So often NFL careers are over before they should be. We look back at the most notable players whose careers ended too soon.
NFLJames V. Biever
Joe Theismann (1974-1985)
When Lawrence Taylor sacked Theismann, the Giants linebacker immediately called for help from the sideline. Theismann’s fibula and tibia fractured on Nov. 18, 1985 on Monday Night Football, and he never played again.
Sterling Sharpe (1988-1994)
In a December game against the Falcons, Sharpe, a prolific wideout for the Packers, took a hit to the head on a play where he was blocking. He was on the ground for several minutes and got up under his own power. His neck injury proved to be too much of a risk for him to keep playing.
NFLJames V. Biever
Michael Irvin (1988-1999)
Irvin won three Super Bowls with Dallas, but was the first of the triplets to leave the game. He was forced out following a hit from Eagles defensive back Tim Hauck on Oct. 10, 1999.
AFP/Getty ImagesTOM MIHALEK
Troy Aikman (1989-2000)
One year after Irvin, Aikman took a vicious hit to the head from Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington. Aikman sustained a concussion, one of seven or eight during his career, and retired after the season. Aikman got knocked out of the 1993-94 NFC title game against the 49ers with a concussion, and afterward said he didn’t remember the game at all.
Barry Sanders (1989-1998)
This was one of the most mystifying retirements of all time. Sanders, who rushed for over 1,100 yards in each of his 10 NFL seasons, called it quits at the height of his career. The Lions tried to woo him back, but at the age of 31, he wasn’t to be wooed. Years later Sanders admitted that years of losing with the Lions contributed to his decision.
NFLBetsy Peabody Rowe
Al Toon (1985-1992)
After leading the league in receptions in 1988 with 93, Toon reportedly had about nine concussions in his eight-year career that forced him to call it quits early.
Patrick Willis (2007-2014)
The first in a recent rash of young NFL players to retire, Willis cited toe injuries as the cause of him to hang up his cleats. Willis left the NFL at the top of his game, having made seven straight Pro Bowls to start his career before his final season of 2014 was cut short.
Getty ImagesMichael Zagaris
Robert Smith (1993-2000)
In Barry Sanders-like fashion, Smith’s retirement was abrupt. He rushed for 1,521 yards in his final season, adding seven touchdowns.
Terrell Davis (1995-2001)
Davis averaged 1,603 yards over his first four seasons, which included a 2,000-yard campaign and two Super Bowl wins. Davis was injured in 1999 on an interception return against the Jets. He was never the same after that.
Getty ImagesBrian Bahr
Gale Sayers (1965-1971)
Sayers scored 22 touchdowns as a rookie for the Bears in 1965, but two major knee injuries cut his career short, and he retired in 1971.
Diamond Images/Getty ImagesKidwiler Collection
Bo Jackson (1987-1990)
Jackson was a two-sport star, and though he was arguably a better baseball player, it was a football injury that ended his career. A hip injury eventually led to a hip replacement, and the subsequent end of his playing career.
Getty ImagesMike Powell
Jim Brown (1957-1965)
At 29, Brown announced his retirement on July 14, 1966. Like Sanders, he was also at the height of his career. In 1958, Brown rushed for 1,527 yards and 17 touchdowns in 12 games. In 1963, he rushed for 1,863 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 games. In his final season, he scored 17 touchdowns in 14 games. What a way to go out.