Ranking the 20 Best Players to Never Win a Super Bowl
Making it onto this list is perhaps the epitome of bittersweet. On one hand, you get to find yourself sandwiched between Hall of Famers and all-time greats, but on the other hand, there's the obvious void of never tasting the ultimate victory in team sports—forever missing the chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
For many of these players, never winning the Super Bowl is the stain to an otherwise grandiose career legacy.
The criteria for making this list dictates only players who've played a significant number of seasons in the Super Bowl era (which began in 1967) would be considered. So let’s save the comments about how "Johnny 1920s" needs to be on this list.
The second prerequisite involves the process for considering currently active players. It seemed reasonable to only consider players in the twilight of long, productive careers. So by this standard, only players who've accrued at least 10 seasons were included.
Finally, and perhaps the most subjective of the qualifiers, is determining how to rank these players. This process took on a life of its own considering everything from career statistics, style points, leadership abilities, career longevity and overall value to their teams over the years.
The case for each player ranking is made in increasing detail as the slide number gets closer to the No. 1-ranked player to never win a Super Bowl, a rather dubious honor, to say the least.
Just Missed the Cut
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
- Jim Kelly, QB
- Ed Reed, S
- Jason Taylor, DE/OLB
- Derrick Thomas, OLB
- Boomer Esiason, QB
- Kevin Greene, OLB
- John Randle, DT
- Thurman Thomas, RB
- Brian Waters, G
- Dan Fouts, QB
- Brian Dawkins, S
- Tim Brown, WR
- Deacon Jones, DE
- Cris Carter, WR
- Randall McDaniel, G
- Steve Largent, WR
- Aeneas Williams, CB
- Eric Allen, CB
- Terrell "T.O." Owens, WR
20. Champ Bailey, CB
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
In his 14-year career with the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos, Bailey has made the Pro Bowl 12 times.
Few cornerbacks have had the genetic gifts for the physical longevity Bailey has achieved. He's managed to maintain elite speed and quickness long after most corners his age have retired. Even at the age of 34, he can still lock down some of the best receivers in the in NFL.
19. Warren Moon, QB
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Throughout Warren Moon's 17-year career, including the first 10 he spent with the Houston Oilers, he managed to be selected to nine Pro Bowls.
In 2006, Moon was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
18. Brian Urlacher, LB
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Brian Urlacher has established himself as one of many legendary linebackers to don a Bears uniform. He will also be known as the second-best Bears linebacker to never win a Super Bowl unless he somehow returns next season and pulls off an elusive championship.
In 2000, Urlacher was named Defensive Rookie of the Year, and in 2005, he was named Defensive MVP of the NFL.
He is also an eight-time Pro Bowler and has been selected as a First-Team All-Pro on four occasions.
Urlacher is another player near the end of an elite career that will almost certainly make it to the Hall of Fame, which will perhaps serve as a worthy alternative to never winning a Super Bowl.
17. Jack Youngblood, DE
George Rose/Getty Images
As a member of the Rams' notorious "Fearsome Foursome," Jack Youngblood played all 14 seasons with the Rams while tallying up seven Pro Bowl selections and five First-Team All-Pro honors.
Unofficially for his career, Youngblood racked up 151.5 sacks, which did not become an official stat until 1982. In 2001, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
16. Anthony Munoz, LT
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Anthony Munoz played his entire 13-year career at left tackle in Cincinnati, where he was selected as a First-Team All-Pro an impressive nine times. He was a key cog in the Bengals' two trips to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the 49ers both times.
In 1991, he was awarded the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Seven years later in 1998, Munoz was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
15. Paul Krause, DB
Image courtesy of spokeo.com
Paul Krause is one of several Minnesota Vikings to make this list, as they had a dominating team in the '70s yet failed to come up on top in any one of their four Super Bowl appearances.
Krause played his first four seasons with the Washington Redskins, where he intercepted 28 passes. He was then traded to the Vikings, where he played for 12 years before retiring.
Krause was an eight-time Pro-Bowler and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.
14. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
In his prime, LaDainian Tomlinson was the master of the jump cut. Tomlinson was rarely ever tackled by the first defender.
During my time in Oakland, I recall the difficulty we had trying to game-plan against him. Nothing we ever did defensively seemed to even remotely slow him down.
In 2006, he set one of the most prestigious single-season records in the NFL with 31 touchdowns, a record which still stands to this day. For his career, Tomlinson finished with 162 touchdowns, putting him third all-time behind only Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith.
Tomlinson is a five-time Pro-Bowler and a likely future Hall of Famer.
13. Tony Gonzalez, TE
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
In all likelihood, Tony Gonzalez has played his final game in the NFL in a loss against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. Gonzalez didn't leave before finishing second all time in career receptions with 1,242.
Gonzalez was one of the first truly athletic tight ends in the NFL, which gave birth to a trend for every NFL team to snag its own version of No. 88.
He was named to the Pro Bowl 13 times and is a near certainty to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
12. Randy Moss, WR
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Though he might not be the greatest receiver of all time, he's still good enough to make it this high on the list of the best players to never win a Super Bowl.
Moss has established himself as perhaps the greatest deep-threat option in NFL history. In 2007, he set the NFL record for most receiving touchdowns in a season. He is currently fourth all time for most career touchdowns behind Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson and No. 1 among active players with 157 and counting.
11. Merlin Olsen, DT
Image of sierrafoothillsreport.com
Merlin Olsen was grizzly of a man at 6'5" and 270 pounds. He was known for clogging up the middle of the Rams defense, which he did with fury for an impressive 15 years, and 14 of those proved worthy of Pro Bowl honors. Olsen was at the center of a dominating defensive line known as the "Fearsome Foursome."
