In honor of the 1 year anniversary of the firing of Pete Manzo which ended arguably the worst comeback not only in the history of blogging, but the universe the Stool has put together a list of the 9 greatest comebacks in the history of sports. Somewhere in a dark alley Pete Manzo smiles….
9. Mike Tyson
For my money as far as sports comeback stories go it doesn’t get any better than Iron Mike. From the very top, to rock bottom, back to the spotlight again. The youngest heavyweight champ of all time. 37-o with 33 knockouts which is basically unheard of. One of if not the biggest star in the sports world. Straight up electrifying. A must watch every time he stepped between the ropes. And then just like that he plummeted. Got beat by Buster Douglas. Ripped off Holyfield’s ear. Lost to no namers. Got KO’ed by Danny Willims. Lost to Kevin McBride who I’m still not really sure exactly who he is. Because a sideshow. A clown. A fat lazy distracted mess who took fights only for the money and promptly lost. And that’s not even counting out of the ring where he filed for bankruptcy like 3 times and went to prison for 3 years for rape. By all accounts he should be considered a monster. But for some reason everybody still pulls for the lovable idiot maniac. Seriously has anybody ever been more of a despicable person yet still ended up so universally loved? Feels like everyone still pulls for him no matter what and that’s why he’s right back in the spotlight. Star of the Hangover. Documentary. Reality show. Broadway show with Spike Lee. Talk shows coast to coast. From fading into Bolivian to back on top. To quote Don King only in America. Impetuous, impregnable, and ferocious indeed.
8. Michael Jordan
I don’t think people truly appreciate the absurd nature of Jordan’s comeback. When you talk about comebacks people always throw out the names of a couple boxers who made a run at an old age. They throw out the names of some guys plagued by injuries or disease. But Jordan’s situation was completely different. He was arguably the greatest athlete ever at the time that he “retired.” Whether you believe it was a secret gambling suspension or stress from his father’s murder, no matter how you cut it thats a completely ridiculous situation. Imagine Lebron james just walking away from the game right now. Tom Brady walking away from football 5 years ago. Jeter calling it quits in the early 2000s. That would be absolutely out of control.
But 2 years after MJ did just that, he drops an “I’m Back” on the world and returns to rattle off 3 more titles and 2 more MVP awards. Like nothing ever happened. Jordan’s comeback on the court was so unbelievable he made everyone forget about what happened off the court. Nobody remembers his awful stint in baseball. Nobody cares if he was really suspended. People don’t even really talk about his father’s murder. Just His Airness returning to bring a second 3-peat to Chicago like nothing ever happened. Greatest comeback of all time because people don’t even realize he was ever gone.
7. Andre Agassi
And you say, “Why Andre Agassi?” The answer is simple: I’ve never heard of any other high-level athlete coming back from a Meth addiction. Heck, we’ve got college football stars nowadays sitting out entire seasons to confront their marijuana habits, can you imagine the cornucopia of insanity Andre Agassi’s life must’ve been in much of the 90′s? Hooked on meth, falling to #141 in the rankings, having to wear flamboyant wigs to keep his baldness on the DL — things were not working out for the “image is everything” Canon-sponsored star. Fast forward to 1999 and ‘Dre — free of crystal meth, faux hair, and wife Brooke Shields — wins the French Open and begins one of the greatest career turnarounds on record. Meth comebacks are the best comebacks.
6. Hulk Hogan
I guess if you were being strict this wouldn’t count as a comeback. Hulk Hogan did wrestle under the red and yellow for a couple years after he switched from the WWF to the WCW. But does it count if nobody was paying attention? Wrestling was all but dead. Then Hogan turned into Hollywood Hogan, formed the NWO and suddenly wrestling was the hottest thing in America and Hogan was the man again. It all happened so fast. He went from the greatest hero wrestler to the greatest villain of all time. I don’t know if it’s really a comeback, but this list didn’t feel right in the plums without him on it.
5. Magic Johnson
Sports comebacks are usually about a story detailing an athlete’s heroic comeback from a devastating injury or retirement to return to past glory and greatness against all odds. You know what sports comebacks are almost never about though? Returning back from an AIDS death sentence 4 years after diagnoses just because you can’t stand being away from the game or coming back and shutting up every single one of your naysayers who dared question your abilities as a player and a man. Yet that’s exactly what Magic Johnson did in 1994. I may have grown up hating Magic’s Laker teams like everyone else that isn’t from Los Angeles, but there’s no denying how amazing his comeback was after a 4 year layover that followed his shocking retirement from the NBA. Never before had an athlete of such great stature returned to demonstrate his amazing talent after such a debilitating diagnosis. Chances are it’ll never be seen again. What’s even more impressive is Magic switched positions from point guard to power forward and still racked up an impressive 14.6 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game. Those numbers would make him a starter on any team in the league. Now, there’s no telling how many people were affected, positively and negatively, by Magic’s return but the man stumbled into the position of spokesman for an entire generation. And the bottom line is he performed valiantly and bravely in the face of death, and that makes his comeback all the more remarkable. I may have hated the player, but I certainly can’t hate Magic’s game.
