Who are the greatest NFL players to never play in a super bowl? Read on to find out!
In virtually every sport, a player’s success is often assessed by his wits, individual stats, and most importantly, the number of trophies won. In the National Football League (NFL), it’s no different.
With several players who have dominated the NFL in recent years, it’s impossible to talk about an NFL player’s success without considering the Super Bowl titles he won or played.
One of such players is Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who has claimed as many as six Super Bowl rings and appeared in as many as nine Super Bowl games.
In the history of the NFL, there have been talented players who, at the start of their career, had high expectations to claim a Super Bowl ring but never did, not because they were less capable but because they never made it to a Super Bowl match.
In this article, SportyTell presents ten of the top NFL players that never played in a Super Bowl game and the closest they’ve been to the championship.
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Table of Contents
The Greatest NFL Players to Never Play in a Super Bowl
10. Cris Carter
Closet Call: 1998 NFC Championship Game
Few players have proven so skillful and exceptional in the wide receiver position as much as Cris Carter.
In the 16 seasons Carter spent in the NFL, he played for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Minnesota Vikings, and the Miami Dolphins, but did not see Super Bowl success with any of the three franchises.
He was named to the Pro Bowl on eight occasions and led the NFL in receiving touchdowns on three occasions.
Cris Carter came close to the Super Bowl at the NFC Championship Game in 1998, where the Vikings lost to the Atlanta Falcons.
9. Tony Gonzalez
Closet Call: 2012 NFC Championship Game
Currently a sports analyst for Fox Sports, Tony Gonzalez spent 16 seasons in the NFL trying to claim a Super Bowl ring.
During those 16 seasons, Gonzalez played for two NFL franchises, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons.
The tight end had a tough career, which saw him play in just one playoff game. But despite his Super Bowl ring snub, Gonzalez’s performance saw him named to the Pro Bowl on 14 occasions, which tied him with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Brice Matthews for the most selection to the NFL Pro Bowl.
Tony Gonzalez’s closest call to the Super Bowl was at the NFC Championship Game in the 2012 season, which the Falcons lost to the San Francisco 49ers.
8. LaDainian Tomlinson
Closet Call: 2010 AFC Championship Game
In any conversation about the greatest right back in the history of NFL, LaDainian Tomlinson’s name is bound to come up.
The former NFL right-back and three-time NFL touchdown leader played for 11 seasons in the NFL for two NFL franchises, the San Diego Chargers and the New York Jets.
An exceptional player, LaDainian Tomlinson, struggled a lot during the postseasons in his 11 year NFL career. Despite his struggles, he managed to claim notable awards in the NFL, such as his 2006 NFL MVP award and 2006 NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.
The closest LaDainian Tomlinson came to the Super Bowl was in the 2010 season AFC Championship Game between the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers overcame the Jets as the match ended in 24-19.
7. Eric Dickerson
Closet Call: 1985 NFC Championship Game
Pro Football Hall of Famer, Eric Dickerson, was one of the NFL’s top running backs in the 1980s.
The former NFL running back played for four NFL teams, namely the Los Angeles Rams, the Indianapolis Colts, the Los Angeles Raiders, and the Atlanta Falcons.
Dickerson’s antics on the pitch saw him win the 1983 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the 1986 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and lead the NFL in rushing yards on four occasions.
The closest Eric Dickerson came to the Super Bowl was the 1985 season NFC Championship game, where the Los Angeles Rams locked horns against the Chicago Bears. The game ended in favor of the Bears, who won 24 – nil.
6. O. J. Simpson
Closet Call: 1974 Divisional Round
As controversial as he is, O. J. Simpson never saw a Super Bowl glory in his 11 season stint in the league.
Simpson was a talented running back whose impressive antics on the pitch earned him awards such as the 1973 NFL Offensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP awards. His attempts to make it to the Super Bowl were successively altered every season.
The 1969 NFL Draft top pick and five-time Pro Bowl selectee played for the Buffalo Bills and the San Francisco 49ers in the 11 seasons he spent in the NFL.
The closest O.J. Simpson came to the Super Bowl was in the 1974 Divisional Round, which the Bills lost to the Steelers.
5. Earl Campbell
Closet Call: 1979 AFC Championship Game
Now covered in grey hair, the man dubbed The Tyler Rose ruled the NFL from the 1978 season to the 1985 season.
During his eight-season stint in the NFL, Campbell played for the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints. He led the league in rushing yards three times and rushing touchdown two times.
His impressive skills earned him the 1979 NFL MVP award and the NFL Offensive Player of the Year on three occasions. The former NFL running back was named to the Pro Bowl on five occasions.
The closest Earl Campbell came to the Super Bowl was in the 1979 AFC Championship Game, where the Oilers lost to the Steelers.
4. Gale Sayers
NFL contemporaries of Gale Sayers can attest to the difficulty in tackling the halfback who played in the NFL for seven seasons.
Those seven seasons which he spent with the Chicago Bears were riddled with injuries, limiting him to give a season of play. Despite that, Sayers had a very productive season, which could have been better if he had spent more time in the league.
The 1965 round 5 pick won the 1965 NFL Rookie of the Year award, led the NFL in rushing yards on two occasions, and the 1969 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. He was named to the Pro Bowl on four occasions.
Despite the impressive records Sayers lay claims to, he never made it to the postseason.
After exiting the NFL, the Pro Football Hall of Famer attended to administrative affairs of the varsity Athletics team of the Southern Illinois University and Tennessee State University.
3. Dick Butkus
Only a few linebackers in the history of the NFL attack as fiercely as Dick Butkus. The former NFL star spent nine seasons in the league, playing for the Chicago Bears.
From 1965 to 1973, where he played for the Chicago Bears, Butkus made it to the Pro Bowl throughout all the seasons he spent in the NFL, except his final season.
The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year never made it to the postseason; thus, Butkus never had a chance to play in the Super Bowl.
The Pro Bowl Hall of Famer went on to engage in acting and sports commentary after his nine-season stint in the NFL.
2. Deacon Jones
Closet Call: 1969 Divisional Round
Late Deacon Jones was a great defensive end in the NFL that he was dubbed “the Secretary of Defense.” The man who specialized in quarterback “sack,” a term unique to him, played in the NFL for 14 seasons.
He played for the Los Angeles Rams, the San Diego Chargers, and the Washington Redskins during those seasons. He appeared in eight Pro Bowls and won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year on two occasions.
The closest Deacon Jones came to the Super Bowl was in the 1969 Divisional Round, where the Los Angeles Rams lost to the Minnesota Vikings.
1. Barry Sanders
Closet Call: 1991 NFC Championship Game
A talented player, who recorded amazing achievements in the course of his decade long stint in the NFL, Barry Sanders is the greatest NFL player who never played in a Super Bowl game.
Throughout the ten seasons the Pro Football Hall of Famer spent in the league, Sanders played for the Detroit Lions.
Sanders won the 1989 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year on two occasions, and led the NFL in rushing yards four times and rushing touchdown once.
Years after departing from the league, Barry Sanders’ elusiveness as a running back is still recognized. In 2007, in the NFL Top 10 series, NFL Network crowned him as the most elusive runner in the league’s history.
The closest Barry Sanders came to the Super Bowl was at the 1991 NFC Championship, where the Detroit Lions lost to the Washington Redskins.
There you have it — our top-10 greatest NFL players to never play in a Super Bowl game.
Which of the American football greats do you think should be on this list? Please share with us in our comments section below.