Ranking the Greatest NFL Players Who Never Won a Super Bowl

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2020

Ranking the Greatest NFL Players Who Never Won a Super Bowl

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    As professional football players look back at their careers, a Super Bowl victory is often among the most special accomplishments. And for quarterbacks, in particular, it's an extraordinarily valuable piece of a Hall of Fame resume.

    But some of the greatest players in NFL history never had an opportunity to experience that elation.

    Though many of these superstars are still enshrined in Cantonand deservedly soNFL legends such as Randy Moss, Dan Marino and Barry Sanders ended their careers without a ring. We're looking back at 10 of the best, though one player is active as of 2019.

    Familiar names will be on the list. But, perhaps more than anything: Brace yourself, fans of the Minnesota Vikings.

Honorable Mentions

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    Earl Campbell: The explosive runner surged onto the NFL scene, winning three straight Offensive Player of the Year honors to begin his career. Campbell's eight-year career ended with 10,231 scrimmage yards but no trips to the Super Bowl.

    Eric Dickerson: Dickerson was a record-setting runner for the Los Angeles Rams, but five postseason trips (four with the Rams, one with the Colts) ended before the Super Bowl. The Hall of Famer had 13,259 career rushing yards.

    Tony Gonzalez: The most productive tight end in league history, Gonzalez ranks third all-time in receptions, sixth in yards and eighth in touchdown catches. However, his teams didn't advance past the AFC Divisional Round or NFC Championship Game.

    Jim Kelly: In 11 seasons with the Buffalo Bills, Kelly threw for at least 2,798 yards in each campaign. He guided the franchise to the playoffs eight times and the Super Bowl in four straight years, but the Bills never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

    Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers: Members of the Chicago Bears in the mid-1960s to early 1970s, Butkus and Sayers emerged as legends despite the team's struggles. Both players are in the Hall of Fame after earning five All-Pro nods apiece.

10. Philip Rivers, QB

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    If Philip Rivers had a ring, the discussion about his Hall of Fame potential would have a simple conclusion: He'd be in.

    The longtime San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers quarterback ended 2019 ranked sixth all-time in both passing yards (59,271) and touchdowns (397). He boasts the 12th-best approximate value in NFL history, according to Pro Football Reference.

    But through his most recent year, Rivers has earned just a single trip to the AFC Championship in six playoff chances.

    In another dimension, Rivers is probably a three-time champion and surefire Hall of Famer. Even in that dimension, there's no doubt each Super Bowl was a one-score game in the closing minutes.

9. Bruce Matthews, OT

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    A first-round pick of the Houston Oilers in a 1983 draft that included John Elway and Dan Marino, Bruce Matthews spent 19 seasons in the league and barely missed a game.

    Of 303 possible appearances, Matthews notched 296 and started 293. Though he mostly lined up at guard and center, he played every position on the offensive line and still garnered seven All-Pro honors and 14 Pro Bowls with the franchise now known as the Tennessee Titans.

    Despite his longevity in a Hall of Fame career, Matthews advanced to the AFC Championship or Super Bowl only in 1999. That season famously ended one yard short against the St. Louis Rams.

8. Warren Moon, QB

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    In the Canadian Football League, Warren Moon was a five-time champion. He propelled the Edmonton Eskimos to five straight Grey Cup victories from 1978-82 before heading to the NFL.

    The strong-armed quarterback quickly became one of the most prolific passers in the league. Moon topped 3,000 yards six times with the Houston Oilers, twice with the Minnesota Vikings and once on the Seattle Seahawks. At that point in NFL history, only John Elway and Dan Marino had more 3,000-yard seasons than his nine.

    Moon totaled 49,325 yards and 291 touchdowns as a passerthen ranked third and fourth, respectivelybut never advanced past the divisional round in seven postseason trips.

7. Fran Tarkenton, QB

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    Fran Tarkenton spent the first six seasons of his NFL career helping the newly created Minnesota Vikings find a footing in the NFL. As a member of the New York Giants for five seasons, he then posted three of the franchise's only four .500-plus records over a 14-year stretch.

    Tarkenton finally escaped mediocrity late in his career.

    After returning to Minnesota, he earned league MVP honors in 1975 and guided the Vikings to six division titles and three Super Bowl appearances. In those games, they fell to the Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders.

