Super Bowl by Ground: The Greatest Rushing Performances

Written By Chris Imperiale on December 20, 2021Last Updated on March 11, 2022
Dallas running back great Emmitt Smith demonstrated the importance of the running back in a memorable Super Bowl win

Although they say that football is a game of yards and inches, the rushing performances of the running backs have become somewhat forgotten in today’s Super Bowl landscape. With different rules in place than in decades prior, teams are leaning on the pass for much easier and faster scoring.

Wide receivers can’t really be touched, making things much easier for quarterbacks and passing attacks today.

That said, there once was a time when some running backs dominated the league. A couple even propelled their teams to a Super Bowl title.

Currently, the Dallas Cowboys “three-headed monster” defensive line is ranked second in NFC East, the division with the most Super Bowl wins.

Some franchises, like the Tennessee Titans, stray from most other teams’ strategy; running consistently throughout a game. It helps they feature one of the best backs around in Derrick Henry.

While most don’t rely on the run that often during the regular season, it becomes more of a factor in the playoffs. With colder weather and usually quality defenses on the field, offenses try to keep a balance through an effective rushing game.

This was especially true in the past when a great running back could carry a team to wins. Whether or not they impact Super Bowl odds, their value is still recognized. While the average NFL running back earns $4 million a year, at least seven current rushers earn over $12 million per season.

Let’s examine some of the best rushing performances on the ground in Super Bowl history.

Super Bowl running back showings to remember

Although it hasn’t occurred since Super Bowl XXXII (the 1998 season), running backs’ rushing performances have earned MVP recognition in the final game seven total times.

The Denver Broncos’ Terrell Davis is the last to do so, taking home the hardware after his side’s victory over the Packers.

There are also several other great showings that didn’t result in winning the Super Bowl MVP. In fact, it could be the best game by a running back on the NFL’s largest stage ever.

Timmy Smith – Washington

Washington’s Timmy Smith didn’t earn the MVP in Super Bowl XXII, but he did set a record that he still holds today.

Smith rushed for 204 yards on 22 carries to help his franchise grab another ring. Washington also won four years prior.

Smith found the end zone twice during this one, as well, including once on an incredible 58-yard dash. With the game still tight at 14-10, Smith’s scamper extended the lead and took the air out of the Denver Broncos.

Washington ended up scoring five total touchdowns in that second quarter to take a commanding 35-10 lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

Smith’s 204 rushing yardage remains the most in any Super Bowl. Unfortunately for him, most remember this one for his quarterback’s spectacular play.

Doug Williams won the MVP behind 340 yards and four passing scores. Not only did he lead his team to a blowout, but he did so with several impressive touchdowns.

Williams hit Ricky Sanders for an 80-yard strike to get Washington on the scoreboard, then again for 50 yards in the same quarter.

Still, Smith was a crucial part of the win and may not lose his spot in the record books for quite some time.

Marcus Allen – Los Angeles Raiders

The only other running back to approach the 200-yard mark was the Los Angeles Raiders’ Marcus Allen.

Unlike Smith who had a short career, many football fans remember Allen. The running back played for 16 years overall, the majority with the Raiders. Younger fans may recall him finishing his career in Kansas City in the 1990s.

Allen entered the Hall of Fame in 2003.

Even though his resume features lots of accomplishments, none are more important than his performance in his lone Super Bowl.

Allen paced the Raiders and completed the day with 20 carries for 191 yards and two scores.

Like Smith, Allen got in the end zone with a long run of his own. Allen’s 74-yard exclamation point pretty much ended the Raiders’ contest with Washington.

It grew the lead to 35-9 and ended any hope of a comeback.

Allen’s great night prevented Washington from taking back-to-back championships and got his name inscribed on the MVP trophy.

Despite this happening in just Allen’s second season in 1983, his Raiders and Chiefs teams never qualified for the Super Bowl again.

Terrell Davis – Denver Broncos

Davis’ most recent MVP showing is also one of the best ever. Part of the reason the Broncos’ star is so well-known for this outing is because it was actually tight.

Both of the previous running backs mentioned were amazing, but they generated these stat lines in lopsided games.

Denver needed every single yard that Davis churned out that night. His one-yard plunge for a touchdown in the fourth quarter sealed the deal for the Broncos with fewer than two minutes left.

They won by a final of 31-24.

Overall, Davis rushed for 157 yards on 30 carries, to go with three rushing touchdowns. He’s still the only player in the NFL to record three scores on the ground in the Super Bowl.

Davis willed his team to a win and received his second MVP of the season at the Super Bowl. He took home the regular-season honors, too, by accumulating more than 2,000 rushing yards on the campaign.

That magical year seemed to affect the back going forward in his career, as injuries piled up and he was out of the league following 2001.

Emmitt Smith – Dallas Cowboys

NFL fans in the Lone Star State should remember Emmitt Smith’s amazing game in Super Bowl XXVIII. His 132 yards that evening rank ninth all-time in the event.

Just like the Broncos and Davis’ situation, Dallas needed one of its leaders in Smith to step up in order to get a W.

Unlike the year before where the Cowboys pummeled Buffalo by 35 points, they actually fell behind in the early going. Buffalo held a seven-point advantage at halftime.

Dallas didn’t flinch, though, and found success handing the ball to No. 22.

Smith posted his 132 yards on 30 carries, while he scored two vital second-half touchdowns. His 15-yard rush in the third quarter reclaimed the lead for Dallas that it never gave up.

The Cowboys held on to win 30-13 to snag consecutive titles.

Smith was named the MVP and is one of the most successful running backs in Super Bowls. He sits in third for the most career rushing yards in this game, with 289 through three appearances.

Photo by Susan Ragan/Associated Press
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Chris Imperiale

Chris Imperiale covers sports betting and the online casino industries. He has a journalism degree from Rutgers University and was formerly on staff at Bleacher Report.

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