There are a few fortunate athletes that had legendary careers and got to retire with a championship. Most minds immediately think of John Elway, who after winning his second Super Bowl, retired from football. Elway was not the last to finish a Hall of Fame career on such a high, as years later Jerome Bettis did the same when the Steelers captured the Super Bowl.
However, one thing that helps define some of the best players to play, is the longevity that helped them amass such ridiculous stats. You don’t get to throw for 70,000 yards in the NFL unless you’ve been a starting quarterback for over two decades.
When these athletes were on the top of their game, they may have been some of the best to ever suit up, but even the best fall sometime. Perhaps it's the competitive edge that put them at the top of their game for so long that prevents them from stepping away from the game when everyone else feels they should.
Some of these athletes may have gone on to have productive careers with new teams, but by burning bridges with their former franchise, they may always be looked at as an athlete that ended his career on a low.
No matter who your favorite athlete is, they only have a limited time to produce at the top of their game. Their bodies take a pounding and over time, they may be unable to survive the rigorous pace of a professional season. No matter what reason led to these athletes downfalls, these are 15 of the best athletes that did not leave with grace.
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15 Brett Favre
Brett Favre is one of the greatest players to ever play in the National Football League. For over a decade, Favre was the face of the Green Bay Packers. His accomplishments range from winning a Super Bowl to league MVP honors. Not to mention, Favre also holds the current Iron Man streak in the NFL with 297 consecutive games played. Yet, the end of his career will always be looked at with a bit of disdain, as he ended his career with the New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings. While his stats weren’t awful, he soured his image in the eyes of Packers fans for quite some time after signing with their hated rival, the Vikings. They've recently welcomed him back, but it wasn't always certain that they would.
14 Steve Nash
Steve Nash is the greatest Canadian basketball player of all time. A dynamic playmaker, Nash won the league MVP in consecutive years and was an eight-time all-star. When Nash made the decision to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, people had hopes that he and Kobe would help bring a championship to LA. Unfortunately, Nash, who was entering his 17th season, was unable to stay healthy with the Lakers and had some of the worst numbers of his career. Appearing in 50 games in his first year and only 15 in his second year before retirement, Nash was unable to make an impact. There is no doubting his legacy or his place in the Hall of Fame, but it’s always sad to see a great player get hampered by injuries at the end of their career.
13 Martin Brodeur
Martin Brodeur is one of the greatest goaltenders of all-time. As a winner of not only several Stanley Cups, but also gold medals, Brodeur has achieved success at every level of hockey. It isn't ideal when elite players are unable to let go and have a lackluster end to their career with a different team. This is exactly what happened with Brodeur, who, after 20 years with the New Jersey Devils, decided to play for the St. Louis Blues. At age 42, Brodeur was on their active roster for seven games when the Blues experienced an injury crisis in goal. Sure, seven games out of a 21 year career seems insignificant, but it is still sad to see players leave franchises.
12 Todd Bertuzzi
Todd Bertuzzi actually used to be one of the best power forwards in the National Hockey League. Along with Brendan Morrison and Marcus Naslund, the ‘west-coast express’ line helped make the Vancouver Canucks one of the most exciting teams to watch in hockey. Unfortunately, Bertuzzi’s legacy is always going to be tarnished by the sucker-punch he laid on Steve Moore, which resulted in Moore fracturing three vertebrae in his neck. Bertuzzi went on to serve a 20 game suspension that included seven playoff games, but his image was never truly restored in Vancouver. To Bertuzzi’s credit, he rebounded and became a valuable role player, but he didn't end his career in Vancouver in style.
11 Karl Malone
During Karl Malone's prime in Utah, it drove Jazz' fans crazy to watch the team have a successful year, only to have this guy named Jordan come along and ruin everything in the NBA finals. A Hall of Famer, Malone played for the Jazz from 1985 to 2002. In the 2003 season, Malone signed with the Lakers in an attempt to win the NBA Championship, the only thing that eluded him during his impressive career. The Lakers made it to the finals and Malone played well in the playoffs, but injuries limited his production and forced him to miss the fifth and deciding game. The regular season also saw Malone battling a knee injury that forced the veteran to miss 39 games.
10 Jerry Rice
Who can forget Jerry Rice of the Seattle Seahawks? Wait, that doesn't sound right... Jerry Rice is arguably the greatest wide receiver of all time and helped lead the San Francisco 49ers to several championships. However, the end of his career saw him play for two teams that 49er fans generally hate. Their close town rivals, the Oakland Raiders, and their division rivals, the Seattle Seahawks. Granted, Rice was traded to Seattle, but it must be an extra kick in the teeth for 49er fans to see a fan favorite lining up against your team.