    Tarkenton ended his career with then-NFL records of 47,003 passing yards and 342 touchdowns. Plus, his 3,674 rushing yards were the most by a quarterback.

6. Alan Page, DT

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    In 1967, Alan Page arrived in Minnesota just as Fran Tarkenton left, and he played a central role in the Purple People Eaters defensive line. The unit included future Hall of Famers in Page and Carl Eller, as well as multi-time Pro Bowlers in Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen.

    During a 12-year stretch from his rookie season through 1978, the Vikings won 10 division titles and reached four Super Bowls. Along with the losses in Tarkenton's second stint, he was a member of the 1969 squad that fell to the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Page, though, was an absolute force.

    The league MVP in 1971, he gathered All-Pro recognition six times and made nine Pro Bowl trips. Page appeared in 237 games and amassed 148.5 sacks with 23 fumble recoveries and 28 blocked kicks.

5. Randy Moss, WR

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    After the Minnesota Vikings selected him No. 21 overall in the 1998 draft, Randy Moss wasted no time dominating the league.

    He collected 1,200-plus yards in each of his first six seasons, something no one else has ever accomplished. During that span, he led the NFL in touchdown catches three times. By the age of 26, he'd already joined Jerry Rice as the only players with three 15-touchdown seasons in a career.

    Even now, Moss holds top-five all-time rankings in both yards (15,292) and touchdowns (156).

    However, his two trips to the Super Bowl ended in disappointment.

    Moss played for the almost-undefeated New England Patriots team in 2007 (a season during which he posted an NFL-record 23 touchdowns) and the 2012 San Francisco 49ers, who lost to the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens, respectively. 

4. Anthony Munoz, OT

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    Were it not for Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers, Anthony Munoz could've had a ring or two. His Cincinnati Bengals lost to San Francisco in both Super Bowl XVI and XXIII.

    Nevertheless, the left tackle achieved excellence in a 13-year career. Munoz earned nine All-Pro honors and 11 straight Pro Bowl nods from 1981-91, and he started 184 games with Cincinnati. He even caught four touchdowns for the Bengals.

    "If I were as good at my position as Anthony is at his, then I'd be 10 times better than Joe Montana," Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason said in 1990, per Sports Illustrated's Jay Greenberg.

3. Bruce Smith, DE

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    Even the greatest linemen had trouble with Bruce Smith.

    "I knew that I was in for a battle. And then Monday morning, I felt it," Anthony Munoz said of his matchups with Smith. "Every single play, you couldn't take a play off. The guy was amazing."

    Smith played a pivotal role in the Buffalo Bills reaching four straight Super Bowls during the early 1990s. Although they fell painfully short of winning a ring, Buffalo showcased one of the greatest talents in NFL history with the Hall of Famer.

    Overall, he notched 13 seasons of double-digit sacks and earned two Defensive Player of the Year awards, eight All-Pro honors and 11 Pro Bowls. He's the only player in NFL history to amass 200 sacks.

2. Dan Marino, QB

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    Dan Marino is a good reminder that just because a player is young and in the Super Bowl, he's not guaranteed to get back for another chance.

    Only in the 1984 season did Marino, then in his second year, and the Miami Dolphins play on the sport's biggest stage, and it ended with a 38-16 loss to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. During his 17-year career, the Dolphins managed just two other trips to the AFC Championship Game.

    "I'd trade every record we broke to be Super Bowl champs," Marino told ESPN's Larry Schwartz when looking back at his career.

    While that is understandable, Marino quite literally changed the sport. Upon his retirement, he had nearly 10,000 more passing yards than anyone in NFL history and the most touchdown passes by 78. Through the 2019 season, both are still No. 5 all-time.

1. Barry Sanders, RB

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    Barry Sanders never totaled fewer than 1,100 rushing yards in a season, and the only time he didn't surpass 1,300 came in an injury-shortened 1993 campaign. He abruptly retired after the 1998 season with the second-most rushing yards in NFL history.

    The most elusive running back the league had ever watched, Sanders had tired of the Detroit Lions failing to build a contender. He later explained in his 2003 autobiography the frustration that led to his decision.

    "Management had let quality players slip away. We'd been losing for years. Now we were right back where we were when I arrived," he wrote, per Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.

    Detroit made it to the playoffs in five of Sanders' 10 seasons but dropped four wild-card games and advanced to the NFC Championship Game only once.


    Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.