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Op-Ed: Ten of the best NFL quarterbacks to never win a Super Bowl

By Mike White     Sep 11, 2013 in Sports
An awful lot of sports fans believe Dan Marino was the best starting quarterback to never win a Super Bowl. Who are some of the other great ones who never won the big game?
The NFL season began September 5, when Peyton Manning tied an NFL record by tossing six touchdowns, in leading the Denver Broncos past the Baltimore Ravens 49-27. In beating the defending Super Bowl champions, the Broncos also beat the team that knocked the Colorado team out of the playoffs last season 38-35. Both Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning and Ravens Quarterback Joe Flacco have won Super Bowls, but do you know how many great starting NFL quarterbacks never have? This article will feature ten of the best.
Players on the list made the playoffs numerous times, and some won conference championships, leading their team to the Super Bowl. Some of these quarterbacks are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. One passed for more than 60,000 yards for his career.
Some of these team leaders didn't have a good running game to go along with their passing, and some played on teams with a team with a defense that was not of a championship caliber. That may explain them never being on a team that won the Vince Lombardi Trophy, despite their talent and being considered by many to be “great quarterbacks.”
10. John Hadl When the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers were in the old AFL, the team was good with him at the helm. It wasn't good too many times after, until years later, when Dan Fouts became the signal caller. He led the Chargers to one championship in the AFL but never made the Super Bowl during eight seasons after the two leagues merged.
He played in six pro Bowls and never missed a professional game. Hadl threw for 33,503 yards and 244 touchdowns. One of the best receiving tandems in the AFL was Hadl to Lance Alworth. After playing for the Chargers in Los Angeles and then San Diego from 1962-1972, he then played for the Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers and Houston Oilers, ending his career with the Oilers in 1977, according to
9. Ken Anderson during his years with the Cincinnati Bengals, from 1981-1986, led the team to its first of two Super Bowls, in 1981. He led the league in yards passing twice. Many have said if he had a better team around him, he would have been a champion.
He went to the Pro Bowl four times and was the NFL offensive player of the year in 1981. He led the NFL in passing with 2,667 yards in 1974 and in 1975 with 3,169. He passed for 197 touchdowns and 32,838 yards.
8. Boomer Esiason He led the Bengals to the team's other Super Bowl and threw for 37,920 yards during his career. He made the Pro Bowl four times and threw 247 touchdowns. According to, he played for the Bengals from 1984-1992, then for the New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals and closed his career back with the Bengals in 1997.
7. Dan Fouts Despite some incredibly good passing statistics, as recorded in, off he never made the Super Bowl, as the San Diego Chargers were 0-2 in the AFC championship with him as the signal caller. He passed for 43,040 yards from 1973-1987 with the Chargers. Before he played for San Diego, the team was a perennial loser. With Fouts as the team leader, the San Diego Chargers won the AFC West three times, as he became, at the time he retired, only the third player ever to pass for more than 40,000 yards. He had great receivers to throw to, like Kellen Winslow, Wes Chandler and Charlie Joyner.
He passed for 254 touchdowns and had 13 rushing touchdowns. He was a six time Pro Bowler, the Most Valuable Player in the NFL in 1982 and the AFC Player of the Year in 1979 and 1982.
6. Sonny Jurgensen Okay, a lot of his career was before the Super Bowl era. He did win a championship with the Philadelphia Eagles before there was a Super Bowl, in 1960, but he was a backup to Norm Van Brocklin. A good enough portion of his career was during the Super Bowl era, and he was a good enough quarterback, that he deserves consideration for the list. He was still a good quarterback when the Super Bowl did come into existence, and he never won one.
He set records for passing yards in a season and completions, as well as leading the league in passing and passing completions in 1966, 1967. He passed for 255 touchdowns, led the league in 1967 and was never lower than seventh in passing. He went to the Pro Bowl five times and is a member of the Hall of Fame. He played for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1957-1963 and for the Washington Redskins from 1964-1974.
