To kinda quote the lyrics to Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”, you have to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. In the real world of professional athletes, some didn’t know when it was the right time to “walk away.” Others “folded ’em” and realized that they had done this too early. A few actually made triumphant comebacks. Other comebacks, however, were not-so-great.
Sugar Ray Leonard
Boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard was the king of comebacks. He made at least five of them. His first comeback was in 1987, three years after retiring due to a serious detached retina injury. This first comeback was a triumphant one. Leonard defeated the formidable Marvelous Marvin Hagler and gained the Middleweight Championship title.
His four other retirements and comebacks had strongly mixed results, particularly his fights with Hector “Macho” Comacho.
His last comeback bout was when he was 41 years old. He retired in 1997, his legend as one of the greatest fighters of all time still intact.
Boxing champ George Foreman experienced one of the most unusual and triumphant comebacks ten years after his winning Heavyweight Championship bout with Joe Frazier and his stunning defeat at the hands of Muhammad Ali in “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Back then, his persona was angry and thuggish in the mold of Sonny Liston.
When Foreman retired from boxing and went back to Texas, he became an ordained minister with a sizable congregation. In 1987, when he decided to return to the ring one more time, he had packed on 20 pounds and had gained a new kinder gentler teddy bear-like persona.
In 1994, he stunned the world of boxing by regaining his heavyweight title after knocking out Michael Moorer. At age 45, he was the oldest winner of boxing’s Heavyweight Championship.
Basketball legend Michael Jordan made two comebacks. His first comeback was triumphant, after an ill-conceived year-and-a-half stint as a pro baseball player. Jordan led the Bulls to three championships.
His second comeback at 38 after a three year absence was not so successful. He lasted two years with the Washington Wizards.
Mark Spitz was America’s multiple Gold Medal winner from 1972’s tragic Munich Olympics.
In 1989, he attempted an Olympics comeback at age 40, but failed the qualification trials. This was one of the more noble, yet embarrassing comeback attempts in sports history.
“10 Spot”, Pete McEntigart, Sports Illustrated, URL: (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/pete_mcentegart/01/20/ten.spot/index.html)
“Just because Michael Jordan made a botch of his comeback”, Bernie Lincicome, Chicago Sun-Times, URL: (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4155/is_20020407/ai_n12457237)
“Boxing’s Greatest Fighters: George Foreman”, Bert Randolph Sugar, ESPN, URL: (http://sports.espn.go.com/sports/boxing/news/story?id=2631852)
“Not all comebacks are magical”, Shirley Povich, Washington Post, URL: (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/longterm/general/povich/launch/comeback.htm)