Updated March 12, 2013
Many prominent players over the years have changed teams especially late in their careers. And, yes, the movement even came prior to the era of free agency. Several of these players include members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who've built their reputation with one team only to play out the twilight of their career in a different uniform. Two such players were Class of 2013 enshrinees Larry Allen who jumped from the Dallas Cowboys to the San Francisco 49ers and defensive tackle Warren Sapp who finished his Hall of Fame career with four seasons with the Oakland Raiders after nine star-studded seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Herb Adderley, a cornerback who excelled for the Green Bay Packers during the Lombardi era of the 1960s, finished his career by playing three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys from 1970-72. Fortunate for him, he was able to play in two more Super Bowls with the Cowboys including the team’s 24-3 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI following the ’71 season. In three years in Dallas, Adderley added nine interceptions to his career total including six in 1971.
Adderley was joined on those Cowboys teams of the early ‘70s by several other future Hall of Famers who had all made names for themselves with other teams. Tackle Forrest Gregg was labeled “the greatest player I’ve ever coached” by Vince Lombardi. Gregg played 14 seasons in Green Bay before suiting up for one final year in Dallas in 1971. Although he played for the squad that season, he did not play in Super Bowl VI. However, two other Hall of Fame greats not only played in that Super Bowl but each had a seven-yard TD catch from quarterback Roger Staubach.
Lance Alworth, one of the swiftest pass receivers of his era during nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers, played two final years with the Cowboys. He scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl VI while tight end Mike Ditka scored the game’s final tally. “Iron Mike” spent the majority of his career with the Chicago Bears then joined the Philadelphia Eagles before ending his career in Dallas.
Speaking of the Cowboys, running back Tony Dorsett was one of the most prolific runners in NFL history. The former Dallas first round pick played out his career with the Denver Broncos. He amassed a respectable 703 yards and scored 5 TDs during his final campaign in 1988.
It’s hard not to think of Alan Page in any uniform other than the purple of the Minnesota Vikings. A key cog in the club’s famed “Purple People Eaters,” the Hall of Fame defensive tackle was waived midway through the 1978 season. He signed with the division rival Chicago Bears. In just 10 games that year, he led the Bears with 11½ sacks including a pair of three-sack performances, one against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and other versus the Seattle Seahawks. In all, he played 3½ seasons in the Windy City before retiring.
Four of the five players in the Class of 2009 finished their career by changing teams. Randall McDaniel played his final two years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and earned a Pro Bowl berth his first season in Tampa.
Los Angeles Rams great Norm Van Brocklin led the NFL in passing three times during his days on the west coast. He finished his career with the Eagles and ended his Hall of Fame tenure in storybook fashion. In his final season in 1960, he led Philadelphia to an NFL championship while earning league MVP honors.
A couple other Hall of Fame quarterbacks also moved on to other teams at the end their star-studded careers. The legendary Johnny Unitas gained his fame as the leader of the Baltimore Colts. Johnny U. finished his career with the Chargers in 1973. Although he didn’t have great success in his only season in San Diego, he did reach a major milestone during that year while a member of the team. On September 30, 1973 in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Unitas became the first player in NFL history to pass for 40,000 yards in a career.
Joe Montana turned the San Francisco 49ers into the team of the ‘80s as he led the club to four Super Bowl titles. He earned Most Valuable Player honors in three of those victories. He moved on to Kansas City for two final seasons. He earned his eighth and final Pro Bowl berth as a member of the Chiefs in 1993 when he led the team to an AFC Western Division title and an appearance in the AFC championship game.
The New Orleans Saints lured two Packers running backs during its inaugural season in 1967 when the club signed fullback Jim Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung. While Hornung never ended up playing for the Saints, Taylor played in all 14 games that year. He rushed 130 times for 390 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns. He also caught 38 passes for 251 yards during his final NFL season.
Many of the game’s all-time leaders in major statistical categories also finished out their Hall of Famer careers by playing their final seasons with different teams. The game’s all-time sack leader Bruce Smith, Class of 2009, starred for the Buffalo Bills who had selected him as the first overall pick in the 1985 NFL Draft. He completed his Hall of Fame career by playing four seasons with the Washington Redskins. It was while with Washington that he surpassed Reggie White to become the NFL’s all-time sack leader. White, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers, also changed uniform at the end of his career. White’s final season came in 2000 as a member of the Carolina Panthers.
The NFL’s leading rusher and receiver were enshrined in to the Hall of Fame together in 2010. Running back Emmitt Smith became the all-time leader rusher while still with the Dallas Cowboys. He then moved on for two final seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. Jerry Rice racked up the majority of his record-setting 1,549 catches while a member of the San Francisco 49ers. He then played three-plus seasons with the Raiders and 11 games in his final year with Seattle.
Some other notable Hall of Famers who ended their careers with other teams:
Earl Campbell, the bruising fullback of the Houston Oilers, was traded to the Saints and played 1½ seasons in New Orleans.
The Seattle Seahawks was the team where two Hall of Famers played out their careers. Minnesota Vikings defensive end Carl Eller (1979) and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris (1984) ended their playing days in the Pacific Northwest.
Thurman Thomas, who is the Buffalo Bills all-time rushing leader, played for the Miami Dolphins in his final season.
Hugh McElhenny, a member of the 49ers’ famous “Million Dollar Backfield” in the 1950s played two seasons with the Vikings and one year each with the New York Giants and Detroit Lions before hanging up his cleats after the 1964 season.
Quarterback Joe Namath threw his last NFL pass as a member of the Los Angeles Rams in 1977. Namath made his reputation as the flamboyant QB of the New York Jets from 1965-1976.