With Patriots quarterback Tom Brady about to embark on free agency, and openly discussing the idea of playing for someone other than the Patriots, it’s worth remembering he’s far from the first future Hall of Famer to make a late-career cameo elsewhere.
Whether it’s Peyton Manning with the Broncos or Joe Montana with the Chiefs, there have been plenty of examples of quarterbacks who had to finish elsewhere on the way out.
Former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman avoided that, but barely.
Aikman told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times that he met with the Chargers and nearly signed a contract with them in 2001 after he was released by the Cowboys, and also considered the Eagles and Dolphins.
During a trip to San Diego to see old friend and former coach Norv Turner, Aikman ended up visiting with Chargers owner Dean Spanos, and Turner nearly talked him into playing again.
“I had dinner with Norv, and I remember sitting with Norv at the restaurant saying, ‘Gosh, I just wish I knew what the future held. These last few years in Dallas have been really hard, and I just don’t want to be put in another situation where we’re just not competitive. I just wish I had a crystal ball,'” Aikman recalled. “Norv gave me one of those great talks, and he said, ‘The greatness of this is we don’t know, and as competitors, you don’t want to know. You want to lay it all on the line, take the risks, and see what can happen.’
“I said, ‘You know, you’re right. I want to come here and play.’ I was excited about it.”
Chargers G.M. John Butler had other ideas, and signed Doug Flutie instead. At that point, Aikman thought he was content to retire.
But then in 2002 he almost got dragged out of the booth, literally, to join the Eagles.
He said then-Eagles coach Andy Reid called him during a game he was working for Fox. Donovan McNabb had just been injured, and Reid was looking for help in a hurry.
“I stepped out of the booth and called Andy, and he explained the situation,” Aikman said. “He said, ‘Hey, we’re playing in San Francisco on Monday night, and you’ll be the starter.’ I said, ‘Andy, I haven’t played in two years.’ He says, ‘You’ll be all right.’ I told him I didn’t even know the offense, and he says, ‘That’s OK. Same concepts. We’ll make it work. You’ll be fine.'”
Aikman asked if he could sleep on it, and ultimately decided to pass.
He said he also considered re-joining Turner with the Dolphins in 2002 and 2003, and talked to Dave Wannstedt about the possibility, but the Dolphins got cold feet about the deal and signed A.J. Feeley instead.
Reading Aikman’s words, there’s a clear sense of the pull on players who have been great to keep going, to keep chasing that competitive feeling and the chance to win again.
That’s what Brady’s looking for now.