24 sports figure comebacks to commemorate the return of '24'
Welcome back, Jack: On May 5, Jack Bauer returns to save the world in the highly-anticipated '24: Live Another Day' on FOX. In honor of the '24' comeback, we've compiled a list of 24 notable sports figures, from Mario Lemieux to Michael Jordan, who've also made a return to their game.
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Blanda's 26 seasons in the NFL are the longest of any player. After the 1958 season the QB/kicker called it quits for a year before signing with the Houston Oilers from 1960 through 1966 and earning two titles. After another year off, Blanda headed back to the NFL in 1967, kicking seven more seasons with the Oakland Raiders – until he was nearly 50.
Two years after winning the US Open in 2005, Clijsters decided to put down her racket due to injuries and plans to marry, according to AP. But the Belgian tennis pro returned to the court in 2009 to win the US Open a second time – the first woman to enter the tournament unseeded and win the whole thing. Clijsters was victorious the following year at the Open and added an Australian Open title in 2011 before retiring again in 2012.
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Cousy won six championships – five in a row – with the Boston Celtics over 13 years before retiring in 1963. He spent the next six NBA seasons off the hardwood and took a turn as the head coach of the Cincinnati Royals before making a brief seven-game comeback for the team.
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Near the end of the 1988 season — Dravecky's eighth in the majors — the Giants pitcher was diagnosed with cancer, and he had to have half of the deltoid muscle in his throwing arm removed along with the cancerous tumor. He was told his chances of pitching in the MLB again were slim, yet on Aug. 10 of the next year Dravecky made his return with a 4-3 win over Cincinnati. Unfortunately, the hurler would only pitch one more game (in which he broke his arm), but his comeback certainly left an impression.
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By the time he retired in 1977, Foreman already had an Olympic gold medal and a heavyweight championship to his name. He returned to boxing in 1987 and was bested by Evander Holyfield, but three years later Foreman got another crack at the heavyweight crown — this time against Michael Moorer — and his 10th-round knockout made Foreman the oldest heavyweight champion. He retired for good in 1997 with a 76-5 (69 KOs).
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Hogan was coming off victories at the US Open and PGA Championship in 1948 when he and his wife were involved a car accident the next year that left the golfer with various fractured, chipped, and broken bones, Smithsonian.com writes. However, less than a year and a half later, Hogan was back on the course at 1950 US Open and won, thanks in part to an incredible 1-iron shot on 18 to force a playoff. According to ESPN, the victory marked the the first of six majors victories following the crash.
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Jordan had won three straight NBA titles before he retired from basketball ahead of the 1993-94 season. He spent part of the time off the court on the baseball diamond for the Double-A Birmingham Barons. It wasn't until the tail end of the ‘94-95 campaign that Jordan laced up his sneakers again for the Bulls. He didn’t win a title that year, but did finish on top the next three seasons. Jordan retired again in 1999 and became an owner and executive with Washington the next year. However, he shed his suit for a jersey once again played two final seasons as a Wizard before retiring for good in 2003.
NBAE/Getty ImagesNathaniel S. Butler
After a dozen seasons in the MLB, John damaged his ulnar collateral ligament in the 1974 season. He underwent surgery in his pitching arm and missed the entire 1975 slate. But John returned in 1976 to appear in three All-Star Games, amass 164 wins and play until he was 46 years old. The reconstructive surgical procedure was later named after him and has become mainstream for major league pitchers ever since.
MLB Photos via Getty ImagesLouis Requena
King went down with a knee injury in the 1984-85 season with the Knicks and missed almost two full years of basketball before signing with the Washington Bullets, where he regained his old form and became an All-Star Game starter -- the oldest at the time, according to NBA.com. Of working his way back, Newsday quoted King as saying, 'I'm proud of that, and to me, that's what defines my career.'
NBAE/Getty ImagesBill Baptist
The former captain of the Montreal Canadiens was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma before the start of the 2001-02 season. Koivu received treatment and returned on April 9, 2002, to a roaring crowd at the Centre Bell. The Canadiens’ website says he was honored with 'an emotional nine minute ovation.'
Getty Images/NHLIDave Sandford
Lauda was the reigning Formula 1 world champion in 1976 when his car crashed and caught fire during the German Grand Prix, sending him to the hospital where he was read his last rites. Incredibly, he was back on the track less than two months later, and won his second title the next year. Lauda left the sport after the 1979 season and founded an airline, but came back in 1982, eventually winning the F1 title again in 1984.
