Super Bowl 54 kicks off Sunday, and rookies with both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers will get their first taste of what it’s like to play for a Lombardi Trophy early in their careers. 49ers rookies Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel, as well as the Chiefs’ Mecole Hardman and Khalen Saunders have been key to both teams’ success this season.
They’ll be looking to join a list of rookies who have put together some impressive performances on the NFL’s biggest stage. Let’s count down the top 11 rookies in Super Bowl history (so far):
T-10. Randy White, DT, Cowboys (Super Bowl 10); Tedy Bruschi, LB, Patriots (Super Bowl 31)
Bruschi and White are the only rookies since 1982 to have two sacks in a Super Bowl. Coincidentally, both of their teams ended up losing — the Cowboys lost, 21-17, to the Steelers, and the Patriots fell, 35-21, to the Packers.
Both of these guys found Super Bowl redemption later in their careers, though. White went on to be the Super Bowl co-MVP two years later in the 1978 Super Bowl against the Broncos. He won the award alongside his teammate Harvey Martin in Dallas’ 27-10 win.
Bruschi later won three Super Bowls with the Patriots during his 13-year NFL career.
9. Andre Coleman, WR, Chargers (Super Bowl 29)
Although San Diego lost, 49-26, to the 49ers in the 1995 Super Bowl, Coleman still owns the Super Bowl rookie record with 244 all-purpose yards. A huge chunk came on a 98-yard kickoff touchdown return, the longest in Super Bowl history at the time:
— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) January 23, 2020
Coleman played three seasons in San Diego before stints with the Steelers and Seahawks.
8. Devin Hester, WR, Bears (Super Bowl 41)
During Hester’s rookie season, he was immediately put on the punt and kick return team. He shined with five return touchdowns (three on punts and two on kickoffs) to earn All-Pro honors.
In Super Bowl XLI between the Bears and Colts, which was played in Miami, Hester took the opening kickoff back 92 yards for a touchdown, The Colts’ kicker in that game was current 49ers kicker Robbie Gould:
Of course Devin Hester took the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl to the house.
— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) January 22, 2019
The Colts didn’t make the mistake again, kicking away from Hester the rest of the game.
In college, Hester quickly emerged as a dangerous returner. In his sophomore year at Miami, he set a school record with four return touchdowns and tied a school record with a 100-yard kickoff return against NC State. He finished his UM career with six total touchdown returns.
Hester went on to become one of the greatest returners in NFL history. Throughout his 11-year NFL career, he set records for most punt returns for touchdowns (14), and total special teams touchdowns (20) in league history.
7. Malcolm Butler, CB, Patriots (Super Bowl 49)
Butler had a game-clinching interception off of Russell Wilson with 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Seattle had second-and-goal from the Pats’ 1-yard line, but instead of handing it off to Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks passed the ball. Butler stepped in front of a pass intended for Ricardo Lockette:
Butler had another three passes defended and three tackles in that game.
Butler’s story was pretty unique, too — he played cornerback at Division II West Alabama, and signed with the Patriots after a rookie free agent workout. Before that, he was working at a Popeyes after getting kicked out of community college in 2009.
6. Sony Michel, RB, Patriots (Super Bowl 53)
Last year’s Super Bowl between the Patriots and Los Angeles Rams was a 3-3 game until the fourth quarter. That’s when Michel, New England’s first-round pick out of Georgia, scored the only touchdown of the night. Michel capped a five-play, 69-yard touchdown drive with a 2-yard score that put the Pats up, 10-3.
He finished the game with 94 yards on the ground. His best run came on a 26-yard rush in the fourth quarter that all but killed the Rams’ comeback hopes:
With his touchdown run, Michel set a rookie record for postseason touchdowns, scoring six in three games. In fact, he only needed two games to own the record
Sony Michel is only the 11th RB with ≥ 5 rushing TD’s in the playoffs in a single NFL season and the 1st rookie ever
7 of the other 11 RB’s are in the Hall of Fame
— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) January 21, 2019
Michel finished his second season with the Patriots rushing for 912 yards and seven touchdowns.
