Just last year, we’d have thought it’d be strange to see Tom Brady in another uniform. Well, after Brady’s signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we’re going to see him donning a different look as well as playing in a different conference as he enters his 21st season in the NFL.
However, in hindsight, we will always picture Tom Brady in a Patriots’ uniform. Today, I’ve taken 25 NFL legends who wore different colors during the twilight of their careers. From Marion Motley to Tom Brady, these 25 players just didn’t look quite right when they went somewhere else.
Sure, some, like Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, succeeded in their new homes (Sanders played for several teams but returned after a 3-year layover with a new number) while others like Emmitt Smith, should’ve hung up the cleats. And still others on this list, like Joe Montana, displayed moderate success in their new homes.
Nonetheless, here is my ultimate list of 25 Hall of Fame or near Hall of Fame players who finished their career playing for someone else.
Marion Motley (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1955)
Motley was nothing short of a stud in Cleveland’s backfield during the team’s championship era. He averaged over 5.5 yards per carry, led the NFL in rushing in 1950, made a Pro Bowl that same year and was a 1st Team AAFC All-Pro in 1948 and a 1st Team NFL All-Pro in 1950.
He’s a member of the NFL’s 75th and 100th-Anniversary teams and a member of the NFL’s 1940s All-Decade Team, despite playing in a different league. He led the AAFC in rushing yards in 1948 and he led the league in rushing in 1949. It should also be noted that along with teammate Bill Willis and the LA Rams’ Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, he broke the NFL’s color barrier after the league banned black players for a time.
After his success in Cleveland, Motley swung over to Pittsburgh to finish his career with the Browns’ turnpike rivals. Here’s a photo of Motley as a Cleveland Brown and here’s one during his final season as a Steeler.
Johnny Unitas (San Diego Chargers, 1973)
Johnny U had a storied history with the Baltimore Colts and was known for his loyalty to Baltimore – so much that he cut ties with the Colts upon the team moving to Indianapolis. Unitas won the 1958 NFL Championship, known as the Greatest Game Ever Played, won Super Bowl V, and also won two more NFL Championships.
He made the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade Team and is a member of the 75th and 100th-Anniversary Teams.
However, Unitas finished is career in 1973 with the San Diego Chargers. Here’s a photo of him during his Baltimore Colts days, and here’s one of him suiting up for the Chargers, breeding another future NFL legend in then-rookie Dan Fouts.
Joe Namath is synonymous with the New York Jets. When you think of Namath, you might not realize he finished his career as a member of the Los Angeles Rams in 1977.
While Namath was known as the NFL’s first diva who guaranteed a win in Super Bowl III – and won – he also held numerous accomplishments such as Super Bowl MVP, a selection to the 1972 Pro Bowl, 1972 First Team All-Pro, two AFL MVPs, and was a three-time AFL All Pro.
While Namath’s time in LA was short-lived, having appeared in just four games, he nonetheless retired wearing a uniform that was different from what we were used to seeing. Here’s the uniform we’re used to seeing him in. Here’s the uniform you may not have seen in.
Tony Dorsett helped fuel the Cowboys in the latter part of the 1970s and most of the 1980s, earning four trips to the Pro Bowl, a First Team and two Second Team All-Pro’s, and held the record for longest touchdown run from scrimmage before Derrick Henry tied it.
When you picture Dorsett, you picture the Hall of Fame running back as a member of the Cowboys. But Dorsett played one more season. In 1988, he shifted conferences and played his final season as a member of the Denver Broncos. Here’s the picture we’re used to versus the one we’re not used to.
Campbell is known for his time with the Houston Oilers and is one of very few players where ESPN will depict the Oilers logo in the background of his photo. Campbell was one of the team’s brightest stars during its run in Houston from 1960-1996, earning five Pro Bowl berths, spots on the All-Pro Team, and winning Offensive Player of the Year three times.
What’s lesser known is that Campbell was traded to the Saints halfway through 1984 for a 1st round pick, and finished his career with the team in 1985.
Joe Montana was arguably the most decorated quarterback in NFL history before Brady burst onto the scene in 2000 – well, 2001. Montana fueled the 49ers to four Super Bowl Championships in the 1980s, winning three Super Bowl MVPs among other honors.
Like Brady, Montana attended a major college football program but wasn’t slated to do much in the NFL, falling to the third round in the NFL Draft, and like Brady, mainly sat during his rookie season. But, Montana ended his career still going strong in 1993 and 1994 with the Kansas City Chiefs, leading the team to its final playoff victory for the next two decades.
