Who are the top Super Bowl performers from Notre Dame? These 10 make the cut
"There's a magic," it has famously been said, "in the sound of their name."
It's no slight of hand that over the past 56 years, greatness on Saturdays inside Notre Dame Stadium has often paved the way to "oohs" and "aahs" on Super Sundays.
At 6:30 p.m. EST Sunday, The Los Angels Rams and Cincinnati Bengals will kickoff Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. On the rosters will be two former Notre Dame players — wide receiver Ben Skowronek for the Rams and defensive lineman Khalid Kareem for the Bengals.
They will join a fraternity of former Notre Dame football players to participate in a Super Bowl that now reaches more than 100 members. Of those, some never saw the field. Others contributed either sparingly or significantly. One became a legend.
In honor of this year's game and the appearances of Skowronek and Kareem, here's a look back at the top Super Bowl performers from former Notre Dame players.
Let's face it, No. 1 is no secret, so we'll start at the top.
1. Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco 49ers
Seasons at Notre Dame: 1974-79
Super Bowls: XVI (1982), XIX (1985), XXIII (1989), XXIV (1990)
Before a guy named Tom Brady came around, his Bay Area hero, Joe Montana, was considered the greatest Super Bowl quarterback of all time.
A third-round pick by the 49ers after leading Notre Dame to the 1977 National Championship, Montana helped coach Bill Walsh turn the franchise into “The Team of the '80s,” winning a record-tying four Super Bowls at the time.
Montana won the first of his three Super Bowl MVP awards in a 26-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in 1982, completing 14 of 22 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a score.
His second MVP came in 1985 following a 38-16 thrashing of Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins, in which Montana broke the Super Bowl record for passing yards in a game with 331.
Montana didn’t win the MVP award in 1989 (that went to his wide receiver Jerry Rice), but did lead the 49ers on a game-winning 92-yard touchdown drive to beat the Bengals again, 20-16. He connected with WR John Taylor to take the lead with 34 seconds left. Montana also reset a Super Bowl record with 357 yards passing.
The 49ers repeated as champions in the next year as Montana had the greatest performance in Super Bowl history to date. He threw for 297 yards and a then record five touchdown passes in a 55-10 win over the Denver Broncos.
Montana remains the only former Notre Dame player to win a Super Bowl MVP award.
While Brady — who had 10 Super Bowl appearances and seven titles before retiring earlier this month — has since eclipsed most of Montana’s Super Bowl passing records, Montana still holds the record for career Super Bowl passer rating at 127.8.
2. Ricky Watters, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Seasons at Notre Dame: 1987-89
Super Bowl XXIX (1995)
Watters, a wide receiver on Notre Dame’s 1988 National Championship team, had a sneaky-good NFL career as a running back, rushing for more than 1,000 yards seven times on his way to 10,643 career rushing yards (good for 24th all time) and earning five Pro Bowls.
He was at his best as the 49ers destroyed the San Diego Chargers, 49-26, in Super Bowl XXIX. Watters scored three touchdowns, including a 51-yard strike from Steve Young, on his way to 108 yards of total offense.
His three touchdowns is the most scored by a former Irish player in the Super Bowl.
3. Justin Tuck, DL, New York Giants
Seasons at Notre Dame: 2001-04
Super Bowls XLII (2008), XLVI (2012)
It’s no surprise that Tuck became a feared defender in the NFL after finishing his Notre Dame career with a program record 43 career tackles for a loss and 13.5 sacks in a season. He would record a total of 24.5 sacks for the Irish.
As a Giant he won two rings and was a key figure in one of the greatest Super Bowl upsets of all time, denying Tom Brady and the New England Patriots a perfect season in Super Bowl XLII. Tuck kept constant pressure on Brady and finished with two sacks, a forced fumble and considerable MVP speculation (it went to QB Eli Manning) in a 17-14 win.
Tuck would end up sacking Brady two more times four years later in Super Bowl XLVI, another New York upset of the Patriots, 21-17.
4. Joe Theismann, QB, Washington Redskins
Seasons at Notre Dame: 1965-67
Super Bowls XVII (1983), XVIII (1984)
Known more in present day for his gruesome career-ending leg injury at the hands of Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson of the New York Giants on Monday Night football in 1985, Theismann was one of the best quarterbacks of the early 1980s. He led Washington to back-to-back Super Bowls in 1983 and 1984.
Against the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena, Calf., Theismann ended up with pedestrian stats, but did throw two touchdowns in leading Washington to its first World Championship in 40 years, 27-17.
Theismann led his team back to the Super Bowl the next year, but lost to a determined Los Angeles Raiders team, 38-9. Theismann was 16 for 35 for 243 yards, but failed to throw a touchdown pass while getting picked off twice.
5. David Givens, WR, New England Patriots
Seasons at Notre Dame: 1998-01
Super Bowls XXXVIII (2004), XXXIX (2005)
Coming out of Notre Dame in 2001, nobody would have imagined that Givens would be on this list. He caught 72 passes for 814 yards and three touchdowns in four seasons with the Irish, adding four rushing TDs.
But after a nine-catch rookie season in New England, Givens found his niche in offensive coordinator and future ND head coach Charlie Weis’ scheme and became a comfortable target for QB Tom Brady. In the Patriots' back-to-back championships, Givens became the only Notre Dame alum to score touchdowns in multiple Super Bowls.
