US Sports Veteran
The NFL has many legends, too many for most people to fully appreciate. However, while the rings conversation has become the modern measuring stick for greatness, it wasn’t always that way. Plenty of Hall of Famers never won a title. Today, we’ll build a team from these title-less legends.
For the sake of this article, I’m counting NFL Championships, Super Bowls, and AFL Championships that occurred before the 1966 merger as equal titles. If a player won any of those championships within the period that winning the title equated to the team being the best in its given league, then they are ineligible.
You’ll notice some players have an asterisk next to their names. The asterisk indicated that the marked player would not be included on all teams because of differences in schemes. Players not marked by an asterisk should be seen as above those with an asterisk because they would be on the team regardless of the scheme.
Every significant NFL fan knows the value of Super Bowls when it comes to evaluating legacy. Unfortunately for Marino, who was a statistically dominant quarterback, the Miami Dolphins came up short in Super Bowl XIX against Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers.
There’s been a lot of talk about Sanders lately because Andrew Luck retired early. Sanders, just a year removed from rushing for over 2,000 yards, walked away in his prime and with his health following the 1998 season. He only won one playoff game with the woeful Detroit Lions.
This could’ve been Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, Gale Sayers, O.J. Simpson, or LaDainian Tomlinson, but I have never seen anything like AP’s 2012 MVP season. His bruising style and strength is the perfect complement to Sander’s illusiveness.
We’ve got to dig into the history books for this one. Nevers played football from 1926 through the 1931 season, but his teams never won a championship. One, the Duluth Eskimos, even faded from existence. Nevers was a member of the inaugural 1963 Hall of Fame class.
You can’t get closer to perfection than the 2007 New England Patriots. The team went 16-0 in the regular season thanks to Tom Brady and Moss setting all kinds of records. However, the undefeated season ended with a Super Bowl defeat at the hands of the New York Giants.
It came down to Fitzgerald or Terrell Owens. I briefly considered Calvin Johnson. Fitzgerald has thrived in the NFL despite being saddled by mediocre quarterback after mediocre quarterback. He’s third all-time in receptions, second in receiving yards, and sixth in receiving touchdowns.
Without question, Gonzalez is the greatest tight end of all-time. It shouldn’t even be a discussion. Gonzalez never made it to the Super Bowl, but he’s second all-time in receptions, sixth in receiving yards, and eighth in receiving touchdowns.
This could have been Walter Jones, but my first inclination was to go with Thomas. The career Brown made the Pro Bowl in each of his first ten seasons in the league. He was a First Team All-Pro six times and has the unofficial record for most consecutive snaps played with 10,363. And yes, I moved him to right tackle for this article.
Few offensive linemen have ever been as versatile as Matthews. One of the leading men in a family of football players, Matthews made 14 consecutive Pro Bowls, all with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, from 1988 to 2001.
There’s a slight technicality here. Otto won the AFL Championship in 1967, but he and the Oakland Raiders also lost the Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers. Both games occurred during the same football season. Take it how you want it, but Otto didn’t win a Super Bowl after the merger in 1966. Therefore, he’s eligible for this list.
The greatest guard of all-time, Hannah went to a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots during the 1985 season. However, the Patriots were woefully unprepared to face the dominating Chicago Bears defense and lost Super Bowl XX 46-10.
The greatest left tackle and offensive lineman of all-time, Munoz got close to winning a Super Bowl in the 1988 season. The Cincinnati Bengals went to Super Bowl XXIII, but they were thwarted by Montana and Jerry Rice.
It’s a shame the NFL didn’t have the foresight to keep track of sacks in its early years. Jones claimed to have the single-season sack record, but there was no way to officially prove he did. Jones, who coined the term “sack”, unofficially had 173.5 career sacks.
The 14-time Pro Bowler spent his entire 15-year career with the Los Angeles Rams. The 1974 Bert Bell Award winner made it to the Conference Championship three years in a row from 1974-1976, but the Rams lost to the Minnesota Vikings twice and the Dallas Cowboys once.
