“Regrets, I’ve had a few.” The old song takes on a new meaning when it comes to football teams. Every team has regrets at the end of the season, moves they should have made, games they should have won and some bad draft picks. But some mistakes are even bigger. They are regrets that hang over a team for years, even decades. In some cases, it’s missing a future star; many a team today wishes they had grabbed Tom Brady in the 2000 draft. Sometimes, a team does have a major star but lets them slip through their fingers. They make the wrong choices on who to hire, who to take and other events that rock them hard and bring major pain to their fans.
Yes, sometimes, the big regret is what happens on the field, a devastating loss that still hurts. However, more often, it’s a bad move in personnel that ends up hurting the team big time down the road. From horrible trades and draft picks to coaching blunders, so many teams and their fans have moments they regret deeply. Here is every NFL team’s biggest regret that show how such shames can linger on a team and their fandom for a very long time.
32 Arizona Cardinals: 2006 MNF Loss
True, there was their Super Bowl loss. However, few things make Cardinals fans shake their heads like this absolutely horrific humiliation. In 2006, the Cardinals were hosting the Chicago Bears, who were coming off a 5-0 start and were the heavy favorites. However, the Bears had a rough night with Rex Grossman tossing four interceptions and losing two fumbles. By the third quarter, the Cardinals had built up a 23-3 lead.
31 Atlanta Falcons: Trading Favre
30 Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Boller
In 2003, the Ravens were in need of a new push with a big star. Kyle Boller had a good career in college and was cited as a future star. So they traded several picks to bump up in the first round to take him. They thought they were getting an elite guy but instead, they ended up with a 5-3 record before Boller was taken out by injury. He played all of 2004 and did well but more injuries hampered him in 2005. Then Steve McNair came around and led Baltimore to a 13-3 record, far better than Boller had ever done. He had more chances but it never worked out.
29 Buffalo Bills: Wide Right
Just a few inches to the left. That was all that was needed, all that could have capped off one of the most thrilling Super Bowls of all time. Super Bowl XXV had been a fantastic game with the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills going at it in a back-and-forth contest with the lead shifting. As time wore down, the Giants were up 20-19 but Buffalo was threatening. With eight seconds left, Scott Norwood took to the field for a 47-yard field goal attempt. He ran, kicked the ball and it ended up just a yard wide of the upright.
28 Carolina Panthers: No to Norman
True, it’s still fresh but many in Carolina will agree this was a terrible move. After time as an All-American in college, Josh Norman was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2012 and showed promise. By 2014, Norman was turning into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, holding opponents back in touchdowns and passes and recording some great tackles. In 2015, he was a key component in the Panthers dominating the NFC with a 15-1 record, named to the Pro Bowl and also known for his tough demeanor such as threatening Odell Beckham Jr. over the latter’s use of homophobic slurs.
27 Chicago Bears: No Payton Super Bowl TD
There are a few regrets for the Bears: Losing Gayle Sayers; not turning the 1985 team into a dynasty; failing to draft Brett Favre; Jay Cutler. But this is notable in that Mike Ditka openly calls it the worst decision and his own biggest regret of his career. If anyone imbued the spirit of the Bears, it was Walter Payton. A fantastic player, Payton could do it all; run, throw and astound with his amazing agility. He missed only one game in 13 seasons and set the record for the most rushing yards while his pride and good behavior had him nicknamed “Sweetness.” When the Bears reached the Super Bowl, Payton was ready, expecting to be given the ball for a touchdown. However, the Bears just didn’t do it.
26 Cincinnati Bengals: Super Bowl XXIII
The Bengals have had their ups and their downs. But no down can possibly be worse than their Super Bowl XXIII loss. Unlike so many other Super Bowls that were blowouts, the Bengals had a chance to win their first ever championship but fate seemed to combine with bad moves to hold them back. Tim Krumrie suffered one of the most gruesome injuries imaginable, tearing his leg nearly 180 degrees and shattering two bones. Lewis Billups dropped an interception that would have changed the entire course of the game. It was actually until the third quarter before either team scored a touchdown, showing their skills and how badly they both wanted it.