Of all the big names here, Art Monk might be the one least known – but that doesn’t make his accomplishments lesser. Monk was a force for the Washington Redskins over 14 seasons. He won three Super Bowls, earned three Pro Bowl berths, two All Pro Team selections, and much more among other accomplishments.
While known for his time with the Redskins, Monk is the first player on this list to finish his career in TWO different cities, playing with the New York Jets in 1994 and the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995. Here’s the shot of Monk with the Redskins, and here’s one with the Jets, and one during his final season with the Eagles.
Rod Woodson is one of the most storied players to ever strap on a Steelers helmet. From 1987 to 1996, he was the soul of the Steelers defense, constantly earning Pro Bowl berths and spots on the All-Pro team. He earned one Super Bowl trip with the Steelers in a 27-17 loss to their inter-conference rival, the Dallas Cowboys.
Woodson is the first player on this list to move onto three different cities after his time in Pittsburgh. He first ventured to San Francisco in 1997 and played a year with the 49ers before heading off to Baltimore to spend four seasons as a member of the Steelers’ chief rival, the Ravens, where he won a Super Bowl. Finally, he ended his career with the Oakland Raiders, earning one final Super Bowl appearance.
We all might remember Shannon Sharpe as the solid tight-end fueling the Broncos’ 1997 and 1998 Super Bowl runs. From 1990 to 1999, Sharpe played in Denver as a member of the Broncos before switching to purple and black to play in Baltimore for two seasons.
Sharpe is unique to this list as he actually returned to Denver for his final two seasons – however I decided to include Sharpe on this list due to his two seasons in Baltimore versus twelve in Denver. Further, Sharpe’s success in Denver warranted me to include him while he was a member of the Ravens.
Nonetheless, this is how we remember Shannon Sharpe versus how we don’t quite remember the Hall of Fame tight-end. Also, here’s a photo of Sharpe early in his career prior to the Broncos’ 1997 uniform switch.
Bruce Smith holds the NFL record for number of sacks, with 200. He made 11 Pro Bowls, was ten-time All Pro selection, and was twice selected as NFL Defensive Player of the Year. From 1985 to 1999, Smith terrorized opposing quarterbacks en route to four straight Super Bowl appearances during his time with the Bills.
From 2000 to 2003, Smith took his talents to DC and finished his career with the Redskins. While he was past his prime, he still provided solid numbers during his time in Washington.
Emmitt Smith won three Super Bowls in Dallas as the soul of the Cowboys’ dynasty in what became known as ‘The Triplets,’ along with Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. In 2002, he set a record that still stands today as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. He earned six All-Pro selections and went to eight Pro Bowls during his time with the Cowboys.
In 2003, Smith signed with the Arizona Cardinals, posting sub par numbers for two seasons.
Here’s a player who spent the majority of his seasons with the Cardinals and during the team’s darkest years prior to 2008 where they routinely finished at the bottom of the league, Williams was a bright spot. He was part of the 1998 team that won its first playoff game in decades and during his time in Arizona he made six Pro Bowls, four All-Pro selections, and made the 1990s All-Decade Team.
Williams finished his career with the St. Louis Rams, appearing in his first Super Bowl in 2001, which kicked off the Brady era – who is ironically the reason I’m writing this long article.
Arguably the greatest player in NFL history and definitely the greatest to ever play the game among non-quarterbacks, Rice was a 1st round draft pick for the San Francisco 49ers and the 1st overall pick in the USFL by the Birmingham Stallions. Rice chose to play his professional ball in San Francisco while the USFL folded, embarking on a storied career that involved three Super Bowls, thirteen Pro Bowls, twelve All-Pro selections, and he still holds five NFL records at the time of this writing.
After sixteen seasons in San Francisco, Rice headed to Oakland and spent four years with the Raiders, before finishing his career with the Seahawks. Rice briefly was a member of the Denver Broncos, but never appeared in a game, opting to retire prior to the 2005 season.
Here’s a photo of Rice during the familiar era with the Niners, and here’s Rice with the Raiders. Finally, here’s a photo of him with the Seahawks, and another during the 2005 preseason with the Broncos.
Deion’s included not because he spent bits and pieces of his career with four NFL franchises (Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas, and Washington), wearing his familiar #21 jersey.
I included Deion because he retired from 2001-2003 before succeeding in a comeback attempt, playing for the Baltimore Ravens in 2004 and 2005. While it’s strange seeing Deion in a Redskins uniform, it’s even stranger seeing him wearing not just a Ravens uniform, but also for the first time in his NFL career, a different number – #37.
