The Most Impressive Career Finale Seasons Ever

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistJune 21, 2013

The Most Impressive Career Finale Seasons Ever

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    One of the worst things about being a sports fan is seeing our favorite players grow old, eventually working toward that hated word—retirement.

    While we marvel at what an older guy like Mariano Rivera can still do to guys literally half his age, it's always bittersweet when we know we'll never see another one like him in our lifetime.

    And though we appreciate everything these guys do throughout their careers, it speaks to how elite they are when their last season is of their best.

Honorable Mention: Mariano Rivera (New York Yankees)

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    Yes, the sound of "Enter Sandman" ringing through the stadium speakers still strikes fear into the opposing dugout.

    I'm adding Mariano Rivera here because he's still the best closer in the game—even at age 43.

    Announcing that 2013 is his last year, "Mo" has only blown one save opportunity this season and currently sits just one save away from leading the AL this season, so yeah, he's still got it.

Barry Bonds (San Francisco Giants)

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    Sure, there's a ton of doubt as to the substances that former outfielder Barry Bonds actually used during his 22-year career, but I'm still giving him some cred for what he did in his last season with the Giants.

    Hitting a respectable .276 with 28 homers, Bonds led the league in walks and on-base percentage in his last year playing.

    MLB's all-time home run leader may not have ended on a high note, but for being 40-years-old, it was still an above average season.

Mike Mussina (New York Yankees)

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    One of the most consistent players of his generation, former pitcher Mike Mussina ended his 18-year career in 2008 with a record of 20-9, and a 3.37 ERA.

    The 39-year-old led the Yanks starters in wins and ERA that year, though the team missed out on the playoffs, finishing third in the AL East.

    Always one of the best fielders at his position, Mussina also captured his seventh Gold Glove award in his final campaign.

Michael Jordan (Washington Wizards)

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    Say what you want to about the two-year career that Michael Jordan had while playing for the Wizards, but the fact of the matter is, the greatest of all time still averaged 21.4 ppg in those seasons in Washington, helping the team win an additional 18 games in his first year there, while narrowly missing out on the playoffs in his last season.

    Sure, we were all spoiled by MJ's greatness when he won six titles and five league MVPs, but his final year in Washington wasn't as bad as some make it out to be.

Ray Bourque (Colorado Avalanche)

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    During a 21-year career with the Boston Bruins where he etched his name in the franchise's history books as one of its greatest players ever, Ray Bourque became one of the greatest defenseman ever, but never won a Stanley Cup.

    That all changed after his final season in 2001 at the ripe young age of 40, when he lifted Lord Stanley's Cup for the Avalanche.

    His last year may not have been one where he statistically dominated—though he did finish with 59 points, which led all Colorado defenseman—but earning that ring was well worth any decline in his performance.

Ted Williams (Boston Red Sox)

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    Ted Williams' last season in 1960 showed that even as he continued to age, his batting eye never escaped him.

    Tallying an average of .316, the Red Sox great earned his final All-Star appearance at 41 years old, while clocking 29 home runs.

    His team, however, struggled mightily, as Boston ran through three different managers before finishing with a 65-89 record.

Tiki Barber (New York Giants)

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    After finishing his career as the leading rusher in the Giants organization, former running back Tiki Barber decided to walk away from the game at age 31 in 2006.

    Locking up a Pro Bowl invite following a season in which he had 1,662 yards rushing and an additional 465 yards receiving, Tiki decided to leave on his own terms—though he took some heat for it—before briefly talking about a comeback before the 2011 season.

    Unfortunately for Barber, his longtime Giants won the Super Bowl the year following his last game.

Robert Smith (Minnesota Vikings)

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    After racking up four-straight 1,000-yard seasons for the Vikings, former running back Robert Smith decide that he had had enough, taking the pads off for good following the 2000 season.

    Rushing for 1,521 yards and seven touchdowns, Smith earned a second trip to the Pro Bowl in the process, while playing a big part in Minnesota's first place, 11-5 season.

