Every year around this time, fans of 30 NFL teams watch the Super Bowl and wonder what it would have taken for their team to be there instead. What went wrong for our guys? What went right for the others? For some teams, the gulf is vast — the Cleveland Browns weren’t exactly inches from the promised land this year. But for others, that ultimate destination, if not the prize, was tantalizingly close. This year, Patriots fans lament their cavalcade of injuries that left them unequipped to deal with the Denver Broncos’ defense, even as their legendary quarterback heavily outperformed Denver’s over the balance of the season.
But other teams in history have had it even worse. These are teams that seemingly had everything working, only to sputter right before the finish line — teams that didn’t even get their tragic 30 for 30 like the Buffalo Bills did so recently. For all their hard work, these teams are historic footnotes. Let’s get reacquainted.
1986 Chicago Bears
The Bears were fresh off a Super Bowl victory and still sported their legendary defense and Walter Payton’s last good season. In fact, their defense might have been even better in 1986 than the year before, as they finished with the fewest points allowed of any team in the NFL and the best point differential. But their star quarterback, Jim McMahon, couldn’t stay healthy and they took the field in the divisional round with Doug Flutie as their quarterback. The Washington Redskins forced three turnovers out of him to move on to lose to the New York Giants in the conference championship. This is not the last time you’ll see the Giants winning a Super Bowl over higher-quality teams on this list.