Givens caught a 5-yard TD pass from Brady during a 32-29 win over the Carolina Panthers in 2004 and a 4-yarder the next year in a 24-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
In two Super Bowls Givens snared eight catches for 88 yards.
6. Rocky Bleier, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Seasons at Notre Dame: 1965-68
Super Bowls IX (1975), X (1976), XIII (1979), XIV (1980)
While Joe Montana led the “Team of the ‘80s,” Bleier was a key role player on the “Team of the '70s,” helping the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl Championships in six seasons. This after recovering from gunshot and shrapnel injuries to both legs during his military service in Vietnam in 1969.
After being told he’d never play football again, Bleier returned to the Steelers in 1970 and was a starter by 1974. And in four Super Bowls, Bleier accounted for 144 yards on 44 carries, as well as three receptions for 18 yards and a touchdown.
That touchdown came during the epic Super Bowl XIII game in Miami against the defending World Champion Dallas Cowboys. With the game tied 14-14 in the final minute of the first half, Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw hit Bleier for a 7-yard TD that gave Pittsburgh a lead it would not relinquish.
Bleier would seal the 35-31 victory by recovering a Dallas onside kick in the final minute.
7. Mark Bavaro, TE, New York Giants
Seasons at Notre Dame: 1981-84
Super Bowls XXI (1987) and XXV (1991)
In two seasons at Notre Dame, Bavaro caught 55 passes for 771 yards and four touchdowns under head coach Gerry Faust, while also gaining a reputation as a superior blocker.
A fourth-round draft pick, Bavaro became a starter as a rookie and an All Pro the following two seasons, which included New York’s dominating 39-20 Super Bowl XXI win over the Denver Broncos. That season Bravo had 66 catches for a career high 1,001 yards.
Against the Broncos Bavaro was a force, and in the third quarter caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from game MVP Phil Simms that gave the Giants the lead for good. Bavaro would finish with four catches for 51 yards.
Bavaro earned a second ring with the Giants four years later in a thrilling 20-19 win over the Buffalo Bills. Bavaro did not score in that classic, but did haul in five catches for 50 yards.
8. Dave Casper, TE, Oakland Raiders
Seasons at Notre Dame: 1971-73
Super Bowl XI (1977)
Never a prolific pass catcher or scorer to that point, Casper had a breakout season for the Raiders in 1976, catching 53 passes for 691 yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns. Oakland ended up in that season’s Super Bowl opposite the Minnesota Vikings, who had already lost on that stage three times.
In the second quarter, Casper became the first Notre Dame alumni to score a Super Bowl touchdown when he snagged a 1-yard pass from QB Ken Stabler to give the Raiders a 10-0 lead. Casper would end up with four catches for 70 yards while contributing valuable run blocking for Clarence Davis and Mark van Eeghen.
The Raiders would go on to win the first of their three championships in eight years, 32-14. Casper would have four All Pro seasons before being traded midway through Oakland’s 1980 Super Bowl season.
9. Ross Browner, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
Seasons at Notre Dame: 1973-77
Super Bowl XVI (1982)
An All American for the Irish in 1976 and 1977, Browner was so good as a defender he finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting as a senior and was picked in the first round of the NFL draft by the Bengals.
In Super Bowl XVI played at the Pontiac (Mich.) Silverdome, Browner and the upstart Bengals would face the San Francisco 49ers and Browner’s former Notre Dame teammate, Joe Montana.
The 49ers went on to 26-21 win, but Browner was pivotal in helping stop the San Francisco running game. He ended up with 10 solo tackles, which remains a Super Bowl record for a defensive lineman.
10. Nick Buoniconti, LB, Miami Dolphins
Seasons at Notre Dame: 1958-61
Super Bowls VI (1972), VII (1973), VIII (1974)
An All-American his senior year at Notre Dame, Buoniconti went on to be the anchor of the historic Miami Dolphins’ “No-Name Defenses” of the early 1970s, and eventually a Hall-of-Famer.
The undersized Buoniconti helped lead the Dolphins to three consecutive Super Bowls and back-to-back championships. The 14-7 win in Super Bowl XII win over Washington cemented the NFL’s only perfect season at 17-0.
Buoniconti’s interception of Bill Kilmer late in the second quarter led to what would end up as the deciding touchdown with just 18 seconds left in the half.
Dave Duerson (1979-82) — Safety who won two Super Bowl titles with the Chicago Bears (XX) and New York Giants (XXV). Alan Page (1963-66) — Defensive end who played in, but lost four Super Bowls with the Minnesota Vikings. Bob Kuechenberg (1965-68) — Offensive lineman who appeared in three Super Bowls with two wins for the Miami Dolphins. Steve Sylvester (1971-74) — Offensive lineman who won three Super Bowls with the Oakland/L.A. Raiders. Eric Dorsey (1982-85) — Defensive lineman who won two titles with the Giants (XXI, XXV). Tom Thayer (1980-83) — Guard who won Super Bowl XX with the Chicago Bears. Todd Lyght (1987-90) — Safety who blocked a field goal in the St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl XXXIV win over the Tennessee Titans. Jerome Bettis (1989-92) — Running back who rushed for 43 yards on 14 carries in Pittsburgh's XL victory over Seattle in his final game.