LaDainian Tomlinson is the latest Hall of Famer who never got the chance to play on Super Sunday
While Tom Brady is on the cusp of playing in his record ninth Super Bowl, some of the NFL's greatest players never even made it to the big game, let alone win the Lombardi Trophy. Brady’s success on Super Sunday (five rings, 4 MVPs) will no doubt be prominently featured when he's eventually inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but there are several members already enshrined in Canton who are missing that on their plaque. Here are 11 (yes, we couldn't even narrow it down to just 10) NFL legends who never played in a Super Bowl.
1. Barry Sanders, RB (1989-98)
Playoff record: 1–5
Best team: 1991 Lions (12–4 record, lost in NFC Championship Game)
Closest call: 1991 (NFC Championship Game, 41–10 loss at Redskins)
After winning his playoff debut 38–6 against the Cowboys, Sanders lost his next five postseason games. Shockingly, one of the most exciting players of all-time was limited to 13 or fewer carries in four of his six playoff contests. The only time No. 20 was given more than 20 carries, he ripped off 169 yards in a 28–24 loss to the Packers. Although Sanders ran wild every year on Thanksgiving Day, he never showed up to the party on Super Bowl Sunday.
2. Deacon Jones, DE (1961-74)
Playoff record: 0–2
Best team: 1967 Rams (11–1–2 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 1969 (Divisional Round, 23–20 loss at Vikings)
The “Secretary of Defense” was known for head-slapping opposing offensive linemen, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year must have been doing some head-scratching after retiring with zero playoff wins on three different teams — and zero Super Bowl appearances — despite an unofficial total of 173.5 sacks during his Hall of Fame career.
3. Dick Butkus, LB (1965-73)
Playoff record: 0–0
Best team: 1965 Bears (9–5 record, missed postseason)
Arguably the greatest middle linebacker in history, Butkus played for George Halas — the legendary coach whose name graces the trophy awarded to the winner of the NFC Championship Game — and on the same team as Hall of Fame triple-threat playmaker Gale Sayers. Despite looking great on paper at the time and even better in historical hindsight, Butkus’ Bears were unable to make the playoffs, which is the first step toward advancing to the Super Bowl.
4. Gale Sayers, RB (1965-71)
Playoff record: 0–0
Best team: 1965 Bears (9–5 record, missed postseason)
Butkus and Sayers were drafted Nos. 3 and 4 overall, respectively, by the Bears in 1965. But the Hall of Fame duo were unable to translate their individual achievements into team success. Sayers notched a record six TDs in a single game — with nine carries for 113 yards and four TDs, two catches for 89 yards and one TD, and five punt returns for 134 yards and one TD as a rookie — but failed to score even a single Super Bowl trip.
5. Earl Campbell, RB (1978-85)
Playoff record: 3–3
Best team: 1979 Oilers (11–5 record, lost in AFC Championship Game)
Closest call: 1979 (AFC Championship Game, 27–13 loss at Steelers)
The “Luv Ya Blue” bulldozer was unable to take down the powerful “Steel Curtain” during back-to-back AFC Championship Game losses. In two painful defeats at Pittsburgh, Campbell had a combined 39 carries for 77 yards (1.97 ypc), two catches for 15 yards, and zero TDs. Campbell’s two scoreless games against the Steelers were the only two playoff games in which he failed to find the end zone.
6. O.J. Simpson, RB (1969-79)
Playoff record: 0–1
Best team: 1974 Bills (9–5 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 1974 (Divisional Round, 32–14 loss at Steelers)
Another victim of the mighty Steelers, the Juice had better luck than Campbell — with 18 touches for 86 total yards and one TD — but was unable to lead the Bills to victory in what would be his only postseason appearance. The actor and defendant never basked in the spotlight of the Super Bowl but he was seen by millions during his days as Lt. Nordberg in the "Naked Gun" franchise and his starring role in the Trial of the Century.
7. Eric Dickerson, RB (1983-93)
Playoff record: 2–5
Best team: 1985 Rams (11–5 record, lost in NFC Championship Game)
Closest call: 1985 (NFC Championship Game, 24–0 loss at Bears)
Upon first glance, the single-season rushing yards record holder posted solid playoff numbers. But take off the goggles and you’ll see that Dickerson’s 248-yard, two-TD outburst during a 20–0 win over the Cowboys in 1985 accounted for one-third of his career postseason rushing yards and half of his total TDs.
8. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB (2001-11)
Playoff record: 4–5
Best team: 2006 Chargers (14–2 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 2010 (AFC Championship Game, 24–19 loss at Steelers)
Infamously sulking on the sideline, injured and wearing a Darth Vader facemask and trench coat at New England in the 2007 AFC Championship Game — after just two carries for five yards — was clearly the low point of L.T.’s playoff career. Staying on the dark side, three of his five playoff losses were by margins of three points, one defeat came by four points and the most lopsided was a nine-pointer. His postseason struggles aside, Tomlinson was still a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron and he inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017 in his first year of eligibility.
9. Tony Gonzalez, TE (1997-2013)
Playoff record: 1–6
Best team: 2003 Chiefs (13–3 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 2012 (NFC Championship Game, 28–24 loss vs. 49ers)
It took Gonzo 16 seasons to finally earn a playoff win. Then, with the Falcons holding a 17–0 lead over the 49ers in the NFC title game, it looked like the future Hall of Fame tight end would be punching his ticket to the Super Bowl and possibly riding off into the sunset as a champion. The massive comeback by San Francisco would be the all-time great’s final playoff game.
T-10. Cris Carter (1987-2002)
Playoff record: 4-10
Best team: 1998 Minnesota Vikings (15-1, lost in NFC Championship Game)
Closest call: 1998 (NFC Championship Game, 30-27 OT loss vs. Atlanta)
The Hall of Famer played in two NFC Championship Games, and even though one of them ended up being a blowout (41-0 loss to New York Giants, 2000 playoffs), it doesn’t compare to how the Vikings’ 1998 season ended. No. 1 seed Minnesota was up 27-17 at home early in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game, but Atlanta wasn’t about to go away quietly. A missed 38-yard field goal by the Vikings’ Gary Andersen with a little more than two minutes remaining gave the Falcons the chance to tie the game, and they went on to win it in overtime on, you guessed it, a 38-yard field goal.
T-10. Warren Moon, QB (1984-2000)
Playoff record: 3–7
Best team: 1993 Oilers (12–4 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 1993 (Divisional Round, 28–20 loss vs. Chiefs)
Moon won five consecutive Grey Cups and was twice named Grey Cup MVP in the Canadian Football League. But in these United States south of the border, the former CFL champion was unable to translate his prior success to the NFL playoffs. Moon’s waning moment came in the worst collapse in postseason history, as his Oilers watched a 35–3 lead evaporate into a 41–38 overtime loss against the Frank Reich-led Bills.