NFL legends who had an unusual pit stop
NFL history is loaded with legendary players -- guys who made a name for themselves either with their insane production, their unparalleled character or a combination of both. And oftentimes, those legends became legends thanks to their legacy with specific teams.
For all the Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers who ended their careers with the teams that helped make them great, however, there have been just as many to call it quits after some oft-forgotten stints with random teams.
Here, we explore some of the strangest pairings from every single NFL team, unearthing memories of big names that spent time in unusual places.
Our criteria: We tried to stay away from career journeymen -- guys who made a habit out of going from team to team. And we tried to stick with guys who also fizzled out with their random teams, thus making the overlooked parts of their career even more out of place.
Now, we present ... those times when your favorite NFL team brought in a legend and it just didn't look right or pan out.Credit: Getty Images
Arizona Cardinals: RB Emmitt Smith (2003-2004)
One of the Dallas Cowboys' three superstar "Triplets" in the 1990s, Smith wasn't just a supremely accomplished running back -- eight Pro Bowls, three Super Bowl titles and an MVP award came his way in Dallas. He was also a Cowboys icon, all but inseparable from that star on his helmet.
Until 2003. That's when Bill Parcells axed Smith as part of an ushering in of a new era. And it's when Emmitt Smith, the Dallas Cowboy, suited up for the Cardinals. His final NFL season included almost 1,000 yards, but his Arizona debut was the absolute worst of his career, and his yards-per-carry averages never looked as bad as they did while he pretended to be a Card.
Honorable mention: QB Boomer Esiason (1996)Credit: Getty Images
Atlanta Falcons: WR Joe Horn (2007)
The four-time Pro Bowler and Saints Hall of Fame honoree didn't begin his career in New Orleans, but he certainly made it there. After four years with the Kansas City Chiefs, Horn lit it up in Louisiana, eclipsing 1,200 yards four different times while giving the city offensive hope in a time of transition and finishing as the Saints' all-time leader in touchdown catches.
And then he went to the rival Falcons and tore it up some more. Wait, you don't remember that? Well, that's because it never happened. Horn did go to Atlanta, looked weird in that jersey and had just 243 receiving yards in 12 games before requesting his own departure.Credit: Getty Images
Baltimore Ravens: RB Ricky Williams (2011)
Williams obviously never quite lived up to the pre-draft hype that surrounded him in 1999, or at least while playing for the New Orleans Saints, who made him the No. 5 pick that year. But the Texas stud still went off for five 1,000-yard seasons between the Saints and Miami Dolphins. When he wasn't semi-retiring, battling drug suspensions or pursuing Indian holistic medicine (this is a real thing), Williams was a guy to watch.
How odd it was, then, for him to finish his career and top 10,000 yards rushing in his career with ... the Ravens? Relegated to backup duties, he posted his lowest yardage total in four years and called it quits at the end of the season.
Honorable mention: Deion Sanders (2004-2005)Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports, USA TODAY Sports
Buffalo Bills: WR Terrell Owens (2009)
T.O. is an exception to our journeyman rule here, but he logged enough time with the San Francisco 49ers to warrant consideration as a one-team legend, and his later-career stops were odd nonetheless. He changed clubs -- and played the villain -- often enough that going from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Dallas Cowboys wasn't all too surprising in his world.
But Buffalo? Does anyone really remember T.O. for his one year as a Bill? If Owens' 16 games as Ryan Fitzpatrick's No. 1 target weren't a sign that his career was heading in a different direction, then what was? (Beside his perpetual inability to get along with QBs and/or coaches.)Credit: Getty Images
Carolina Panthers: DE Reggie White (2000)
The "Minister of Defense" will forever be known as an all-world sack artist in the history books of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers.
His career didn't end in either of those places, though. After a one-year retirement, White came back to the NFL, with his 40s approaching, and started all 16 games for the Carolina Panthers. The experiment lasted only one season, and was the worst statistical outing of his otherwise Hall of Fame career.
