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You probably heard that Kobe Bryant has retired from the NBA. In his final game, he put up a whopping 60 points, albeit on a modern record 50 shot attempts. On twitter, Topher_Doll asked me what were some of the greatest final games in NFL history.

Since 1970, there have been 37 times where a player eclipsed 100 yards from scrimmage in his final game. This includes Calvin Johnson, but not Johnny Manziel, who rushed for over 100 yards in his last game but is not exactly out of the NFL just yet. The record-holder is Domanick Williams (formerly Davis) of the Houston Texans, who had a very successful but short career that was ended by a knee injury.

PlayerTmOppYearBoxscoreRush YdRec YdYFS
Domanick WilliamsHOUTEN2005Boxscore13950189
Mike MontgomeryHOUSTL1974Boxscore0179179
Ed PodolakKANSEA1977Boxscore9275167
Bobby HammondWASSTL1980Boxscore13522157
Tiki BarberNYGPHI2006Boxscore13715152
Michael BasnightCINJAX1999Boxscore8658144
Ricky WattersSEADAL2001Boxscore10434138
Calvin JohnsonDETCHI2015Boxscore0137137
Lionel VitalWASDAL1987Boxscore1360136
Billy SimsDETMIN1984Boxscore10332135
Otis GrantPHIGNB1987Boxscore0135135
Sterling SharpeGNBTAM1994Boxscore2132134
Lee MorrisGNBPHI1987Boxscore0132132
Bob ChandlerOAKSDG1981Boxscore0128128
Oliver WilliamsHOUNWE1987Boxscore0124124
Randal HillNORARI1997Boxscore0124124
Scott LockwoodNWEMIA1992Boxscore1230123
Rob MooreARIGNB1999Boxscore0120120
Julius JonesNORSEA2010Boxscore5961120
Jonathan WellsHOUJAX2005Boxscore8633119
Tatum BellDENSDG2008Boxscore8631117
June HenleySTLSFO1998Boxscore5164115
Keith TostonJAXTEN2012Boxscore7441115
Kevin WillhiteGNBPHI1987Boxscore10013113
Jahvid BestDETSFO2011Boxscore3773110
Jimmy DuBoseTAMNYG1978Boxscore1090109
Milton BarneyATLRAM1987Boxscore0109109
Malcolm KellyWASSDG2009Boxscore0109109
Warren WellsOAKBAL1970Boxscore0108108
Larry MasonGNBPHO1988Boxscore5749106
Walter PaytonCHIWAS1987Boxscore8520105
Howard TwilleyMIAKAN1976Boxscore0104104
Barry PearsonKANOAK1975Boxscore0103103
Duane ThomasWASCHI1974Boxscore1020102
Paul RobinsonHOUCIN1973Boxscore1001101
Robert DiRicoNYGBUF1987Boxscore7922101

What stands out to you?

  • My first thought was 3 RBs who all retired when it was assumed they had plenty of good years left: Barry Sanders, Robert Smith, and Jim Brown. No Sanders (56 in his last game) or Smith (40) on the list, and though Brown retired before your 1970 cutoff, he only had 74 yards in his final game.

    • Richie

      Yep I was looking for Sanders on the list.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Ed Podolak delivered one of the best all purpose postseason games in NFL history in 1971 against Miami. Were not for a Jan Stenerud miss of a very makeable FG, that KC team may have beaten Baltimore the next week, and faced off versus Dallas in SB6. Podolak wore that distinctive dungard facemask of the era, he didn’t have great speed or Darren Sporles-like quickness, but was very effective.

    Getting back to this table, some of these players were hurt in their final games, like Billy Sims. Today, Sims would have had the opportunity to possibly regain his greatness with modern surgical techniques. Sims was a HOF talent, even though he was 25 by the time his NFL career began.

  • Josh Sanford

    There’s a part of me who wants an asterisk by the names of everyone from 1987 not named Walter Payton because they were not “real” players…unless they read this comments–because I love those guys.

