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Comeback kidding

Sports | Rarely can aging stars recapture the form of their preretirement days

Issue: "Four horsemen of the apocalypse," Oct. 4, 2008

On Sept. 7, two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Brett Favre donned a New York Jets uniform and completed a pair of touchdown passes in a 20-14 victory, proving that his comeback from a short-lived retirement is no joke.

In 10 months, American cyclist Lance Armstrong hopes to produce a similar result when he dons the spandex for another ride in the Tour de France, a race he won seven times before retiring in 2005.

Such returns to competition from great athletes make for compelling theater. But rarely can aging stars recapture the form of their preretirement days. Often, such attempts serve only to tarnish memories of past glory, diminishing the high acclaim of going out a winner.

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That reality helps retirement stick for some athletes like former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who recently spurned pleas that he rejoin his teammates for another run at a Super Bowl crown. Strahan did not believe he could play again at his top level but still agonized over the offer, calling his moment of decision "one of the toughest nights of my life."

For others, the draw to­compete proves too strong to resist. Here's a quick look at several superstar athletes who came out of retirement with mixed results.

Roger Clemens: Retired in 2003 after 20 seasons that included 4,099 strikeouts, 310 wins, and six Cy Young Awards. Unretired in 2004 and collected 573 more strikeouts, 44 more wins, and another Cy Young Award in four seasons before his career fell under a shadow of steroid allegations.

Michael Jordan:Retired in 1999 after hitting a game-winning shot to win his sixth NBA title with the Chicago Bulls. Unretired in 2001 for two seasons with the Washington Wizards in which he scored 10 fewer points per game than his career average and failed to make the playoffs.

Magic Johnson:Retired in 1991 on the heels of a Western Conference Championship after testing positive for HIV. Unretired in 1996 for the final 32 games of the Lakers' season, averaging well below his career numbers before losing in the first round of the playoffs.

Bjorn Borg:Retired in 1983 with 11 Grand Slam singles titles under his belt though he was just 26 years old. Unretired in 1991 but failed to win a single match over the next two years playing with his old wooden rackets.

George Foreman:Retired in 1977 after a disappointing loss to Jimmy Young that led to Christian conversion and the pastorate of a Houston church. Unretired in 1987 and compiled a record of 31-3 over the next 10 years, including a knockout victory over Michael Moorer in 1994 to reclaim his heavyweight title at the age of 45.

Bob Cousy: Retired in 1963 with six NBA titles, 13 All-Star Game appearances, and an MVP award. Unretired in 1970 for seven games at the age of 41, but managed just 5 total points in 34 minutes of play.

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