The tragic hero is one of the most classic characters in the history of literature, defined as one who makes a serious error in judgment, that ultimately leads to their demise and destruction. On the flip side we have our not so tragic heroes- the individuals who each and every night, laid it out on the line for all the right reasons, never complained and cared about one thing and one thing only- winning. Each of these characters are resonant across the landscape of professional sports and in this article, we have put together an effort to bring these faces to the limelight.
Athletes come and go every decade, but many are able to leave long-lasting legacies in our minds and in our hearts. Whether it is for all the right or wrong reasons, we know an athlete is special when we can recall specific things about their careers even ten or twenty years later. In this article we take a closer look at some of the greatest and some of the worst endings to professional athletes careers. Whether it is going out on top as a champion, leaving us with a breath-taking performance, or something that is completely opposite of those two things, these athletes will never be forgotten.
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15 Best: Kimmo Timonen
Not to worry, Kimmo Timonen isn't the only NHL defenseman that you will see on this list, but his story is one that epitomizes why sports are so incredibly magical. For nearly two decades, Timonen was one of the most well-respected defenseman in the NHL as his game was simple, sound, and extremely effective.
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 1993 before being traded to the newly formed Nashville Predators, Timonen's career would get off to a rocky start, as the Predators were trying to get their franchise up and running. In 2007, Timonen would be traded to the Philadelphia Flyers and would find himself in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010. The Flyers would lose to the Blackhawks and Timonen's quest for cup glory would continue. At the 2015 trade deadline, Timonen was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks and in the final game of his final season, would capture hockey's greatest prize.
14 Worst: Brett Favre
If there were ever an example of athletes hanging on just a little bit too long, Brett Favre offers quite the case. Favre is one of the greatest and most accomplished quarterbacks to ever play the game, but it wasn't exactly a pleasant ending for big Brett. After Favre was able to take the Vikings to the NFC Championship game in 2009, he opted to return for one last run in 2010- a decision he probably regrets.
"My last play. Actually the only time in my career when I was completely out. Ten to 15 seconds," Favre told CBS Sports. The season was already all but over for Favre and the Vikings, as they headed into what would be Favre's final game with a record of 5-8. The Vikings would take on the Chicago Bears, but due to the Metrodome in Minnesota collapsing one week prior, the game would be played outside at TFC Bank Stadium. Early on in the second quarter, Bears defensive lineman Cory Wooten would deliver the conclusive sack to Favre's career. The hit would concuss Favre and he would be forced to leave the field for the final time.
13 Best: Michael Strahan
Many people today (especially our mothers) may know Michael Strahan as that charismatic smile beside Kelly Ripa on "Live! with Kelly", which was later redubbed Live With Kelly and Michael" when Strahan was selected to co-host. Strahan has been an extremely popular and successful TV personnel (now serving as host of the $100,000 Pyramid) since his retirement in 2007, but let's not forget what got him on the map- football.
Known as one of the most efficient and intense defensive ends of all time, Strahan was still without a Super Bowl ring heading into the 2007 NFL season- a season that would be his last. The Giants would cling onto a Wild Card birth and shock the football world, booking their ticket to Superbowl XLII, with a chance to take on Tom Brady and the undefeated New England Patriots. The Giants would reign victorious in Strahan's final bout, completing one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history in the process.
12 Worst: Alex Rodriguez (As a Yankee)
We want to say that Alex Rodriguez is one of the most polarizing players in the history of baseball, but honestly, most people just flat out hate the dude. That being said, A-Rod still put forth one of the most impressive careers of all time and whether you are friend or foe, you have to admit to his excellence on the field. His irresponsible behavior off the field however, will earn Alex Rodriguez an asterisk beside every statistic that he has ever achieved and will ultimately keep him out of Cooperstown in the near future, and possibly forever.
How did it all end? Well, there was the full season suspension in 2014, the Yankees extreme mediocrity in 2016, and Rodriquez' lack of baseball ability at the age of 41- but that hasn't been the only rain on A-Rod's parade (literally). On August 12th A-Rod suited up to play his final game in pin-stripes. It started off with him being shut down in his request to play third base in his final game (awkward). Prior to the game, the Yankees planned to hold a special ceremony honouring A-rod and all that he has done. However, in an eerie and rather Shakespearean fashion, dark clouds began to gather in the sky, and the ceremony was ruined due to a violent rainstorm that would come down on Rodriguez, his family, and his friends. At the end of the day, the Yankees fans did show A-rod some love, but the entire charade just seemed rather forced and ended up being a ceremony to ultimately forget.