5. Donovan McNabb While the Philadelphia Eagles just made the Super Bowl one time with McNabb as the starting quarterback, the team made the playoffs eight times in ten years from 2000-2009 and had only one losing season, according to He had a winning record in the playoffs, even though he lost during his only Super Bowl appearance. He was the NFC Player of the Year in 2004 and the NFC Offensive Player of the Year as well, the same season.
During 2000-2004, his team went 59-21 at one point, and he was a Pro Bowler six times. He is often criticized for his offense not having great success when it mattered in five NFC championship games, despite all of his other successes. He last played in 2011 and passed for 37,725 yards and 234 touchdowns during his career. He also rushed 616 times for 3,459 yards.
4. Fran Tarkenton From 1961-1966 and from 1972-1978 he played for the Minnesota Vikings. From 1967-1971 he played for the New York Giants. When he retired, he led the lifetime statistics for passers for completions, with 6,467, touchdowns, with 342 and yards for 47,003. A scrambler, he also rushed for 32 touchdowns and 3,574 yards. The Vikings lost three of the Super Bowls they lost, however, despite his best efforts. He was a Pro Bowler nine times.
3. Warren Moon Although the Houston Oilers never reached the Super Bowl with him as a quarterback, from 1984-1993, there were few passers in the history of the league as good as him. He also led the team to the playoffs for seven years in a row, even though most may remember how his team lost to Buffalo in one playoff game, in the greatest comeback ever during the post season. He also played for the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League, winning five straight championships with that team.
He might have been higher in career statistics, if he hadn't also played in the CFL. Nevertheless, during 17 years in the NFL, he passed for 49,325 yards and 291 touchdowns. He had nine seasons during which he passed for more than 3,000 yards and four during which he passed for more than 4,000. He is a member of the Hall of Fame.
2. Jim Kelly No other quarterback ever led his team to the Super Bowl in four consecutive seasons, and yet his team lost every time, never making it back to the championship for another try. Each loss was worse than the previous game, with only the first one being close, with three of the games being routs. The Bills lost the first game 20-19, as the Buffalo kicker, Scott Norwood, missed a 47 yard field goal that would have won the game, as time expired.
Jim Kelly went to the Pro Bowl five times and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002. During his career, he passed for 35,467 yards, 237 yards and an 84.4 career passer rating and passed for more than 3,000 yards eight times. With him guiding the Bills' "no huddle" offense, Buffalo made the playoffs eight times. He led the NFL with a 101.2 rating in 1990. Kelly played for the Houston Gamblers of the USFL from 1984-1985 and for the Bills from 1986-1996.
1. Dan Marino While not everyone would agree, many sports fans think there is little doubt he was the best quarterback to never win a Super Bowl. He said later that when he made the big game in just his second season, he thought he would get to play for many championships, but the Miami Dolphins never made it back to the big game with him at the helm. After beating Pittsburgh in the 1984 AFC Championship, 45-28, to go to the Super Bowl, he went to two other AFC Championships, losing both times. He also led the team to a 12-4 record and the playoffs his rookie season, as he also won Rookie of the Year honors and went to the Pro Bowl.
Chosen by the Dolphins in 1983, Dan Marino was not the only quarterback drafted from that class to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. John Elway, who won two out the five Super Bowls he played in and Jim Kelly were also drafted. During his 17 seasons with the Dolphins, Marino rewrote just about every passing record. He was the first player ever to pass for 5,000 yards in a single season. He beat the previous record of 36 touchdowns in a season, held by George Blanda and Y.A. Tittle by 12, passing for 48. During his career, he completed 4,967 of 8,358 passes for 61,361 yards and 420 touchdowns. He passed for more than 300 yards 63 times, more than 400 14 times, more than 3,000 yards for a season 13 times and more than 4,000 six times. He was an All Pro eight times.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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