Playing in a Super Bowl is the pinnacle of any pro football player’s career, but only a select few actually get to play in the Big Game. To wit, some of the biggest stars in NFL history never got the opportunity to play for the Lombardi Trophy.
This got us wondering about which players have compiled the most passing yards, rushing yards and receiving yards without earning a Super Bowl appearance.
Below are lists of stars who have registered impressive career statistics yet have fallen short of the league’s biggest game. Despite these players’ outstanding performances, their teams never captured a conference championship.
Statistically, the most prolific quarterback to never play in a Super Bowl is Philip Rivers. The former Chargers signal-caller ranks sixth on the all-time passing yards list with 63,440, yet he only played in one conference championship game—a loss to the Patriots in January 2008. Each of the five quarterbacks ahead of him on the career yardage list (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Ben Roethlisberger) not only played in the Big Game but also won at least one Super Bowl.
Among active quarterbacks, Andy Dalton ranks seventh in passing yards leaders with 38,150, but that figure is the highest mark by a current player without a Super Bowl appearance. Kirk Cousins (37,140) and Derek Carr (35,222) are next on the list among active QBs.
Most passing yards without a Super Bowl appearance:
- Philip Rivers: 63,440
- Warren Moon: 49,325
- Carson Palmer: 46,247
- Vinny Testaverde: 46,233
- Dan Fouts: 43,040
Barry Sanders ranks fourth with 15,269 career rushing yards, but like Rivers, he only played in one conference title game. In fact, four of the top 10 players on the rushing yards list never made the big game: Sanders, Adrian Peterson (14,918), LaDainian Tomlinson (13,684) and Eric Dickerson (13,259).
The same idea is true for active leaders. Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliott are the top two active players in rushing yards (8,335 and 8,262, respectively), but neither have reached the Super Bowl. Henry came close—losing to the Chiefs in the conference championship game in January 2020, but Elliott hasn’t even made it that far, losing in the divisional round three times. Henry remains the focal point of the Titans’ offense, but Dallas is facing a cap decision with Elliott, who may need to take a pay cut to stay.
Most rushing yards without a Super Bowl appearance:
- Barry Sanders: 15,269
- Adrian Peterson: 14,918
- LaDainian Tomlinson: 13,684
- Eric Dickerson: 13,259
- Fred Taylor: 11,695
Note: Jim Brown rushed for 12,312 career yards but played his entire career before the Super Bowl era.
Tony Gonzalez, who boasts the sixth-most career receiving yards with 15,127, spent 17 years in the NFL with the Chiefs and Falcons, but never played in the Super Bowl. Seven-time Pro Bowler Andre Johnson ranks No. 11 in career receiving yards (14,185) but never even reached a conference championship game, let alone a Super Bowl.
DeAndre Hopkins is the active player with the most career receiving yards list (11,298) but no Super Bowl appearances. The player right behind him, DeSean Jackson (11,263), might have missed his chance as his career winds down. Jackson played for the Super Bowl champion Rams last year, but was released before the playoffs. He reached the playoffs with Baltimore this year, but the Ravens released him prior to their wild-card loss.
Most receiving yards without a Super Bowl appearance:
- Tony Gonzalez: 15,127
- Andre Johnson: 14,185
- Cris Carter: 13,899
- Henry Ellard: 13,777
- Steve Largent: 13,089