10 NFL Greats We Wish Had Played for Just One Team

Yaneek SmithContributor IIIJanuary 24, 2011

10 NFL Greats We Wish Had Played for Just One Team

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    What is wrong with the picture to the left?

    If you're a Chiefs fan, nothing. 

    But for the rest of us, save for those who hated the 49ers, it is disconcerting to see Joe Montana in anything other than a San Francisco uniform.  

    There is a certain sentimental value that goes with staying with one team for an entire career.

    It gives the fans a sense of poetic justice—that this great player wore just one uniform, played for just one city and for one set of fans.

    But the players on this list did not play for just their "one team."

    Fortunately—or unfortunately, in my opinion— they extended their playing days a few years and played for another franchise to finish their careers, slightly tarnishing their legacy.

    Every player on this list is a Hall-of-Famer, save for two who will most certainly be enshrined in Canton someday. 

    For the record, I had to “bend” the rules to get two players on this list, but I think you'll understand.

10. Mike Webster: Pittsburgh (1974-88), Kansas City Chiefs (1989-90)

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    Considered by some to be the greatest center in NFL history, Mike Webster was the anchor of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line during their four Super Bowl victories in the 1970s, protecting Terry Bradshaw and blocking for Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier.

    Selected to nine Pro Bowls in a 10-year span (1978-1985, '87), he was was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team in the '70s and the '80s.

    He was also selected to the All-Pro team for nine consecutive seasons (1977-1985). 

    While guys like Bradshaw, Harris, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth received the accolades on offense, Webster was just as important to those Steelers teams.

    After the 1988 season, he signed with Kansas City, where he was initally named the offensive line coach before returning to play as the team's starting center. 

    He played two seasons with the Chiefs before retiring after the 1990 season.

    On the NFL Network's Top 100 Rankings of its Greatest Players, Webster was ranked No. 68. 

    After his retirement, he suffered from amnesia, dementia and depression, as well as acute bone and muscle pain, probably the result the pounding he took while playing football.

    He lived out of his truck or at train stations during his retirement, before tragically passing away at the age of 50 in 2002.  

9. O. J. Simpson: Buffalo Bills (1969-77), San Francisco 49ers (1978-79)

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    He was the first man to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.

    What’s just as amazing is the fact that O.J. Simpson did so in only 14 games during the 1973 season.

    During that season, he averaged a record 143.1 ypg, running for more than 200 yards in a game three times and less than 100 yards in a game just three times.

    Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1985, his first year of eligibility, Simpson lived up to his billing as the No.1 overall pick in the 1969 NFL Draft.

    He was particularly dominant during a five-year span from 1972 through 1976. During this time, Simpson averaged 1,540 rushing yards per game, 5.1 yards per carry and was the NFL's leading-rusher four times.

    The 1968 Heisman Trophy Winner, he was selected to the All-Pro Team in five consecutive seasons (1972-76), was selected to the Pro Bowl six times (1969, 1972-76) and was named the 1973 NFL MVP.

    He was also named to the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team as well as the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.

    His best single-game performance came on Thanksgiving Day against Detroit in 1976, when he rushed for 273 yards on 29 attempts and scored two touchdowns.

    For his career, he finished with 11,236 rushing yards, a total of 75 touchdowns and a per-carry average of 4.7 yards.

    After his 1977 season was cut short by injury, the Bills traded him to San Francisco for a second-round draft pick. 

    In two years with the 49ers, he rushed for a combined 1,053 yards and four touchdowns.

8. Tim Brown: L.A./Oakland Raiders (1988-2003), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2004)

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    Tim Brown was Mr. Consistency.

    He had nine seasons of 80 catches or more, including 104 in 1997 when he led the NFL in receptions. For nine consecutive seasons (1993-2001), he had over 1,000 yards receiving. 

    Nicknamed Mr. Raider because of the success he had and the length of time he spent with the franchise, he had over 1,094 receptions (3rd all-time), 14,934 receiving yards (2nd all-time) and 100 touchdown receptions (tied for 3rd all-time).

