Two of the greatest athletes without a championship are in the midst of a big week - Sergio Garcia won the Masters on Sunday and, on Thursday night, Alex Ovechkin begins his latest quest to win the Stanley Cup. Before Ovi tries to rid himself of the moniker of "greatest hockey player to never win a title," Fox Sports looks at all the major professional sports to identify the greatest players (both active and inactive) to never win the Super Bowl, NBA championship, World Series, Stanley Cup, Grand Slam event, golf major and, for coaches, a college football or basketball national championship.
NFL (active): Philip Rivers
Is Rivers a statistical beneficiary of the stat-happy passing era? Absolutely. Is he still one of the 10-best quarterbacks in a league that's seen so many potential superstars (Jay Cutler, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Mark Sanchez and Daunte Culpepper to name a few) fail to put together a career of balance, stats and team success? Yes. There are better players in the NFL without a ring but those that are (think J.J. Watt or Julio Jones) haven't been around long enough to slip into the "best to never win" category. Rivers is the only of his generation of QB - Eli, Roethlisberger, Rodgers - without a ring (unless you count Alex Smith, which we do not) and though, like Watt, Matt Ryan may soon get enough reps to be eligible for this, it's Rivers' award right now. Look at his numbers. They're better than you think. (And no, we didn't forget about Adrian Peterson. If and when he signs, he takes over the mantle from Rivers. For now, he's a man without a home.)
NFL (career): Dan Marino
This one isn't as clear-cut as you think. Given Marino's fame and post-career gigs on-camera, he's certainly the most famous player without a ring. But the greatest? He's got some company: Fran Tarkenton, Barry Sanders, Anthony Munoz, Bruce Matthews and Alan Page among them. While you can make valid arguments for all, the counterarguments are just as strong (Tarkenton was inconsistent, Sanders didn't play long enough, Munoz and Matthews played a position that's not as important as quarterback). Thus, Marino wins any argument. He played at a high level for 17 years. His 1984 season with 5,000 yards and 48 touchdowns was one of the greatest years in NFL history - that year, Marino broke the NFL record for touchdown passes by 12, led the league by 16, was ahead of the second-most prolific passer by 400 yards and clear of No. 3 by 1,000. He led Miami to 10 playoff appearances. He threw for nearly 3,500 yards in every healthy season. Despite rushing for fewer yards in his career (87) than his foil John Elway did in each of his 16 NFL seasons, Marino was deft in getting away from rushers. His sack percentage ranks No. 1 all time and includes his 1988 season in which he threw 606 times and was sacked just six times. It's one of the great careers in NFL history but, ironically, the closest Miami ever came to winning a Super Bowl during the '80s and '90s was in 1982, while he was still a senior at Pitt. Marino went to the Super Bowl in his second season but got worked by Joe Montana and the 49ers.)
NBA (active): Chris Paul
Right before the 2005 ACC tournament, as CP3's Wake Forest team was on the verge of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the sophomore punched N.C. State's Julius Hodge in the jewels, was suspended for the ACCT, saw Wake lose in the opening round and then got a No. 2 seed in the tournament. Still, Wake was favored to make the regional final, if not a Final Four, but in the second round, Paul and company blew a huge lead against West Virginia in a game that saw Paul turn from spectacular to ordinary with a few clicks of the scoreboard. It's been his m.o. ever sense: Great all season. Great for flashes of the games that matter. Never enough. Since a title with the Clippers seems out of the question, Paul's best chance is to leave via free agency in a few years and play the seasoned vet on a young contender. If he doesn't, Chris Paul will always be dogged by this question: How great a point guard can you be if you can't even lead a team to the NBA Finals?
Getty ImagesJared Wickerham
NBA (career): John Stockton and Karl Malone
You were expecting the award's namesake? Chuck was close but who else can it be but Malone and Stockton? (It just doesn't have as nice a ring to it.) Malone has the second most points in NBA history, trailing Kareem by just 1,500 points but leading Kobe by 3,000, MJ by nearly 4,500 points and Wilt by 5,000. John Stockton has the most assists in NBA history, 3,700 dimes ahead of No. 2 on the list, Jason Kidd. To put that into perspective, only 132 players in NBA history even have 3,700 assists. And the difference between Stockton and Kidd is almost as the same as the difference between Kidd and the 10th-ranked player. Despite getting nearly two decades of two of the brightest stars the sport has ever seen, the Jazz had just one Finals appearance to show for it and the only thing people will remember about it is Michael Jordan pushing off Byron Russell to end his career on a game-winner for the title.
MLB (active): Ichiro
Baseball is the championship outlier. Every single NHL great has a title. Almost all the NBA greats have one too, the same as with the NFL. But in baseball there's only so much one player can do, so the game is littered with great players who never got to win a Series. I mean, if you played in the '60s and weren't on the Yankees, what chance did you have? Among active players, there's a sizable list of future Hall of Famers without a ring. Mike Trout is the best player without a title right now but he's only played five full seasons so doesn't quite fit the criteria. If you'd picked Adrian Beltre or Carlos Beltran, I wouldn't argue. Ditto for Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke or Felix Hernandez. Good choices all. But Ichiro gets the nod because, overall, he'll be associated with greatness more than the other players mentioned (unless Kershaw continues his dominance). He's was a great MLB player, a Japanese phenom and a trailblazer bridging the two.
