He Played For WHICH NFL Team?
When big-name players with high salaries are being cut out, you know we are in the middle of the NFL offseason. Football front offices in their annual salary cap gymnastics exercises. NFL teams are trying to free up space to pursue free agents or get under the salary cap. Unfortunately, that means big-name veterans are either asked to restructure their salaries, take a pay cut, or are even being released. Take a guy like All-Pro Linebacker Bobby Wagner, for example. He spent last season with the Los Angeles Rams after ten seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and had another All-Pro season. Wagner signed a 5-year-$50 million deal before last season. He was released earlier this week after one season.
Do you remember Wagner more as a Ram or a Seahawk?
There have been plenty of Hall-of-Fame football players that played for one team during their playing days. Walter Payton played his entire career for the Chicago Bears. Terry Bradshaw only played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Same with Ben Roethlisberger. He hasn’t been enshrined in Canton yet, but it’s only a matter of time. John Elway (Broncos) and Dan Marino (Dolphins) also played in only one uniform each during their legendary careers. Hell, even the Detroit Lions are the only team that Barry Sanders ever played for.
As is the case in other sports, guys want to chase contracts and rings for as long as they can. The main difference is - the contracts in the NFL are NOT fully guaranteed. That’s why it has become more common to see veteran guys, including future Hall-of-Famers, try to catch on with random teams on one or two-year deals as much as possible. That and some guys simply don’t want to stop playing. Adrian Peterson is a great example. The man has nearly 15,000 career rushing yards, but he has played for six different teams since 2016 (Cardinals, Saints, Redskins, Lions, Titans, and Seahawks).
Peterson isn’t the only one. Terrell Owens played in Buffalo and Cincinnati. Did you know that the late Reggie White came out of retirement to play for the Carolina Panthers in 2000? Ronnie Lott was a Hall-of-Fame safety for the 49ers. Some may remember that he also played for the Raiders, but do you remember him playing for the Jets? How about Richard Dent in an Eagles uniform? Don’t forget that Peyton Manning starred for the Colts before joining the Broncos in his final playing years.
There are plenty of examples. Let’s keep going! Do you remember these 15 Hall-of-Famers in these uniforms?
Joe Montana, QB – Kansas City Chiefs (1993-1994)
Montana may very well be the poster child for this entire list. “Joe Cool” made his name as the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers from 1979-92. There he was a 2-time NFL MVP, 3-time Super Bowl MVP, and led the 49ers to four Super Bowl Championships. Despite Montana’s resume, he had to continue battling to keep his starting job after the 49ers acquired Steve Young in 1987. After suffering a season-ending elbow injury in 1991, Montana lost his starting job and never got it back. He was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993. He led them to back-to-back playoff appearances in his two seasons with the Chiefs – including an appearance in the 1993 AFC Championship game. The end to Montana’s career with a “random” team went better than most on this list. He retired in 1995 at the age of 38.
Brett Favre, QB – New York Jets (2008)
The final years of Favre’s career are like those of Montana’s. Like Montana, Favre was moved out of the starting QB role with his-long time team. Like Montana, he ended his career with a team who he played with for two seasons – the Minnesota Vikings. He also led his new team to the conference championship game AND lost as Montana did in 2009. However, unlike “Joe Cool,” Favre had a stop in between Green Bay and Minnesota. He was traded to the New York Jets in 2008, where he had an up-and-down year. Favre had some good games, like a 6-touchdown performance in a game against the Cardinals. There were others where the gunslinger threw for more picks than TDs. Favre ended his lone season in New York, just missing the playoffs, with a 9-7 record while throwing 22 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions.
Joe Namath, QB – Los Angeles Rams (1978)
Raise your hands if you knew that Joe Namath played for the Rams. “Broadway Joe” is mostly known for playing quarterback for the New York Jets, which he did so from 1965-1977. His pièce de résistance was in Super Bowl III, where he led the Jets to a 16-7 upset victory over the favored Baltimore Colts. This was after Namath famously guaranteed victory days before. Unfortunately, “Broadway Joe” battled knee injuries throughout his career after that. The Jets would struggle in Namath’s final years and elected to release him in 1977. The former University of Alabama quarterback then signed with the Los Angeles Rams. He played well at first but ended up getting benched after the Rams’ fourth game and never saw the field again. Namath retired after the season at age 34.
