With Edwards walking away, we look back at nine other surprise retirement in sports, a list that includes some of the greatest athletes the word has ever seen.
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Jim Brown - Cleveland Browns, RB - July 14, 1966
On a July morning in London, a few days before Browns training camp would be opening across the pond, Jim Brown sat in battle fatigues on the set of the film The Dirty Dozen and declared his retirement from the NFL. He said he wanted to play in 1966 but when the film's schedule wouldn't allow him to be back for the start of training camp and it was clear that the Browns wouldn't be accommodating (Art Modell issued an ultimatum directed toward Brown and issued daily $100 fines, which would have added up quickly for the player making $20,000 that year), Brown decided to quit “with regret but not sorrow.”
He was the best who ever lived, putting up 16-game numbers in seasons of 12, then 14 games. He had eight rushing titles, three MVPs and one title in nine seasons and won that last MVP by rushing for 1,544 yards (677 yards more than the runner-up) in his final year.
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Bjorn Borg - Tennis - Jan. 24, 1983
The end came quickly. In the summer of 1981, Bjorn Borg was the four-time reigning French Open champion and five-time reigning Wimbledon champion, the latter streak surviving due to his Match of the Century victory over John McEnroe in the 1980 final. But McEnroe finally got Borg in the '81 final at the All England Club, snapping the Swede's 41-match winning streak there. Two months later, McEnroe won a tough U.S. Open final over his rival - Borg's fourth loss in the final of the major he never won. Borg walked off the court before the trophy ceremony and would never step foot on the court at a major again. He'd play one small tournament in 1982 and then was forced to announce his retirement when rumors started swirling at the start of 1983. McEnroe unsuccessfully lobbied his friend to come back. Without Borg, McEnroe had a tough time finding the motivation and though he'd go on to play 32 majors after Borg retired, Johnny Mac would only win three. Borg would tease comebacks but nothing real ever got started.
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Barry Sanders - Detroit Lions, RB - July 28, 1999
Barry Sanders - Detroit Lions, RB - July 28, 1999
"The reason I am retiring is very simple. My desire to exit the game is greater than my desire to remain in it."
Turns out there was a little more to the retirement of a 31-year-old who'd played 10 NFL seasons and retired one good year short of Walter Payton's all-time rushing record (which would later be broken by Emmitt Smith). In a book published four years after the retirement, Sanders acknowledges what many had believed at the time: His retirement was spurred by frustration of the Detroit Lions front office, who didn't seem to be interested in building a winning team. He wrote:
"[The front office not wanting to win] slammed me harder than any linebacker had ever hit me in my entire career. That realization trivialized everything I did during the off-season to prepare myself. It trivialized everything I dreamed about from the time I was a kid in Wichita."
Other than an injury-aided 1,115-yard performance in 1993, never ran for fewer than 1,300 yards in a season. He led the league four times in rushing yards (including in that meager 1,304-yard season) capping out with a 2,053-yard showing in his penultimate season. For the first five or six years of his retirement there were constant rumors that he'd bust out the pads one more time but Sanders held firm, content to be remembered for what he was: one of the best rushers to ever play the game.
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Rocky Marciano - Boxer - Apr. 27, 1956
A rarity in the boxing world. No, not being the only heavyweight fighter to retire undefeated (though that's pretty good too) but in being one of the very, very few to leave the sport and then never return. There are all sorts of debates about the significance of Marciano's 49-0 record (did he get favoritism, did he actually fight anyone, etc.) but the mark stands on its own as one of the greatest streaks the sports world has ever seen.
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Martina Hingis - Tennis - Feb. 7, 2003
The Swiss Miss was 13 years old when she made her pro debut, was in the top 20 at age 14, made a major semifinal at 15 and won her first Grand Slam at 16, becoming the youngest woman to win a major in the 20th century. Two months later she'd vault to the No. 1 ranking - the youngest for that honor too. Her star rose quickly. The year of that first Aussie Open win, Hingis would win two other majors (Wimbledon and the U.S. Open) and came within one French Open final of winning the calendar Slam. But after that three-Slam year, Hingis would only win two more majors even though she was still considered the top player in the game, having finished year-end No. 1 four times (1997, 1999-2001). Injuries slowed her and she announced her retirement in 2003 at age 22, younger than most football players are at the start of their professional careers. She came back in 2006 and returned to the top 10 but the comeback was short lived when Hingis tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon and was banned from the sport for two years. She's recently returned to become a top doubles player, playing with a joy rarely seen from one of the game's great, if slightly tragic, teen stars.
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Sandy Koufax - Los Angeles Dodgers, P - Nov. 18, 1966
The highest-paid pitcher in baseball, who'd won three Cy Young Awards, four World Series, three Triple Crowns, four strikeout crowns, was a seven-time All-Star and pitched a record four no-hitters (including one perfect game), suddenly called it quits at the end of the 1966 season citing fears that he might permanently ruin his arthritic left arm if he kept pitching. The leftie is still considered one of the finest the game has ever seen.
Bobby Jones - Golfer - 1930
Back when golf's majors were the U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur, no man had won them all in one calendar year until Jones did it in 1930 at the age of 28. He promptly quit the sport. Though a 13-time winner of those tournaments (seven times at the two tournaments still on the major rotation), Jones didn't enjoy the pressures of the sport (his mid-tournaments meals were all his stomach could hold down: toast and tea) and retired to escape what he called the "cage" of championship golf." His retirement was nondescript. He teamed with another guy to build a golf course in Georgia and then started a tournament there called The Masters.
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Lorena Ochoa - Golfer - Apr. 23, 2010
After knocking Annika Sorenstam from the top of the game in 2007, Ochoa had a dominant three-year run where she was No. 1 from the time she dethroned Sorenstam until the day she retired in 2010 to start a family. She had 30 wins in six years, was player of the year her last four seasons, earned $15 million but surprisingly only had two majors.
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Robert Smith - Minnesota Vikings, RB - Feb. 7, 2001
After his eighth year in the league, the first one he'd played the full 16 games and in which he won his first rushing title, Robert Smith, then 28 years old, said goodbye to the NFL largely due to concerns that his many surgeries would snowball into even more if he kept playing the sport. Smith was an unrestricted free agent when he said goodbye, leaving as much as $25 million on the table. Only two men ever had more rushing yards in their final NFL season: Jim Brown and Tiki Barber.