Commentary

Greatest Super Bowl fantasy performances: Running backs

Updated: January 30, 2008, 2:51 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft

Folks, we've got a heck of a Super Bowl heading our way. On one side, we've got the 18-0 Patriots, looking to become the first to make it a perfect 19-and-0 season by winning their fourth title in the past seven seasons. On the other, we've got the upstart Giants, who nearly knocked the Patriots off their perch in Week 17 and who won 10 consecutive road games, defying the odds the entire month of January.

In short: This one's a can't-miss.

But in a year when the statistics -- the Pats' perfection, the touchdown records of Tom Brady and Randy Moss, the Giants' road domination -- have captivated all football fans, we fantasy folks can't help but think about the numbers that lie ahead. Oh, there'll be great plays, great individual performances, and a great ... OK, well, maybe the halftime show won't classify as great, but it's the full-game numbers that truly define greatness for us.

That in mind, I took a look back at the past 41 Super Bowls from a fantasy angle, seeking the greatest individual performances in the big game's history. Win or lose, game-changing play or not, it's the game-ending stat sheet that counts here. Can Brady, game MVP or not come Sunday, land himself on the list of all-time fantasy greats? Will Ahmad Bradshaw shock the world with a Super Bowl for the ages? We shall soon see...

For these purposes, scoring is identical to our standard ESPN leagues: One point per 25 passing yards, one per 10 rushing or receiving yards, four points per passing touchdown, six per rushing/receiving score. Two-point conversions -- a Super Bowl rarity -- are worth two points, and a lost fumble costs a player two.

Today, let's focus on the running backs, with quarterbacks coming Wednesday and receivers on Thursday.

Seven running backs have won MVP awards in the game's history, but surprisingly, two of them missed the top 10 for fantasy. Ottis Anderson (in Super Bowl XXV) was the weakest, notching 16 points, which demonstrates how the game's most valuable performer isn't necessarily fantasy's best.

So who had the best fantasy statistics, then? Here's the top 10:

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1 (tied). Marcus Allen, Raiders
Stats: 32 points, 20-191-2 rushing, 2-18-0 receiving
Super Bowl XVIII, January 22, 1984: Raiders 38, Redskins 9
On the day the Raiders set then-Super Bowl records for points scored and margin of victory, Allen set several standards of his own en route being named the game's MVP. His 74-yard touchdown run on the final play of the third quarter and his 191 rushing yards set records. and the rushing yards still rank as the No. 2 single-game effort, while his yards-per-carry average is No. 2 among players with 10-plus carries (9.6).

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1 (tied). Timmy Smith, Redskins
Stats: 32 points, 22-204-2 rushing, 1-9-0 receiving
Super Bowl XXII, January 31, 1988: Redskins 42, Broncos 10
Talk about 15 minutes of fame. Smith, a fifth-round pick of the Redskins in 1987, might have had an uninspiring NFL career, totaling four seasons, 22 games and 199 total touches, but he'll always have Super Bowl XXII. Called upon to start because usual starter George Rogers was limited due to injuries that would force him into retirement following the season, Smith set a record for rushing yards in a Super Bowl (204), while becoming only the 14th player to score multiple touchdowns. Sadly he'd manage just two more 100-yard rushing efforts and three more touchdowns before retiring in 1990.

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3. Terrell Davis, Broncos
Stats: 31 points, 30-157-3 rushing, 2-8-0 receiving, 1 lost fumble
Super Bowl XXXII, January 25, 1998: Broncos 31, Packers 24
The first -- and only -- player to amass three rushing touchdowns in a Super Bowl, Davis was at the peak of his game at the time of Super Bowl XXXII. He was coming off a then-career best 1,750-rushing yard, 15-touchdown regular season, and three playoff games in which he totaled 424 rushing yards and five scores. And little did he know, he was about to embark on one of the best campaigns in NFL history (2,008 rushing yards, 23 total touchdowns in 1998). Incredibly, Davis' Super Bowl effort would represent one of five three-touchdown performances he'd amass in 20 games from Week 13 of the 1997 season through Week 14 of 1998 (playoffs included). For it, he'd earn MVP honors.

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4. Roger Craig, 49ers
Stats: 30 points, 15-58-1 rushing, 7-77-2 receiving
Super Bowl XIX, January 20, 1985: 49ers 38, Dolphins 16
Craig might not have been a fantasy powerhouse, a No. 1 overall-type player in his 11-year NFL career, but he certainly played the part in Super Bowl XIX. He was the first player to score three touchdowns in a Super Bowl -- only three have done it since -- and he amassed 135 total yards in the process. Joe Montana might have been the game's fantasy standout and MVP, but that's no knock on Craig's performance, hauling in two of Montana's three passing scores. He's the only player in the game's history, in fact, to have both run for and caught a touchdown, while managing 50-plus yards as a rusher and receiver.

