Best of the Rest: The 10 Greatest NFL Teams To Never Win a Super Bowl
"Anything short of a championship this year is a failure."
You hear that cliche tossed out there every now and then. I happen to not think it's true at all, but if pro athletes need that kind of mindset as motivation, then well, more power to them.
"There are two categories of Super Bowl participants that nobody remembers: One, the team that lost the game. Two, the team that only one won."
That's a quote from former Steelers' DE Dwight White, who was part of all four of Pittsburgh's championships in the 70's. Pretty true, ain't it?
This slideshow is dedicated to all the great teams in NFL history who fell just short of a Super Bowl win.
Honorable Mention: 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers
Rookie sensation Ben Roethlisberger went 13-0 as a starting QB as the Steelers became just the fourth team in league history to complete a 15-1 regular season.
The Steelers ended the Patriots NFL-record 21-game win streak with a 34-20 demolition at Heinz Field in Week 7. The very next week, they crushed the previously undefeated Eagles, 27-3.
But besides those two home games, the Steelers faced almost no competition during the season, as seven of their wins came against teams who lost 10 games or more in 2004.
Pittsburgh barely beat the mediocre Jets in the Divisional Playoff, then got crushed in the AFC Championship in their rematch with New England, 41-27. It marked the fourth time in the Bill Cowher era that the Steelers had lost the AFC title game at home.
Unfortunately, Big Ben got his Super Bowl win 12 months later.
Honorable Mention: 2009 Indianapolis Colts
Indy, despite ranking dead last in rushing offense and 18th in total defense, was perfect through the AFC playoffs. 16-0, that is, in the 16 games they actually played to win. Peyton Manning also secured his fourth career league MVP during the season.
Colts’ receiver/special teamer Hank Baskett had the ball, and perhaps the Super Bowl’s biggest play, right in front of his nose (literally). And he muffed it, failing to recover the Saints’ onside kick at the start of Super Bowl XLIV’s second half.
The ball bounced right off Baskett’s helmet and was recovered by the Saints.
Thankfully, Baskett still has Kendra…for now. But his unforgettable flub may have cost the 2009 Colts their rightful place in history.
No. 10: 1984 Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins tore through the competition to the tune of a 14-2 record and 513 total points during the season.
Unlike most great teams on this list, they were not betrayed by a fatal miscue at a critical time in a game. Instead, the Dolphins were humiliated by the 49ers (17-1) in Super Bowl XIX, 38-16, as San Fran racked up 537 offensive yards.
Still, ’84 was a magical year in Miami. Dan Marino, in his first full season in the NFL, had one of the greatest seasons of any QB in history by throwing for a then single-season record 48 touchdown passes, obliterating the previous record of 36.
Marino’s touchdown mark remained No. 1 for 20 years, while his 5,084 passing yards during 1984 is still unsurpassed.
No. 9: 1978 Dallas Cowboys
"America's Team" followed up its 1977 Super Bowl championship with a 12-4 record and its fifth NFC crown in nine seasons. Dallas ranked second in total offense and second in total defense.
But for the second time in four years, the Cowboys lost to the Steelers in a heavyweight-caliber Super Bowl.
In the third quarter, Jackie Smith, Dallas' 38-year-old backup TE, dropped a pass while wide open in the middle of the end zone. The Cowboys could have tied the game had Smith made the catch. Instead, Dallas had to settle for a field goal and ended up losing, 35-31.
The '78 Steelers were all winners, but none of the Cowboys were losers. Not even Jackie Smith, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
No. 8: 1990 San Francisco 49ers
They still had all the big names: Montana, Rice, Lott…and Craig.
The Niners (15-2) were at home in the NFC Championship Game and had a 13-12 lead with two-and-a-half minutes left in regulation. They had the ball at around the Giants’ 20-yard line. The 49ers were going to the Super Bowl for a third straight year, right?
All RB Roger Craig had to do was protect the rock. But Craig fumbled when he was hit by the Giants’ Erik Howard, and New York’s Lawrence Taylor snagged the pigskin. The ball didn’t even bounce. Taylor caught it on the fly.
Granted new life, the underdog Giants advanced to the Super Bowl, marching down the field and kicking a game-winning 42-yard field goal as time expired. No “three-peat” for San Fran. Craig’s critical fumble marked the last time he ever touched the ball as a member of the 49ers.
No. 7: 1990 Buffalo Bills
Bills’ kicker Scott Norwood missed the most pressure-packed kick in pro football history: a 47-yard field goal that would have given Buffalo a 22-20 victory in Super Bowl XXV on the final play of the game.
Before the game, the Bills were a sensational 15-3 and had scored 44 and 51 points respectively in their two AFC playoff games.
The missed field goal sealed Norwood’s fate as one of the biggest chokers in sports history, but for the Bills, there was plenty of blame to go around. Buffalo’s defense allowed New York to control the clock for over 40 minutes of game time, as the Giants mounted time-consuming TD drives at the end of the first half and beginning of the second.
New York’s ultra-physical defense pounded Buffalo’s usually elite passing attack.
Buffalo lost each of the next three Super Bowls as well, but those three losses probably wouldn’t have been as painful had they won Super Bowl XXV, the game now known simply as “Wide Right.”
No. 6: 1997 Green Bay Packers
Just as in 1996, Green Bay went 13-3 during the season and won the NFC. Reggie White still anchored the defense and Brett Favre won the league MVP for a third consecutive season, completing perhaps the greatest three-year stretch of any QB in NFL history.
The Packers entered the NFC Championship Game as two-point favorites even while playing on the road in San Francisco. The eventual 23-10 victory over the Niners in the rain boosted Favre’s career playoff record to 9-3.