5. Corey Clement, RB, Eagles (Super Bowl 52)
When the Eagles defeated the Patriots in 2018, Clement had four receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown, averaging 25 yards per catch. The undrafted free agent’s 55-yard reception was the Eagles’ longest offensive play in Super Bowl history:
That also broke the Super Bowl record for the longest catch by a running back. His 100 receiving yards are the third most for a running back in a Super Bowl, and he was just the second Eagles back with 100 receiving yards in a playoff game.
4. Torry Holt, WR, Rams (Super Bowl 34)
The St. Louis Rams drafted Holt with the sixth overall pick in 1999, and he delivered immediately. In the Rams’ 23-16 win over the Titans, Holt finished with seven catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. The receiving yardage set a rookie Super Bowl record, and his 9-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter gave the Rams a 16-0 lead.
He kept the Super Bowl momentum going and led the NFL in receiving in his second season and again in 2003. He went on to have an 11-year NFL career, including seven trips to the Pro Bowl.
3. Jamal Lewis, RB, Ravens (Super Bowl 35)
Lewis rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown in the Ravens’ 34-7 win over the Giants in 2001. The No. 5 pick, who was Baltimore’s leading rusher that season, scored in the game’s fourth quarter. He completely steamrolled a defender on his way into the end zone:
The run was called a touchdown on the field, but was challenged by Giants head coach Jim Fassel. It looked as if Lewis might’ve dropped the ball before it crossed the plane of the goal line:
The run was ultimately upheld after review.
Lewis missed his second year with a knee injury, but he played five more years after that with Baltimore. He then played three seasons with the Cleveland Browns through 2009.
2. Chris Matthews, WR, Seahawks (Super Bowl 49)
Matthews had 109 yards on four receptions and a touchdown against the Patriots in 2015. He averaged 27 yards per catch and was Seattle’s best offensive weapon on the night.
Unlike the other names on this list, Matthews wasn’t fresh out of college when he finally made his NFL debut. He was called up from Seattle’s practice squad in early December in 2014, and he didn’t have a reception for five games before the Super Bowl. He went undrafted out of Kentucky in 2011, and signed with the Browns before getting released. After playing in the CFL in 2012 and 2013, Matthews was working at Foot Locker and as a security guard when the Seahawks called him in 2014. Via Sports Illustrated:
One day, around this time last year, his phone rings. It’s a Seahawks official, and they want Matthews to come to a tryout. Tonight. Matthews looks at watch, pauses, and says, “I don’t get off of work until 9 p.m. I don’t know if I’ll make it.”
“Alright,” the caller said. “We’ll let you know.”
A few minutes later, Matthews agent calls. “What are you thinking! Get yourself home, pack up and go. Are you out of your mind?!”
Matthews was cut by the Seahawks in November 2015, and he played briefly for the Ravens after that. He’s currently back in the CFL.
1. Timmy Smith, RB, Washington (Super Bowl 22)
Smith rushed for 204 yards, two touchdowns, and had 9.3 yards per attempt on the ground against the Broncos in the Super Bowl. It also happened to be Smith’s first career start.
The former fifth-round draft pick out of Texas Tech had 138 yards in Washington’s previous two playoff games. Head coach Joe Gibbs thought Smith would be so nervous getting the Super Bowl start that he didn’t tell him until right before the game. Here’s Smith describing that moment, via The Undefeated’s oral history of Super Bowl 22:
I didn’t even find out I was starting until we were walking down the tunnel for [pregame] warm-ups. [Running backs coach] Don Breaux comes over and says they’re going to introduce [veteran back] George Rogers but let me start. ‘You’re starting,’ he said. I was like, ‘I am?’
Smith’s first score was a 58-yard touchdown in the second quarter:
He added a second in the fourth quarter. His performance helped give Washington its second Super Bowl victory in franchise history. The team won in a 42-10 blowout.
Smith’s 204 yards are still a single-game Super Bowl rushing record, and it’s also the most total yards of offense for a rookie in the game’s history.