They say only winners are remembered. No matter how great you are, if you lose, you’re merely a footnote in history. Well, that may be true, but these are some spectacular footnotes.
These teams had remarkable seasons, but there was no happy ending in store. They saw their Super Bowl dreams crushed in the big game, or even before that.
Today, we’re looking at the best one-season teams in history that fell just short of etching themselves into greatness. They actually are still remembered, but they’re looked at as the teams that couldn’t win the big one. The fact they didn’t finish those great years still haunts their fans to this day, even if the team has won a championship since then.
These are teams that, looking back, you could’ve sworn that was their year. Teams with so much talent, momentum and character, yet it all came crashing down in a heartbeat.
10) 1983 Washington Redskins
They were, at the time, the highest scoring offence in NFL history, with 541 points scored during the 1983 season. They seemed to be lightyears ahead of where they were in 1982, and that was a Super Bowl team. They set an NFL record for turnover differential with +43. They had Joe Gibbs as coach, Joe Theismann at quarterback, John Riggins at fullback, and a rookie by the name of Darrell Green in the secondary.
In fact that season, Riggins set a record that would last 12 years in the NFL, scoring 24 rushing touchdowns, to go with 1,483 yards. Washington’s offensive players won just about every award there was to win that season.
Their defence wasn’t too far behind. They allowed the fewest rushing yards, Dave Butz recorded 11.5 sacks, Dexter Manley had 11, and Mark Murphy picked off 11 passes.
They dominated the NFC East, finishing 14-2, with nine straight wins to finish the year. They overshadowed the 12-4 Cowboys and the rest of the division gave them no trouble. Their only two losses were a 31-30 defeat on opening day to Dallas and a 48-47 loss in Green Bay. Only a two-point difference in their two losses combined!
They blew away the Rams in the divisional round, 51-7 before winning a closer affair, 24-21 over San Francisco.
They were in control in the Super Bowl, taking on the L.A. Raiders, whom they had beaten in Week 5 earlier in the year.
They were then dominated by the Raiders in every aspect of the game, as L.A. scored an offensive, defensive and special teams touchdown in a 38-9 blowout. Theismann was sacked six times and intercepted twice. A great season ended very badly for the 1983 Redskins.
9) 2011 Green Bay Packers
The 2011 Green Bay Packers picked up right where they left off in 2010, when they finished strong at 10-6 and rolled to the Super Bowl, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They looked unstoppable in 2011, going 15-1, with Aaron Rodgers having a career year, winning the MVP award, while putting up Madden-like numbers. His QB rating was an astounding 122.5. They scored at least 42 points six times that season.
Their offence was so good that it didn’t matter their defence was ranked dead last in the league. However, to the defence’s credit, they always seemed to make the big play when they needed one, which is why the Packers won 15 games. They led the league in interceptions with 31.
The defence had familiar names, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett, Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk and B.J. Raji.
Their only regular season loss came at the hands of the lowly Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15, a 19-14 defeat at Arrowhead. They were still Super Bowl favorites heading into the postseason, but after the New York Giants snuck into the playoffs, they stunned the crowd at Lambeau Field. Entering the Divisional Round on a bye, the Packers seemed ill prepared for the rejuvenated Giants and Big Blue got on them early.
Eli Manning threw for three touchdowns and Green Bay’s receivers had their worst day at the worst time. They dropped nine passes in that game. You could attribute it to rust, as the Packers had rested starters and Rodgers hadn’t seen the field for three weeks. The 2011 Packers are the only team in history to finish 15-1 and not win a playoff game.
8) 1984 Miami Dolphins
One of the biggest travesties in sports is that Dan Marino never got to celebrate a Super Bowl victory. His best chance came in 1984, where he set NFL records in passing yards (5,084) and touchdowns (48). These numbers are far more impressive coming in 1984, as offensive players and quarterbacks didn’t have many of the rules advantages that they have today.
Marino didn’t have the best defence or running game, but they did their part in 1984, as Miami went 14-2. Mark Clayton and Mark Duper proved to be a nice receiving tandem for Marino.
The Dolphins beat the Seahawks and Steelers to advance to the Super Bowl where they’d meet the San Francisco 49ers. While the Dolphins were a great team, they ran into a much better team. A team in the midst of building a dynasty.
The result was a 38-16 victory by the 49ers. Marino was pressured all game, taking countless hits, and never was able to get into a rhythm.
