The 10 Best and Worst One-Game Careers in NFL History

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The 10 Best and Worst One-Game Careers in NFL History
(Photo by: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Making it into the NFL is hard.

Becoming a full-time starter in the league is even harder.

Of all of the players who have been fortunate enough to fulfill their dreams and make it to the big stage, 1,167 have only appeared in one game.

Most of those players appear on special teams, filling in for an injury. Others were thrown into the offensive and defensive lineups.

Here is a look at 10 offensive players who made the best, or worst, of their one shot at glory.

 

The Best

5. WR Martin Nance, Minnesota Vikings: Dec. 21, 2006

Four REC, 33 YDS, one TD

A two-time 1,000-plus yard receiver at Miami University, Ohio, Nance was an undrafted free agent, signed by the Buffalo Bills after the 2006 NFL Draft. After being waived on Aug. 28, 2006, right before the season was about to kick off, Nance signed with Minnesota.

Nance didn't get to see the field until the final game of his rookie season against the St. Louis Rams, but he made the best of it in a 41-21 loss.

Nance hauled in four catches, the most by any one-game career player, and his touchdown makes him one of just three of such players to do so.

He was released after the 2008 preseason but was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 10, 2008. He won a Super Bowl ring on the Steelers' Super Bowl XLIII practice squad and was re-signed following the game.

 

4. WR Randy Burks, Chicago Bears: Dec. 5, 1976

One REC, 55 YDS, one TD

Drafted in the eighth round out of Oklahoma State by the St. Louis Cardinals, Burks quickly changed teams to the mediocre Chicago Bears.

Teetering around .500, the Bears were given a gift walking into the home of the 2-10 Seattle Seahawks, and they did as expected by blowing the home team out of the water.

With the score already 27-7, Chicago put in a slew of backups, including QB Virgil Carter and our man Burks. The two didn't waste much time getting to know one another, and Carter hit Burks for a 55-yard touchdown pass, sealing the victory at 34-7.

The 5'11" Burks never saw the field again after his big play, and he faded into NFL obscurity following the '76 season.

In one swoop, however, Burks is the current leader in receiving yards for players with one career game on their record.

 

3. QB Tony Robinson, Washington Redskins: Oct. 19, 1987

11-18, 152 YDS, two INT

Robinson is your average, everyday, prison to professional sports to prison story.

After the players went on strike before the 1987 season, the Redskins needed a quarterback. After seeing their fair share of pedestrian talent, Washington negotiated with a Tennessee jail to release former Volunteer quarterback Robinson until the strike ended.

As if playing in your first (and only) NFL game after being incarcerated wasn't enough pressure for a quarterback, Robinson made his debut on Monday night against the rival, 3-1 Dallas Cowboys.

Robinson was thrust into the game when Washington's starting quarterback, Ed Rubbert, was injured after just two passes.

For a jailbird, Robinson managed the game well, completing 61 percent of his passes and converting 19 first downs en route to a 13-7 victory over Dallas. He was passed over by the previous year's starting QB, Jay Schroeder, the following week against the New York Jets.

After the players union crossed the picket line, Robinson was shipped back to prison in Tennessee and never played on an NFL gridiron again.

 

2. RB Vincent Alexander, New Orleans Saints: Oct. 4, 1987

21 CAR, 71 YDS, one TD

In another case of a man taking advantage of the players strike, Alexander, a former fullback at Southern Mississippi, joined the '87 New Orleans Saints. This team was coached by the one man who doesn't want to talk about playoffs, Jim Mora.

After New Orleans gained a measly 23 total yards rushing in Week Two, the Saints gave the bulk of the carries in Week Three to Alexander.

He took full advantage of his opportunity, carrying the ball a category-high 21 times and scoring the category's only rushing touchdown. He also grabbed two receptions for 15 yards in his team's rout of the Los Angeles Rams, 37-10.

The Saints would go on to a 12-3 record, but despite his solid game in Week Three, Alexander would not see the field again.

 

1. RB Lance Ball, Indianapolis Colts: Dec. 28, 2008

13 CAR, 83 YDS, 6.3 YPC

In a game that meant very little for his team's or his opponent's (the Tennessee Titans) playoff hopes, Ball put up the best results out of anyone with a one-game career in NFL history.

