20 Legendary Athletes Who Finished Up With Another Team
Here are 20 all-time greats who spent almost their entire career with one franchise before retiring with another.
1. Johnny Unitas – San Diego Chargers
The Baltimore Colts began a youth movement in 1972 by benching Unitas, their quarterback of 17 years, early in the season. In 1973, Baltimore traded the 39-year-old to the San Diego Chargers. The split wasn’t amicable.
“You can fry an egg too long,” Colts general manager Joe Thomas said. “The deal is done, and that’s it. He’s their property, period. From here on in, I will have nothing to say about Johnny Unitas.” Unitas, who sued the Colts for $725,000 on charges of a malicious breach of contract, was benched at halftime in his fourth game with the Chargers in favor of rookie Dan Fouts. He retired during training camp the following year.
2. Joe Namath – Los Angeles Rams
The New York Jets elected not to renew Broadway Joe’s $450,000 contract after the 1976 season, and who could blame them? The gimpy-kneed Namath, who earned legend status in New York after guaranteeing victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and backing it up, was 4-17 as the Jets’ starter over the previous two seasons.
“It’s a strange feeling; it hasn’t really hit home yet,” Al Ward, the Jets’ general manager said after releasing Namath. “I don’t think it’ll really sink in until I see him in a different uniform for the first time.” Namath signed with the Rams for an estimated $150,000 and started four games in his only season in Los Angeles before retiring.
3. Hakeem Olajuwon – Toronto Raptors
“I feel like a rookie again,” Hakeem Olajuwon said after a sign-and-trade agreement sent the 12-time NBA All-Star from the Houston Rockets to the Toronto Raptors in 2001. “I’m excited. It’s a new opportunity to establish myself.” The Dream’s one year in Toronto wasn’t a total nightmare, as the Raptors finished 42-40 and made the playoffs, but Olajuwon averaged only 7.1 points and 6 rebounds per game. A serious back injury led Olajuwon to retire after the season. He's pictured here with Patrick Ewing, who played for the Seattle Supersonics and Orlando Magic after his storied career with the New York Knicks.
4. O.J. Simpson - San Francisco 49ers
After his legendary career with the Buffalo Bills and years before his famous trial, O.J. Simpson quietly ended his football career on two terrible San Francisco 49ers teams in 1978-79. Here he is walking off the field after his last game.
5. Willie Mays – New York Mets
Willie Mays spent the first 21 seasons of his remarkable career with the New York and San Francisco Giants. With Mays batting only .184 in 19 games, the Giants traded him to the New York Mets for minor league pitcher Charlie Williams and cash in May 1972. Mays had been benched in San Francisco and Giants owner Horace Stoneham couldn’t afford to pay his former star after his playing days were over. “I’m not going to be something on display,” Mays said of the move. “I have to play ball. If used in the right way, I think I can do a good job for the Mets.” In his Mets debut, Mays hit a go-ahead home run in a 5-4 win over his former team. Mays finished with 8 home runs in 1972 and retired after hitting six more in 1973, bringing his career total to 660.
6. Yogi Berra – New York Mets
After 17 seasons as a catcher with the New York Yankees, Yogi Berra (pictured with Roger Maris) took over as manager in 1964. He was fired after one season and joined the New York Mets in 1965 as a player and assistant to manager Casey Stengel, who managed Berra for 11 of his 17 seasons with the Yankees. Berra went 2-for-9 in four games with the Mets before retiring as an active player one day before his 40th birthday. “This is it,” Berra told reporters on May 11. “I’m through as a player forever. I can’t do it no more. It’s tough to play even once a week. That year’s layoff did it.” Berra served as a coach for the Mets for the next 8 years before becoming manager in 1972.
7. Joe Montana – Kansas City Chiefs
With Montana recovering from an elbow injury, Steve Young took the reins of the San Francisco 49ers’ offense in 1991 and 1992. He never let go. In 1993, San Francisco traded Montana, safety David Whitmore, and a third-round pick to Kansas City for the Chiefs’ first-round pick. The move worked out well for both teams. Young continued to thrive in San Francisco, while Montana, who won four Super Bowls in 13 seasons with the 49ers, guided the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game. He missed most of the second half of Kansas City’s loss to the Bills with a mild concussion and retired after the Chiefs lost in the first round of the playoffs the following year.
8. Franco Harris – Seattle Seahawks
Franco Harris won four Super Bowls during his 12 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who drafted the running back out of Penn State in 1972. Coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season and only 363 yards shy of passing Jim Brown as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, the 34-year-old Harris held out for more money during training camp in 1984. The Steelers responded by releasing him, but Harris wasn’t out of the league for long.
The Seattle Seahawks signed him for an estimated $500,000 after losing leading rusher Curt Warner to an injury in the season-opener. Harris quickly took a liking to the Emerald City. “Everything here has been totally impressive,” he said. “The people, the scenery – I guess the only thing is, I’m not a big salmon eater. Everywhere we go, people want to feed me salmon.” Harris rushed for 170 yards in eight games with the Seahawks before being released.
9. Michael Jordan – Washington Wizards
Three years after his second retirement from basketball, Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan returned to the court in 2001 with the Washington Wizards. Jordan had served as part owner and the president of basketball operations for the beleaguered franchise since January 2000, and was responsible for drafting high school standout Kwame Brown with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. Jordan averaged more than 20 points per game in each of his two seasons with the Wizards, but Washington failed to make the playoffs both years. In November 2002, Jordan announced that he would retire at the end of the season.
10. Ray Bourque – Colorado Avalanche
At the 2000 NHL trade deadline, the Boston Bruins dealt their legendary 39-year-old defenseman Ray Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche. “We limited ourselves to teams where Raymond Bourque would have a chance to win the Stanley Cup,” Bruins general manager Harry Sinden said. The Avs lost in the Western Conference finals, but Bourque returned to Colorado for the 2000-01 season. He tallied 59 points during the regular season and 10 more in the playoffs, which culminated in him hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time. Bourque retired after the season.
