Today, one member of the Steelers or Cardinals will rise above the pack. One will make the kind of memorable impact that will very likely fulfill a childhood dream — and perhaps open new doors in life.
One will be Super Bowl MVP.
Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner already knows the feeling. He won it for directing the Rams to a 23-16 victory over the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. He can join four other quarterbacks, the 49ers' Joe Montana (three), Steelers' Terry Bradshaw (two), Packers' Bart Starr (two) and Patriots' Tom Brady (two) as a multiple winner.
The identity of the MVP gets plenty of attention in Las Vegas. The players most likely to proclaim "I'm going to Disney World", according the Betting Sports Game: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger 3-2. Warner 2-1, Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald 5-2, Steelers running back Willie Parker 7-1, Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston 8-1, Steelers receiver Hines Ward 10-1 and Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin 10-1.
We caught up with a cross section of Super Bowl MVPs and asked them to reflect on the award — and what, if any, ways it created opportunities or shaped their lives after they played their last down.
Here are five stories.
The Original | Bart Starr, Packers
The start of something big
After the Packers defeated Dallas 34-27 for the 1966 NFL championship, the first
NFL-AFL Championship Game (later known as Super Bowl I) two weeks later seemed anticlimactic. But fiery Packers coach Vince Lombardi made sure his team was ready. "The whole world was watching and it was a tremendous challenge for us," Starr recalled. "The way Coach Lombardi coached, taught, led, motivated, were all on display in preparing for the first game because literally nothing was overlooked. His strongest emphasis from the start was how good Kansas City was. And he was right — they were stronger, larger and had an outstanding team. We were simply better as a total team. He got our attention quickly, and thankfully we were ready to play, because most people were sort of pooh-poohing the game. But we knew from the moment we arrived — we'd never seen so many members of the media. We thought, 'Oh, my God, this is really something special.' "
Starr was thrilled to win the inaugural event, but not overly excited about being named its MVP. "It was an honor," he said, "but we won as a team." He auctioned his MVP Corvette to raise money to buy land that helped launch the Rawhide Boys Club, a favorite charity of Starr and wife Cherry. It is going strong today, fueled by the first Super Bowl MVP car. The second MVP, in the second Super Bowl against the Raiders, was something different. "Very humbling," he said. "Over a period of time, you come to really respect and appreciate the talent of the teammates around you." And he came to understand an added bonus of his MVP status. "It gives you a chance to be with a group or make appearances and express to them the importance of being a team in whatever endeavor it may be."
Life after quarterback
Starr, a 17th-round draft pick out of Alabama in 1956, retired in 1971 — a member of the 1960s All-Decade Team and elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. He coached the Packers from 1975-83, though he never matched the success he enjoyed as a player. He had a 52-76-3 record, with a wild-card playoff win over the Cardinals in the strike-shortened 1982 season. Off the field, Starr experienced great business gains — and tragic personal loss. Younger son Bret, 24, was found dead in 1988 in suburban Tampa of cardiac arrhythmia, stemming from complications of a cocaine addiction he was recovering from. "Getting through it is an attitudinal approach," he said. "My wife and I get through with a great deal of strength and belief in God."
In 1989, Starr, a native of Montgomery, and his wife moved back to Alabama to be near older son Bart Jr. and his family. He went into business with Bart Jr., becoming chairman of a company that developed medical facilities for health-care groups. Starr retired in 2006, but he still has an office in his son's investment firm, Starr Enterprises. "He does wonderful work, and I'm blessed to be, oh, gosh, 30 feet away from him," he said of his son.
Starr still makes time for motivational talks to corporations on leadership. And he cherishes his near 55-year marriage to Cherry, who, he points out, sat outside in the stands at Lambeau Field during the 1967 "Ice Bowl" victory over the Cowboys in Green Bay watching her coffee freeze.
"She's been with me every step of the way," he said. "She's been my foundation piece. I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you without her."
The Outdoorsman | Larry Csonka, Dolphins
Perfect way to set the stage
He smashed rushing records at Syracuse between 1965-67 and became a household name during Miami's 17-0 season of 1972. Paired with Jim Kiick, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" were a key component in the success of Don Shula's Dolphins. The unprecedented campaign culminated with the 14-7 victory over Washington in Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles. Csonka carried 15 times for 112 yards, with a long run of 49 yards, while safety Jake Scott won MVP for his two interceptions, one in the end zone. ''That's still a huge source of pride for us," Csonka said. "That's the fire that's still burning."