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5. Ricky Watters, 49ers
Stats: 28 points, 15-47-1 rushing, 3-61-2 receiving
Super Bowl XXIX, January 29, 1995: 49ers 49, Chargers 26
Ten years after Craig became the first player to manage both a rushing and receiving touchdown in a Super Bowl, Watters, a fellow 49er, joined him. And, like Craig, Watters was overshadowed by his quarterback, game MVP Steve Young, though he caught two of Young's six touchdown passes in the contest. Watters managed 108 total yards in the game, quietly dominating despite Young and Jerry Rice getting all the headlines.

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6. Emmitt Smith, Cowboys
Stats: 27 points, 30-132-2 rushing, 4-26-0 receiving
Super Bowl XXVIII, January 30, 1994: Cowboys 30, Bills 13
Three times in his career, Smith would appear in a Super Bowl, and each time, he'd easily offer what would've been a double-digit fantasy effort. This was the best, the one that earned him his only game MVP award. Down 13-6 at halftime, the Cowboys would rely heavily on Smith in the game's second half, as he amassed 19 of his 30 carries and scored both of his touchdowns to rally his Cowboys to victory. He was as consistent as they come, and this Super Bowl was sandwiched by the two best seasons of his career, his 22-touchdown 1994 and 25-score 1995, each of which ranks among the 12 all-time best.

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7. Larry Csonka, Dolphins
Stats: 26 points, 33-145-2 rushing
Super Bowl VIII, January 13, 1974: Dolphins 24, Vikings 7
The 1972 Dolphins might be the team that still gets the headlines today, but in 1973, they weren't bad, either. For Csonka, in what would be his third consecutive Super Bowl appearance, he finally broke through, following up a 117-yard, 3-touchdown rushing effort in the Conference Championship with the fourth multi-touchdown performance in Super Bowl history, earning him MVP honors. Csonka, who had three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons at the time, wouldn't get to that level again, and would even spend a year in the fledgling World Football League in 1975. But on that day in 1974, he was a fantasy stud.

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8 (tied). Eddie George, Titans
Stats: 24 points, 28-95-2 rushing, 2-35-0 receiving
Super Bowl XXXIV, January 30, 2000: Rams 23, Titans 16
George and the next name on the list tied for the greatest fantasy performance in Super Bowl history that came in a losing effort; not surprisingly, both games were decided by less than a score. In a game that was literally decided by inches, it could be said accurately that the Titans wouldn't have even gotten close if not for George. It was his two second-half touchdowns, separated by less than eight minutes, that helped rally the Titans from down 16 points. George made this one a contest, even if the result wasn't to his liking.

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8 (tied). Thurman Thomas, Bills
Stats: 24 points, 15-135-1 rushing, 5-55-0 receiving
Super Bowl XXV, January 27, 1991: Giants 20, Bills 19
This one certainly stung more than George's loss; Thomas' Bills had a shot at a two-point victory, but kicker Scott Norwood's last-second, 47-yard field-goal chance sailed wide right. Earlier in the quarter, Thomas ran 31 yards for his only score of the game, giving his team a 19-17 lead. It'd be his first of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, and he'd score a touchdown in each, but this would represent his only 100-yard rushing effort.

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10. John Riggins, Redskins
Stats: 23 points, 38-166-1 rushing, 1-15-0 receiving
Super Bowl XVII, January 30, 1983: Redskins 27, Dolphins 17
Riggins' 1982 postseason was a remarkable one, a "rebirth" point of his career, in fact. A 553-yard, 3-touchdown rusher in the regular season, albeit in the strike-shortened, nine-game 1982 season, Riggins exploded for three 100-yard rushing efforts and three scores in three playoff games, leading into a Super Bowl in which, of course, he again topped 100 and found the end zone. All of 33 years old at the time, Riggins would go on to score 24 touchdowns the following season, a record for a man of his age.

Honorable mention: Super Bowl III MVP Joe Namath got the spotlight, but Matt Snell was the game's fantasy standout, totaling 161 yards and a score for the Jets. That'd be good for 22 points, one short of the cut. ... Franco Harris was a game MVP in Super Bowl IX, but surprisingly, that wasn't his best fantasy performance in a Super Bowl. He'd manage 19 points in that contest, but his 22 points in Super Bowl XIV actually ranked higher. Terry Bradshaw took MVP honors that day, but Franco's 112 total yards and two scores were key for the Steelers.

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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