Getty ImagesMike Powell
No. 66 was halfway through the 1992-93 campaign and on pace to break the scoring record when the Pittsburgh Penguin was forced to sit out due to Hodgkin's lymphoma. He underwent radiation treatment and returned on March 2, 1993, scoring a goal and adding an assist in his first game back vs. Philadelphia. Lemieux went on to win the Art Ross as the NHL’s scoring leader, the Hart Trophy as league MVP and the Masterson for his perseverance and leadership. But that wasn’t the only time 'Le Magnifique' came out of retirement. For more on his amazing career, click here.
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Sugar Ray Leonard
Named best fighter of the 1980s by Ring Magazine, Leonard retired for the first time in 1982. He would take breaks from the ring only to step back in four more times, based on the Hall of Fame's count. In his second comeback, he won a trio of titles, including the middleweight crown by beating Marvin Hagler in 1987.
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The NASCAR vet doesn’t appear to be too fond of the word retirement, but Martin had been driving a part-time schedule for two years in 2007 and 2008 before he returned behind the wheel full-time for Hendrick Motorsports in 2009. Martin won five races (matching the second-most of his career) that season and finished as the runner-up for the Sprint Cup for the fifth time in his career.
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Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Retirement seems to be looming (and may be getting closer by the day, as USA Today reports) for the WBC welterweight and super welterweight champion, but it wouldn’t be the first time Mayweather's hung up the gloves. In 2008, he said he was stepping away from the sport but returned a little more than a year later to fight Juan Manuel Marquez for his 40th win.
Getty ImagesEthan Miller
In 2012, the Colts head coach had to step away from the sideline after being diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. Pagano was an inspiration for his team that year, the Indy Star noted, and he returned to the field in Week 17 as Indianapolis made the playoffs with 11 wins. Later, he was named the winner of the 2013 George Halas Award for overcoming adversity. Back at the helm for the entirety of the next season, Pagano coached the Colts to a 11-5 record.
Getty ImagesThomas B. Shea
The Brazilian soccer star who scored 1,281 goals in his career — the day of the 1,000th marked as 'Pele Day' in Santos, Brazil, FIFA.com says — briefly retired in the mid-'70s before joining the New York Cosmos shortly thereafter, playing three seasons that were capped with a NASL championship.
Getty ImagesMichael Brennan
Pettitte had pitched 2050 innings over 16 years for the Yankees and the Astros by the time he decided to give his arm a rest after the 2010 season. Yet he was back on the mound in 2012, pitching for the first of two additional years and going a combined 16-15. He has since retired again, ranking as the Yankees pitcher with the third most wins, according to baseball-reference.com.
Getty ImagesAl Bello
After spending nine seasons as an assistant in the NFL and never becoming a head coach, Walsh took the Stanford job for the 1977 season. Two years later, he was back in the pros, and at 47 years old, finally getting his shot with the San Francisco 49ers. He took advantage of his opportunity, winning three Super Bowls using his famous West Coast offense in the hands of a QB named Joe Montana.
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After five seasons in the NFL and at 27 years old, the Miami Dolphins running back announced his retirement in 2004. In 2005, he was back in action for the team in Game 5, but was absent in 2006, serving a suspension from the league for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Williams was injured the majority of the next campaign but had a relatively productive 2009 before breaking the 10,000-yard mark in 2011.
Getty ImagesChris Graythen
The most decorated Olympian of all time vowed not to continue his swimming career past the age of 30 and retired from his sport after scoring his 22nd medal at the London Olympics in 2012. But in April 2014, Phelps got back in the competitive pool, finishing second in the 100-meter butterfly in the Arena Grand Prix and churning up hopes that the 18-time Olympic gold medalist will swim in the Rio Summer Games in 2016.
The burgeoning pro surfer's career suffered a vicious blow in October 2003 after a tiger shark attacked the then-13-year-old off Kauai's North Shore and severed her left arm. Despite losing 60 percent of her blood and undergoing several surgeries, Hamilton returned to surfing competitions in January 2004 and realized her dream of turning pro in 2007 and ranked 44th in the ASP Women's World Rankings in 2013.
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After an injury-plagued Agassi slipped to 141st place in the world tennis rankings in 1997, many believed the career for one of tennis' most dominant players was all but over. But the man known as the 'Punisher' was able to turn it all around in 1998, making the largest one-year jump into the top 10 in the history of ATP rankings, winning the French Open the following year and then adding a second US Open title to landing atop the world rankings in 1999.
Getty ImagesJon Gordon
In 1938, the legendary thoroughbred won the 'horse race of the century' when he beat out heavily-favored War Admiral in Maryland's Pimlico Racecourse, but was largely written off after he ruptured a ligament six weeks later. So it was with great shock when his trainers announced Seabiscuit, then an ancient seven years of age, would race again at the Santa Anita Handicap. Seabiscuit emerged from a boxed-in third place position to win the race, securing his comeback in a triumphant finish that's since been captured in books and on film.