Csonka's powerful running set the tone against the Vikings in Super Bowl VIII — he scored from 5 yards five minutes in, and his 2-yarder in the third quarter gave the Dolphins a 24-0 lead. He was so dominant that quarterback Bob Griese only attempted seven passes.
Csonka has kept his MVP honor in perspective, heaping credit on his offensive line: "It was a nice thing to win, and it gets me a free trip every once in a while to go to the Super Bowl and sit in a seat with some of the owners. But at the same time, my gosh, you could pick Jim Langer, Bob Kuechenberg, Larry Little, Norm Evans, Wayne Moore — those were the guys who put me in the MVP. And they just handled the Purple People Eaters. I never say, 'I won.' I won because I was there and I could keep myself healthy enough to be the guy who was getting the ball. That's the way I look at it."
North to Alaska
Csonka played for the Giants from 1976-78 and closed out his career in Miami in 1979. And it wasn't long before he followed his heart to the state that had occupied his thoughts most of his life. "I've wanted to go there since 1954," he said. "So when Alaska became a state in 1959, I was thinking, 'It's getting tamer and tamer. I need to get there.' But 50 years later, I've been there so much I realize it will never be tamed." About 15 years ago, he formed a production company and began his hunting and fishing show, which airs Sunday mornings on Versus. He spends nine months out of the year there — occasionally making trips to Florida and his native Ohio (where he owns a country music nightclub and outdoor entertainment complex). "That pioneer thing from our history is still there in Alaska," he said. "And I think it'll always be there to some extent because travel is so limited and weather-influenced. That place is 21/2 times the size of Texas, and there's only 800,000 people."
Csonka, the No. 8 overall pick in the 1968 draft who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987, has been in demand as a motivational speaker of sorts through the years — drawing from his life in football and getting across his "teamwork" theme through humor and anecdotes. "I did that a lot for the first 15 years after I left the NFL," he said. "I just developed a comedic spiel I go through, capsulizing my career from Day 1 to finishing the Super Bowls and retiring. The motivational part is more subliminal." Csonka always stresses that his success was dependent on others. '' … People say, 'Oh, you're humble.' Well, I did my job and did it very well. But what made the difference was having a very supportive cast." Csonka is also involved in various charities, including Outdoor Dream Foundation, which reaches out to children in terminal situations who want to experience Alaska. "Because of the people I was with and the things we accomplished, it gave me an opportunity to decide what I wanted to do with my life — and enjoy what I'm doing,'' he said. ''If you have that, that's an even bigger success than MVP. It's on a par with a perfect season."
The Entertainer | John Riggins, Redskins
Trailing 17-13 with just more than 10 minutes left, coach Joe Gibbs called a short-yardage play for his big back with sprinter's speed. Riggins shook off cornerback Don McNeal at the line, broke into the open and dashed 43 yards down the left sideline to give the 'Skins their first lead — and the first of their three Super Bowl victories. "In the moment, you're playing a game, and it's not exactly like I was keeping a journal or anything," Riggins said with his down-home Kansas drawl. "It happened so fast that you couldn't really take in everything going on. But I do recall the Dolphins taking a timeout before the play, so we're in the huddle and I'm thinking, 'Well, unless I'm mistaken, and I doubt I am, I'm getting the ball.'
"But I'm not the only one who knows that. My teammates know it. The Dolphins know it. About 100,000 people in the stadium know it. And everybody watching the game on TV knows it. That's one of those moments I remember going, 'Hmm. This is going to be interesting.' "
Riggins recalls getting great blocks from Otis Wonsley and Clint Didier, then brushing off McNeal: "Don was already in a bad position because all he was going to get was the side of me. And he didn't get a big enough piece to really even slow me down. … It's funny, I saw that play just recently and I noticed the Dolphins had all taken bad angles," he said. "I realized that if that had been 70 yards out, I would have made it."