Two weeks after beating San Francisco in the playoffs for a third straight year, the Packers were denied their second straight world championship when the 12-point underdog Broncos pulled a shocking upset in Super Bowl XXXII.
A year later, head coach Mike Holmgren left the Packers to coach Seattle. Favre, in his following nine years in Green Bay, would never match the level of his play he achieved under Holmgren.
No. 5: 2001 St. Louis Rams
St. Louis went 14-2 in the regular season and became the first (and still only) team in league history to score over 500 points in three consecutive seasons.
Kurt Warner won his second league MVP in three years, while reigning MVP Marshall Faulk enjoyed his fourth consecutive season of at least 2,100 yards from scrimmage. St. Louis also finished third in the NFL in total defense after replacing eight of its 11 defensive starters following 2000.
Super Bowl XXXVI was supposed to be just a formality for the Rams. And with no sign of slowing down, St. Louis appeared poised to establish itself as the dominant team of the 2000’s…a dynasty in waiting.
Of course, the 14-point underdog Patriots, led by a no-name rookie-starting QB and a head coach with a certain fondness for short-sleeve hoodies, had plans of their own.
No. 4: 1969 Minnesota Vikings
They were the NFL’s best. They led the league in scoring and also fewest points allowed, while outscoring the opposition 379 to 133. They scored over 50 points in a game three times and they won five games by 27 points or more while allowing just 9.5 points per game.
The ’69 Vikings were one of the most dominant teams in league history, but AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs took Minnesota out to the woodshed in Super Bowl IV. The NFL and AFL merged the following season.
Despite the Super Bowl IV loss, Minnesota still had an up-and-coming team that would no doubt compete for championships in the years ahead. Sure enough, the Vikings returned to the Super Bowl three more times during the 70’s. They lost each time.
Countdown Interim: Tribute To The 2009 Minnesota Vikings
Speaking of the Vikings, well, last year’s team was damn, damn, good. With a deep, well balanced, and well assembled roster, these Vikings had no glaring weaknesses.
Unfortunately, when you combine “The Norsemen’s Curse” (no championships in Vikings franchise history) with “The Gunslinger’s Jinx” (Brett Favre’s tendency for playoff game interceptions), you get a Twin City disaster.
DAMN IT, BRETT. YOU DID IT AGAIN.
Did I mention the Vikings are cursed?
No. 3: 1998 Minnesota Vikings
The ’98 Vikings were just the third team in NFL to enjoy a 15-1 regular season and their 556 points scored remain the second-highest total in league history.
Randall Cunningham’s performance in ’98 was simply unbelievable. Cunningham had been entirely out of football in 1996, but the Vikings acquired him as a backup in 1997 and he eventually became Minnesota’s starter in 1998 when Brad Johnson was injured in Week Two.
Cunningham went on to throw for 34 TDs against just 10 INTs, while WR Randy Moss racked up 17 touchdowns en route to the NFL’s Rookie of the Year Award.
Gary Anderson didn’t miss a single field goal or PAT attempt during the entire regular season, the first “perfect” kicker in league history. But in the NFC Championship against Atlanta, Anderson missed a 38-yard field goal that would have given the Vikes a 10-point lead with two minutes left in regulation.
Despite the miss, Minnesota still led, 27-20. All the Vikings needed was one more stop from their defense. They couldn’t get it. The Falcons tied the game with under a minute left and eventually won in OT. These seemingly invincible Vikings were toast...
No. 2: 1968 Baltimore Colts
Prior to Super Bowl III, the ’68 Colts were being called the greatest team in pro football history. They raced to a 13-1 record, outscoring the opposition a ridiculous 402 to 144.
They humiliated the Browns, the only team to beat them all season, 34-0 in the NFL Championship Game.
After Johnny Unitas suffered a serious injury in the final preseason game, journeyman QB Earl Morrall stepped in and won the NFL MVP award. Baltimore was favored by 18 points over the AFL’s Jets in the ‘Bowl. We all know how that turned out…
The ’68 Colts were coached by 38-year-old Don Shula, who just four years later, would lead the Miami Dolphins to an undefeated, 17-0 season. Again, Shula’s QB was Earl Morrall, who replaced injured starter Bob Griese early in the ’72 season and led the Dolphins to history.
The Jets over the Colts in Super Bowl III is hands down the biggest upset in Super Bowl history, but the ’68 Colts are not the best Lombardi Trophy-less team…
No. 1: 2007 New England Patriots
Now really, who else could be No.1?
After the start of “spygate” following Week One of the season, which seemingly questioned the validity of New England’s three Super Bowl championships earlier in the decade, the infuriated and super-motivated Patriots unleashed a string of dominance never before seen in the NFL.
The Pats completed the first 16-0 regular season in league history, scoring an NFL record 589 points and outscoring the opposition by 20 points per game (also an NFL record). Tom Brady set the record for TD passes in a season with 50, while newcomer Randy Moss set an NFL record with 23 TD receptions. It was a regular season for the ages.
The Patriots faced off with the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. With the Pats just moments away from “perfection,” Eli Manning somehow escaped a sea of Patriot pass-rushers and committed the cardinal sin of QBs by throwing a pop fly straight down the middle of the field….
David Tyree somehow caught the ball with his helmet…even with Rodney Harrison draped all over him. Then Plaxico Burress caught a game-winning TD with 35 seconds left, which, compared to what had happened just a few seconds earlier, seemed totally routine.
(Don’t forget Asante Samuel’s infamous missed interception on the play right before Tyree’s grab. Game should have been over).
New England’s quest for perfection ended just seconds away from history.
Poor Patriots. 18…and one.