Pittsburgh Steelers fans are still coming to grips with the thought of veteran James Harrison playing for the Patriots. But he’s far from the first “face of the franchise” player to try on a new look. We canvassed our NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL experts to come up with a list of the most jarring uniform changes they’ve seen.
A decade after the Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta, Aaron returned as a member of the Brewers in 1975. Because the Brewers were an American League team, the then-home run king was able to extend his career by two seasons — and add 22 home runs to his career total — while playing in the city where his major league career had started in 1954.
Even though he wore a mask, Brodeur was the face of the Devils for 1,259 games and 364 wins — both NHL career records. But at 42 years old, and after being demoted to backup by the Devils, he wasn’t ready to hang up his goalie pads and tested free agency. The St. Louis Blues signed him as an emergency free-agent replacement for injured goalie Brian Elliott. He retired in January 2015 after Elliott returned, having played seven games in a uniform other than that of the Devils, which to this day remains inconceivable.
Ewing was the undisputed heart and soul and face of the Knicks from the mid-’80s until the turn of the century. Ewing spent 15 seasons with New York, where he still owns franchise records in 20 statistical categories. When he was 38, the Knicks traded Ewing to Seattle, where he spent one season before finishing his career as a bench player in Orlando.
Favre, maybe a little less jarring because we kind of saw it coming a year out and we’d already seen him in a Jets uniform, for goodness’ sake. But, as a Packers fan, to see him in that hated purple of all possible colors had to be a kick in the shins.
From 1978 through 1988, Gretzky played with the Edmonton Oilers and won four Stanley Cups and eight straight Hart Trophies as the NHL’s most valuable player. On Aug. 9, 1988, the hockey world was knocked off its axis as Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in a seven-player deal (that also sent $15 million to Edmonton owner Peter Pocklington.) In the process, The Great One traded in the orange and blue of the Oilers for the sleek L.A. chic of silver and black.
“Mr. Hockey” was as synonymous with Detroit hockey as flying octopuses, playing with the Red Wings from 1946 to 1971. At 45 years old(!), Howe left to play with his sons in the World Hockey Association, but he returned to the NHL in 1979 when the WHA folded … as a member of the newly absorbed Hartford Whalers. As odd as it was to watch a 50-year-old compete in the NHL, seeing Gordie Howe in anything but a Winged Wheel was even odder.
If you blinked you might have missed it, but Iverson spent three games in a Memphis Grizzlies uniform in 2009. After 10-plus seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers and stints with the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons, Iverson signed a one-year deal to come off the bench with the Grizzlies but left the team in November of the 2009-10 season.
Jordan is widely recognized as the GOAT. He was a five-time NBA MVP and six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan and the Bulls were synonymous. But three years after his second retirement, Jordon returned to the league as a Washington Wizard. Although his game was diminished, he still averaged 21 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game in two seasons with the Wiz.
Unitas was the epitome of Baltimore grit. San Diego is basically the opposite of Baltimore in terms of geography, football-season weather, and general attitude about the game and about life. You might as well have put Unitas in a Mars uniform.
Malone spent 18 years searching for an NBA title with the Utah Jazz. To find that elusive ring, The Mailman headed to the Los Angeles Lakers for the final year of his career to team up with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton and coach Phil Jackson. Despite injury issues all season, the Lakers made it to 2004 NBA Finals but were upended by the underdog Detroit Pistons in five games.
A star for the New York Giants before the franchise moved to San Francisco, Mays went back to the Big Apple as a 41-year-old in 1972, a return that was as much about bringing fans to Queens as about his performance on the field. The struggling Giants traded Mays and his hefty $165,000 contract to the Mets, who also agreed to make the 24-time All-Star a coach after his playing career ended. Although Mays hit only .238 in 133 games with the Mets, he did become the oldest player to appear in a World Series before retiring immediately after the 1973 Fall Classic.
In a financial dispute with the Boston Bruins and receiving specious advice from infamous NHL player agent Alan Eagleson, Orr signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent in 1976. Knee injuries limited him to 26 games over three seasons, but that was long enough for the sight of Bobby Orr wearing anything but the Bruins’ “Spoked-B” to be absolutely surreal.
Rice was a 49ers fixture, of course, so it would have been weird to see him in any other uniform. Why was this one so jarring? Maybe the difference in the color schemes, from bright red and gold to severe black and silver. Wrong side of the bay, opposite colors, it looked like Bizarro Jerry Rice.
After a bitter split with the Philadelphia Phillies following the 1983 season, Rose looked north of the border for a team willing to help extend his playing career — and it worked. Although Rose batted just .259 with the 1984 Expos, he collected his 4,000th career hit in Montreal before being traded to his original team, the Cincinnati Reds, who immediately named him player-manager in August 1984.
Smith was a perennial Super Bowl fixture as a Cowboy, which means people who weren’t even NFL fans knew who he was and maybe could recognize him. Which means more people could recognize Smith than could recognize the Cardinals’ uniform.
Roger Clemens (And Other Red Sox Turned Yankees)
There are no bigger rivals in baseball than the Yankees and Red Sox, but that hasn’t stopped a select group of players from crossing sides at some point in their careers — with the path almost always from Boston to New York (sometimes with a stop or two in between). Babe Ruth is the most famous player to join the Yankees after starring for the Red Sox, of course, but Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury also moved on to play in New York after once calling Boston home.
Dan Graziano, Jim Merritt, Dan Mullen, Chris Ramsay and Greg Wyshynski contributed to this file.