20 Sports Figures We Thought Were Washed Up
The sports media seem strangely desperate to label anyone over the age of 30 completely washed up.
There's a chance that I'm a bit oversensitive on this particular issue, being just a shade over 30 myself, but I'm pretty sure that it's true—at least to a certain extent.
There are some younger guys who get the "has been" label, but usually it's well-deserved. It generally comes from a lack of desire, heart, intensity or just an inability to translate their college/junior game to the pros.
Whatever the reason, though, it's better than just being called old.
There are plenty of guys in their 30s, even their late 30s, who have been written off and left for dead. Some of them are written off after a single game, only to be labeled the comeback of the year after the very next game! There's no rhyme or reason.
Let's take a look at 20 "washed up" figures in sports who are anything but washed up.
20. Derek Fisher, Oklahoma City Thunder
Point guard Derek Fisher has been in the NBA since 1996.
Seriously, can you even remember anything that was going on back in 1996? I was in high school, my favorite band was Bad Religion, I had more pairs of Dr. Martens than any one person requires and I thought Independence Day was the best movie ever made (it's still up there).
Fisher's career in the NBA has been relatively successful, in that he had a knack for finding himself in the right place at the right time—namely, the Lakers. Somehow Fisher is walking around with five championship rings, and I'd barely heard his name until he took his talents to Oklahoma City.
After he was signed, many in the media insisted Fisher was more of a detriment to the team than adding anything vital. But his play has improved and, more importantly, he adds the veteran leadership absolutely essential to this young Thunder team.
You always hear people say, "Act like you've been there before," and nobody has been there more times than Fisher.
19. Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs
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I'm pretty sure this is going to be a universally unpopular choice for this list.
First, there's the fact that the Cubs absolutely blow (sorry Cubs fans, I'm from Pittsburgh, so I feel you).
And second, Alfonso Soriano is about three months into his "comeback," so we've got quite awhile to see if the 36-year-old's career is back on track, or if it's just the last gasp before calling it quits.
That being said, Soriano's prospects and stats are looking up across the board. His .263 batting average is the highest it's been since 2008, and he's on pace for a 30-plus home run season—his best since 2007.
Again, I realize that the vast majority of you are freaking out right now, but I'm standing by his inclusion on this list and believe he fits the bill perfectly.
18. David Aikers, San Francisco 49ers
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Count me among those who found it curious when the Eagles cut long-time kicker David Akers in July, 2011. The Eagles saddled the most successful kicker in their history with the transition tag in 2010, which prevented him from signing elsewhere and forced him to play the entire season for a team that had already drafted his replacement.
I realize many of you don't think very much of kickers as football players, but like or or not, they are vital to the game. And even at (then) age 36, Akers was one of the best to have ever played the game. When they let him go, he was the third-ranked kicker in the NFL (second, if you consider the fact that there was a tie for first!).
Akers signed with the suddenly resurgent 49ers in 2011, and their newly acquired kicker was a large part of their success. The Eagles' trash was the Niners' treasure—Akers 44 made field goals, which was 11 more than No. 2-ranked kicker Mike Nugent of the Bengals.
The Niners were one play away from the Super Bowl. The Eagles didn't make the playoffs and their kicker of the future, Alex Henry, ranked No. 21 among all kickers in the NFL.
17. Lance Berkman, St. Louis Cardinals
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From 1999 through 2010, the Cardinals' Lance Berkman had a pretty productive decade with the Astros, the team that drafted him. Berkman was a five-time All-Star with the Astros,—remaining relatively healthy throughout—but slumped in later seasons.
That is probably what led to his trade to the Yankees in 2010, where injuries were his main issue. Many gave the 35-year-old up for dead, but the Cardinals decided to take a chance on the seemingly (and sharply) declining Berkman.
They gambled and were rewarded handsomely; Berkman became one of the team's leaders in batting average, home runs and RBI and was even named the NL Comeback Player of the Year.
Oh yeah, and the Cardinals won the World Series, too.
Currently Berkman is dealing with a pretty serious calf injury and is on the DL—who knows if he'll make it back again. But he'll always have 2011.
16. Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks
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All those old-school hockey fans out there probably know what I'm talking about here.
