- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The names are lodged in the memory of NFL fans: Starr, Namath, Staubach, Csonka, Bradshaw, Montana, Aikman, Elway, Lewis, Brady. All those Super Bowl MVPs are already enshrined in the Hall of Fame or are on the fast track to Canton.

However, don’t assume Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning or Chicago middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, the superstars of their teams, will leave Dolphin Stadium Sunday night clutching the Pete Rozelle Trophy. Where 21 of the first 30 men to be named Super Bowl MVP are Hall of Famers or sure bets (Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith), four of the last 11 winners were surprises.

Playing in a secondary with flamboyant cornerback Deion Sanders and perennial Pro Bowl safety Darren Woodson, Larry Brown was one of the more obscure starters on the 1995 Dallas Cowboys. But he intercepted two passes in the second half of Super Bowl XXX and returned them a combined 77 yards to set up two touchdowns in a 27-17 victory over Pittsburgh.

Brown’s timing was as terrific as his game, because he was heading into free agency. Oakland rewarded him with a then-munificent five-year, $12.5 million contract including a $3.5 million signing bonus. However, Brown was cut during his second season there. He caught on with Minnesota but was waived after preseason with a badly injured ankle. He then returned to Dallas for one last year as a backup and was out of football before he turned 30.

“Things didn’t work out in Oakland like I thought they would,” Brown said after re-signing with the Cowboys.

Green Bay became Titletown USA for the first time in nearly three decades in January 1997, but star quarterback Brett Favre wasn’t the MVP despite throwing for two touchdowns and running for one. The honor went to Desmond Howard, who set a Super Bowl record with 244 return yards, including a 99-yard touchdown that sealed a 35-21 victory over New England after the Patriots had rallied within a touchdown.

“That return was the game right there,” then-Patriots coach Bill Parcells said.

Said Howard: “It’s a wonderful feeling because I didn’t just ride on someone else’s coattails to get my Super Bowl ring. I was a major contributor. That’s what people will remember, and that’s what my teammates will remember. That means everything to me.”

Howard, a much-hyped Heisman Trophy winner at Michigan in 1991, had washed out as a receiver with Washington and Jacksonville before making it big with the Packers as a return man. He had come within one touchdown of the NFL record with three punt return scores in 1996 and went on to make the Pro Bowl as a return man for Detroit in 2000. But in 11 seasons, Howard caught just 123 passes.

When Tampa Bay finally won a title in January 2003, the hero wasn’t longtime defensive stars Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks or John Lynch. Nor was it quarterback Brad Johnson. The MVP was fourth-year safety Dexter Jackson, who hadn’t started a game in his first two seasons. But that afternoon in San Diego, Jackson picked off two early passes to start the Buccaneers towards a 48-21 rout of Oakland.

“One of my friends told me I was a part of football immortality,” Jackson said earlier this year. “Until the end of the earth I’ll be remembered as an MVP. [When] I saw the first one. Bart Starr. It hit me. That’s history.”

Like Brown seven years earlier, the previously obscure Jackson followed his big night on the big stage with a big contract, signing a five-year, $14 million deal with Arizona. Nineteen months later, Jackson was cut by the lowly Cardinals. He rejoined the Buccaneers and then moved on to Cincinnati, where he started in 2006 for a defense that was the NFL’s third-worst overall and tied for last against the pass.

When New England won its third title in four years in January 2005, receiver Deion Branch, who had caught just 40 passes in 11 games, including the AFC playoffs, tied a Super Bowl record with 11 catches. Branch didn’t score, but he still edged quarterback Tom Brady, the MVP of the Patriots’ two previous Super Bowl triumphs, for the trophy.

Branch followed that performance with a career-best 78 catches in 2005, but when he held out last summer, coach Bill Belichick traded him to Seattle, where he returned to earth with just 53 catches.

Branch and Jackson are two of the four Super Bowl MVPs to never play in a Pro Bowl. Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett, the 1970 Heisman Trophy winner, and the Redskins’ Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to win the Super Bowl, achieved lasting fame despite not being selected for Hawaii.

Branch will be only 28 next season, but he could well be on the way to joining Brown, Howard and Jackson in the “You’re Kidding” Super Bowl MVPs.

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