There may well be no bigger position in the world of sports than an NFL quarterback. Soccer and hockey goalies face immense pressure but primarily in shootout situations. Baseball pitchers are obviously pivotal to the success of their teams but baseball in and of itself is a more laid back game than football. Everyone can argue their own position and sport for being the most intense and nerve-racking but look at the facts for a quarterback.
You are the middleman between the coaching staff and the offense on the field. Failure to properly communicate every order from the coach could lead to disaster. Along with that, you are primarily responsible for the task of diagnosing the defense and modifying your offense’s preparation. Finally, once the ball is in your hands, you either need to perfectly hand off the ball to the running back, or scan the field for up to five receivers, predicting which will fake-out a defensive back or linebacker, and deliver an accurate pass to one of them; usually running full speed ten to thirty yards away. On top of the difficulty of just running an offense, you have three or four defensive linemen hoping to stuff your face in the mud, three or four linebackers hoping to manhandle you on any given play and an eager team of defensive backs hoping to intercept a pass and make you look like a fool.
That’s a rough description of the stresses quarterbacks feel. If one is able to overcome such factors, he may win a few games, but there are a few who revel in such situations, and such quarterbacks generally get the chance to lift the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. However, many quarterbacks who do master these instances never get to join the ranks of the NFL’s Super Bowl winners. This list will count down the top 25 quarterbacks who never won the Super Bowl. Note that league Championships that occurred before the 1966 season (January 1967-first Super Bowl) will not be considered. Major considerations for a quarterback to be on the list will include stats like longevity in the league, playoff and Super Bowl appearances, touchdown to interception ratio, and win to loss ratio. Additionally, no current quarterbacks will be on this list, as active players like Phillip Rivers, Michael Vick and even, “gasp” Tony Romo, have a chance to still win the Super Bowl. Finally, elite quarterbacks who only won the big game late in their careers, while backups, such as Drew Bledsoe, will not be on the list. They were on a Super Bowl winning team, and that counts.
25 Neil O’Donnell
We figured that a bit of controversy is a good way to start a list like this. After being drafted by the Steelers in 1990, O’Donnell helped them to the Super Bowl in 1992. However, in this game he threw two picks that essentially put the game out of the Steelers’ reach. The rest of his career saw some good years but by 1999 he was relegated to backup duties. When his career ended at the end of the 2003 season, he had the lowest interception percentage of any quarterback in league history.
24 Daunte Culpepper
Culpepper had a fairly short time in the NFL, but that was mainly due to the knee injury he suffered in 2005. Prior to that however, he was phenomenal. A dual threat who could pass and run with the best of them, the three-time Pro Bowl selection held the record for most all-purpose yards by a quarterback for a couple of years. Unfortunately, no matter how well he played, none of his teams ever won the big game.
23 Jim Harbaugh
The 49ers’ current head coach was also an accomplished quarterback until early in the 2000’s. He played seven seasons for the Chicago Bears, four with the Indianapolis Colts and split his remaining three years between the Ravens and the Chargers. Harbaugh was one of the most accomplished quarterbacks of his time under pressure and frequently won games in the fourth quarter. His grace under pressure was not, however, enough to help one of his teams to a Super Bowl victory.
22 Norm Snead
It should be noted that Norm Snead’s career spanned from the early 1960’s until 1976, therefore several of his years were prior to the Super Bowl era. With that said, when he played, Snead was one of the dominant quarterbacks in the league. He made the Pro Bowl four times throughout his 16 year career, during which he played for the Redskins, Eagles, Vikings, Giants and on two separate occasions with the 49ers.
21 Jim Everett
For a few years, Jim Everett was one of the elite quarterbacks of the NFL, and frequently led the Rams to successful seasons. He was frequently among the top quarterbacks in the league throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s, but overall team success eluded him for much of his career. Unfortunately, many people don’t remember him for his football career, but recall his interview with Jim Rome during which Rome poked fun at him, before Everett flipped the table and put Rome on the floor. A truly classic moment in sports journalism history.
