The last several days have been a big week for basketball fans as several players have received a healthy pay day in free agency. This has created a lot of mixed emotions for fans as some of them are forced to watch their favorite players jump ship. And none was more shocking than when former Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors. Not only do Thunder fans have to part with the player that was the face of their franchise, but he left to go play for the one of their biggest foes - the team that just recently bounced them from the playoffs in an epic seven game Western Conference Finals. Ouch.
So, let the jersey burning commence!
It’s easy for me to make jest over this as it doesn’t affect me. I’m not an OKC fan. While this situation doesn’t faze me, there have been free agent signings in the past that have. We’ve all been there. A player that we’ve invested so much anxiety as we’ve cheered them on, all of a sudden leaves our team. And sometimes the pain doesn’t stop there as the next time you see him on the football field, he’s donning a jersey of a team you hate. That’s a sickening feeling.
And as I like to do from time to time, let’s revisit some of those gut-wrenching moments when one of our favorites decided to move on to greener pastures. A couple years ago, we all watched the Cowboys cut ties with DeMarcus Ware for salary cap purposes, only to witness him hoist the Super Bowl trophy this last February. And last off-season in another cost-saving move, the Cowboys let franchise leading single-season rusher DeMarco Murray leave Texas to venture off to the divisional rival Philadelphia Eagles. Neither of these transactions sat very well with Cowboys fans. It’s hard saying goodbye to a Cowboys legend and nobody ever wants to see an All Pro go play for the enemy.
But as bad as those events were, I found them relatively easy to deal with. There was a method to the madness of how the Cowboys' front office were using their resources and I was behind it. Of course some of these departures aren’t so easy to stomach. The move that stung me the most occurred over twenty years ago.
Ken Norton Jr. signs with the San Francisco 49ers
If you followed football during the ‘90s, you knew that the NFL consisted of the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, and everyone else. In fact, the Super Bowl was essentially an exhibition game between some AFC participant and the already determined Super Bowl winner from the NFC Championship game. The Cowboys and 49ers would face each other in three-straight NFC Championships. These two teams dominated a stretch of the decade, even to the point of where it seemed like they focused a great part of their energy solely towards beating each other. The Cowboys would steal Charles Haley away from the 49ers in a traded that helped catapult Dallas over the top on route to back-to-back Super Bowl victories. The 49ers would play back at them when they signed Cowboys free agent linebacker Ken Norton Jr. in 1994. This was the first year the salary cap was instituted and the Cowboys had to be selective about where their money went. And it didn’t go to Norton.
San Francisco had a different plan. The 49ers president, Carmen Policy, started finding ways to manipulate the cap with signing bonuses and deferred payments. With the team committed to bolstering their roster to beat the Cowboys, the 49ers would go out and pluck several stars from other teams. They would sign:
- Six-time Pro Bowler, Ricky Jackson from the New Orleans Saints
- Five-time Pro Bowler and All Pro, Richard Dent from the Chicago Bears
- Four-time Pro Bowler, Charles Mann from the Washington Redskins
- Two-time All Pro, Deion Sanders from the Atlanta Falcons
- And yes, Ken Norton Jr. from the Dallas Cowboys who was just coming off his first Pro Bowl season
It was tough to lose Norton, but it hurt even more to watch him play for the hated 49ers. Norton would go on to become the first player to win three-straight Super Bowls. And he might have gotten four had Jerry Jones not pushed more chips in the middle when he snagged Deion Sanders from San Francisco the following season.
Can you remember a time when you were upset when one of your favorite players left the Cowboys?