    He may not have had the effect that some of the other guys on this list had, but Smith was one of the best running backs in the league for a short period of time.

Dominik Hasek (Detroit Red Wings)

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    After completing his final season with an impressive record of 27-10-3 and a 2.14 GAA, Dominik Hasek was able to finish his career on top.

    In helping guide his Red Wings to a Stanley Cup title, Hasek may have split time with fellow net-minder Chris Osgood during the team's playoff run, but he was stellar when he was asked to defend the pipes.

David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy/Paris Saint-Germain)

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    David Beckham is one of the few athletes who have truly transcended his sport, and his final season this past year proved his global impact on soccer.

    First, Becks finished his five-year stint in the MLS by taking his Los Angeles Galaxy to their second-straight MLS Cup title, playing an integral part in the 2-0 win in his final match in the States.

    After conquering the U.S., he returned to Europe, where he played for French squad Paris Saint-Germain.

    All he did there was lead them to a Ligue 1 title, earning the midfielder his fourth different top-flight winners' medal.

Larry Bird (Boston Celtics)

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    Despite getting up there in age—after all, he was 35—Larry Bird was almost forced to call it quits thanks to a cranky back that just wouldn't let him play anymore.

    Although he was limited to just 45 games in his final year of 1991-92, he still finished with a scoring average of 20.2 ppg, which was good enough for second on the Atlantic Division-winning Celtics that year.

    Known as one of the most dominant players of his era, Bird's last season may have ended with a seven game series and a second-round loss to the Cavs, but it didn't diminish his overall legacy one bit.

Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions)

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    Although former Lions running back Barry Sanders walked away from the game way too early, he did so without an excuse for poor performance.

    Finishing his 1998 season with 1,491 yards, Sanders' season is pretty comparable to that of well-known fantasy stud Jamaal Charles' season last year, meaning had fantasy football been around back then, Barry would have still been a top-5 player drafted even at his age.

    It's just too bad he couldn't have been a keeper for the following year.

Jim Brown (Cleveland Browns)

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    Jim Brown might just be the greatest athlete to ever walk the face of the earth.

    After starring in numerous sports during his collegiate career, he led the league in rushing eight of the nine seasons he played, including his last year in 1965 when he finished with 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns.

    His Browns team may not have repeated as NFL champions during his last season, but Brown did take home league MVP honors, which was the third of his career.

Bill Russell (Boston Celtics)

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    Though it's difficult enough to still play at a high level at the age of 34—as Bill Russell did during his final season in 1968-69—it's even more impressive when you consider that he not only averaged nearly 10 points and 19 rebounds a game, but he also was the Celtics head coach.

    It's rare to find an athlete who pulls double duty, but Russell did it profoundly, helping Boston capture their tenth NBA championship in the process by defeating the rival Lakers in seven games before calling it quits as a player for good.

Sandy Koufax (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    Sandy Koufax may have retired while still in his prime—he was just 30 years old—but that doesn't trump any of his accomplishments he achieved in his final season in 1966.

    Finishing with a record of 27-9 with an ERA of a paltry 1.73 (which both led the Majors), he took home his second-straight NL Cy Young award and runner-up in the league MVP voting.

    Unfortunately for him and his Dodger mates, however, they were swept by the Orioles in the World Series that year, preventing Koufax from winning an astonishing fifth title.

John Elway (Denver Broncos)

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    Though Ray Lewis duplicated the feat this year, there aren't too many athletes who get to end their careers on the top of the podium as Super Bowl champs.

    In Elway's case though, he even one-upped Lewis by leading his Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in '97 and '98, earning the game's MVP in his very last performance.

    Leading Denver to a 10-2 record in the games he played his last season, while passing for over 2,800 yards and 22 touchdowns to just 10 picks is extraordinary for a guy who was 38, but the title is why he's No. 1 here.