    When he retired in 2005, he was fifth on the NFL’s All-Purpose Yards List with 19,682 yards.

    He also holds the Raiders' franchise records for games (240) and seasons (16) played, touchdowns (104), receiving yards (14,734), receptions (1070) and receiving touchdowns (99), punt-return yards (3272), punt-returns for touchdowns (3), all-purpose yards (19,341) and yards from scrimmage (14,924).

    Brown, the 1987 Heisman Trophy Winner, was a nine-time Pro Bowler and a selection to the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team.

    He earned his final Pro Bowl spot at the age of 35.

    After playing on some good Raider teams throughout his career, he finally reached the Super Bowl in 2002, but Oakland lost to former head coach Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 48-21.

    After the 2003 season, Brown was released by the Raiders and signed with Gruden to play in Tampa Bay.

    In his one season with the Bucs, Brown caught 24 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown. 

    In 2005, he signed a one-day contract with Oakland to officially retire as a Raider. 

7. Tony Dorsett: Dallas Cowboys (1977-87), Denver Broncos (1988)

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    After a senior season that saw him set the All-Time NCAA Rushing Record, win the Heisman Trophy and lead his Pitt Panthers to the National Championship, Tony Dorsett was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, who had traded up to get him, with the second overall pick in the 1977 NFL Draft. 

    In Dorsett’s rookie season, in which he rushed for 1,007 yards and 12 touchdowns despite not being named the starter until the 10th game of the season, the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII, defeating Denver, 27-10.

    In doing so, Dorsett became the first player to win the college football national championship one year and the Super Bowl the next. 

    Dorsett rushed for over 1,000 yards in eight of his first nine seasons. The 1982 season, in which only nine games were played, was the only one of those in which he came short of reaching 1,000 yards.

    His most productive season was 1981 when he ran for 1,646 yards. 

    For his career, he rushed for 12,739 yards, good for eighth all-time in NFL history.

    After 11 seasons with the Cowboys, Dorsett was traded to the Denver Broncos in 1988 for a conditional fifth-round draft pick.

    He led the Broncos with 703 rushing yards and five touchdowns in '88, but injuries forced him to retire before the '89 season.

6. Joe Namath: New York Jets (1965-76), Los Angeles Rams (1977)

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    Three days before Super Bowl III, Joe Namath responded to a heckler with the now-famous line, "We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it."

    It was this bold claim that his Jets, then of the American Football League, would defeated the mighty Baltimore Colts.

    They did so, stifling several Baltimore scoring opportunities in the first half, taking a 7-0 lead into halftime before building a 16-0 lead and holding on for the historic 16-7 victory.

    The win earned the AFL newfound respect in football circles.

    For his career, Namath had a 50.1 percent completion rate, a career record of 62-63-4 as a starter, a touchdown-interception ratio of 173-220 and a career quarterback rating of 65.5.

    He was also the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season, doing so in a 14-game season in 1967.

    Following the 1976 season, Namath was released by the Jets and played one season for the LA. Rams.

    During the 1977 season in Los Angeles, Namath threw for 606 yards, three touchdown and five interceptions in only four games played.

    Some people wonder why he’s in the Hall of Fame. His statistics don’t seem to warrant such an honor.

    But I believe what he did for the New York Jets, the American Football League and for football itself is incredible.

    If not for his words and the Jets victory in Super Bowl III, how different might the history of this great sport be?

5. Earl Campbell: Houston Oilers (1978-84), New Orleans Saints (1984-85)

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    Arguably one of the toughest men to have ever played the game of football, Earl Campbell certainly left his mark on the sport. 

    As Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman “Mean” Joe Greene put it, Earl Campbell could “inflict more punishment than any other running back" he ever faced.

    He immediately burst onto the scene, leading the NFL in rushing during his first three seasons in the league.