Throughout his career, he unofficially recorded about 100 sacks while playing defensive tackle. In 1982, Olsen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
10. Carl Eller, DE
David Maxwell/Getty Images
Carl Eller was a key member of the Purple People Eaters, playing defensive end in all four of the Vikings' Super Bowl appearances, each one ending in a loss. He is considered the Vikings' all-time leader in career sacks with 130, even though sacks were not an official stat until 1982.
In 1971, Eller was voted the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.
Eller was selected as a first-team All-Pro on five different occasions. In 2004, he was finally honored with a long-awaited induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
9. Dick Butkus, LB
Image courtesy of rantsports.com
Dick Butkus played his entire nine-year career with the Chicago Bears and will be known throughout history as perhaps the most intimidating and menacing face in the NFL.
Butkus was a five-time First-Team All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
8. Bruce Matthews, OL
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The most impressive thing about Bruce Matthews is that he was somehow able to play 19 seasons in the NFL and not miss a single game due to injury. That is nearly unbelievable for a position required to hit a player on every single play.
Through his career, he played every position on offensive line and was selected to 14 Pro Bowls as well as the All-Pro team seven times. He truly is one of the toughest men to ever play the sport.
7. Eric Dickerson, RB
George Rose/Getty Images
A height of 6'3" is unusually tall for the running back position, but this proved to be an asset for the deer-like strides of Eric Dickerson.
Dickerson became the second player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards when he set the current record for the most rushing yards in a single season with 2,105.
He was named a First-Team All-Pro five times during his 12-year career and was a first-ballot inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
6. Alan Page, DT
Image courtesy of spokeo.com
Alan Page played defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings for the first 12 years and the Chicago Bears during his final four years.
Page was a dynamic playmaker for an interior lineman and was one of the better pass-rushing tackles of all time. Unfortunately for Page, he retired one year before the sack became an official stat in 1982.
Page did, however, manage to win NFL AP MVP in 1971 and be selected to nine Pro Bowls throughout his career, including being selected as a First-Team All-Pro six times.
5. Junior Seau, LB
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
The late, great Junior Seau was an exciting and relentless linebacker who played at a high level for 20 years in the NFL.
This 12-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro is a lock for the Hall of Fame. He made two losing appearances in the Super Bowl, one with the Chargers and the other with the Patriots.
Seau revolutionized the linebacker position by establishing himself as an unpredictable freelancer with an unmatched ability for big hits and exciting tackles.
4. Fran Tarkenton, QB
image courtesy of espn.com
Fran Tarkenton is a former league MVP and a nine-time Pro Bowler. He played quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings on two separate occasions while playing as a member of the New York Giants in between.
Tarkenton managed to guide the Vikings to the Super Bowl three times despite losing each time.
He was known for his impressive ability to scramble around and make miraculous plays with his legs. Throughout history, only Mike Vick, Steve Young and Randall Cunningham have rushed for more yards than Franny T.
3. Barry Sanders, RB
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
Aside from Barry Sanders' illustrious stats throughout his 10-year career, he was perhaps most impressive as guy who could almost entirely create his own offense without the help of a creative system or defined holes from a marginal offensive line.
Unlike Emmitt Smith and the Dallas Cowboys, Sanders improvised consistently throughout his career by utilizing his uncanny vision and elusiveness.
Defenders trying to stop Sanders were often told that if No. 20 was running a play to the side opposite of you, just stay where you are, because chances were, he'd be coming your way before the play was over.
Sanders was elected to the Pro Bowl every single year of his entire career, which not only speaks to his remarkable talent, but his durability as well. The 1997 season featured Sanders' highest output in terms of rushing yards, as he became the third of seven backs in history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season.
In 2004, Barry Sanders was honored by being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Barry may be the most content with his career outcome of all the players to make this list, as he left the sport still in the prime of his career. Super Bowl or not, Sanders played the game his way and retired on his terms, as one of the most exciting players to ever play the game.
2. Dan Marino, QB
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Dan Marino's career was a tsunami of productivity undoubtedly worthy of a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection. He managed to play his entire 17-year career with the Miami Dolphins, shattering passing records and leading his team to a Super Bowl appearance in only his second year in the NFL.
Marino also set another record that year, throwing 48 touchdown passes, which stood from 1984-2003 before Peyton Manning broke that record with 49 touchdown passes in the 2004 season.
Marino was named league MVP and AP Offensive Player of the Year in 1984. He was awarded the Comeback Player of the Year in 1994 and the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 1998. Throughout his 17-year career, he was selected to nine Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro on three occasions.
Unfortunately, Marino failed to return to the Super Bowl after the '84 season. This had to be especially difficult for him, considering a quarterback's true greatness is often measured by Super Bowl victories. Any omissions of him being one of the best quarterbacks of all time should be directly attributed to his fingers not wearing the ultimate hardware.
1. Bruce Smith, DE
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Simply put, Bruce Smith has accumulated more career sacks than any other player since the sack became an official stat in 1982.
Smith played defensive end at an elite level for 19 years in the NFL, tallying an astounding 200 sacks over that span.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick is an eight-time First-Team All-Pro and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. Bruce spent his first 15 seasons with the Buffalo Bills, helping them reach the Super Bowl an unprecedented four consecutive times, each time ending in defeat.
Smith was endowed with a unique set of physical gifts that allowed him to dominate offensive linemen with his choice of either athleticism or brute strength. He remains today the ideal prototype for the defensive end position.
All Statistics were taken from Pro-Football-Reference.com