Think about when a player enters the NFL. What do you usually hear them talk about? Most likely it involves the opportunity to play or start, and it usually involves money. As their career progresses those priorities slowly shift from earning an opportunity to receiving more guaranteed money and a longer deal to eventually supporting their family. Then their career begins to wind to an end, and their priorities shift again. If the player has played long enough, his eyes begin to set upon earning a Super Bowl ring.
The players listed here likely went through similar stages in their career. They earned big bucks while in the NFL and now they are clawing for the last nugget of gold. These players all yearn for a Super Bowl ring. Many, if not all, are Hall-of-Fame worthy candidates, but an induction may feel empty without the piece of jewelry. These players know they are some of the best to ever play their position, and fans know that too; however, greatness is often defined by wins, and a player can win no bigger game than the Super Bowl.
Further, these players have also taking a different path to win the elusive gold. Some have stayed with the same team that drafted them throughout their careers, while others have become journeymen, looking for the right contender. But all have one thing in common, a distinct desire to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy.
10 Steven Jackson, RB
He is currently the league’s active rushing leader with 10,678 yards. However, he’s won only one playoff game, which came during his rookie campaign in 2004 as the back-up to Marshall Faulk. The Rams were obliterated in the divisional round by the Falcons 47-17. He hasn’t been back to the playoffs since. In the 2013 offseason, Jackson signed with the Falcons in hopes of hoping on their playoff bandwagon, however they recorded a paltry 4-12 record and currently hold the 6th pick in the draft.
Time is waning on the 30-year old running back. Before 2013, he had eight straight seasons of 1,000 yards, but his production has significantly dipped. He ended last season with half that yardage total and averaged the worst rushing yards per attempt of his career. Many expect Atlanta to rebound from their dreadful 4-12 campaign last season, but is the rebound one year too late for Jackson?
9 Wes Welker, WR
Three times a bridesmaid, Welker has never captured the elusive Super Bowl ring despite playing in the big game on some powerhouse football teams. In 2007, Welker was part of a Patriots’ offense that scored a then record 518 points. In his first season with the club, Welker compiled his first of five 100 yard seasons and scored eight touchdowns. In 2011, he amassed 122 receptions on 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns, but dropped a critical pass in the Super Bowl, which would have likely sealed the win for the Patriots. And finally in Super Bowl 48, he and the Broncos never had a chance. The Seahawks routed Denver 43-8, despite a gritty effort by the “slot” receiver. He recorded eight receptions for 84 yards.
One reason Welker deserves a Super Bowl ring is because of he perseveres like no other. In 2012, he broke the record for the most seasons with 100 or more catches. The previous record holders had four. He also holds the Patriots all-time franchise record for receptions.
8 DeMarcus Ware, DE/LB
Up until this past offseason, he played his entire career with the Cowboys and started 140 out of 141 games, but failed to capture that elusive Super Bowl ring. Unlike other stars who have struggled to even make it to the Super Bowl, Ware at least had a few chances to get to the big game. During the mid-2000s, the Cowboys fielded strong teams that managed to get to the divisional round twice and the wild-card round once. However, they lost each time.
The Cowboys released Ware this past offseason for salary cap reasons and he signed with the Broncos. Since entering the NFL, this is probably his best chance to at least get to the Super Bowl and maybe even win it (as long as the Seahawks don’t show up). Ware has had a stellar career and it’s only a matter of time before he’s voted into the Cowboys Ring-of-Honor and maybe the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame. In nine years, he’s recorded 117 sacks.
7 Jared Allen, DE
Like many legends before him, Allen finally moved on from his long-time team, the Vikings, to pursue greener pastures. This is the second time he's done this as he moved on from the Chiefs after spending 4 years there to begin his career. Those greener pastures obviously present a better chance to win the Super Bowl as he's joined the reigning Champs from a year ago. In a statement this past March, Allen said, “It’s a cool feeling going into the offseason knowing you have the chance to win…I’ve been on teams where we didn’t have that chance, and those are tough times.”
In his six seasons with the Vikings, he totaled 85.5 sacks and was ranked as the 16th free agent on Pro Football Talk’s Hot 100 list. Although he’s 32, Allen shows no signs of slowing down. Last year he recorded his seventh straight season with double digit sacks. He had 11.5. In all, Allen’s 128.5 sacks and stellar career as a pass rusher, will likely earn him a spot in the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame. But, before that time, Allen wants one thing: a Super Bowl ring.
6 Julius Peppers, DE
Peppers saw his first Super Bowl dreams dashed at the hands of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 38. He’s never come that close to winning a Super Bowl again. Peppers is the Panthers all-time leader in sacks, forced fumbles and blocked kicks. In total, he’s blocked 11 kicks in his career and has recorded 119 sacks and nine interceptions. His monstrous career would be nicely capped off with a Super Bowl victory.
Peppers left the Panthers for Chicago on the back of a huge, six year, $91.5 million, with $42.5 million guaranteed. While in Chicago, he racked up 38 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and was a steady presence along their defensive line. He never missed a game. At the age of 34, his level of play has dipped slightly, but he still managed 7.5 sacks. Time is running out for the pass rusher to put the ring on his finger. He is number six on this list for three reasons: 1) His high, consistent level of play over the years 2) His ability to immediately upgrade a defense and 3) his age.