"You look at all the help that I had in that game and all the guys who were out there, and the defense — the job that they did. Obviously, to help glamorize the game, we're going make somebody an MVP . … But it didn't open up any doors — at least none that I know of. I'm not going to walk around and look at somebody and say, 'Oh, by the way, do you know I am a Super Bowl MVP?' If I have a few drinks, I suppose I might do that."
A new stage
Retiring after the 1985 season, Riggins tried acting in New York. He studied stage performing and starred in off-Broadway productions, including Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and earned credits on Guiding Light and Law & Order. "When you've been on a stage — a football field, basketball court, baseball diamond, the ice, whatever — you start having a relationship with the fans, and part of your identity is tied to their approval," he says. One of his early plays, Illegal Motion (Riggins played a football coach under fire for illegal recruiting) in Maryland, was attended by a Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O'Connor. At a Washington Press Club dinner in 1985, Riggins had been seated with her, and in addition to passing out under the table from a little too much alcohol he uttered his famous line, "Loosen up, Sandy baby." Years later, at the play's opening night, she presented him with a bouquet of roses.
Moving to the mike
Riggins, the No. 6 pick in the 1971 draft who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992, found the transition to sports broadcasting comfortable. After 13 years in the Big Apple, he moved back to the D.C. area in 2006. His show with a local ESPN affiliate didn't survive ownership change and was dropped last summer. He rejoined Sirius and co-hosts with Adam Schein The Sirius Blitz from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. "I've managed to survive," he says. "I enjoy it. I enjoy entertaining people. That's something I figured out about 25 years ago after I got out of football. I used to go out in the evenings and go to whatever bar … and I would end up entertaining everybody at the bar, and I realized that's what I like to do."
The Pioneer | Doug Williams, Redskins
After a 1987 preseason game, coach Joe Gibbs summoned Williams to his office and told him a trade with the Raiders was all but done. Williams was delighted. Jay Schroeder was the Redskins starter and Williams thought he'd have a strong shot at starting in Los Angeles. But later that day, Gibbs — Bucs offensive coordinator when they made Williams the 17th overall pick in the 1978 draft — changed his mind about dealing him. "I said, 'Coach, you can't do that!' " But Gibbs was adamant. "He looked me in the eyes and said, 'I've just got a gut feeling. Somewhere along the line you're going to come in here and win this thing.' "
The root of it all
Of all the distractions that the first black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl encountered, he never imagined the one that occurred the day before the game. "I woke up Saturday morning in great pain and the team dentist said, 'Let's take a look at it,' " Williams recalled. "He had a friend out in San Diego and we did X-rays. He said, 'The only thing we can do to keep the pain down is to do a root canal.' And I said, 'Let's do what we gotta do.' For four hours, I was sitting in the chair, getting a root canal."
Williams went back to the hotel. He practiced his night-before-game ritual of eating a bag of Hershey's Kisses. And when he awoke Sunday morning, much to his relief, the pain was gone. "You know what, I didn't look at it like, 'Why is this happening right before the Super Bowl?' " he said. "Because when you talk about what I'd been through to get there, a toothache was small. It sure wasn't going to keep me from playing the game."
Comeback of a lifetime
It didn't take long for a different kind of pain to set in. Behind 10-0, Williams dropped back and planted to pass — but his right leg slipped on wet sod. He went down with a hyperextended knee. "The trainer ran out, and he attempted to put his hand on my knee and I told him, 'Don't touch it!' I said, 'I want to see if I can get up on my own and walk off.' At that point, I just lay there 'cause I didn't know what to expect. So when I got up and walked off, I knew right then: I was in pain but I was going to finish." On the next series, Gibbs approached Williams: "Are you ready?" Williams, who battled Schroeder for the starting role all season, was ready to reclaim it. "And Joe said, 'Okay, we're going to get this sucker rolling.' " Less than a minute into the second quarter, Williams hit receiver Ricky Sanders with a short pass that turned into an 80-yard touchdown. Three more Williams touchdowns and a 58-yard run by Timmy Smith gave Washington a 35-10 lead at halftime. "Thirty-five points in 18 plays — you'd never see that today," Williams said. "We were the best team, and we knew it."