O.J. Simpson, RB– San Francisco 49ers (1978-79)
Before becoming the primary focus of “The Trial of the Century” back in 1994 and building a rap sheet, O.J. Simpson was a Hall-of-Fame running back for the Buffalo Bills. During a five-year stretch from 1972 to 1976, Simpson led the NFL in rushing four times and was named the league’s MVP in 1973. He was also the first player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season that year. He also set the then-record for rushing yards in one game with 273 in 1976. After an injury cut Simpson’s season short in 1977, he forced a trade out west. The Bills traded Simpson to the San Francisco 49ers – for FIVE draft pics. One of those picks turned out to be the #1 overall pick of the 1979 NFL Draft. Ouch. “The Juice” was 30 years old at the time of the trade and was no longer an elite player. Simpson would go on to play two seasons in San Francisco, compiling 1,053 total yards and 4 touchdowns as a 49er.
Ed Reed, FS – Houston Texans/New York Jets (2013)
Reed’s Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco Giants in Super Bowl XLVII. He was still an elite player at age 34 but thought about retiring. Reed was a Super Bowl Champ, the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, led the NFL in interceptions three times, and held multiple NFL and Ravens franchise defensive records. Reed ended up signing with the Houston Texans for the 2013 season and then had arthroscopic hip surgery. After getting demoted to the bench after 7 games, the Texans released Reed. He signed with the New Jets for the remainder of the season and had three interceptions in 7 games. Those would be Reed’s final picks as he retired after the 2013 season at the age of 35.
Earl Campbell, RB– New Orleans Saints (1984-85)
Most remember the former Heisman Trophy winner as a bruising running back for the Houston Oilers. Campbell’s punishing running style led the way to three consecutive rushing titles, earned him the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year honors in each of his first three seasons, and was named the NFL’s MVP in 1979. He would have productive seasons in 1981 and 1983 but was frustrated with the team’s losing and coaching decisions. The Pro Bowl back requested a trade and got his wish during the 1984 season. The Oilers sent Campbell to the New Orleans Saints for a first-round draft pick. He split time in the Saints backfield with George Rogers and would retire after the 1985 season at age 30.
Issac Bruce, WR – San Francisco 49ers (2008-09)
The Hall-of-Fame wide receiver is 5th in NFL history with 15,208 all-time receiving yards. Bruce spent 14 seasons with the Rams organization. There he was part of “The Greatest Show on Turf” teams with Torry Holt, Marshall Faulk, and Kurt Warner, among others. “The Reverend” was a 4-time Pro-Bowler, and Super Bowl Champion and holds many Rams’ receiving records. Bruce was released by the Rams after the 2007 season and then joined the 49ers on a two-year deal. He had a productive first season in San Francisco with 835 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns. Bruce retired after the 2009 season, where he had 264 receiving yards with zero touchdowns at age 37.
Thurman Thomas, RB– Miami Dolphins (2000)
In addition to being a Hall-of-Fame running back, Thurman Thomas is one of the greatest ever to wear a Buffalo Bills uniform. Thomas is also one of the more underrated backs of all time, in my opinion. He spent 12 seasons in Buffalo from 1988-99, where he became the Bills’ all-time leading rusher. Thomas was also a key part of the Bills teams that made it to four straight Super Bowls in the early 90s. The 1991 NFL MVP was released in 1999 after a pair of injury-plagued seasons. Thomas then signed with the Miami Dolphins for the 2000 season. His season was cut short by a knee injury. Thomas rushed for 136 yards in a limited role for the Dolphins and retired in 2000 at the age of 34.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB – New York Jets (2010-11)
“LT” rushed for 13,684 yards and had 162 total touchdowns in his career, mostly with the San Diego Chargers. He is 7th all-time in yards and 3rd all-time in touchdowns, trailing only Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice. Tomlinson was also a receiving threat out of the backfield and powered the Chargers offense during the 2000s. The 2006 NFL MVP had eight consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons in a Chargers uniform. San Diego released LT after the 2009 season after a falling out with the organization. Tomlinson then signed with the New York Jets on a 2-year deal. He led the Jets in rushing in 2010 with 914 yards and 6 touchdowns, splitting time with young back Shone Greene. Tomlinson had the Jets make it to the 2010 AFC Championship game but were defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers. LT retired after the 2011 season at age 32 after rushing for 280 years and one touchdown.
Tony Dorsett, RB– Denver Broncos (1988)
Dorsett made an immediate impact for the Dallas Cowboys upon entering the league in 1977 and was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year for that season. The elusive back is the owner of eight 1,000-yard rushing seasons and co-holds the NFL Record for the longest run from scrimmage (99 yards). The four-time Pro Bowler was coming off a season in 1985 where he ran for 1,307 yards and 7 touchdowns. The Cowboys signed Herschel Walker in 1986 to pair with him in their back field. Dorsett never had a 1,000-yard season again and requested a trade after the 1987 season. The Cowboys then traded Dorsett to the Denver Broncos. He would play in all 16 games in the 1988 season, totaling 703 rushing yards with 5 touchdowns. Dorsett retired after the 1988 season at the age of 34.