Only two defensive players have ever won the league MVP. Famously, Lawrence Taylor accomplished the feat, but Page the first player to do it back in 1971, more than ten years before Taylor. Unofficially, Page is credited with 148.5 sacks.
The longtime Buffalo Bill has 200 career sacks, the most in NFL history. From 1990 to the 1993 season, Smith and the Bills went to four straight Super Bowls. Improbably, the team that also featured Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas failed to win any of them.
Tragically, Thomas passed away in 2000 at the age of 33. During his career, the former number four overall pick amassed 126.5 sacks and 41 forced fumbles. He led the NFL in sacks in 1990 with an even 20. He was just the fifth player to reach 20 sacks in a single season.
Few men have ever been as feared as the mighty Butkus was during his time with the Chicago Bears. Butkus made the Pro Bowl in each of his first eight seasons before injuries cut his ninth season and career short. Butkus set the tone for future Hall of Fame Bears linebackers.
The 1990 fifth overall pick played in the league for 20 seasons. From 1991 through 2002, he went to 12 consecutive Pro Bowls. The six-time First Team All-Pro was an all-around stud, recording 56.5 sacks, 18 interceptions, and (partially unofficially) 1,846 combined tackles.
It took a while, but Greene was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016. The 15-year veteran only made five Pro Bowls during his career, but he has 160 career sacks, which is the third-most in NFL history behind only Smith (200) and Reggie White (198).
While Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson are regarded as shutdown corners, Lane simply beat the snot out of opposing wide receivers. In an era before Mel Blount, Lane was the prototypical physical cornerback. As a rookie, he intercepted 14 passes during the then 12-game season.
From 1968 through 1979, the 14-year veteran made 12 consecutive Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro twice. It’s hard to imagine how Houston fell to the ninth round of the 1967 draft. While Houston played in five playoff games, he never won one.
Weapon X was a freak of nature the likes of which we don’t see in the NFL anymore. Dawkins is a member of the esteemed 20/20 club, with 26 sacks and 37 interceptions. One of the most feared hitters of his era, Dawkins (partially unofficially) racked up over 1,000 combined tackles.
No cornerback has more Pro Bowls than Bailey’s 12. During his career, the newly inducted Hall of Famer intercepted 52 passes. The dynamic cover man did make it to Super Bowl XLVIII with the Denver Broncos but lost to the Legion of Boom and the Seattle Seahawks.
There are a lot of decisions to make when picking one of the dozens of defensive back candidates like this. While Lem Barney, Patrick Peterson, and Aeneas Williams were in the running, Wilson’s five First Team All-Pro selections and 52 interceptions put him over the top.
For years, Anderson held the record for the most points scored in NFL history until Adam Vinatieri surpassed him. The 25-year veterans went to seven Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro three times during his illustrious career.
When you spend your entire career with the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans, chances are you’re not winning a Super Bowl. Lechler punted for 18 years before retiring after the 2017 season. Lechler is the all-time leader in yards per punt and is second in career punt yards.
It might be surprising, but Cribbs has the third-most kick return yards in history with 11,113. His eight kick return touchdowns are tied with Leon Washington for the most in history. Cribbs only playoff trip came in his final year in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts.
There’s no way to ignore the NFL’s all-time leader in combined punt and kick return touchdowns. Hester’s 14 punt return touchdowns are the most all-time. He also returned the opening kick of Super Bowl XLI for a touchdown, but Peyton Manning’s Colts prevailed.
I won’t fault you if you’ve never heard of Tasker. You should know that he made seven Pro Bowls as a special teams man though. Pro Football Weekly selected Tasker as a First Team All-Pro seven times. Tasker went to the Super Bowl four times with the Buffalo Bills but never won.
If you enjoy hearing from the legends of pro sports, then be sure to tune into “The Grueling Truth” sports shows, “Where the legends speak”
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