In the 53-year history of the Super Bowl, there have been a plethora of players who deserved to win, but never got the chance to even play in the biggest game in sports. Narrowing this list down to five was difficult, but the five players listed below stand out the most.
Barry Sanders, Running Back
Sanders is the number one player on this list who never got the chance to even play in the Super Bowl. Sanders, arguably the most elusive ball carrier ever, spent his entire career with the Detroit Lions, but his success was not enough to take Detroit past the NFC Championship. Sanders came closest to playing in the Super Bowl in 1991, when his 12-4 Lions were brutally defeated 41-10 by the Washington Redskins. Sanders finished his career with a 1-5 playoff record, the lone win being a 38-6 demolition of the Dallas Cowboys in his first ever playoff game.
Tony Gonzalez, Tight End
Tony Gonzalez, a 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist, played 16 years in the NFL but never walked across the Super Bowl stage. In fact, Gonzalez didn’t win a playoff game until his final NFL season. Gonzalez was a first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997, spending 13 seasons in Kansas City. Gonzalez was traded to the Atlanta Falcons during the 2010 NFL Draft. Atlanta had been a playoff contender since drafting quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008, which likely made Gonzalez excited. Gonzalez and the Falcons went 13-3 in the 2012/2013 NFL season, a campaign that looked great for Gonzalez’s playoff failures. Atlanta won a close game against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Divisional Playoff to host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. With a Super Bowl in sight, Gonzalez and his Falcons held a 17-0 lead over San Francisco before the 49ers pulled off the comeback to advance to the Super Bowl. The NFC Championship defeat would be Gonzalez’s final NFL game.
Eric Dickerson, Running Back
Dickerson was the second player drafted in the 1983 NFL Draft, taken off the board by the Los Angeles Rams. Dickerson wasted no time becoming a star in the NFL, shattering previous and setting new rookie rushing records. Dickerson still holds the records for most rushing yards by a rookie with 2,105, most rushing attempts by a rookie with 390, and most rushing touchdowns by a rookie with 18. Dickerson’s insane numbers during his 10-year NFL career would only help him win two playoff games in seven total appearances. Dickerson got closest to the Super Bowl in 1985, when his 11-5 Rams would be shut out 24-0 on the road against the legendary ’85 Bears.
LaDanian Tomlinson, Running Back
Tomlinson’s postseason struggles were unlike the others on this list. His playoff teams never lost by more than nine points. Spending most of his Hall of Fame career with the then San Diego Chargers, Tomlinson actually came closest to the Super Bowl in 2010 with the New York Jets, when he and New York lost 24-19 on the road versus the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Tomlinson played in nine total playoff games during his 10-year career, with a record of 4-5.
Warren Moon, Quarterback
Warren Moon went undrafted in the 1984 NFL Draft after spending six seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL. Moon spent 10 of his 17 NFL seasons with the Houston Oilers before short stints with the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, and Kansas City Chiefs. Moon played in a total of 10 playoff games in his career, winning just three of them. Moon was at the helm of the infamous Oilers team that somehow let the Buffalo Bills escape from a 35-3 chokehold. Moon’s Oilers would only score three points in the second half, a half that saw backup quarterback Frank Reich lead the Bills to a 41-38 overtime victory. The 1992 Wild Card Playoff loss is still the largest choke in NFL history.