Honorable mention: Charles Tillman (2015)Credit: Getty Images
Chicago Bears: DE Jared Allen (2014-15)
Just outside the top 10 on the NFL's list of all-time sack leaders, Allen made a name for himself with the Kansas City Chiefs (2004-2007) and then made that name extra glossy with the Minnesota Vikings (2008-2013) as a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time single-season sack leader.
Swapping sides in the NFC North didn't exactly pay off. Allen's seven-year streak of double-digit sack totals came to an end in his first season with the Bears, and he played only three games with the team the following year.
Honorable mention: Orlando Pace (2009)Credit: USATSI
Cincinnati Bengals: OLB James Harrison (2013)
If you thought James Harrison was wrong for fleeing the Steelers for the Patriots, you should get a load of 2013.
The hard hitter earned his reputation with Pittsburgh from 2004-2012, but he had a one-year pit stop with the Steelers' feistiest AFC North rivals before coming back for another couple of seasons.
Not too far removed from a five-year run as a Pro Bowler, Harrison spent the 2013 campaign playing with -- not against -- Vontaze Burfict and Co. The stripes looked odd on him, though, and his numbers were even worse.Credit: USATSI
Cleveland Browns: LB Willie McGinest (2006-08)
Everyone knows McGinest as the seasoned veteran of two New England Patriots Super Bowls, so his relatively uneventful stint with the Browns to close his career will always be pretty overlooked.
An alternative to singling out McGinest, however, would be to just assume that any accomplished veteran who's ever gone on to play for the Browns has also gone on to wallow in at least some form of late-career failure.Credit: Getty Images
Dallas Cowboys: QB Randall Cunningham (2000)
He's often considered a Philadelphia Eagle through and through, although the elastically flexible signal-caller also had a good deal of success quarterbacking the Minnesota Vikings in the late 1990s.
Ever wonder what Cunningham is never considered? A Cowboy. The spry guy spent just one year in Dallas, where he saw time only due to a Troy Aikman injury before continuing his backup career with the Ravens. All images of him sporting No. 7 on a Cowboys uni have since been burned from Eagles fans' memories.
Honorable mentions: WR Harold Carmichael (1984), LB Zach Thomas (2008)Credit: Getty Images
Denver Broncos: RB Tony Dorsett (1988)
Another iconic running back for the Dallas Cowboys who wound up in a weird jersey to close out his Hall of Fame career. Dorsett left Texas as the team's all-time leading rusher, and even though his eventual successor, Emmitt Smith, wasn't too far behind, his presence on a roster other than that of the Cowboys still made for an odd finale.
Someone in Denver must've been hyped for his arrival in 1988, but by that time, Dorsett's wheels had begun to wither. His first season with the Broncos was also his last.Credit: Getty Images
Detroit Lions: WR Anquan Boldin (2016)
Boldin straddles the line when it comes to not being a journeyman and a legend who tailed off at the end of his career, because he did play for four different teams (five, if you count his offseason with the Buffalo Bills) and he was pretty good as a Lion, catching eight touchdowns in 2016.
Still, when you think "Anquan Boldin," do you really think, "Detroit Lion?" This is a guy who went seven full years as Larry Fitzgerald's sidekick and then won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. Even his time with the San Francisco 49ers lasted three seasons and included a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns.Credit: USATSI
Green Bay Packers: C Jeff Saturday (2012)
Just seeing Jeff Saturday's name probably tested your memory a little bit.
Oh yeah! The guy who snapped the ball to Peyton Manning all those years!
Yep. That's him. And I'd wager you probably didn't know he played his last season with Aaron Rodgers as a Packer. Heck, even the Pro Bowl hardly even recognized this guy as part of the NFC during his one year in Green Bay -- the officials allowed him to snap one final ball to Manning for the AFC.Credit: Getty Images
Houston Texans: FS Ed Reed (2013)
More than a decade patrolling the Baltimore Ravens' secondary made him one of the top safeties of his generation. Nine Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl title padded his resume, and there wasn't any Raven outside of maybe Ray Lewis who better embodied the Baltimore defense of the 2000s.