20 Jeff Garcia
Throughout his career, Garcia played for seven different NFL teams, after a few successful years in the CFL. He had some great years with the San Francisco 49ers with three Pro Bowl appearances will with them, but never won the big game. Later in his career his numbers began to dwindle, but he remained competitive and saw a resurgence in his game in 2007. Ultimately, he would never hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Possibly his most impressive stat demonstrates his poise in the pocket, as he recorded 161 touchdowns throughout his NFL career, but only 83 interceptions.
19 Ron Jaworski
The now ESPN analyst had a very respectable career as a quarterback in the early 1970’s all the way through to 1989. Throughout his career he played with the Rams, Eagles, Dolphins and Chiefs, but was unable to lead any of those clubs to a Super Bowl win. He was the 1980 NFL MVP and after the end of his career he was honoured as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame.
18 John Brodie
Brodie is another former quarterback who played before and after the 1967 beginning of the Super Bowl era. His career in football spanned from 1957 until 1973, after which he became a senior professional golfer. His lengthy NFL career saw him play exclusively for the San Francisco 49ers. By the end of his career he was the third all-time in passing yards.
17 Vinny Testaverde
One of the longest serving quarterbacks on this list, Vinny Testaverde played in the NFL from 1987 to 2007. He played for the Buccaneers, Ravens, Browns, Jets, Cowboys, Patriots and Panthers. He made the Pro Bowl twice and holds franchise records for the Buccaneers, Ravens and Jets. He also holds the NFL records for oldest quarterback to win a game, at 44, most consecutive seasons with a passing touchdown, and finally the most losses for a starting quarterback. Throughout his 20 years, he never managed to lead a team to a Super Bowl victory.
16 Archie Manning
After being the number two overall pick in 1971 out of the University of Mississippi, Archie Manning went on to play just over a decade with the New Orleans Saints, followed up by brief stints with the Houston Oilers and Minnesota Vikings. Throughout his career he never won a Super Bowl and rarely even made the playoffs, having generally played for poor teams throughout his career. His two Pro Bowl appearances in the late 70’s were high points in his career, but the father of the current Manning duo in the NFL never even played in the Super Bowl. A great quarterback with a career of pitiful teams.
15 Jim Hart
Hart’s professional football career started back in 1966 when he was signed undrafted by the St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals. He played with the same franchise until 1983 before playing one season for the Washington Redskins. He was selected for the Pro Bowl a few times, and had some very successful (10+ wins) seasons with the Cardinals in the mid 70’s. However, the Super Bowl was out of his reach each year. His career total of 34,665 career passing years is impressive, but his 209-247 in terms of touchdowns to interceptions is less impressive in highlight.
14 Kerry Collins
Throughout his 16 year career, Collins played for six different teams and made the Pro Bowl twice, in 1996 and 2008. He made the Super Bowl with the New York Giants in 2000, but they were beaten by the Ravens. Collins is currently the 12th highest in passing yards and 11th highest in all time completions. He held the Giants single season passing yards record for almost a decade until Eli Manning broke it in 2011.
13 Rich Gannon
Around the start of the new millennium, Gannon was by far one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He made the Pro Bowl four times between the 1999 and 2002 seasons, and was named the NFL MVP in 2000 and 2002. However, despite these accolades, his career passer rating of 84.7, and his touchdown to interception ratio of 180-104, he never won the Super Bowl, losing in his only appearance to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
12 Dave Krieg
Dave Krieg was signed after going undrafted by the Seattle Seahawks to be a backup in 1980, and went on to have a successful 19 year career. Throughout this time he passed for 38,147 yards and passed for 261 touchdowns. He holds many passing records for the Seattle Seahawks to this day, and was a three-time Pro Bowler but ultimately never won the Super Bowl.
11 Steve McNair
The late “Air” McNair had an amazing career, spanning 13 seasons and two teams. His three Pro Bowl selections and NFL MVP award while he was with the Titans are impressive, as is his 31,304 total career passing yards total and his career passer rating of 82.8. For those unfamiliar, McNair was sadly killed just over a year after his retirement from the game.
