This doesn't look right, does it?
To a football fan the faces are immediately familiar, yet the urge to adjust the monitor or simply ask "What in the hell are they wearing?" is strong. Your eyes do not deceive you and this is not a photoshop job. This is a rare two-for-one shot of one of my favorite obscure sports phenomena – the cameo appearance by famous players in uniforms that no one remembers them wearing. Often players who have long careers with a single team (or small number thereof) become so strongly identified with one uniform that, to the delight of trivia game hosts everywhere, no one can remember that Jerry Rice played a grand total of 9 games as a Seattle Seahawk (pictured here with Emmit Smith, closing out his career with an equally forgettable two season stint in Arizona). Even rarer is a glimpse of Rice in a Denver Broncos uniform during his brief training camp washout in the Mile High City.
Try these on for size:
No, that's not Idi Amin in a Supersonics jersey – that's Patrick Ewing, who played one embarrassing season in Seattle (and one in Orlando!) Below him are Johnny Unitas in his ill-advised final season cameo in San Diego and Pete Rose's half-season pit stop with the Montreal Expos. None of that looks right. None of it. Even Unitas's hair is wrong.
The most common explanation for the cameo appearance is when everyone knows an aged player is finished except for the player himself. So the team on which we remember him bids him adieu and he tries to hang on somewhere else. This is not always necessarily "obscure". Everyone remembers that Hank Aaron finished up with two seasons on the Milwaukee Brewers, Joe Montana wore a KC Chiefs uniform for a bit, and the Boston Bruins graciously traded 40 year-old Ray Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche so he might lift a Cup before retiring. But do you remember Joe Namath's ill-advised farewell in a Rams uniform? That NFL legend Reggie White came out of retirement to play a few games with the Carolina Panthers? Reggie Jackson's single season as a Baltimore Oriole? Wayne Gretzky's brief visit to St. Louis? Dennis Rodman's 10 games as a Dallas Maverick? Bobby Orr playing 23 games with a bone-on-bone knee and a Blackhawks jersey?
No. Also, drunk.
Cameos aren't just for washed up old guys though. Often a player will start with one team before being traded to achieve fame elsewhere. You know Lou Brock was briefly a Cub, but how about Ozzie Smith the Padre? Ryne Sandberg the Phillie? Phil Esposito (or Dominik Hasek!) on the Blackhawks? Brett Favre the Falcon?
What the fuck.
Multiple trades in a single season can also result in (un)memorable cameos. Mike Piazza played 1912 games in the Major Leagues…exactly five of them with the Florida Marlins (he also double-cameoed by ending his career with 83 ill-advised appearances in an Oakland A's uni). And what about Rasheed Wallace's single game for the Atlanta Hawks before being traded for the second time in two days? If only all trade deadline deals worked out as well as Randy Johnson's 11 games as a Houston Astro: 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA with 116 Ks in 84 innings. Holy shit.
Some players are multi-cameo stars. Paul Coffey is known as perhaps the best pure offensive backliner in NHL history, but he's not known as a Blackhawk (10 games), Hartford Whaler (20 games) or Boston Bruin (18 games). Rickey Henderson played on every damn team in baseball at the tail end of his career: you know he played 1/4 of a season on Toronto as a trade deadline acquisition, but raise your hand if you remember him on the Angels, Dodgers, Red Sox, or Padres. He looks about 65 in that Boston jersey. Jari Kurri won four Cups in Edmonton at Wayne Gretzky's side but played out the string elsewhere, including 14 games in New York and a single season in Anaheim (??) and Colorado. In 10 years who will remember Manny Ramirez's 17 at-bats as a Tampa Bay Ray, let alone his two-dozen games with the White Sox?
Oh, crap. I'm having way too much fun to stop. Running backs are a cameo gold mine, as they break down quickly but always think they have more left. "Name the famous RB's final team" would be a great trivia game on its own. You know Emmit Smith finished up in Arizona, but what about: Tony Dorsett (Broncos), Edgerrin James (Seahawks!), Franco Harris (also Seahawks!), OJ Simpson (49ers), Eddie George (Cowboys…and god was it sad to watch), Chuck Foreman (Patriots – I swear), Shaun Alexander (Redskins), Jim Taylor (Saints), Thurman Thomas (Dolphins?), Earl Campbell (Saints), Roger Craig (Vikings), and Eric Dickerson (Falcons). Good lord, can't any of you just retire?
Oh, and starting pitchers…don't get me started on old pitchers. We could be here all night. I might just have to another cameo post to accommodate all of the awesomeness. This is so much more fun than I thought it would be.
Who'd I miss? Other than Willie Mays in blue and orange, that is.