Friday, March 1, 2024

Super Bowl: Ranking top 25 NFL players who never won a ring, from Dan Marino to Randy Moss and more legends

For every outstanding NFL player whose career is defined by Super Bowl glory, there is at least one all-time great who came up short in their quest to win the big game. 

The list is endless, and it will continue to be added to. Bills fans, who have already had to watch several of their iconic players retire without a Super Bowl win, are hoping that Josh Allen’s name isn’t added to the list of players who never got to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy before he hangs up his cleats. 

While Allen isn’t on this list yet, here’s who did crack my top-25 list of NFL players who did not win a Super Bowl during their otherwise incredible careers. 

The only criteria for this list was that the player had to play his entire career during the Super Bowl era. That’s why Bears legends Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus aren’t included. 

25. Cris Carter 


Carter caught everything during his legendary career … except a pass in a Super Bowl. 

Best chance: Carter and the Vikings led the Falcons 27-20 late in the 1998 NFC title game. Minnesota squandered a chance to ice the game when Gary Anderson missed his first and only field goal try of the season late in the fourth quarter. Atlanta took advantage by forcing overtime, then shocking the heavily-favored Vikings in the extra time. 

24. Brian Urlacher

Best chance: Urlacher led the Bears to Super Bowl XLI. Chicago’s defense was OK that night, but the unit could not overcome an offense that turned the ball over five times in a 29-17 loss. 

23. Jack Youngblood 


Youngblood (No. 85), despite playing on one good leg, nearly led the Rams to an upset of the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV.  USA Today

Best chance: Youngblood came painfully close to winning a Super Bowl, both literally and physically. The Rams’ standout defensive end played in Super Bowl XIV despite having a broken leg. His presence helped the Rams take a 19-17 lead over the defending champion Steelers going into the fourth quarter. 

It took two huge completions from Terry Bradshaw to John Stallworth in the fourth quarter for the Steelers to avoid a huge upset against Youngblood and Los Angles, whose gritty performance that day won’t soon be forgotten. 

22. John Hannah 

Best chance: How good was Hannah? He was the best player on the Patriots’ first Super Bowl team. But Hannah’s team was no match for the ’85 Bears, one of the greatest teams of all-time. Super Bowl XX was the final game in a Hall of Fame career for Hannah, who is regarded as one of the greatest interior offensive  linemen in NFL history. 

21. Dermontti Dawson

Best chance: Dawson is the greatest center in NFL history, according to Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame monitor. He played in one Super Bowl, and it was one of the most bazaar ones the NFL has ever seen. The Steelers dominated the second half of Super Bowl XXX, but could not overcome two dreadful interceptions that set up 14 Cowboys points. 

20. Champ Bailey 


While his career didn’t include a Super Bowl win, Bailey does own the distinction as a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.  USATSI

Best chance: One of the best cornerbacks of his era, Bailey didn’t play in a Super Bowl until his final season. Unfortunately for Bailey, his Broncos team didn’t stand a chance against the Seahawks, who recorded one of the most lopsided wins in Super Bowl history. 

19. Randall McDaniel 

Best chance: McDaniel’s best shot at ring came during the 1998 season as a member of the Vikings. Had the Vikings beaten the Falcons in that year’s NFC title game, they would have faced John Elway and the defending champion Broncos in what could have been an epic showdown. 

The ’98 Vikings featured nine Pro Bowlers that included McDaniel, a 1990s All-Decade Team guard whose streak of consecutive Pro Bowl selections spanned three decades. 

18. Joe Thomas 

NFL: Detroit Lions at Cleveland Browns

The Browns’ legend never suited up in a playoff game.  Ken Blaze / USA TODAY Sports

Best chance: He didn’t know it at the time, but Thomas’ rookie reason represented his best shot at winning a ring. The Browns finished 10-6, and it was the only season of Thomas’ career where Cleveland finished with a winning record. Cleveland missed the playoffs, however, after losing a tiebreaker with division champion Pittsburgh. 

17. Steve Largent 

Best chance: Largent and the Seahawks swept the Raiders during the 1983 regular season. The Raiders turned the tables, however, in that year’s AFC title game. One reason why was the addition of Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes, who was acquired by the Raiders late in the regular season. With Haynes and fellow cornerback Lester Hayes watching his every move, Largent caught just two passes in Seattle’s 30-14 loss. 

