NFL legends who surprisingly never won a Super Bowl

NFL legends who surprisingly never won a Super Bowl

Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino preparing to throw the football in Super Bowl XIX, which his team lost.

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Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino at the Super Bowl XIX, which his team lost.

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  • Countless star NFL players have cemented their greatness by winning the Super Bowl. 
  • Many great players, however, fell short of winning the sport’s greatest achievement. 
  • The Buffalo Bills’ Jim Kelly led the team to four consecutive Super Bowls in the ’90s but never won.

Winning the Super Bowl is what every professional football player strives to accomplish.

While many players have made their mark on the sport by winning a Super Bowl or two (or more), there are many great players who fell short of winning on football’s biggest stage. 

On Sunday, February 11, the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers will go head-to-head at Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

With the game quickly approaching, we put together a (subjective) list of the greatest NFL players who never won a Super Bowl … but should have.

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Julius Peppers is a first-ballot Hall of Fame defensive end and linebacker who played for the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers but never won a Super Bowl.

Carolina Panther Julius Peppers (90) plays against the Atlanta Falcons in 2017.


Julius Peppers in 2017.

Simon Bruty/Contributor/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Some players take a while to adjust to the demands of the NFL — Julius Peppers was not one of them. He entered the league with a bang, winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and setting the tone for the rest of his 17-season long career.

Although his only Super Bowl appearance came in 2004, where the Panthers lost to the New England Patriots 32-29, Peppers finished his career as a nine-time Pro Bowler and still holds the record for second-most forced fumbles and fourth-most sacks in NFL history.

In February 2024, he was announced as a first-ballot inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


Linebacker Junior Seau was a star who fell short with both the Patriots and Chargers in the Super Bowl.

Junior Seau


Junior Seau in 1996.

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Seau was a prodigious linebacker, playing an impressive 20 seasons during which he reached the Pro Bowl 12 times and tallied 56 sacks and 18 interceptions. Seau reached the Super Bowl twice: once with San Diego in 1995 and later as a part of the undefeated 2007 New England Patriots squad which lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl.

Tragically, the NFL star died by suicide in 2012 and was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.


Eric Dickerson sits atop the record board for single-season rushing yards, but he couldn’t translate that success into a Super Bowl victory.

Eric Dickerson


Eric Dickerson in 1984.

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In addition to his iconic goggles, Dickerson stands out in NFL history for setting the record for the most rushing yards in a single season (2,105 in 1984). Throughout his 11 seasons, the Hall of Fame running back made six Pro Bowls and rushed for over 13,000 yards. He never made it to a Super Bowl and lost the only NFC Championship Game he played in 1995 to the Chicago Bears. 

Warren Moon is statistically one of the best quarterbacks ever, but he is rarely talked about … likely because he never won a Super Bowl.

Warren Moon


Warren Moon in 1992.

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Throughout Moon’s 17 seasons, he played for four different teams, threw for just under 50,000 passing yards, and tossed 291 touchdowns. The Hall of Fame and All-Pro quarterback played in nine Pro Bowls but never reached even an AFC or NFC Championship, let alone the Super Bowl. 


Terrell Owens lost the only Super Bowl he ever played in.

Terrell Owens


Terrell Owens in 2002.

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The NFL may never see another player as theatrical as Owens. The wide receiver put up incredible stats throughout his 15-season tenure — nearly 16,000 receiving yards, 153 TDs — but his indelible antics and the way he was known to divide locker rooms tend to stand out more to many. His only Super Bowl appearance was with the Eagles in 2005, which they lost to the New England Patriots.

Cris Carter is regarded as one of the best wide receivers in NFL history, but he and the Minnesota Vikings never made it to the Super Bowl.

Cris Collins reaching to catch a pass.


Cris Carter reaching for a pass in 2000.

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Carter started his career in 1987 as a fourth-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles, but truly began to shine after he joined the Vikings in 1990. Throughout his time in Minnesota, Carter led the team in receptions for 10 consecutive seasons. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of 1990s and remains the sixth all-time leading receiver with 1,101 receptions. Carter and the Vikings came the closest to a chance at winning the Super Bowl in the 1998 NFC Championship against the Atlanta Falcons, but a missed field goal allowed Atlanta to win in overtime. Carter later retired in 2002 after a brief stint with the Miami Dolphins and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.


