10 Athletes That Totally Ruined Their Legacy

Every sport has its top athletes that keep us on the edge of our seats. When they are in the prime of their careers they can break a game wide open with one swing, pass, shot, body check or punch. When you get the opportunity to watch one of the best, it’s a great thing to see, and even better if you have the chance to see them in person. To sports franchise owners it’s a business, but to fans it is entertainment, and loyalties run deep and forever.

But there comes a time in life when those once entertaining athletes are no longer entertaining. When Peyton Manning retired after his last Super Bowl win it was the perfect time for him to go out. But all too often athletes don’t know when to hang them up for good. Who can blame them when greedy owners are still throwing money at them? Nobody is going to retire with a million or more dollars being offered to them.

At that point we are forced to watch an athlete who at one time ruled his sport, but now struggles to stay competitive. We have all been there at some point in life. You’re watching a game and you see that one guy hanging on, hardly getting any playing time anymore. Even worse, when they do, they just don’t perform up to a shadow of what they used to. In a lot of cases you may even feel embarrassed for them.

Everything comes to an end. For example the New York Yankees stopped winning World Series titles every year, the Edmonton Oilers stopped winning Stanley Cups, The Chicago Bulls stopped winning NBA Championships, and the Dallas Cowboys stopped winning Super Bowls. Teams can rebuild and eventually start another dynasty but the human body doesn’t work like that. That is unless of course you are Barry Bonds.

The human body gets old and injuries take their toll. Just the wear and tear of playing on a professional level for many years can break it down. Some athletes just don’t know when to call it a career and let the legacy that they built live on forever. Some keep playing until the paychecks are no longer offered and in a lot of those cases, the legacy that they built up over many years can be destroyed in just a season or two. Today we will take a look back at some of those once great athletes that played too long and ruined their legacy.

10 Gordie Howe


When Gordie Howe was in the prime of his career he was a lot of fun to watch and until Wayne Gretzky came along Howe was the best player that hockey had ever seen. He spent many years playing in the WHA and that led to his NHL statistics not being what they could have been. But they were still the best in the league’s history until #99 came along.

But Howe wouldn’t let his career come to an official end. In 1997 he signed a one game contract with the Detroit Vipers of the IHL and he played one shift during the game. He was 70 years old at the time and it made him the first hockey player to play professionally in six different decades.

9 Johnny Unitas


As the eras of professional sports continue to pass by there are always arguments about who is the very best of all time. Johnny Unitas is one name that is always mentioned when talking about the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.

8 Brett Favre


Near the end of his career Brett Favre was entertaining to follow. But that’s mostly because of the off-season circus that he would conduct. He retired, then came back, then retired again and came back yet again. And prior to that it was several years of drama in Green Bay every offseason, would he retire or wouldn’t he?

At one point Favre was absolutely one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. But with each retirement or his drawn out decisions on retirement, things got worse each year. If he had just retired with the Packers and let it be, he would have gone down as one of the greatest in history. But he couldn’t let that happen and his legacy will always suffer because of it.

He came back on the field to play a season with the New York Jets. Everyone in New York knew that he was only going to play for one year before retiring again. But when he started winning games early in the season the fans jumped on board. But then he became more interested in sexting with the Jets sideline reporter Jenn Sterger than winning football games. The Jets faltered badly down the stretch and didn’t make the playoffs and Favre then retired again.

7 Emmitt Smith


Emmitt Smith was one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL. Watching how he could move through a defense was like watching artwork. But after the 2002 season when the Dallas Cowboys released him, he had a decision to make. His career was clearly near the end and he could have ridden off into the sunset as one of the best ever. But he didn’t.

He is still one of the best ever but he ruined his legacy by going to Arizona to play for the Cardinals for two seasons. For many years the Cardinals franchise was were great players went to die. That’s just the way it was, and Smith was no different. The franchise was so desperate for names to draw in fans that they would pay anyone that had a decent career at the time. The Cardinals benefitted by using Smith as a marketing tool to sell tickets for a couple of years. Smith got paid well but it was at the cost of damaging his stellar legacy.

