Update: With the Denver Broncos upsetting the favored Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller earned MVP honors. Though Cam Newton was named as the NFL’s regular season MVP earlier in the week, Carolina’s young quarterback will have to wait at least another year to join the Super-Heisman ranks. It remains among the most exclusive of NFL clubs.
The Super Bowl turns 50 this year and unlike most Monday morning quarterbacks pushing half-a-century, it’s in pretty good health. Estimates tell us that nearly 189 million Americans will tune in on February 7th to watch the Carolina Panthers take on the Denver Broncos.
When they do square off, Hall of Fame bound quarterback and chicken parm enthusiast Peyton Manning will attempt to end his career on that highest of notes, hoisting the Lombardi trophy over his head and filming that ubiquitous Disney World commercial.
There is, however, another possibility, and a very strong one at that. Carolina QB Cam Newton looks to cap off his brilliant 2015 season with a Super Sunday victory. Vegas odds put the Panthers at a six point advantage at the time of writing, suggesting that most people think Newton will do exactly that. But Newton could also achieve one of football’s rarest feats this weekend and Vegas seems to think he’ll do this as well.
For the first time ever, gamblers have a chance to place prop wagers on the game’s MVP. Bettors seem largely convinced that Newton will take top honors. Should he do so, he would join a deeply exclusive club. Newton would become only the fifth player in NFL history with a mantel that includes Super Bowl MVP and Heisman Trophies.
Newton won the latter as the top college player out of Auburn University in 2010 before entering the NFL as the first overall selection in the 2011 draft. Though Newton’s accomplishments on the field have been impressive to this point, the 2015 season will be remembered as the one where he put it all together.
Entering the game this weekend, Newton will become the 18th Heisman winner to compete in a Super Bowl. And with quarterbacks earning 27 of the game’s 49 previously bestowed Super Bowl MVP awards, Newton has as good a shot as anybody in recent years at joining the rarified air shared by history’s four Super-Heismans.
Football Hardware Through History
The Heisman was created by the Downtown Athletic Club in 1935 as a way of recognizing “the most valuable football player in the East.” When the club’s athletic director, John Heisman, passed away the following year, his name became inextricably linked to the honor (which also was subsequently extended to players west of the Mississippi).
As for the Super Bowl, its inaugural game was played in 1967. That first contest saw the Green Bay Packers dispatching the Kansas City Chiefs, making eventual Hall of Fame QB Bart Starr the OG MVP. He would repeat the feat the following year.
Starr was not, however, a Heisman Trophy winner.
The first guy to do both was Dallas Cowboys QB Roger Staubach. In 1972, he led the Cowboys to their second consecutive title, a sound 27-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl VI. As a 1963 Heisman winner for the Naval Academy, Roger the Dodger passed for 1,474 yards and set a Cotton Bowl record for completing 21 of 31 passes. He would ultimately amass no fewer than 28 Navy football records during his college tenure.
He was every bit as successful in the NFL, leading his Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories and a career 90-31 record. Not only would Staubach be named the league-wide MVP in 1971, but he would also be credited with the invention of the Hail Mary pass. Following a 1975 playoff victory in which he heaved an improbable 50 yard go-ahead touchdown pass in the waning seconds against the Minnesota Vikings, Staubach was asked how he completed the pass. He told reporters that he just unleashed the ball and said a quick Hail Mary. The term became cemented in history.
So too did Staubach’s legacy. The Super-Heisman is enshrined in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Just three seasons later, in 1981, Jim Plunkett led the Oakland Raiders to a 27-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV. Plunkett had been a standout in college, indeed one of the greatest QBs ever to play the game for Stanford University. In his stellar 1970 season, the senior passed for 2,175 and 19 touchdowns on the way to a Pac-8 title. Plunkett bested all-time greats Archie Manning (Peyton and Eli’s dad) of Ole Miss and Joe Theisman of Notre Dame to take home the Heisman.
Though he would go on to become the first overall pick in the following year’s NFL draft, his stint with the Boston (soon-to-be New England) Patriots would be only marginally successful. In 1976, he would be the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade with the 49ers. After spending a few lackluster seasons in San Francisco, Plunkett would join the Raiders as a backup. But his first few seasons in Oakland were fairly inauspicious.
As a backup, Plunkett would have the opportunity to attempt only 15 passes over all of ’78 and ‘79. Everything would change for Plunkett, and for the Raiders, in week five of the 1980 season. When an injury to the starter landed him the top job at age 32, he ran with it, helping the Raiders become the first Wild Card team to ultimately win a Super Bowl.
