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Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire

Updated May 21, 2020 25.6k votes 4.0k voters 89.3k views85 items

List RulesAthletes who retired too late

Athletes who waited too long to retire for one reason or another made the choice to continue playing, sometimes for several years, when really they should have thrown in the towel. These football, basketball, baseball, and hockey players, along with fighters, were once at the top of their respective sports but couldn't quit while they were ahead. Instead they played into their 40s, 50s and sometimes 60s, and sometimes hurt their teams in the process of their denial.

Arguably, this list contains some of the best athletes ever to play in their respective sports. Professional basketball player Michael Jordan, hockey player Gordie Howe, and boxer Muhammad Ali are all regarded as some of the best ever but sadly they also come in as athletes who played well past their prime. Instead of stopping when they started to decline, they continued to compete and a small part of their legacy suffered because of it.

Perhaps the most erroneous case of not knowing when to stop is former National Football League quarterback Brett Favre. Number four played atop the league for 17 seasons, mainly with the Green Bay Packers, before retiring after the 2007 season. What followed was what was called the annual Brett Favre unretirement, a process that lasted THREE YEARS. In 2008 he played (poorly) for the New York Jets, then he retired again. A few months later he returned to the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings for the 2009 campaign. Lather, rinse, and repeat again in 2010. Spoiler: None of those final seasons led to a Super Bowl victory.

Athletes on this list prove that just because you are great at what you do does not mean you can do it forever. We feel bad for those athletes whose careers ended too soon due to circumstances out of their control but we also go sick of the athletes who refused to retire when they were old and washed up. 
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  • 1
    Brett Favre is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    1,260
    410

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceGulfport, Mississippi, United States of America

    TeamsGreen Bay Packers, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings

  • 2
    Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    797
    312

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceLouisville, Kentucky, United States of America

  • 3
    Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    627
    307

    Mike Tyson

    Age: 54

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceBedford-Stuyvesant, New York City, New York, United States of America

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  • 4
    Evander Holyfield is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    668
    281

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceAtmore, Alabama, United States of America

  • 5
    Ric Flair is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    361
    160

    Ric Flair

  • 6
    Larry Holmes is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    459
    228

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceCuthbert, Georgia, United States of America

    1949

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  • 7
    Gaylord Perry is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    215
    99

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceWilliamston, North Carolina

    TeamsNew York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians

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  • 8
    Shaquille O'Neal is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    657
    405

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceNewark, New Jersey, United States of America

    TeamsLos Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics

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  • 9
    Kobe Bryant is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    327
    234

    Kobe Bryant

    Dec. at 41 (1978-2020)

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplacePhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

    TeamsLos Angeles Lakers

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  • 10
    LaDainian Tomlinson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    256
    151

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceRosebud, Texas, United States of America

    TeamsNew York Jets, San Diego Chargers, TCU Horned Frogs football

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  • 11
    Rico Carty is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    86
    45

    Rico Carty

    Age: 81

    BirthplaceSan Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic

    TeamsAtlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers

  • 12
    George Foreman is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    304
    289

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceMarshall, Texas, United States of America

  • 13
    Eric Lindros is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    299
    147

    NationalityCanada

    BirthplaceLondon, Canada

    TeamsPhiladelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars

  • 14
    Patrick Ewing is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    206
    181

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceKingston, Jamaica

    TeamsNew York Knicks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Orlando Magic, Seattle Supersonics

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  • 15
    Chris Chelios is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    258
    129

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceChicago, Illinois, United States of America

    TeamsDetroit Red Wings

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  • 16
    Chuck Liddell is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    457
    290

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceSanta Barbara, California, United States of America

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  • 17
    Wade Boggs is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    187
    96

    Wade Boggs

    Age: 62

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceOmaha, Nebraska, United States of America

    TeamsNew York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

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  • 18
    Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    250
    151

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceNew Eagle, Pennsylvania, United States of America

    TeamsSan Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, Notre Dame Fighting Irish football

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  • 19
    Hulk Hogan is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    444
    499

    Hulk Hogan

    Age: 67

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceAugusta, Georgia, United States of America

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  • 20
    Ricky Ponting is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    127
    58

    NationalityAustralia

    BirthplaceLaunceston, Australia

    TeamsMumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders, Australia national cricket team, Somerset County Cricket Club, Tasmania cricket team

  • 21
    Sachin Tendulkar is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    148
    76

    NationalityIndia

    BirthplaceMumbai, India

    TeamsMumbai Indians, India national cricket team, Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Mumbai cricket team, Cricket Club of India

  • 22
    Wally Hammond is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    129
    64

    Wally Hammond

    Dec. at 62 (1903-1965)

    NationalityEngland

    BirthplaceDover, United Kingdom

  • 23
    Jim Kaat is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    130
    69

    Jim Kaat

    Age: 82

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceZeeland, Michigan, United States of America

    TeamsNew York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox

  • 24
    Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    391
    489

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    TeamsChicago Bulls, Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, Washington Wizards, North Carolina Tar Heels men's basketball

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  • 25
    Tony Esposito is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
    95
    51

    NationalityCanada, United States of America

    BirthplaceSault Ste. Marie, Canada

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