Commentary

Favre not first NFL star to exit after great season

With Brett Favre calling it quits after one of his finest seasons, David Rose examines other great final seasons in NFL history.

Originally Published: March 8, 2008
By David Rose | Special to ESPN.com

Jim BrownTony Tomsic/Getty ImagesIn 1965, Cleveland's Jim Brown (32) capped his NFL career in style. He rushed for 1,544 yards rushing and 21 scores. It was the eighth time in nine years he paced the league.

It's not often an NFL athlete walks away at the top of his game. With Brett Favre retiring after one of the best statistical seasons of his career, let's take a look at a list of notable final NFL seasons.

2007 Brett Favre (Packers)


After subpar seasons in 2005 and 2006, the NFL's most prolific passer had a record-setting end to his career. Favre threw for 4,155 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2007, the most in both categories for a quarterback in his final season. In the process, he set NFL career records for wins as a starter (160), pass attempts (8,758), passing yards (61,655), touchdown passes (442) and interceptions (288). Favre led the Packers to a 13-3 record and came within one win of the Super Bowl but fell to the Giants in the NFC Championship Game.

2006 Tiki Barber (Giants)


During the 2006 season, Barber announced he would retire at year's end. In that season, which ended with the Giants going 8-8 and losing their NFC wild-card game, Barber rushed for 1,662 yards, with eight 100-yard games. In his final regular-season game, he rushed for a franchise-record 234 yards and three touchdowns against the Redskins, helping the Giants earn the final postseason spot in the NFC. Barber finished his career as one of only three players with 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards, joining Marshall Faulk and Marcus Allen.

2000 Robert Smith (Vikings)


Smith, the Vikings' all-time rushing leader, ended his career following the 2000 season. He led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, rushing for a career-high and franchise-record 1,521 yards, including eight 100-yard games. He finished with a franchise career record of 6,818 yards on the ground.

1998 John Elway (Broncos)


Quarterbacks dream about going out on top, but Elway lived it in 1998, going 10-2 as a starter, throwing 22 touchdowns, being selected to his ninth Pro Bowl and finishing with a Super Bowl victory. He threw for 336 yards and one touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIII and won MVP honors. He had also led the Broncos to the Super Bowl title the previous season.

1998 Barry Sanders (Lions)


After rushing for 2,053 yards and sharing MVP honors with Favre in 1997, Sanders rushed for 1,491 yards, including eight 100-yard games, in 1998. It was his 10th straight 1,000-yard season, an NFL record for most consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin a career (he shares the record with Curtis Martin). Sitting just 1,458 yards from breaking Walter Payton's then-NFL career rushing record of 16,726 yards, Sanders unexpectedly left the game after 10 seasons and 15,269 yards on the ground.

1994 Sterling Sharpe (Packers)


Sharpe, Favre's first main target, unexpectedly played his final NFL season in 1994. Sharpe, who caught 108 and 112 passes in 1992 and 1993, respectively, caught 94 passes for 1,119 yards and 18 touchdowns in his final season. His 18 touchdown receptions are tied for third most in a single season in NFL history. He also won his fifth Pro Bowl selection. However, a severe neck injury made 1994 the final season of a potential Hall of Fame career.

1979 Roger Staubach (Cowboys)


In his final season, Staubach set career highs with 267 completions, 3,586 yards and 27 touchdowns. The yardage and TD totals stood as the most by a quarterback in his final NFL season until Favre surpassed them in 2007. However, after the Cowboys were shocked by the Rams in the divisional playoffs, and having suffered numerous concussions over several seasons, Staubach called an end to his Hall of Fame career.

1965 Jim Brown (Browns)


One of the most dominant players in NFL history went out with a bang in 1965. Brown led the NFL with 1,544 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. It was the eighth time in nine years Brown led the NFL in rushing. Brown also was named league MVP for the second time in his career as the Browns went on to lose to the Packers in the NFL championship game. Brown retired without ever playing a game in his 30s, leaving with a then-NFL record of 12,312 yards on ground.

1955 Otto Graham (Browns)


Graham thought his storied career had ended after he threw for three touchdowns and ran for three more as the Browns won the 1954 NFL championship. However, coach Paul Brown talked Graham in to one more season. Graham did not disappoint, throwing for 15 scores and running for six more. He capped off his career by throwing for two touchdowns as the Browns defeated the Rams 38-14 in the NFL championship game. Graham reached the AAFC or NFL championship game in all 10 of his pro seasons, winning four AAFC titles and three NFL titles.