Tom Brady retired two months ago as the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Now, Brady will look to have the greatest un-retirement in league annals after announcing that he will return to the Buccaneers for the 2022 season.
Brady returns to the Buccaneers a year after throwing a league-high 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns at age 44. Trailing the Rams 27-3 in the divisional round of the playoffs, two Brady touchdown passes helped Tampa Bay tie the score with 42 seconds left. It took two big completions from Matthew Stafford to Cooper Kupp for the Rams to dethrone the Buccaneers, who came up short in their quest to win back-to-back titles.
The Buccaneers’ championship window, which seemed closed following Brady’s retirement, is once again wide open with the news of Brady’s return. Along with beginning his pursuit of a record eighth championship, Brady will look to join the following list of NFL players who went onto enjoy success after a brief retirement.
Brady’s longtime teammate was coaxed out of retirement by Brady after sitting out one season in 2020. Gronkowski picked up where he left off in Tampa Bay; he caught 100 passes for 1,425 yards and 13 touchdowns during his first two seasons with the Buccaneers. In Tampa Bay’s 31-9 win over the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, Gronkowski caught two first half touchdown passes while moving into sole possession of second all-time in career Super Bowl touchdown receptions.
Farve was retired for less than two months before he filed for reinstatement in the summer of 2008. Favre was hoping to return to the Packers, his team from 1992-07. But after informing him that they were moving forward with Aaron Rodgers, the Packers traded Favre to the Jets, where he spent one season before retiring again.
Favre’s second retirement lasted almost six months. In August of 2009, Favre signed with the Vikings, the Packers’ longtime division rival. Favre enjoyed one of his greatest seasons in 2009, as he threw for 4,202 yards and 33 touchdowns that included a season sweep of Green Bay. The Vikings’ season ended in heartbreak in the NFC Championship Game, as an interception by Favre late in regulation contributed to Minnesota’s overtime loss to the Saints.
Unlike his previous two retirements, Favre’s third retirement was final. He hung up his cleats for good after a disappointing 2010 season that saw his record of 297 consecutive starts come to an end. Favre, a three-time league MVP and Super Bowl XXXI champion, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
Favre’s second un-retirement included an NFC Championship Game appearance with the Vikings.
The owner of the best second act in NFL history, the Hall of Fame running back called it quits after the 1979 season following a contract dispute. After just one year away, the 32-year-old Riggins was coaxed out of retirement by new Washington coach Joe Gibbs. Riggins’ decision to return paid off handsomely. In 1982, Riggins carried Washington to their first Super Bowl title, rushing for a playoff record 610 yards in four playoff games that included his 166-yard effort in Super Bowl XVII. His 42-yard touchdown run in the second half propelled Washington to a 27-17 victory over the Dolphins.
In 1983, the 34-year-old Riggins won league MVP honors while scoring a then-NFL record 24 rushing touchdowns while leading Washington to back to the Super Bowl. He led the NFL in rushing touchdowns again the following season before retiring after the 1986 season. Remarkably, Riggins rushed for more yards in his 30s than he did in his 20s, which the majority of those yards coming during his second act in Washington.
One of the NFL’s biggest stars earlier in his career, Cunningham retired after a disappointing 1995 season. He resurfaced two years later in Minnesota, leading the Vikings to a come-from-behind victory over the Giants in the 1997 wild card round. The following season, Cunningham enjoyed the best season of his career. With Cris Cater (his former teammate in Philadelphia) and rookie Randy Moss as his disposal, Cunningham earned All-Pro honors while leading the Vikings to a 15-1 record. Cunningham and the Vikings’ Super Bowl dreams fell short, however, in an overtime loss to the Falcons in the NFC title game.
Cunningham lost his starting job to Jeff George in 1999 before spending his final two seasons as a backup in Dallas.
The former Heisman Trophy winner and 2002 NFL rushing champion, Williams famously retired just before the start of the 2004 season. Williams, who was solid upon returning to the Dolphins in 2005 while sharing time in the backfield with Ronnie Brown, missed the entire 2006 season after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He played professionally in Canada that year before appearing in just one game for the Dolphins in 2007.
Williams’ career finally got back in track in 2009, when he rushed for over 1,000 yards for the first time since his first retirement. He enjoyed a successful one-year stint with the Ravens in 2011, helping them advance to the AFC Championship Game before retiring that offseason. Williams was actually credentialed as a cameraman for the next year’s Super Bowl, as he watched his former Ravens teammates defeat the 49ers.
Despite missing most or all of three different seasons, Williams is one of 31 players with over 10,000 yards rushing.
One of the greatest cover corners in NFL history, Sanders missed three full seasons before signing with the Ravens before the start of the 2004 season. Sanders, who wore his age (37) as his jersey number that season, returned one of his three interceptions for a touchdown during his first season in Baltimore. He picked off two more passed in 2005 before retiring after the season.
A two-way star and one of the greatest players of his era, Nagurski had been out of football for five years before returning to the Bears for one final season. His touchdown gave the Bears the lead for good in Chicago’s win over Washington in the NFL Championship Game. It was the third championship win for Nagurski, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.
The Cowboys’ all-time leading receiver, Witten spent one year in the broadcast booth before coming out of retirement in 2019. His 2019 numbers were nearly identical to the stat line he put in up in 2017, catching 63 passes for 529 yards and four touchdowns. Witten spent his final season with the Raiders, where he caught 13 passes and two touchdowns.
Jason Witten’s second NFL stint included a stop in Las Vegas.
The battering ram behind the Seahawks’ run of success from 2011-14, Lynch retired after the 2015 season before joining his hometown Raiders in 2016. Lynch put up solid numbers during his two years in Oakland before re-signing with Seattle just before the start of the 2019 playoffs, scoring a touchdown in the Seahawks’ wild card victory over the Bears.
The “Minister of Defense,” White’s remarkable career included a three-sack effort in Green Bay’s victory over New England in Super Bowl XXXI. After a one-year retirement, White signed with the Panthers before the start of the 2000 season. He recorded 5.5 sacks that season — raising his career total to 198 — before retiring for good during the 2001 offseason.
The first player to win five Super Bowl rings, Haley retired after the 1996 season before being signed by the 49ers just before the start of the 1998 playoffs. The 34-year-old Haley was effective enough to help apply pressure to Brett Favre while helping San Francisco dethrone the defending two-time defending NFC champion Packers in the wild card round. Haley returned for the 1999 season, recording three sacks — raising his career total to 100.5 sacks — before retiring for good after the season. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
After sitting out the entire 2020 and 2021 regular seasons, Weddle signed with the Rams before the start of the ’21 playoffs. Weddle, a six-time Pro Bowler from his years with the Chargers and Ravens, made 18 tackles during the Rams’ playoff run. Weddle started the NFC Championship Game as well as Super Bowl LVI. Shortly after recording five tackles in the Rams’ 23-20 win over the Bengals, the 37-year-old safety announced that he was retiring for a second and final time.