Familiar faces in strange places
Tom Brady signing with Tampa Bay got me thinking about this Johnny Unitas football card I had when I was a little kid. I forget what year it was from, but it must have beneath the early 1973, because Johnny U, the great Baltimore Colt quarterback, was playing for the San Diego Chargers. Now, even as a kid, I knew this was strange. While I was much too young to have ever seen him play, I was well aware of Unitas as a Colt. Thus, seeing him as a Charger was quite a shock for me. Same thing will apply when Brady steps on the field in Tampa Bay or even when I first saw Mookie Betts in Dodger blue. That said, legends changing uniforms at the end of their career is nothing new in the world of sports, so I figured maybe today we could talk about some of the familiar faces we’ve seen playing in strange places.
Michael Jordan, Washington Wizards 2001-2003. Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. I think we can all agree on that. He is also a Chicago Bull. I think we can all agree on that too. So, it was a pretty big shock to the system when he emerged from three years of retirement to suit up with the former Bullets early in the 21st Century. The amazing thing to me about Jordan’s stint with Washington was that even as he closed in on 40, he was still good enough to put up over 20 points per game.
Willie Mays, New York Mets 1972-1973. It was certainly no surprise to see Mays playing in New York. However, it must have been quite odd not seeing him in a Giants’ uniform. Mays played in 135 games over two seasons with the Mets and hit 14 home runs. His best days were obviously well behind him.
Joe Montana, Kansas City Chiefs 1993-1994. This came up a lot during this year’s Super Bowl between the 49ers and Chiefs because Montana had played for both of them. Of course he was way better in San Francisco, but he did throw for over 3,000 in his final season for Kansas City. He also led the team to the AFC Championship Game in 1993, which was a pretty impressive feat for a 37-year old.
Hakeem Olajuwon, Toronto Raptors 2001-2002. Olajuwon is synonymous with basketball in the city of Houston. He went to college at the University of Houston and then went on to lead the Houston Rockets to back-to-back NBA titles. So, who remembers his final season … in Toronto? He averaged just seven points and six rebounds for the Raptors, much less than the 21/11 he posted for his career.
Hank Aaron, Milwaukee Brewers 1975-1976. Aaron, like Mays, is a perfect fit in the city where his legendary career began - it’s just that he should be wearing a Braves’ uniform, not the colors of the team that took their place. The Hammer returned to Milwaukee at the age of 41 and hit 22 home runs as a part-time player during the final two years of his career. Somehow these numbers were good enough for the Brewers to retire his number and put his name in their “walk of fame.” I am guessing this must have been for services rendered to the city way back in the 1950’s, when he was wearing that other uniform.