It’s easy to assume that the best players in the National Football League enjoyed legendary careers filled with not only individual records and accolades, but also the team championships that make playing any team sport especially sweet. From league championships to Super Bowl rings, it’s hard to imagine that, in reality, some of the most exceptional players in football history have come up surprisingly short when postseason play rolled around.
While most of them made the best of their otherwise stellar careers, occasionally, the inability to be a true Super Bowl contender cut short a career that could have lasted longer. Because not all who shine get to taste the gold, here are some of the NFL’s biggest winners who made it to the Hall of Fame but never to football’s biggest game.
1. Steve Largent
An inductee into the Hall of Fame back in 1995, Steve Largent was the greatest wide receiver to ever play the game up until Jerry Rice came along. When he retired in 1989, he had caught over 100 passes for more than 13,000 yards. Unfortunately, he played for the Seattle Seahawks throughout his career, and while he was a fan favorite and boasted a popular NFL jersey, he and the Seahawks were never able to make it to the Super Bowl.
2. Derrick Thomas
A Kansas City Chief every game of his professional life, Derrick Thomas was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009, and while he enjoyed nine Pro Bowls and played for teams that made the playoffs seven times, he never made it past competing for the AFC championship. He racked up 642 tackles and 126.5 sacks over the course of his career and is still considered one of the most dangerous pass rushers to ever play the game.
3. John Randall
A defensive tackle, who played for the Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks, John Randall was a formidable defender inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. Originally undrafted due to his smaller stature, he went on to became one of the greatest trash talkers and sackers of all time, pulling down quarterbacks more than 10 times over the course of nine separate seasons. While he played in two NFC championships in 1998 and 2000, he never contended in a Super Bowl.
4. Warren Moon
Warren Moon played in the Canadian Football League and the National Football League, and despite passing for more than 70,000 yards during his tenure as a professional athlete, he never made it to the Super Bowl. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2006 with five Grey Cups from Canada, but never had a single attempt at earning a Super Bowl ring.
5. Dan Fouts
Quarterback Dan Fouts played for the San Diego Chargers his entire career, and while he threw for over 43,000 yards and 254 touchdowns, he never made it further than the AFC championship game. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame since 1993, his many accolades on the field were never enough to translate into a Super Bowl appearance.
6. Cris Carter
Doomed like his former teammate John Randall to play for the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, who went 15-1 and didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, Cris Carter was a wide receiver originally picked up in the NFL’s supplemental draft. A slow-starter when he first came into the league, Carter eventually became one of the league’s best receivers and is one of only eight who have recorded over 1,000 receptions. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013, Carter never played in a single Super Bowl.
7. Barry Sanders
Ten-time Pro Bowler and 2004 Hall of Fame inductee Barry Sanders made it to the playoffs five times but was never able to advance his team past the NFC championship game. A deceptively small, fast, and strong running back from Wichita, Kansas, Sanders is considered by many to be the best running back to ever play professional football, averaging over 1,500 rushing yards per season in the NFL. He retired abruptly in 1999 and referred to the Detroit Lions’ inability to become a consistent winning team as a primary reason he left the game earlier than many thought necessary.
Making it to the Super Bowl requires a lot more than great individual players as these Hall of Famers prove. Without a stellar team to back up a star, far too many exceptionally talented players have had to attend Super Bowl parties throughout their careers instead of experiencing the thrill of playing in football’s biggest game.