The 20 Greatest Comebacks From Injuries In Sports History

By Brian Kalchik

The 20 Greatest Injury Comebacks In Sports History

Russell Westbrook Thunder
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This past Wednesday night, Russell Westbrook won the award for best comeback athlete. After suffering major knee injuries last season, Westbrook came back as if he was never hurt. With Westbrook's spectacular 2013-14 season, it got me thinking about other athletes who dealt with similar adversity, only to excel on their playing fields. Here now are the 20 greatest injury comebacks in sports history.

20. Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook Thunder
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20. Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook Thunder
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Russell Westbrook missed the first half of the regular season after tearing his ACL in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. When he came back, he had the same explosiveness and ability to get to the rim that he had when he was fully healthy. Behind Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder made it to the Western Conference Finals for the second time in the past three seasons.

19. Kirk Gibson

Kirk Gibson Dodgers
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19. Kirk Gibson

Kirk Gibson Dodgers
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Due to multiple injuries and a stomach virus, Kirk Gibson was not expected to play in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. But with the Los Angeles Dodgers trailing 4-3 in the 9th inning, Gibson came out as a pinch hitter and hit a game-winning walk-off home run. Inspired by his presence, the Dodgers were able to defeat the favored Oakland Athletics in five.

18. Kerri Strug

Kerri Strug
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18. Kerri Strug

Kerri Strug
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After injuring her ankle on her first vault in the team gymnastics competition during the 1996 Olympics, the U.S. team needed Kerri Strug to land a second vault perfectly to clinch the gold medal. Strug came through despite the pain, as she stuck the landing in what is still one of the most iconic moments in U.S. Olympics history.

17. Monica Seles

Monica Seles
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17. Monica Seles

Monica Seles
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Monica Seles was the top tennis player in the world in 1993, but became a victim when she was stabbed by a crazed Steffi Graf fan named Günter Parche. The incident caused Seles to miss two full seasons. She returned in 1995, and in 1996, made it to the finals of the U.S. Open, losing to Graf. Seles won her first major after the attack in 1996 when she won the Australian Open.

16. Clint Malarchuk

Clint Malarchuk Sabers
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16. Clint Malarchuk

Clint Malarchuk Sabers
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If you haven't seen the video of Clint Malarchuk in 1989, you'll start to get queasy. The Buffalo Sabers goalie had his throat slashed by a skate, which caused blood to seep onto the ice. Team trainer Jim Pizzutelli was able to stop the bleeding and ultimately saved Malarchuk's life. Instead of retiring, Malarchuk was once again the starting goaltender just 11 days later.

15. Grant Hill

Grant Hill Magic
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15. Grant Hill

Grant Hill Magic
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At his peak, Grant Hill was one of the elite players in the NBA and was headed to the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, multiple injuries to his left ankle disrupted his career. From 2000-04, Hill missed 281 regular season games and 15 playoff games. He returned in 2004 and made the All-Star team in 2005 as a member of the Orlando Magic. Hill moved on to Phoenix where he played for five seasons and became one of the best defenders in the league.

14. Nancy Kerrigan

Nancy Kerrigan
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14. Nancy Kerrigan

Nancy Kerrigan
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After a horrific assault, Nancy Kerrigan was forced out of the 1994 U.S. Olympic Trials because of a severe bone bruise to her plant leg. Despite not being able to compete, Kerrigan was able to secure one of the two bids to the Olympics (the second was Tonya Harding). In just four weeks, Kerrigan was able to fully recover and finished with a silver medal, even though she really deserved the gold.

13. Tom Brady

Tom Brady Patriots
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13. Tom Brady

Tom Brady Patriots
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In their first game since the devastating loss in Super Bowl 42, New England Patriots QB Tom Brady tore his ACL and MCL in the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs. A year later, Brady was back to normal, throwing for 4,298 yards, 28 touchdowns, and winning the 2009 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

12. Tommy John

Tommy John Dodgers
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12. Tommy John

Tommy john Dodgers
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After suffering a Torn UCL in 1974, pitcher Tommy John won the 1976 Comeback Player of the Year with the Los Angeles Dodgers after many people thought he would never pitch again. He went on to make multiple All-Star teams, and pitched for 14 more seasons. This surgery, now named Tommy John surgery, is one of the most common procedures for any major league pitcher.