10 Randall Cunningham
Despite being called the NFL MVP three times throughout his 16 season career, Cunningham was unable to win a Super Bowl. His time with the Eagles was generally impressive but after his knee injury in 1991, his elusiveness and agility took a major hit. He was never the same after that and remained injury prone for much of his career during the 90’s. However, his career passer rating of 81.5 is respectable, as are his four Pro Bowl trips.
9 Ken Anderson
Widely believed to be one of the best players to never be elected to the Hall of Fame, Ken Anderson played his entire 16 year playing career with the Cincinnati Bengals. He went to the Pro Bowl four times, led the NFL in passing yards twice, and made the Super Bowl once, during the 1981 season, but lost to San Francisco.
8 Boomer Esiason
If this was a list of greatest nicknames, Boomer would not be this high. However, with his impressive career numbers, such as four Pro Bowl selections in the mid 80’s to early 90’s, he’s earned eighth spot. He led the Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance but lost to the 49ers. It would have been a tough time to be a Cincinnati fan, as it still is.
7 Sonny Jurgensen
Two distinctions must be made regarding the number seven on this list. Jurgensen played professional football from 1957 to 1974, so obviously nine years of his career took place in the pre-Super Bowl era. Additionally, during this part of his career, he did win the NFL championship once, in 1960. If you think that means he should not be on this list, I eagerly await the death threats and insults in the comments section. A five time Pro Bowler with 255 career TD’s and a career passer rating of 82.6, Jurgensen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
6 Jim Kelly
Poor Jim Kelly. I could leave this post as those three words and do his Super Bowl record justice, but I’ll explain for those unfamiliar. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s the Buffalo Bills were a good team, in fact they made the Super Bowl four times in a row, when Kelly was their quarterback. He is the only quarterback to lead his team to four consecutive Super Bowls. The Bills lost all four.
Jim Kelly is currently undergoing treatments for cancer and we wish him all the best.
5 Donovan McNabb
One of the most exciting dual threat quarterbacks of the 2000’s, McNabb led the Eagles’ offense from 1999 to 2009, before playing a year each with the Redskins and Vikings. With over 40,000 all-purpose yards, Donovan McNabb was a six time Pro Bowler, and won the NFC Championship in 2004 but was unable to beat the Patriots that season in the Super Bowl. The Eagles have retired his number (#5) which is fitting, because he holds basically every team record for passing. If you ever want an interesting debate, or to get stabbed, tell an Eagles fan that McNabb doesn’t belong anywhere near the Hall of Fame.
4 Dan Fouts
Dan Fouts’ 15 year career with the San Diego Chargers was not without notable highlights and some great seasons but none ended with his hands on the Lombardi trophy. He attained just over 43,000 passing yards and 254 touchdowns during this period, with six Pro Bowl appearances. Often called the greatest Charger of all time, Fouts was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993, the first year he was eligible.
3 Fran Tarkenton
The Vikings’ career leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns comes in at number three at the list. Tarkenton played both during the pre-Super Bowl era and after, with a career spanning from 1961 to 1978. Between his two terms with the Vikings he played for the Giants. A nine time Pro Bowler, Tarkenton led the Vikings to the Super Bowl in 1973, 1974 and 1976, but lost to the Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders respectively.
2 Warren Moon
Prior to his time in the NFL, Moon enjoyed great success in the Canadian Football League, winning five Grey Cups. Unfortunately, a Grey Cup victory really doesn’t bring the same awe and emotion as a Super Bowl win. Though he passed for 49,329 yards, almost 300 touchdowns and was selected to play in nine Pro Bowls, Warren Moon was unable to ever hold the Lombardi Trophy. He was selected to the Hall of Fame back in 2006.
1 Dan Marino
Marino passed for over 60,000 yards throughout his career, threw 420 touchdowns, holds 12 NFL records to this day and over 30 records for the Miami Dolphins team, and actually had a decent acting cameo in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (the best comedy of the 90’s). Unfortunately, the Dolphins went to the Super Bowl in 1985 and lost to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. Marino did not get another chance to win the big game.