Hanging 'em up -- athletes and retirement
First it was Annika Sorenstam, the best female golfer on the planet. Then it was Justine Henin, currently ranked No. 1 in women's tennis. Both announced retirements last week. Sorenstam, 37, will retire at the end of the year. Henin, 25, is walking away immediately. They join the list of athletes who walk away while on top. So we look at retirement. Those who left too early. Those who stayed too long. And those who need to walk away.
Five who walked away too soon
Jim Brown: Browns running back played only nine seasons and made the Pro Bowl every season. He retired at age 30 to become an actor and social activist.
Sandy Koufax: Dodgers pitcher , retired at 30 because of arm trouble, but in his final two seasons he went 26-8 and 27-9.
Barry Sanders: Lions running back abruptly quit at age 31 despite rushing for 1,491 yards in his final season and being just shy of the NFL's all-time rushing record.
John Elway: Broncos QB was 38 when he retired, but he quit after winning back-to-back Super Bowls and probably had another couple of seasons left in his powerful arm.
Rocky Marciano: The heavyweight champ was 32 years old and a perfect 49-0 with 43 knockouts when he retired from boxing.
Five who stayed too long
Willie Mays: Whenever at athlete hangs on too long, we are reminded of the great Willie Mays falling down in the outfield with the Mets and hitting just .211 in his final season.
O.J. Simpson: His body battered, he sadly played two years at the end of his career near his birthplace in San Francisco and rushed for only 460 yards in his final season.
Joe Namath: Hardly able to stand because of bad knees, Broadway Joe became L.A. Joe and played four forgettable games with the Rams.
Johnny Unitas: The greatest QB in NFL history traded in the classic Colts uniform for the ugly powder blue of the Chargers and played five games with three TDs and seven interceptions.
Dale Murphy: One of the great athletes in Atlanta sports history, a true legend. Final season stats? Batted .143 with no homers and seven RBIs. And, oh, yeah, he was wearing a Colorado Rockies uniform.
Five boxers who should've walked away before they did
Boxers are famous for overstaying their welcome, so they need a separate list. Here are five of many who went from great to tomato cans because they could not walk away.
Muhammad Ali: Perhaps the greatest boxer ever ended his career by losing three of his final four fights, including getting knocked around in his finale by Trevor Berbick.
Roberto Duran: The one-time best pound-for-pound fighter in the world lost four of his final nine fights, including to guys such as Omar Eduardo Gonzalez and William Joppy.
Joe Louis: Forced to fight for money because of IRS issues, his legendary career ended with a loss to Ezzard Charles, then an eighth-round knockout to Rocky Marciano.
Larry Holmes: At one point Holmes was 48-0 and compared to the great Rocky Marciano. He ended his career getting pummeled by Mike Tyson then fighting 24 more times, including his final one in which, at 52 years old and 254 pounds, he beat "Butterbean'' Esch.
Sugar Ray Leonard: He had several retirements and came back each time to have some success. Except the last two times. In 1991 at age 34, he was knocked down twice and lost a lopsided decision to Terry Norris. In 1997, he was KOed for good by Hector "Macho'' Camacho in the fifth round.
Five who should retire
Michael Strahan: The Giants defensive lineman can still play, but aren't we all sick of hearing about his threats to retire? He has become football's version of Roger Clemens. Just quit and become a broadcaster already, would you?
Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Perhaps the best boxer of his generation, he is 39-0, 31 years old, has all his faculties and has nothing left to prove. Yet he is still looking for another fight against Oscar De La Hoya, a man he already has beaten. Why not walk away now?
Tim Tebow: A national title followed by the Heisman Trophy. His life can't get any better, can it? Quit while you're ahead, kid.
The Williams Sisters: Are you tennis players or fashion designers? Venus and Serena seem to always have one foot in tennis and one foot out. It would be nice to see both feet in the same place, whether that is tennis or fashion.
Bud Selig: Not an athlete, but you get my drift. Time for some fresh blood in baseball's commissioner office.
Five who should not retire
Brett Favre: Forget the last pass, he almost quarterbacked the Packers to the Super Bowl last season.
Jaromir Jagr: Outstanding postseason proved Rangers forward nowhere close to being done.
Joe Paterno: Penn State football coach built legendary program. He can stay as long as he wants.
Bobby Bowden: See: Joe Paterno.
Bob Knight: Arrogant. A bully. A brute. Despite all this, he makes college basketball fun and interesting.