Whenever a quarterback who’s already raised a Lombardi Trophy joins a new team, the natural reaction is universal: Increased excitement, and increased expectations.
“It’s kind of like, ‘You never know what you had until it’s gone.’” Nathaniel Hackett told The Denver Post. “And for us, that’s why we’re so excited to have somebody here like (Russell Wilson).”
The last time the Broncos brought a Super Bowl champion quarterback to town, Peyton Manning produced two Super Bowl trips and one championship. The Colt-turned-Bronco became the first-ever starting quarterback to win the big game for two different teams when the Broncos beat the Panthers in Super Bowl 50, a feat that was later matched by Tom Brady (Patriots/Buccaneers).
But for every successful second act, there are many more examples of Super Bowl champion quarterbacks who came up short or busted altogether after leaving the team they won the title with.
As Hackett and the Broncos look to feed off a Hall of Fame talent in Wilson — whom his coach called “reenergized” following 10 seasons in Seattle — here’s a look at how other Super Bowl champion quarterbacks did in their next stop(s).
Joe Namath: Broadway Joe led the Jets to an upset over the Colts in Super Bowl III and spent his first 12 years in New York. At 34, he finished his career playing one season with the Los Angeles Rams in 1977, going 2-2 over his first four starts before being knocked out of a game and never winning his job back.
Johnny Unitas: After 17 years in Baltimore, three MVPs and a win over the Cowboys in Super Bowl V, Unitas finished his career in 1973 at age 40 with the Chargers. He was 1-3 in four starts after getting traded to San Diego and was replaced by rookie and future Hall of Famer Dan Fouts in Week 5.
Ken Stabler: The Snake led the Raiders to a Super Bowl XI win over the Vikings and played three more seasons in Oakland. But he finished with two years in Houston and three in New Orleans, going 16-12 with the Texans and 11-11 with the Saints. He was a backup to Richard Todd in his final year in 1984.
Joe Montana: He led San Francisco to a 4-0 record in Super Bowls, but finished his career with Kansas City in 1993 and ’94. An elbow injury and the emergence of Steve Young ultimately led to Montana’s trade to K.C., where he was 17-8 and led the Chiefs to two playoff appearances and an AFC championship game.
Jim McMahon: After leading the Bears to a victory in Super Bowl XX, his lone Pro Bowl season, McMahon went on to play for the Chargers, Eagles, Vikings, Cardinals and Packers. The champ-turned-journeyman won a second Super Bowl ring as a backup to Brett Favre on the Packers team that won Super Bowl XXXI.
Jeff Hostetler: He quarterbacked the Giants to a win over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV as New York’s backup, having been thrust into action late in the year due to Phil Simms’ broken foot. Hostetler started 21 games over the next two seasons before becoming a Pro Bowler with the Raiders (33-22 over four years) and finishing with one season in Washington.
Mark Rypien: The uncle of Broncos backup quarterback Brett Rypien led Washington to a win in Super Bowl XXVI, the second of the QB’s Pro Bowl seasons with the team. He went on to play for the Browns, Rams, Eagles and, following a three-year hiatus due to retirement, finished as Peyton Manning’s backup on the Colts in 2001.
Brett Favre: The gunslinger led the Packers to a Super Bowl XXXI victory over New England and then back to the big game the next year, where they were upset by the Broncos. He had a hard time deciding when to retire; he played a season for the Jets, then two with Minnesota, which featured an NFC title game appearance.
Kurt Warner: The grocery store clerk turned Super Bowl XXXIV champion eventually lost his job in St. Louis, and was released. He signed with the Giants, going 5-4 in one season before getting benched for Eli Manning. Warner’s career found new life in Arizona, and he led to the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII, losing a classic game to the Steelers.
Trent Dilfer: The lone Super Bowl winning QB to not return to lead his team the next year, Dilfer was 11-1 as the Ravens’ starter in 2000 but Baltimore elected to not re-sign him in free agency. He then started 12 games over four years in Seattle and finished with a year each in Cleveland and San Francisco.
Tom Brady: After winning six Super Bowls in New England, Brady’s relationship with coach Bill Belichick deteriorated. Brady thought he could play well into his 40s, and Belichick disagreed. So, after spending 20 seasons with the Patriots, Brady signed with Tampa Bay and won Super Bowl LV in his first season down south.
Brad Johnson: He was a Pro Bowler while leading the Buccaneers to a blowout of the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXV. He didn’t have another winning season in Tampa Bay after that, then was 13-10 in two seasons in Minnesota and finished with a couple years as the Cowboys’ backup to Tony Romo.
Peyton Manning: A neck injury put Manning’s career in jeopardy, forcing him to miss the 2011 season and ultimately leading to his release from the Colts. He signed with the Broncos at age 36, and led them to four AFC West titles in four seasons, including two Super Bowl appearances and a championship in Super Bowl 50.
Joe Flacco: The MVP of Super Bowl XLVII played 11 years in Baltimore before the Ravens traded him to Denver in 2019 in exchange for a fourth-round pick. His lone season with the Broncos was a dud. He went 2-6 and suffered a season-ending neck injury. He’s been Zach Wilson’s backup the past two years.
Nick Foles: He came on for an injured Carson Wentz late in the year and led the Eagles to an upset of the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, earning MVP honors in that game and out-dueling Tom Brady. But he’s been injury-riddled since then; he was 0-4 as the Jaguars’ starter in 2019, and 3-5 over the last two years in Chicago.