Let’s be honest, the New York Giants haven’t provided much to brag about lately. The team has made the playoffs just once in nine years, and has the NFL’s worst overall record the last three seasons. As such, many Giants fans have submitted themselves to the warm glow of nostalgia. The Super Bowl memories of Manning to Manningham, the Helmet Catch, Wide Right, and Phil Simms going to Disney World have nourished fans in these barren times.
But those championship teams, and the players on those teams, aren’t the only ones worth celebrating. There have been plenty of great Giants seasons that ended without a championship. There have been plenty of great Giants players whose careers ended without a championship, too. In honor of those ringless G-Men that often get lost in the shuffle of history, here are the three best Giants since the AFL-NFL merger to never win a super bowl.
1. RB Tiki Barber
Barber is a polarizing figure with Giants fans. For some, he’s the best running back in team history. For others, he was a selfish player who undermined the credibility of a young Eli Manning, only to watch Manning become a championship quarterback once he retired.
No matter your feelings on the man, there’s no denying the quality of the player. Barber was the rare running back who got better later in his career. Thought of initially as a third-down/scat back, the Virginia product blossomed into an all-purpose, every-down back once he stopped splitting carries with Ron Dayne. From his age-27 season on, Barber never had fewer than 1,200 rushing yards. His three Pro Bowls came in his final three years, including one First-Team All-Pro season and twice leading the league in total yards-from-scrimmage.
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Barber was on a number of good Big Blue teams, making five playoff appearances with one NFC Championship. He won’t be a Hall-of-Famer since he retired in the middle of his prime, but he deservedly has a spot in the Giants’ Ring of Honor.
2. OLB Jessie Armstead
The Giants of the last decade sunk into woefulness following their Super Bowl XLVI victory. The Giants of the ’90s, however, stayed competitive even after the core of their Super Bowl XXV team aged out. This was thanks to a tough, talented defense led by Michael Strahan and Armstead. Big Blue’s eighth-round pick in 1993 didn’t hit the ground running, but by 1997 was a league-wide star. That year he was a First-Team All-Pro and Pro-Bowler, and he followed that up with four more Pro Bowls. The Miami alum was a hard-hitting, well-rounded linebacker that excelled in run and pass defense.
Armstead made the playoffs three times in his Big Blue career, including an NFC Championship. He also has a place in the Giants’ Ring of Honor.
3. OLB Brad Van Pelt
The ’70s era of Giants football was much like it is today, unsuccessful. At least Van Pelt was a bright spot in an overwhelmingly dark period for New York. The Michigan State product made five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1976 to 1980. Together with Harry Carson, he helped comprise a very good late ’70s linebacker corps, which set the stage for the great Big Blue linebackers of the ’80s.
Van Pelt only made the playoffs once with New York, in 1981. He is now venerated as a member of the Giants’ Ring of Honor.
Honorable Mentions: Odell Beckham Jr., Jeremy Shockey, Homer Jones.