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For some, it's a defining moment


Phil Simms tried his best to remain calm entering the biggest four quarters of his life.

"All I knew was that my whole career was riding on the game," Simms, a former New York Giants quarterback, said of his appearance in the Super Bowl in January 1987.

That's the nature of the Super Bowl. It's the biggest stage and it demands the biggest performances. Simms' effort was among the best - 22 of 25 passing, including 10 completions in a row at one point, for 268 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 39-20 victory over Denver - but not the best.

Those hallowed few are the ones in which the records were set, by players who defied expectations and came through when it mattered most.

"Legends are made in the playoffs," said former Los Angeles Raiders running back Marcus Allen, who posted one of the best rushing performances in Super Bowl history. "Everyone is watching. Everything is magnified. I always tried to take advantage of the spotlight."

In January 1984 in Tampa, Fla., Allen was named the game's Most Valuable Player after rushing for 191 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a 38-9 trouncing of the Washington Redskins. He scored on a 74-yard run on the final play of the third quarter, the longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history. But while impressive, his performance wasn't the best, either.

Allen said it's part of the Super Bowl's charm that a player named Timmy Smith holds the record for rushing yards in the game - and, possibly, had the best Super Bowl performance ever.

Smith played parts of only three seasons in the NFL, running for just 602 yards in that time. He was a seldom-used rookie with the Redskins in 1987 (126 yards on 29 carries), but everyone knew his name after Super Bowl Sunday in January 1988, when he ran for 204 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries in a 42-10 mauling of Denver.

"That's the beauty of it," Allen said. "One great play, one big moment in a big game and you become a household name. Tim Smith rushed for more than 200 yards and we never really heard from him again. But the biggest game, the biggest stage, he performed."

His legacy written in one afternoon, Smith struggled afterward. The Redskins waived him the next season, and he spent years trying to recapture the glory. He toiled at odd jobs for years - from telemarketing to truck driving - and is said to now be living in Colorado. Efforts to reach him through family members last week were unsuccessful.

"I feel like I slipped off the Empire State Building and landed flat on my face," he said in 1992. "But I've got my ring put away and it's evidence that, even if I never get back into the game, I won a Super Bowl."

Most players are better able to capitalize on record-setting Super Bowl performances.

Last year's MVP, free safety Dexter Jackson, left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and signed a more lucrative deal with the Arizona Cardinals. He had two interceptions in the Bucs' Super Bowl rout of the Oakland Raiders.

Another MVP also used the trophy as leverage for a pay raise. Larry Brown had two second-half interceptions in the Dallas Cowboys' victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in January 1996, then signed a big-money free-agent deal with the Raiders that offseason.

He downplayed the impact the game has had on his career, but it's undeniable it will stand as the most memorable moment in his career. He is one of only eight defensive players to earn Super Bowl MVP honors.

"I think what people see is not that you intercepted a pass, not that you ran back a kick, but that you did it against the best," Brown said.

Big games have been turned in by players at every position.

Return man Desmond Howard's performance in January 1997 served as a redemption of sorts. Howard won the Heisman Trophy at Michigan, but made few ripples in the NFL until his Green Bay Packers topped New England in the Super Bowl.

In the third quarter, Howard returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter, eliminating any chance of a Patriots comeback. Howard finished with 244 total return yards.

"I think you've got to do something consistent, but you also have to do it at the right moment," said Howard, still the only special teams player to be named Super Bowl MVP. "Timing is everything."

Jackson won the MVP award last year, but he lost out on the honor usually accorded to the MVP. Instead, it was Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson who was paid to say, "I'm going to Disneyland."

That unpredictable nature is what many enjoy about the Super Bowl.

"People talk about reality television. This is reality television," Allen said. "Not that other stuff. This is not scripted. We're not cutting or editing. It's real TV that's unfolding before our eyes. Someone's going to be happy, someone's going to be sad in the end, and 700 million people are going to know about it."

And you can bet they'll remember it.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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