There comes a time in every athlete’s career where they must step back and realize that their playing days have come to an end. It’s only natural, with age their play becomes less and less effective and their bodies become more tired and increasingly prone to injury. What star players do manage to leave behind is a legacy. No one's career lasts forever, but a truly great player’s legacy will live on long after they’re dead. It’s what they work for, it might as well be their single greatest individual achievement as professionals.
However, some athletes don’t know when to quit - rather they don’t want to. It’s normal to have trouble readjusting to life after sports when you’ve spent a number of your formative years playing them. Some comebacks have been successful and actually added, if only just a little, to a player's legacy. Some have not. Even the greatest players have their limits and it’s important to know what they are. Remember, these guys called it quits for a reason; it isn’t exactly a walk in the park for anyone hoping to get back into the swing of things after taking a long vacation.
These 15 players definitely should have realized that their playing days were up. Many of them would have been much better off stepping away from the game while their games were still at a high level. Unfortunately for most, their attempted comebacks did nothing but highlight the fact that they were no longer the star players they once were, and left a sour taste in the mouth of their fans. Not exactly the way we should be remembering the careers of 15 amazing athletes.
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15 Peter Forsberg
The Hall of Fame-bound Forsberg was a real vertical threat on the ice while he was in his prime. The Swedish star played the majority of his career with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche as well as the SEL’s Modo Hockey club. Forsberg was a regular on Sweden’s international team, competing in four Winter Olympics and winning two world cups with the team. After spending the last couple of seasons outside the NHL, Forsberg retired only to return to the Avalanche six months later. Just hours before his homecoming at the Pepsi Center, Forsberg announced his retirement from the NHL due to his inability to defend himself on the ice.
14 Dave Cowens
Dave Cowens was one of the staples of the 1970s Boston Celtics franchise that brought home multiple championships during that decade. The 6’9” center won two championships as well as a league MVP award and seven All-Star nods while with the Celtics, but his stats regressed in his twilight years and he retired after a decade in the NBA. He would return two years later as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks but his numbers were pedestrian. He averaged only 8.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, which were a good deal lower than his previous career lows posted the year before his first retirement.
13 Bjorn Borg
One of the most successful players to ever play the game, Bjorn Borg dominated the tennis world, winning 11 grand slam singles titles along with five straight Wimbledon singles. Borg became one of just four players to win both Wimbledon as well as the French Open in the same year, but the only one to do it three consecutive years. In January of 1983 he announced his retirement at the age of 26. But in the early 1990s he was back on the scene, with little success. In his first nine matches from 1991-92, Borg failed to win a single set.
12 Ryne Sandberg
Before he became the only Hall of Fame player to become a manager in the MLB, Ryne Sandberg had an immensely successful career as a player. “Ryno” spent the majority of his career with the Chicago Cubs, where he won nine Gold Glove awards, seven Silver Sluggers and was a ten-time All-Star. Not to mention his career .989 fielding percentage is a major-league record. He returned to the Cubs in 1996, two years after his initial retirement. However after two mediocre seasons, hitting .244 then .264, Sandberg set off for good into the eager arms of the Hall of Fame.
11 Dominik Hasek
Dominik Hasek is widely acknowledged as being one of the players to establish European goaltenders in the NHL. From 1993 to 2001 Hasek won the Vezina trophy six times and became the first goaltender to win consecutive Hart Memorial Trophies. After winning a second Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings – this time as a backup – Hasek retired in 2008. A year later he signed a one-year deal with HC Moeller, and continued to bounce around with a couple of teams, never again playing in the NHL. He finally hung up his pads for good in 2014.
10 Bo Jackson
Bo knew football. Bo knew baseball. But Bo didn’t know when to quit. The multi-sport star had a nice run as a Raider, and doubled as MLB outfielder in his spare time. He was the first athlete to be named All-Star in two major American sports, and was the ideal dual threat. But in 1991, a hip injury kept him off the football field for good. Though it was thought at the time that he’d never play sports again, Bo made a return to the MLB in 1993, hitting a home run in his first at-bat with the White Sox. This was the lone highlight of Jackson’s comeback as he’d secured just one stolen base in his final two seasons.
9 Claude Lemieux
Claude Lemieux never stood out so much as an outstanding player on the ice. Lemieux was an average skater who landed himself on three different Stanley Cup teams. This made him one of only ten players to do so. At the end of the 2003 season, he retired from hockey and went on to make a string of reality TV appearances. In 2008, a “seasoned” Lemieux returned to hockey, playing first for the China Sharks and then the Worcester Sharks before recording 18 assists with the San Jose Sharks in what would be his final season.
