11 NFL legends with the strangest career stops
NFL training camps are opening and a number of star players are in unfamiliar places.
Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown will be wearing the silver and black of the Oakland Raiders. Odell Beckham Jr. will be sporting a Cleveland Browns uniform.
Earl Thomas has traded in his Seattle Seahawks threads for those of the Baltimore Ravens. Clay Matthews will no longer be chasing quarterbacks for the Green Bay Packers, but for the Los Angeles Rams.
Those are looks football fans will have to get used to during the NFL’s 100th anniversary season.
However, those shifts in threads aren’t nearly as unsettling as seeing an NFL legend —- after a lengthy career spent as the face of a franchise — briefly wearing the uniform of a another team.
Here are the strangest career stops for NFL greats:
11. James Harrison with the New England Patriots
Harrison spent 14 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning two Super Bowls. He was released late in the 2017 season and quickly snatched up by the Patriots. Harrison played four games for New England (one regular season and three playoff games), including in the team’s Super Bowl LII loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Almost as odd was Harrison’s season-long stint with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013.
10. Tony Dorsett with the Denver Broncos
The presence of another Heisman Trophy winner — Herschel Walker — precipitated Dorsett’s trade out of Dallas and to Denver, where he played one season. At the time of his retirement, Dorsett was the NFL’s second all-time leading rusher (12,739 yards; behind only Walter Payton’s 16,726). Dorsett’s one season with the Broncos allowed him to pass Jim Brown on the all-time list.
9. Deion Sanders with the Baltimore Ravens
Sanders played for five teams during his Pro Football Hall of Fame career, and he had shorter stints with other teams — one season each with the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins. What made Sanders’ time with the Ravens strange was that he had been retired for three seasons before coming out of retirement to join the team. On top of that, Sanders wore No. 37 — rather than his familiar No. 21 — during his time in Baltimore.
8. Franco Harris with the Seattle Seahawks
Only two of the nine Hall of Famers from the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty ever played for a different team. Harris and Mike Webster ended their careers outside Pittsburgh. A contract dispute in 1984 led to the release of Harris, who is responsible for the signature moment in Steelers history and arguably the most famous play in NFL history. He signed with the Seahawks and continued his pursuit of Jim Brown’s career rushing record. Harris’ chase — he was just 363 yards from breaking the record entering the 1984 season — fell short after just 170 yards in eight games with the Seahawks.
7. Ronnie Lott with the New York Jets
Lott was a four-time Super Bowl winner during his 10 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. In 1991, he signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Raiders and led the league in interceptions. That two-year stint in L.A., however, pales in comparison to the sight of one of the NFL’s all-time great defensive backs sporting the uniform of what was then one of the league’s perennial laughingstocks, the Jets.
6. Thurman Thomas with the Miami Dolphins
One of the most dynamic running backs of his era, Thomas — who is the only player to lead the league in yards from scrimmage for four consecutive seasons — was a salary cap casualty for the Buffalo Bills following the 1999 season (the team also released Hall of Famers Bruce Smith and Andre Reed). He joined the team that had been the Bills’ biggest rival during their run to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the 1990s, the Dolphins. Thomas appeared in nine games for the Dolphins, rushing for 136 yards and no touchdowns.
5. Reggie White with the Carolina Panthers
After eight seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and six with the Green Bay Packers, White retired following the 1998 season. After a year of retirement, White returned to the NFL, signing with the Carolina Panthers for the 2000 season. He added 5½ sacks to his all-time leading total (which would be broken by Bruce Smith — then of the Washington Redskins — in 2003).
4. Jerry Rice with the Seattle Seahawks
Rice spent part of his final season in a 20-year NFL career with the Seahawks. He was traded midseason in 2004 from the Raiders to the Seahawks, and Rice played 17 games in a 16-game regular season that year. Rice also was allowed to wear his No. 80, even though that number was retired by the franchise for Hall of Famer Steve Largent, who granted permission to Rice to wear the number. Rice signed with the Denver Broncos in 2005, but then opted to retire before playing a game for the team.
3. Joe Namath with the Los Angeles Rams
By 1977, Namath was injury-ravaged and at the tail end of his career. The Jets — who he had led to arguably the greatest upset in league history in Super Bowl III — released Namath and he joined the Rams. Namath started the first four games for the Rams, with his final start being a four-interception performance against the Chicago Bears on “Monday Night Football.” Namath was benched in favor of Pat Haden, who led the Rams to the NFC West title.
2. Johnny Unitas with the San Diego Chargers
The 1973 Chargers featured two all-time NFL greats in unfamiliar uniforms. Not only was Unitas on the team, but so was longtime Rams stalwart Deacon Jones. While Jones played two seasons in San Diego and then a final one with the Redskins, Unitas was at the sad, final stop of his legendary career, 17 seasons of which were spent with the Colts and included one of the seminal moments in NFL history — the 1958 NFL Championship Game. The Chargers were hapless in 1973, finishing 2-11-1, with Unitas starting the first four games, throwing seven interceptions and three touchdowns before being supplanted as starter by rookie Dan Fouts.
1. Brett Favre with the Minnesota Vikings
One of the most bizarre sagas in NFL history transpired from 2008-09, when Favre retired following the Packers’ loss in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, then months later unretired and eventually was traded to the Jets. When the Jets released Favre — who claimed to be “retired” … again — from the reserve-retired list in 2009, he was free to sign with any team. That team — after Favre unretired … again — turned out to be the Vikings, the Packers’ primary division rival for much of Favre’s career in Green Bay. “I wanted to play for anyone who would play the Packers. Minnesota played them twice,” Favre said about the decision to sign with the Vikings. Favre’s Vikings beat the Packers twice in 2009, as Minnesota reached the NFC title game, where the Vikings lost to the Saints due to an untimely Favre interception.