    In the 1980 season, he nearly rushed for 2,000 yards, finishing with 1,934 yards in 15 games. 

    Despite missing significant time in three of the eight seasons he played, Campbell is regarded as one of the greatest players in NFL history, recently being ranked No. 55 on the NFL Network’s Top 100.

    In five of his first six seasons in the league, Campbell ran for 7,758 yards on 1,726 carries and 67 touchdowns, good for a 4.5 yard-per-carry average.

    After six-and-a-half seasons with the Oilers, he was traded to New Orleans, where he was reunited with his former coach, Bum Phillips. 

    In 22 games with the Saints, he rushed for 921 yards on 254 carries and five touchdowns.

4: Franco Harris: Pittsburgh Steelers (1972-83), Seattle Seahawks (1984)

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    A seven-time All-Pro Selection, Franco Harris combined with Rocky Bleier to form a potent running attack that helped lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl victories in six seasons.

    The MVP of Super Bowl IX, when he rushed for 158 yards on 34 carries and a touchdown, Harris was selected to a remarkable nine Pro Bowls in a row (1972-80).

    He rushed for over 1,000 yards eight times in his career and finished with 12,120 rushing yards and scored 100 touchdowns for his career. 

    He is probably best known for his reception in one of the most historic plays in sports in the 1972 Divisional Playoffs against the Oakland Raiders.

    On 4th-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 40-yard line with under a minute to play, quarterback Terry Bradshaw dropped back and threw deep for running back John “Frenchy” Fuqua, who was leveled on the play by Raiders safety Jack Tatum.

    After the collision, the ball fluttered in the air, just long enough for Harris to catch it before falling to the ground.

    After picking the ball up, Harris raced down the sidelines and scored, giving the Steelers an improbable victory.

    Heading into the 1984 season, Harris, who, along with Walter Payton, was closing in on Jim Brown's All-Time Rushing Record, asked the Rooney family, who owned the Steelers, for a raise. They declined to meet his demands and released him during training camp, whereby he signed with the Seattle Seahawks.

    In his final season, Harris played just eight games for Seattle, rushing for a meager 170 yards and finishing 192 yards short of Brown's record.

3. Brett Favre: Atlanta (1991) GB (1992-2007), NY Jets (2008), Minn (2009-10)

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    He is considered by many—if not all—to be one of the greatest quarterbacks to have ever played the game. 

    And while Brett Favre did play one season for the Atlanta Falcons, throwing four passes, I think we can temporarily look past that and consider the Packers his first real team.

    He had an incredible love for the sport, playing for 297 consecutive game, a feat that I consider more remarkable than Cal Ripken, Jr.'s 2,632 consecutive-games streak because of the hits and the punishment Favre took over the years.

    He is the only player in NFL history to throw for over 70,000 yards and 500 touchdowns and win three straight MVP Awards.

    It was Favre and former Green Bay head coach Mike Holmgren who helped revive the Packers organization, taking them from mediocrity to Super Bowl Champions in the 1990s. 

    In his last few years with the Green Bay organization, Favre had trouble deciding whether or not he was going to call it quits before finally announcing his retirement at a press conference in March 2008 after leading the Packers to the NFC Championship Game the previous season.

    He then changed his mind in the summer and attempted to return to the Packers in July, but the team was committed to new quarterback Aaron Rodgers. 

    The Packers traded him to the Jets, where he played one season, throwing for 3,472 yards and 22 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. 

    He returned the following season with the Vikings, having his best statistical season, throwing for 4,202 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions and a quarterback rating of 107.2.

    After deciding to return for a 20th season, he battled injuries and struggled, throwing for 2,509 yards and 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in 13 games.

    Earlier this month, Favre filed retirement papers with the NFL.

2. Emmitt Smith: Dallas Cowboys (1990-2002), Arizona Cardinals (2003-04)

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    The NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith helped revive America’s Team after it had fallen on hard times in the late 1980s.

    Smith's accomplishments are second to none.

