The biggest news of this off-season in the NFL has been the release and resulting free-agency frenzy of Peyton Manning. The Indianapolis Colts, facing salary cap issues as well as a concern about the direction of the team, released the future Hall-of-Famer. This left Colts fans to ponder what the world will look like without their favorite field general in a Colts jersey; and Broncos fans rejoicing at the possibility of having the best QB in Denver since Hall-of-Famer John Elway retired.
Colts fans had their hands over their eyes when Manning finally decided to sign with the Denver Broncos. Football fans everywhere are curiously anticipating the moment Peyton Manning dons a Broncos jersey, and hoping his injured neck healed sufficiently to provide more great memories on the gridiron.
Looking back on other sports, Babe Ruth made his final baseball appearance in the uniform of the Boston Braves, Hank Aaron finished in a Brewers jersey and Willie Mays in Mets colors. In basketball, West Coast icon Bill Walton became a vital bench player for the Boston Celtics. In football, NFL fans everywhere have been shocked at the sight of their team’s all-time great in another team’s threads. Here are the most memorable franchise quarterbacks to have been kicked to the curb.
The three time Super Bowl MVP of the San Francisco 49ers performed miracles in the City by the Bay from 1979 to 1990. After two injury plagued years and the development of future Super Bowl hero, Steve Young, Montana spent 1993 and 1994 guiding the Kansas City Chiefs into the playoffs.
No story in NFL history is quite so compelling as Broadway Joe and the New York Jet’s triumph over the mighty Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Guaranteeing a victory over a team that had lost only once, Namath guided the Jets to the AFL’s first Super Bowl win. Fresh out of Alabama, Namath quarterbacked the Jets from 1965 to 1976 while hobbled on brittle knees. Finally, in 1977, at age 34, Namath spent most of the year on the bench of the Los Angeles Rams.
Moon, who began his career in the Canadian Football League, quarterbacked the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) from 1984 to 1993 transforming his team from a sad-sack outfit to a perennial playoff contender. The nine-time Pro Bowler spent the last several years of his career (and well into his forties) in the uniform of the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs.
The former Arena League pro found himself in the pocket of the “greatest show on turf” with the St. Louis Rams in 1999. That season the league MVP led the Rams to a dramatic Super Bowl win over the Tennessee Titans and continued to pilot the Rams until 2003. Warner’s career continued with the New York Giants and a few stellar seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before retiring after the 2009 season.
After a standout college career at Syracuse, McNabb was installed as the starter for the Philadelphia Eagles in mid-season, 1999. The veteran of 16 post season games, McNabb was the unquestioned field general for the Eagles until 2009. Spending 2010 with the Washington Redskins and this past season with the Minnesota Vikings, McNabb is still looking for somewhere to throw spirals in 2012.
After a brief time with the Atlanta Falcons that included only four pass attempts, Favre became the Legend of Lambeau in 1992. The three-time MVP led the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl win in 1996 and solidified his position in the hearts of Packer faithful by the time his tenure ended in 2007. After highly publicized negotiations, Favre was finally given his release and spent 2008 with the New York Jets and 2009-10 with the Minnesota Vikings.
Passed up by his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers, Unitas was a perfect fit for the horseshoe of the Baltimore Colts. Becoming a starter in 1956, Unitas brought the NFL to the big time with the 1958 NFL Championship win over the New York Giants in Yankee Stadium. Winning the NFL Championship again in 1959, the ten-time Pro-Bowler also took part in NFL championships in 1968 and Super Bowl V in 1970. Since Baltimore Colts football was nearly a religious experience in those days, many Colts fans could not believe their eyes when a 40-year-old Unitas dawned the powder blue jersey of the San Diego Chargers for his final season in 1973.
Be cheered, Payton Manning fans. While it will take a while to adjust, you will soon get used to the idea that your hero is wearing a Denver Broncos uniform. Yet, as is evident by the stories above, he will always and for all time be a Colt just as Unitas was, as Favre is a Packer, Namath a Jet and Montana is still revered in San Francisco.