In sports, the word retirement often takes on a different meaning.
In the real world it means: I’m done — that’s all she wrote.
But, in professional sports it tends to mean: I’m going to take a couple years off, attempt acting or commentating, and then, once I realize family life is not as fulfilling as putting points on a scoreboard, I’ll stage a comeback.
And who can blame them?
It’s hard to walk away after dedicating your life to being the best.
But once big-name athletes leave the field, ring, rink or court, the attention they became accustomed to drains away.
They stop seeing their faces in Gatorade ads, they don’t know what to do with all their free time and the pool of groupies willing to satisfy their every sexual need seems to dry up over night.
Although many put professional athletes on a lofty pedestal, raising them to the status of Greek gods who can do no wrong, we should welcome their capriciousness. After all, they are paid for physical prowess, not mental agility.
I personally know of no football player who went on to win the Nobel Prize in literature, for example. (Although, Beckham: Both Feet on the Ground is a gripping autobiography that takes the reader through the trials and tribulations of being handsome soccer phenom, and describes the arduous task of scoring with a Spice Girl.)
It was Bret Favre’s possible return to the gridiron that precipitated this column.
After “retiring” from football in early March, the former Packers quarterback is already hoping to return to the NFL.
Having left the game at the end of last season, and looking to return before the start of this coming season, calling his absence a retirement is like calling a 20-minute nap a coma.
But what the hell? Good for him.
Comebacks are great for all sports. Cheering a returning athlete is the next best thing to rooting for an underdog.
Look at cycling.
Lance Armstrong returned to competitive cycling in 1997 after fighting testicular cancer and went on to win the Tour de France seven times. Straight.
Granted, his is a story of triumph over a deadly disease, but to give some perspective to his Tour victories, let me ask you this: who won the Tour de France last week?
I rest my case.
There have been lots of great comebacks that may end up on the big screen some day.
Michael Jordan returned to the Bulls after retiring and making a run in professional baseball. (Turns out that a six-foot, six-inch batter with a strike-zone the size of a compact car is not the hardest player to strike out.)
In his return he led the Chicago Bulls to three more championships.
Boxer George Forman retired from the sport for more than 10 years, then returned and regained the heavyweight title at 45, even though he was the size of, well, a compact car.
The Dominator, Dominik Hasek, came back after retirement and won another Stanley Cup with Detroit.
Who knows, maybe Roger Clemens might return from his quasi-retirement for another season the mound — at 45 years of age!
Wow, that would be incredible.
I mean, it’s like someone took some magic potion and injected it into his buttocks, allowing him to pitch like a 24-year-old into his mid-40s.
There’s lots of good ones that could yet take place.
If Mike Tyson attempts another comeback there’d be someone to cheer against.
If Mario Lemieux comes back again, we’d get to see him on the ice with Sid the Kid.
And if Dale Earnhardt makes a comeback, well that would mean that a cure for death has been found and my new weekend hobby would become high-speed heroin use out on the Alaska Highway.
All this being said, I’m going to lay my soul on the line and share with you the comeback I want to see most: the King of Swing, Pete Sampras.
Sure he’s 36 — old by tennis standards — but the man is the greatest player of the modern era; no one male player has won more majors than he has.
But there’s more to it than that. Pistol Pete’s style of play was pure textbook. His perfect service motion and groundstrokes would prevent wear and tear on his limbs.
Also, Sampras and the only other player that looks capable of taking Pete’s crown as the King of Swing, Roger Federer, have played exhibition matches in recent times.
Out of the six or seven they’ve played, Sampras took two of them! This means, after five years of retirement, he still can do few have done: beat Federer more than once.
If you’re hung-up on the age issue, consider Andre Agassi. “Andre the Giant,” as he was sometimes called, squandered a few of his best years eating too much fast food and gaining so much weight that his protruding gut would flap around like a swollen elephant’s ear with every groundstroke.
After letting his ranking slip into the 200s, Agassi got back on track and eventually became the oldest men’s player to hold the No. 1 ranking at 33.
Sure Sampras might have some endurance problems with the best-of-five-setters in the grand slams, but it would be great to see the attempt.
Jimmy Connors made it to the US Open semi-finals at the ripe old age of 39! And he was a baseliner, not a quick-and-deadly, all-court player like Sampras.
Enough of what I think. What do you think? Who would you like to see make a comeback? Let me know and we’ll put your replies in next Wednesday’s paper.