Do you ever get caught off guard by something that seems so obvious but you apparently missed the memo? It happens to the best of us, even to the most ardent, stat-spewing sports fan.
With 53 guys on an NFL roster, you can’t possibly be expected to memorize every single player on every single team that wins a championship. That’s especially true if a particular player won a title with a different team than he’s on now or was buried third- or fourth-deep on the depth chart at the time. Maybe it’s just been several years since it happened and you forgot. Better yet, maybe your team allowed the biggest comeback in NFL playoff history and watched helplessly as its first championship slipped through its grasping fingers and you’ve since blocked the game from your memory (Sorry, Falcons fans. Too soon?).
It’s simple math, really. Only 11 guys can be on the field at any one time. That leaves 42 others standing on the sidelines when the ball is in play. Unless we’re talking about a star quarterback or free safety immediately recognizable when he steps onto the turf, most guys don’t see a whole lot of snaps, not even a majority of them. And to that end, short of making consistent game-winning or career-defining plays, players that have a more insignificant role in the march to a championship won’t exactly stick out in our minds a few years down the road.
All I’m really getting at is this: It can be easy to forget some of the now-significant gridiron stars that once hoisted the Lombardi Trophy before they rose to prominence. So here are 15 of those current NFL players you didn’t know have a championship ring.
15 Percy Harvin
You might have missed it, but the formerly impactful wide receiver out of the University of Florida actually did win a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014. After the Minnesota Vikings took him in the first round of the 2009 draft, he was a regular starter in his first four seasons, accounting for over 3,000 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns.
The Vikings traded him to Seattle prior to the 2013 season, where he had quite the tumultuous year. Injury kept him out of all but one regular season game, but he did dress for two playoff games, including Super Bowl 48, in which he returned the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown en route to the Seahawks’ first-ever Super Bowl title.
After just three total games in a Seattle uniform, Harvin was traded in late 2014 to the New York Jets, before then signing with the Buffalo Bills.
Short but sweet is all it took to win a championship ring for Harvin, but really, it’s more of a statistical anomaly than anything. Either way, good for him.
14 Jonathan Casillas
You didn’t know it, but linebacker Jonathan Casillas is in the right place at the right time a lot. Two Super Bowls worth, in fact. After going undrafted in 2009, the New Orleans Saints picked him up as a free agent as he was coming off a knee injury.
He appeared in 11 games in 2009, starting two, and managing all of eight solo tackles. He didn’t do much in the playoffs other than recover an onside kick in the Saints’ Super Bowl 44 win over the Indianapolis Colts, but it earned him his first ring.
His second came five years later, after he was traded from the Buccaneers to the Patriots in October 2014. He started three games on the way to the Pats’ fourth title in 14 years, despite having basically zero impact on the outcome, which goes to show that it pays to be in the right place at the right time despite the fact that no one will remember you.
Now, Casillas is with the Giants after that very fortunate half-season with the Pats.
13 James Starks
You probably missed the fact that running back James Starks won a title with the Green Bay Packers in 2011. That’s because it was his rookie season, and he only appeared in three regular-season games before the playoffs, making his NFL debut just two months before he laid claim to the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl 45.
Starks’ physical style of play has left him somewhat exposed, and his health has suffered. In his first four NFL seasons, he missed 29 games with lower-body injuries and played in just 35. That’s why you had no idea he was on the Packers’ title-winning 2010 team.
These days, Starks is far removed from his championship form. He had knee surgery late last year and then got into a car crash on top of that. Despite signing a two-year contract with Green Bay in 2016, the Packers recently released Starks with a non-football injury designation, so his active status might actually be in jeopardy.
12 Tracy Porter
Defensive back Tracy Porter actually had a pretty memorable game in Super Bowl 44, when he intercepted Peyton Manning for a win-sealing pick-6 in the fourth quarter of the New Orleans Saints’ victory over the Indianapolis Colts, but that was over seven years and four teams ago. Not a relevant-enough stat to keep stored in the ole noggin.
