Some players have such an impact on their teams and fan bases that the idea of them wearing the uniform of another team is just… unfathomable. But it happens, and it happens a lot more these days. Free agency and the salary cap could be to blame, or it could be a lack of loyalty and ties to any one team. Who’s to say.
In 2012 we’ll see another such legend suit up in a uniform we’d never have previously imagined when Peyton Manning sheds his Indianapolis Colts duds in exchange for a Denver Broncos uni. While it may be hard to see today, in 20-or-so years people are going to forget Manning ever played for the Broncos, let’s be honest.
Having said that, let’s take a look at some of the more legendary players who signed up for a season or two at the end of their careers with a team many of us would have never associated their names and faces with…
Joe Namath, Los Angeles Rams
Yes, I know it’s weird, that’s the whole point of this post, but it’s true: Broadway Joe did indeed take his act from New York to L.A. following a legendary career as a New York Jet. Namath’s forgettable career as a Los Angeles Ram lasted all of four games during the 1977 season.
Namath led the NY Jets to their only Super Bowl title at Super Bowl III in 1968, playing 12 seasons with the Jets and making 126 starts at quarterback from 1965-1976. Over two seasons from 1968-69, the Namath-led Jets went 21-7.
In May of 1977 the Jets waived Namath and he signed with the L.A. Rams quickly thereafter. He made four starts with the Rams that year but suffered an injury and didn’t make another appearance, retiring at the end of the ’77 season and never playing again.
Johnny Unitas, San Diego Chargers
After 17 seasons as the starting quarterback for the Baltimore Colts, during which his teams won a Super Bowl and an additional three NFL Championships, Johnny Unitas moved across the country to San Diego to finish his career as a Charger at the age of 40.
Johnny’s Baltimore Colts teams went an incredible 117-61-4 in the 182 games he started for them, and he had 2,796 completions for 39,768 yards (oh-so-close to 40k).
In 1973, Johnny Unitas was traded to the San Diego Chargers to be their starting quarterback. Unitas lasted four games, during which the Chargers went 1-3, before he was replaced by rookie QB Dan Fouts. He made one last appearance in Week 8 before spending the remainder of the season on the sidelines.
Unitas retired following that 1973 season but was able to surpass the 40,000 passing yards mark while he was with the Bolts.
O.J. Simpson, San Francisco 49ers
Perhaps at this point, seeing O.J. Simpson in anything other than a prison uniform would be considered by most as him being in the “wrong” uniform, but alas we’ll stick to the football side of things here. Like the first two on this list, The Juice went to California after spending several seasons back east.
Simpson spent the first nine seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the Buffalo Bills, rushing for over 10,000 yards during that time.
Prior to the 1978 season, the Bills traded the injury-plagued Simpson to San Francisco where he would play the final two seasons of his career. O.J. played 23 games with the 49ers from 1978-1979 where he rushed for another thousand yards. When Simpson retired following the 1979 season was ranked 2nd all-time for rushing yards with 11,236.
And then yadda, yadda, yadda, he’ll be eligible for parole in 2017.
Joe Montana, Kansas City Chiefs
Four (yes, FOUR!) Super Bowls, eight Pro Bowls, two MVP awards. That was Joe Montana’s career as a San Francisco 49er. Montana played 13 seasons with the 49ers, the final seasons riddled with injuries which limited him to just one appearance over two years.
Because of the injuries, and the emergence of Steve Young as San Fran’s new quarterback, Montana was traded to Kansas City in April 1993.
Montana with the Kansas City Chiefs is weird for two reasons. First, the obvious: h eisn’t wearing a San Francisco 49ers uniform. But more importantly, the #19?! Montana in anything other than a #16 jersey is just criminal. Montana was reportedly offered the #16 (which had been retired by the Chiefs) but he turned it down.
Unlike the others on this list, Montana was actually quite successful during his time in a wrong uniform. He spent two seasons with the Chiefs, throwing for over 5,000 yards and guiding the team to a 17-8 record over that span. The Montana-led Chiefs made it to the AFC Championship Game before losing to the Bills during Buffalo’s string of four consecutive AFC crowns.
After the 1994 season Montana announced his retirement at a special ceremony in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.
Bonus: Joe Montana, New York Jets
Yes, you’re right! Joe Montana never played for the New York Jets. He did, however, wear the uniform in a commercial for one of the Madden NFL video games. Advertising the new ability to trade players, in the commercial Joe gets sacked and magically transforms from his KC Chiefs outfit into this NY Jets uniform exclaiming “Oh man! I just bought a house!”. He kept his #19 too.
We’ll do this again sometime soon, and we’d love to hear who you’d like to see featured in a future edition of the NFL’s Legendary Players in Wrong Uniforms.
Check out Chris’s sports logo and uniform history website over at SportsLogos.Net.