By Michael Terrill @MichaelTerrill on June 5, 2014
Some athletes stay way past their prime and diminish their career. Then there are other athletes who retire too soon for one reason or another. Here’s a look at 15 athletes who retired way too early.
Tiki Barber gets the bad-timing award as he decided to call it a career with plenty left in the tank right before the New York Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007. He retired because he wanted to become a broadcaster, something he was downright awful at.
Boxer Rocky Marciano finished his career 49-0 as the only undefeated heavyweight in the history of the sport. Despite being 37 years old, he only boxed for seven years, which makes one wonder what could have been if his career lasted longer.
Brandon Roy’s horrible knee injuries were one of the saddest sights in recent basketball memory. The reason was because Roy was on his way to becoming a superstar in the NBA. He played only five seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers and five games with the Minnesota Timberwolves after that.
Gale Sayers, who was famously depicted in the film Brian’s Song, saw his career end short due to a string of injuries. It was a shame too because Sayers was no-doubt going to be a huge superstar for the Chicago Bears for a long time. Despite playing just six years, Sayers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and had his No. 40 retired by the Bears.
Rashard Mendenhall decided to walk away from football at the age of 26 years old. He played six years, although only four could be considered full seasons. His love for the game no longer existed, which is why he decided to retire instead of hurting his team. Instead, he chose to travel the world and hone his skills as a writer.
It might be strange seeing Terrell Davis on this list considering he was a much-accomplished running back for several years. However, there’s no denying that Davis had plenty left in the tank when he was forced to retire after seven seasons due to injuries.
One of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all time suffered from arthritis, which cut his career short at 30 years old. Sandy Koufax played for 11 seasons, but the four-time World Series champion definitely could have kept going if it wasn’t for the hemorrhaging in his pitching arm. Despite pitching in constant pain in 1965, he posted a pitchers’ Triple Crown, led the Dodgers to the pennant, won the Cy Young Award, and tossed a perfect game.
Anika Sorenstam had a storied golf career, which is why no one faulted her for retiring in 2008 at 37 years old to spend time with her family. She won 10 majors, 93 professional wins, and she was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2003. Despite her countless accomplishments, Sorenstam had so much golf left to play, especially in a sport that she could have continued for another decade.
Ken Dryden was considered to be the best goaltender of his time. His 258 wins, 46 shutouts, and six Stanley Cup wins probably had a lot to do with why people were shocked to hear that he would retire after seven seasons. Dryden had loftier goals, which included a career in politics, writing, teaching, and commentating.
One of the more surprising early retirements was that of running back Ricky Williams, mostly because he was at the height of his career. He essentially chose to smoke marijuana over playing football, as evidence of his two failed drug tests. A rumored third failed drug test is why he retired in 2004. He returned to the game in 2005, and he saw some success in 2009. Regardless, his career would have been more prolific if he didn’t take a break.
Justine Henin stunned the tennis world when she announced her retirement at the age of 25 years old. The reason was legit, as she wanted to be with her family. However, she was the No. 1 ranked tennis player in the world at the time. She would make her comeback a couple of years later, but she would never reclaim her former glory.
Bo Jackson is one of the greatest American athletes of all time. His dominance in college football, the NFL and MLB was an incredible achievement. Jackson was named the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner. He’s also the only athlete to be named an All-Star in both professional football and baseball. If it weren’t for a hip injury, Jackson would have for sure been a superstar in both sports.
Jim Brown did play nine seasons in the NFL. However, he had plenty left to give when he retired in 1965. Sure, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, four-time NFL MVP, and a Super Bowl champion is a phenomenal career, but Brown was only 29 years old when he left the sport to pursue acting.
Bjorn Borg has one of the most storied careers in tennis history. His 11 Grand Slam titles are the stuff of legend, but his retirement at the age of 26 caught everyone by surprise. Even though he had the small island, penthouse, and even made it big in the fashion world, Borg’s true love was always tennis. He attempted a comeback in the 1990s to no prevail.
Barry Sanders is one of the greatest running backs to ever play in the NFL. His ability to elude defenders was astonishing. Sanders wanted to play for a contender, but the Detroit Lions were never going to allow him to leave. For that reason, he retired while being less than 1,500 yards away from the all-time rushing record. The decision shocked football fans as no one could believe someone as talented as him would quit at the height of his game.
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