The Best NFL Players Without a Super Bowl Ring
Two weeks ago we broke down the best active NFL players to have never made the Super Bowl. With four players from that list making this year’s game, we decided to dip a little deeper into history to see which of football’s best never got a chance to take home the Lombardi Trophy. We’ve taken a slightly different approach for this list, as we look to see the best player at each position without a ring. Players who played before the Super Bowl era will only be included if they never won an NFL Championship.
QB: Dan Marino
Marino has become a painful lesson for young NFL players, making the Super Bowl in his second season, then never sniffing a title again for the remainder of his 17-year career. Marino’s stats put him in elite company, and near the top of every statistical category including completions (third), passing yards (second), passing TDs (third) and total offense (second).
HM: Dan Fouts, Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon, Jim Kelly
RB: Barry Sanders
Though Sanders only played for ten years (walking away at age 30), he still ranks among the best running backs in NFL history. Mired on an awful Lions team for his entire career, Sanders won only one playoff game in his ten seasons, despite averaging nearly 100 yards a game (99.8) in over 153 game appearances. While he burned some bridges by retiring abruptly in 1999, Sanders will still be remembered as the most elusive running back in NFL history.
HM: OJ Simpson, Thurman Thomas, LaDainian Tomlinson
WR: Terrell Owens
This was the hardest call on the board, as we had to pick between Hall of Famer Charley Taylor and noted malcontent Owens (Ed. note – no Randy Moss?). We went with Owens, as his unique blend of speed and physicality made him one of the most talented players to ever step on a football field. To the detriment of his career, Owens couldn’t keep his mouth shut long enough to latch on to a winner, forcing his way out of Philly after his lone Super Bowl appearance.
HM: Charley Taylor, Tim Brown
TE: Tony Gonzalez
We already talked about Gonzalez on our list of active players, but he deserves his spot on this list as well. Gonzalez trails only Jerry Rice in receptions in NFL history, is seventh all time in receiving yards, and has nearly 6000 more yards than the next closest TE (Jason Witten). It was Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe who opened the door for the new style of tight ends as downfield threats.
HM: Ozzie Newsome (as a player), Kellen Winslow, Antonio Gates
OL: Anthony Munoz
There aren’t any convenient stats to illustrate how great Munoz was as a left tackle on the Bengals teams of the 1980s. It is left to his contemporaries to measure the impact he had on the game, and they honored him with 11 Pro Bowl and 9 All-Pro appearances. It’s the All-Pro list that truly shows how dominant Munoz was, as he made the first-team every year from 1981-1990, except 1984.
HM: Randall McDaniel, Bruce Matthews
DL: Merlin Olsen
Olsen’s career, along with teammates Deacon Jones and Jack Youngblood, came during the Rams nearly fifty-year title drought. From 1962 to 1976 Olsen was the best defensive lineman in football, making the Pro Bowl in all but his final season. His stout run defense led the Rams to multiple division titles and earned him the 1974 Bert Bell Player of the Year award.
HM: Leo Nomellini, John Randle
DE: Bruce Smith
The defensive end position was, by far, the deepest pool on the board. Notable players include the aforementioned Jones and Youngblood, Carl Eller and the recently retired Jason Taylor, but Smith stands above the pack. Though he had plenty of chances to take home a title, Smith’s Bills teams fell short in four straight attempts. He took home AP Defensive Player of the Year honors twice (in 1990 and 1996) and collected a record 200 sacks before he retired.
HM: Jones, Youngblood, Eller
LB: Dick Butkus
Eight Pro Bowls, five first-team All-Pros and one of the best names in NFL history earned Butkus a spot on our list. Butkus ranks with the retiring Ray Lewis as the best linebacker of all time, but never even made the playoffs in his decade plus career. He made his living bringing down ball carriers, but wasn’t just a ferocious tackling machine in the middle. He was also an innovator, often changing games by ripping the ball out of the grasp of runners he was taking down.
HM: Derrick Thomas, Junior Seau
S: Ed Reed
Reed joins Tony Gonzalez as the active players on this list, though he could find his way off it by the end of the week. Reed took home the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year award, and has made the Pro Bowl in each of his full seasons since his second year. A ball-hawking center fielder, Reed already holds the NFL record for interception return yards, and is also among the top ten in interceptions, interceptions returned for touchdowns and non-offensive touchdowns.
HM: Ken Houston, Brian Dawkins, Larry Wilson
CB: Lem Barney
With all the Lions on this list, it’s incredible that the franchise has had such little success on the field. None of those failures can be blamed on Barney, however, as the Hall of Famer picked off 56 passes in his time in the Motor City. He was also a return threat and was even the team’s punter in 1967 and 1969.
HM: Champ Bailey, Dick “Night Train” Lane
K/P: Gary Anderson
Anderson bounced around on five teams over his 22 NFL seasons, but never came close to a Super Bowl ring. He joined the Steelers just as the 1970s era dynasty team was falling apart, and saw thirteen playoff teams end their seasons with a loss. Anderson ranks second all-time in points scored, third in extra points made and second in field goals made.
HM: Shane Lechler, Jason Hanson, Reggie Roby