4. Muhammad Ali
Probably the most famous comeback in the history of sports and maybe the world. What separates Ali’s comeback obviously is the fact he didn’t leave boxing on his own free will. He was stripped of the title when he refused to fight in Vietnam and it took him 4 years and a ruling by the Supreme Court to get reinstated. Once he was allowed to fight again he staged some of the most memorable fights in the history of boxing including the Rumble in the Jungle and all the Ali Frazier fights. In a way it’s kind of like how Jordan left at the top of his game and returned still in his prime, but Ali was bigger and his absence was longer. Nobody as important in the history of sports has ever taken that much time off and had as many signature events after their return as Ali did. And nobody ever will.
3. Mario Lemieux
Typically when discussing the greatest athletic comebacks, the player or team’s comeback results in a championship or hard-earned exorcism of demons that often helps define a career. However, there is nothing typical when talking about Mario Lemieux.
After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992, the soft-spoken scoring monster from Quebec was well on his way to cementing his Hall of Fame resume. And though a third title would prove to be elusive. Lemieux’s exploits after he won two rings might be the most incredible and inspirational comeback in sports history.
First, in 1993, Mario was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma yet he not only continued to play, scoring a goal and an assist the same day as receiving his last radiation treatment, but he also won the MVP and led the NHL in scoring with 160 points in just 60 games (2nd place finisher Pat LaFontaine had 148 points…in 84 games). Though his Penguins were upset by the New York Islanders in the playoffs, Lemieux’s amazing return provided the best ‘feel good’ story of the year. But Super Mario was hardly done.
After taking ’94-’95 off due to a back injury and fatigue from battling cancer, Lemieux returned the following season to win his fifth scoring title and his third MVP. But the game had taken its toll and he retired in 1997. The three-year HHOF waiting period was waived so that Lemieux could enter the HOF immediately and the Pens retired his famed #66. However, Lemieux hardly sat around twiddling his thumbs. Instead, he formed an ownership group that rescued the franchise and ensured the Penguins would stay in Pittsburgh. And just a few years later, he would once again scratch the never-ending itch that the 200 x 85 sheet of ice gave him.
Coming out of retirement during the ’00-’01 season, Mario led the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals. He would play in parts of the next four seasons before retiring for good in January of 2006.
Mario Lemieux casts a long and intimidating shadow in the hockey world, not just for his size but because of the many accomplishments he piled up in his 17 NHL seasons. It’s unlikely another player will post 1.88 points per game (second only to Wayne Gretzky) and score five goals in five different ways in their career. But it’s even more unlikely that a guy will come along and win league MVP in the same season as getting a cancer diagnosis, get elected to the Hall of Fame, become team owner and save it from leaving town, and then returning to play at the same level as when he left. There’s only one Mario.
2. Josh Hamilton
Best part about Josh Hamilton is that he’s the comeback story that keeps on giving. Feels like every year we get a new ailment he’s battling back from. Be it beer or dip, Hamilton always has his back against it. Though I guess none are as big a pit to climb out of then his first. Hamilton might be the wildest roller coaster in history. From the clean cut number 1 overall, to the tatted up crack addict in Tampa back rooms, to potentially the most feared hitter in the game. It’s a rise and fall and rise story as good as there is. Most people can’t go from smoking crack to hitting 4 home runs in a game. They just can’t. I mean I know when I go to a Blackout Party I can’t blog straight for months, never mind clean myself up then get on a baseball field and be a perennial All Star. In the span of a decade Hamilton went from a cautionary tale to one of the most beloved and electric players in the game. Not a bad turn around.
1. George Foreman
I don’t care what anybody says when you are talking athlete comebacks it starts and ends with George Forman. Yes Mohammad Ali is the Greatest of All Time. Yes Muhammad Ali had many more famous fights after his return from exile. But it’s not just that George Foreman went more than a full decade between his stints as Heavyweight Champion of the World, but rather he went from a dislikeable, misunderstood, curmudgeon to an affable, friendly, fat guy grill spokesman. It would be like Barry Bonds coming back in five years as Santa Claus or something. That’s what makes it the greatest comeback in sports in my mind. It was a complete transformation on every level.
Editor’s Note – I’m sure people are going to ask where the one ball wonder Lance Armstrong is? Well the answer is simple. Bike riding isn’t a sport and he is a cheater.