Williams remembers the words of offensive lineman Joe Jacoby moments after being named MVP. "That was the greatest thing that day — Jacoby came up to me and he said, 'Red, white, black or green, you're our quarterback.' That's a hell of a thing, a hell of a thing. And, you know, that's the crazy thing about sports. Even when I was here (in Tampa from 1978-82) and you got all kind of crazy letters from the outside, even playing in Washington with all the hype about me being a black quarterback, sports eliminates racism in the trenches."
After retiring in 1989, Williams went into coaching, moving from the high school level in his hometown of Zachary, La., to succeeding Eddie Robinson at his alma mater, Grambling, in 1998. He returned to Tampa Bay in 2004 as personnel executive — healing the rift created when late owner Hugh Culverhouse failed to re-sign him in 1983. Williams' contract is up this month but he hopes to stay on, helping evaluate talent. "I get a lot of respect from the guys on the football team and the community's been great," he said. "You know, the second time around has been unbelievable."
The Entrepreneur | Ottis Anderson, Giants
Ottis Jerome "O.J." Anderson, a West Palm Beach native, was the first Miami Hurricane to surpass 1,000 yards rushing in a season. And he dreamed even bigger than that. He shared a prediction with his college roommate: "I said that if I ever played in a Super Bowl and it was in the state of Florida, I would win the MVP Award. I had visions like Joe Namath." Plenty more highlights would come his way: selected No. 8 overall in the 1979 NFL draft by St. Louis, rushing for 1,605 yards and becoming offensive rookie of the year despite the Cardinals' 5-11 record, gaining more than 1,000 yards in five of his first six seasons, and being reborn as a short-yardage specialist after an October 1996 trade to the Giants. Anderson did get in a Super Bowl — and even scored a late touchdown — while backing up Joe Morris in the Giants' 39-20 rout of Denver in 1987 at the Rose Bowl. Then two years later, he staged an amazing resurgence. He gained 1,023 yards and scored 14 touchdowns in Bill Parcells' ball-control offense, earning comeback player of the year as the Giants won the NFC East. But in the playoffs, the Rams upset New York 19-13 in overtime. "I remember sitting down on my stool by my locker, thinking my goal of being a Super Bowl MVP was no longer possible," he said. "I mentioned it to (fullback) Maurice Carthon. And he said, 'Hey man, you've got one more try. The Super Bowl's in Tampa next year. I said, 'Maurice, we're going to Tampa, buddy.' ''
A promise fulfilled
Anderson was displaced by Rodney Hampton. But when the rookie from Georgia was hurt midway through the 1990 season, Anderson reclaimed the starting job and fulfilled his Super Bowl promise when the Bills' Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal with four seconds left. "From the angle I had, I couldn't really see," Anderson said. "So I looked across the field at the Bills. They were holding hands — and the second the kick went off, they put their hands in the air. And then they dropped them. And that's when I knew the field goal had missed." No player was happier than Anderson. "It was a dream come true," he said. "And for my family to be close and see me fulfill it an incredible blessing for me. It closed a chapter on my life."
Anderson was one of several Giants interviewed the day before Super Bowl XXV by Disney for a tradition that began with Giants quarterback Phil Simms after Super Bowl XXI. The players, along with a group of Bills, had the choice of what to say. "They told us we could say, 'I'm going to Disney World' — or 'I dedicate this win to the troops.' Anderson honored the troops: ''To this day, I'm the only one ever to say anything different than, 'I'm going to Disney World.' ''
The road into business
Anderson didn't get any corporate endorsements — and felt the playing field was less than even compared with white players who had won MVP. "It was the same with Doug Williams. We got some of the cake, but not as much as others. That's just the way it was at the time." Still, he said the award helped after retiring in 1993. "It opened a lot of doors. And it gave me an opportunity to take advantage of that status." Today, he is the president of Ottis Anderson Enterprises, overseeing a fan apparel line. He is vice president of public relations for HRH, a company that deals with insurance benefits for businesses, school boards and municipalities in New Jersey. He's president of the New York NFL Alumni Chapter and is involved in an array of national charities. Anderson, who just turned 52, has appeared frequently on radio sports shows. He also gets booked as a motivational speaker, and as an auctioneer at fundraisers. "It probably didn't hurt that I played in New York," he said. "I kept my name clean and I stayed out of trouble. That's what got me rolling."