Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and The Most Egregious Cases of Icons Finishing Their Careers Elsewhere

Considering there hasn’t been much else to do lately than follow NFL free agency way too closely this week, you’ve no doubt heard that Tom Brady has left the New England Patriots and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s the kind of deal that has a ripple effect through not just the NFL, but all of sports. Brady wearing anything other than a number 12 Patriots jersey just feels plain wrong. Even when media outlets and memers started to mock up what Brady would look like donning another teams colors, it felt as wrong as seeing someone eat pizza with a fork (truly there is an 8th circle of hell for these people).

At the same time it’s a move that we probably should have seen from a mile away. If Brady were to leave New England, Tampa Bay isn’t as far fetched as you might think. To start, Bruce Arians is the Head Coach in Tampa. He’s an offensive mastermind who has carved out a pretty effective career as a Head Coach dating back to his time at the helm of the Arizona Cardinals. Tampa also has some great weapons on offense with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin leading the pack at Wide Receiver. Tight End OJ Howard is also a fountain of untapped potential in the right offense. All three individually would be massive upgrades over what Brady had to work with last season in New England. He may not have played like peak Tom Brady for the majority of the season, but a woeful cast of skill position players surely did him no favors. In turn having Brady throw these receivers the ball, even in his age 43 season, will make a world of difference for the Bucs.

Jameis Winston was no doubt an exciting player to watch, but he was also the definition of an accident waiting to happen. Anytime Winston threw the ball last season it had the same power as someone in a cartoon slamming a big red button. It would either go spectacularly well or flame out in a truly magnificent fashion, very rarely was it something in between. Brady brings down to Tampa Bay stability, accuracy, the ability to read a defense, and eyes that don’t need to be surgically repaired. All things the Bucs sorely missed from the QB position last year.

Tampa’s defense isn’t last year’s Patriots, but they are solid and young group. All in all, Tampa Bay gives Brady a fighting chance to show that he was the main catalyst for the Patriots six championships, not Bill Belichick, a point that Brady is extremely eager to try and prove.

Past precedent also makes it so this move isn’t as surprising as it may feel. Plenty of sports icons who should have spent their entire careers with one franchise have ended up finishing in another jersey. While it never quite looks right, it happens more often than you’d think So let’s look at ten of the most egregious cases:

10. Hakeem Olajuwon (Toronto Raptors)- No doubt about it, Olajuwon changed the game for big men. The Hall of Fame center led the Houston Rockets to two championships, won an MVP, was a legendary defender, had some of the best footwork in the history of the sport and once posted a quadruple double. In 2001 the rebuilding Rockets shipped him off to Toronto where he spent a year with the Vince Carter led Raptors. As fun as the combination sounds Olajuwon was a shell of his former self, putting up only 7.1 points per game, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.2 blocked shots. At least when he retired he left the game as the NBA’s all time leader in blocked shots.

9. Johnny Unitas (San Diego Chargers)– Despite playing an era far less fond of the forward pass, Johnny U is indisputably one of the greatest Quarterbacks of all time. He was the first Quarterback to ever throw for 40,000 yards in a career (even more impressive when you consider that in his era NFL seasons were 12 and 14 games long, not 16). When he retired he held pretty much every career passing record including wins. He won Super Bowl V and played in Super Bowl III, one of the most infamous games in NFL history. He did all of this while playing for the Baltimore Colts, which is part of what it’s so weird that he finished his career in 1973 for San Diego after he was traded by the Colts. He was dismal for the Chargers, going 1-3 with a 3-7 TD:INT ratio while not even completing 50% of his passes. In fact the most notable things about the Unitas-Chargers era, was that he was replaced by future Hall of Famer, Dan Fouts.

8. Bobby Orr (Chicago Blackhawks)– Tom Brady isn’t the first time that a Boston icon, largely believed to be the best to ever play his position has ended his career in another uniform. The city went through this once before in 1976 when Bobby Orr left the Boston Bruins and signed a five year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. He played in 26 games over 3 years (including sitting out all of the 77-78 season) before his knee injuries finally forced him into retirement.