That title-winning year, he started 11 of the 12 games he appeared in and has been a consistent starter in the secondary ever since. After his four seasons in New Orleans, he went on to play single seasons in Denver, Oakland and Washington but has battled through a number of injuries and has played a mostly quiet, Pro Bowl-less career.
Now with the Chicago Bears after signing a three-year, $12 million contract in 2016, Porter’s championship season is a distant memory for a guy you’d never guess had a Super Bowl ring.
11 Will Blackmon
Will Blackmon established himself as a solid special teams guy in his sophomore season in 2007 when he returned a punt 57 yards for a touchdown and then returned a fumble recovery for six more points in the same game for the Green Bay Packers.
Then, in the first game of 2008, Blackmon returned another punt 76 yards for a score, before doing it again in Week 10. Pretty good, but he never won a title with The Pack.
He signed with the New York Giants twice within a two year span in 2010 and 2011, appearing in just 11 games during those seasons. But as luck would have it, he found himself on a championship-caliber team in the 2012 playoffs, and despite appearing as a mere blip on the stat sheet, he won his one and only NFL title in Super Bowl 46, as the Giants knocked off the New England Patriots.
You won’t remember him winning a ring, though, because after he won it, he was released and wouldn’t play another snap in the league for over a year-and-a-half, until the Jaguars signed him in 2013. Now he’s with the Red Skins, with only the ring to prove he ever won a title.
10 Tyrod Taylor
You probably know him best as the $92 Million Man and young starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, so you wouldn’t expect him to be toting around any big, shiny Super Bowl rings. But sure enough, Tyrod Taylor, the 2010 ACC Player of the Year and a 2015 Pro Bowl selection has in fact won an NFL title.
It came in the 2012 season, just the second of his career, when he was backing up starting QB Joe Flacco with the Baltimore Ravens. He only appeared in seven games that season and a total of just 14 during the four years he was in Baltimore, but I can assure you he really was on the roster when the Ravens edged out the 49ers to win Super Bowl 47.
9 Antoine Bethea
Antoine Bethea lucked out when he joined the Indianapolis Colts as a rookie in 2006. After the Colts took him in the sixth round of that year’s NFL Draft, the defensive back out of Howard started 14 games in his debut season, helping the team to a second-ranked pass defense and even picking off the GOAT, Tom Brady, in Week 9 for his first career interception.
Bethea and the Colts would ride the momentum of their phenomenal regular season on both sides of the ball through the playoffs and into Super Bowl 41, where they easily handled the Chicago Bears for the championship.
Of course, that was over a decade ago, and there is no way you stored away in your memory banks the nifty little fact that Bethea won a ring all the way back in his rookie year, especially now that he’s playing defense for the lowly 49ers in the NFC.
8 Gino Gradkowski
Of the two Gradkowski brothers to play in the NFL, you’d think it would be the elder, more experienced, quarterback-playing Bruce, who owned the only Super Bowl ring in the family. Nope, it’s his younger brother, Gino.
Gino Gradkowski was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of the 2012 draft and played in all 16 regular season games as on offensive lineman as the Ravens marched to a Super Bowl 47 victory.
He became the starting center the following year and started in all 16 games but was eventually traded to the Denver Broncos and picked up off waivers by the Atlanta Falcons before eventually landing in Carolina on a three-year deal with the Panthers that goes through the 2018 season.
But he hasn’t played a full season since 2013, so it’s hard to know that he won a title in his rookie season five years ago.
7 Spencer Ware
Drafted in the sixth round by Seattle in 2013 after coming off a relatively successful college career at LSU, running back Spencer Ware didn’t exactly make a splash for the Seahawks in his rookie season. Ware played in Weeks 1 and 2, and that was pretty much it.
But by virtue of appearing on the roster when the Hawks embarrassed the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48, Ware’s got a ring.
After that season, the Seahawks released Ware, and he would go over two years before seeing another NFL snap when he was activated off the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad for a Week 8 game in London in 2015 after they signed him a year prior.
Now a weekly starter in the backfield for the Chiefs, Ware is enjoying a $3.6 million contract, good through the 2018 season, but he’ll always have those two games as a Seahawk back in 2013 that earned him a title.
