the Oakland Raiders. Dexter Jackson contributed to this memorable win with his speedy and surprising interceptions.

Malcolm Smith (Linebacker)

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith won MVP at Super Bowl XLVIII, and no wonder. This game pitted the best defense in the NFL against the best offense. Commentators thought it would be a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, but apparently, the Seahawks didn’t agree.

They decimated the Broncos, 43-8, in large part due to linebacker Smith’s tough tackles and tidy turnovers. Even players from the losing Broncos team called him out at the MVP before the award had been announced.

Von Miller (Linebacker)

At Super Bowl L, Broncos linebacker Von Miller won MVP in the Super Bowl after putting constant pressure on the Panthers receivers, as well as executing a timely strip sack. He was the most visible player on the field that day, appearing in every highlight clip of the game.

Those are just some of the non-quarterbacks to be honored as Super Bowl MVP. As you can see, you don’t have to be a quarterback to shine on the field and be recognized for it.

You simply need to go above and beyond what is expected of your position in a way that turns the tide of the match.

Who Chooses the Super Bowl MVP?

The award is chosen by a group of people. The people who have the most “say” over who receives the MVP are a group of 16 sportswriters and broadcasters. Their vote counts for about 80% of the choice.

These writers are members of an organization called the Professional Football Writers of America. This group works on keeping relations friendly and lines of communication open between teams and the media.

The public gets to call in and vote for their choice of MVP as well, and the public’s input counts for the other 20%.

Votes are taken right up until the end of the Super Bowl. The input is quickly tallied, and the winner is announced on the field after the game.

What Does the Super Bowl MVP Get?

There was a time when the Super Bowl MVP would be awarded a new car. Those times have passed, however, and now the player rewarded with the title of MVP only receives the Vince Lombardi trophy and the pride of knowing his hard work has been acknowledged above any other that day.

It’s possible that future corporate sponsors of the game will kick in a little something for the winner. Time will tell.

Although the MVP doesn’t get anything above and beyond the other players at the Super Bowl except for the recognition and the Pete Rozelle Trophy, all of the players who make it to the Super Bowl get a bonus.

The players on the winning team get around $120,000 apiece, and players on the losing team receive about $60,000 apiece. Perhaps because of this, I haven’t heard of any MVP complaining that they don’t get cars anymore.

Can You Win Super Bowl MVP More Than Once?

Absolutely. Several players have been awarded the trophy multiple times.

Eli Manning, Bart Starr, and Terry Bradshaw all received the Pete Rozelle Trophy twice. Joe Montana was declared Super Bowl MVP three times, and Tom Brady has won the title four times.

Why Is It Called the Pete Rozelle Trophy?

Pete Rozelle was the commissioner of the NFL for three decades. Although his name is not as instantly recognizable as many of the players and coaches, it was his vision that steered the League during the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.

When Rozelle began with the NFL, there were only a dozen teams. The League evolved into more than two dozen teams as it moved into the 1970s.

Monday Night Football was born during Mr. Rozelle’s leadership, and soon, NFL games were “must-see TV.” Mr. Rozelle had a background in marketing and PR, and he used everything he knew to turn the NFL into a profitable pursuit and into the mega-presence that we know today.

If you love the NFL, you can thank Pete Rozelle.

Final Words

The Super Bowl is like a coal crusher; some players are overwhelmed, dissolving into bundles of nerves before stepping foot on the turf. These are the players that drop easy passes, the ones that trip and slip when a pursuing player even comes close, rather than powering forward at speed.

Yet there are others who thrive under the pressure, who play their best games under the scrutiny of millions. These are the diamond-bright performances that so many people around the world tune in to see.

Occasionally, we’ll be lucky enough to glimpse a play, a stretch, a reach, a run from the MVP that is so superhuman, so extreme, that we are inspired for years—even decades—to come.

And if you’ve got a hunch about who you think will win it, you always have the option to bet on who will win the Super Bowl MVP that year. Making the right call can help you profit off of what’s already a fantastic spectacle, and we’ve got a list of top Super Bowl betting sites to help you do just that. Nail that pick, and you just might end up feeling like a Super Bowl MVP yourself.

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