Unlike Lewis, though, Reed didn't fade into the sunset wearing purple. Instead, he faded into the sunset wearing "deep steel blue" and "liberty white" or whatever the Texans like to say they wear. His career actually ended with the Jets (talk about memories!), but Houston is where the gas gauge effectively hit "E."Credit: USATSI
Indianapolis Colts: WR Andre Johnson (2015)
A staple of Houston Texans history, big No. 81 went to seven Pro Bowls and broke nearly every team receiving record, in part because he started playing a year after the Texans' history began but mostly because he was an absolute terror in the secondary.
When Johnson tried to prolong his career by signing with the Colts at age 34, however, most people knew the end was near. If 2015 didn't signal it, the next season, an eight-game stint with the Tennessee Titans, sure did.Credit: USATSI
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Torry Holt (2009)
The only thing stranger -- and more forgettable -- than Torry Holt, lifetime St. Louis Rams target, finishing his career in the anonymity of Jacksonville?
That would be Torry Holt unofficially finishing his career with the New England Patriots the following offseason.Credit: Getty Images
Kansas City Chiefs: QB Joe Montana (1993-94)
This would be like the 2011 Kyle Orton stint with the Chiefs if Orton were anything like, you know, Joe Montana.
"The Comeback Kid" is darn near synonymous with the 49ers' team name thanks to his four Super Bowl wins, three of which came with championship MVP honors. He's Joe Montana, for Pete's sake. He's a legend.
But how many people credit Kansas City for getting a piece of that legend -- or trying to -- in the early '90s? Obviously things didn't go quite as swell with Chiefs Kingdom, for whom Montana threw a combined 29 touchdowns to 16 interceptions (in Eli Manning speak, these numbers would be just fine), but he still ended his career there, complete with a No. 19 jersey that looked out of place after all those years in Cali.Credit: Getty Images
Los Angeles Chargers: QB Johnny Unitas (1973)
Technically speaking, Unitas played for the Chargers when they were in San Diego, but it's the same franchise we're talking about -- the same one that thought it could get some life out of the 10-time Baltimore Colts Pro Bowler but instead got a 40.0 passer rating in five games.
Just like Montana, he's an all-time great whose irrevocable ties to one organization -- the Colts, in his case -- made his foreign departure from the league pretty strange and forgettable.Credit: Getty Images
Los Angeles Rams: QB Joe Namath (1977)
"Broadway Joe" has ties to the New York Jets like Montana does with the Niners. There's no way around it. That's what a legendary Super Bowl win and plenty of MVP honors will do for you, especially in a market like the Big Apple.
Like plenty of other quarterbacks looking to eke a little more out of their careers, though, Namath took his talents elsewhere before calling it quits. His numbers as a one-time Ram in '77 weren't even as bad as his final outing with the Jets, but if three touchdowns and five picks in just four games was Namath's idea of going out with a bang, then he succeeded.
The only way Namath's short-lived stint in L.A. could've been worse is if Jeff Fisher was somehow still coaching the Rams way back then.
Honorable mention: Wes Welker (2015)Credit: USATSI
Miami Dolphins: RB Thurman Thomas (2000)
If there's one thing that rivals the sad performance of the Buffalo Bills in four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-1993, it's probably the performance of their all-time legend, Thomas, in a rival Dolphins uniform.
The five-time Pro Bowler lasted nine games with Miami before an injury cut his lone Dolphins season short. Total rushing yards that year: A career-low 136.
Honorable mention: WR Cris Carter (2002)Credit: Getty Images
Minnesota Vikings: QB Brett Favre (2009-10)
The Hall of Fame gunslinger didn't go directly from Lambeau to purple as an ex-face of the Green Bay Packers. There was, of course, his post-semi-retirement cup of coffee in New York, where he inexplicably made the Pro Bowl as maybe the oddest stopgap QB in Jets history.
But everyone remembers Favre's infamous move to Minnesota, where he shredded Packers fans' hearts as part of his riotous Spite Tour. And not everyone remembers it for going well -- or at least feeling right.
The magic was there in 2009, his last good season in the NFL. But is there any better example of a guy just not looking at home than Favre in that purple No. 4? The modern-day equivalency is Aaron Rodgers wearing a Vikings jersey, which is downright nuts.