6 Corey Graham
Defensive back Corey Graham has started in all 16 games for his NFL team over the past two seasons, making life hard on opposing quarterbacks across the league. But it wasn’t always that way.
Graham was taken by the Chicago Bears in the fifth round of the 2007 draft and played there for five seasons but never really got the full-time starting gig he wanted. When free agency hit, he opted to sign with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, where he sought a better chance at more playing time.
After injuries to a couple of players ahead of him on the depth chart, Graham wound up starting eight games during the 2012 season and all four of the Raven’s playoff games, including the Super Bowl, in which they defeated the San Francisco 49ers for the second title in team history.
After one more mediocre year as a Raven in 2013, Graham signed a four-year, $16 million deal with the Buffalo Bills, where he finally found a full-time starting job on defense, one people actually know about.
5 Lawrence Timmons
It’s been the better part of a decade since the Pittsburgh Steelers last won a title, but there are still a few holdovers from their 2009 defeat of the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl 43.
One of those holdovers is veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons. The man is like the Energizer Bunny; he just doesn’t quit. He’s appeared in every single regular-season Steelers games in the last seven years and has missed all of two in his entire 10-year career in Pittsburgh.
But it’s been so long, and there have been so many new faces coming and going from the Steelers’ roster, that you may not have known that Timmons had earned a ring with that 2008 team that went 12-4 and won the championship, the team’s second in four years.
4 Malcolm Jenkins
Since he’s been wreaking havoc in the secondary for the Philadelphia Eagles the last three seasons, you probably didn’t know that 2015 Pro Bowl defensive back Malcolm Jenkins won a title as an NFL newbie over seven years ago with the New Orleans Saints.
Fresh out of Ohio State University, Jenkins started six games in the 2009 regular season and two in the playoffs after the Saints took him 14th overall in that year’s draft. New Orleans went on to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl by handling Peyton Manning and the five-point favorite Indianapolis Colts.
In his second season, he earned the a starting gig and remained in New Orleans for three more years until signing with the Eagles in 2014, leaving behind the team who helped him earn his only championship ring as a 22-year-old rookie.
3 Deonte Thompson
He appeared in all of six games during his rookie year in 2012 when his Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl 47, but Deonte Thompson, a wide receiver out of the University of Florida, never scored so much as a two-point conversion until last season as a member of the Chicago Bears.
He was undrafted coming out of college and surprised everybody by escaping roster cuts after signing with the Ravens in 2012. He handled some kick-return duties and managed to catch a few passes that first year and earned a championship ring despite not getting into a game in the playoffs.
Thompson wasn’t anyone you’d know – let alone know he won a Super Bowl – until this past season, when he re-upped for his second year with the Bears and played in all 16 regular season games. He started six of those – the only six he’s ever started – and ended up making a more noticeable impact with 804 return yards, 249 receiving yards and a coupled of touchdowns.
2 Akeem Ayers
Linebacker Akeem Ayers has suited up for four different teams over the past three seasons, which makes it hard to remember that he actually won a championship ring with the New England Patriots in 2015.
After three years of starting for the Tennessee Titans from 2011 to 2013, Ayers was traded to the Pats in October of 2014, just two games into the season. Fortunately for him, he went from a pretender to a contender.
He played in nine regular-season games for New England, recording sacks in his first two games in a Patriots uniform and helped them go on to defeat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 49.
But he was on the move once again, signing with the Rams later in 2015 and then with his current team, the Colts, last year, leaving casual fans with little knowledge of his championship accolades two teams prior.
1 Dwight Freeney
Poor Dwight Freeney. He was this close to winning a Super Bowl with the Falcons this year, but that pesky little biggest-meltdown-in-NFL-playoff-history thing happened in the wrong place and the wrong time, as Atlanta managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the absolute worst way possible.
But while the Falcons organization remains without a ring in their only two appearances in the Super Bowl, Freeney can always dust off the old one he earned with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007 that you didn’t know he had.
It was his fifth season in the league, and he started all 16 games before riding Indy’s wave of success through the playoffs and to a win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl 41. It’s been a decade since then, though, so you may not have realized he had already been there and done that.