Top 10 Thursdays: Top 10 Quarterbacks That Never Won a Super Bowl Start
In last week’s edition of Top 10 Thursdays, we took a look at the Top 10 quarterbacks who never played in the Super Bowl. Sticking with a similar theme, this week we decided to come up with our list of the Top 10 quarterbacks who never won a Super Bowl game in which they were the starting quarterback.
In identifying and ranking these players, their body of work over the course of their entire career was considered. Not only did we look at their statistical record but such factors as, longevity, consistency performing at a high level, personal accolades, and overall team success all went into our decision-making process in determining who was a “top” quarterback. So, to all you 49ers fans, you can consider this a preemptive explanation as to why: Colin Kaepernick is not on this list!
So, let’s get it started:
Bledsoe played 14 years in the NFL, nine of which were with the Patriots. Some people might suggest that he only gets on this list with an asterisk since he did get a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. But he did not start or even play in that Super Bowl.
As most everyone knows, Bledsoe was the Patriots starting quarterback at the beginning of that 2001 season leading up Super Bowl XXXVI. But after he was injured early in the season, Tom Brady stepped in and led the Patriots into the playoffs. It is noted of course, that Bledsoe had to step in for Brady in the AFC Conference Championship Game against Pittsburgh when Brady went down with an injury and he guided the team to victory. But it was Brady at the helm a week later when the Patriots upset the Rams in the Super Bowl.
Additionally, there may be some who question Bledsoe making this list just from a numbers standpoint. But he did lead the Patriots to the playoffs in three other seasons, one of which culminated with an appearance in Super Bowl XXXI where the Patriots lost to the Packers. And when you do look at the numbers, you have to take note of the fact that he racked up over 44,000 passing yards and 251 touchdown passes in his career and he made the Pro Bowl four times. I question whether I perhaps should have had him even higher on this list.
#9 – Daryle Lamonica
Lamonica, who was nicknamed “The Mad Bomber” because he loved to throw deep downfield, played for 12 years. He started out with the Bills in 1963, backing up future Congressman and Vice-Presidential nominee, Jack Kemp. The Bills traded Lamonica to the Raiders in 1967. In that first year with Oakland, he led them to an appearance in Super Bowl II where they lost to Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers.
In his career as a starter, Lamonica recorded a stunning 66–16–6 record and he took the Raiders to the playoffs five times. He was a 5-time Pro Bowler and was voted to the All-Pro team twice.
#8 – Ron Jaworski
Jaworski played 15 years in the NFL, most notably with the Eagles and the Rams. He helped lead the Rams to the NFC Conference Championship Game in 1975. But he enjoyed most of his success later with the Eagles, taking them to four straight playoff appearances.
In the 1980 season, Jaworski earned a trip to the Pro Bowl by leading the Eagles to a 12-4 record. The Eagles went on to the Super Bowl that year (Super Bowl XV) where they lost to the Oakland Raiders. Jaworski threw for over 28,000 yards and 179 touchdowns in his career.
In addition to his stats, Jaworski had one other thing going for him. He had the nickname “The Polish Rifle”. Being that I am of Polish descent, that carries some weight with me and helped to justify my #8 ranking for him – at least in my mind!
#7 – Ken Anderson
Anderson has always seemed to be an “under the radar” kind of guy. He played 16 years in the NFL, all with the Cincinnati Bengals. He took the Bengals to four playoff appearances, one of which ended with a loss to the 49ers in Super Bowl XVI.
During his 13 years as a starter with Cincinnati, the Bengals played in the brutal, old AFC Central Division, along with the Steelers during their dynasty years and the often-tough Browns and Oilers. Despite that fact, Anderson’s Bengals finished first or tied for first in that division four times and finished second an additional four times. That is especially noteworthy considering that Anderson didn’t always have exceptional talent around him.
Anderson was a 4-time Pro Bowler and was selected as an All-Pro once. He threw for 197 touchdowns and nearly 33,000 yards in his career, twice leading the league in that latter category.
A 3-time Pro Bowler, Hasselbeck has played 14 years, most memorably with the Seattle Seahawks. Over the course of his career, Hasselbeck has thrown for 201 touchdowns and over 34,000 yards.