6 6.Chris Chelios


There is a continuing pattern here on this list. Every athlete at one time was one of the best at their craft until they held on too long. Chris Chelios is the next guy that was one of the best. He was without question one of the best defensemen in NHL history. But he kept playing, and playing, and playing. If he could have got another paycheck he wouldn’t have stopped. He finally retired at the age of 48.

Chelios kept his career going by playing in the minors with any team that would sign him. He played in the NHL for 26 seasons, won three Stanley Cups and was an All-Star eleven times. He also won the Norris Trophy for being the top defenseman in the NHL three different times.

5 Evander Holyfield


Evander Holyfield was one of the best fighters in the ring. He fought between 1984 and 2011. He took on anyone and never backed down from a challenge, winning most of them. He was victorious in 44 of his 57 matches, including two wins over Mike Tyson, and he beat Riddick Bowe, and took down Buster Douglas after Douglas had shocked the world by knocking out Tyson.

The two fights against Tyson saw both fighters well past their prime, but boxing is in such need of big name fights that fans paid huge amounts of money to see these two legends in the ring. Everyone knows about how Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear off during one of the bouts. After that incident Holyfield himself was probably thinking that he should have retired before that match.

4 Jerry Rice


Jerry Rice was the best wide receiver that football has ever seen. This is a fact and it is undisputed. He went to the Pro Bowl 13 times and was an All Pro 10 times. His statistics are the type of numbers that may never be matched. But he stuck around the NFL for too long. When the 49ers saw the end coming for him, Rice should have seen it as well and called it quits.

He left San Francisco to sign with the Raiders and he didn’t do all that bad there. But something was off. He wasn’t the same, but it was still more than most receivers in the league at the time had to offer.

But in 2003 it was clear that his best days were far behind him and in 2004 the Raiders traded him to the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle had already retired Rice’s #80 in tribute to longtime Seahawks great Steve Largent. But Rice wore his #80 anyway and that was just weird to watch. He didn’t do the number any justice with one horrible season in Seattle and he then moved on to Denver.

3 Steve Carlton


When you talk about the best pitchers in baseball history Steve Carlton is always mentioned. He was a power pitcher that could strike out a batter whenever he felt like it. Yes he was that good. Nobody wanted to be in the lineup on a day when Carlton was on the mound for the opposition. But he didn’t know when to quit.

2 Patrick Ewing


Patrick Ewing was one of the most dominant centers in basketball for 15 years with the New York Knicks. His last two years there he showed signs of the game catching up to him and the Knicks knew when it was time to cut ties. They traded him to the Seattle Super Sonics where he played one bad season, showing that New York knew what they were doing.

1 Mike Tyson


When Mike Tyson was good, he was the best ever. There was nobody in the world that could stand toe to toe with him when he was at the top of his game. Why anyone even got into the ring with him on most nights is a mystery.

His overall win loss record was 50-6 with 44 knockouts. That's a very impressive record until you see that he lost three of his last four fights, all by knockout. Over his last 12 bouts he had a record of 5-5-2 including two losses to Evander Holyfield. The two no contests were against Andrew Golota when Tyson failed a drug test and another fight that his opponent couldn’t continue after a Tyson cheap shot. The five wins were against no competition and the five losses were to Holyfield twice, Lennox Lewis and a pair of nobodies.

In 2005, Tyson was fighting journeyman Kevin McBride. On paper it was a fight that Tyson should have won easily. But in the ring it was a close bout for six rounds. As the seventh round was about to begin, Tyson refused to come out of his corner. He just up and quit the fight. Later he said that he only took that fight for the money and he had no thoughts that he could actually win the fight. He said that he was out of shape and had lost his passion for fighting. So it appears that he realized that he held on too long after the sixth round of that bout. Those last 12 fights killed the legacy that he had worked so hard to build up. At one point he was the most feared man in the world. But by the end of his career he was nothing more than a complete joke.


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10 Athletes That Totally Ruined Their Legacy