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49ers’ five greatest individual Super Bowl performances

Marc Adams
Feb 10, 2024 at 10:00 AM--

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When San Francisco 49ers QB Brock Purdy takes the field during Super Bowl LVIII, he will be the fifth 49ers quarterback to start in a Super Bowl, the most by any team in NFL history. Joe Montana started the first four for the 49ers, followed by Steve Young, Colin Kaepernick, and Jimmy Garoppolo. Montana and Young, of course, went a combined 5-0 in Super Bowls. Kaepernick and Garoppolo are a combined 0-2 in the big game.

Where Purdy will stand among the other 49ers Super Bowl quarterbacks will be determined on Sunday. If San Francisco wins, Purdy will be held forever in 49ers' lore. If the team loses, then Purdy and his teammates will head into the offseason disappointed, and ready to try again next season.

Purdy has the chance to have his name placed with the legends who came before him. Some of those players made their mark on the Super Bowl in ways that will always be remembered. Whether it was a record-setting performance or a game-winning drive, fans of the 49ers (and NFL fans, as well) will always remember the huge performance that player had on the biggest of stages.

Let's take a look at the five greatest individual Super Bowl performances in 49ers history.

1. Steve Young, Super Bowl XXIX

Young had a tough job, following Montana, who had won four Super Bowls and was considered the greatest QB of all time. And for a few years, Young's season ended with disappointment. After losing back-to-back NFC Championship Games to the Dallas Cowboys, Young and the 49ers set out for the offseason with a singular focus—getting past the Cowboys and winning the Super Bowl in 1994.

And that's exactly what they did. The team's front office rebuilt the defense, and Young had his best season as an NFL quarterback. In Super Bowl XXIX, the 49ers completely dominated the San Diego Chargers, winning 49-26. Young was named Super Bowl MVP after going 24-36, throwing for 325 yards and six touchdowns.

Young had a passer rating of 134.8 and also added 49 yards rushing. Young earned the top spot in this list for his six touchdown passes, and 374 total yards. He said that offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan told him he was going to throw eight touchdown passes in that game. And that was the goal going in. Young didn't get eight, but his six touchdown passes are still a Super Bowl record, breaking that of the next guy on our list.

2. Joe Montana, Super Bowl XXIV

The 49ers decimated the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX, but the most lopsided Super Bowl in history was Super Bowl XXIV when the 49ers embarrassed the Denver Broncos 55-10.
The team, as a whole, was about as close to perfect as you can get. And even though he had many great Super Bowl moments, this was Montana's finest performance on the game's grandest stage.

Montana threw for 297 yards, which was a little low for his standard, but his performance in this game is number two on this list because of his five touchdown passes and 147.6 QB rating. Montana was almost perfect, completing 22 of 29 passes. It was vintage Montana, playing his best when the lights were the brightest. And he did it against a good Broncos defense.

Montana's five touchdown passes put him at number two on this list.

3. Jerry Rice, Super Bowl XXIII

Not all of the 49ers' greatest individual performances in Super Bowl history were quarterbacks. Rice earned his way on this list by setting a Super Bowl record as a receiver. This was the moment people started saying he may be the greatest receiver in the history of the league.

The 49ers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 20-16 in Super Bowl XXIII. It wasn't the offensive explosion we saw in some of the other 49ers' Super Bowl wins, but Rice was unstoppable. He had 11 catches for 215 yards and one touchdown. The number of catches and the amount of yards both set Super Bowl records. While Rice's record for most catches in a Super Bowl has since been broken (James White, 14), his record for most receiving yards in the game still stands, even though the league has become much more pass-happy. Imagine if Rice had played that game with the rules they play with today. He may have had twice the catches and yards he ended up with.

Rice only had one touchdown in the game, but he set up John Taylor's game-winner with three big catches for 51 yards on the 49ers' final drive.

4. Joe Montana, Super Bowl XIX

That Montana guy is on the list again and probably could have been on the list even more than the two times he is. In Super Bowl XIX, the story leading up to the game was all about Dan Marino and the high-flying Miami Dolphins offense. How would the 49ers be able to keep up?

Someone forgot to tell Montana that he wasn't supposed to steal the spotlight from Marino. And that's exactly what he did, going 24-35 for 331 yards, three touchdown passes, and a QB rating of 127.2 en route to a 38-16 dismantling of the Dolphins. Montana also added 59 yards rushing, along with one touchdown on the ground. And this was a year before the 49ers drafted Rice.

Montana spread the ball around, connecting with six different receivers, including a touchdown pass to Carl Monroe and two touchdown passes to Roger Craig, who could have made this list himself for setting a Super Bowl record that day by being the first player in history to score three touchdowns in a single Super Bowl.

In the end, Montana edged out Craig on this list because he accounted for four total touchdowns, along with 390 yards.

5. Jerry Rice, Super Bowl XXIX

If Montana can make the list twice, it's only fair that Rice makes the list twice. Rice's Super Bowl XXIII performance placed him at number three, but he had two other Super Bowl performances that could have landed him at number five and six. In Super Bowl XXIV, Rice had seven catches for 148 yards and three touchdowns. But his Super Bowl XXIX performance was just a little better. And that's why this one makes the list.

In Super Bowl XXIX, while Young was throwing six touchdown passes, Rice was getting in on the fun himself, adding 10 catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns. This was the second Super Bowl in which Rice scored three touchdowns, and the second in which he had double-digit catches. And what makes it even more impressive is that he did it with two different quarterbacks.

What Super Bowl performances are in your top five? What did we leave out? Will someone add themselves to this list during Super Bowl LVIII? We will find out on Sunday.
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