11 Best: Kobe Bryant
We all know how painful 2016 was in Laker Land, and to be honest, it was almost entirely Kobe Bryant's fault. The grand tour, the gifts, sacrificing the development of prospects- all to honour one of the greatest players that we have ever seen. Saying the Lakers went overboard would be an understatement, as I cannot recall a professional sports team botching an entire season just to honour one of their players- no matter how great they are. At least Kobe, in perfect Kobe fashion, would end the charade with a bang.
On April 13, 2016, Kobe Bryant laced up his sneakers for the final time, ready to take the floor at the Staples Center against the Utah Jazz. Although it may have been a blatant game plan to get Kobe the ball, it was still simply incredible to watch as throughout the contest, it was almost as though Kobe resembled different stages of his career, as he would dazzle above the rim like it was 2006, as well as nail jumper after jumper in classic ice-in-veins Kobe fashion. Although he was without a bucket for the first six minutes of play, the Lakers would win the game and Kobe would end the night with 60 points, the most by far in a player's final game.
10 Worst: Manny Ramirez
Manny Ramirez is one of the most colourful personalities to ever grace the landscape of professional baseball. His antics however, love them or hate them, would often land him in some hot water. In 2009 while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ramirez tested positive for performance enhancing-drugs and was given a 50 game suspension. Ramirez would make a return (kind of), but it wasn't exactly the promising one that ball fans had hoped for.
After serving his 50 game suspension, Ramirez would return to baseball and attempt to rejuvenate his game and his name. He would never be himself again however, flopping around from the Dodgers to the White Sox and ultimately to the Tampa Bay Rays. After going a measly 1/17 with Tampa Bay in five games, reports would once again surface about Ramirez and his use of banned substances, resulting in Ramirez simply walking away from the game, rather than fight for his name, knowing it was too late this time around
9 5. Best: Peyton Manning
Although Peyton Manning would not come out and say it, many knew that Super Bowl 50 would be his final NFL contest. After taking the Broncos all the way to the big dance in 2014, they would be embarrassed by the Seattle Seahawks in a 43-8 waxing. Now, back for the second time in just three seasons, Manning and the Broncos were determined to erase that game from their memory, and bring home the Vincent Lombardi Trophy to Denver.
Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks that we have ever seen, and although he had a horrendous season statistically in his final campaign, he ended up on top as the Broncos would defeat the Carolina Panthers 24-10 to win Super Bowl 50. As one of the greats, it was incredible to see Manning finish as a champion and despite a historically incredible Broncos defense, the intangibles that Manning brought to the table were invaluable to the teams ultimate success.
8 Worst: Dan Marino
Dan Marino is the most celebrated player in the history of the Miami Dolphins- but when it came to sending him off in a golden chariot over retirement hill, things could have gone a bit smoother for the legendary quarterback. Marino takes the most flack for never having won a championship, but he still sits third all-time in passing yards, fifth all-time in touchdowns, and fifth all-time in wins. Not too shabby, Dan.
In 1999, Marino would lace them up for the final time, knowing that his career was coming to a close. The Dolphins would meet the Jacksonville Jaguars with the winner clinching a birth in the AFC Championship game. It was Marino's last chance to get to the big dance and finally capture that elusive championship. The Jaguars however would get off to a hot start and never look back, pummeling the Dolphins 62-7. Marino went 11-25 throwing and was picked off twice. A more than forgettable ending for one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
7 Best: Bill Russell
It's not as though Bill Russell needed another ring, but when all you have done is won for an entire decade, you might as well end your career on top. Bill Russell was the centerpiece of the dominant Boston Celtics throughout the late 1950s and entire 1960s and won an unfathomable 11 titles in 13 seasons.
So what makes the way Bill went out so special? Well, I can guarantee you that he was the only player on this list who was both the best player on his team as well as the coach. That's right, Russell was player-coach for his last couple of seasons, stepping in for Red Auerbach and leading the Celtics to back-to-back championships to end his illustrious career.
6 Worst: Chipper Jones
Unlike Derek Jeter, the Atlanta Braves all-timer had a final game to forget. On the bright side, sometimes athletes hang on too long and simply cannot perform at a professional level in their final season, but this was not the case for Chipper. Jones hit .287 with 14 home runs and 62 RBI in his final season in 2012, showing Braves fans that he was still here to produce.
The Braves would host the St,Louis Cardinals in the 2012 NL Wild Card contest. Jones had a bad game going 1-5 at the plate with a measly infield single that should have been the final out of the game, as well as a costly fourth inning error that resulted in a Cardinals three-run rally. Jones' poor play would be overshadowed however by the Braves faithful themselves. The left field umpire would give an extremely late signal for an infield fly, subsequently ending the Braves eighth inning rally. It was a horrible call and it cost the Braves their season. Chaos ensued immediately as fans began littering the field with anything that they could find. The Cardinals would win the game and instead of Jones being cheered off the field and remembered the right way, he was forced to scatter off as quick as possible, dodging beer cans and garbage in the process.