5 Andre Johnson, WR
Andre Johnson has competed at the highest level and racked up a number of accolades despite playing with inconsistent quarterbacks. He’s played next to David Carr, Matt Schaub, Sage Rosenfels, T.J. Yates, Matt Leinart and more recently Case Keenum. And despite this, he’s still managed to collect over 12,000 yards, 61 touchdowns and just over 900 receptions in his 10 year career.
Unlike many other star receivers who are often known for their boisterous, conceded and me-first attitude, Johnson has quietly put together what will be a Hall-of-Fame worthy career. He’s also one of the few star players who have stayed with the team that drafted him. His best chance to at least make an appearance in the Super Bowl came in 2011 and 2012, but the Texans lost both matchups to the Ravens and the Patriots respectively.
4 Steve Smith, WR
Smith was a mere point away from winning his first Super Bowl in 2003, but an Adam Vinateri field goal put a damper on his dream. Like many aging stars, Smith saw his time come to an end with his original team the Panthers this past offseason. He recently signed a deal with the Baltimore Ravens for three years and $11.5 million.
Over the course of his career, he’s garnered over 12,000 receiving yards and has been a steady presence in an always changing Panthers’ offense. After thirteen years, his time with Carolina wore thin this past year, but he’ll always be a Panther at heart. He’ll be in discussion for the Hall-of-Fame, but a strong year and Super Bowl win would put Smith at the fore front of those discussions when he retires.
3 Champ Bailey, CB
With the influx of new corners into the league like Darrelle Revis or Richard Sherman, we often forget that old timers like Bailey still have “it.” For five years he played with the Washington Redskins before they shipped him and a second round pick to Denver in exchange for running back Clinton Portis. Bailey believes it still remains as one of the greatest trades in NFL history. “I’d seen people get traded for draft picks and stuff, but usually players—Pro-Bowl players, at least—don’t get traded like that,” he said.
Bailey played only 193 snaps in 2013 due to injury and became expendable at the end of the season. You might think this was due in part to poor play over the past few years, but that was hardly the case for the 36 year old. From 2010 to 2013, Pro Football Focus rated Bailey as the number 3, 16 and 9 cornerback in the league. Sure, 16 and 9 rankings aren’t the best, but they don’t indicate a level of drop off that warrants a release.
The future Hall-of-Fame safety has been named to 12 Pro Bowls, recorded 822 tackles and 52 interceptions. Yet, he’d probably trade in most, if not all, of those stats for a Super Bowl ring…the one he almost—but not really—had last season.
2 Adrian Peterson, RB
Peterson’s been close to getting to the Super Bowl. In 2009, he finally had a quarterback to stand behind, figuratively and literally speaking, but also one that was likely to give away the game in the most inopportune moments. Brett Favre threw away the Vikings’ Super Bowl dreams during their 2009 NFC Championship game against the Saints. A late, fourth-quarter interception helped set up a Garrett Hartley game clinching field goal for the Saints in overtime. Peterson rushed for 122 yards and 3 touchdowns on 25 carries during the contest. That was the closest the future Hall-of-Fame running back has come to hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy.
In ESPN’s NFL Nation Confidential, over 320 players around the league voted the Vikings’ star running back as the player they most want to see in the Super Bowl. He just edged out Tony Gonzalez. Peterson became only the fifth player in league history to reach 10,000 rushing yards in his first seven seasons. In 2012, he was also just shy of recording the single season rushing record by nine yards. According to Peterson, he believes he’ll also top Emmit Smith’s all-time rushing record of 18,355 yards by 2017. Because of his big-game ability, Peterson deserves to be on the big stage and under the bright lights of the Super Bowl.
1 Larry Fitzgerald, WR
You can’t get much closer to a Super Bowl ring than 35 seconds. That was how close Fitzgerald was to achieving the ultimate goal. In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 43, the Cardinals scored 16 unanswered points, but the Steelers mounted a devastating and improbable drive that ultimately sealed with their win. 35 seconds. He was that close.
Fitzgerald’s career has been legendary, but often forgotten about outside of Arizona because of their small-market status. In nine years with an inconsistent franchise and numerous sub-par quarterbacks, besides Kurt Warner, he’s amassed over 11,000 yards, 87 touchdowns and 800 receptions. While he’s far from beating the stats of a player like Jerry Rice, we only need to compare him to some other Hall-of-Fame receivers that received the nod with smaller numbers. Like, for example, Hall-of-Famer Issac Bruce who had 10,461 yards and 68 touchdowns. He also has a few more solid years left.
The fact Fitzgerald doesn’t have a ring is a shame. Forbes once voted him the most liked NFL player, so compiled with his statistics, how he elevates his team’s play, and his likeability, how can you not give Fitzgerald the nod for most the deserving player? Yes, other players on this may appear to be more worthy of the top slot, but they also receive more press. And the amount of press a player receives fails to prove their overall worth in this discussion.
Some critics may argue that other players on this list have been chasing a Super Bowl ring for years; and thus, deserve this top slot. Those players left their original team to play elsewhere, but that’s what makes Fitzgerald so unique. He is one of the few players of such a high caliber to stay loyal to the team that drafted him.