We all know the greats who have numerous Super Bowl rings; Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Steve Young, among others. But who were the best quarterbacks to never get a ring? In this list, I’ve excluded guys who were in their prime before the Super Bowl era, guys like Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas, and Sammy Baugh. I’ve also excluded guys who are currently playing and have less than ten years under their belt. These guys may still have a chance. The guys on this list, all just weren’t that lucky.
Warren Moon (1984-2000)
Warren Moon was one of the most well-known quarterbacks of the 1980s. Moon led the Houston Oilers to the playoffs seven times in his ten seasons with the team. He led them to the divisional round of the playoffs three times. In those three seasons, he lost the divisional rounds to big-name quarterbacks Jim Kelly and John Elway. He also led the Minnesota Viking to the playoffs his season after leaving Houston. Moon has quite the resume of accomplishments during his career. He led the NFL in passing yards twice and passing touchdowns once. He was also a nine-time Pro-Bowler. Moon retired in 2000 with over 49,000 passing yards and 291 touchdowns. When Moon retired, he was third all-time in passing yards, only behind John Elway and Dan Marino. Moon Currently sits 12th all-time in passing yards, being passed by Aaron Rodgers earlier this year. Moon also played six seasons in the CFL prior to joining the NFL. His accolades would be even more impressive had he jumped right to the NFL.
Jim Kelly (1986-1996)
Jim Kelly was another big name in the ’80s and ’90s. Kelly also played a few years of professional ball outside of the NFL, and his stats would be much stronger had he not.
While never actually winning a Super Bowl, Kelly is one of the most storied faces in Super Bowl history. Kelly and his Buffalo Bills even have a Super Bowl record; most consecutive Super Bowl losses. From 1990-1993 Kelly led the Bills to the Super Bowl but was never able to secure a ring. While this may be how many people remember Kelly, he has numerous positive stats outside of the Super Bowl. Kelly was a five-time Pro-Bowler during his career. He also led the league in passing yards, completion percentage, and passer rating during his failed Super Bowl years. Kelly was also one of the historic drafted quarterbacks in the 1983 draft, even though he chose to instead play in the USFL for a few years. Whether it was blamed on Scott Norwood’s infamous “wide right”, or just the Bills play calling, Kelly is one of the best to never receive a ring.
Fran Tarkenton (1961-1978)
Tarkenton was another one of those great quarterbacks with terrible luck. Fran tore up the 1960’s and 70’s. He was a nine-time pro-bowler and the 1975 NFL MVP. Tarkenton also led the league in passing yards and touchdowns once in his career. Tarkenton is seen as one of the first dual-threat quarterbacks in NFL history. Fran ranks fifth in all-time rushing yards by a quarterback. He led the Vikings to the playoffs six times. Sadly, losses to quarterbacks like Terry Bradshaw, Bob Griese, and Ken Stabler in the Super Bowl kept Tarkenton from Hoisting the Lombardi trophy.
Although Tarkenton never got a Super Bowl ring, he did have some cause for celebration during his career. At the time of his retirement, Tarkenton was the all-time leader in career passing yards, passing Johhny Unitas for the title. This record stood for 19 years until Dan Marino broke it in 1995. Tarkenton currently sits 13th in all-time passing yards.
Philip Rivers (2004-2020)
Philip Rivers is another quarterback with tons of talent, but just always fell short. During Rivers’ tenure in San Diego/Los Angeles, he took the Chargers to the playoffs six times. Sadly, he was just never able to get his team to the Super Bowl, falling short to guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Rivers was an eight-time Pro-Bowler during his career. He led the league in passing yards, touchdowns, passer rating, and others throughout his career. Rivers is a guy who just never got enough credit because his team just wasn’t good enough. Philip Rivers retired at the end of this season after the Colts were knocked out of the playoffs by Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. He finished his career over 63,000 passing yards, putting him fifth all-time. He also threw 421 career touchdowns, ranking fifth all-time in that category as well. Had he won just one ring, he very well might’ve been a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Dan Marino (1983-1999)
Dan Marino is probably one of the most recognizable names in NFL history, and definitely the most well-known to never win a ring. Marino took his Miami Dolphins to the playoffs ten times during his career. He even made a trip to the Super Bowl in 1985 but fell short to Joe Montana and the dynasty that is the 49ers. Dan Marino broke practically every record in the book during his career. In 1984, Marino become the first 5,000-yard passer in NFL history. There have since been seven other 5,000 yard passers but Marino started it all. Marino was the NFL MVP that season. He was also a nine-time Pro-Bowler, led the league in passing yards five times and touchdowns three. Marino retired in 1999 as the all-time leader in touchdown passes and passing yards. Both of these records would later be broken by the great Brett Favre and then surpassed by players such as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Marino is a true legend to the game and it’s a shame he never got a ring.