25 Cleveland Browns: Brady Quinn
It’s almost too easy to slam the Browns. But even by their standards, this has to rank among the biggest regrets any team can make. Coming off a fantastic tenure at Notre Dame, Quinn was the must-grab QB of the 2007 draft although he actually went all the way to 22 before the Browns took him with a $20 million contract with a reported $30 million in incentives. And what did they get for all that? Quinn was on the bench in his first year, lost his first start in 2008, won the next but then missed the rest of the season after breaking his thumb.
24 Dallas Cowboys: Firing Johnson
When Jerry Jones took over the Cowboys, they were suffering in mediocrity. Jones hired Jimmy Johnson as coach and thanks to the genius trade of Herschel Walker, Jones soon built the Cowboys into a powerhouse that won back to back Super Bowls. It looked like they were a new dynasty but Jones and Johnson soon had a falling out. Each had a big ego and were not happy about the other wanting to take the credit for the team’s success. The conflict grew until finally, Johnson left after the second Super Bowl win. That was rough enough but even crazier was that Jones hired Barry Switzer as his replacement , a man who hadn’t coached in five years.
23 Denver Broncos: Tebow
A national champion and Heisman winner, Tebow sure had the qualifications to be good in the NFL and for a brief time, he seemed to live up to the hype. He led Denver to some great last-minute victories and was pushed well by the media as 2011 saw him showcasing some great skills. Little did anyone know that his Week 14 victory would be the last regular season victory of his career. Soon, Tebow was struggling, tossing interceptions in tough losses and while he had a good first-round playoff win, he ended up sacked five times as the Broncos lost to the Patriots.
22 Detroit Lions: Trading Layne
A lot of Lions fans will claim the team is cursed. They have yet to make it to a Super Bowl and their horrible years include going winless for all of 2008. As far as Detroit fans are concerned, all that pain is because of one idiotic decision by the team. Back in the 1950s, the Lions were actually top dogs in the NFL, winning three championships in five years. That was thanks to Bobby Layne, one of the best QBs of his time and a placekicker as well who pushed the team to fantastic heights of success. However, in 1958, the team traded Layne to the Steelers amid much fan revolt.
21 Green Bay Packers: 4th and 26
Sure, they’ve missed on some players and it can be argued they should have done more to keep Brett Favre. But ask any Packers fan of the moment they regret and the answer is pretty much the same. On January 11th, 2004, the Packers came to Philadelphia for a major playoff game, both teams divisional champions who wanted the big prize. With time running down, the Packers led 17-14 and looked ready to secure the win. The defense benefited from a five-yard penalty and then a major sack so the Eagles were left with fourth down and 26 yards.
20 Houston Texans: David Carr
He is historic as the very first draft choice for the Texans when they started in 2002. It's just a shame he also ranks as probably their worst draft choice ever. Yes, he won their very first game but it was downhill from there. Carr holds another distinction, being sacked 73 times in his rookie season, a record that stands today. In total, over five seasons, Carr was sacked 249 times, twice more leading the league in that “record.” That was matched by utterly horrible play with 2005 having the Texans finish 2-14 and not faring much better afterward.
19 Indianapolis Colts: Cutting Peyton Manning
Many Baltimore fans still haven’t forgiven the Colts for leaving literally in the middle of the night for Indianapolis. But the team has done a great deal of success, much of it pushed by Peyton Manning. After years of carrying the team, Manning finally got his championship with a great Super Bowl win. His following years were rough, including a pick six in the Super Bowl loss to the Saints.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars: Hiring Gus Bradley
The Jaguars have long had a rough time of it as despite so many losing seasons, they have yet to find any winners in the draft. In 2013, they hired Gus Bradley as their new head coach, thinking his experience building up Seattle’s defense would be just the thing to make Jacksonville winners. Over the course of four seasons, the Jaguars ended up 14-48 with 2016 being the worst with Jacksonville winning only two games. Bradley was soon cited as the classic case of a defensive guy who had no idea how to run an entire team.
