Twenty years is quite the commitment. Just ask Tom Brady, who was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2000 and went on to spend 20 straight seasons with the team.
But now it’s time for his second act with a new NFL team. The 42-year-old, who is arguably the best quarterback of all time, is now a free agent. Brady said he was leaving the Patriots on Monday, and he is expected to move to Florida and sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Seeing the six-time Super Bowl champion suit up to play somewhere other than Gillette Stadium in the upcoming NFL season — whenever that starts — will certainly be odd. Let’s look at other sports stars who shocked the sports world when they left the team they had been with for 10 seasons or more.
When you think about Brett Favre, you think about the Green Bay Packers. The Hall of Fame quarterback spent 20 seasons in the NFL, and even though he retired in 2010 — a full decade ago! — he still holds numerous NFL records, including most consecutive starts by any player. Favre played for the Packers from 1992 to 2007, a whopping 16 seasons in which he was the face of the franchise, at the height of which he brought them a title by winning Super Bowl XXXI. In March 2008, he retired … until he changed his mind and the Packers bizarrely traded him to the New York Jets in August 2008. He played in New York for one season before signing with the Minnesota Vikings — the Packers’ rival. Huh? He played in the 2009-10 season, and after being hurt during the 2010-11 season, he retired for good in January 2011.
It seems unreal that Joe Montana played for a team other than the San Francisco 49ers. Montana won four Super Bowls (XVI, XIX, XXIII and XXIV) with the Niners, the team he played with for 14 seasons after being drafted in 1979. But Joe Cool’s NFL career actually spanned 16 seasons. The eight-time Pro Bowler was hurt toward the end of his career, missing the entire 1991-92 season and most of the 1992-93 season. When Montana came back healthy, Steve Young had already made a name for himself in San Francisco. Right before the 1993-94 season, the 49ers traded Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he finished his career after two average seasons. Montana retired in April 1995, and he was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2000.
Peyton Manning: Played four seasons with the Broncos after being cut by the Colts, and won Super Bowl 50 in his final season.
Johnny Unitas: Played four games with the Chargers after 17 seasons with the Baltimore Colts.
Emmitt Smith: After 13 years with the Cowboys, spent two seasons with the Cardinals, scoring 11 touchdowns in 25 games.
Jerry Rice: After 16 years with the 49ers, Rice spent three and a half seasons with the Raiders and part of his final season with the Seahawks. He had 1,211 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in his age-40 season.
When you think about Michael Jordan, it’s almost as if his middle name should be “Chicago Bulls.” MJ was in the NBA for 16 seasons, helping the Bulls to six NBA titles: in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998. Perhaps the best NBA player of all time, Jordan seemed destined to spend his entire career with the team that drafted him in 1984. Or was he? First, Jordan retired in October 1993 and had a brief stint in minor league baseball. The hiatus didn’t last long, and the NBA world was relieved when he simply said “I’m back” in a press release in March 1995. After a few more years of glory with the Bulls, Jordan retired for the second time in January 1999. Jordan could not be away from basketball for long, joining the Washington Wizards’ front office in January 2000. But management wasn’t enough for him either, and he joined the Wizards as a player in September 2001. It was certainly weird seeing him play for two seasons in something other than a red Bulls jersey. Jordan’s final NBA game was on April 16, 2003 — and yup, it was with the Wizards.
One of the best point guards in NBA history, Parker was picked by the San Antonio Spurs in 2001 and immediately helped make a huge impact. The six-time All Star was part of one of the best “Big Threes” ever alongside Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and under legendary coach Gregg Popovich. Parker spent 17 seasons with the Spurs, winning four NBA championships in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014. Parker shocked everyone when he left the Spurs — Duncan and Ginobili never played for a team other than the Spurs before retiring — and signed a two-year contract with the Charlotte Hornets before the 2018-19 season. However, he retired after just a year there, in July 2019.
Karl Malone: Spent his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers (2003-04) after spending his entire career with the Utah Jazz (1985-2003).
Hakeem Olajuwon: Spent his final season with Toronto Raptors (2001-02) after spending his entire career with the Houston Rockets (1984-2001).
Paul Pierce: Spent the first 15 years of his career with the Boston Celtics (1998-2013 before spending a season with the Brooklyn Nets (2013-14), a season with the Washington Wizards (2014-16) and two seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers (2015-17). In July, 2017, Pierce signed a ceremonial contract with the Celtics in order to retire with the team.