7) 1981 San Diego Chargers
Don’t let the 10-6 record fool you. This Chargers team was loaded and if a little more luck had been on their side, they might’ve been regarded as one of the NFL’s best teams of all time.
Dan Fouts was their star quarterback, Kellen Winslow was a trailblazing tight end, paving the way for what you see out of the tight end position today. Chuck Muncie was pounding in touchdown after touchdown and San Diego looked like a team of destiny.
The Chargers’ brutal road trips in January did them in. After playing in one of the hottest and most humid games in NFL history, the Epic in Miami, in which the Chargers beat the Dolphins 41-38, they had to turn around and play the coldest game in NFL history, the Freezer Bowl in Cincinnati. The wind chill made the temperature 59 below zero.
A frozen Chargers team couldn’t overcome Mother Nature this time and the Bengals won handily, 27-7. Fouts still has frostbite from that game.
6) 2013 Denver Broncos
We know how it all ended for last year’s Broncos. It’s still fresh in our minds. The question is, where does this team fall in history and did the Broncos miss their best chance to win a Super Bowl while Peyton Manning is their quarterback?
After a gut-wrenching playoff loss to Baltimore the season before, the Broncos rebounded with another 13-3 finish, fielding arguably the best offence of all time. Manning set NFL records across the board, throwing for 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards. He unsurprisingly won his fifth MVP award. He had the league’s best receiving corps, with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, a solid O-line and a good running tandem in Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball.
This was all done with many key injuries, including Ryan Clady, Von Miller, Quinton Carter and Chris Harris.
This season also proved to be Champ Bailey‘s final year in Denver.
The team had their hard times, with Denver losing in Manning’s return to Indy, blowing a 24-0 lead to the Patriots and suffering an upset loss to San Diego.
However, they still were far and away the AFC favourites and they coasted to Super Bowl XLVIII. A 24-17 win over San Diego, followed by a clinical 26-16 win over New England had them set up for greatness. They’re now in a season aiming for redemption.
5) 2001 St. Louis Rams
The Greatest Show on Turf couldn’t finish the job in the 2001 season, paving way for the Patriots to begin their dynasty.
After averaging 31.4 points per game in 2001 they became the first team to score 500 points in three straight seasons. Kurt Warner won league MVP for the second time in three seasons and the Rams were set to cement themselves as a dynasty.
Sure, we remember the prolific offence of Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt, but the Rams also had upgraded on defence for the 2001 season after finishing last in defence in 2000. They hired Lovie Smith as defensive coordinator, and brought in Don Davis, Tyoka Jackson and Chidi Ahanotu. They also traded for Aeneas Williams.
The Rams were their typical high-scoring selves in the playoffs, winning 45-17 over Green Bay and 29-24 over the Eagles. They were expected to roll over New England, who had gotten some lucky breaks to get to the Super Bowl, (ahem, Tuck game).
The Rams were sluggish most of the game, falling behind 17-3 in the fourth quarter. They fought back to tie it, but Tom Brady then made himself a legend with a last-minute drive to set up Adam Vinatieri‘s winning field goal. The Rams have never been the same since this loss.
4) 1990 Buffalo Bills
You have to include a team that makes it to the Super Bowl four straight years without a victory, but the question is, which of the four do you pick?
Well, we’ll go with the first team, the 1990 Buffalo Bills as they came the closest of the four teams, needing the ball to go just a few yards over to the left for them to be crowned Super Bowl champions.
Truthfully, when looking at their other Super Bowl losses, once to Washington and twice to Dallas, you could say they just lost to better teams. However in Super Bowl XXV, they were the more talented team and should’ve won the game.
In terms of their season, they finished 13-3 and their offence was a runaway train in the AFC playoffs, beating Miami 44-34 and the Raiders 51-3.
In the big game, a crushing 20-19 loss, the game is remembered for Scott Norwood’s potential winning kick sailing wide right. The defence couldn’t get the Giants’ offence off the field, so the explosive offence didn’t get many opportunities. Jim Kelly, Thurmon Thomas, Andre Reed and Don Beebe didn’t get to shine, as the Giants held the football for over 40 minutes, including 22 in the second half.
3) 1968 Baltimore Colts
Earl Morrall did wonders for the Baltimore Colts in 1968, in the absence of Johnny Unitas. He was named the NFL MVP and brought the Colts to the brink of their first Super Bowl.
