Today’s 53rd Super Bowl — or LIII — will feature one Notre Dame alumnus: Los Angeles Rams starting center John Sullivan, the oldest active Fighting Irish player in the NFL.
Back in 2003, Sullivan signed with Notre Dame in what we consider the best single haul the Fighting Irish had in the 25 years from 1991-2016 (the 2017-19 harvests are too early to determine yet) in terms of balance, impact and depth.
That group featured first-round quarterback Brady Quinn, consensus All-American receiver Jeff Samardzija, second-round tight end John Carlson, plus Sullivan and future Super Bowl starting left tackle/winner Ryan Harris along the offense line.
The defense included two second-round linemen in Victor Abiamiri and Trevor Laws, future NFL safeties Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe, and multiple other starters, including special teams captain Travis Thomas.
Sullivan was a sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2008, and from 2009-14 he started 93 of 96 games there before missing the 2015 campaign because of back surgeries. He helped the Rams to the 2017 playoffs and this past year signed a two-year deal reportedly worth $15 million.
Outhouse To Penthouse
The only member of a Notre Dame staff to win the Super Bowl as a head coach was Hank Stram, who was an assistant for Terry Brennan in 1957-58 before that group was fired after a 6-4 season in 1958.
Stram eventually landed on his feet in the old AFL, and his 1969 Kansas City Chiefs defeated Minnesota, 23-7, in the 1970 Super Bowl.
It took 10 Super Bowls before a Notre Dame alumnus scored a touchdown. Tight end Dave Casper (1970-73) did the honors in 1977 when he tallied the game’s first score on a one-yard pass from Ken Stabler in Oakland’s 32-14 victory versus Minnesota.
College and NFL Champs
Ten Notre Dame alumni have achieved the special feat of winning a national title with the Irish and a Super Bowl as players:
• The first was linebacker Jim Lynch, captain of the 1966 national champs and a starting linebacker for Stram’s Chiefs in 1969.
Other representatives on that 1966 team to win both were quarterback Terry Hanratty and running back Rocky Bleier with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dynasty in the 1970s, and offensive linenman Bob Kuechenberg — who passed away earlier this month —with the Miami Dophins in 1972 and 1973.
• From the 1973 national champs, there was tight end Casper and offensive tackle Steve Sylvester, who won three with the Oakland or Los Angeles Raiders.
• The 1977 national title winners were represented by quarterback Joe Montana and linebacker Bobby Leopold of the San Francisco 49ers.
• The 1988 group featured running back Ricky Watters of the 1994 San Francisco team and cornerback Todd Lyght, the current Irish cornerbacks coach, for the 1999 St. Louis Rams.
Almost A Perfect 10
Although Ross Browner (1973-77) didn’t have as decorated an NFL career as he did at Notre Dame, he still holds the Super Bowl record for most unassisted tackles by a defensive lineman. During the Cincinnati Bengals’ 26-21 loss to San Francisco in the 1982 Super Bowl, Browner was credited with 10 solo stops — highlighted by a sack of former Irish teammate Montana, who directed the first of his four Super Bowl titles.
Best Debut Act
The lone Notre Dame alumnus to start on a Super Bowl as a rookie was defensive lineman Bryant Young (1990-93) for the 49ers team that won it all in the 1995 game. Young also was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Twice As Nice
The lone Notre Dame player to score touchdowns in two different Super Bowls was David Givens (1998-2001), who snared scoring passes from Tom Brady in New England’s 2004 and 2005 Super Bowl conquests of Carolina and Philadelphia, respectively.
His offensive coordinator was Charlie Weis, Class of 1978 and the head coach at Notre Dame from 2005-09.
Watters (1987-90) holds the Notre Dame record for most career touchdowns in the Super Bowl, tallying all three of his during San Francisco’s 49-26 rout of San Diego in 1995.
Double The Pleasure
Two Notre Dame alumnui won Super Bowls with two different franchises as a player.
Dave Duerson was a Pro Bowl safety for the peerless 1985 Chicago Bears defense and also won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants in 1991.
The other is a more fascinating luck-of-the-draw case with Jerome Collins. A backup tight end at Notre Dame in 2004 behind the likes of Anthony Fasano, Marcus Freeman and Carlson, Collins still latched on to NFL rosters and won back-to-back rings. He was on injured reserve for the 2006 Indianapolis Colts and was on the New York Giants’ active roster in 2007.
Cradle Of Quarterbacks
Two different schools have produced three different starting quarterbacks to win Super Bowl titles. Alabama has Bart Starr, Joe Namath and Stabler, while Purdue has Len Dawson, Bob Griese and Drew Brees. Notre Dame has two with Montana (1982, 1985, 1989 and 1990) and Joe Theismann (1983).
