Top 10 Most Memorable Retirement Exits in Sports History

Ryan Neiman@RyanNAnthony Contributor IIIJanuary 22, 2011

Top 10 Most Memorable Retirement Exits in Sports History

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    31 Jan 1999: Quarterback John Elway #7 of the Denver Broncos celebrates the first touchdown during the first quarter of Super Bowl XXXIII against the Atlanta Falcons at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. The Broncos defeated the Falcons 34-19 to win th
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    As Brett Favre quietly enters his retirement, he had a chance to make his last stop memorable.  

    However, his final year was memorable for all the wrong reasons.  

    Several players had the rare opportunity to end their careers on a high note.  And several players retirements shocked the sports world by retiring when many felt they still had much to offer.  

    Sometimes, sports figures have to know when it is the right time to say goodbye, even if they do not ride out in the sunset.

    Here are the top 10 most memorable retirement exits in sports history.

10. Bill Russell's 11th Ring

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    NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 17:  Bill Russell attends the 57th NBA All-Star Game, part of 2008 NBA All-Star Weekend at the New Orleans Arena on February 17, 2008 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
    Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

    Bill Russell had it all.  

    He was a five-time NBA MVP, 12 NBA All-Star selection, and he already had 10 NBA championship rings.  

    Russell had nothing to prove, but he still came back for what would be his final season in 1969.  He helped the Celtics defeat Wilt Chamberlain and the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games to win his 11th NBA championship.  

    His career ended as he began it: as a champion. 

9. Jerry Rice Retires As a 49er

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    17 Dec 2000:  Jerry Rice #80 of the San Francisco 49ers is carried off the field after the Chicago Bears game at 3Comm Park in San Francisco, California. San Francisco won 17-0. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/ALLSPORT
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Jerry Rice is one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of football.  

    He is the all-time leader in most categories for wide receivers and he is the all-time NFL leader in touchdowns scored with 208.  

    Even though he did not end his career with a Super Bowl victory, the way he retired will forever be memorable.  

    After retiring from the Denver Broncos in 2005, Rice signed a contract with the San Francisco 49ers in August of 2006 that would allow him to retire as a member of the team where his career first began.

    He signed a one-day contract with the 49ers that would be worth $1,985,806.49.  

    What is the significance the numbers in the contract?  1985 was the year he was drafted, his number is 80, 06 represents the year he retired, and 49 is the 49ers.     

8. John Wooden Trims the Net One Last Time

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    Ken Levine/Getty Images

    John Wooden was a legendary college basketball coach for the UCLA Bruins, but he was also a man of wisdom and he was a man who loved to motivate others in not just basketball, but in various aspects of life as well.  

    One of his most memorable quotes of inspiration was, "Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."  

    You have to trust a man who has been one of the most successful basketball coaches of all time, who won 88 consecutive games and won seven straight national title games.  

    To end his journey, he was able to cut down the nets one last time in his final year in 1975 to make it 10 national championships for his career.  

7. Lou Gehrig's Emotional Farewell

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    "The Iron Horse" played 17 years with the New York Yankees, set several major league records and was remembered for his amazing power.  

    After being diagnosed with a fatal neurological disease, Gehrig gave one of the most emotional and prolific speeches in sports history.  

    On July 4, 1939, Gehrig stood in front of the podium, speaking to the Yankee faithful, proclaiming despite his recent health issues that he considered himself to be "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."  

    That was the last day Gehrig would ever wear a baseball uniform again as what is known as today Lou Gehrig's disease claimed his life two years later.

6. Rocky Marciano Delivers a Final Knock-Out

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    BOSTON - CIRCA 1955:  (UNDATED FILE PHOTO) Baseball legend Ted Williams (1918 - 2002) of the Boston Red Sox (L) laughs as American boxing great Rocky Marciano (1923 - 1969) swings a bat circa 1955. The 83-year-old Williams, who was the last major league p
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Rejected from the Chicago Cubs' farm system because they felt he did not have a strong enough right arm, Rocky Marciano decided to take his chances in the fighting ring.  

