Retirement stories are one of the few things in life that can bring a man to tears, and provide for some theater to end the last chapter of a great athlete’s career. Whether it’s in a retirement tour, a one-day contract, or just a press conference, retirements come in many shapes and sizes, and are generally all unique. To save you some time, here are the six best retirements in sports history.
6. Derek Jeter’s Retirement Tour
This retirement angers me a bit, as it began the trend of the “Retirement Tour”, which is now synonymous with Kobe Bryant, David Ortiz, and, of course, Derek Jeter. However, I’m giving Jeter the spotlight here for his importance to his sport and him being the inaugural retirement tour of the last few years. Jeter’s final season wasn’t anything spectacular, but it gave teams around the league to show the superstar the respect (or Re2pect) he deserved, and let him ride off into the sunset. This really came into play in his final game at Yankee Stadium, where he ended his career with a walk-off single. Bryant’s 60 point-performance in his final game may be more impressive, but this final game was synonymous with Jeter’s 20 seasons of success in New York.
5. Jerry Rice’s One-Day Contract
Jerry Rice didn’t have the opportunity to spend his final season with the team that gave him his name, but he did technically end his career in San Francisco. Rice’s numbers tell the story on their own, with his 1,549 receptions, 208 touchdowns, and 22,895 receiving yards. His exit from the league was faltered by an uneventful final season with the Seahawks, but he did sign a one-day contract (another concept I hate) with the 49ers to leave a lasting legacy. His deal, which Rice didn’t see a dime of, was worth $1,985,806.49, representing the year he was drafted (1985), his jersey number (80), the current year (2006), and the team: the 49ers (49). It was a touching story to close the book on one of the NFL’s greatest players.
4. Michael Jordan’s First Retirement
This one, just like Brett Favre, would’ve meant a lot more if it was his only retirement. MJ’s first exit from the sport in 1993 shocked the basketball world, after leading the Bulls to the first of two three-peats in the 1990s. His exit gave teams in the Eastern Conference the chance to finally compete, and his loss was immediately felt. It showed just how important he was to the game, and it was crazy to hear him say he had lost the competitive drive to play. If he had stayed away permanently, we would have a Barry Sanders-type situation on our hands, and would be wondering what could’ve been in Chicago. We also may miss the conspiracy theories about secret suspensions and deals with the Commissioner to avoid Jordan’s name being tarnished. For now, the exit is one of the most important in sports history.
3. John Elway’s Super Bowl Victory
John Elway’s retirement is one of the best in football history, and is one of the rare occasions of a player going out on top. The real impressive fact in the whole story is that he went out as a back-to-back Super Bowl champion, rather than a one-and-done. Elway’s career was the perfect story of a battle to succeed, as the quarterback had failed in three separate Super Bowls and seemed like he wouldn’t be able to surpass the hump and win himself a title. He put away that notion with back-to-back titles, including a Super Bowl MVP performance of 336 passing yards and one touchdown in his last season. His career put him as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, and his ride off into the sunset was one of the most impressive the sports world has ever seen.
2. Lou Gehrig’s Retirement Speech
I don’t know if it’s possible to listen to the infamous Lou Gehrig retirement speech without at least one tear going down your cheek. Gehrig is a legendary figure in baseball, with his 493 home runs and a .340 batting average over his 17-year career, and his 2,130 consecutive games, a record at the time of his retirement. After being diagnosed with ALS, and only having a few years left to live, Gehrig retired from the league. Two weeks later, he was given an appreciation day at Yankee Stadium, where he uttered his famous words to his appreciative fans: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” For a man on his way out of the world, he couldn’t have been happier, and it left a lasting legacy with baseball fans everywhere.
1. Barry Sanders’ Shocking Exit From the NFL
In 1999, Barry Sanders’ retirement shocked the world and left many wondering if he would ever return to the league. He was so close to breaking Walter Payton’s rushing yards record of 16,726 at 15,269 himself, and was in his prime. However, like Jordan had said earlier in the decade, and like the Lions managed to do to Calvin Johnson this offseason, the star had lost the desire to compete since Detroit was unable to succeed as a team. Looking back now, his retirement put a huge damper on the league’s history, as the question has now turned to what could’ve been when it comes to his career.