However, two other Notre Dame quarterbacks who took snaps in Super Bowl victories were Terry Hanratty for Pittsburgh in 1976 when starter Terry Bradshaw was hurt in the fourth quarter, and Steve Beuerlein (1983-86) replacing starter Troy Aikman during Dallas’ 1993 blowout of Buffalo.
The first Notre Dame quarterback to start a Super Bowl was Daryle Lamonica (1960-62), whose Oakland Raiders lost Super Bowl II in 1968 to Green Bay, 33-14
The most recent Notre Dame quarterback to be on a Super Bowl participant was Rick Mirer (1989-92) as a backup on the 2003 Oakland Raiders team that was pummeled by Tampa Bay, 48-21.
There is one other Notre Dame quarterback who owns a Super Bowl ring while taking part in the game. Tom Clements (1972-74), who engineered the 1973 national title, was the quartebacks coach for Aaron Rodgers when the Green Bay Packers defeated Pittsburgh in 2011. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2012, and was recently hired by the Arizona Cardinals.
Defensive lineman Alan Page is one of Notre Dame’s all-time legendary student-athletes and has been enshrined in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. But no Irish alumnus ever tasted more frustration in the Super Bowl, where he was 0-4, losing by double digits each time.
The disappointment boiled over during a 24-7 loss to Miami in the 1974 Super Bowl. Late in the game, he was hit for a personal foul for a late hit on the quarterback — and one play later was whistled for an offsetting personal foul during a scuffle. It just so happened the Miami player he was fighting with was 1966 national title teammate Kuechenberg, a Pro Bowl guard for the Dolphins.
“We are the Fighting Irish, after all,” Kuechenberg would say later.
Ring Of Champions
There are 44 Notre Dame players who have won Super Bowl rings, including 11 multiple times
4 — Rocky Bleier and Joe Montana
3 — Steve Sylvester
2 — Mark Bavaro, Nick Buoniconti, Jerome Collins, Eric Dorsey, Dave Duerson, David Givens, Terry Hanratty and Justin Tuck
2017 — New England: Michael Floyd (although not listed on the active roster while injured)
2016 — Denver: David Bruton, Ryan Harris
2015 — New England: Darius Fleming, Jonas Gray
2014 — Seattle: Golden Tate
2013 — Baltimore Ravens: none
2012 — N.Y. Giants: Justin Tuck
2011 — Green Bay Packers: Ryan Grant
2010 — New Orleans Saints: John Carney
2009 — Pittsburgh Steelers: None
2008 – N.Y. Giants: Jerome Collins, Justin Tuck
2007 – Indianapolis: Rocky Boiman, Hunter Smith (Jerome Collins was not listed while on injured) reserve)
2006 — Pittsburgh: Jerome Bettis
2005 —New England: David Givens
2004 — New England: David Givens
2003 — Tampa Bay: None
2002 — New England: Marc Edwards, Brock Williams, Jabari Holloway
2001 — Baltimore Ravens: None
2000 — St. Louis: Todd Lyght
1999 – Denver: None
1998 — Denver: None
1997 — Green Bay: Derrick Mayes, Aaron Taylor, Lindsay Knapp, Craig Hentrich
1996 — Dallas: None
1995 — San Francisco: Ricky Watters, Junior Bryant, Bryant Young, Anthony Peterson
1994 — Dallas: None
1993 — Dallas: Steve Beuerlein
1992 — Washington: None
1991 — N.Y. Giants: Mark Bavaro, Eric Dorsey, Tom Rehder, Dave Duerson
1990 — San Francisco: Joe Montana
1989 — San Francisco: Joe Montana
1988 — Washington: None
1987 — N.Y. Giants: Mark Bavaro, Eric Dorsey
1986 — Chicago: Dave Duerson, Tom Thayer
1985 — San Francisco: Joe Montana
1984 — L.A. Raiders: Steve Sylvester
1983 — Washington: Joe Theismann
1982 — San Francisco: Joe Montana, Bobby Leopold
1981 — Oakland: Steve Sylvester
1980 — Pittsburgh: Rocky Bleier
1979 — Pittsburgh: Rocky Bleier
1978 — Dallas: None
1977 — Oakland: Steve Sylvester, Dave Casper
1976 — Pittsburgh: Rocky Bleier, Terry Hanratty
1975 — Pittsburgh: Rocky Bleier Terry Hanratty
1974 — Miami: Nick Buoniconti, Bob Kuechenberg
1973 — Miami: Nick Buoniconti, Bob Kuechenberg
1972 — Dallas: None
1971 — Baltimore Colts: None
1970 — Kansas City: Jim Lynch
1969 — N.Y. Jets: None
1968 — Green Bay: None
1967 — Green Bay: Paul Hornung, Bill “Red” Mack