Pretty much every time I see Teemu Selanne on the ice, I can't help be amazed that he's still playing hockey, let alone at such a productive level. He's one of the most underrated superstars of the last two decades.
From 1999-2003, Selanne's productivity declined pretty significantly from his early years in the league, and many wondered if it'd be worth having him come back from Jokerit after the lockout. He was undoubtedly old, and there was a chorus of naysayers insisting he'd be best left playing in Finland.
Well, something tells me the Ducks—and the Stanley Cup he helped them win—don't regret their decision to bank on this old man.
15. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
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This is going to be a controversial choice, because the jury is still out on whether quarterback legend Peyton Manning is actually back, or if the Broncos paid nearly $100 million just to rid themselves of the Tebow situation.
Whatever the cost and whatever the outcome, something tells me John Elway is fine with how it worked out.
We have no idea how Manning is going to look when he steps on the field against the Steelers in their season-opener, but my money (and I'm a Steelers fan, dang it) is on one Mr. Manning. He's one of the most talented players to ever strap on pads and a helmet, and I think he's still a few years away from writing his final chapter.
Colts owner Jim Irsay is going to be thrilled to be a star figure in that final chapter. But will he be the goat who dumped a proven commodity, one of the very best ever, on an excellent college prospect who failed to fill Manning's shoes?
Or, will he be the hero who was ready, willing and able to make the smart—rather than the sentimental—decision about the future of his franchise?
14. Ray Allen, Boston Celtics
Kevin Garnett isn't the only old dude in green who is on the wrong side of 35 if the Celtics find themselves in the 2012 NBA Finals.
I'm not saying that it's going to happen, but if it does, Ray Allen is going to be just one month shy of his 37th birthday.
Allen is often injured, and playing at his level while battling bone spurs is probably more painful than we can even imagine. I sprained my ankle two years ago and barely got out of bed for a full week. Obviously, we're representing opposite ends of this spectrum.
If the Celtics squeak by the Heat int he Eastern Conference finals, there isn't going to be a single oddsmaker picking them to beat the Thunder.
But there's no doubt that, when it comes to Ray Allen, He (still) Got Game.
13. Mark Hunt, MMA
Hunt is pictured right.
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MMA fighter Mark Hunt is an absolute beast who is best-known for his early career, five-fight tear in the Pride Fighting Championship. Way back in 2001, Hunt was the K-1 Kickboxing World Grand Prix Champion before eventually transitioning to MMA's Pride organization in 2004.
The early success in Pride was short-lived, as Hunt went on a five-fight skid. Pride was eventually bought by UFC, and many assumed Hunt's retirement was imminent.
However, the UFC gave him a chance at UFC 119, where he was submitted in just a minute.
Hunt got another chance at UFC 127, and though not much was expected from him, he won by knockout and won again at UFC 135. After another win at UFC 144 over a heavily favored opponent, UFC honcho Dana White recently said Hunt is definitely "in the mix" for a heavyweight title with this three straight wins.
(H/t to @RobTatumMMA for dropping a little knowledge on me.)
12. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
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Listen, we all know Michael Vick once ran a very horrifying dogfighting ring, and as a dog lover, I found it reprehensible.
But he's served his time, and now he's playing football, so if you want to yell about dogfighting, how about you go volunteer at your local animal shelter instead of screaming about Michael Vick on message boards?
Before Vick's state-sponsored vacation for his various crimes, everyone knew he was one of the greatest athletes the game had ever seen, but his ability to throw the football was constantly in question. So, considering he wasn't an entirely accurate passer before his stint in jail, there weren't too many people who thought he'd make much of a splash in the NFL after.
Obviously, Eagles head coach Andy Reid was not among Vick's detractors, and he decided to take on the embattled quarterback as the backup to then-starter Donovan McNabb. Long story short, a year later, and Vick is the starter in Philly.
Durability is still an issue, but his accuracy and decision-making have improved, and he's cut down substantially on his mistakes and ill-timed interceptions.
11. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
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There are more articles out there about the age of Spurs forward Tim Duncan than anything else, and at age 36, you can hardly blame them.