Hasselbeck of course will be remembered for his first playoff start in the 2003 Wild-Card Game against the Green Bay Packers, the team that originally drafted him. On a cold January day in Green Bay (is there any other kind of January day in Green Bay?), he led the Seahawks to a late fourth quarter, game-tying touchdown which sent the game into overtime.
But in his exuberance during the overtime coin toss, he made an ill-advised statement after seeing that the Seahawks won the toss – something to the effect that “We want the ball, and we’re gonna score!”. The comment was heard by, not only the television audience, but the Packers’ fans in the stadium as well. And, as is often the case in those situations, the comment came back to bite him, when in the Seahawks’ second overtime drive, he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, giving the Packers the win. Oops!
But Hasselbeck would go on to enjoy some playoff success. He led the Seahawks to a total of six playoff appearances. In 2005, he guided the Seahawks to a Super Bowl appearance against the Steelers (Super Bowl XL). The Seahawks lost that game 21 to 10, but to this day, Seahawks fans contend that had there not been a questionable offensive pass interference call in the end zone which called back a Hasselbeck touchdown pass, the Seahawks would have won that game. Time to get over it!
#5 – Steve McNair
McNair is one of those guys who might prompt some to question why he is so high on this list. But his numbers really do support it.
McNair played 11 years with the Oilers/Titans and then he moved on to the Ravens for the final two years of his career. He threw for over 31,000 yards and 174 touchdowns and he made the Pro Bowl three times. As a starter, McNair had a very impressive 91-62 record.
McNair led the Titans to the playoffs four times and in his first year with the Ravens, he took them to the playoffs as well. In 1999, he led the Wild-Card Titans all the way to Super Bowl XXXIV against the Rams and their “Greatest Show on Turf”.
That Super Bowl would turn out to be one of the most exciting in terms of late game heroics. Late in the fourth quarter, with the game tied, the Rams Kurt Warner hit Isaac Bruce with a 73 yard touchdown pass to give the Rams the lead 23-16 with just 1:56 left. On the ensuing possession, McNair engineered an impressive two-minute drive, getting the Titans to the Rams 10 yard line with just 6 seconds remaining. On the last play of the game, McNair completed a pass to Kevin Dyson slanting across the middle. But Rams linebacker Mike Jones made a game-winning tackle as Dyson’s stretch for the goal line fell a yard short, a yard that ensured McNair’s eligibility for this list.
Being that I’m a Redskins fan and someone who is known to easily bear a grudge, some here at Fanspeak were concerned that I might leave McNabb entirely off this list out of spite over the anguish he caused during his one disastrous season in Washington. But taking the high road, I didn’t just put him on the list, I brought him in at the very respectable #4 spot. Facts are facts – his overall career accomplishments warrant this ranking.
McNabb is a 6-time Pro Bowler who threw for over 37,000 yards and 234 touchdowns in his career. At 98-62-1, his record as a starting quarterback is outstanding.
While the final two years of McNabb’s career in Washington and in Minnesota were certainly forgettable, his first 11 years with the Eagles were quite memorable. He led the Eagles to seven playoff appearances, and in five of those seasons, they advanced to the Conference Championship Game. But the Eagles were only able to advance on to the Super Bowl in the 2004 season (Super Bowl XXXIX).
In that game against the Patriots, McNabb threw a 30 yard touchdown pass with 1:48 left in the game, bringing the Eagles to within 3 points of the Patriots at 24-21. After getting the ball back with less than 50 seconds to go, the Eagles made one last frantic effort to get into game-tying field-goal range. But on the third play of the drive, McNabb threw an interception that sealed the victory for the Patriots.
Unfortunately for McNabb, the Eagles consistent success under his leadership actually turned out to be a curse for him in a way. By constantly taking the Eagles to the mountaintop but failing to get them to the other side, Eagles fans became frustrated with him and for much of his career in Philadelphia, he seemed to be underappreciated. Nonetheless, that is not a factor that should negatively impact his ranking here.
#3 – Fran Tarkenton
Tarkenton had an illustrious 18-year NFL career, starting out with the Vikings, moving on to the Giants, and then coming back to the Vikings. This Hall of Famer led the Vikings to the playoffs five times, all during his second stint with the team.