Tony Gonzalez is arguably the greatest tight end to fall short of winning a Super Bowl.

Tony Gonzalez


Tony Gonzalez pictured on the sideline during the final minutes of his last NFL game in 2013.

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Before Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce elevated the tight-end position to a new standard, Gonzalez was arguably the best in the game. He never made it to a Super Bowl but came close during an NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers during the 2012-13 season. Gonzalez made the Pro Bowl 14 of his 17 seasons and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019. 

LaDainian Tomlinson is widely considered one of the best running backs in NFL history, but he never made it to the Super Bowl.

LaDainian Tomlinson


LaDainian Tomlinson playing in 2006.

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In lieu of a Super Bowl victory, the Hall of Fame running back is remembered for numerous accolades including setting the single-season record for points scored (186), winning MVP in 2006, and appearing in five Pro Bowls. In addition to his time spent with the Chargers and Jets, he is also remembered for his ambitious philanthropy


Anthony Muñoz is one of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history, but he lost two Super Bowls to the 49ers.

Anthony Muñoz


Anthony Muñoz kneels on the field in 1988.

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Muñoz and his Bengals lost two Super Bowls to the San Francisco 49ers in 1982 and ’89. Despite not winning a Super Bowl, Muñoz still boasts an impressive resume, being named to 11 consecutive Pro Bowls and earning 11 consecutive All-Pro selections.

Randy Moss set multiple league records but lost both Super Bowls he played in.

Randy Moss


Randy Moss catching a touchdown pass in 2010.

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Moss’ legendary 14-season career included stints with five different teams and numerous accolades such as the single-season record for receiving touchdowns (23). Despite making Super Bowl appearances with both the Patriots and the 49ers, Moss and co. could never overcome the final hurdle and win it all. 


Despite four consecutive trips to the Super Bowl, Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly never won a ring.

Jim Kelly


Jim Kelly playing in 1993.

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Few people have been as close to winning a Super Bowl and know the frustration of losing better than Kelly. The Hall of Fame quarterback led the Bills to the playoffs in eight of his 11 seasons and to the Super Bowl from 1991 to ’94 but couldn’t win any of the four games. Until Josh Allen set a new record in 2020, he held the Bills’ single-season record for the most touchdown passes thrown. 

Similar to Kelly, the Vikings’ Fran Tarkenton made the Super Bowl three times in four years but left empty handed.

Fran Tarkenton


Fran Tarkenton throwing a pass during Super Bowl XI on January 9, 1977.

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OK, maybe Tarkenton understands Kelly’s frustration, if anyone. Tarkenton led the Vikings to football’s biggest stage three times in four years between 1973 to 1976 but lost each time. What’s even worse is that he absolutely broke down during each performance, throwing multiple interceptions and failing to put up the kind of points required to win the Super Bowl. The Hall of Fame quarterback is remembered as the original scrambler and at the time of his retirement, he held many league records, which are still impressive by today’s standards. 


Bruce Smith is another member of the ’91 to ’94 Super Bowl Bills deserving of a championship.

Bruce Smith


Bruce Smith in 1996.


An argument could really be made that the entire Buffalo Bills team from that era deserved to win a Super Bowl. But in addition to Kelly, Smith is one of those players who leaves us scratching our heads as to how he never won. The defensive end is the NFL’s all-time sacks leader with 200 and a Hall of Famer, not to mention one of the fiercest defensive players to ever step on the field. 

Miami Dolphins QB Dan Marino is arguably the most prolific passer in NFL history, but he lost his lone Super Bowl game.

Dan Marino


Dan Marino in 1999.


Dan Marino made his sole Super Bowl appearance in 1984, which was the same season he threw for a jaw-dropping 5,084 passing yards — he was the first player to throw for over 5,000 yards — and 48 touchdowns. He did make it to two other AFC championships, in 1985 and 1992, but never ended up winning the big show. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.


Barry Sanders has the fourth-most rushing yards in NFL history but never won a Super Bowl.

Barry Sanders


Barry Sanders playing in 1996.

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Sanders was the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in his first 10 seasons, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The closest Sanders ever got to the Super Bowl was an NFC Championship Game in 1992 versus the Washington Redskins. Sanders finished his 10-year career with 15,269 rushing yards


This post was originally published on Insider

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