The line that separates all-time great National Football League players from those who won't make it to the Hall of Fame but would be desired to be on a team for a one-and-done game is, in some cases, paper thin. New York Giants starting quarterback Eli Manning is an example of this. While the younger Manning would not be enshrined in Canton if he were, for whatever reasons, to call time on his playing days in January 2015, you would be silly if you would shy away from starting him on Super Bowl Sunday, especially if picking between him and his older brother.
Included in the list of the biggest chokers in the history of the NFL is a pair of quarterbacks who will be taking the field for postseason play in January 2015. Those two, who have a long history of facing off with one another on football's biggest stages, could meet up one last time with a Super Bowl berth on the line. Both of them will unquestionably have their days behind a podium during a Hall-of-Fame ceremony, but that doesn't erase the fact that both have been outdone in the playoffs by what some would consider to be inferior competition.
Professional football is a team sport, of course, and thus it is fitting that squads and even a franchise all deserve to hold the top spots of such a list. One club resides in a city that has been searching for a pro sports title for five decades. Another crumbled apart in front of a worldwide audience when it had an opportunity to make history and achieve that which has never been accomplished by any franchise in the league. Last but not least is a squad that remains guilty of the biggest gag-job in the history of the NFL Playoffs, a collapse for the ages that may never be topped.
20 Tom Brady
Brady is maybe the best quarterback of his generation, but remember this fact before you brush him off a list of all-time NFL chokers: The Patriots have not won a Super Bowl a single time over the past decade, despite the fact that Brady and company have had eight playoff appearances since their last conquest. Brady and New England will have another shot at a title this coming postseason, and it is possible that the AFC road to the Super Bowl could run through Gillette Stadium. Brady would help the case to be removed from this piece were he to win add another ring to his trophy case.
19 Billy Cundiff
Joe Flacco had outplayed Tom Brady, and the Baltimore Ravens had done more than enough to knock off the New England Patriots in the 2011 AFC Championship Game when placekicker Billy Cundiff ran off of the sidelines to attempt what is, for any professional kicker, a chip-shot 32-year old field goal attempt. With the weather not much of a factor and the snap perfectly placed, Cundiff pushed his attempt well wide of the target, gifting the Patriots with a trip to the Super Bowl. Cundiff's inability to convert field goals got him cut by the Cleveland Browns during the 2014 regular season.
18 Tony Romo
Dallas fans will always point to some favorable stats to disprove that Romo has choked throughout his career when the subject is mentioned. It was Romo who muffed the snap during a NFC Wild Card Game versus the Seattle Seahawks. Romo was picked off by the New York Giants on the final drive of a home playoff game, and his struggles during December games have been well documented. The only way that Romo can fix his reputation for being unreliable in big moments is to win a title, something he and the Cowboys could do in February 2015.
17 2014 Tennessee Titans
The 2014 Titans found themselves on the wrong side of the record books during the 2014 NFL regular season. Tennessee went up 28-3 when hosting the Cleveland Browns, but it all began to go wrong for the Titans when starting quarterback Jake Locker was lost to injury. Cleveland scored 26-unanswered points, erasing the gap when Brian Hoyer hit wide receiver Travis Benjamin for a touchdown pass in the game's final 80 seconds. The greatest road comeback in NFL regular season history was complete, and Tennessee will enter 2015 as one of the worst teams in the league.
16 Ryan Leaf
Leaf was never guilty of one monumental choke. His entire NFL career collapsed because he could not mentally or psychologically handle being a professional quarterback. Leaf's play on the field was disastrous, and his locker room meltdowns make yearly appearances on sports-highlight programs. The former first-round pick would go on to lose more than four times the amount of games he won in his NFL career. His life unraveled outside of the game of football, and Leaf eventually landed in prison. He was released in December of 2014, and hopefully that will be the final time that the former quarterback finds himself behind bars.
