WHEN IT’S TIME FOR OUR FAVORITE ATHLETES TO FINALLY CALL IT QUITS
By: Bob Stallsmith
The fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, ended his spectacular career on the ground. Tom Brady decided he wasn’t done, saying he could play until he is 45; we’ll see what happens. John Elway and Peyton Manning both decided to saddle their horses and ride off into the sunset on top. Chris Chelios chose to play until he was 47, spending most of his final season of hockey in the minors.
Most sports careers don’t get the magical bull crap, Disney sort of storybook ending that people love. I mean, no one likes to remember Emmitt Smith as an Arizona Cardinal. It happened. And it wasn’t pretty.
The most difficult position I’ve been in like this is saying no to that extra beer or slice of pizza at the end of an evening, or not quitting on this article as I write it. But this summer I’ve had to watch what seems like the last steps in the slow push out the door of one my favorite athletes.
I didn’t watch hockey with any sort of regularity until the 2004 finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Calgary Flames. This was my first time seeing the Flames’ Jarome Iginla play. He was one of the team’s most skilled players, and he was absolutely the toughest guy on the ice. The way he played is very much the reason I became a fan of the sport.
Iginla became my new definition of what it meant to be a great hockey player. He stood up for his teammates, he hit, he fought, and he scored. While I’ll admit to being one of the people that thinks fighting should be removed from the game, I’ll always have respect for the guys that aren’t afraid to drop the gloves, and still have the skill to put the puck in the back of the net.
Calgary lost the finals. Iginla hasn’t been able to make it back in the thirteen years since. The last four of those have been spent with five different teams after spending his first sixteen seasons in Calgary. I cried real tears when I saw him in a Penguins uniform for the first time.
Joyful tears dried away to reveal the sad reality of what Iginla’s career would be for the rest of his time on skates. Over the last three seasons he’s played 244 out of 246 regular season games, which is impressive for a man who just turned 40. Perhaps just as telling is that 246 was the maximum games he could play, but he’s had zero playoff appearances in the last three years.
I, on the other hand, decided to end my baseball career after one season of little league. It seemed appropriate at the time, but strikes me as maybe too soon now that I have aged. Walking away comes easier to some than others. I certainly am unable to relate to playing a game at its highest level for two decades. Now he’s supposed to hang up his stick and enjoy the rest of his life, maybe become a coach or a GM somewhere?
Knowing when to call it quits is tough for everyone, especially for the most competitive among us. There is no way to know if someone picked that sweet spot because people will always wonder how much was left in the tank, or why someone let it drag out so long.
Iginla wants to play and I want to see him play. As of this writing, there are no teams that seem to share that conviction. We can just hope that some team, any team, changes their mind and signs him. Well, any team except the Flyers.