Over on Twitter, @SteelCityStar is posting highlights from the Steelers/Broncos game from 1988. Among the interesting things about that game is that it was Tony Dorsett’s last game. That got me to thinking about those frequent, but still odd swan songs wherein a player, long associated with one team, finishes his career with another. Even when those changes make some kind of sense- Willie Mays leaving the Giants, but doing so to come back to New York to play for the Mets, or OJ returning to his hometown to play for the 49ers it’s still odd. To illustrate how weird it can be, even when a player returns to his roots, here’s a trivia question for you. Against what team did Babe Ruth hit his last home run? That would be the Pittsburgh Pirates. In fact, he hit home runs 712, 713, and 714 in one day against the Pirates while playing for the Boston Braves. As I said, weird. Here’s ten of the weirdest in NFL history:
10. Emmitt Smith with the Arizona Cardinals. Tangled up in this weirdness is this- not only is Smith on the wrong team at the end of his career, but the team is in the wrong city and the wrong division. That is, back in the day the Saint Louis Cardinal football club was in Saint Louis and in the same division with the Cowboys. Smith had a few years there with some measure of success, but he’s a Cowboy, a triplet for goodness sake.
9. Tony Dorsett with the Denver Broncos. Already noted above, this was plenty weird. The man not only served, until Smith, as the greatest running back in Cowboy history, but early on in his career had helped to defeat the Broncos in Super Bowl XII. His success with team two was rather less than Smith’s with his team two.
8. Johnny Unitas with the San Diego Chargers. As a boy I had a #19 Chargers jersey and a football card from this time in Johnny U’s career. The pic shows the old man sitting on the bench looking almost as beaten and dejected as YA Tittle bleeding on the ground of Pitt Stadium.
7. Joe Montana with the Kansas City Chiefs. As with Smith and the Cardinals, this swan song wasn’t merely pathetic. Joe had some success in Kansas City, and at the same time San Francisco enjoyed success with Steve Young, but still, Joe Montana is a 49er and should have stayed one.
6. Greg Lloyd with the Carolina Panthers. The Steelers have a long line of greats who played right outside linebacker, each of them tough, hard hitters. None was more terrifying than Lloyd. He was the embodiment of the Steeler’s defense tradition. He made other players black and blue, and it was just wrong to see him wearing black and blue.
5. Joe Namath with the Los Angeles Rams. Broadway Joe became Hollywood Joe, but the curtain had already closed on his knees. The only career that had even a little rejuvenation was Joe’s acting career.
4. Brett Favre, with the Jets, but especially the Vikings. As with the 49ers when they had two Hall of Fame quarterbacks on the same roster, the Packers were crowded with Aaron Rogers and Favre on the same team. I get that it needed to be done, but it’s still just weird.
3. Bruce Smith with the Washington Redskins. Here’s a guy who accrued 171 career sacks playing for the Bills, and then spends 4 years gathering 29 more with the Skins. That’s some success; it’s just in the wrong uniform.
2. Peyton Manning with the Broncos. Like the peasant suffering from the Black Plague in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Peyton wasn’t dead yet. He was just in the wrong uniform.
1. Franco Harris with the Seahawks. So unnecessary, so petty, just so wrong. And so weird.
Did I miss any big ones? Don’t include those who merely started with one team before finding success with another. Don’t include constant travelers like Deion Sanders. Let me know what you think.