9 Ray Rice
Undersized, but determined, Ray Rice was always an exciting player to watch. However, Rice's legacy in the NFL is forever tarnished due to his off the field activities. There is absolutely no way to watch any highlight of Rice and not immediately have your mind be drawn to the domestic abuse situation that had Rice suspended from the league. The video showing Rice punching his then-fiancé went public on the internet and helped lead an overhaul on how the NFL attempts to handle domestic abuse cases. While Rice is not the only player to have a situation like this come to light, he is the most prolific player to be unable to make it past this situation and return to the football field. Others, such as Greg Hardy, served lengthy suspensions for similar situations but are currently playing.
8 Wes Welker
Wes Welker needs to find himself some form of hobby outside of the game of football. Welker was an undrafted player and displayed great tenacity to make a name for himself wit the New England Patriots. Welker has recently signed, and started a game, with the St. Louis Rams. This is not only a weird sight for a former Patriot legend who has already soiled his image by playing for the Broncos, but it's worrisome for a player with concussion issues. Welker has had at least six in his career, including a span of two in three weeks. While Welker has been given the go-ahead, another concussion will only help further cement his image as a player who may have a passion for the game but not the physical ability to continue.
7 Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders is one of the most athletic players to ever play in the NFL. Electrifying on punt returns, as well as an amazing defensive back, Sanders is without a doubt deserving of his spot in the Hall of Fame. Not to mention that Sanders also had the athletic ability to play professional baseball and appeared in the World Series. Sanders officially retired from the NFL in 2001, but it didn't last long. Sanders felt the need to come out of retirement in 2004 to play for the Baltimore Ravens. Unfortunately for Sanders, when you are already a Hall of Famer and your best days are clearly behind you, there is nothing that coming out of retirement is going to do to help your legacy.
6 Pete Rose
Pete Rose is one of the best baseball players of all time. With over 4,000 hits, there was no doubting the talent. After playing for over 20 years, Pete became a manager from 1984 to 1989. With a resume like that, there should be no doubt that Pete is in the Hall of Fame. Sadly, when one remembers Pete Rose, even before they think of his accomplishments, they also mention that he was banned from baseball for gambling on games. Obviously, managers are not allowed to gamble on professional baseball games, even if Pete said he never bet on his own team. The scandal not only barred Pete from Baseball, but had him banned from the Hall of Fame.
5 Troy Aikman
Troy Aikman is without a doubt well deserving of his place in the Hall of Fame. The quarterback for the Cowboys dynasty in the 90s, Aikman helped deliver countless good memories to their fans. Unfortunately, he also had a poor final season that never should have been. Aikman’s body failed to get him through his last year and a concussion in week 12 proved to be his final act on the football field. There is no doubting that Aikman had his fair share of highs, but no legend wants to leave the game the way that Troy did.
4 Patrick Ewing
Patrick Ewing’s second to last season with the Seattle SuperSonics was as forgettable as the team itself. Ewing played 15 seasons with the New York Knicks before ending his career in Seattle and an even more forgettable stint with the Orlando Magic. With Seattle, Ewing posted a then career low 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. In Orlando, he appeared in 65 games, but only started in four of them. For a player that appeared in 1,183 games, it is too bad that the end of Ewing’s legendary career was hampered by poor teams and performance.
3 Kobe Bryant
Perhaps Kobe was a little bit cursed by Steve Nash? Kobe Bryant is without a doubt one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Whether you are looking at team accolades or individual accomplishments, Kobe has been at the top of the league for over a decade. With this upcoming season being his last, it is unfortunate that he is not going out on a high note. The Lakers are poised to be one of the worst teams in basketball again and it would take several Kobes to make a difference. Kobe’s twilight is also being marred by injuries sustained late in his career. Ranging from a torn rotator cuff to a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee, Kobe’s body is clearly banged up from playing at such a high level for so long. We need to cross our fingers and hope that he will be able to play out his final year and not end his prolific career from the sidelines.
2 Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. Sometimes though, it is the people that are the very best that have the hardest time letting go. When Jordan retired in 1999, he was almost certain that he was not going to play again. Yet something changed in Mike and, in 2001, he re-suited up and entered the league again. This time not as an iconic Chicago Bull, but as a Washington Wizard, a sight that even today just looks weird. Call me crazy, but if MJ is going to be wearing a different jersey it better be a Toon Squad one! As we often see with older players, injuries hampered Michael and only he played 60 games in his first year with the Wizards. He kept his scoring totals high, but something just felt a little off.
1 Peyton Manning
It's been quite a fall from Peyton over the last year. At the end of the last season, Peyton was hampered by injuries to his quad that forced Denver to rely on their run-game late in the season. While CJ Anderson was successful, it was sad to see Peyton on the field, but not be the field general we were used to. Peyton’s story gets even sadder when we look into his performance this year. Not only is this one of Peyton’s worst years, where he is receiving heavy criticism for his play, but after suffering a foot injury, he is now in danger of not starting again depending on the play of Brock Osweiler. The greatest quarterback of all time finishing his career as a backup? That's tough.
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