Every quarterback wants the John Elway ending. A Hall of Fame quarterback, Elway rode off into the sunset after winning back-to-back Super Bowls with the Broncos. In his final game, Elway was named MVP of Denver's blowout win over the Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Elway picked the perfect time to retire, but his story is the exception, not the rule. More often that not, legendary passers hang on a season or two too long before ultimately succumbing to Father Time. At the risk of being struck by lightning, I'm willing to write that Father Time will eventually defeat Tom Brady, who has already eschewed several possible Elway endings in pursuit of more championships.
While Brady continues to add chapters to his legendary career, the end may be near for Ben Roethlisberger, who has endured a rocky start to his 18th season. Accuracy issues, a new offense and a young offensive line have been the main reasons for Roethlisberger's struggles. And, as Mike Tomlin noted this week, Roethlisberger has lost most of his mobility, which was one of his biggest assets during his prime.
Here's a look at five notable Hall of Fame quarterbacks who stayed around too long.
- Last season: 1964
- 1-8-2 record
- 10 TDs, 22 INTs
Tittle earned league MVP honors in 1963 while leading the Giants to an NFL Championship Game appearance. The '64 season was a nightmare for Tittle and the Giants, however, as Tittle was benched late in the season. Tittle knew the end was near after enduring a crushing hit by Steelers defensive end John Baker on a pick-six late in the season.
"That was the end of the road," Tittle told the Los Angeles Times in 2008 in regard to the hit, via The Athletic's Ed Bouchette. "It was the end of my dream. It was over."
Title retired that offseason at age 38. The end of his career has done little to tarnish his legacy. A 1971 Hall of Fame inductee, Tittle is a member of both the 49ers Hall of Fame and the Giants Ring of Honor. His No. 14 jersey has been retired by the Giants. Tittle still holds the NFL record (along with seven others) with seven touchdown passes in a single game.
- Last season: 1973
- 3 TDs, 7 INTs, 44.7 completion percentage
The NFL's best quarterback during the league's first half-century, Unitas was never quite the same after sustaining an injury to his arm during the 1968 preseason. Still, he was good enough to help lead the Colts to their first Super Bowl victory at the end of the 1970 season, throwing a 75-yard touchdown pass to John Mackey in Baltimore's 16-13 win over the Cowboys in Super Bowl V.
Unitas split time with Earl Morrall the following season before an 0-5 start in 1972 led to a coaching change and Unitas' benching. His last hurrah as the Colts quarterback came in Week 2, when Unitas threw for 376 yards and two touchdowns against the New York Jets in a rematch of Super Bowl III. Traded to the Chargers during the 1973 offseason, Unitas was benched after four games. In his final start, Unitas was 2 of 9 with two interceptions. He was replaced by rookie Dan Fouts, who went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career.
Unitas -- who owned every major passing record at the time of his retirement -- continues to be hailed as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. He is a member of the NFL's 50th, 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time teams.
- Last season: 1977
- 3 TDs, 5 INTs, 46.7 completion percentage
The architect of the greatest upset in pro football history, Namath battled injuries two years after he led the Jets to their historic Super Bowl win over the Colts. In the midst of 28 games missed between 1970-73 was Namath's 1972 season that saw him earn his fifth and final Pro Bowl nod. He overcame more injuries to win Comeback Player of the Year in 1974.
Namath was unable to duplicate that magic in 1975, as he went just 3-10 as the Jets starting quarterback. He endured a 1-7 record as New York's starting quarterback in 1976 and was waived the following offseason. Despite more injuries, Namath played well during his first three games with the Rams, as Los Angeles got off to a 2-1 start. But the end would come in front of a "Monday Night Football" audience in Week 4, as Namath threw four interceptions in a one-point loss to the Bears. Namath would not play in another game for the Rams and retired that offseason. Namath was just 34 years old when he played in his final game.
Despite his injuries and penchant for throwing interceptions, Namath is remembered more for his colorful personality, his role in modernizing the passing game and being part of the AFL's first win over the NFL. A 1985 Hall of Fame inductee, Namath was named the NFL's No. 1 personality of all-time during the league's 100th anniversary celebration.
- Last season: 1999
- 12 TDs, 17 INTs, 55.3 completion percentage
Of the quarterbacks included in this list, Marino had the best final season. The NFL's all-time career passing leader at the time, Marino decided to come back for a 17th season after suffering a 38-3 loss to the Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs the previous season.
Despite being sidelined five games with injuries, Marino became the first quarterback to throw for over 60,000 yards during the '99 season. He won AFC Offensive Player of the Week twice, which included his performance during the Dolphins' comeback win over Peyton Manning and the Colts. Despite his 5-6 record as a starter, the Dolphins made the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Against Seattle in the wild-card round, Marino recorded his 36th comeback win and first road playoff win.
Marino was unable to hide his aging arm and lack of mobility the following week. Facing a fast, aggressive Jaguars defense, Marino completed just 11 of his 25 attempts and threw two interceptions. Trailing 41-0, Marino threw his final career touchdown pass before being replaced by Damon Huard on Miami's second possession of the second half. The Dolphins ended up losing, 62-7, and Marino retired that offseason despite receiving offers from the Vikings, Titans and Steelers. Marino said that while he still had confidence in his arm, he wasn't sure if his legs would be able to withstand another season.
A 2005 Hall of Fame inductee and member of the NFL's 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, Marino was recently passed by Ben Roethlisberger for sixth all-time in the NFL's career passing list. Aaron Rodgers tied Marino this past Sunday for sixth all-time with 420 touchdown passes.
- Last season: 2010
- 11 TDs, 19 INTs, 60.6 completion percentage
Favre returned for a 20th season after falling just short of reaching the Super Bowl in 2009. But as good as the '09 season was for Favre and the Vikings, the 2010 season was the complete opposite. Minnesota fired coach Brad Childress after a 3-7 start. Favre saw his record of 297 consecutive starts come to an end in Week 14. He then watched the final game of his career in street clothes, as the Vikings lost a meaningless game in Detroit. Favre lost both of his matchups that season against Rodgers and the Packers, who went onto win the Super Bowl.
Favre has since mended fences with the Packers, as he had his number retired by the franchise in 2015. A first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, Favre was named to the NFL's 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. He is currently fourth all-time in both career passing yards (71,838) and touchdown passes (508).