In the AFL’s first Super Bowl victory and the most crushing defeat of Colts coach Don Shula‘s career, the Jets defence shut down the Colts all game in a 16-7 win.
The Colts finished the season 13-1 in what was then considered a much tougher NFL, compared to the upstart AFL.
The Colts got by the Vikings and Browns in convincing fashion en route to Super Bowl III before Broadway Joe famously guaranteed a New York Jets victory. The guarantee stunningly came true as an ineffective Earl Morrall was stunningly benched in favour of Johnny Unitas.
Unitas gave the Colts some life, leading them to their only score of the day, but it was too little too late. The Colts became the best team pre-merger, to fall short of the Super Bowl.
2) 1998 Minnesota Vikings
Everything came together for the 1998 Minnesota Vikings (well, almost).
Randall Cunningham was having a career-year after having previously retired. Randy Moss was the most exciting rookie the NFL had ever seen. That was in addition to a Hall of Famer Cris Carter as the Vikings’ other top receiver. Robert Smith was the beneficiary at running back.
Cunningham threw for 3,704 yards and 34 touchdowns. Moss caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns. Cris Carter caught 78 for 1,011 yards and 12 scores. Smith had a 1,187 yard season with six touchdowns. Leroy Hoard added nine scores on the ground. Add it all up and the 1998 Vikings scored 556 points, the most in NFL history at the time.
John Randle was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks, with 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Gary Anderson was proving to be the most reliable kicker in the NFL, going a second straight regular season without missing a field goal.
Nothing could stop this Vikings attack. Their only loss on the season came in a 27-24 defeat in Tampa Bay midway through the season.
Come playoff time, they were 15-1 and convinced they’d be Going to Miami to play in their first Super Bowl since the Bud Grant/Fran Tarkenton era. They took out the Arizona Cardinals with a resounding 41-21 win to meet the 14-2 Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship. Perhaps no other 14-2 team in NFL history was considered as big an underdog as the Falcons were.
On that day, the Vikings offence missed several big opportunities, settling for field goals when they should’ve found the endzone. They had a 20-7 lead, but the Falcons worked their way back. The Vikings had several chances to put the game away, but let Atlanta hang in it.
Finally, with about two minutes left, the Vikings were up by seven, and needed a Gary Anderson field goal to essentially clinch the game. A 10-point lead with two minutes left surely would’ve seen them through. It seemed in the bag, as Anderson hadn’t missed a field goal in two years and it was a 38-yard attempt indoors. Anderson shockingly hooked his kick wide and the Falcons had one last chance to force overtime. They did, as Chris Chandler led the Falcons to a touchdown drive, finding Terance Mathis for the tying score with 49 seconds left.
The Vikings got the ball first in overtime but were forced to punt. Atlanta came back with another good drive, giving their kicker, Morton Anderson a chance to be the hero. His 38-yarder was good and the Vikings saw their best team in history leave the field empty handed, with nothing to show for their historic season. Minnesota fans have experienced an awful lot of heartbreak, but nothing equates to this.
1) 2007 New England Patriots
The no.1 choice was easy. You have to go with a team whose only loss of their season came in their last game.
The New England Patriots were relentless in their pursuit of perfection in 2007. Tom Brady had a career year, passing for 4,806 yards and breaking Manning’s record of 49 touchdowns with 50. Randy Moss broke the record for touchdown catches with 23, along with 98 receptions and 1,493 yards. Wes Welker caught 112 passes for 1,175 yards and eight touchdowns. The Patriots had nine All-Pros on their team. They scored over 30 points in 12 games and constantly blew teams out.
New England became the first team to go undefeated in the regular season, since the season expanded to 16 games. Their 589 points, 75 touchdowns were NFL records. Their only close calls were a 24-20 victory over Indianapolis, 31-28 over Philly, 27-24 over Baltimore and a 38-35 win over the Giants in Week 17.
The playoffs saw them defeat Jacksonville in the divisional round and a banged up Chargers team in the AFC Championship.
Their rematch with New York was just as tight as their first meeting, but a greater defensive struggle. The Patriots gained the lead, 14-10 with under three minutes left. The Giants then of course converted on David Tyree’s helmet catch and Plaxico Burress scored the winning touchdown with 35 seconds left.
The defeat left a lot of unsold 19-0 t-shirts and was the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. No other team has gone perfect only to lose in the Super Bowl. There was no way the 2007 Patriots couldn’t be no.1.