16. Bruce Matthews 

Best chance: At age 38, Matthews finally reached a Super Bowl with the Titans at the end of the 1999 season. In one of the best Super Bowls ever, the Titans fought from 16 points down to pull even late in the game. 

The Rams quickly re-gained the lead on a Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce touchdown. But Steve McNair led the Titans on a furious, last minute drive that ended just short of the goal line. 

15. O.J. Simpson

Best chance: The NFL’s first 2,000-yard rusher played in just one playoff game, and it came against one of the greatest teams of all-time. In fact, the Steelers’ blowout win over Simpson and the Bills in the ’74 divisional round was the beginning of a run that saw Pittsburgh win four Super Bowls over a six-year span. 

While he caught a touchdown pass, Simpson was held to just 49 yards on 15 carries in Buffalo’s 32-14 loss. 

14. Adrian Peterson 

Best chance: Peterson’s 122 yards and three touchdowns in 2009 NFC title game wasn’t enough to lift the Vikings past the Saints, who edged Minnesota in one of the greatest championship games in history. A crucial interception by Brett Favre late in regulation prevented the Vikings from attempting a game-winning field goal. The Saints took advantage in overtime, winning the game and capturing the franchise’s only Super Bowl title two weeks later. 

13. JJ Watt 


Watt led the Texans to the playoffs six times.  Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Best chance: Watt recently told CBS Sports that the 2012 Texans was Houston’s best team during his time there. Houston won a defensive battle against Cincinnati in the wild card round, but weren’t able to keep pace with Tom Brady and the Patriots in the divisional round a week later. Houston’s offense played well that night but was ultimately on the short end of a 41-28 final score. 

12. Eric Dickerson 

Best chance: Dickerson and Marino were the NFL’s top-two players in 1985. Both players, though, saw their seasons end one game shy of the Super Bowl. For Dickerson, his Rams squad was no match for eventual Super Bowl champion Bears, whose defense scored more points in that year’s NFC title game than Los Angeles’ offense. 

11. Fran Tarkenton 

Best chance: The NFL’s career passing leader until Marino passed him in 1995, Tarkenton played in three Super Bowls during his Hall of Fame career. Super Bowl IX was the only one that was still competitive in the fourth quarter. The Steelers ultimately won, 16-6, behind the running of Franco Harris and a defense that held Tarkenton and the rest of the Vikings’ offense to 121 total yards. 

10. Larry Fitzgerald 

Best chance: Fitzgerald was bottled up for the first three quarters of Super Bowl XLIII. He caught fire in the fourth quarter, however, catching two touchdown passes that included a go-ahead, 64-yard catch and run with 2:37 left.  

With Fitzgerald watching on the sideline, the Steelers mounted an 88-yard drive that was punctuated by Ben Roethlisberger’s game-winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes. The Cardinals lost, 27-23, despite a MVP-worthy game from Fitzgerald, who caught seven passes for 127 yards along with his two touchdowns. 

9. LaDainian Tomlinson 


Tomlinson set the NFL touchdown record in 2006, but was upset by New England in that year’s divisional round.  Getty Images

Best chance: While he played in two AFC title games, Tomlinson’s best shot at a ring was in 2006 as a member of the 14-2 Chargers. But San Diego was upset by the Patriots in the divisional round despite Tomlinson’s 187 total yards and two touchdowns. The Chargers led 14-3 before falling victim of a vintage Tom Brady comeback.  

Had they won that game, the Chargers would have hosted Peyton Manning’s Colts in the AFC title game. The Chargers, not the Colts, likely would have defeated the Bears in the Super Bowl had they been able to get past Indianapolis. 

8. Tony Gonzalez 

Best chance: Despite starring on several talented Chiefs teams, Gonzalez’s first playoff win did not come until his 16th season. A member of the Falcons by that time, Gonzalez’s 10-yard touchdown reception gave Atlanta a 10-point lead over the 49ers in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs.  

The Falcons were unable to hang onto their lead, however, as two touchdowns by Frank Gore (another great player that didn’t win a Super Bowl) lifted San Francisco to a 28-24 win. Gonzalez retired after the following season as the most prolific tight end in NFL history. 