7. Yogi Berra (New York Mets)- I feel like this is the one on the list that most people completely forget even happened, but it happened. Yes, Yogi Berra, arguably baseball’s greatest catcher and one of the most iconic New York Yankees of all time actually suited up for the New York Mets for 4 games in 1965. After spending 1963 as a player/coach and 1964 as Manager for the Yankees, Berra signed on as a coach with the cross town Mets. Part of that included four cameo appearances he made for the team, a grand total of nine at bats where he managed to knock two hits. He went onto eventually manage the Mets, but his playing career there was so short, there isn’t even video of it on Youtube.

New York Mets coaches (L-R): Joe Pignatano, Eddie Yost, and Yogi Berra at camera day 1969, Shea Stadium.
Peter Manzari from Bayside, NYC, USA

6. Emmitt Smith (Arizona Cardinals)- Running backs rarely if ever age well. Today in 2020 we are having more nuanced conversations about the role and value of the position than ever before. However, back in 2003 the league was in a different place with a lot of teams still opting to do whatever they could to assert their dominance on the ground. Enter Emmitt Smith and the Arizona Cardinals. During the 2002 season Emmitt Smith finally overcame Walter Peyton as the NFL’s all time leading rusher. It seemed to be the last thing left to prove for a man who had a Hall of Fame career, won an MVP as a running back, and won three Super Bowls as one of the infamous triplets on the Dallas Cowboys. Smith was still a big deal in Dallas in 2002, he was the last of the triplets still active and was the most iconic player on America’s most iconic franchise. After the 2002 season new Cowboys Head Coach Bill Parcells cut Smith, opting to go younger at running back. A month later Smith signed a two year deal with the Arizona Cardinals who thought Smith had a lot left in the tank and hoped his signing would be a PR boom and a selling point to their fan base. On the one hand, plenty of people bought number 22 Cardinals jerseys between 2003 and 2004. On the other hand, Smith was a shell of himself on the field. In those two years in the dessert Smith played in 25 games, starting only 20 of them. He never rushed for 1,000 yards and averaged just 3.3 yard per attempt.

5.Brett Favre (New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings)– Surely the if anyone on here doesn’t need a recap, it’s Favre. Brett Favre was a legend not just in Green Bay where he won the Packers their first Super Bowl since Bart Starr, but also across the country. His gunslinger, big risk even bigger reward style was electrifying to watch and influenced an entire generation of Quarterbacks who came after him. When he retired he held virtually every passing statistics you can imagine (including interceptions where his 336 are 59 more than 2nd place George Blanda’s 277) and the NFL’s iron man record (from September of 1992 – December of 2010 Favre started 321 consecutive games including the playoffs). Green Bay stuck by Favre through a lot, including his constant retirement rumors and wafering. When Favre retired and then asked Green Bay to come back for the second time after the 2007 season the Packers finally put their foot down and said no. It led to a bitter divorce that Favre and Green Bay only recently have publicly reconciled over. The team already had his successor in place with Aaron Rodgers and were tired of being held hostage by Favre. In August the team traded him to the New York Jets where he had a mediocre at best season (a 9-7 record with 22 TDs and 22 INTs). The following off season after more speculation over his future, Favre signed with Green Bay’s NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings. He spent two seasons in the purple and gold. His 2009 season was actually one of the best of his career. He threw for 4,202 yards, 33 TDs and only 7 INTs on his way to leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship game. His 2010 season didn’t go nearly as well, throwing for only 11 TDs compared to 19 INTS in just 13 starts as his iron man streak came to a close.

4. Willie Mays (New York Mets)- Mays is widely regarded as one of the greatest outfielders of all time and blessed baseball with one of it’s greatest highlights. His career with the New York and then San Fransisco Giants was iconic. He was a rookie of the year, MVP, World Series champion, hit 646 home runs, and was an all around icon of the sport. In 1972 the then cash strapped Giants traded a 41 year old Mays to the Mets for next to nothing (Pitcher Charlie Williams who had a career 23-22 record with a 3.97 ERA and $50,000). Mays played in 135 games for the Mets between 1971 and 1972 and hit a combined .238/.352/.394 with 14 home runs and 44 RBIS. It was largely a PR move for the Mets but in Mays’ last year New York actually went the World Series, ultimately losing to the Oakland Athletics. During that series at 42 years old, Mays became the oldest position player in Major League Baseball history to appear in a World Series game.