    Now you have us hungry for guys who started out with a bang. I remember from reading the backs of football cards 33 years ago that Steve DeBerg’s first pass was a 70 yard TD. And Otis Anderson rushed for 193 in his first game. Or do I? That was a while ago. I thought the Anderson card said that someone else started with a game of 194.

    And of course Anquan Boldin started out with a great game–like 220 or something like that.

    • Alejandro

      According to PFR’s Player Game Finder, rookies with the most yards from scrimmage in the first team game of the season (so this excludes players who played their first game later in the season):

      Anquan Boldin, ARI, 2003, 217 YFS
      Billy Sims, DET, 1980, 217 YFS
      Ottis Anderson, STL, 1979, 193 YFS
      William Andrews, ATL, 1979, 189 YFS
      Sid Blanks, HOU, 1964, 184 YFS
      Louis Lipps, PIT, 1984, 183 YFS
      Marcus Allen, RAI, 1982, 180 YFS
      Marshall Faulk, IND, 1994, 174 YFS
      Rick Upchurch, DEN, 1975, 166 YFS
      Curt Warner, SEA, 1983, 165 YFS

  • Kyle Milligan

    I was thinking about other stats being determinant of a great game or maybe the magnitude of the game. I thought about Ray Lewis as his last game was a SB win, but wonder what kind of a night he had.
    Obviously Manning and Elway would still not be there because neither had a good statistical game.
    Anyhow, that’s just where my mind went from reading the headline.

    • Elway had 336 yards passing on 29 attempts, a touchdown, and an interception. It was good for 11.7 Y/A, 10.6 AY/A, and a 99.2 passer rating. He also added another rushing touchdown, and was named SBMVP. It was actually the 2nd-most passing yards, 2nd-highest Y/A, 3rd-highest AY/A, and 6th-highest passer rating of his 22-game postseason career. Including regular season, the Y/A total ranks 12th out of his 256 games.

      It was a pretty good statistical game.

      • Independent George

        Jinx.

      • Kyle Milligan

        Oh OK thanks. maybe the game I am thinking of was SB 32.

    • Independent George

      Elway went 18-29, 336, 1TD-1INT in his final game. It was his first Super Bowl that was statistically poor.

  • sacramento gold miners

    It would be interesting to find out what HOF players did in their final play(s), although that info would be difficult to obtain once you get past a certain point. Terry Bradshaw threw a TD pass against the Jets, and Doug Atkins registered a sack in their respective final plays. If I’m not mistaken, Joe Montana’s last pass was intercepted against the Dolphins in a playoff game.

  • One takeaway I see is that almost none of those games are quite the same as Kobe’s spectacle. With the exception of Walter Payton I think, very few of those players were on any sort of farewell tour. The best players on the list were actually kind of surprise retirements like Tiki Barber or Calvin johnson.

  • Independent George

    If only his defense hadn’t come through with a sack/fumble in OT, Kurt Warner could have had the greatest final game ever in 2009 (29/33, 379 yds, 5 TD, 0 INT). Alas, a defensive TD meant he went on to play one more game (17/26, 205 yds, 0 TD, 1 INT), thereby ruining it.

    I bet he’s just utterly distraught by that…

    ETA: Likewise, if only David Tyree hadn’t played special teams for Baltimore in 2009, his last game would have been THAT one.

    • Richie

      Nice call on Warner. I keep a log of statistically great QB games. It’s not an exhaustive list, and normally I only include regular season games. But that Warner game would rank as the 13th-best game of all-time. (No adjustments for era or opponent.)

      The 12 better:
      1. YA Tittle 1962
      2. Nick Foles 2013
      3. Peyton Manning 2013
      4. Johnny Unitas 1967
      5. Drew Brees 2015
      6. Joe Namath 1972
      7. Drew Brees 2009
      8. Craig Morton 1981
      9. Steve Grogan 1979
      10. Tony Romo 2013
      11. George Blanda 1961
      12. Joe Kapp 1969