There’s a chance that quarterback Tom Brady could be playing his last game with the New England Patriots on Saturday.
The Patriots play host to the Tennessee Titans in an AFC first-round playoff game, and Brady’s future with the franchise isn’t entirely clear. He has six Super Bowl rings, and belongs in the argument when debating the greatest player in NFL history. But he’s also 42 and his deal is due to void in March. There’s a chance the club doesn’t re-sign him and he winds up finishing his career in another city.
That wouldn’t be the first time a star player synonymous with one team wound up in another uniform.
New York Jets icon Joe Namath finished with the Rams. Baltimore star Johnny Unitas wound up with the Chargers. Pittsburgh Steelers legend Franco Harris closed his career with the Seattle Seahawks. San Francisco 49ers star Ronnie Lott finished with the Jets.
Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman played his entire career with the Dallas Cowboys, but said this week that he almost wound up signing with San Diego, then Philadelphia, and finally Miami.
Here, in Aikman’s words, is how those surprising scenarios unfolded:
The only two teams I wanted to play for coming out of UCLA were the Chargers and the Cowboys. The Chargers when I was coming out, they had the eighth pick and they took Burt Grossman, a defensive end from Pittsburgh. Dan Henning was San Diego’s head coach, and we had agreed to a bigger contract actually than what I was getting from the Cowboys.
But in order to get to the Chargers, there were seven teams that were going to have to not select me. So it was a real longshot, and the Cowboys were not going to trade the pick, and they wound up taking me first overall.
I thought I was going to play in San Diego after Dallas. The motivation behind that was Norv Turner, my offensive coordinator in Dallas who went on to the same job under Mike Riley with the Chargers.
Before I got released from the Cowboys, but after I knew I was going to be released, I went out to San Diego to see Norv. I wound up going to Dean Spanos’ house, visited with him, saw the team’s president of football. I had dinner with Norv, and I remember sitting with Norv at the restaurant saying, “Gosh, I just wish I knew what the future held. These last few years in Dallas have been really hard, and I just don’t want to be put in another situation where we’re just not competitive. I just wish I had a crystal ball.”
Norv gave me one of those great talks, and he said, “The greatness of this is we don’t know, and as competitors, you don’t want to know. You want to lay it all on the line, take the risks, and see what can happen.”
I said, “You know, you’re right. I want to come here and play.” I was excited about it.
I had met everyone in the building except John Butler, the general manager who had come from Buffalo. Norv thought I was going to be offered a contract, but Butler had other plans. He was looking at Doug Flutie or Rob Johnson, whichever one Buffalo was going to cut. Buffalo wound up keeping Johnson.
Flutie gets released, and the next morning I get a call from Norv. I was in Santa Barbara and he says, “You’re not going to believe this, but we just signed Doug Flutie.” And I said, “Well, OK, that makes the decision easy for me. I’ll retire.” So I did.
A year later, I was working for Fox and in San Diego in the booth. We did a game break in the second quarter saying Donovan McNabb was hurt in Philadelphia. It looked like he might have broken his ankle. All of a sudden, a producer says in my ear, “Hey, I need you to call somebody at halftime.” I said, “What?” He had never done that. He gave me a number and said, “It’s Andy Reid,” who was coach of the Eagles.
I stepped out of the booth and called Andy, and he explained the situation. He said, “Hey, we’re playing in San Francisco on Monday night, and you’ll be the starter.” I said, “Andy, I haven’t played in two years.” He says, “You’ll be all right.”
I told him I didn’t even know the offense, and he says, “That’s OK. Same concepts. We’ll make it work. You’ll be fine.”
I told him I’d call him after the game, and we had a lot of time to talk because I was driving up to my home in Santa Barbara. I told Andy I’d like to sleep on it and that I’d call him the next day. So I went to bed that night and said, “I can wake up tomorrow and spend a nice couple of days in Santa Barbara. Or, I can be in frigid Philadelphia getting my brains kicked in.”
That was the end of that, but it wasn’t the last time I considered coming back.
I also considered playing for the Miami Dolphins, when Norv was their offensive coordinator in 2002 and ’03. The pattern here was I wasn’t going anywhere unless Norv was there. I knew him, and I knew that his quarterback had a chance to be successful.
Jay Fiedler was his quarterback that year, and Dave Wannstedt was Miami’s coach. So Norv said, “Dave wants to meet with you at the Super Bowl this year.” So I met with Dave and he wanted to talk to me about coming out of retirement. He asked me if I’d consider it, and I said, “I don’t know. Let’s talk about it.” So we did, and I got back to Dallas and I gave it more thought. I did, and I decided I wanted to do it.
I reached out to Dave and told him. He said, “Well, we couldn’t sign you now even if we wanted to because free agency hasn’t started yet.” So I told him I was going to start training as though I were going to come back and play. He said that was great.
But then nothing ever happened. I called Norv and asked what was going on. He said, “I think they’re a little nervous about signing you. They’re worried they’re going to sign you, and you’re going to get a concussion, this and that.”
That didn’t wind up working out, and the Dolphins signed A.J. Feeley instead. I went back to the booth. I understand the urge to keep playing. It’s not easy to let go. But you do, and you move forward with your life.