11. Mario Lemieux

Mario Lemieux Penguins
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11. Mario Lemieux

Mario Lemieux Penguins
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Mario Lemieux was battling lymphoma when he first retired following the 1996-97 season. After missing four full seasons, including the 1994-95 campaign, Lemieux came back and played five more years before retiring in 2006 because of atrial fibrillation.

10. Curt Schilling

Curt Schilling Red Sox
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10. Curt Schilling

Curt Schilling Red Sox
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In the 2004 ALCS, Curt Schilling was injured in Game 1 of their series between the rival New York Yankees. Team doctors stitched a tendon in his right ankle, which would allow him to continue to pitch. Schilling then went out and pitched a gem in Game 6, which forced a decisive Game 7, and the Boston Red Sox won the series after trailing 3-0, eventually winning their first World Series since 1918.

9. Willis Reed

Willis Reed Knicks
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9. Willis Reed

Willis Reed Knicks
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Willis Reed's entrance before the start of Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals is still remembered today. Reed played despite missing Game 6 with a torn thigh muscle. Although he only went on to score just four points, his presence inspired the New York Knicks to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers and their trio of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.

8. Ronnie Lott

Ronnie Lott 49ers
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8. Ronnie Lott

Ronnie Lott 49ers
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During a game against the Dallas Cowboys in 1985, Ronnie Lott injured his left pinky finger so bad that he had to amputate it after the season. He probably could've had surgery on it and kept it intact, but didn't want to miss any games, so he just decide to cut it off. The following season, Lott led the league with 10 INTs and helped the San Francisco 49ers win two more Super Bowls.

7. Joe Montana

Joe Montana Chiefs
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7. Joe Montana

Joe Montana Chiefs
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Legendary QB Joe Montana had two great comebacks after devastating injuries. After injuring his back in the 1986 season, Montana recovered and led the 49ers to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in the 1988 and 1989 seasons. When he was injured following the 1990 season, Montana lost his starting job to Steve Young, and was traded to Kansas City. In 1993, he guided the Chiefs to the AFC Championship game for the first time since the 1969 season.

6. Drew Brees

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6. Drew Brees

Drew Brees Saints
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In the final game with the San Diego Chargers, Drew Brees went diving for a fumble, and tore his Labrum and partially tore his Rotator Cuff in his throwing shoulder. That offseason, the Chargers and many teams around the league were scared off by the shoulder injury, including the Miami Dolphins, who went with Daunte Culpepper. Brees has since become a Super Bowl MVP and one of the greatest passers of all-time in New Orleans.

5. Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan Bulls
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5. Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan Bulls
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Michael Jordan actually had two great moments coming off of injury. In his second season, Jordan missed most of the year with a broken foot, but returned for the postseason, scoring 63 points against the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of their first-round series. In a huge Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Jordan scored 38 points against the Utah Jazz after suffering from the flu.

4. Peyton Manning

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4. Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning Broncos
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After enduring multiple neck surgeries following the 2010 season, Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 season and his career was in doubt. The Indianapolis Colts, his only team, didn't want to take a chance on him and moved on from Manning by drafting Andrew Luck. The Denver Broncos, on the other hand, took a chance on him, and he's responded by leading Denver to the greatest offensive season ever in 2013, and an appearance in Super Bowl 48.

3. Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods
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3. Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods
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Two weeks before the 2008 U.S. Open, Tiger Woods suffered a double stress fracture in his left Tibia. Despite the pain, Woods managed to win the event in a playoff against Rocco Mediate. To date, this is Wood's last major win, as he has gone through almost a six-year drought.

2. Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson
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2. Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson Vikings
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A torn ACL and MCL would spell the end of anyone's career, especially a running back like Adrian Peterson. But not everyone is Peterson. He brushed aside his devastating knee injury he suffered in December 2011 and made it back to the field just 10 months later for the 2012 season. Peterson would go on to lead the league in rushing with 2,097 yards, and came within nine yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's all-time single season record.

1. Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong
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1. Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong
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Before his doping revelation went public, Lance Armstrong defeated testicular cancer and went on to win the Tour De France seven consecutive times, the most victories in the race's history. Despite being banned for life and being stripped of all seven titles, Armstrong still serves as an inspiration to those fighting cancer or other diseases, even if he isn't the most likeable athlete.

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