17 Kansas City Chiefs: Herm Edwards
16 Los Angeles Chargers: Ryan Leaf
There have been scores of bad draft choices in NFL history but this one stands out from the bunch. Leaf had been a top QB at Washington State and a finalist for the Heisman. He came in number two in the draft behind Peyton Manning with many at the time thinking he should have been number one. He was taken by the Chargers and boasted on how he would have them in the Super Bowl in no time. Before the season started, he missed a mandatory meeting and was fined $10,000, a major warning sign.
But no one could imagine that Leaf would embark on one of the most astounding self-destructions the NFL has ever seen. Over three seasons, Leaf won just four games, completing only half his passes and recording 11 touchdowns. Those seasons were marked by horrible off-field behavior with drinking, partying, fines for his attitude and some injuries. After failing with the Bucs and the Cowboys, Leaf was out of the NFL and today stands as the biggest draft bust of all time.
15 Los Angeles Rams: Jeff Fisher’s Tenure
The Rams have seen a lot of changes over the years, the biggest being the move from St. Louis back to Los Angeles. But one change fans wish the team had never done was hiring Jeff Fisher as coach. It’s not just his horrible record that made his tenure so bad. There was:
- Wasting a #2 draft pick on Greg Robinson.
- Doing nothing to stop the epic 2014 fight with the Giants.
- Leaving Case Keenum in a game despite suffering a concussion because they were blowing a 13-3 lead.
- Banning Eric Dickerson from the sidelines.
14 Miami Dolphins: No Ring for Marino
13 Minnesota Vikings: Trading For Walker
At the time, it looked like the deal of a lifetime. Instead, it turned out to be a total debacle. When the Dallas Cowboys sunk to a terrible record in 1989, coach Jimmy Johnson decided something had to be done. While Herschel Walker was the biggest star of the team, Johnson thought the guy was not fitting into the high-powered offense he wanted. So he decided to trade Walker despite the backlash. The Vikings’ general manager, Mike Lynn, jumped at the offer and, without bothering to check with any of his coaches, agreed to an epic deal. Five players and first and second round draft picks over three years, all for Walker.
12 New England Patriots: Hernandez
Some Patriots fans will no doubt cite the helmet catch that prevented the team from a perfect championship season. But in many ways, Aaron Hernandez has to be a much bigger regret for the team. Part of Florida’s national championship team, Hernandez was drafted in 2010 and was soon helping the Patriots for their own attempts at another Super Bowl. He was soon a major part of the team on the run to Super Bowl XLVI and the team loved to pair him with Rob Gronkowski, both seen as fan favorites.
11 New Orleans Saints: Bountygate
10 New York Giants: 73-0
If George Preston Marshall had just kept his mouth shut, the Giants wouldn’t have to live with this shame. In the last regular season game of the 1940 season, New York beat the Chicago Bears on a controversial last-minute play. Marshall ran down the Bears as losers and crybabies. A few weeks later, the Bears and the Giants were to face off in the NFL Championship and Chicago coach George Halas reminded his players of the insults. What followed was nothing short of wholesale slaughter as the Bears ran roughshod over the Giants at will. They were soon scoring so much that the officials had to ask them to stop kicking extra-points as they were running out of footballs. The Bears replied by going for two and scoring there as well. By the time it was done, the Bears had amassed 73 points, still the most in a single NFL game, while the Giants were scoreless.
9 New York Jets: Losing Belichick
8 Oakland Raiders: Trading Gruden
The Raiders have had scores of mistakes over the years but this one stands tall among them. Taking over as Raiders head coach in 1998, Gruden soon began building the team into a real contender, finishing 2000 12-4 and reaching the AFC Championship game. He was 40-28 total in four years, a good record and most thought he would be around for a while. Instead, in 2002, the Raiders decided to trade Gruden to Tampa Bay in a major deal for four draft picks and $8 million in cash. Fans were annoyed at the loss but had no idea how bad it would get.
