12 Aging Superstars Dropped Like Bad Habits
Everyone’s talking this week about how the split between Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts was so classy and dignified. And I guess it was about as “classy” as an unwanted, unhappy ending can be. But it’s still sad. Pretty much everyone (besides the hopefuls in Miami, Arizona, Seattle, and Washington) would have preferred to see Peyton retire a Colt. But, unfortunately, this isn’t the first time an aging superstar was forced to leave the team with which he spent his entire career. Heck, this isn’t even the first time an aging Colts superstar got dumped.
Today, we bring you a list of major sports stars who got dropped like bad habits. Click away to see where Manning’s breakup the Colts ranks among the all-time greatest sports divorces.
Mike Modano played 20 years with the Stars organization in both Minnesota and Dallas, winning a Stanley Cup and scoring 561 goals and 1374 points—which is good for 23rd all-time. However, after the 2009-10 season, the Stars said "thanks for the memories, Mike, but we don't want you back for a 21st season." So the 40-year-old took his services to Detroit...where he got injured and only played 40 games.
12. Mike Modano (free agent)
Younger readers only know O.J. Simpson as an acquitted murderer and convicted armed robber, but before all that stuff he was in fact one of the greatest RBs in the history of the NCAA and NFL.
The Juice won the Heisman with USC in 1968, then was drafted by the Bills and became a 4x rushing champ and 6x Pro Bowler. He was the first player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, and was elected to the football Hall of Fame in 1985. However, none of that prevented the Bills from trading the aging star to the lowly 49ers in 1978 for a couple draft picks.
11. OJ Simpson (traded)
Patrick Ewing played more games for the Knicks than any other player—1,039 to be exact. Unfortunately, his career happened to coincide with this other guy named Michael Jordan, so he got very few chances to bring a title to New York—though he came close in 1994 and 1999, when the Knicks lost to the Rockets and Spurs respectively. But in 2000, after 15 seasons in New York, he was traded to the Orlando Magic. It was an unceremonious end to a marvelous career.
10. Patrick Ewing (traded)
You all know this story. The Packers knew they had a future superstar in Aaron Rodgers, but they wanted to give Brett Favre a chance to bow out with dignity. Of course, we all know Brett doesn't know much about dignity. So for a couple of seasons, the big story heading into camp was "will he or won't he retire?" Finally, in 2008, Brett did retire, much to the relief of the Packers. But later that summer Favre said "I take it back." He asked to be released by the Packers, but they refused. So after a bunch of bickering, Favre showed up at Packers training camp, calling the Packers' bluff and forcing them to trade him to the Jets.
9. Brett Favre (traded)
Mays, probably one of the 3 best baseball players in the history of the game, played 20 full seasons with the Giants. For them he hit 646 HRs, led the league in OPS 5 times, led the league in stolen bases 4 times, made 20 All-Star games, won 2 MVP awards (10 years apart), and finished in the top 3 four other times.
Unfortunately, in 1972, at the age of 41, Willie Mays was pretty much finished. Only he didn't want to be. So rather than just make a spot for the aging legend so he could finish his career in San Francisco, the Giants decided to ship him off to the Mets.
8. Willie Mays (traded)
After 21 seasons with the Braves in Milwaukee and then Atlanta, the all-time home run champ was traded at the age of 41 to the Milwaukee Brewers. The American League had just instituted the designated hitter, so on some level the move made sense. And while it would have been nice if baseball's home run kind could have stayed with one team until the end, at least Hank got to make a curtain call in the city where it began.
7. Hank Aaron (traded)
Joe Montana's career in San Francisco came to an end after Steve Young proved that he could be every bit as effective as the 49ers aging (and increasingly injured) superstar. So, even though it outraged their fans, the 49ers traded Joe to the Chiefs in 1993. Everyone in Kansas City was pretty pumped, and there was lots of talk of the Chiefs finally winning the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, Montana's Super Bowl-winning days were behind him. Instead, the whole thing was just sad.
6. Joe Montana (traded)
All-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith wasn't just traded to make room on the roster for an up-and-coming star. He was flat out released by the Cowboys in 2003 after 12 seasons. Ouch. The 34-year-old then signed a deal with the lowly Arizona Cardinals. The 2003 season in Phoenix was brutal, as Smith gained only 256 yards. But in 2004 he had one last hurrah, racking up 737 yards and helping the Cardinals go from totally pathetic (4-12) to just regular bad (6-10).
Afterwards, the Cardinals released Smith so he could sign a one-day contract with Dallas and retire a Cowboy. But you know what, guys? That doesn't count. Everyone knows that the last team he played for was the Cardinals.
5. Emmitt Smith (released)
Is it reasonable that the Colts didn't want to pay an injured 35-year-old quarterback $35.4 million this year? Of course it is. Is it also reasonable that the 4x NFL MVP would want to make as much money as possible in his remaining years and not restructure his contract just to stay with a rebuilding team? Yes again. But it's still a bummer that, in this day and age, more sports legends can't retire with the teams that drafted them.
4. Peyton Manning (released)
Broadway Joe Namath was released by the New York Jets in 1977 after the two teams couldn't reach a deal for a trade. Yes, that's right: the Rams wouldn't give up anyone for the old guy with two bad knees, so the Jets just said fine, you can have him for free.
Pro athletes, if this ever happens to you, that means you should retire.
3. Joe Namath (waived)
Johnny Unitas may be the best quarterback in football history (it's debatable), but by 1972 he wasn't even the starter for the Colts. So you would have thought he'd retire after the season. But he didn't—what is it with quarterbacks?—and the Colts traded the 40-year-old to the San Diego chargers. There, he played only 5 games before retiring in powder blue instead of royal blue. It was all so unnecessary.
2. Johnny Unitas (traded)
Our #1 sports legend to get dropped like a bad habit is none other than Babe Ruth—the greatest baseball player of all time.
Ruth hit 41 HRs in 1932 at the age of 37. It was a solid number, but it was still the first time in 6 seasons that he didn't lead the league. The next season, at age 38, Ruth hit only 34 HRs, and the following season at age 39 he was down to just 22.
The Yankees saw the righting on the wall, and so did Ruth. The only problem was, he didn't just want to retire. He wanted to become the Yankees manager. Unfortunately, the Yankees already had a manager they liked. Still, they offered him a job managing their Triple-A club.
Ruth said no. So the Yanks traded him to the Boston Braves. The legend played in only 28 games at the age of 40 before retiring...as a Brave.