Calling it a Day

10 02, 2008

Era Enders
It isn’t always easy to say Goodbye when Athletes Drop the R Word
By Mike Dojc

When a professional athlete decides to hang’em up and call it a career, fan reactions tend to veer in one of three directions.
1) Instant acceptance: “I had no idea he was even still playing.”
2) Total bewilderment: “Whoah, I though she had at least a couple more seasons left in the tank.”
3) Choked up: “It’s the end of an era, [Insert Sport Here] will never be the same.”

In the last few months, sports fans were dealt a series of significant retirement announcements that most aficionados would classify as triggering category three level emotions—we’re talking damp eyes and sniffles. And whether the departing greats left at the top of their game or hung in as long as their bodies would permit, their absences will all be missed. It’s an incredibly trying time for athletes when their ability can no longer match the fire of their competitive desire. It takes tremendous courage to realize it’s time to call it a career, especially when athletes have the good fortune of being able to make that decision for themselves and it is not forced upon them. Mahalo ladies and gents. Good luck with whatever you choose to pursue in the future. Thanks for the memories.

Michael Strahan
“I've been blessed. The man upstairs said: 'Michael, I let you stick around for 15. I gave you a ring. Now don't be stupid.' This New York Giant defensive end went out on top of the world, capping off a brilliant career with a Super Bowl ring. Stat Attack: Don’t mess with the Strahan. He’s leaves the field with 7 Pro Bowl selections and 141 sacks—the fifth highest in NFL history. What’s Next: The Gap-toothed Giant’s gift for gab eclipses his talent for busting through offensive lineman and flattening QBs. FOX, CBS, ESPN et al, Strahan will take his pick.

Justine Henin-Hardenne
“I don’t feel sadness. It’s more relief,” Henin said on her decision to hang up her racquet at 25. “I know it’s a shock for many people, but it’s a decision I’ve thought long and hard about.” The Belgian with the blistering backhand bowed out while still holding on to the #1 seed by a wide margin over centre court queen Maria Sharapova who she ceded the spot to. Stat Attack: 7 Grand Slam singles championships: 4 French Opens, 2 United States Opens, and an Australian Open. Throw in a 2004 Olympic gold medal and that’s a mighty fine collection of tennis bling. What’s Next: On the near term horizon Henin plans to smell the roses and appreciate life’s simple pleasures. She wants to take an extended vacation and maybe take-up skiing. When she gets back we suggest she opens up a waffle chain.

Trevor Linden
Twenty years after being picked #2 overall by the Canucks in the 1988 NHL entry draft, Trevor Linden decided to hang up his skates. Though he never won the Stanley Cup he came as close as you can get. Captain Canuck popped two goals behind Mike Richter in game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994 to bring Vancouver within one goal of tying the Rangers. Sadly there would be no equalizer. "I know the time is right but there is sadness. Where did 20 years go?" reflected Linden in his farewell announcement.
Stat Attack: The 318 goals and 415 assists he accrued during his 16-season tenure with the Canucks place him second in franchise scoring to all-time leader Markus Naslund.
What’s Next: While Trevor’s awesome on and off-ice achievements don’t exactly warrant first-ballot hall of fame consideration, he’ll always be considered a hockey great in Vancouver where he was the face of the franchise for so many years.

Dominic Hasek
Drafted by the Blackhawks in the 10th round of the 1983 entry draft, the Dominator wouldn’t make the move from the Czech Republic to Chicago until 1990. Two years later, he was swapped to the Sabres where he won his first of six Vezinas for goalie of the year. Famed for his unorthodox slinky-spined flop stops, Hasek’s acrobatic antics brought legions of new fans into the NHL fold. While he ended his career on a high note with another Stanley Cup ring, the victory was bittersweet for Dom who rode the bench all through the playoffs after being relieved by Osgood in Game 4 of the first round. Stat Attack: 389 wins, 81 shutouts, and 2 hart trophies as the league’s MVP. What’s Next: While he un-retired before after winning his first Stanley Cup in 2002, now that he’s 43 another comeback highly improbable. But don’t count Hasek out of the prime time just yet. With Dom’s preternaturally limber backbone, he might consider showing off his moves on Dancing with the Stars.

Annika Sorenstam
The LPGA got dealt a nine-iron to the gut when this eight-time player of the year announced that this season will be her final one. The Dubai Ladies Masters, a European Tour event in December, will be her last as a pro. "This is obviously a very difficult decision for me to make, because I love this game very much. But I know it's the right one. I'm leaving the game on my own terms." Stat Attack: At press time her fantastic tally is 72 victories including 10 major championships. She’ll probably add one or two more W’s though before she’s all said and done.
What’s Next: Following in the entrepreneurial footsteps of Arnie and Jack, Annika appears bent on building a golf business empire. She’s already made forays into course design and golf academies.

Mike Piazza
"I knew this day was coming and over the last two years. I started to make my peace with it. I gave it my all and left everything on the field," signed off Piazza in May. The 12-time all-star catcher may have gradually faded from the headlines in the twilight of his career but the dude who once called a press conference to tell the media that he wasn’t gay will be remembered both by sports fans and ardent pop culture junkies for years to come. A media darling his many television appearances include Baywatch where he met his future wife Alicia Rickter and The Simpsons where he hammed it up with Don Mattingly and Daryl Strawberry. Stat Attack: The Italian slugger thwokked 427 dingers (396 of those homers came while playing catcher, a positional record). Toss in 1355 RBIs and a career .308 batting average and he’s got a great shot at the Hall of Fame in 2012. What’s Next: Bank on seeing his mustachioed mug showing up in plenty of commercials. He’d be great for anything involving hair care, grooming, and manscaping.

SIDEBAR: More Waves Goodbye Go Out to:

Oliver Kahn
Bayern Munich’s fierce-eyed goalie leaves the pitch as one of soccer’s greatest mesh protectors. Stat Attack: Three-time World Goal Keeper of the Year honours and eight Bundesliga titles.

Dale Jarrett:
The three-time Daytona 500 winner rolled into NASCAR’s victory lane on 32 occasions. Parting Words: "If y'all just let me walk away, I can go back to the motor home or back home and have my tears there."

Warren Sapp
This big-bellied bone crunching seven-time Pro Bowler ended his career with 96.5 career sacks. Bucs fans will always remember Sapp for his pivotal role in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl XXXVII title run. Sounding Off: On his website Sapp, wished his fans tootles with the simple salvo: “I’m Done!”

Damon Allen
Not too many kiddos could ever brag to their friends that their grandpa plays professional football and be telling the truth. This CFL superstar leaves the gridiron having amassed a spate of legacy assuring all-time records including passing yards (72,381), completions (5158), and TD passes (394). The 44-year old hinted at the possibility of a comeback if he’s needed. “I've been in this game long enough to know quarterbacks get hurt. The Argos last year went through six or seven. If that time comes my ears will be open,” said Allen.

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