Okay, so for the record Steve McNair played in two cities, but for one franchise – the Houston Oilers, who drafted him in 1993, and the Tennessee Titans, who are a continuation of the Oilers’ lineage at the time of this writing.
McNair become more synonymous with the Titans, having been a Titan between 1999 and 2005 while playing for the Houston/Tennessee Oilers from 1993 to 1998. McNair then took his services to Baltimore, where he played for the Ravens between 2006 and 2007.
Brian Dawkins was a member of that dangerous Philadelphia Eagles team that earned four straight trips to the NFC Championship and a Super Bowl appearance in 2004. Dawkins was one of the staples, playing in Philadelphia from 1996-2008 before moving onto the Denver Broncos, where he played out his final three seasons.
Junior Seau was a staple in the Chargers’ defense from 1990 to 2002 where he saw the good, the bad, and the ugly, plus one Super Bowl appearance. The Hall of Fame linebacker then moved onto Miami from 2003 to 2005 before retiring prior to the 2006 season.
However, after announcing his retirement, Seau signed with the New England Patriots and remained with the team for the remainder of his career, retiring for good after the 2009 season.
A future article will be composed of a list of NFL stars who succeeded in cities that didn’t draft them but were mere busts in the city that did. Brett Favre will be number one at that list, as he spent his rookie year as a member of the Atlanta Falcons before moving to Green Bay in just his second season.
Between 1992 and 2007, Brett Favre never missed a start, earning two Super Bowl berths and a Super Bowl championship, setting a record for most career touchdown passes (which has since been broken) among other accolades. Then came the retirement/unretirement carousal, which culminated in Favre retiring for good after the 2007 season.
Or so we thought – Favre would later be granted reinstatement and played with the New York Jets for a season before heading off to Minnesota, a team he tore apart almost annually, for two seasons before finally calling it quits after 2010.
LaDainian Tomlinson helped reinvigorate the Chargers after his first few lean seasons in the league – well, lean for the Chargers, Pro Bowl-caliber for him. He was their only bright spot on offense for one that featured a then-struggling Drew Brees.
However, the Chargers broke out, and Tomlinson led the charge until his time in San Diego ended in 2009. He finished his career with the New York Jets in 2010 and 2011.Tomlinson, at the time of this writing, still holds three NFL records, one of which he’s tied with another player.
Before Tom Brady signed with the Buccaneers, no one ever thought we’d see Peyton Manning in another NFL uniform. Well, that changed in 2012 when the Colts finished 2-14 and Andrew Luck, one of the most sought after prospects in 30 seasons, entered the draft.
It left Manning expendable, so he signed with Denver, yet continued to impress, setting a single-season record of 55 touchdown passes in 2013. Though 2014 was solid, Manning went completely downhill in 2015, posting his worst-ever passer rating.
However, he managed to appear in and win the Super Bowl in his final season, just as former Broncos’ legend John Elway did in his final season, which ironically was Manning’s rookie year.
Phillip Rivers is one of four active players I’m including on this list. As we all know, Rivers has been a member of the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers from 2004-2019. In March 2020, Rivers signed on with the Indianapolis Colts. While Rivers has yet to appear in a Super Bowl, his numbers do show legendary status, with eight Pro Bowls and 397 career touchdown passes.
He’s been one of the better quarterbacks in the league and will be serviceable for the Colts as they likely draft his potential replacement to sit behind the 38-year-old.
Terrell Suggs fueled the Ravens from 2003 to 2018. He then moved on and played with the Cardinals before being released in December 2019 and signing on with the Kansas City Chiefs. The move worked for the future Hall of Fame pass rusher, as he would win the Super Bowl with the team just two months later.
Just two seasons ago, we thought Witten was finished, having retired as a Cowboy after fifteen seasons. After a year in the broadcast booth, Witten returned to the Cowboys and posted a respectable 63-reception season after one season removed.
The future Hall of Fame tight-end is on the move again, this time signing a deal with the Las Vegas Raiders, giving the aging tight-end a chance to extend his already legendary stats for his position.
Here’s Witten in a Cowboys uniform and I’ll be certain to update when he makes his first appearance in silver and black on the Las Vegas strip.
And finally, we got Tom Brady, the Greatest of All-Time – the G.O.A.T heading somewhere else and playing in a different uniform for the first time in his soon-to-be 21 season career.
We all know what Brady did in New England, so I’m going to rehash some old hash. And for historical references, I’m going to link a photo of Brady with the Patriots, and a photoshopped one of Brady as a Buccaneer, but remember, the uniform will be changing in April, so this isn’t the look you’ll all see in August, when Brady turns 43.