John Elway’s Broncos are out of the playoffs, but their former QB's impact lives on. For 14 seasons as a player, Elway compiled every accolade and reached every milestone needed for a Hall of Fame career . . . except one thing. But after a decade-and-a-half as 'The Guy Who Couldn’t Win The Big One,' he rode off into the sunset on top — winning back-to-back Super Bowls in his final two seasons. With four teams left in the 2013 postseason, there is no shortage of veterans — many of them Canton-bound — looking for that elusive ring, and their John Elway moment. Here are the 10 most noteworthy guys in search of that first ring. — Peter Schrager
Justin Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Years in NFL: 12 Furthest he’s advanced: NFC Championship Game (2011, 2012 seasons) Smith is widely considered either the best defensive end or defensive tackle in all of football. He was the only player to be a second-team All-Pro at both positions in 2012. Drafted fourth overall in 2001 by the Cincinnati Bengals, Smith got this far last season, only to come up a game short of the Super Bowl. He heads to Atlanta, where he’ll look to add a Super Bowl ring to all of those All-Pro nods.
David Akers, San Francisco 49ers
Years in NFL: 15 Furthest he’s advanced: Super Bowl (2004 season) Akers may be the one guy 49ers fans are most losing sleep over this season, but he’s also one of the most experienced players on the team. At age 30, he played in the Eagles’ 24-21 Super Bowl loss to New England. At 38, he’s 60 minutes from the Super Bowl. Of course, if he doesn’t perform well in Atlanta on Sunday and the 49ers somehow still advance, it’s no guarantee that Akers will be playing in New Orleans 14 days later.
Todd McClure, Atlanta Falcons
Years in NFL: 13 Furthest he’s advanced: NFC Championship Game (2004, 2012 seasons) McClure’s respected league-wide by fellow players and coaches, but isn’t necessarily a big name among the fans. How many centers are? He’s the veteran voice on that Falcons offensive line, and he’s snapped to both Michael Vick and Matt Ryan (and some people in between), but he’s never been beyond this point in the postseason. He’s the lone remaining Falcons starter from the ’04 team that fell to Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game.
Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens
Years in NFL: 10 Furthest he’s advanced: Super Bowl (2008 season with Arizona) Boldin was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2003, is tied for 27th all-time in career receptions and is considered one of the toughest wideouts to ever play the game. But he still doesn’t have that Super Bowl ring. Acquired prior to the 2010 season to lift the Ravens’ offense over the top, Boldin did have a franchise record 145 receiving yards versus the Colts in the divisional round two weekends ago. Bring on the Patriots. Boldin’s ready.
Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens
Years in NFL: 10 Furthest he’s advanced: AFC Championship Game (2008, 2011, 2012 seasons) People seem to forget that Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed weren’t on the Ravens’ Super Bowl-winning squad in the 2000 season. Buried under the Ray Lewis retirement story this postseason, people also seem to be forgetting what Terrell Suggs has overcome this season to be where he is today. After winning the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, Suggs tore his Achilles tendon in the offseason. He was thought to be out for the year — he was back in the lineup by October. Last week in Denver he played an incredible game, sacking Peyton Manning twice and flying all over the field in run coverage. T-Sizzle from Ball So Hard University is now just one win over the Patriots away from the Big Dance.
John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons
Years in NFL: 13 Furthest he’s advanced: NFC Championship Game (this season) Abraham goes overlooked, but he’s been one of the steadier high-caliber defensive ends in the league for the last decade. His 122 career sacks rank tied for 13th all-time and in 2012 he was arguably the best defensive player on a good Falcons defense. He’s now just one home win away from his first Super Bowl.
Randy Moss, San Francisco 49ers
Years in NFL: 14 Furthest he’s advanced: Super Bowl (2007 season with New England) Moss has had one of the more unique careers in NFL history. A breakout rookie year in Minnesota, a wasted season in his prime in Oakland, a career resurgence and record-breaking season in New England, a season in which he suited up for three different teams in one year, semi-retirement, and now — another shot at a Super Bowl. Moss caught a TD pass in the Patriots’ first Super Bowl loss to the Giants back in the ’07 season. He’d love to get in the end zone and hoist the Lombardi Trophy to end this season.
Wes Welker, New England Patriots
Years in NFL: 9 Furthest he’s advanced: Super Bowl (2007, 2011 seasons) You might not think of Welker as an NFL legend, but he’s on pace to at least give Jerry Rice a run for his money in the all-time receptions chase (Welker has 768 catches at age 31, Rice’s record is 1,549). But Welker is also well behind Rice in the Super Bowl rings chase with zero. While Welker’s looming contract situation is sure to be a major storyline this offseason, one of the big storylines of last offseason was his drop near the end of the Super Bowl loss to the Giants. Redemption would be sweet for Welker.
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
Years in NFL: 16 Furthest he’s advanced: NFC Championship Game (this season) The NFL’s active leader in career starts entered last weekend’s divisional round as a 16-year NFL veteran with zero career postseason wins. With that ghost haunting his Hall of Fame legacy, Gonzalez’s Falcons jumped out to a 27-7 second-half lead, only to see his team trail 28-27 with less than a minute to go. Horror led to ecstasy as Matt Ryan led Atlanta on a game-winning drive (with Gonzalez making the key catch) and No. 88 responded with tears of joy (or was that relief?) in the end zone.
Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens
Years in NFL: 11 Furthest he’s advanced: AFC Championship Game (2008, 2011, 2012 seasons) The five-time first-team All-Pro has all the career accolades and even Bill Belichick’s ultimate respect, but he still hasn’t made it to a Super Bowl. Now in what many are saying could be his last year as a Baltimore Raven, Reed is just 60 minutes away from a Super Bowl week in New Orleans.