By: Phil Houk
Notre Dame has 45 former players who have gone on to win Super Bowl rings, after this Sunday, there will be 46.
2021 draftees WR Ben Skowronek (Rams) and DE Khalid Kareem (Bengals) will both suit up for the game this Sunday. One will win a ring, both will join a group of former Notre Dame players and coaches that have had a profound impact on the 55 year history of the Super Bowl.
Three times a Fighting Irish alum has been named Super Bowl MVP and they are all the same guy. Joe Montana, who has four Super Bowl rings, earned the distinction in 1982, 1985 and 1990. Montana, never lost a Super Bowl and his legendary performances were well exemplified by what is now known in Super Bowl lore as “The Drive”.
In Super Bowl XXIV, with the 49ers trailing the Bengals 16-13 and 3:20 left in the game, Montana entered the huddle on first and 10 at his own eight yard line. In order to calm his team, “Joe Cool” pointed into the stands and said, “Hey isn’t that John Candy?” The reference to the popular comedian apparently worked because the 49ers, on 8-9 passing by Montana, went down the field and scored the winning points on a 14 yard TD pass to John Taylor. Montana, in his only Super bowl appearance in which he did not win the MVP, but that day completed 23-36 for a 357 yards and 2 TDs.
Other ND quarterbacks have played on Super Bowl winners. Joe Theismann (1968-70) led Washington to a win in 1983 over the Miami Dolphins. Theismann also led Washington to the Super Bowl the next season, but in a losing effort. Terry Hanratty (1966-68) took snaps in place of an injured Terry Bradshaw in Pittsburgh’s 1976 win and Steve Beuerlein (1983-86) took over for Troy Aikman late in Dallas’ win over Buffalo in 1993.
Notre Dame quarterback from 1972-74 and national champion in 1973, Tom Clements also earned a Super Bowl ring, but not as a player. Clements, who enjoyed a long career coaching in the NFL was Aaron Rodgers’ quarterback coach when Green Bay defeated Pittsburgh in 2011.
One former Notre Dame assistant coach has gone on to win the championship as a head coach. In 1958 Hank Stram was an assistant on Terry Brennan’s staff in South Bend. In 1970 Stram led the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl win over the Minnesota Vikings.
And of course former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis won four Super Bowl rings as a coach for the Patriots, before being named as the Notre Dame head coach in 2005.
Two Notre Dame alums participated in the first Super Bowl in 1967, a game won by Green Bay 35-10. Paul Hornung (1954-56) who was in the twilight of his career earned a ring but did not play due to an injury. Interestingly though was the special teams performance in the first ever Super Bowl of Bill “Red” Mack. Mack, an explosive and tough as nails running back, played at Notre Dame from 1957-60, and was on special teams for the Packers. Mack is credited with two tackles on the day and according to several sources , made the first tackle in Super Bowl history.
The $25,000 winners share the Packers got for winning the game back then was more than double the $12,000 Mack had received for the entire season. (The winner’s share today, btw, is $150,000. For more on Red Mack, go here Red Mack: The Toughest ND Player you Never Heard of, and my Coach).
Running Back Ricky Watters (1987-90) has scored the most touchdowns in the Super Bowl of any former Notre Dame Player. Watters has three and they all came during a 49-26 rout of the Chargers by the 49ers in 1995. He scored on pass receptions of 51 and 8 yards and a run of 9 yards.
Defensive end Ross Browner (1973-77), in a losing effort for the Bengals in 1990 set a Super Bowl record for most tackles by a defensive linman with 10. One of those stops was a sack of his former teammate, Joe Montana.
Matching Montana’s four Super Bowl victories is Rocky Bleier (1965-1967). The former Notre Dame Captain and 1966 national champion, had a tremendous career as a fullback for the Steelers teaming up with Franco Harris and won Super Bowl rings in 1975, 76, 79 and 80.
Steve Sylvester (1972-74), played tackle for the Oakland Raiders and won three rings, 1977, 81 and 84. Undoubtedly they look nice next to the national championship ring he won in South Bend in 1973.
Linebacker Nick Buoniconti (1959-61) was a mainstay on the great MIami Dolphin team in 1972, the only NFL team to ever go undefeated. Buoniconti clinched the perfect season and a Super Bowl win with an interception in a 14-7 win over Washington.
Jerome Bettis (1990-92) finally won a ring in 2005 with the Steelers after a 13 year career. “The Bus” went out on top because he announced his retirement from the podium while holding the Lombardi Trophy immediately after the game. (For more on what Jerome Bettis is up to today and his recent return to campus go here: ND Football Legend returns to Campus)
With four rings and three MVPs to his credit Joe Montana is rightfully considered one of the greatest players in Super Bowl history. “Joe Cool” and his heroics however are far from the only contributions Notre Dame has made to the world’s most watched game. In fact, in the 55 year history of the Super Bowl, many former Notre Dame players have been front and center on “Super Sunday”.
This year two rookies, Ben Skowronek and Khalid Kareem will look to add to that record of Fighting Irish success.