The Top 10 Quarterbacks of All-Time to Never Win the Big Game
Whenever Super Bowl time comes around, images and anecdotes about the greatest quarterbacks securing their legacies in the big game can be found everywhere. But what about the ones that missed their chance? The ones who came so close, but came out on the wrong end of someone else’s defining moment?
There’s two sides to every coin. Rather than celebrating the obvious, let’s flip it over and look at the great ones that fell short:
10. Boomer Esiason (1984-1997)
Esiason may be better known now for his contributions as a member of the CBS pre-game crew, but he was a good quarterback in his day. He spent the bulk of his career with the Bengals of Cincinnati with short stops with the Jets and Cardinals. Esiason’s career record is not terribly impressive (80-93-0), but he was 62-61-0 with the Bengals, made the Pro Bowl four times and led them to the playoffs twice. He was also named the NFL MVP in 1988. While posting a 3-1 playoff record, Esiason lost in his only Super Bowl appearance (SB XXIII). In that game, he posted just 144 yards on 11 completions with an interception and no touchdowns.
9. Randall Cunningham (1985-2001)
Cunningham redefined what a “mobile” quarterback was. No longer was scrambling inside the pocket all the running a QB could do. He was the precursor to Vince Young, Michael Vick and even Tebow. Cunningham played for four teams, most notably with the Eagles and Vikings. He has an all-time record of 82-52-1 and made the Pro Bowl four times. In 1997, Cunningham went 13-1 as the Vikings (15-1) made it to the NFC Championship game. A potential game-winning field goal was missed by Gary Anderson after he hadn’t missed a kick all season. Cunningham retired with a post-season record of 3-6 and without having appeared in a Super Bowl.
8. Warren Moon (1984-2000)
Moon is best remembered quarterbacking the run-and-shoot offense of the Houston Oilers. He spent time in Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City, but only made one trip to the playoffs after leaving Houston. Moon was a nine time Pro Bowler and has a career record of 102-101-0. In 1990, he was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. Moon is fifth all-time in career passing yards. However, when it came time for playoff football, Moon struggled. He was 3-7 and could not put together multiple wins in any given post-season. Moon’s five Grey Cups (CFL) did not translate to Super Bowl glory for the Hall of Famer.
7. Ken Anderson (1971-1986)
Anderson played his entire career with the Bengals and posted a career record of 91-81-0. He made the Pro Bowl four times and was the 1981 NFL MVP. His only post-season wins (2) came during the Bengals run to Super Bowl XVI. During that game, Anderson completed 25 of 34 passes for 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns matched by a pair of interceptions. Unfortunately, he was at the mercy of football destiny in the form of Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers.
6. Donovan McNabb (1999-present)
After lack-luster stints in Minnesota and Washington, it is easy to forget that McNabb led the Eagles to five NFC Championship games and four of those were consecutive. The memory does not want to recall six Pro Bowls and nine seasons (all with the Eagles) with a .500 or better record. McNabb has a career record of 98-62-1 and is 9-6 in the playoffs. Super Bowl XXXIX was McNabb’s only appearance in the big game. While he threw for 357 yards and three touchdowns, McNabb’s three interceptions and criticism for poor clock management marred his one chance.
5. Philip Rivers (2004-present)
The Chargers quarterback has a record of 63-33-0 as a starter and has been named to four Pro Bowls. He boasts a quarterback rating of 95.5 and has led some prolific offenses under Norv Turner. But when you were drafted with Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, your career numbers do not stand up without a Super Bowl ring. Rivers is 3-4 in the playoffs with a Championship game loss that won over a lot of fans. He played through a significant knee injury and kept his team competitive against the Patriots. Luckily for Rivers, there is still lots of time on the clock.
4. Dan Fouts (1973-1987)
Fouts quarterbacked the high-flying aerial attack that defined the powder-blue Chargers. He is ninth all-time in passing yards and posted a 86-84-1 career record. Add in six Pro Bowl appearances and a pretty nice beard and it shapes up to a successful career. Fouts was 3-4 in the playoffs with back-to-back AFC Championship game losses in 1980 and ’81. He was not able to carry his team to the Super Bowl, in part because of the middle-of-the-road defenses the Chargers were fielding.
3. Fran Tarkenton (1961-1978)
“The Mad Scrambler” played for the Vikings and Giants and posted a career record of 124-109-6. He is a nine time Pro Bowler, sixth on the all-time passing list, and NFL MVP in 1975. Tarkenton was 6-2 in the playoffs, including three NFC Championships with the Vikings. However, he was unable to turn any of those into Super Bowl success. In his Super Bowl career (VIII, IX, XI), Tarkenton threw just one touchdown against six interceptions and a paltry 489 yards (163 yards/ game). He gave new definition to what it meant to “scramble”, but he did not play big during the biggest games.
2. Jim Kelly (1986-1996)
The Bills Hall of Fame quarterback was virtually unstoppable in the early-90′s. Kelly was a five time Pro Bowl player and racked up a career record of 101-59-0. He was 9-4 in the playoffs and won an unprecedented four straight AFC Championships. Unfortunately, the Bills (and Kelly) are the only team to ever lose four straight Super Bowls (XXV – XXVIII). He struggled under the pressure. Kelly’s career Super Bowl numbers are sub-par for him. He completed 81 of 145 passes for 829 yards, but had only two touchdowns against seven interceptions.
1. Dan Marino (1983-1999)
It’s doubtful that any list on this topic would have Marino at any spot other than number one. When he retired he was first all-time in completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns. He is currently second in all those categories…thanks to Mr. Favre. Marino is in the Hall of Fame and was the NFL MVP in 1984. He has a career record of 147-93-0 and made the trip to the Pro Bowl nine times. Posting at least one win in seven different post-seasons, Marino compiled a playoff record of 8-9. In Super Bowl XIX, Marino was 29 of 50 for 318 yards. He threw one touchdown and two interceptions. Making the big game in just his second season, many thought Marino would return a handful of times before his playing days ended. Such was not the case.
Bernie Kosar was on the list before research revealed that he did win a Super Bowl (XXVII) with the Cowboys. The long-time Brown actually took the final snap of the game—the QB Kneel Down.
It’s interesting to note that six of the top ten passers (by yardage) in NFL history do not have a Super Bowl ring. Marino, Moon, Tarkenton and Fouts along with Kerry Collins and Vinny Testaverde.
One thing is for certain, this Sunday even the losing quarterback will never make this list.