Honorable mention: QB Donovan McNabb (2011)Credit: Getty Images
New England Patriots: WR Chad Johnson (2011)
Before the Cincinnati Bengals were the NFL's most undisciplined operation, they were the most undisciplined operation with a fun ringleader, and that ringleader was Johnson, who legally went by Ochocinco at the time.
After six Pro Bowls in Cincy, he figured his best career stepping stone was in New England, with Tom Brady, but that equated to all of 15 catches in 2011. His underwhelming Pats tenure ended the following year and not only marked his last meaningful NFL playing time but sent him down a spiraling path that included the MLS, CFL, a pro bull-riding event and a Mexican football league.
Follow him on Twitter, and you'll note that he has yet to give up on redeeming himself as an NFL player after his New England snafu. (Also, repeat this in 10 years, and it will still be true.)
Honorable mentions: RB Fred Taylor (2009-10), TE Alge Crumpler (2010)Credit: USATSI
New Orleans Saints: RB Adrian Peterson (2017)
This one didn't even last a full season.
A once-in-a-lifetime talent with the Minnesota Vikings, Peterson racked up all kinds of accolades running wild in the Midwest, earning seven Pro Bowl nods and an MVP award. Oh, and he defied all odds -- and the makeup of human knee ligaments? -- when he ran for more than 2,000 yards less than a year after shredding his ACL.
When his Vikings divorce finally arrived, however, Peterson landed with the rival Saints, and nothing was ever the same. A month into his New Orleans debut, an obviously miscast Peterson was shipped to the Arizona Cardinals.Credit: USATSI
New York Giants: RB/KR Brian Mitchell (2003)
Herman Moore, the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson before Calvin Johnson, had eye-popping numbers even before the explosion of the passing game in the NFL, so his fizzling out in New York will always be remembered (or forgotten?).
Mitchell's stint as a Giant might be just as obscure. An all-time great in Washington Redskins history, his return skills lit up the 1990s, earning three All-Pro honors. And he wasn't even that anonymous as a Philadelphia Eagle from 2000-2002, either, manning special teams duties on a couple of NFC Championship teams out of Philly.
New York, however, was a different story. His lone Giants campaign marked the first time in four years he didn't return a touchdown on a kickoff or punt, and after 2003, he was out of the league.
Honorable mention: WR Herman Moore (2002)Credit: USATSI
New York Jets: S Ronnie Lott (1993-94)
Favre is a compelling case as a potential double whammy in this series, because his ride in New York was as chaotic, awkward and short-lived as it could've been. It wasn't as jarring as his Vikings stint, but it certainly qualifies as one of those "Oh yeah, that happened!" stories.
Still, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who recognizes Lott, the four-time Super Bowl champ whose No. 42 is retired by the San Francisco 49ers, as a Jet. Despite starting all but one game in two years with N.Y., the great pick artist had long eclipsed his prime with the Niners and Los Angeles Raiders at that point.
Honorable mentions: QB Brett Favre (2008), RB LaDainian Tomlinson (2010-11), RB Chris Johnson (2014), FS Steve Atwater (1999)Credit: Getty Images
Oakland Raiders: RB Eric Dickerson (1992)
You don't think Eric Dickerson without thinking Los Angeles Rams.
Maybe you think about the Indianapolis Colts, too, but the six-time Pro Bowler still made it into that team's Ring of Honor.
Where, however, did the NFL's top single-season rushing leader offer his final glimpses of greatness? In Los Angeles, of course ... with the Raiders. Dickerson's career officially ended after a one-year stop in Atlanta, but it was while wearing the black and silver that the Rams' all-timer last played as a full-time starter -- an odd-looking one, to be sure.Credit: Getty Images
Philadelphia Eagles: WR Antonio Freeman (2002)
Art Monk deserves a nod here for letting the Eagles claim him as their own Hall of Fame wide receiver. (Meanwhile, Washington -- er, Landover -- snarls in disgust.)