But Duncan recently showed aged ain't nothing but a number by helping lead the Spurs to the Western Conference finals before being bounced in Game 6 by the Thunder.
It's true the Spurs didn't beat the Thunder, and it's true that Duncan did occasionally look every bit his 36 years as the series wore on.
But for much of the season and early in the playoffs, Duncan was playing like the superstar he was more than a decade ago.
People have been saying Tim Duncan is too old for years, but he refuses to listen. Look at his contribution in the playoffs compared to that of the Lakers' Andrew Bynum—any questions?
10. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
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How many times has the obituary on Giants coach Tom Coughlin's career been written? It seems like it's been written about a dozen times every year he hasn't brought home a Super Bowl.
Coughlin has never been given his due as a coach. He was inexplicably run out of Jacksonville on a rail, and his tenure with the Jaguars is still the most successful period of the club's history.
And then there's New York.
We all know that playing or coaching in New York comes with a whole lot of perks, but it also comes with a whole lot of misery when things aren't going exactly according to plan.
The issue with Coughlin is that he's old (66 by September), and "old" and "washed up" go hand-in-hand. So, if he's not winning Super Bowls, he's always going to be in the "washed up" conversation.
Just let the man coach! Go harass Rex Ryan; he likes it—and deserves it.
9. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
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The Yankees have the financial luxury of being able to overpay for legends who may no longer be producing enough to earn their bloated paychecks. It keeps the fans happy, and even with a few of these guys on their roster each year, they are still producing more than most of the losers on the Pirates or Cubs. (Sorry, Cubs fans)
So, all that hubbub in late 2010 about whether or not the Yanks were going to give The Jeet a new contract was much ado about nothing. Basically, they paid him big (again) to keep fans happy and make sure he retired as a Yankee—they never expected him to actually earn that money.
There's even been considerable buzz about The Jeet winning the very first batting title of his storied career at age 37!!!!
That's just inhuman. Obviously, the critics got this one wrong!
Maybe The Jeet's 2012 resurgence is temporary, or maybe the old dude's still got a few good years left in the bag. Either way, The Jeet is far from washed up. He's got enough swag alone to carry him into his 40s.
8. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
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There was a long stretch of time where the Panthers wide receiver was (pound for pound) the most feared received in the game. Then, one day, he just became a complete non-factor—you can thank Jake Delhomme and the following quarterback carousel that followed, each being worse than the the last.
Enter Cam Newton.
The Panthers didn't make the playoffs in 2011,—honestly, they didn't even get close—but they made more improvements than anyone could have ever dreamed the season before. Suddenly the Panthers are contenders (to make the playoffs), Newton is a superstar and Steve Smith is again one of the most formidable pass-catchers in the game.
Smith just turned 33 in May, and logic says that his best days are behind him—and he's had a heckuva lot of good days already. But my sense is that he's in for the most productive 2-4 year stretch of his career and could be a fantasy steal in a lot of leagues next year.
7. Jaromir Jagr, Philadelphia Flyers
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When a bidding war for the services of 40-year-old Jaromir Jagr broke out in late summer 2011, count me among those who thought everyone had lost their marbles.
Sure, Jagr was once one of the best in the game, and even one of the best ever to play the game.
Count me among those who were completely bored/annoyed/unconcerned with #JagrWatch in summer 2012. Full disclosure: I'm a Penguins fan—but that really didn't have anything to do with it. Jagr was 40, he'd already walked away from the game once, he'd always been known to run hot and cold with the game and I assumed his decision was purely financially motivated.
Plus, what could he possibly have left in the tank?
The Flyers needed some young leadership, not an aloof veteran—or so I thought!
Apparently he wasn't running on empty—not even close. Jagr had a productive season with the Flyers and is looking for even more money next season.
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
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We all know damn well that (maybe) Saints quarterback Drew Brees is the farthest thing in the world from being washed up.
But, remember way back in 2005 when Brees was playing in a meaningless game for the Chargers against the Broncos and basically had his armed ripped off from the shoulder trying to recover a fumble?
Basically, nobody in the world—including his own doctor—thought he'd ever play football at the same level again, if he ever played again. Well, the Dolphins bet on Daunte Culpepper returning from a similarly catastrophic knee injury, and the Saints decided to gamble on Brees.
