Manning should heed Montana, Namath, Unitas

Manning should heed Montana, Namath, Unitas
March 29, 2012, 6:12 pm
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Whitey Gleason
Special to CSNBayArea.com

Peyton Manning is not the first elite quarterback to saddle up and head west before hanging up his guns. In fact, there are three Hall of Fame quarterbacks who won Super Bowls with one team, then finished their careers with another. The results were decidedly mixed. So Peyton, heres a little Wild West history lesson for you -- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly story of Hall of Fame quarterbacks riding off into the sunset.

The Good: Joe Montana, KC Chiefs, 1993-94
Once the dismantling of Bill Walshs great teams began, 49er fans had to adjust to some strange sights, like Ronnie Lott in a Jets jersey, and Jerry Rice with the Raiders. But none of those moves had the visceral impact of this one. After two injury-plagued seasons, during which Steve Young cemented himself as the 49ers quarterback, 37-year-old Joe Montana was traded east to Kansas City -- but still ended up in the AFC West. Wearing No. 19 (the Chiefs had retired Len Dawson's No. 16), Montana actually had a shot at meeting his old team in the Super Bowl after the 93 season. Both the Niners and the Chiefs, however, lost their conference championship games, and the 30-13 loss to Buffalo was especially brutal for Montana, who left the game with a concussion. In two seasons with the Chiefs, Montana threw for 5,427 yards and 29 touchdowns -- two fewer touchdowns than hed thrown for San Francisco in the 1987 season alone. While he couldnt take Kansas City to the Super Bowl, as Dawson had, Montana did get the Chiefs to the playoffs both years, playing his last game in a 1994 Wild Card loss to Dan Marino and the Dolphins. After retiring, he would undergo the same neck fusion surgery that Manning had last year.

The Bad: Joe Namath, LA Rams, 1977
One of the most surprising aspects of Joe Namaths 1977 season with the Rams is that anybody wanted him in the first place. In 1976, a sore-kneed, 33-year old Namath threw four touchdowns against -- gulp! -- 16 interceptions in eight games for the Jets, who won only one of those games. (And hes criticizing the Jets for picking up Tim Tebow?) The Jets waived Broadway Joe, who signed with a Rams team that had serious Super Bowl aspirations. A 34-14 Week 3 win over Jim Plunkett, O.J. Simpson, and the 49ers put Namath and the Rams at 2-1, and Namath had thrown three touchdown passes through the first three games. But Namaths next game would be his last, a Monday Night debacle in Chicago in which an ineffective running game forced him to throw often. Namath threw four interceptions, the Rams blew a 13-0 lead, and lost 24-23. Namath would never play again, and the Rams would rally behind Pat Haden to reach the playoffs. Namaths final numbers with the Rams -- three touchdowns, five interceptions, and a passer rating of 54.5 -- are so lackluster, they make me want to get drunk and try to kiss Suzy Kolber.

The Ugly: Johnny Unitas, San Diego Chargers, 1972
Just as some Colts fans curse Jim Irsay for the way Mannings Colt career just ended, so did Colt fans in 1972 curse Irsays father Bob for the way Johnny Unitas career ended in Baltimore. The elder Irsay had actually purchased the Rams in 1972, with the intent to swap them for the Colts, which he did. Irsay wanted the Colts to get younger, which meant that Johnny Us days were numbered, since he was 39 and had played in only eight games in 72. So in January of 1973, Unitas was traded to the San Diego Chargers for unspecified future considerations. If Unitas had given any specific consideration to his future, he probably never wouldve gone to San Diego. The team was awful, ending up 2-11-1. Unitas threw for 55 yards with three picks in the opener, and was replaced early in the year by future Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. Unitas did have one shining moment in the San Diego sunshine, throwing a pair of touchdown passes in a Week 3 win over Buffalo. Throwing for two scores in one game for a team as bad as the 73 Chargers was nearly as remarkable as Unitas 47-game touchdown pass streak. But the next time you hear someone argue that a player should not change teams late in his career because it might damage his legacy, consider the case of Unitas. His brief stay with the Chargers was so out-of-character with the rest of his career, that not only did it leave his legacy intact, most people dont even know it happened. Certainly, Unitas tried to forgot about it as quickly as he could. Deactivated by San Diego for the last game of the season, Unitas went back to Baltimore to watch the Colts play.

Once enshrined in Canton, Brett Favre will no doubt join the Super Bowl-Winning, Team-Switching HOF Quarterback Club, although it wouldve been in keeping with our western theme had he come out retirement last year to join the Raiders after Jason Campbells injury. As for Peyton? Happy trails, amigo. Just be aware, the road out West for 30-something-year-old gun-slinging legends is fraught with peril, picks, and playoff disappointment.

Whitey Gleason is the host of "The Rise Guys" on 95.7 the Game.

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