3. Gordie Howe (Hartford Whalers)- Gordie Howe is literally Mr. Hockey. Until Wayne Gretzky came along, he was pretty indisputably the greatest hockey player ever. He made his NHL debut during the 1946-1947 season and played professional hockey for 32 seasons, not retiring until the 1970-1980 season when he was 52. When he retired he held pretty much every career scoring record you could think of. In those 32 seasons he spent 26 in the NHL and 25 of those in Detroit. After the 1970-1971 season wrist injuries forced Howe to retire and take a job with the Red Wings front office. But by 1973-1974 he was already back in hockey, this time with the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association who had recently signed both his sons to play as well. In the WHA he won two championships and an MVP. When the league folded in 1979 the team he was with, the New England Whalers, became the Hartford Whalers and joined the NHL. This all led to Howe playing one final NHL season with the Whalers before finally calling it quits for good. He wasn’t awful either. At 51 he played in all 80 games and scored 41 points, good for 7th on the team . He even managed to set one more record doing it too. At 52 year and 10 days, Howe became the oldest person to ever play an NHL game.

2. Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos)- Believe it or not this sort of thing where a franchise icon leaves for another team very late in their career has actually worked out pretty well once before. After a 13 incredible years with the Colts, a neck injury sidelined Manning for all of the 2011 season. The Colts spent that entire year looking at the future and tanking in order to secure Andrew Luck, widely regarded as one of the best college Quarterback prospects ever. After recovering from neck surgery Manning thought he had more left in the tank and ended up becoming one of the most sought after free agents of all time. He eventually landed with the Denver Broncos and the rest is history. As far as free agent signings go, Manning is one of the best ever. During his four seasons in Denver he posted a 45-12 record, threw for over 17,000 yards with 140 TD to just 53 INTs, picked up his fifth (and final) MVP and won Super Bowl 50 in what ended up being his final professional game. His final season in 2015 is one of the most bizarre endings to a career. By all accounts Manning was washed. Injuries and age caught up and he started just 9 games in which he didn’t even complete 60% of his passes and threw only 9 TDs to 17 INTs. However, he came back from the injury in the playoffs and led Denver to a Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers.

1. Michael Jordan (Washington Wizards)– In some ways the closest comparison to whats happening with Tom Brady right now is Michael Jordan. Widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time, Jordan changed the sport forever. He was a fierce competitor on and off the court and a titan of not just basketball, but sports and culture in general. That’s not hyperbole, the man was even given a Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also made one of the best sports movies of all time (any and all other opinions about this are wrong, sorry). His time with Chicago is legendary. In 13 seasons with the Bulls he won six championships, five MVPS, and brought Team USA home gold in two Olympics (including as a member of the famed Dream Team in 1992). After his second retirement in 1998 following his sixth and final championship, Jordan departed Chicago. In 2001 he came out of retirement and played for the Wizards. These are have widely been mocked and ridiculed as completely and totally unnecessary. Jordan had nothing to prove had already been retired for three seasons. Plus it wasn’t like the Wizards would be his bet to win a championship if he came back anyway. Well, in a move no one asked for Jordan ended up playing two full seasons in Washington. His Wizards career wasn’t great by any means, but it was far from sorry. Over the course of two seasons in Washington, Jordan played 142 game, made two all star game, and averaged 20+ points per game both seasons. His 2001 season was cut short by injury, but in it he actually led the team in scoring, assists, and steals.

Obviously Tampa is hoping that the Brady signing ends up going like Peyton Manning’s swan song in Denver and not the Johny Unitas route. Regardless, fans are never going to be used to see Brady wear anything other than Patriots colors on Sundays. At least he will be in some pretty good company when he does finally don his Buccaneers jersey (here’s hoping they bring back those creamsicle jerseys).

So what do you think? How is Brady going to do down in Tampa Bay? Whats the most egregious case of a sports icon ending their career with the wrong team? Let me know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and The Most Egregious Cases of Icons Finishing Their Careers Elsewhere

  1. Nice list and agree with the choices. The post reminds me of how much I dislike the one day contract trend for athletes coming back to orgs to end their careers…

    Liked by 1 person

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