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05th Nov 2015

5 brilliant sports stars who never won the big one

So close...

Kevin Beirne

It’s a funny thing, sport. You can be consistently brilliant throughout your entire career, but there will always be question marks hanging over your head if you never win ‘the big one’.

Even in a team sport, where the outcome can be decided by 20 or 30 people on the pitch at the same time as you, your character and quality will be doubted for ever more.

“He was good, but not great,” they’ll say as they place a massive asterisk beside a person who played to a level few have ever done before.

Dan Carter finally silenced his last critic by putting together a man-of-the-match performance against Australia as New Zealand became the first ever back-to-back champions of the Rugby World Cup.

Unfortunately, not everyone can ride off into the sunset in such a way. Here are five sporting legends across five sports who never managed to get over that final hurdle.

Dan Marino

Of all the greats to play in team sports, Dan Marino is the one whose legacy is most sullied by not winning a championship. In America – even more than the UK – it’s all about the wins in the land where stats are held up as the be-all and end-all, even if the average fan doesn’t know how to use them properly.

Playing for the Miami Dolphins, Marino was always going to be playing in the shadow of the 1972 team which remains the only team in the history of the league to go undefeated all season and win a Superbowl. In 1984, Marino had probably the greatest season of any quarterback in the history of the NFL, but it ended with a Superbowl defeat to Joe Montana’s 49ers.

It’s hard to contextualise just how incredible Marino’s 1984 season was. He was the Messi of his time, only there was no Ronaldo fighting against him. He threw for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns. The previous records for those marks were 4,802 yards and 36 touchdowns – both set 20 years apart.

Marino’s touchdown record was eventually broken in 2004, while his yardage record stood until 2011. Even in today’s pass-happy NFL, his numbers from that year would out him in the discussion for MVP. Unfortunately, he will always be unfairly regarded as some as a simply good player rather than a great because of his failure to win a Superbowl.

4 Sep 1988: Defensive lineman Steve McMichael of the Chicago Bears (left) goes after Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino during a game at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears won the game, 34-7.

Steven Gerrard

This one might be a little controversial, since Steven Gerrard won the biggest tournament in club football in 2005, but the league always eluded him.

Gerrard is an easy target for opposing fans. The adoration he has earned during his time with Liverpool makes him a prime target for the supporters of rival clubs. The Anfield faithful love him for the passion he showed during his 17 years in a red shirt. He is Liverpool through and through, which is why so many take joy in his failings.

For most players, the memory of inspiring a three-goal comeback in a European Cup final would be enough to retire with. For Gerrard, it is an afterthought. Liverpool’s obsession with the league – particularly during a time of Manchester United dominance, means that Gerrard never achieved the holy grail the Kop wanted most.

Colin Montgomerie

There’s nowhere to hide in an individual sport like golf. Your successes are totally your own – but so are your failures. While some of the others on this list had merely missed out on one “big one”, Montgomerie missed out on four.

During his long career, the Scotsman never won a major, coming agonisingly close on a number of occasions. The US Open was Montgomerie’s most successful major. In the 1994 edition, he lost a three-way play-off eventual winner Ernie Els – who went on to win the 1997 tournament with Montgomerie in second place.

Despite a then-record low score at a major in the 1995 PGA Championship, Montgomerie was tied with Steve Elkington and once again lost a play-off after Elkington sank a 35ft putt to win the title. In 2005 and 2006 he finished as the runner-up in the Open and the US Open respectively.

Montgomerie finished top of the European Order of Merit every year between 1993 and 1999, but never solidified his legacy with a major trophy. Still, he can take some comfort in his fantastic record in the Ryder Cup, where his 23.5 points amassed over eight competitions is just 1.5 points behind Nick Faldo’s all-time record of 24.

Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship - Previews

Jonah Lomu

Whether or not you think Jonah Lomu was the greatest player to have ever stepped foot on rugby pitch is an argument for another day. But there is no doubting that he is at least one of the best, and will always hold a special place in rugby lore like Pele in football.

His record of eight tries at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa has been equalled, but never broken. He became the most exciting player in the history of the sport at arguably the most exciting time in its history – the dawn of professionalism. He had a PlayStation game named after him that still has a loyal cut following 20 years later. His legacy is unrivalled in the sport.

And yet, despite scoring a record 15 tries over two tournaments, Lomu never won a World Cup. Instead, he was on the losing side of arguably the two most iconic games in the history of the tournament – South Africa’s final triumph in 1995 and a 43-31 loss to France in the semi-final of 1999.

His international career ran from 1994 until 2002, which placed him either side of New Zealand series victories over a visiting British and Irish Lions team in 1993 and 2005. Although he won gold at the 1998 Commonwealth Games with the New Zealand sevens team, he never lifted the Webb Ellis trophy.

Jimmy White

Of all these stories, Jimmy White’s is probably the most heart-breaking. Anyone who had a games console in the pre-memory card days will understand the pain of beating your way through an entire game only to lose at the final boss and have to start from scratch. For White, that boss was Stephen Hendry and the final boss level was the final of the World Snooker Championships at the Crucible in Sheffield.

In his long career, White made the final of the WSC six times – losing all six. He made his first final appearance in 1984, losing 18-16 to defending champion Steve Davis. Still, White was young and had time to win a title.

He made his second final in 1990, getting revenge on Steve Davies in the semi-final to set up a showdown against a young Stephen Hendry in the final. Hendry won his first world title. The next year White lost in the final against John Parrot. In the three years that followed White lost all three finals to Hendry.

In the 1994 final, White came the closest he had ever come as he pushed Hendry all the way to the final frame but it wasn’t to be. Hendry went on to win two more world titles while White never made it past the semi-finals of a ranking tournament ever again. You can’t help but wonder what White’s legacy would be have Hendry been born just a few years later.

Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White