There’s no bigger defining moment for a quarterback and his legacy than the Super Bowl. A Super Bowl win can completely change the trajectory of a career, while losing one can alter the narrative of the quarterback.
Super Bowl championships significantly help a quarterback’s Hall of Fame case. Losing a Super Bowl (or two) doesn’t hurt a quarterback’s ability to get into the Hall of Fame, but it makes the case for Canton significantly harder. The narrative always persists with quarterbacks who don’t have Super Bowl championships, with a “yeah but he didn’t win a Super Bowl” attached to their resume.
Who are the 10 best retired quarterbacks to never win a Super Bowl? The qualifications are simple as the quarterback has to have played in the NFL for at least five seasons and played the majority of their career in the Super Bowl era. Some players who aren’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame are higher up on the list than Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
This is a list no quarterback wants to be on, yet each of them had very successful careers in the league.
10. Boomer Esiason
The 1988 NFL MVP, Esiason was 32 seconds away from hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy before Joe Montana led a game-winning drive that resulted in the San Francisco 49ers‘ third Super Bowl title. Esiason was ninth all time in passing yards (37,920) and 10th in passing touchdowns (247) by the time he retired in 1997.
Esiason played just five playoff games in his career, compiling a 3-2 record. He only went to the playoffs twice in his 14 seasons, compiling an 80-93 career record.
9. Matt Ryan
The 2016 NFL MVP, Ryan holds the honor of being the quarterback who was on the team responsible for blowing a 25-point lead in Super Bowl LI — the largest blown lead in Super Bowl history. Ryan completed 17 of 23 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns in that game (144.1 rating), but the Falcons punted three times and had a turnover on their last four possessions.
Ryan compiled 62,792 career passing yards (seventh in NFL history) and 381 touchdown passes (ninth in NFL history), but had just four playoff wins in 15 seasons (despite a 100.8 passer rating which is fifth in NFL history for the playoffs). Despite the numbers, Ryan didn’t make a lot of postseason runs.
8. Dan Fouts
A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Fouts never had the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl. When Fouts retired in 1987, he was second in NFL history in passing yards (43,040) and fourth in passing touchdowns (254). Fouts did play in an AFC Championship against the Bengals, but that was with a temperature of -9 degrees and a wind chill of -32.
Fouts was 3-4 in the playoffs (four playoff appearances) and threw 12 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. He was the best player on many mediocre San Diego Chargers teams, leading the league in pass yards per game six times.
7. Steve McNair
McNair was just a Kevin Dyson-yard short (or Mike Jones tackle) of taking Super Bowl XXXIV to overtime, showcasing how close he came toward winning a championship in his lone opportunity. The 2003 NFL co-MVP with Peyton Manning, McNair compiled a 91-62 record in 13 seasons and had a 5-5 record in the postseason, reaching the conference championship game twice.
If McNair gets that Super Bowl with the Tennessee Titans, he gets significantly more Hall of Fame consideration. He threw for 174 touchdowns and rushed for 37 while also throwing for 31,304 yards in his career.
6. Donovan McNabb
McNabb gets a lot of criticism for failing to win the Super Bowl, but his nine playoff victories are tied for the most by a quarterback that’s never won a Super Bowl. McNabb actually has as many playoff wins as Drew Brees and more than Dan Marino (eight).
Making five conference championship games in his career (including four straight), McNabb has a 9-7 career postseason record and threw 24 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. In his lone Super bowl appearance, McNabb went 30 of 51 for 357 yards with three touchdowns to three interceptions (75.4 rating).
If McNabb had won a Super Bowl, he would have had a more significant Hall of Fame case. He had a 98-62-1 record in the regular season and was the best quarterback Andy Reid had before Patrick Mahomes.
5. Warren Moon
One of the greatest passers of his era, Moon never got to play in a Super Bowl despite leading the NFL in passing yards twice and making nine Pro Bowls. With a 102-101 career record, Moon was third all time in passing yards (49,325) and fourth all time in passing touchdowns (291) when he retired in 2000.
Moon was just 3-6 in the playoffs with 17 touchdowns to 14 interceptions, never playing in a conference championship game. It didn’t help that his first NFL season wasn’t until he was 28 years old after tearing up the CFL for years.
The only conference championship game Rivers ever appeared in, he played through it with a torn ACL. He never missed a game in the NFL, starting 240 consecutive regular-season games while ranking sixth all time in passing yards (63,441) and sixth in passing touchdowns (421).
One of the prolific passers of his era, Rivers has just five playoff wins, despite throwing 16 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions. He had a 134-106 record in 17 seasons with no Super Bowl appearances to show for it.
3. Jim Kelly
Still the only quarterback to take a franchise to four consecutive Super Bowls, Kelly went winless in all of them. Kelly’s nine playoff wins are tied with McNabb for the most in NFL history, as he had just two seasons where he made the postseason and failed to win a playoff game.
A Hall of Fame quarterback, Kelly is still the last starting quarterback to lose his Super Bowl debut and make it back to the Super Bowl. The lone stain on Kelly’s resume is not winning a Super Bowl, even though he and the Bills have four consecutive conference championships on their resume.
2. Fran Tarkenton
Tarkenton held all the major quarterback passing records when he retired in 1978 (leading the NFL in passing yards for the first time in his career in his final season). He was first in passing yards (47,003) and touchdown passes (342), having a 124-109-6 record in his 18 seasons.
Tarkenton had a 6-5 record in the postseason, but made it to three Super Bowls and lost every single one of them. He actually didn’t make a playoff start until he was 33 years old, carrying some poor Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants teams in the 1960s.
The Hall of Fame quarterback is one of the best to ever play the position, with a Super Bowl title the lone omission on his resume.
1. Dan Marino
Marino is the best quarterback to never win a Super Bowl, only having one opportunity to win the championship in a 1984 season in which he obliterated the single-season records for yards (5,084) and passing touchdowns (48). Marino led the NFL in passing yards five times and passing touchdowns three times, leading the NFL in passing yards (61,361) and passing touchdowns (420) by the time he retired in 1999. He’s still in the top 10 in both categories.
Marino took the Miami Dolphins to the playoffs 10 times and compiled an 8-10 postseason record. He won four playoff games in his 30s, despite not having a 1,000-yard rusher until 1996 (in an era where running backs were prevalent toward success).
If Marino had a Super Bowl, he’d be on every top-five quarterback of all-time list. He ushered in the modern NFL passing game that’s prevalent around the league today.