Stars trying to finish strong in new places

Jason Cole
Yahoo! SportsSeptember 3, 2008

In various NFL precincts, fans are hoping their teams have borrowed more than just a legacy.

From New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre to Washington Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor and Dallas Cowboys linebacker Zach Thomas, this season features an unusual cast of marquee players leaving familiar stomping grounds with the hope of experiencing a last bit of greatness elsewhere. However, the odds are against their endings being the stuff of Hollywood movies.

Of the three, Thomas appears to have the best chance of going out on top – assuming the trio's individual stints with their new clubs last only a season or two. While both Taylor and Thomas are playing for '07 playoff teams, Thomas' Cowboys are the consensus favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIII.

Before Taylor attempts to help the Redskins get back to the playoffs, he must first return to action. He suffered a sprained right knee in Washington's preseason defeat to the Panthers on Aug. 23 and it is uncertain whether he'll play against the Giants in Thursday's season opener.

Favre's job is more complex. He's trying to turn around a team that was 4-12 last season while taking over for Chad Pennington, who was popular with teammates. Beyond that, there's the month-long odyssey that took him from being the greatest quarterback in Green Bay history to being a Jet.

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Favre at his first news conference with the Jets.

(Getty Images/Joe Robbins)

"Sixteen years is hard to forget for everyone and I'd like to think that those 16 years, people will say, 'It's the best 16 years I've ever watched,' " Favre said when he joined the Jets in Cleveland on Aug. 7.

Favre – along with Taylor and Thomas – is expected to put aside the past and make great things happen with a new franchise. Clearly, that's easier said than done.

"All I can say is I've always wanted to be a Packer," the quarterback said, in front of a crowded media contingent with Jets owner Woody Johnson to his right and general manager Mike Tannenbaum to his left, on that first night with the Jets. "I think I always will be a Packer."

Two nights after Favre stood on the sideline in Cleveland with his new team, Thomas got a taste of what it was like to put on a new jersey.

"We were at San Diego and went into the visiting locker room like we always have, but then you see all the Cowboys stuff lined up and it just kind of hit me," Thomas said. "Putting on the uniform, it was just different, man. Kind of weird, at first."

Since 1950, there have been 44 eventual Hall of Famers who ended their careers playing three years or less with a team where they didn't make their legacy. By contrast, 119 members of the Hall either played their entire careers with one team or played at least four years with their final team, such as offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman. He was inducted this year after playing for Minnesota and Denver.

Of course, there are some infamous short-term sendoffs, such as Johnny Unitas playing a season in San Diego, Joe Namath a year with the Los Angeles Rams and Joe Montana putting in two years with Kansas City.

There were also some less well-known circumstances, such as Buffalo great Thurman Thomas finishing with the archrival Miami Dolphins, O.J. Simpson returning to his hometown for two seasons in San Francisco and Tony Dorsett playing a forgettable season in Denver.

In most cases, those greats were simply playing out the string. Only Montana got close to a Super Bowl, eventually losing in the AFC championship game his first season in Kansas City. Unitas, Namath and Simpson were shells of their once-great selves. Thurman Thomas and Dorsett both got hurt.

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Thomas is ready to help out the Cowboys.

(Getty Images/Ronald Martinez)

Ultimately, most great players are like John Elway, Jim Brown and Dan Marino. They don't finish in unfamiliar spots. For Marino, that was the root of his decision in 2000 to not go to Minnesota or Pittsburgh after the Dolphins told him he'd have to compete for a starting job if he returned.

"Part of you wants to keep going," Marino said shortly after he called it quits. "But then you think, you don't know anybody, the fans don't really know you. It just all started to feel weird." Thomas has felt that pang of being out of place.

"I've bit my tongue a few times, just shut my mouth instead of saying something," said Thomas, a seven-time Pro Bowler in 12 seasons with the Dolphins. "That's the key, you have to fit in and know your role. To come in and be a leader, you have to earn the respect of the guys and it's not one or two games. It has to be an entire season of working and grinding and making plays. "I've been around some guys who tried to come in and lead right away and it was like the guys who were there before them would look and say, 'What's he trying to prove?' "

After years of "me and (Taylor) doing all the talking" in Miami, Thomas now prefers to take a backseat in the locker room.

"We got guys like DeMarcus Ware and Brady James who are the leaders on defense, those are the guys who do the talking," Thomas said. "Of course, we got Terrell (Owens), (Tony) Romo and (Jason) Witten who speak up for the offense a lot, the whole team really. Me, I just sit back and do my job, so that's cool."

And that's about all that the Cowboys should expect.