No one in the world of sports, not even the greats, are immune to a fall from grace, injury, or simply having their body break down because of age. That however does not keep some of the most competitive players from being reluctant to succumbing to the fact that their illustrious career may be over. Time and time again we see players take a break or call it quits, just to come back to the game for one last shot at glory.
Often the most decorated athletes of all time just can’t believe that they don’t have what it takes to lead themselves, or a team, to one more shot of glory. The hard work and dedication is still there for the athlete, as is the competitive mindset.
Sometimes the issue isn’t even age, often times a professional athlete finds themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time or believes that because of their status they are invincible to the consequences of illegal actions. And sometimes the case is simply an injury that takes a toll on the athletes career.
When someone becomes a professional athlete, it is usually because of the hard work they put in that is driven by their competitive nature. This often leads to a player having the will and belief that they can return to the game that made them so successful. However in some cases, the inevitable factors that one must deal with that come with age, the player often finds themselves leaving the game with the harsh reality that they can no longer compete.
Here are twenty athletes who saw their attempt at a comeback be short lived.
20. Bob Cousy
One of the greatest ball handlers in NBA history, and one of the best passers to ever play the game, very few remember that Bob Cousy actually tried his hand at passing the rock one more time. The six-time NBA Champion and 13 time All-Star, Cousy had one of the longest gaps between retirement and return to the game after six years of not playing. The return was short, as Cousy only played in seven games and managed to score a mere five points.
19. Martina Hingis
Martina Hingis became the youngest singles player to win a Grand Slam in women’s tennis history at the age of 16 when she won the 1997 Australian Open. Hingis jumped to a world number 1 ranking a year later and dominated both the singles and doubles formats, winning five singles grand slams and nine doubles grand slams in a six-year span.
In 2003, Hingis was forced to retire after numerous ankle injuries forced her off the court. She did return in 2006 and was forced to stick with playing doubles because of her injuries. Though she was playing well and winning tournaments, Hingis tested positive for cocaine in 2007 and was suspended for two years. Hingis has since returned to tennis again, still as a doubles only player and has never returned to the dominant force she was in her early years.
18. Michael Vick
Though some may argue that Michael Vick has made huge improvements in his personal life, his on-field performance after serving a 21-month prison sentence for an illegal dog-fighting ring has been less than stellar. Before the conviction Vick was the face of the Atlanta Falcons and one of the most exciting players in sports. Upon returning to the NFL in 2009, Vick has started in only 45 games and other than a solid 2010, never returned to being the player that was once referred to as The Michael Vick Experience.
17. Joe Lewis
Likely the first boxer in history to dominate the sport, Joe Lewis held the Heavyweight title belt for nearly 12 years and 25 title defenses. In 72 fights, Lewis lost just three of them, and knocked out his opponent 57 times. However, as it happens to all professional athletes, Lewis eventually slowed down and was forced to retire.
Sadly, as with many athletes, Lewis found himself broke and decided to make a return to boxing just one year after announcing his retirement. Lewis was out of shape and forced to box opponents much weaker than him to earn a shot at a fight worth any money. Lewis beat up on the weaker competition and was given a shot at Rocky Marciano, who ended Lewis career with an eighth round knockout.
16. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is one of just a few players on this list that still has a chance to rewrite their ending. Bryant’s resume boasts 17 All-Star games, five NBA championships, and an MVP award. But in April of 2013, Bryant tore his Achilles and hasn’t been the same, having a season ending injury in each of the last three seasons, as the Black Mamba has played in just 41 games over the past two years and will turn 37 before next season. Recently, the Lakers franchise has seen some of the worst basketball of its rich history and with one year left on Bryant’s contract, it may be his last chance to rewrite his comeback.
15. Michael Schumacher
One of the greatest and most important people in the sport of Formula One racing, Michael Schumacher won 91 races in just 248 tries and collected seven championships along the way. However, after a three year retirement from 2007-2010, the racing great returned to the track. In three years of racing, Schumacher never won another race and made just one podium, finishing third in a race in 2012.
14. Claude Lemieux
One of the most successful post-season players in NHL history, Claude Lemieux won four Stanley Cup Championships, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and ranks ninth all time in the NHL with 80 playoff goals scored. Lemieux ,who in 2008 returned to the NHL after a five year retirement from the game, spent the first part of the season playing for the San Jose Sharks’ AHL team; the Worcester Sharks, scoring just 3 goals. Regardless of his mediocre play, Lemieux was called up to the NHL for the second part of the 2008-2009 at the age of 43, playing in just 18 games and collecting one assist.
13. Bo Jackson
Dubbed the greatest athlete of all time by ESPN magazine, two-sport phenomenon Bo Jackson has one of the saddest endings in sports history. Jackson who was famous for playing both football and baseball professionally was one of the most fun players to watch before a hip injury ended his football career.
With football no longer an option, Jackson returned to baseball two years later and was never the same, playing in just 160 games over two seasons and striking out 178 times before retiring from professional sports after the 1994 season.
12. Roger Clemens
The MLB’s version of Brett Favre in terms of retirement, Roger Clemons left and returned to the game three times before he ultimately called it quits. One of the greatest pitchers to ever take a major league mound, Clemens actually fared well in his first two returns, winning a Cy Young award, leading his team to the World Series final and posting his lowest era of his career at 1.87 in 2005 playing for the Houston Astros. However, it was how his career ended that many will remember him for, signing an $17.4 million contract with the New York Yankees, and finishing the regular season 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA. Numerous injuries affected him throughout the season and Clemens was ultimately removed from the rotation during the playoffs. This was all followed by numerous steroid use accusations that probably ruined any chance he had at the Hall of Fame.
11. Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson had a very promising start to his career, winning two silver medals at the 1982 Commonwealth Games and then following that up with two bronze medals at the 1984 Olympic Games. In 1988, when Johnson returned to the Olympics, he set a world record in the 100m with a time of 9.79 and became the first Canadian to win gold in the event in 60 years. However, after the race, Johnson tested positive for anabolic steroids, had his medal stripped and was suspended by the IOC.
In 1991, after Johnson’s suspension was lifted, he made an attempt at a comeback. While he did make his country’s Olympic team and ran his way into the semi-final, he stumbled out of the blocks in the semi-final heat, finished last, tested positive for steroids again and was banned for life from international racing.
10. Ryne Sandberg
After ten consecutive All-Star game appearances and nine Gold Gloves, Ryne Sandberg experienced his first year of slowing down and struggled through part of 1994 before ultimately retiring. After sitting out the 1995 season, the record holder for best career fielding percentage at second base returned for one more try with the Chicago Cubs. Sandberg found himself struggling at the plate over his two year stint, managing just a .253 batting average and 210 strikeouts.
9. Tiger Woods
In one of the craziest rise-and-fall stories in the history of sports, Tiger Woods has never regained his pre-scandal form. Before that famous Thanksgiving night in 2009, Woods had dominated the sport of golf for over twelve years, collecting 14 majors and 10 PGA Player of the Year awards during that span.
Since taking a break from December 2009 to April 2010, Woods has won just eight PGA events, none of them majors, and has gone winless in four of the past six years, including 2015. He has battled a recurring back injury and has had to pull himself out of a number of tournaments. Though Woods has shown occasional signs that he’s back, he has never put it all together and continues to struggle.
8. Plaxico Burress
Plaxico Burress made one of the most important plays in New York Giants history when he caught the go ahead touchdown in Super Bowl XLII that denied the New England Patriots a perfect season.
Then followed the incident that sent Burress to prison for two years, when he shot himself in the leg with an unregistered gun inside of a New York night club. Upon being released from prison, Burress attempted a comeback with the New York Jets for one season and then one more try with the team that drafted him, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Burress managed just 48 catches for 654 yards over the two seasons and is now in trouble with the government for not paying taxes.
7. Michael Jordan
It can’t be denied that Michael Jordan is one of the greatest athletes of all time, and easily the greatest at his sport. One of the most decorated athletes in American sports with six championship rings, Jordan ended his career on a bad team that never even made the playoffs. Following three years of retirement, his second retirement from the sport, Jordan returned to the NBA playing for the team he partially owned, the Washington Wizards in 2001. Jordan produced, averaging over 20 points per game during the two season span, but his season was however cut short in ‘01-‘02, followed by a frustrating finale in ‘02-’03.
6. Brett Favre
Brett Favre’s career began as one of the more inspiring comeback stories in sports. He had to have over two feet of his large intestine removed after a car accident before his senior year at Southern Mississippi. His first pass attempt as an NFL quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons was an interception returned for a touchdown. After his rough rookie season, Favre was traded to Green Bay and wound up having one of the greatest careers in NFL history.
However, the three time MVP managed to have a disgraceful ending to an illustrious career, retiring then returning, forcing the Packers to trade Favre to the Jets. Favre was terrible with the Jets (and involved in a sexting scandal), so he retired again after his season with the Jets. The story didn’t end there, as he came back yet again, signing with the Minnesota Vikings. Favre spent the last two years of his career crossing off milestones, having a great 2009 season before a terrible 2010 season and taking a significant amount of abuse before hanging it up for good.
5. Mark Spitz
America’s original golden boy in terms of Olympic medals, Mark Spitz owns 26 career medals, 24 of them gold. Spitz also held the record for most gold medals in an Olympic Games with 7 at the 1972 Olympics. A record that stood for 36 years before Michael Phelps broke it in 2008.
After those 1972 Olympics, Spitz retired. However twenty years later, at age 41 for the 1992 summer games. Spitz made a valiant attempt at a comeback, posting times that were similar to the ones he posted while winning medals in his prime. However Spitz never qualified and retired for good after the tryout.
4. Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali is one of the greatest boxers of all time. However, after retiring in 1979 and trying to mount a return as an out of shape 38 year old boxer in 1980, Ali failed miserably. Desperate for money, and showing signs of what would eventually be a Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis, Ali fought and lost to then-Heavyweight title holder Larry Holmes. The embarrassing loss didn’t stop Ali from giving it one more shot, more than a year later, losing back to back fights for the first time in his career to Trevor Berbick.
3. Bjorn Borg
Bjorn Borg was only 16 years old when he took the professional tennis world by storm, winning 64 titles and 11 Grand Slams, over a 10 year career. But at age 26, he shook up professional tennis one more time when he abruptly retired in his prime. Then in 1991, Borg decided to return to tennis at the age of 35. Using a wooden racket in an age when aluminum rackets were gaining popularity may have helped contribute to his failure to win a single match during his return.
2. Jim Palmer
Baltimore Oriole’s legend Jim Palmer amounted what could be the saddest of comebacks. The three-time Cy Young award winner had already been elected to the Hall of Fame when he decided to come back to play baseball, seven years after retiring. Palmer gave up five hits and two runs over two innings in a spring training game before retiring for good. Though his comeback attempt was less than Hall of Fame worthy, Palmer was allowed to keep his status in Cooperstown.
1. Lance Armstrong
One of the most popular American athletes of all time, Lance Armstrong ruined what was once one of the most inspirational stories in sports. After beating testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain, Armstrong went on to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles, as well as starting one of the most successful cancer research foundations; Livestrong.
After a four year retirement from 2005-2009, Armstrong returned to cycling amidst doping allegations that he vehemently denied. In three more tries, Armstrong never won another Tour de France and was soon exposed of his lies about using performance enhancing drugs.