15 Wes Welker
Quarterback Tom Brady may have nightmares about facing Eli Manning with a Super Bowl championship on the line, but Brady alone cannot be blamed for the Patriots losing Super Bowl XLVI. Brady dropped back to pass on the final drive of the game when he saw a wide open Welker streaking down the field, and the future Hall-of-Fame QB put the ball exactly where it needed to be. Welker, perhaps eyeing a journey toward the end zone that would live on in history, didn't reel the pass in, and the Giants would once again defeat the Patriots on a Super Bowl Sunday.
14 Jackie Smith
A second consecutive drop that changed the outcome of a Super Bowl checks in here. The Dallas Cowboys were trailing the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 21-14 at Super Bowl XIII when quarterback Roger Staubach located an unmarked Jackie Smith in the end zone. Legend has it that Staubach purposely put a little less zip on what should have been a ten-yard touchdown pass to ensure that Smith, who wasn't known for having the softest hands, would have no problem making the routine grab. The tight end instead slipped while attempting to steady himself, failed to make the catch, and the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal. Pittsburgh went on to win the game 35-31.
13 Mike Vanderjagt
Vanderjagt was just about an automatic kicker during regular season play, but fans of the Indianapolis Colts cringe whenever they see or hear his name because of noteworthy misses that occurred during postseason play. An overtime miss in 2000 playoff game allowed the Miami Dolphins to defeat the Colts and advance in the postseason. Vanderjagt would again cost the Colts a chance to make it to the Super Bowl in January of 2006 when he failed to convert from 46-yards out after Indianapolis had rallied back from behind against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
12 Nate Kaeding
Kaeding became the most-accurate kicker in the history of the NFL during a nine-year stint with the San Diego Chargers, but his reliability disappeared once January rolled around. He converted only eight of 15 postseason field goals while with the Chargers, and he missed three field goal attempts when San Diego was hosting the New York Jets in a 2010 Divisional Playoff game that the Chargers lost by three points. Vanderjagt, Kaeding, and another man featured in this piece offer a reminder that placekicking during playoff games is about more than accuracy, leg strength, and the laces of the football being out.
11 Norv Turner
Turner is a coach with a reputation for having a fine offensive mind and for being a coach capable of getting the best out of squads from September up through the end of the holiday season. It is when Wild Card Weekend rolls around that things begin to fall apart for his teams because of one reason or another. There is an opinion had by some NFL insiders that Turner will never again be a head coach in the NFL because no general manager could trust that a Turner-led club would make it to a Super Bowl, let alone win a championship. You could blame his players lacking mental toughness, or merely bad luck swirling over his head. Turner hasn't gotten it done throughout multiple postseasons.
10 Baltimore Colts at Super Bowl III
The first thing that likely enters your mind when you think about Super Bowl III is New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteeing that Gang Green would emerge victorious over the Baltimore Colts. New York was an 18-point underdog heading into the game, and the Jets, bravado aside, were no match on paper. “That's why the games aren't played on paper,” goes the saying, and the defense of the Jets put up a historic performance against a Baltimore offense that was possibly preparing itself for an easy outing. The Colts scored a single touchdown during the game, one that came in the final 3:30 of the contest, and Namath famously trotted off the field with index finger raised in the air following the Jets' 16-7 unexpected win. That result that is still considered to be one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, and it is the greatest single moment in the history of the Jets' franchise.
9 Marv Levy
Any head coach can only do so much for his team. Levy helped the Bills make it to four straight Super Bowl appearances, and the fact of the matter is that the Bills would have won Super Bowl XXV had a certain kicker done his job when it mattered most, more on that man later. The New York Giants were the lesser team on that evening, and Levy being out-coached played a massive role in the Bills dropping that game. Levy could not come up with a championship game-plan for one of four contests, and thus he makes it into the top-ten of this list.