11. Karl Malone – Los Angeles Lakers
After 18 seasons in Utah, Karl Malone took less money in 2003 to join what some pundits dubbed the Dream Team. Malone and fellow free agent Gary Payton signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, who, with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal leading the way, were one season removed from winning their third straight NBA title. At 40 years old, the Mailman was hungry for his first championship. He averaged 13.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game and helped the Lakers advance to the NBA Finals, where they lost to Detroit in five games. Malone missed the final three games of that series and underwent knee surgery after the season. He didn’t play another game.
12. Tony Dorsett – Denver Broncos
Tony Dorsett spent the first 11 years of his career with the Dallas Cowboys. When the former Pitt star was relegated to a backup role behind Herschel Walker, Dorsett requested a trade. The Cowboys granted him his wish, dealing him to the Denver Broncos in 1988 for a conditional fifth-round draft pick. Dorsett started 13 games with the Broncos, rushing for 703 yards and five touchdowns. After announcing that the 1989 season would be his last, Dorsett suffered two ligament tears in training camp. He sat out the season and retired after the Broncos lost to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV. Dorsett came out of retirement 8 months later to work out at Cowboys training camp, but he failed to make the team.
13. Emmitt Smith – Arizona Cardinals
Emmitt Smith won three Super Bowls and set the NFL’s all-time rushing record in his 13 seasons with the Cowboys. Shortly after Dallas released the 33-year-old Smith in 2003, he inked a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals. “I’ve always been very confident in my abilities,” Smith said. “I think I’m a 1,300-yard back, and I will be out to prove that.” Smith fell short of that goal. A shoulder injury limited him to 90 carries over 10 games in his first season in the desert. Smith rebounded to rush for a respectable 937 yards and nine touchdowns in 2004 before retiring.
14. Raúl – Schalke
After 16 years with Real Madrid, where he helped win three Champions League titles and became the club’s all-time leading scorer, Raúl signed a two-year contract with Schalke of the Bundesliga in 2010. “I have come to Schalke because I really wanted to get experience of playing abroad,” he said. While he previously talked of retiring after the 2011 season, Raúl has reportedly been offered a contract extension.
15. Merlene Ottey – Slovenia
From 1980 to 2000, Merlene Ottey won nine Olympic medals in track and field while competing for her native Jamaica. In 1998, Ottey moved to Slovenia. According to the Los Angeles Times, she told the international track federation that she preferred the country’s calm lifestyle. In 2002, Ottey became a Slovenian citizen and started representing her new home country in international events. She reached the semifinals in the 100 meters at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
16. Gordie Howe – Hartford Whalers
Gordie Howe won four Stanley Cups and was named the NHL’s most valuable player six times in his 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. Howe retired in 1971 but returned to the ice with the WHA’s Houston Aeros in 1973. In addition to a fat contract, the Aeros offered Howe a chance to play on the same line as his sons, Marty and Mark. Howe returned to the NHL for the 1979-80 season, scoring 15 goals for the Hartford Whalers. Not bad for a 51-year-old grandfather. Howe retired after the season.
17. Harmon Killebrew – Kansas City Royals
Harmon Killebrew spent the first 21 seasons of his career with the same franchise. Killer hit 559 home runs with the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins (the franchise relocated following the 1960 season) and signed with the Kansas City Royals in 1975. Killebrew hit 14 home runs in his only season with the Royals, including one against the Twins in his final trip to Minnesota. Kansas City announced that it would release him in September and Killebrew, who ranked fifth on the career home run list, retired after the season.
18. Bobby Orr – Chicago Blackhawks
Bobby Orr played the first 10 seasons of his NHL career with the Boston Bruins and the final two with the Chicago Blackhawks after leaving via free agency in 1976. Years later, Orr blamed his departure on his agent, Alan Eagleson. Orr said that Eagleson, who was later convicted of fraud and embezzlement, misrepresented the Bruins’ offer to him when his contract expired. Specifically, Eagleson failed to mention that the Bruins offered him 18.5 percent ownership in the team in addition to his salary.
19. Pele – New York Cosmos
Pelé played 17 seasons with Santos in his native Brazil and retired from the team in 1972 as its all-time leading scorer. Pelé signed a contract with the North American Soccer League’s New York Cosmos for a reported $4.5 million in 1975 and led the team to the NASL championship before retiring for good.
20. Hank Aaron – Milwaukee Brewers
Hammerin’ Hank started and ended his career in Milwaukee, but for different franchises. Aaron played 21 seasons for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, setting the all-time home run record, which has since been surpassed by Barry Bonds, in April 1974. The Braves traded Aaron to the Milwaukee Brewers after the season. “I will do whatever I can to help the ball club,” the 41-year-old Aaron said. “I wouldn’t want to be purely a designated hitter.” Aaron appeared in 137 games for the Brewers in 1975 and hit 12 home runs in 465 at-bats. He retired after hitting 10 more homers in 1976.
“What about Jerry Rice?!”
We tried to limit this list to all-time greats who played the majority of their careers with one team and then played for only one other team before retiring. That’s why guys like Rice, Reggie White, Brett Favre, Babe Ruth, Dennis Rodman, Deion Sanders, Tom Seaver and the aforementioned Patrick Ewing – all of whom played for at least three teams – don’t appear. But that doesn't mean we didn't forget someone – or multiple people, like Mays, Aaron, Pele and Orr (we've since tacked them on). Share your own favorites in the comments.
This post originally appeared in 2012 after Peyton Manning signed with the Broncos.