Tim Brown, WR – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2004)
Brown is known for being a Raider, plain and simple. Expectations were high for the Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame when he joined the Raiders in 1988. Brown was both a kick and punt returner in addition to being a wide receiver. He didn’t develop into a true #1 receiver until his 6th season in the league. Brown then produced 9 straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons. The nine-time Pro Bowler holds many Raiders records over his 16 seasons with the club. It was thought that Brown would retire as a Raider but was released before the 2004 season when he refused to accept a reduced role. He reunited with the former Raiders head coach in Tampa Bay and signed a 1-year deal with the Buccaneers. Brown retired after the 2004 season at age 38 after catching 24 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown that year.
Johnny Unitas, QB– San Diego Chargers (1973)
Of course, there’s another quarterback on this list! Unitas became a legend as a Baltimore Colt (that’s right, kids – the Colts used to be in Baltimore). He was a 3-time NFL Champion, a Super Bowl Champion, a 3-time NFL MVP, and a 10-time Pro Bowler with the Colts. Unitas became a legend during his 17 seasons in Baltimore. He set numerous franchise passing records, which stood for 30+ years until some guy named Peyton Manning came along. The Hall-of-Fame quarterback suffered from injuries to his knees and throwing elbow. Unitas saw limited action during the 1971 and 1972 seasons and was then traded to San Diego. “Johnny U” was named the Chargers starter for the 1973 season but struggled over the first four games. The Chargers would bench Unitas in favor of rookie Dan Fouts. Unitas retired after the 1973 season at the age of 40.
Franco Harris, FB/RB– Seattle Seahawks (1984)
I was today years old when I learned that Franco Harris once played for the Seahawks. Most remember Harris as a Half-of-Fame back for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s. Who hasn’t seen “The Immaculate Reception” by now? Harris was a 4-time Super Bowl Champ, MVP of Super Bowl IX, a 9-time Pro Bowler, and posted eight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. The 1983 season saw the Steeler great posting another 1,000-yard season at 33 years old. Harris wanted to continue playing for the Steelers and chase Jim Brown’s then-career rushing record. The Rooneys did not want to give Harris a raise, and when he threatened to hold out for the 1984 season, they traded him to Seattle. Franco Harris played in a limited role for the Seahawks that season and retired at the age of 34.
Emmitt Smith, RB– Arizona Cardinals (2003-04)
Emmitt Smith in a uniform other than the Dallas Cowboys will always be weird. Smith was one of “The Triplets” for the Dallas Cowboys in the early 90s, along with quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin. The 1993 NFL MVP helped lead the Cowboys to three Super Bowl Championships, including being named MVP of Super Bowl XXVIII. Smith was closing in on the career rushing record after posting eleven consecutive 1000-yard rushing seasons. He then broke Walter Payton’s career rushing record during the 2002 season. The Cowboys hired Bill Parcells as head coach in 2003 and decided to release Smith in favor of younger backs. The Cowboys Hall-of-Famer signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals in 2003. Smith was injured in his return to Dallas that season which limited his availability thereafter. He returned to the Cardinals for the 2004 season where he ran for 937 yards and 9 touchdowns. Smith retired after the season at age 35 as the NFL’s career leader in rushing yards and the second in total touchdowns with 175 to…
Jerry Rice, WR – Seattle Seahawks (2004)
If it were up to Jerry Rice, he would probably still be playing today. Many have dubbed Tom Brady as the GOAT. That’s hard to argue but Jerry Rice should get HEAVY consideration, in my opinion. He is the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, total yards from scrimmage, receiving yards, and total touchdowns. The man also has three Super Bowl rings and was MVP of Super Bowl XXIII. Rice cemented himself as the greatest wide receiver to ever play while playing with the San Francisco 49ers from 1985-2000. He then signed with the Oakland Raiders at age 39 – and THEN played parts of four seasons with the club, including back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons. The Raiders made it to Super Bowl XXXVII but lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rice had 5 catches for 77 yards and a touchdown – which made him the first player ever with touchdown receptions in four different Super Bowls. What most people forget is that Rice was traded to the Seattle Seahawks during the 2004 season. Seattle would be his final regular season stop as he finished 2004 with 30 catches for 429 years and 3 touchdowns. Rice signed with the Denver Broncos in 2005 at age 43 but was cut in training camp. He retired shortly thereafter.
Most of the guys on this list are offensive players – quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. It’s hard for any legend to hang them up and end their chase for either their first or another elusive rings. I’m sure in another five years we will see even more Hall-of-Fame players in unexpected uniforms.
You can bet on it.
Photo Credit: Flickr.com