8 Peyton Manning
The greatest quarterback in NFL regular season history has routinely shrunk under the pressure that comes with postseason football. Say whatever you will about how dominant the defense of the Seattle Seahawks was during the 2014 NFL Playoffs, but Manning and the Denver Broncos appeared unprepared to take the field that Super Bowl evening, and it isn't the first time that Manning has come up short when he and his team was facing elimination. Manning is a fantasy football icon, but he isn't the quarterback you want starting for your favorite side with a Super Bowl on the line. Give me Eli in those situations ten times out of ten.
7 Brett Favre
The Gunslinger is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, a man who won a Super Bowl during his career. Favre will be remembered as much for some costly interceptions that he threw at pivotal points of contests as he will be for all of the positive things he achieved during a remarkable career. What was, as the time, thought to be the final pass of Favre's career was an interception in a home NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants. It would turn out that he had one more such pick in him, this time against the New Orleans Saints while he was with the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota hasn't since been one game away from playing in a Super Bowl.
6 Scott Norwood
It is, to this day, considered to be an iconic miss, one that will forever be known as “Wide Right.” The Buffalo Bills were a 47-yard field goal away from defeating the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV with just seconds left on the clock. Most believed, before the start of the game, that the Bills were the better side, but an expert game plan executed by the Giants had Big Blue up 20-19 when Norwood made his way onto the field. His kick was plenty deep enough, but it sailed – you guessed it – wide right of the goalpost, making Norwood a household name for reasons he'd like to forget.
5 The Cleveland Browns
Where to even begin with a franchise that last won a championship in 1964, a club that has never reached the Super Bowl. There are the historic moments that get mentioned each and every January, nightmarish memories for Cleveland sports fans such as “Red Right 88,” “The Drive” and “The Fumble.” You could throw in the 2003 AFC Playoff loss to division rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game that saw Pittsburgh score three touchdowns in the final 19 minutes of play to steal a win from Cleveland. The Browns have invented news ways to break the hearts of their most loyal supporters, and that trend doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon.
4 2007 New England Patriots
Everybody remembers the “Helmet Catch” for helping to sink New England's bid for a perfect 19-0 season. Do not forget that the Patriots had several opportunities to prevent the Giants from winning Super Bowl XLII. The New England defense couldn't stop the New York offense on a fourth-and-one, and the Patriots couldn't keep wide receiver Steve Smith from getting a first down on a critical third-and-eleven play. Tom Brady then missed Randy Moss on a long bomb on the final drive of the game. The win was there for the Patriots to take, but they could not grab the ring.
3 Andy Reid
Failing to win a conference championship game is a one-off, a blip on the radar that can happen to any stellar coach. Reid took the Philadelphia Eagles to four straight NFC Championship games from 2001 through 2004, losing the first three of contests before finally making it to the summit. That Super Bowl trip did not end well for the Eagles, as Philadelphia lost to the New England Patriots. Cementing Reid's resume as a choker was last January's game involving the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts, when his Chiefs blew a 28-point lead at Indianapolis en route to dropping that road playoff contest.
2 Marty Schottenheimer
What do you call one of the greatest head coaches to never win a Super Bowl? A head coach who never won a Super Bowl. Schottenheimer never even made it to the Big Game even though he had multiple teams capable of winning titles, most notably while with the Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers. What he has on his side, is that the Football Gods have seemingly been against the Browns since the middle of the 1960s, and neither Schottenheimer nor any other coach has figured out how to deal with that jinx.
1 The Choke
Depending on where you are from or what club you associate yourself with, you remember the 1993 AFC Playoff game involving the Buffalo Bills and Houston Oilers as either “The Comeback” or “The Choke.” Houston jumped out to a 35-3 lead in Buffalo, leading some among the home crowd to exit the stadium during the second half of the contest. Those individuals missed one heckuva comeback, as career backup Frank Reich helped guide the Bills to 35 second-half points that ultimately erased Houston's lead before the end of regulation. Warren Moon threw a costly interception in overtime, and Steve Christie converted a field goal to complete a magical Buffalo rally.