With 261 passing yards and three touchdowns that day, Plunkett was named as the game’s MVP. He wasn’t done there. Again, stepping up from the backup role in 1983, Plunkett returned his team to the Promised Land.
That victory would make Plunkett, to date, the only NFL quarterback in history to lead his team to two Super Bowl wins without a Hall of Fame plaque to show for it. As only the second Super-Heisman in the game’s history, however, Plunkett is a member of an even more selective club.
Though Jim Plunkett stood behind center for the Raiders’ second title in four years, it was the team’s superstar Running Back that earned the big prize in Super Bowl XVIII. While his future QB was busy earning the Super Bowl MVP in 1981, Marcus Allen was making a name for himself as one of the all-time great college backs.
To date, Allen’s senior season remains one of the most impressive Heisman campaigns ever recorded. Leading his USC Trojans to a 9-2 record that year, Allen rushed for more than 200 yards in eight of the team’s eleven games. Ultimately amassing 2,343 yards and 29 touchdowns, Allen swept the college trophy bracket that year, grabbing the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards along with the coveted Heisman.
The 10th overall pick in the 1982 draft, Allen was an immediate impact player in the NFL, winning Rookie of the Year honors in his debut season. He capped his sophomore season with a record-setting Super Bowl romp, putting together 191 rushing yards and two TDs on the way to a devastating 38-9 victory over the Washington Redskins in 1984.
The next year, Allen was named the league’s MVP. It was thus that Marcus Allen became the first and only football player to win a national championship, a Heisman, a Super Bowl MVP award, and an NFL MVP Award. So Marcus Allen is the football equivalent of an EGOT. For all intents and purposes, he’s the Whoopi Goldberg of the NFL.
He’s also a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
It would be 15 years before the world would see another Super-Heisman. In the early ‘90s, the University of Michigan Wolverines were a powerful entity. No single player was as responsible for the football program’s success as was Desmond Howard. In 1991, during his junior year, the wide receiver was absolutely spectacular. Howard caught 61 passes for 960 yards and 19 TDs, along with 12 rushes for 165 yards and two TDs. Howard set a boatload of records that year, becoming the first receiver in history to lead the Big Ten Conference in points scored.
He also returned one kickoff for a touchdown, foreshadowing his eventual NFL specialty. After winning the Heisman Trophy by the second largest margin ever achieved, Howard entered the NFL draft a year early. He joined the Washington Redskins as the fourth overall pick but did not make a smooth transition to NFL Wide Receiver.
Instead, he carved out a niche as one of the league’s most feared punt and kickoff returners. The Special Teams standout bounced around a bit during his NFL career. Thus, his greatest accomplishment came during the only season he spent with the Green Bay Packers. During that 1996 season, he would set the all-time punt return record with 875 yards, taking three of them to the house for TDs. But no score would be as important as the one he notched on January 26, 1997.
Howard put together a staggering 244 all purpose yards in that game, 90 of them on punt returns and 154 of them on kickoffs. He also took one punt to the end zone, leading the Packers to a 35-21 win over the New England Patriots and becoming the least likely of Super Bowl MVPs. For his definitive performance in Super Bowl XXXI, Howard remains the only Special Teams player to be named as the game’s top performer.
Though a Pro-Football Hall of Fame berth seems unlikely, Howard is a College Football HOFer and is still regarded as one of the greatest receivers ever to play at the collegiate level.
So here we are, nearly 20 years from Howard’s stellar performance and on the threshold of a major milestone. The Super Bowl turns 50 this weekend, but the Super-Heisman remains that rarest of accomplishments.
Cam satisfied the first part of this equation in 2010, leading the Auburn Tigers to SEC and BCS championships on the strength of 2,854 passing yards for 30 TDs and another 1,473 rushing yards for 20 TDs. These insane numbers helped him easily best Andrew Luck in Heisman voting and made him the first overall pick in next year’s draft.
Since joining the NFL, Newton has stacked up an impressive array of accomplishments, beginning with 2011’s Rookie of the Year trophy, three Pro Bowl appearances, and a 2015 season in which he passed for 3,837 yards and 35 TDs along with 636 rushing yards and 10 TDs. League-wide MVP buzz is considerable.
But of course, for Newton, anything short of a Super Bowl victory this year will be a disappointment. Based on his accomplishments this season, chances are low that such a victory would not also be paired with an MVP trophy.
For his incredible power, athleticism, and playmaking dynamism (not to mention his shirt-splaying end zone celebrations), Cam Newton is known affectionately by fans and analysts as Superman. This is a nickname he has more than earned in his fifth NFL season. But will Cam Newton become the next Super-Heisman?
Tune in on Sunday to find out.