Jason Witten isn’t ready to retire again. The legendary tight end, a year removed from his return from the Monday Night Football broadcast booth, said last week that he intends to play in 2020, regardless of whether the Cowboys want him back.
Which leads us to this list. No matter where Witten ends up playing this year, he’ll go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and forever exist in the football world’s collective conscience as a Cowboy. If he goes and plays a season or two for the Steelers, Jets or Redskins, those years will have been an aberration, the source of a few disorienting highlights and photos.
It’s happened more than a few times in Dallas sports history — players who, despite being beloved by fans and being among the best ever for local teams, sailed off into the sunset as Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Red Wings or Kansas City Royals.
Let’s take a look back and get disoriented:
1. Mike Modano the Red Wing: Rather than hang up his skates at age 40 in 2010, the Stars’ greatest ever, Mike Modano, signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings. Modano’s 20 seasons with the Stars were spectacular, cementing him as one of the NHL’s greatest American-born players. His one season in the Motor City was less so. Modano played in 40 games, scoring four goals and racking up 11 assists. He retired after the 2010-11 season.
2. Emmitt Smith heads West: Emmitt Smith was done after the 2002 season. That didn’t stop him from signing a two-year, $7.5 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals and slogging his way through two terrible seasons in the desert. Smith ran for 1,193 yards in those two years with the Cardinals. He eclipsed that total in nine of his 13 seasons in Dallas.
3. Tony Dorsett’s less-than-amicable goodbye: For 10 years in the late ’70s and ’80s, Tony Dorsett built a Hall of Fame career in Dallas. By 1987, however, he’d been supplanted as the Cowboys’ lead ball carrier by Herschel Walker and wanted out of town. The Cowboys obliged, dealing Dorsett to the Broncos. Dorsett got what he wanted, starting 13 games for Denver in 1988, but he ran for just 703 yards.
4. Mr. Ranger becomes a Phillie: Michael Young’s ending in North Texas was a lot like Dorsett’s. An aging star with depreciating skills switches teams in search of more playing time. In this case, Young, faced with being relegated to the bench for 2013 season, accepted a trade to the Phillies, basically never to be heard from again (at least as a baseball player).
5, 6, 7. Juan Gonzalez heads to Kansas City, Larry Allen goes to the 49ers and Nate Newton becomes a Carolina Panther: Gonzalez, Allen and Newton get grouped together on this list because their lost stops were so obscure that there isn't a decent YouTube video to show any of the three enjoying their not-so-glory days. Of the trio’s last stops — or next to last, as Gonzalez made exactly one plate appearance in 2005 with the Indians, the year after his stint with the Royals — Allen’s is the most notable. In 2007, his final year in the NFL, Allen started all 16 games for San Francisco.
8. Michael Finley heads down I-35 and gets punched in the crotch for his trouble: For nine season, Finley, along with Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki, was the face of Mark Cuban’s rebuilding Mavericks. Before the 2005-06 season, the Mavs took advantage of the NBA’s one-time contract amnesty clause and waived him, avoiding paying luxury taxes on the $52 million that remained on his contract. The Mavs and Spurs ending up meeting in the playoffs that summer. Late in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, Finley and the Mavericks’ Jason Terry got tangled up chasing a loose ball, leading Terry to punch Finley in the crotch.
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9. Ian Kinsler an Angel? The Rangers jettisoned star second baseman Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder after the 2013 season. The trade ended up bad for the team, as Fielder struggled with injuries and managed to have exactly one productive season (2015) in Arlington. Kinsler, to that point a career Ranger, bounced around the league, heading from the Tigers to the Angels to the Red Sox to the Padres. It worked out well for him — Kinsler built a borderline Hall of Fame case and won a World Series ring in 2018 in Boston — but the sight of Kinsler in an Angels uniform is just gross.
10. Pudge in pinstripes: Pudge Rodriguez, the greatest Ranger of all time, played for a handful of teams in his post-Texas career, including the Marlins, Tigers, Nationals and Astros. Like Kinsler, though, Rodriguez has one stop that seems especially out of place, given his career. In 2008, Rodriguez played 33 games with the Yankees, the team that knocked his 1996, 1998 and 1999 Rangers out of the playoffs.