Tarkenton was a 9-time Pro Bowler and was voted to the All-Pro team once. In his career, he threw for over 47,000 yards and 342 touchdowns, leading the league once in each of those categories. His style of play with his unique scrambling ability would frequently snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and was just flat out entertaining to watch.
Tarkenton is the first player on this list to have taken his team to the Super Bowl multiple times. In three of those five playoff appearances with the Vikings Tarkenton led them all the way to the Super Bowl (Super Bowl VIII, Super Bowl IX & Super Bowl XI).
In that first Super Bowl loss, the Vikings met the Miami Dolphins juggernaut, just a year removed from their perfect season. A year later, they were manhandled by the Steelers and their Steel Curtain Defense. The third Super Bowl loss came at the hands of the 1976 Oakland Raiders, a team that lost only one game that year.
Tarkenton’s ability to get his team into the Super Bowl three times is quite an impressive feat, notwithstanding the fact that they came up empty-handed in each of them. When you combine that with his career numbers, his longevity, and his ability to perform at a consistently high level, Tarkenton is a clear-cut choice for the #3 spot on this list.
The level of Super Bowl futility and frustration experienced by Tarkenton is only exceeded by that endured by Kelly. In his 11-year career, spent entirely with the Buffalo Bills, Kelly took his team to the playoffs eight times. And out of those eight playoff appearances, the Bills made it to the Conference Championship Game five times.
Kelly and the Bills won 4 of those Conference Championship Games, moving on to the Super Bowl in four consecutive seasons – from 1990 through 1993 (Super Bowl XXV through Super Bowl XXVIII). In that first Super Bowl appearance, the Bills lost to the Giants when their place kicker, Scott Norwood, sailed a potential game-winning field goal wide right in the closing seconds of the game. Similar to McNair’s situation, the difference of a yard or two kept Kelly from being ineligible for this list.
In their next two Super Bowl losses, the Bills were dominated by the Redskins and Cowboys respectively. However, in Super Bowl XXVIII, the Bills actually held a 13-6 halftime lead. But the Cowboys scored 24 unanswered points in the second half and won going away.
Given that Kelly only played 11 years, his career numbers are very impressive. He threw for over 35,000 yards and 237 touchdowns. Particularly remarkable is his 101 – 59 record as a starting quarterback. Kelly, who made the Pro Bowl five times and was voted to the All-Pro team once, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002. Given these factors combined with his exceptional track record of consistently getting his team deep into the playoffs, Kelly is definitely deserving of this #2 ranking.
Now at this point, we’d like to take a timeout and acknowledge the recent disconcerting news that Kelly has been diagnosed with cancer. All of us here at Fanspeak would like to extend our prayers and best wishes for a complete recovery from this devastating disease. Like all of you, we will be rooting hard for Jim to get that win in this most important battle.
And now, the #1 Quarterback Who Never Won a Super Bowl Start …
This selection should not come as a surprise to anyone. Marino’s body of work over his entire 17 year Hall of Fame career with the Dolphins is truly exceptional. But, what is almost equally as stunning, is his lack of success in pursuing a Super Bowl ring.
Marino of course could serve as the poster boy for the saying, “don’t ever take anything for granted”. His only trip to the Super Bowl (Super Bowl XIX) came in the 1984 season, his second year in the league. They lost that game to the 49ers, 38 – 16. Given the ability that he displayed and the kind of numbers he was already starting to put up, you would have been hard-pressed back then to find somebody who would bet the farm on Marino never getting back to the big game. But that is indeed how things played out.
What is surprising about that, is the fact that Marino consistently put his team in position to make a run at a Super Bowl return. During his 17 years, Marino took the Dolphins to the playoffs 10 times, three of which resulted in Conference Championship Game appearances, including that 1984 season.
But Marino’s failure to get back to the Super Bowl in no way diminishes his career accomplishments. In his career, Marino threw for over 61,000 yards, leading the league in that category five times. He also threw a total of 420 touchdown passes, leading the league three times in that category as well. Marino’s career record as a starting quarterback is an amazing 147-93. He was a 9-time Pro Bowler and he was selected to the All-Pro team three times.
Clearly, Marino’s record speak volumes. And what it tells me is that Marino is most definitely the #1 Quarterback Who Never Won a Super Bowl Start!