Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Star Athletes Fizzle on the Way Out the Door [J. Mark English]

Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal writes:

Brad Childress has warned everyone to “stay tuned” and Brett Favre, who hates even the thought of surgery, has submitted to an operation on his sore shoulder...

...If you must worry about something, worry about whether Favre is overstaying his welcome as a football player. He will turn 40 in October and wouldn’t be the first iconic athlete to hang on long after the skills that made him great have faded away....

...Indeed, for every superstar who exits on his own terms — Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Sandy Koufa
x come to mind — there are a dozen who don’t know when to quit. Usually, they end up playing in some strange city and looking very old while doing it....

....Yes, Favre’s annual waffling on retirement has grown old. But those who accuse Favre of being a hopeless diva must have forgotten that Denver’s John Elway, the poster boy for going out on top, didn’t make up his mind to return until June after winning his first Super Bowl at age 37. Even after winning a second Super Bowl, Elway kept the Broncos in suspense until May before announcing his retirement.

Even Reggie White once retired for 48 hours when he was with the Packers. White later retired “for good,” then came back after a one-year absence for an embarrassing five-sack season with the Carolina Panthers.

At least Elway went out a winner. Many others were a pitiful shell of themselves while trying to milk another season or two out of their Hall of Fame careers.

No one who saw it can forget the image of Hank Aaron batting .232 in two seasons as an overweight, 40-something designated hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers. Or Willie Mays, the greatest center fielder ever, dropping fly balls in his 40s with the New York Mets. And did you know that a 40-year-old Babe Ruth hit .181 playing for the Boston Braves?

Come to think of it, did anyone like seeing Magic Johnson as a backup power forward when he returned to the NBA at 36 after a five-year absence? And though Michael Jordan was still a decent enough player, there was no joy in watching his two-year comeback with a Washington Wizards team that had no hope of making the playoffs.

Nothing was more painful than watching the NFL’s ultimate winner, Johnny Unitas, throw three touchdown passes and seven interceptions in five games with the San Diego Chargers. Ditto for Joe Namath, who had three touchdown passes and five interceptions in four games as a creaky-kneed starter for the Los Angeles Rams.

And surely Packers fans haven’t forgotten Bart Starr’s final two limp-armed seasons, when he thew eight touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. Even Fran Tarkenton, who seems to know more about Favre’s intentions than Favre, threw 32 interceptions for the Vikings at age 38.

It’s not just quarterbacks, either. It was no fun watching O.J. Simpson average 3.8 yards per carry for the 2-14 San Francisco 49ers in 1979. And when all-time receptions leader Jerry Rice, then 42, went from Oakland to Seattle in a mid-season trade, few people even noticed.

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