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Posted: Friday January 19, 2007 10:19AM; Updated: Sunday January 21, 2007 8:25PM
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Peyton Manning
Charles Barkley, Ted William and Barry Sanders finished their careers without ever winning a championship. Will the same happen to Peyton Manning?
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When Peyton Manning's Colts meet Tom Brady's Patriots this Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, Manning will be trying to reach his first Super Bowl. That would be an essential step toward keeping him from someday joining the following list of "Best Players to Never Win a Championship." At age 30, of course, Manning should have more chances to salvage his big-game reputation a la John Elway. Then again, that's probably what these guys once thought. (We've restricted the list to retired athletes only, so please save the inevitable emails about Barry Bonds, A-Rod, Mark Martin, etc.)

1. Dan Marino: This is the comparison that likely makes Peyton go all herky-jerky in his sleep like he's calling an audible. Prolific gunner Marino holds most of the major NFL passing records that Manning will almost certainly own someday (though Brett Favre may borrow some of them first). Marino reached Super Bowl XIX in his second season (1984), where his Dolphins lost 38-16 to Joe Montana and the 49ers. Marino never reached the big game again despite throwing tons of touchdowns to guys named Mark. Montana, of course, was the Joe Cool quarterback whose stats weren't quite as gaudy as Marino's but boasted all the rings (four). Hmmm, sound like a current pair of quarterbacks? Honorable mention QBs without a ring: Jim Kelly, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Fouts, Warren Moon and Y.A. Tittle.

2. Ted Williams: The Splendid Splinter might have been the greatest hitter who ever lived but he couldn't solve Boston's Curse of the Bambino. (Remember that?) His best chance at a ring came in 1946, when the AL MVP led the Red Sox into the World Series against the Cardinals. Alas, Williams was hit by a pitch on the right elbow in an exhibition game against an AL All-Star team that was played while the Cardinals and Dodgers staged a three-game playoff to settle a tie in the NL. Bothered by the injury, Williams hit just .200 (5 for 25; all five hits were singles) with one RBI as the Red Sox lost the Series in seven games. Honorable Red Sox mention goes to Carl Yastrzemski, another great Red Sox left fielder who played in the dark days between 1918-2004. Yaz's seven-game Series defeats came in 1967 and 1975.

3. Ty Cobb: Though his name is often cited when discussing whether moral failings should affect who makes the Hall of Fame -- come on, they let Ty Cobb in! -- he doesn't instantly leap to mind for a list like this. That should change, because while the Georgia Peach is on the short list of Best Players Ever, his many awards (including 14 batting titles) don't include a world championship. Cobb's Tigers reached the Series each year from 1907-09 before failing short each time, the first two times to the Cubs (so you know it was a long time ago) and then to the Pirates. Cobb's postseason performance was decidedly mediocre, as his .262 Series average was more than 100 points below his record .366 regular-season mark.

4. Karl Malone/John Stockton: Yes, they're two separate people but they make this list as a combo, just as they were for 18 seasons and a record 1,412 regular-season games with the Jazz. Stockton is the NBA's alltime career leader in assists and steals while Malone ranks second in points and sixth in rebounds. They twice worked the pick-and-roll all the way to the NBA Finals but were dispatched each time by Michael Jordan and the Bulls, in '97 and '98. When Stockton retired after the '02-03 season, Malone tried to win his ring with the star-studded Lakers, along with fellow oldster-without-a-ring Gary Payton. But Shaq, Kobe and company were upset by the Pistons in the Finals. Payton went on to win his ring last season with the Heat; no such luck for this duo.

5. Ernie Banks: Like Williams, Mr. Cub had the misfortune to carry the banner for one of the most star-crossed franchises in sports. Banks redefined the shortstop position, hit 512 home runs, won back-to-back MVP awards and was always ready to "play two," yet he never played a single postseason game. The Cubs' average finish during his career (1953-71) was sixth place, 24 games out. The closest they came to October baseball was 1969, when they were run down by the Miracle Mets. Honorable mention for other hard-luck, one-team-only baseball players: Tony Gwynn, Robin Yount, Don Mattingly, Ryne Sandberg (minus 13 games with the Phillies).

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