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Franchise quarterbacks ending careers with new teams doesn’t always go well

Rookie Vince Ferragamo (15) poses with veteran Rams quarterbacks Joe Namath (12) and Pat Haden (11) during training camp in 1977.
Rookie Vince Ferragamo (15) poses with veteran Rams quarterbacks Joe Namath (12) and Pat Haden (11) during training camp in 1977.
(David F. Smith / Associated Press)

Dennis Harrah had a lot more fun as Joe Namath’s wingman in the nightclubs of Long Beach than the former Rams offensive lineman did trying to block for the broken-down quarterback in 1977.

“I lived next to Joe in Belmont Shore, and we used to go to Bobby McGee’s,” said Harrah, an All-Pro guard who played 13 years (1975-1987) in Los Angeles. “I would go just to be around the girls who wanted to be around Joe. That was one of the highlights of my career.”

Protecting Namath on the field was more of a chore. Namath was 34 with a pair of balky knees when the Rams signed the 12-year veteran in 1977, hoping the former New York Jets star would give young quarterbacks Pat Haden and Vince Ferragamo room to grow.

The experiment lasted all of four games, Namath completing 50 of 107 passes for 606 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions before he was benched in favor of Haden in Week 5.

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New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath fades back to pass against the Cincinnati Bengals at Shea Stadium in New York on Dec. 8, 1968.
New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath fades back to pass against the Cincinnati Bengals at Shea Stadium in New York on Dec. 8, 1968.
(Associated Press)

Namath’s Hall-of-Fame career ended on a cold, windy and rainy October Monday night in Chicago, where he took a beating while completing 16 of 40 passes for 203 yards and four interceptions, with a fifth pick nullified by a penalty.

Namath was sacked twice and knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter by Bears linebacker Waymond Bryant, who delivered a punishing blow with which Harrah, then a third-year pro, took exception.

“The guy absolutely buried Joe,” said Harrah, now 67 and living in Paso Robles, Calif. “I got in a fight with him and punched him in the stomach. I got ejected — it was the only time I was ever kicked out of a game — and fined $500 because I was trying to defend Joe Namath.”

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The Saints and record-setting quarterback Drew Brees have agreed on a two-year, $50-million contract, a person familiar with the situation told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been announced.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who agreed to a deal with Tom Brady on Tuesday, can only hope that the career of the former New England star, who led the Patriots to six Super Bowl championships in 20 years and will be 43 in August, doesn’t end like Namath’s.

The track record for aging Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks who leave the teams they starred for at the end of their careers is mixed.

Of the 26 modern-era quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, only four — Johnny Unitas, Namath, Joe Montana and Brett Favre — played at least 12 years for their main team before finishing their careers elsewhere.

Montana and Favre penned relatively happy endings to their storybook careers compared to Unitas and Namath, who could barely limp across the finish line.

Unitas was 40 when he was traded from Baltimore — where he amassed 39,768 yards passing and 287 touchdowns in 17 years (1956-1972), led the Colts to NFL championships in 1958 and 1959 and started in their Super Bowl V victory — to San Diego before the 1973 season.

Quarterbacks Johnny Unitas, left, and Earl Morrall.
Quarterbacks Johnny Unitas, left, and Earl Morrall.
(Associated Press)

The Chargers hoped the legendary Unitas would provide a one-year bridge between departed veteran John Hadl and Dan Fouts, the team’s third-round pick out of Oregon that year.

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Unitas’ creaky legs were not up to the task. In a season-opening 38-0 loss to the Washington Redskins, Unitas completed six of 17 passes for 55 yards with three interceptions, and he was sacked eight times.

The next two games provided hope, Unitas completing 25 of 49 passes for 390 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in a 34-7 win over Buffalo and a 20-13 loss to Cincinnati.

But a nearly immobile Unitas was benched after completing two of nine passes for 19 yards with two interceptions in a Week 4 loss to Pittsburgh. He threw one more pass that season before retiring.

The Rams signed Namath thinking he would revitalize his career after a 12-year run in New York (1965-1976), in which he passed for 27,057 yards and 170 touchdowns and led the Jets to an upset over Baltimore in Super Bowl III in January 1969.

The Chargers agreed to a three-year, $30-million deal with right tackle Bryan Bulaga, a starter for nine seasons in Green Bay.

But injuries — Namath added a sore hamstring to his bad knees — took a toll. Namath never threw another pass after he was knocked out of that Bears game, and retired after the season.

“Joe was the director on the field and we abided by his orders, but we had a limited offense because he couldn’t scramble at all,” Harrah said. “His mobility was very limited.”

Montana’s career, in which he passed for 35,124 yards and 244 touchdowns and led San Francisco to four Super Bowl wins from 1979-1990, appeared to be on life support when he missed all but one game of the 1990 and 1991 seasons because of an elbow injury.

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With Steve Young ready to take over as quarterback, the 49ers traded Montana, then 37, to Kansas City before the 1993 season.

Montana had plenty left in the tank, completing 480 of 791 passes for 5,427 yards with 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 25 starts in 1993 and 1994.

He led the Chiefs to come-from-behind wins over Pittsburgh and the Houston Oilers in the 1993 playoffs before an AFC championship-game loss to Buffalo. Montana led Kansas City to a 9-7 record in 1994, including a 24-17 win over Young and the 49ers, but the Chiefs lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Favre’s 16-year career with Green Bay, where he passed for 61,655 yards and 442 touchdowns, won three most valuable player awards and one Super Bowl in two appearances, seemed to end with the 39-year-old announcing his retirement in March 2008.

Five months later, Favre filed for reinstatement and was traded to the New York Jets, the Packers having handed the offense to Aaron Rodgers. Favre completed 343 of 522 passes for 3,472 yards with 22 touchdowns and 22 interceptions to lead the Jets to a 9-7 record in 2008.

Favre signed with Minnesota the following summer and completed 580 of 889 passes for 6,711 yards with 44 touchdowns and 26 interceptions in two seasons with the Vikings.

Minnesota went 12-4 in 2009 and advanced to the NFC title game, where the Vikings lost to the eventual Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints. Minnesota slipped to 6-10 in 2010, and Favre retired for good after the season.

He was 41 at the time — two years younger than Brady will be in the 2020 season.


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