    His reach was considered the shortest of any heavyweight boxer, but he managed to become the heavyweight champion of the world from September 1952 to April 27, 1956.  

    His final fight was against Archie Moore, where he would eventually KO him by the ninth round.  He ended his career as the only heavyweight champion to finish his career undefeated at 49-0.

5. Andre Agassi Fighting Till The End

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    He was considered the "bad boy" of tennis, but the former No. 1 in world ranking, with 60 titles and eight grand slams, courageously gave it his all in his final match against Benjamin Becker at the U.S. open.  

    At times, it was hard to watch Agassi in his final game as we learned about all of the shots he had to take in order to reduce the back pain he was dealing with.  

    Even though he ended up losing his final match, it was the determination and will he showed in this match that will forever be remembered.   

4. Big Ben Commits To His Promise to Jerome Bettis

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    Ben Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrate after Super Bowl XL between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan on February 5, 2006. (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Jerome Bettis had reached the playoffs five times and each of those times, he was never able to reach the Super Bowl.  

    After losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game in the 2004-2005 season, Ben Roethlisberger told Jerome Bettis if he were to return for another season, he would get him to the Super Bowl.  

    Bettis gave it one more shot, hoping Roethlisberger would hold true to his word.

    Before meeting the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game, Bettis asked his team to "just get [him] to Detroit," which was not only the Super Bowl destination, but his birthplace.  His team delivered for him by not only bringing him to the Super Bowl, but winning it.

    After the game, Bettis was asked about retirement and his response was, "It's been an incredible ride. I played this game to win a championship. I'm a champion, and I think the bus's last stop is here in Detroit." 

    And what a great ride it was while it lasted.

3. Michael Jordan's 1998 Retirement

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    10 Jun 1998:  Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls in action against John Stockton #12 and Bryon Russell #3 of the Utah Jazz during the NBA Finals Game 4 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.  The Bulls defeated the Jazz 86-82. Mandatory Credit: M
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    If Michael Jordan had not come out of retirement, this would have been a great storybook ending to a career that changed the face of basketball.

    In 1998, Jordan led the league in points per game with 28.7 as he led the Bulls back to the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, aiming for his second three-peat.

    In Game 6, in what could be called his most recognized and his most iconic shot of his career, Jordan shook off defender Byron Russell to sink the game-winning shot to capture the Bulls' sixth championship during the Jordan era.  

    He was named the Finals MVP as he scored 45 points in the deciding Game 6 of the finals.

2. John Elway Ending on Top

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    31 Jan 1999: Fox Sports TV analyst Terry Bradshaw cheers as confetti rains down on quarterback John Elway #7 of the Denver Broncos as he lifts the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Atlanta Falcons to win Super Bowl XXXIII at Pro Player Stadium in
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    After eight long, grueling years, John Elway finally lead the Denver Broncos back to the Super Bowl in 1998, where he went on to beat the defending Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers.

    The next year, Elway once again guided the Broncos to the Super Bowl.  He was awarded the Super Bowl MVP after defeating the Atlanta Falcons by throwing for 336 passing yards and one touchdown.  

    It was the last game he ever played.

    After three failed attempts to win the Super Bowl, Elway made an everlasting impression on the sports world by winning back-to-back Super Bowls before he retired.

1. Barry Sanders Shocking Goodbye

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    DETROIT - DECEMBER 23:  Barry Sanders smiles from the sideline during the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions on December 23, 2007 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo byGregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    He was just entering his prime and was on pace to become the all-time rushing leader.  

    But Barry Sanders stunned the sports world when he announced his retirement in 1999.

    He was healthy and was just yards away from breaking Walter Payton's career rushing mark of 16,726. But Sanders said he lost the competitiveness in the game due to Lions not having a team that could compete with other teams.  

    He said he could not handle the way the Lions were accepting losing as the norm.

    Whatever reasons Sanders may have to explain why he retired, many sports fans wonder what would have become of Sanders if he did not retire and what records he would have broken.

    We are just left with his eye-boggling career stats 15,269 rushing yards, 2,921 receiving yards, and 109 touchdowns.  

    He had a remarkable career that ended too soon.