7. Junior Seau 

Best chance: Seau’s best shot at a ring came as a member of the almost undefeated Patriots. While he and his defensive teammates mostly shut down the Giants, they fell victim to one of the most unbelievable plays in NFL history. They also weren’t helped by an offense that scored just 14 points.  

Arguably the NFL’s best defensive player throughout the 1990s, Seau was the best player on a Chargers team that made an unexpected Super Bowl run in 1994. That remains the Chargers’ only appearance in the big game. 

6. Alan Page 


Page played hard but came up short in each of his four Super Bowl trips, including his final one against Ken Stabler and the Raiders in Super Bowl XI.  Getty Images

Best chance: Page and the Vikings weren’t really close in any of their four Super Bowl appearances. Their most competitive Super Bowl occurred against the Steelers in Super Bowl IX. A special teams score briefly gave the Vikings hope, but those hopes were dashed moments later when Terry Bradshaw led the Steelers on a game-clinching scoring drive.  

It should be noted that Page — the first defensive player to win NFL MVP — did win an NFL championship in 1969. The Vikings then lost to the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV in what was the final game before the AFL-NFL merger. 

5. Anthony Munoz 

Best chance: Munoz played in two tightly contested Super Bowls against the 49ers. Both times, Munoz and the Bengals came up short, with their second loss coming after Montana led the 49ers on their famous 92-yard, game-winning drive to win Super Bowl XXIII. 

While he didn’t get a Super Bowl ring, Munoz owns the unofficial title as the greatest offensive tackle in league history. 

4. Bruce Smith 

Best chance: Smith’s safety in Super Bowl XXV gave Buffalo a 12-3 early lead over the Giants. But the Bills would score only one more time and ended up on the short end of closest Super Bowl ever. Down 20-19 with eight seconds left, Smith and his teammates locked arms on the sideline as Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.  

The NFL’s all-time leader with 200 sacks, Smith and the Bills would play in the next three Super Bowls while becoming the only team to play in the big game four straight years. But they were defeated each time by a combined score of 119-54. 

3. Randy Moss 


Moss enjoyed a near-perfect partnership with Tom Brady.  Getty Images

Best chance: Similar to Michael Jordan and LeBron James, there is an open debate as it relates to either Jerry Rice or Randy Moss as the greatest receiver of all-time. An athletic marvel, Moss flourished when he arrived in New England in 2007. Paired with Tom Brady, Moss caught a single season NFL record 22 touchdowns while helping the Patriots cap off a perfect regular season.  

Moss was on the doorstep of winning his first ring after catching the go-ahead touchdown late in that year’s Super Bowl. But the Giants countered when Eli Manning’s miraculous completion to David Tyree set up his go-ahead touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress.  

With seconds left, Moss and Brady nearly connected on a deep throw that would have made things interesting. But the duo could not complete the throw, and Moss and Co. were denied a place in football immortality. 

2. Barry Sanders 

Best chance: The supremely talented Sanders led the Lions to their only playoff win in the last 65 years when the Lions romped the Cowboys to earn a spot in the 1991 NFC title game.  

Detroit would be on the other side of a blowout against Washington, however, as the eventual Super Bowl champs held Sanders to 59 all-purpose yards.  

Sanders’ next and last “best chance” at a title occurred two years later. Despite Sanders’ 169 yards rushing, the Lions were upset by the Packers in Brett Favre’s first playoff win. Favre’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe late in the fourth quarter gave Green Bay a 28-24 victory.  

1. Dan Marino 


Marino during his first and only Super Bowl. 

Best chance: Marino led the Dolphins to the big game in his just second season. It was an MVP year for Marino, who threw for then NFL records of 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns. In that year’s Super Bowl, Marino was part of one of the greatest big game quarterback matchups in history between himself and Joe Montana, who three years earlier led the 49ers to their first title. 

Marino threw for 318 yards and a touchdown, but Montana accounted for over 400 yards and four touchdowns as San Francisco recorded a 38-16 win. It was the first and last Super Bowl appearance for Marino, who retired as the NFL’s all-time career passing leader. 

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