Patrick Ewing: Spent his first 15 years with the New York Knicks (1985-2000, before spending a season with the Seattle SuperSonics (2000-01) and his final season with the Orlando Magic (2001-02).
Dwyane Wade: Spent his first 13 seasons with the Miami Heat, before spending a season with the Chicago Bulls (2016-17) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (2017-18). Wade returned to Miami in the middle of the 2018-19 season before retiring in April 2019.
Arguably the greatest slugger in baseball history, Hank Aaron spent 21 seasons with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, beginning in 1954. The 25-time All Star and 1957 World Series champion also has the second-most home runs of all time with 755. In 1975, Aaron left the Braves for the Milwaukee Brewers, where he played one season at the age of 41. When the season ended, he eventually went back to Atlanta, where he joined the team in 1976 as a Braves executive.
Willie Mays, among the greatest baseball players of all time, had an illustrious 22-year career. He’s also still the face of the New York Giants, the team he began his MLB career with in 1951. When the team moved to San Francisco after the 1957 season, Mays went with them, still swinging the bat with brilliance. He spent a whopping 21 seasons with the Giants, in which he helped the team win the World Series in 1954. In May 1972, Mays was 41 years old when he was traded back to New York to play for the Mets. He spent one lackluster season there before retiring.
Yogi Berra: Released by the Yankees after an 18-year career. Took a season off, then played in four games with the Mets.
Harmon Killebrew: After 21 seasons with the Twins, spent 106 games with the Royals in which he hit only .199.
John Smoltz: Split his final season between the Red Sox and Cardinals after a 20-year career with the Braves.
Martin Brodeur won three Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils and is currently the team’s executive vice president of business development. It wasn’t always Brodeur and the Devils living happily ever after, however. Brodeur, a 10-time All-Star and one of the NHL’s greatest goaltenders, began his career in 1991. There was speculation Brodeur was going to retire in the 2012 offseason, but he signed another contract with the Devils. After two below-average seasons, Brodeur became a free agent and signed a contract with the St. Louis Blues in December 2014. In January 2015, Brodeur retired, having appeared in just seven games for the Blues.
One of the greatest hockey players of all time, Bobby Orr was essentially royalty in Boston for the decade he played there. The defenseman joined the Boston Bruins, a team that had been struggling for many years, in 1966. Orr changed all that, helping the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972. Orr missed most of the 1975-76 season due to injury, and his agent convinced him to sign in free agency with the Chicago Blackhawks. Orr played just 20 games in the 1976 season, missed the entire 1977 season, and attempted a comeback in the 1978 season. He skated in just six games before retiring at age 30 in 1978.
Mike Modano: Spent 20 seasons with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars, then played four games with the Detroit Red Wings in his final season.
Bernie Federko: Played 13 seasons with the St. Louis Blues, and played 13 games with the Detroit Red Wings in his final season.
One of the greatest soccer players ever, the Brazilian footballer made his debut for Santos FC in 1956. In addition to playing for Brazil’s national team — he led them to three FIFA World Cups — he also helped Santos win the 1962 and 1963 Copa Libertadores. After 19 seasons with Santos, Pelé retired in 1974. Two years later, he made his soccer comeback, signing with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League before the start of the 1975 season. The legend eventually retired in October 1977 after an exhibition match between the Cosmos and Santos, of course.
The English footballer will always be remembered for being captain for Chelsea, playing for the team from 1998 to 2017. John Terry, who played centre back, led Chelsea to five Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups and one UEFA Champions League title. In January 2017, Terry spent one season with Aston Villa, leaving the team in May 2018 after the club failed to be promoted to the Premier League. Terry returned to become Aston Villa’s assistant head coach a few months later, where he still is today.
Considered one of the greatest midfielders of all time, Steven Gerrard joined Liverpool in 1998, and he was with the team until 2015. Despite winning two FA Cups, three League Cups, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup, he was never able to win the Premier League with Liverpool. He’s still a legend, though. Gerrard decided to cross the pond and try his luck in Major League Soccer, signing a contract with the LA Galaxy in January 2015. In November 2016, after 13 appearances with the Galaxy, Gerrard retired at the age of 36. Gerrard has been manager of Rangers F.C. since 2018, a Scottish professional football club part of the Scottish Premiership.