Getty ImagesJustin Edmonds
MLB (career): Ted Williams
That's what happens when you play for the Red Sox between the eras of Ruth and Ortiz. Williams is the greatest hitter of all time and has some of the best numbers of anyone who's played the game, which is especially impressive given that he missed almost five full seasons (including three of his prime) because of military service. Why not Barry Bonds, who never got a ring either despite single-handedly keeping the Giants in the 2002 Series? While I'm pro-Barry for the Hall of Fame, I'm still taking Williams anyway. Give me five years of theoretical what-if-he-didn't-go-to-war star projections over five years of what-if-he-didn't-take-steroids chatter.
NHL (active/career): Alex Ovechkin
If the greats usually win in basketball, they always win in hockey. The first 37 names on The Hockey News' list of the top 100 players in NHL history all won a Cup. Marcel Dionne is the first at No. 38. In terms of the NHL's top 100 players, unveiled in January but left unranked, Eric Lindros, Mike Gartner, Adam Oates and Cam Neely are among the very few without their names etched on the Cup. Arguments can be made for some of those guys over Ovechkin (at least right now) and if you're including the totality of a career, perhaps it's fair. But unlike Mike Trout or J.J. Watt or other players deemed too young to be considered as the "greatest never," Ovechkin has been around 12 years (nearly the same as Chris Paul) and the arc of his career suggests that he'll be remembered as a greater player than all the aforementioned Cup-less players. Of course, in two months Ovechkin's name could come off this list with a Capitals victory in the Stanley Cup Fi - no, sorry, I couldn't get through that with a straight face.
Men's tennis (active/career): David Ferrer
Fact: You can't be considered a great tennis player without a Grand Slam. You can be good. You can be quite good. You can be one of the top 10 players of your generation. But without that major, there's a gaping hole in the resume and history shows that while winning a major title doesn't necessarily make you great, not winning one absolutely makes you not great. Why Ferrer? The Spaniard was in the top five for five-and-a-half consecutive years, with many of those weeks spent in the top five. A top five basketball player is on the All-NBA team and heralded as one of the best in the game. A No. 5 player with one Grand Slam final to his name is, sadly, a relative disappointment. The quirks of a solo sport.
Getty ImagesDan Istitene
Women's tennis (active): Caroline Wozniacki
Though Wozniacki's game is much maligned (for good reason), she's still a two-time Slam finalist with more weeks at No. 1 than all but eight players since the rankings were created in 1975.
Women's tennis (career): Dinara Safina
The Russian, whose career ended prematurely, is, along with Wozniacki, one of three women to hit No. 1 without a Slam. (Jelena Jankovic is the other). And while Wozniacki's reign was longer, Safina's star was brighter. In a six-Slam stretch from 2008-09, she made three finals and two more semifinals.
Golf (active/career): Lee Westwood
Before Sergio Garcia won the Masters on Sunday, you could have made the argument that it was Westwood, not Sergio, who was the greatest player without a major. It's moot now though with Sergio parading around town in his green jacket. Now Westwood, who has 18 top-10s, 11 top-fives and three runner-ups to go along with 42 professional wins, is all alone at the top (bottom?) As for the career nod, it surprised me too. I figured Colin Montgomerie, who has the record for most majors without a win (a few ahead of Westwood), was the guy. But Monty never won on the PGA Tour (it was a different era and he didn't play as much, but still), had way-fewer top 10s but the memories of the five runner-ups, including a few blown leads, still sting.
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NCAA Basketball (active coach): Bob Huggins
Even when the best players weren't leaving after their freshman seasons, there was a maximum four chances a college player would have to win the title in basketball or football, leaving literally dozens of greats who never sniffed a title, Final Four or even Sweet 16. With that, we'll rank NCAA coaches (football is next) since they're what makes the college sports world go round anyway. Huggins is the best of today, with his two Final Fours, 10 conference tournament titles, revitalizations of Cincinnati and Kansas State and suffocating defense that always makes his teams a tough out in March.
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NCAA Basketball (career coach): Lefty Driesell
Though he never made Maryland the "UCLA of the East" as promised (or even the Final Four for that matter), Lefty was an all-time great playing in the greatest basketball league ever created during a time when only one team would go to the NCAA tournament. That especially hurt in 1974 when Maryland lost in overtime to NC State in the ACC Tournament final, 103-100. Arguably the best team in the country was sitting at home watching the tournament on TV. Driesell is in the top 10 of all-time wins, turned Davidson into a powerhouse that would finish in the AP's final top 10 three times, made Maryland a perennial power and then, after becoming the scapegoat for the Len Bias tragedy, moved on to coach smaller schools in James Madison and Georgia State, winning regular-season championships in nine of 14 full years.
NCAA Football (active coach): Bill Snyder
Kansas State has fielded a football team since 1896. When Bill Snyder isn't on the sidelines, the team has 313 wins in 97 years, three bowl appearances, no bowl wins and no appearances in the final AP poll. When Bill Snyder is on the sidelines, as he's been since 1989 (with a three-year gap in 2006-08 for an aborted retirement), the team has 202 wins in 25 seasons, 17 bowl appearances, eight bowl wins and 13 appearances in the final AP poll, including five years in the top 10. Snyder coached last year at age 76. He's said that a recent throat cancer diagnosis won't affect his duties.
NCAA Football (career coach): Frank Beamer
Before Beamer arrived in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech had six bowl appearances in its football history. After getting off to a rough start in his first six seasons, Beamer took the Hokies to 23-straight bowl games before his 2016 retirement, including nine BCS bowls (with four appearances each in the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl) including the 1999 title game, when Michael Vick was scintillating in getting VT a 29-28 lead over Florida State entering the fourth quarter before the wheels fell off with 18 unanswered from the Seminoles.