T Nation

Any Top Athlete Go Out On Top?

i tried to think of some, but there are only a few i could come up with. barry sanders in football as well as james brown. seems like a ton of boxers stay in the game way too long. duran, ali, hearnes, joe louis. george best in soccer… should have given up soccer with all the partying he did…diminished his skills from the best to one of the best… arnold… top guy in bodybuilding, to movie actor, to govonor, but now he’s tainted for screwing different women . shouldnt have got caught. lance armstrong shold have never tried to make a comeback…left on top, but came back and looked bad…compared to his former self…

Tiki Barber

Edit:

While he did try to come back…it was his mouth that probably did his return in more than his deteriorating ability. He left at the top of his game for sure, in his case his leaving at the top of his game was actually a mistake.

Arnold is tainted now?

Dude anyone who knows anything about the dude fully expected him to have all kinds of bitches lined up…

[quote]spk wrote:
i tried to think of some, but there are only a few i could come up with. barry sanders in football as well as james brown. seems like a ton of boxers stay in the game way too long. duran, ali, hearnes, joe louis. george best in soccer… should have given up soccer with all the partying he did…diminished his skills from the best to one of the best… arnold… top guy in bodybuilding, to movie actor, to govonor, but now he’s tainted for screwing different women . shouldnt have got caught. lance armstrong shold have never tried to make a comeback…left on top, but came back and looked bad…compared to his former self…[/quote]

There are so few because for a lot of these guys its all they know, they don’t have a plan B and in most cases you’re done by your mid to late 30’s. So, a hyper-competitive person like Jordan will have a hard time letting it go because what do you do with your life when this is all you’ve done up until that time.

People who have been able to walk away were people who’ve had interests or abilities outside of what they did in their sport. A guy like David Robinson is a good example, you could say Chipper Jones, who just retired could have dragged out a few more years but called it quits at a relatively high level.

But again, for these guys the end is a tough proposition to actually face, i always thought if you’re an athlete you play until they don’t want you anymore.

You can add John Elway and Steve Young to that list, guys like Charles Woodson, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed are in the last years of their careers but still playing at a high level so time will tell if they call it quits soon or not.

John Elway is tops in this category. Walked away after winning back-to-back Super Bowls. Can’t really be any more on top than that.

Michael Jordan went out on top twice after 3 consecutive rings each time. Stint with the Wizards was just ok though.

Mario Lemieux was the most dominant offensive player* in the history of the NHL whenever he was on the ice. Abysmal health forced him from the game, not a deterioration in skill level.

*obviously debatable since Gretzky has the numbers; but I’m a homer and this dude was like a god to me when I was a kid

Mark Recchi

I think that some of these athletes love the sport they play. How many of us would love to play a sport professionally even though we wouldn’t be the best in the biz? I know I would. Boxers, and combat athletes I feel have more to lose than other athletes sticking around…Ali. But, Jordan, why not stick around after your prime? I’m 37 and still have an awesome time playing sports, couldn’t imagine being able to that professionally in those arenas/stadiums and saying ‘naw, I wont be the best anymore, think I’ll pass on that’. I understand what you’re saying, but I personally think that it kinda goes against ‘leaving everything on the field’ mentality. Just do it, until you can’t do it anymore

I think Montana could have played for a few more years too. He was still making the Chiefs competitive when he retired.

Walter Payton, could have left the nfl before the 85 season and lefted at the top of his game. But, would not have won a ring. Elway, could have lefted before he won his two rings at the top of his game. Payton Manning could have lefted after his neck issue, and been considered one of the greatest. I don’t see any problem him trying somewhere new, as long as it doesn’t injure him permanently.

Sorry to get off thread though. Jim Brown lefted at the top of his game.

Marvin Hagler. Anyone who knows the Sweet Science know he beat SRL by 2 points. Never fought again after.

Incredible athlete.

I think this idea lends itself more to football than any other sport. In basketball and baseball, you’re not going to seriously hurt yourself by playing more years than you should, and making them “tear the jersey off your back”. Where as football, it’s almost a matter of time, and if you’re beginning to see a decline why not cash out, and walk away healthy.

Michael Strahan comes to mind.

Interesting article about Barry Sanders http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443768804578034694266768714.html?mod=WSJ_LifeStyle_Lifestyle_5

Omar Vizquel also comes to mind. Although not necessarily “on top” he did play 24 years in the big leagues, until age 45, with 11 gold gloves, and more hits than Babe Ruth.

Greg Louganis, two golds in 1988, which was his last meet.

Soon Enough:

Anderson Silva

I think he wants the superfight with GSP before he goes, but I think he’ll win that.

How about Bill Russell? The Celtics beat the Lakers in the Finals, he was a huge part of the championship (10 pts and 20 rebounds per game) and he simply walked away after they won.

Steffi Graf retired when she was still #3 in the world and had just made (and lost) the Wimbledon Finals a couple months prior to her retirement.

Bjorn Borg was pretty much still the shit when he retired. I think he lost to McEnroe in the U.S. Open Finals in 1981 at the end of the ATP season and then walked away as well. I’m pretty sure he was still #1 in the world at that point, or at least he was going into the Open that year.

And for those of you who I’m sure are thinking “tennis isn’t a fucking sport!” ask yourself this: is there really a better example of a pure one-on-one matchup in sports? I mean, the coaches can’t have any contact w/ the players or anything like that during the game, so it’s completely up to the player to execute and/or adjust the strategy entirely on his own throughout the match. And some of these matches can be real grinds where the player’s athletic AND mental prowess are put to the test.

Shit, what about Sandy Koufax? He didn’t win the Series his last year in 1966, but he finished that season with an ERA of about 1.73 and 27 wins and he DID make it to the World Series. That’s gotta be the best season ever for a pitcher in his last go-around.

And how about Teddy BallGame? Williams hit .316 with 29 bombs in 1960 and he hit a homerun in Fenway Park during his last at-bat, in which he also chose the moment to flip off the Boston sportswriters as he rounded the bases, a last little fuck-you to the media who had been so rough on him throughout his Boston career.

Jerome Bettis

Rocky Marciano

HW Champ

49-0

Joe Calzaghe

You could argue Zidane -last match was the world cup final in which he scored.

Michael Phelps, duh!!! I would love to say Ken Griffey Junior, but his last season he didn’t hit well. Not awful but wasn’t on top.

[quote]RampantBadger wrote:
Joe Calzaghe

You could argue Zidane -last match was the world cup final in which he scored.[/quote]

I don’t know, that head butt was crazy! I’m glad we have a fellow soccer fan in here.