7 Philadelphia Eagles: Attacking Santa Claus
There’s an old joke that whoever named Philadelphia “the City of Brotherly Love” never attended a sporting event there. The city is infamous for a fanbase that react with hostility to their own teams and for being outright bloodthirsty on opponents. Yet nothing sums up Philly fandom like the end of the 1968 season. It was one of the worst years in Eagles history with them finishing 2-12 and the fans that showed up had to be in a foul mood. For the final game of the season, the Eagles planned to reward fans with a Christmas pageant. However, the bad weather meant that it had to be changed so the team found Frank Olivo, a fan dressed as Santa Claus and talked him into going out to cheer up the crowd.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers: Cutting Unitas
In many ways, the Pittsburgh Steelers have nothing to complain about. They have been to eight Super Bowls, and won six championships which is a record. They are known for their great years like the dynasty of the 1970s and a slew of fantastic players. But Pittsburgh fans also remember how they had one of the greatest players of all time on their roster only to give him away. Drafted out of Louisville, Johnny Unitas looked ready for a good career in the pros. But Steelers coach Walt Kiesling thought Unitas wasn’t smart enough for football, refused to use him in practice and finally cut him.
5 San Francisco 49ers: Passing on Rodgers
Here’s a tip for an pro team: When a very promising player says he wants to play for you and makes it clear he’ll do what it takes to make it happen, you draft him. Coming off a terrific turn at California, Aaron Rodgers entered the 2005 draft expecting the 49ers to pick him. He lived in California and had grown up a 49ers fan all his life. Instead, San Francisco took Alex Smith and Rodgers would slide down. Rodgers said he felt crushed by the decision as he’d looked forward to proving himself equal to Montana or Steve Young.
4 Seattle Seahawks: Passing the Ball
What else could it be? After the “Legion of Boom” dominated the NFL for a Super Bowl championship, expectations were high going into 2014 and Seattle lived up to them, going 12-4. In Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks seemed ready to win back-to-back Super Bowls and were up 24-14 in the fourth quarter. However, the Patriots managed a big comeback and were up 28-24 in the final moments. Seattle was threatening, getting down to the one yard line and by all logic, what happened next should have been obvious - handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch to run it into the end zone.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 0 and 26
When the Buccaneers came to be, it was a big deal for the NFL as a “secondary” Florida city was getting its own franchise. Hopes were high. Of course, most thought their first season wouldn’t be that good as they were an expansion team. But no one could have guessed that the Bucs would set a record for futility never matches since. For the first time ever, a team failed to win a single game in a full season. Soon “The Yucks” as they were known, were the butt of massive jokes across the country as even Johnny Carson chimed in with how terrible they were. Soon, opponents were happy to face them as going against Tampa Bay meant an automatic win. Finally, in Week 13 of their second season, Tampa Bay pulled off a victory over the New Orleans Saints.
2 Tennessee Titans: One Yard
While known as “the Greatest Show on Turf,” the Rams had yet to make it count as a championship. They got the chance in Super Bowl XXXIV as the 13-3 Rams faced the 13-3 Titans. The game was a thriller, both teams going at it with Kurt Warner winning MVP honors for his great work, putting the Rams up 16-0 in the third quarter. However, Tennessee made a spectacular comeback, tying the game up with just two minutes left. Warner then hit Isaac Bruce with a 73-yard TD pass to put the Rams ahead. The Titans then made a powerful drive and with six seconds left, they were on St. Louis’ 10-yard line. Kevin Dyson took the pass and made his way to the end zone with Mike Jones tackling him down.
1 Washington Redskins: The Name
It’s the massive elephant in the room wherever Washington plays. That in 2017, a team still go around with a name like the Redskins. True, some polls show Native Americans don’t mind it as much as some think. However, the name is a throwback to a dark time, the 1930s where Native Americans were treated as savage people, dismissed in movies as unintelligent brutes and stereotypes that lasted far too long. Washington has had great success with Super Bowl victories and the fans are proud of the name yet it doesn’t change how this was created in an age of bigotry being openly accepted and it’s not something people want to face today.
Even if many Native Americans are okay with it, others are not and to continue to push what was once a slur on an entire race as the name of a major football franchise is something the Redskins should be ashamed of.
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