8 Jim Palmer
Jim Palmer was one of the most dominant pitchers of the 1970s with a peculiar pre-game ritual which earned him the nickname “Cakes.” He totaled 186 wins during the decade and three rings, three Golden Glove Awards and three Cy Young Awards. After his release during the 1984 season, Palmer decided to retire from baseball. Seven years later, right after his Hall of Fame induction, Palmer was back. But after an abysmal performance during a spring training game in which he’d allowed five hits and two runs, Palmer retired for good.
7 Bob Cousy
The Celtics point guard was a magician on the hardwood during the '50s. In his thirteen years with the team Cousy led the Celtics to six championships, made 13 All-Star appearances and was named league MVP in 1957. After a disappointing 1963 season he retired, and had a successful career as the head coach at Boston College. He then went on to coach the Cincinnati Royals, and following an effort to boost dwindling ticket sales, Cousy suited up for the team, putting up five points in 34 minutes. He stepped down as coach in 1973.
6 Roger Clemens
By the end of his career, Roger Clemens finished with 354 wins, a 3.12 ERA and over four thousand strikeouts. In 2003 Clemens won his 300th game and retired shortly after. Clemens came out of retirement a year later, signing a one-year deal with the Houston Astros where he became the oldest pitcher to win the Cy Young Award. Clemens then spent a few retired/unretired years in Houston before rejoining the Yanks in 2007. A mistrial tossed any charges regarding Clemens’ use of performance enhancing drugs out the window, but left his career shrouded in doubt.
5 Bobby Hull
Bobby Hull possessed one of the most electrifying slap shots in the NHL. During the 60s Hull lead the league in scoring seven times. He was traded to the WHA Winnipeg Jets in 1972 and retired in 1979. Hull returned to the Jets after the WHA-NHL merger a year later and scored four goals in 18 games. He was traded to the Hartford Whalers during the season and retired once again. At the age of 42, Hull had one last go with the Rangers. His unimpressive show in five exhibition games cemented his decision to retire for good.
4 Lance Armstrong
Between 1999 and 2005, Lance Armstrong won seven straight Tour de France races. Armstrong was a hero after his battle with testicular cancer and triumphant return to cycling. After he won his seventh title, Armstrong retired. He returned four years later finishing third in the 2009 Tour de France but went on to finish 23rd in the 2010 race, where he was asked to remove his Livestrong jersey.
3 Michael Jordan
Basketball's once best player had moments later on in his career that made the usually extraordinary Air Jordan look ordinary. Jordan’s first comeback in 1995 led to a second three-peat for the five-time NBA MVP. However, his 2001 comeback with the Wizards proved less successful. His first season back was a success, as he showed the league he still had some gas left in the tank. A knee injury shortened his playing time, and in his second season with the Wizards Jordan averaged just 20 points per game, never reaching the playoffs once.
2 Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali was fast, strong and is considered to be the very best to have ever put on a pair of boxing gloves. In 1979, after posting a record of 59 fights with just three losses, he retired. But like many greats, Ali couldn’t stay away from the game and returned just a year after his initial decision to call it quits. At the age of 38, Ali was back in the ring. His age showed, as he’d lost the vigor he’d normally fought with. He lost back-to-back fights to Larry Holmes, receiving his first ever TKO, and was also defeated by Trevor Berbick. Ali would retire in 1981 after losing a ten-round decision.
1 Brett Favre
Once beloved by the city of Green Bay, Brett Favre’s indecisiveness and unwillingness to let go of the sport he loved caused his relationship with the Green Bay Packers to sour to a point where the wounds are still left healing. The gunslinger retired in 2007 after bringing the Packers a Super Bowl championship and having won three MVP awards. After deciding to comeback months after retiring, Favre put the Packers in an awkward situation. The team was all set to go with Aaron Rodgers as his replacement, and so he was traded to the New York Jets a month before the start of the 2008 season. After getting off to a hot start, nagging injuries slowed Favre down and cost the Jets the playoffs. Favre once again retired only to be courted by the Packers’ rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. Favre’s first year in Minnesota saw the team a game away from the Super Bowl. After once again contemplating retirement Favre returned to the Vikings but his play had stalled substantially and he retired for good at the end of the season.
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