Playing in the Super Bowl is a big deal.
It gives teams a chance to prove to the entire country that they are the best team in the National Football League. Players get a chance to shine on every television screen in America. Getting to the play in the Super Bowl is hard, though.
Since the Super Bowl officially became the NFL’s championship game in 1967, 28 of the league’s 32 teams have at least one Super Bowl appearance. The Steelers and Cowboys make it look easy with eight appearances each, but only eighteen teams have played in more than one Super Bowl. Winning the Super Bowl is even harder. Only 22 teams of the 28 that have played in Super Bowls have won at least one Vince Lombardi Trophy. Ten teams have had the honor of playing the NFL’s championship game, as well as the misfortune of losing every one of them.
Here are the best five teams of the ten that have never won the Super Bowl.
The Philadelphia Eagles are a proud franchise, and rightfully so. They are one of the oldest NFL franchises. Eighteen of their players have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, eight to the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, and more than twenty are recognized in the Eagles Hall of Fame. They have also boasted some of the best head coaches in the NFL, including Pro Football Hall of Famers Earle “Greasy” Neale, Wayne Millner, and Mike McCormack. Since Andy Reid took over head coaching duties in 1999, the Eagles have made the playoffs nine times and won their division six times.
In all that time, however, the Eagles have never won a Superbowl. They came close in 2004 when they represented the NFC in Superbowl XXXIX, but fell to the Patriots 24-21. Donovan McNabb threw for 357 yards and three touchdowns using five different receivers, but he also threw three costly interceptions, the last of which halted the Eagles’ last drive with ten seconds left in the game.
Even though the Atlanta Falcons are younger than your dad and can’t boast more than one Pro Football Hall of Famer, they have made some considerable noise in the NFL over the years. They became a formidable opponent when they drafted Michael Vick in 2001, but they didn’t become a force to be reckoned with until Mike Smith became their head coach in 2008. Since then, they have made the playoffs all but one of the past four seasons.
That being said, they are 6-11 in the playoffs, and have advanced beyond the Divisional Round only twice in franchise history. One of those times, however, was in 1998 when they defeated the Vikings in the NFC Conference Championship for the honor of representing the NFC in Superbowl XXXIII. Coming off of their best season yet, the Falcons Superbowl appearance was a surprise to just about everyone, having finished the previous two seasons with records of 7-9 and 3-13. The football gods seemed to be smiling on Atlanta for the first time ever. Unfortunately, their offense only scored 13 points and committed five turnovers, practically handing the Lombardi trophy over to the Denver Broncos.
The Buffalo Bills aren’t much older than the Falcons, but they have more of a presence in the history of pro football. Nine of their players are featured in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and 27 are on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame. The Bills may not be contenders right now, but they were dominant from 1988 to 1999. They were AFC East champions six times in that span, and represented the AFC in the Superbowl four consecutive years…and lost every, single game.
The first was in 1991 against the New York Giants. A hard-fought, defensive battle that left both sides battered and bruised culminated in a heart-breaking, 47-yard field goal miss that resulted in a Buffalo loss. The second was against the Washington Redskins, who took the lead early and won the game by 13 points. The next two were against the Cowboys, who blew them out both times by a combined score of 52.
The Bengals are hard to take seriously sometimes. They have only been around for half of the NFL’s existence, have had only nine head coaches, and have produced only two Pro Football Hall of Famers. They are notable for having players with character issues and off-field problems, and their current owner is much maligned amongst the fans. They have only won their division seven times and made the postseason ten times in their 44 years as an organization. They have also, however, contributed some key elements to professional football, such as the No-Huddle Offense, the West Coast Offense, and the Zone Blitz.
The Bengals represented the AFC in the Superbowl twice in the 1980s, facing off against the San Francisco 49ers both times. The first was in 1981, after finishing 12-4 following three consecutive losing seasons. It was Forrest Gregg’s second year as head coach, quarterback Ken Anderson’s best year, and wide receiver-turned-commentator Cris Collinsworth’s rookie year. Their defense had not given up more than 30 points all season, and they won their first AFC Championship game in franchise history. They failed to carry their success over to the Superbowl, however, as they were outscored by 20 points in the first half and ultimately lost by five.
The second time was in 1988, a year after the strike-shortened season that featured an ugly and public feud between quarterback Boomer Esiason and head coach Sam Wyche, as well as a 4-11 record. Their rebound resulted in a 12-4 record and a trip to Superbowl XXIII. Though it played out differently, its culmination closely resembled Superbowl XVI: a loss by four points.
The youngest team of these featured teams, the Seattle Seahawks have not always been known for being Superbowl contenders. While they have produced seven Pro Football Hall of Famers, they have a compiled record of 250-266, and have only been to the playoffs eleven times in 36 years. One of those times, though, was in 2005, when they played the Pittsburgh Steelers in Superbowl XL. After almost a decade of being a mediocre team, Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander led the league’s top offense to an NFC-best 13-3 record. Their defense was seventh in turnover ratio (+10) and first in sacks (50). All signs pointed to a Lombardi trophy for Seattle.
The majority of the first half was dominated by the defenses, allowing only a field goal by Seattle in the first quarter and a last-minute touchdown by Pittsburgh in the second quarter. The Steelers struck again quickly in the second half, scoring a touchdown off of Willie Parker’s 75-yard run. The Seahawks marched into Pittsburgh territory afterwards, but only far enough for a 50-yard field goal attempt (which failed). Seattle’s only touchdown came from a 76-yard interception return by Kelly Herndon in the third quarter. Pittsburgh’s defense smothered them for the rest of the game, allowing their offense to put up 14 more points and win 21-10.