After starting running back Joseph Addai hauled in a 55-yard TD pass and rushed once for four yards, the Colts decided to not take a risk with their injury-prone running back right before the playoffs.

Enter Ball.

He had been a part of the practice squad for the St. Louis Rams and the Colts for two seasons, but he was called up for Week 17 on Dec. 28.

That just so happened to be the same date he was expected to play.

The Colts gave it to the former University of Maryland star halfback a team-leading 13 times, and thanks in large part to a 23-yard burst, Ball racked up a category-leading 83 rushing yards.

Despite fumbling the ball once, Ball's ground control paved the way to a dominating 23-0 victory over the Titans—a game in which the Ball-led Colts won the first down battle 21-8.

Ball has re-signed with the Colts for the 2009 season, and perhaps his performance at the end of 2008 will be reason enough to give him another shot.

 

The Worst

5. QB Steve Bradley, Chicago Bears: Oct. 18, 1987

6-18, 77 YDS, two TDs, three INT, three SCK

While several players made the most of their opportunity during the 1987 strike, Bradley can be counted as one of the players who didn't.

Although Bradley actually leads the category in touchdown passes, he is also third in interceptions thrown and second in times sacked.

His paltry 33.3 completion percentage, minus-three yards rushing, and his -2.1 adjusted yards per attempt in his one and only game certainly don't help his case either.

Bradley's two touchdown passes actually gave the Bears a 17-3 lead, but then the wheels came off.

His performance against the Saints was so bad that Sean Payton—yes, current New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton—was put in to play for him.

Payton couldn't make up for Bradley's implosion, and the Bears lost their first game of the 1987 season, 19-17.

 

4. RB Allen Nichols, Pittsburgh Steelers: 1945

10 CAR, five YDS, one FMB

Although it's not known exactly when he played, or how he affected the ballgame, there is no question from a simple look at the numbers that Nichols had a rough go of it in his only NFL game.

Averaging only a half-yard per attempt and coughing up the ball once in that same game begs the statement:

Stick to your day job.

 

3. Will Cureton, Cleveland Browns: Nov. 9, 1975

10-32, 95 YDS, one TD, one INT

In the midst of an 0-7 start, the '75 Browns were desperately looking for a quarterback to lead their team from the dark hole that was their season.

In Week Eight against the Detroit Lions, the Browns were able to scratch Cureton's name off the list.

Cureton completed just 31 percent of his passes and was sacked twice for a whopping total of 21 yards lost. His rough play set the Browns back in a game they could have won, as the Lions managed only 15 first downs in that game themselves—just two more than Cleveland.

Cureton's lone touchdown pass came in the fourth quarter with the team already down 21-3, and the Browns lost the game 21-10, falling to 0-8.

The poor performance is all Cureton has to remember from his time on the professional level.

 

2. Ed Baker, Houston Oilers: Dec. 17, 1972

4-10, 47 YDS, zero TD, four INT

As the backup quarterback for the lowly 1972 Houston Oilers, Baker had to be wondering when his time would come to captain the team.

In Week 14, Baker got his wish.

They just weren't the circumstances he was hoping to have.

In one of the biggest beatdowns in NFL history, Baker entered a game against the Cincinnati Bengals in which his Oilers never really had a chance.

Baker's play didn't help things, however.

He completed 40 percent of his passes, with the same number of passes ending up in his receivers' hands as they did in the defense's—four.

When the smoke cleared, Baker would have a 61-17 loss to hold as a memento as his only NFL experience.

 

1. QB Tom O'Malley, Green Bay Packers: 1950

4-15, 31 YDS, six INT; -9 YDS Rushing

Again, thanks to the lack of box score data from a half-century ago, it is not clear exactly when O'Malley had this horrendous game.

I'm sure he wouldn't have it any other way.

O'Malley was a rookie for the Gene Ronzani-coached Packers team, but the rook didn't do much to impress his coach in his lone game played.

It is safe to assume that the Packers, who went 3-9 in 1950, lost the game that O'Malley was thrust into the lineup. His woeful performance gave him the category lead in turnovers and placed him second on the list in least amount of yards rushed.

The numbers speak for themselves: Anytime you complete more passes to the other team than your own, you have earned your spot in infamous history.

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