Call them the greatest collection of players who never got anywhere … or at least not to the big game. Not only did they fail to win a Super Bowl, they never even reached one.
Ten years following Barry Sanders' abrupt retirement from the Detroit Lions prior to the opening of training camp, we take a look at the best players with the skimpiest résumés in terms of team accomplishments. Each member of this team played at least half his career since the first Super Bowl following the 1966 campaign:
QB – Warren Moon
Backup – Dan Fouts
Active and frustrated – Drew Brees(notes)
Moon edges Fouts in a very tough decision. Fouts was part of the great Air Coryell offenses that helped usher in the modern passing game. However, Moon played 23 years in professional football and would have done so much more if he hadn't spent the first six years of his career toiling in the CFL, winning five titles there before the NFL came to the realization that he probably should have been drafted by somebody in 1978. Like Fouts, Moon has some stunning numbers, but his best chance of reaching a Super Bowl was foiled when Buffalo and Frank Reich staged the greatest postseason comeback in 1993.
RB – Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders
Backups – Eric Dickerson and O.J. Simpson
Active and frustrated – LaDainian Tomlinson(notes)
Dickerson and Simpson don't make the starting lineup in what might be the deepest position on this team. Really, the choices here are a matter of preference regarding style. With Campbell and Sanders, this is probably the greatest combination of power and elusiveness that you could imagine. Of course, Dickerson was no slouch between the tackles, and Simpson, like Sanders, was a great breakaway runner.
WR (2) – Charlie Joiner, Steve Largent
Backup – Cris Carter
Active and frustrated – Chad Ochocinco(notes)
Carter arguably is a starter in this lineup, but he hasn't made the Hall of Fame just yet. Joiner and Largent each finished his career as the NFL's reception leader upon retirement and probably would have put up even bigger numbers in today's pass-happy game. Largent might be the best route runner in NFL history, an opinion largely lost as he toiled in relative anonymity in Seattle.
TE – Ozzie Newsome
Backup – Kellen Winslow Sr.
Active and frustrated – Tony Gonzalez(notes)
There will be many who argue that the louder and flashier Winslow Sr. was a more dynamic player than Newsome. However, before Newsome became one of the best general managers in the business, he was a stunning talent as a player, a smooth route runner and a highly capable blocker. He finished his career as the top pass catcher at his position and did that while playing without a great quarterback and without much around him for much of his career.
While not as overwhelmingly talented as the running back class, the offensive line is surely star-studded. It's saying something when Shields, a 12-time Pro Bowler, can't crack the starting lineup. Likewise, a good case could be made for Roaf over either Mix or Brown, but it's hard to displace Hall of Famers. Center is by far the weakest position. Sadly, Mawae looks like a strong candidate to displace Blue after a long and glorious career.
K – Gary Anderson
Backup – Mike Vanderjagt(notes)
Active and frustrated – Olindo Mare(notes)
It's all too appropriate that Anderson and Vanderjagt head this list. Each missed critical field goals in the playoffs to cost their teams chances to get to the Super Bowl. Anderson missed a field goal in the 1998 NFC title game for Minnesota that allowed Atlanta to reach Super Bowl XXXIII. Likewise, Vanderjagt, who remains the most accurate kicker in NFL history at 86.4 percent, badly missed a 46-yard attempt in the playoffs against Pittsburgh in the 2005 playoffs, quickly ending favorite Indianapolis' chance for the title.
DE – Deacon Jones, Lee Roy Selmon
Backup – Elvin Bethea
Active and frustrated – Jason Taylor(notes)
If sacks had been an official statistic when Jones was playing, he might have set the career record for them. As it is, he coined the term "sack" and was part of the famed "Fearsome Foursome" with the Los Angeles Rams. In short, he might be the best player to never make a Super Bowl, the captain of this team. Selmon's greatness was wasted during his nine seasons in Tampa Bay after being the No. 1 overall pick in 1976.
DT – Merlin Olsen, Cortez Kennedy
Backup – John Randle
Active and frustrated – Albert Haynesworth(notes)
Like Deacon Jones, Olsen was part of the famed "Fearsome Foursome" with the Rams, a team that couldn't get past Dallas or Minnesota in the early 1970s. Sadly, Kennedy's accomplishments were largely wasted during his 11 seasons in Seattle. Kennedy was so good that he was named the defensive player of the year in 1992 even though he was playing on a team that went 2-14. He managed 14 sacks that season despite Seahawks' opponents not having to overly rely on the passing game because Seattle rarely had a lead.
LB – Dick Butkus, Derrick Thomas, Dave Wilcox
Backup – Tommy Nobis
Active and frustrated – Zach Thomas(notes)
The late Derrick Thomas joins Butkus and Wilcox in the Hall of Fame this year. In their own ways, Thomas and Butkus defined their positions. Thomas was one of the greatest edge pass rushers in the history of the league. Butkus was the definition of a brutal run stopper and the face of the sport's malevolent side. Few players ever have matched Butkus' constant fury.
CB – Jimmy Johnson, Roger Wehrli
Backup – Troy Vincent(notes)
Active and frustrated – Champ Bailey(notes)
Like his brother Rafer, an Olympic great, Johnson was a phenomenal athlete. He was more than the typical big cornerback of the 1960s and 1970s who could get away with mugging receivers under the old rules. Johnson likely could have played in this era as well, he was that good. Wehrli made the Hall of Fame in 2007 after his career was all but forgotten outside of St. Louis.
S – Ken Houston, Larry Wilson
Backup – Ken Easley
Active and frustrated – Ed Reed(notes)
Houston was a forerunner of the modern safety with his great range, but was a tremendous hitter as well. He made 12 Pro Bowls during his 14-year career. Wilson was a classic free safety of his era, finishing his career with 52 interceptions. But what differentiated Wilson from the others and helped modernize NFL defenses was his ability to blitz from the safety position.
P – Greg Montgomery
Backup – Bryan Barker
Active and frustratedd – Mike Scifres(notes)
Montgomery was criticized in his career for getting to play indoors, but anyone who saw him knows that he was a phenomenal athlete. In addition, he could generate stunning hang time even with his long punts.