In sports, it is always preferential to go out on top. Guys like Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset after Super Bowl wins and if you ask me, that is the way to go. Unfortunately, some other athletes aren’t quite that lucky. Here are three NFL greats that just hung on for too long.
1. Johnny Unitas
This is a guy who is largely in the argument as the best quarterback in history. He spent 17 great years as the face of the Baltimore Colts and threw for almost 40,000 yards and nearly 300 touchdowns and won three MVP awards. However, he should have called it quits in 1968. Unfortunately, he played for five more years for other teams and threw almost twice as many interceptions than touchdowns to end off his Hall of Fame career. He will forever be remembered a Colt, but you can’t erase those awful past few years from the history books.
2. Jerry Rice
Rice is undoubtedly the best wide receiver in NFL history and one of the all-time best players, but he stuck around the league for too long. He will long be remembered for his many great years as a San Francisco 49er, but that is unfortunately not where he ended his career. His time in Oakland wasn’t too bad, but once 2003 rolled around, his fall from grace was very steep. In 2004, he was traded to the Seahawks where we saw the best wide receiver of all time down on the Seahawks depth chart at WR behind guys like Koren Robinson. After an awful season, he attended the Broncos training camp but smartened up and finally retired before the Broncos could cut him. It is sad when a legendary player like Rice suffer such a steep decline and not let it go.
3. Emmit Smith
Smith is without a doubt one of the best Cowboys of all time and has more rushing yars than any other player in NFL history. However, by 2001, most could see his skills slowly fading, but they (or Emmitt himself) didn’t want this storied career to end. He was released by the team in 2002 and went on to sign with the Cardinals and play two pretty awful seasons before finally retiring. We all wish he just would’ve called it quits after Dallas and his reputation and ego probably are wishing that too.