    He is a three-time Super Bowl Champion, a Super Bowl MVP (XXVIII), and the 1993 NFL MVP. 

    He was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times, was a First-Team All-Pro Selection four times, holds the NFL record for career rushing touchdowns (164) as well as the record for career rushing games with 100 or more yards (78), and was named to the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team. 

    He had 21,564 all-purpose yards in his career, one of only four players to eclipse the 21,000-yard all-purpose mark.

    He led the league in rushing in three consecutive seasons, joining Jim Brown, Earl Campbell and Steve Van Buren as the only players to do so.

    Granted, he did play behind arguably some of the best offensive lines in history. Among those who blocked for him include Mark Tuinei, Larry Allen, Mark Stepnoski and Erik Williams, not to mention fullback Daryl Johnston. 

    In his final season with the Cowboys, he broke Walter Payton's all-time rushing record, doing so with 109 yards on 24 carries in a 17-14 loss to Seattle.

    In the offseason, he signed with the Arizona Cardinals, rushing for 256 yards during an injury-plagued season in 2003 before rebounding to finish his career in 2004 with 937 yards on 267 carries and nine touchdowns.

    Following the 2004 season, he announced his retirement, was released by the Cardinals and signed a one-day contract with the Cowboys.



1. Johnny Unitas: Pittsburgh (1955), Baltimore Colts (1956-72), SD (1973)

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    Arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, Johnny Constantine Unitas did not officially begin his career with the Baltimore Colts.

    He was actually a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers roster in 1955, having been drafted by the team in the ninth round that year.

    However, Unitas was released before the season began.

    Not the kind of start you would expect from such a great player.

    After working construction in Pittsburgh to support his family, he played for a local semi-pro team called the Bloomfield Rams before joining the Baltimore Colts in 1956.

    The rest, as they say, is history. 

    Unitas’ accolades are remarkable. A three-time NFL MVP (1959, ’64, ’67), he was named to the Pro Bowl ten times, held the record for most wins (118) by a starting quarterback (until it was broken by Fran Tarkenton), and was ranked by The Sporting News as No. 1 amongst the NFL’s 50 Greatest Quarterbacks (2004) and by ESPN’s Sportscentury No. 32 on the list of the 50 Greatest Athletes of the 20th Century.

    To this day, his record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass (1956-60) has yet to be surpassed.

    He was the first quarterback to throw for more than 40,000 yards, despite playing in seasons that were 12 and 14 games long.

    His 32 touchdown passes in 1959 were a record at the time, making Unitas the first QB to throw more than 30 touchdowns in a season.

    After the 1972 season, he was traded to the San Diego Chargers, where he played for one season before retiring.

Those Who Didn't Make the List

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    We will always associate Jerry Rice, Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott with the 49ers; Bruce Smith with the Bills, Deacon Jones with the Rams; and Lance Alworth and LaDanian Tomlinson with the Chargers.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, those players did not finish playing with their previously mentioned teams, but they did finish their careers performing well for other ones.

    They were not on this list because of the success they had with their second team.

    Jerry Rice had over 1,000 yards receiving in his first two seasons with the Raiders, including a Super Bowl appearance.

    Joe Montana led the Chiefs to the playoffs twice, including the 1993 AFC Championship Game.

    Ronnie Lott was named to the Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro Selection in 1991 with the Raiders.

    Bruce Smith's career was certainly on the downswing when he went to the Redskins in 2000, but he did finish his career in remarkable fashion, setting the All-Time Record for sacks, doing so in the 13th game of 2003 and finishing with 200 for his career.

    Deacon Jones was named a Pro Bowler and was a second-team All-Pro Selection in 1972 with the Chargers; Lance Alworth caught a touchdown pass with the Cowboys in Dallas' 24-3 victory over Miami in Super Bowl VI; and LaDanian Tomlinson had a resurgence in his first year with the Jets, accounting for 1,282 all-purpose yards and nearly making it to the Super Bowl.