5 Best: Derek Jeter
"Derek Jeter, where fantasy becomes reality." New York Yankees announcer Michael Kay could not have put it better. A few things come to mind when we reminisce about one of the greatest Yankees of all time- leadership, class, and clutch. It may not have been a final season to remember for Jeter, as we caught a glimpse of his mortality on both sides of the ball. That being said, Jeter made sure to leave Yankee fans everywhere with yet another incredible memory.
Jeter technically ended his career with an RBI single in Boston, but just a couple days earlier, Jeter left Yankee stadium in a way that only Jeter could. With the Yankees up 5-2 in the ninth, of course the Orioles would tie the game at five, forcing a bottom to the ninth inning. Jeter had already hit a double and knocked in two runs, but with a man on second in the ninth, everyone knew he had one trick left up his sleeve. On the first pitch, Jeter would knock the ball into right field, scoring Antoan Richardson from second and giving the Yankees the 6-5 victory in his final at-bat at Yankee stadium.
4 Worst: Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane is now the boss behind the bench for Real Madrid, but at one time, Zidane was France's most prized football possession and one of the greatest players of all time. Although Zidane was a midfielder, he still ranks fourth all-time in goals scored for France in international play with 31. Unfortunately for Zidane, his statistical excellence has become somewhat distorted due to the way that he went out.
In 2006, France's football program found itself in somewhat of a struggle, barely qualifying for the World Cup. Zidane would actually come out of International retirement (oops) to play in the World Cup, leading to his infamous exit. After putting the French up 1-0 against Italy in the World Cup Final, it seemed as though Zidane was on route to the perfect fairy tale ending. However, Italy would tie the match at one and in extra time, Zidane would take exception to comments made by Italy's Marco Materazzi and proceed to headbutt him in the chest, knocking the Italian to the ground. In the blink of an eye, Zidane was tossed from the contest and his career came to an end. Italy would win the game and tournament in penalty kicks with Zidane forced to watch from the sidelines.
3 Best: John Elway
When the aforementioned Peyton Manning stepped away from the gridiron a champion, it was Deja-vu in Denver for Broncos fans, as his long time idol John Elway would accomplish something quite similar just 18 years prior. Elway was one of the best of his era, and going out with a bang lifted him into the pantheon of all-time great quarterbacks for good.
Elway was a dominant force in the NFL from 1983-1996, but something was still missing from his resume- a championship. In 1997-98, Elway would have the chance to exercise those demons, and he did just this, defeating the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII to finally capture that elusive championship. So why is Elway ahead of Manning? Well, he didn't stop there as Elway elected to come back for one final season in which he would capture his second straight ring as well as Super Bowl MVP before calling it a career.
2 Worst: Ben Johnson
In just two days, Ben Johnson went from Canadian Olympic hero, to a national disgrace. Johnson was the greatest sprinter on the planet throughout the 1980s and made Canada proud when he won gold in record breaking fashion at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. He was the first Canadian sprinter to win gold in the 100 meter finals since Percy Williams in 1928, so one could imagine just how special this feat was to Canadians everywhere.
The glory didn't last long however, as Johnson was disqualified just a couple of days later when Olympic officials found stanozolol (steroids) in his blood and urine samples. Johnson would be stripped of his gold medal as well as his world records that he set in both 1987 and 1988. Johnson was suspended but would attempt a comeback in 1991, and in 1993 would win the 50 Meters in Grenoble France, just 0.04 seconds shy of a world record. To nobodies surprise, Johnson was immediately found guilty of doping once again and was subsequently banned for life by the IAAF. If only his brain were as quick as his feet...
1 Best: Ray Bourque
If you have never watched the footage of Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic handing the Stanley Cup off to the euphoric Raymond Bourque, head to YouTube immediately after this article. This was one of the greatest moments in hockey history, as one of the greatest defenseman of all time, FINALLY got to put his hands on Lord Stanley's prize in his final game.
Bourque played a jaw-dropping 21-seasons for the Boston Bruins, but after failing to get close to a Stanley Cup, he opted to move to the Colorado Avalanche in 1999- a team who had won in 1996 and had been strong contenders ever since. After being ousted in the conference finals in 2000 by the Dallas Stars, the Avs would break through to the finals once again in 2001. The series against the defending champion New Jersey Devils would go the distance, and in Game Seven, Bourque knew it was literally now or never. The Avalanche would win game seven by a score of 3-1, delivering that fairy-tale ending for Bourque after all.
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