Looking at more recent history, though, Freeman stands out (or, rather, does not stand out) as a guy who embodied the uniform he wore in 2002. Yes, he was there for one of the early Donovan McNabb years, but his numbers were worse than all but one of his seasons in Green Bay, where he made a name for himself as a Super Bowl hero.
Heck, Freeman himself knew he wasn't supposed to be an Eagle. He went straight back to the Packers in 2003.
Honorable mentions: RB DeMarco Murray (2015), WR Art Monk (1995), CB Nnamdi Asomugha (2011-12)Credit: Kevin Hoffman, Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Michael Vick (2015)
We know Mike Vick the Falcon. We know Mike Vick the Eagle. Heck, we might even know Mike Vick the Jet from his days fending off Geno Smith.
But seriously, who is going to remember that elusive No. 7 finished his career as a backup -- actually, an emergency starter -- for the Steelers?
There's something about Pittsburgh, its traditions and its normally reserved approach to free agency that made a splashy name like Vick so unusual in the Steel City. He became a sensation in Atlanta and he rejuvenated himself in Philadelphia, but somehow, some way, he ended with the Steelers.Credit: USATSI
San Francisco 49ers: RB O.J. Simpson (1978-79)
A five-time Pro Bowler and one-time 2,000-yard rusher, "The Juice" certainly didn't fade from the spotlight after his nine-year career with the Buffalo Bills, even if that was partially due to a little something called "People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson."
But few people remember Simpson for his NFL days outside of Buffalo. The Niners were his hometown team, but O.J. was a shade of himself suiting up for San Francisco during the final two seasons of his career.
Honorable mentions: WR Isaac Bruce (2008-09), WR Randy Moss (2012)Credit: Getty Images
Seattle Seahawks: WR Jerry Rice (2004)
The Joe Montana of wide receivers, Rice will forever be linked to San Francisco, where he won three Super Bowls, went to 13 Pro Bowls and broke more NFL records than any player to ever play the game.
But did you know he ended his career playing alongside Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander and the one and only Bobby Engram? It's the 2004 Seahawks we're talking about!
Rice probably looked even stranger in a Broncos uniform the following offseason, but he didn't make it out of training camp before calling it quits at that point.
Honorable mentions: RB Edgerrin James (2009), RB Franco Harris (1984), DT John Randle (2001-03)Credit: Getty Images
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Tim Brown (2004)
You're excused if you didn't know the nine-time Pro Bowler and Raiders legend closed his Hall of Fame career in Florida just for the heck of it.
The last of the Oakland franchise to remain with the Raiders in L.A., Brown followed Jon Gruden to Tampa after he was cut in 2004, and he got a standing ovation from the Black Hole upon returning to the West Coast.
Tim Brown, Buccaneer, getting applause from Raiders fans. Weird.Credit: USATSI
Tennessee Titans: WR Randy Moss (2010)
Raise your hand if you remembered that Moss was a Titan.
OK, now raise your hand if you remembered it without checking Wikipedia.
Nothing was as unceremonious -- as oddly forgettable -- as Moss's eight-game run with Tennessee in 2010. Claimed off waivers after a botched return to the Vikings that year, the former Minnesota superstar and Patriots record-breaker made more noise in 2012, with the NFC champion Niners, than he did catching passes from Kerry Collins.Credit: USATSI
Washington Redskins: DE Bruce Smith (2000-03)
Longtime Buffalo Bills star Andre Reed is just as deserving here, as he caught just 10 balls in 13 games with Washington and set the stage for future all-stars who came to D.C. to watch their careers cave in.
Just as much as Reed, however, Smith is forever a Buffalo Bill. That's where he racked up 15 -- count them: 15 -- seasons of Hall of Fame-caliber pass rushing, earned two Defensive Player of the Year honors and reeled in 11 Pro Bowl nods.
Smith's numbers weren't bad as a Redskin, so he's kind of an exception to our criteria on guys who underwhelmed elsewhere. But he's also Bruce Smith, the Bills legend. Closing the book on his ridiculous career with a mediocre Washington team was the ultimate anticlimactic finish.
Honorable mentions: RB Shaun Alexander (2008), WR Andre Reed (2000), DE Jason Taylor (2008)Credit: USATSI