Talk about taking the house on that one.
Which means, it's time for the Saints to pay this man. Seriously, Saints management.
Pay. This. Man. Now.
5. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics
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In the 2012 NBA playoffs, everyone had written off the Celtics, particularly their 36-year-old big man, Kevin Garnett. KG has been one of the most imposing physical forces in the game for more than a decade as well as one of the most mentally intimidating.
In February 2012, Garnett was even able to do the impossible for a player in the twilight of his career: successfully switch positions midseason. When Celtics coach Doc Rivers decided to switch KG to center, most of us thought it was the last desperate gasp of a team whose best days were long behind them.
Before the All-Star break, the Celtics weren't in any conversation, aside from conversations about how they sucked. After the switch, KG was reborn, and more importantly, the Celtics were reborn.
And they went from completely non-factors to one game away from the NBA Finals.
Whether or not the Celts upset the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, nobody is going to say it's because KG was too old.
4. George Forman, Retired Boxer
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"Big" George Foreman isn't just a lean, mean, fat-reducing grilling machine—or however that tagline goes.
The younger generation of sports fans may not remember George Foreman before he was the pitchman for a grilling appliance in most kitchens across America, but he used to be quite the boxer back in his day.
In 1972, Foreman won the heavyweight championship of the world in one of the fastest knockout bouts in the title's history. To that point in his career, he had been undefeated and didn't incur his first defeat until taking on Muhammad Ali in 1976. After that fight, Foreman was pretty much left for dead in the boxing world; he retired and un-retired a few times.
All that eventually set the stage for his big comeback—in 1994, nearly 25 years since his first heavyweight title. Foreman wasn't given much chance against Michael Moorer, but he won at the tender age of 48.
3. Tiger Woods
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Is Tiger Woods back?
I don't even know what that question means.
As far as I'm concerned, Tiger Woods never left. Every time he loses, the entire country seems all to eager to pronounce him all washed up.
He only looks "washed up" based on the impossible standard set by...Tiger Woods.
Then, every time he wins, those same people who had been writing his obituary are the first to proclaim he's "back." Tiger may be the victim of his own past success in that regard, but let me assure you one thing: Tiger isn't finished until Tiger says he's finished.
Critics should keep this in mind the next time they want to bag on him for not missing the cut in a tournament: Tiger just tied Jack Nicklaus for total career victories—on Jack's very own course.
Tiger was 36 years old—Jack was 46.
2 Mark Rechhi, Boston Bruins
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I was trying to keep this list to mostly active athletes and coaches, but there are a few recently retired folks who absolutely deserve a place on this list—former player for most NHL teams Mark Recchi is chief among them.
Recchi played professional hockey for a whopping 25 years in the bruising NHL. He walked away on his own terms after winning the Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011, making it the third time his name was engraved on the trophy, but people had been writing him off for years.
Recchi was smart enough to end his career on the highest of high notes. But this undersized, overacheiving, never-say-die grinder did it all in his career, and he proved that heart and desire are just as vital, if not more so, than God-given talent.
1. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
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When you're a superstar of the caliber and age of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, your greatness tends to come and go based on the game you played last night. That's just what happens in the NBA and NFL (for most positions) when you reach, and ultimately surpass, age 30.
I mean, when the Thunder's Kevin Durant has the occasional game from hell, does everyone insist all of his best days are behind him? And when Derek Rose absolutely shredded his knee to pieces, did anyone think it was time to dump him in favor of someone without a history of shredding his knee into pieces? No.
Yet, that's exactly what has happened to Kobe Bryant no less than once a week throughout every NBA season for the last three years.
"Kobe's too old," "Kobe's washed up," "Kobe's lost his magic," "It's time to trade Kobe," are just a few of the ridiculously nonsensical assertions by fans and media alike that have permeated the hype surrounding Kobe Bryant.
Guess what? Kobe Bryant isn't washed up until he says he's washed up—and he never will.
Kobe carried the Lakers on his back to the Western Conference semis this year, and maybe he had his bad days, but he never played a single second of a single game like he thought he was going to lose.
So all of you who say he's washed up, I'd like to see you say it to his face—because I know you wouldn't dare.