NFL

The Unluckiest Player in NFL History

On Friday the 13th, a day some believe is fraught with misfortune, it’s the perfect time to take a look back and see who might have been the unluckiest player in NFL history.

Our winner, or loser, in this case, is linebacker Takeo Spikes. Spikes played 15 seasons and has the distinction of playing in more regular-season games in NFL history without a playoff appearance than any other player. But there’s a lot more to it.

Takeo Spikes early career

Coming out of Auburn University, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Spikes as the 13th overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. In his senior season with the Tigers, Spikes led the team with 136 tackles, had a pair of interceptions, and was named MVP of the SEC Championship game, a 30-29 loss to Peyton Manning and the Tennessee Volunteers. It would be the last time he would experience postseason action in his entire career.

During his first five years in Cincinnati, the team didn’t just struggle; they were awful. The best season for the team while Spikes played was a 6-10 finish in 2001. The year after Spikes left for Buffalo, the Bengals hired Marvin Lewis and drafted quarterback Carson Palmer as the first overall pick. The team made the playoffs two seasons later.

In Buffalo, Spikes had the best personal seasons of his career in 2003 and 2004 earning Pro Bowl honors both seasons and first-team All-Pro in 2004. The 2004 season Spikes experienced the only winning season of his 15-year career as the Bills finished with a 9-7 record but still missed the playoffs. 

In 2007, Spikes joined the Philadelphia Eagles, a team which had made it to the second round of the playoffs the year before. That 2007 season, his only season in Philly, the Eagles finished with a 7-9 record. The year after Spikes left the Eagles returned to the playoffs, making it all the way to the NFC Championship game

Spikes final NFL years

Takeo Spikes
Takeo Spikes | Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Hoping a change in scenery might help, Spikes headed west where he joined the San Francisco 49ers and played from 2008-2010. In those three seasons, Spikes played for three different head coaches—Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary, and Jim Tomsula. The coaching carousel was clearly an indication of a team in disarray, and the 49ers overall record reflected that. The best season during Spikes time in San Fran occurred in 2009 when the team finished with an 8-8 record.

Following the 2010 season, Spikes headed south to San Diego to finish out his career. Back up in San Francisco, the team he had played for the year before, new head coach Jim Harbaugh took over the reins and guided the 49ers to a 13-3 record and a playoff appearance that ended in the NFC Championship game.

In his final two seasons with the Chargers, the team finished with an 8-8 and 7-9 records, respectively, each season missing the playoffs.

The unluckiest NFL player’s final numbers  

Over the course of his career, Spikes played in 219 games, one of only seven linebackers to have started over 200 games in the NFL. He played for five different teams and ten different head coaches. His teams finished with an overall record of 90-150. 

Playing for consistently losing teams is bad enough, but for Spikes, it didn’t end there. Of the five teams he played for in his career, four of the teams found success after Spikes left and before he retired.

The Bengals, with Carson Palmer and Marvin Lewis at the helm, made the playoffs four times. The Eagles advanced to the playoffs three times following the departure of Spikes. In San Francisco, after Spikes left, the 49ers advanced to the NFC Conference Championship in 2011 and the Super Bowl in 2012. And as you might have guessed, a year after Spikes retired from the Chargers, they made the playoffs.

For all these incredible woeful numbers, Takeo Spikes has definitely earned the title as the NFL’s unluckiest player.