How we want to remember him: Say what you will about his attitude and antics. There is no denying that Owens was one of the best wide receivers who ever played. Owens enjoyed nine 1,000-yard seasons with San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas. He ranks second all-time in receiving yards (15,934) and third in TD catches (153). How he finished: Owens had a solid 2010 season with Cincinnati but a torn anterior cruciate ligament during the following offseason and a long history of confrontations with coaches and teammates caused teams to shy away from signing him. Owens did land with Seattle during the 2012 preseason but was released three weeks later to end his playing days.
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Safety Ed Reed
How we want to remember him: Reed was the NFL's best ball-hawking safety during his 11 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens (2002-12). Reed's 64 career interceptions rank seventh in league history. A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, Reed also was voted the NFL’s Defensive MVP in 2004. How he finished: Baltimore's front office correctly assessed that Reed was slipping when deciding not to re-sign him following the franchise's Super Bowl-winning season in 2012. Reed was a major bust with the Houston Texans, being released halfway through the first season of a three-year, $15M contract. Reed then signed with the New York Jets to conclude what proved his final NFL season in 2013.
New York Jets/Getty ImagesAl Pereira
Quarterback Joe Namath
How we want to remember him: With his rifle arm and off-field charm, Namath took professional football by storm when signing with the New York Jets of the NFL-rival American Football league in 1965. After making his famous victory 'guarantee' before Super Bowl III, Namath came through by guiding the Jets over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. How he finished: Namath's long history of knee injuries along with other ailments took a heavy toll on his career. Namath was waived by the Jets in 1977 and claimed by the Los Angeles Rams. He opened the season 2-2 as a starter before being benched for the rest of the year in favor of Pat Haden. Namath retired the following year.
Quarterback Johnny Unitas
How we want to remember him: As the NFL gradually became more of a passing league in the 1960s, 'Johnny U' led the way. Unitas paced the Baltimore Colts to four championships and won three MVPs. His streak of completing at least one TD pass for 47 straight games stood as an NFL record for 52 seasons until broken by New Orleans QB Drew Brees in 2012. How he finished: At age 40, Unitas was well beyond his prime when traded by Baltimore to San Diego in 1973. Unitas opened 1-3 as a starter, completing less than 50 percent of his passes, before being replaced by another future Hall of Famer in Dan Fouts. Unitas retired during the 1974 preseason.
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Quarterback Brett Favre
How we want to remember him: Green Bay and Minnesota fans have positive and negative memories of Favre as he played for both NFC North rivals during his storied career. Favre's toughness is reflected by his NFL-record string of 321 consecutive starts (including playoffs). He retired holding most of the league’s all-time passing marks. How he finished: Favre retired (again) after falling just short of reaching Super Bowl 44 with the '09 Vikings. He was coaxed back (again) the following season but didn’t experience nearly as much success. Favre’s season, career and consecutive starts streak ended in Week 15 when he suffered a concussion after being driven into the frozen turf by Chicago Bears DE Corey Wootton.
Getty ImagesJim Rogash
Running back Fred Taylor
How we want to remember him: Taylor remains the most iconic player in Jacksonville Jaguars history. He set the franchise rushing record of 11,271 yards while posting six 1,000-yard rushing seasons from 1998 to 2008. How he finished: Replaced by Maurice Jones-Drew in the Jaguars backfield, Taylor signed with New England for two seasons as a reserve. He gained only 155 yards during an injury-plagued campaign in 2010 and retired as a member of the Jaguars after signing a one-day ceremonial contract the following year.
Defensive end Simeon Rice
How we want to remember him: Rice was one of the NFL’s top pass rushers during the 1990s and 2000s with Arizona and Tampa Bay. He had a league-high 15.5 sacks in 2002, which helped fuel Tampa Bay’s run to winning Super Bowl XXXVII. How he finished: Following his release by Tampa Bay, Rice spent parts of the 2007 season with Denver and Indianapolis. Rice admits now that he wasn't fully healthy and should have taken the year off to recuperate. Rice spent one season playing in the now-defunct United Football League before turning his focus toward a new passion: film directing. Rice's 122 career sacks rank 17th on the NFL's all-time list.
Running back Eric Dickerson
How we want to remember him: After smashing the NFL’s rookie rushing records in 1983, Dickerson would set the NFL’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards the following year. The record still stands today. Dickerson rushed for at least 1,200 yards in his first seven NFL seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis. How he finished: Worn out by almost 3,800 carries between his college and pro careers, a 33-year-old Dickerson played four games with Atlanta before being traded to Green Bay during the 1993 season. Dickerson was released by the Packers after failing a physical and never played again. At the time of his retirement, Dickerson was the second-leading rusher in NFL history.
Wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt
How we want to remember them: Playing with quarterback Kurt Warner, Bruce and Holt were the receivers that helped fuel a St. Louis Rams offense known as the 'Greatest Show on Turf.' Each ranks among the top 20 players all time for catches and receiving yards. How they finished: Neither ended their career with St. Louis. Although his receiving numbers were respectable, Holt posted career-lows in catches (51), yardage (722) and touchdowns (zero) during the 2009 season with Jacksonville. He suffered a knee injury during the 2010 preseason with New England and never played again. Bruce played two years with NFC West rival San Francisco after 14 seasons with the Rams. He retired after catching just 21 passes for 264 yards without a score during the 2009 campaign.
AFP/Getty ImagesROBERTO SCHMIDT
Running back Franco Harris
How we want to remember him: Harris was the motor of Pittsburgh’s offense on four Super Bowl-winning teams during the 1970s. He also made one of the most memorable and controversial plays in NFL history, catching a deflected pass to score a 60-yard touchdown that gave the 1972 Steelers a 13-7 playoff win over Oakland. How he finished: After 12 years with the Steelers, Harris was released during the 1984 offseason following a contract dispute. He signed with Seattle early in the 1984 campaign but was cut after gaining only 170 yards on 68 carries. Harris finished his career 194 yards from becoming the all-time leading rusher in NFL history. He currently ranks 13th on the list with 12,120 career yards.
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Wide receiver Randy Moss
How we want to remember him: An amazing rookie season with Minnesota in 1998 was just the start for Moss, who went on to become the greatest big-play receiver in NFL history. His best season came in 2007 when Moss set the NFL’s single-season record for touchdown catches with 27. How he finished: A sour attitude and declining skills led to Moss being dumped by two teams (the Patriots and Minnesota) during the 2010 season. He retired for one year and then returned to play for San Francisco in 2012. Moss caught only 28 passes during the regular season and was a dud in the playoffs. His final game was a two-catch, 41-yard effort in San Francisco’s loss to Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII.
Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
Wide receiver Jerry Rice
How we want to remember him: Rice established himself as the greatest WR in NFL history during 16 seasons with San Francisco (1985-2000) before being released. Rice then proved he still had something left in the tank when joining the Oakland Raiders, posting receiving seasons of 1,100-plus yards in 2001 and 2002. How he finished: A slumping Rice was traded by Oakland to Seattle at the 2003 trade deadline. He caught 25 passes for 362 yards and three TDs in 11 games. Rice was released in the 2004 offseason and signed with Denver. Rice retired at the end of the preseason after it was clear he would only have a reserve role in the Broncos offense.