4.0k voters

Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire

Updated May 21, 2020 25.7k votes 4.0k voters 89.5k 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. 
  • Brett Favre1

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceGulfport, Mississippi, United States of America

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

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  • Muhammad Ali2

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceLouisville, Kentucky, United States of America

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    #28 of 753 People We Wish Were Still Alive#82 of 432 The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History

  • Mike Tyson3

    Mike Tyson

    Age: 54

    NationalityUnited States of America

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

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  • Evander Holyfield4

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceAtmore, Alabama, United States of America

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    #24 of 100 The Best Heavyweight Boxers of All Time#881 of 1,427 The Best Athletes Of All Time

  • Ric Flair5

    Ric Flair

  • Larry Holmes6

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceCuthbert, Georgia, United States of America


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  • Shaquille O'Neal7

    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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    #1012 of 2,443 The Most Influential People of All Time#9 of 786 The Top NBA Players Of All Time

  • Gaylord Perry8

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceWilliamston, North Carolina

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

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  • Kobe Bryant9

    Kobe Bryant

    Dec. at 41 (1978-2020)

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplacePhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

    TeamsLos Angeles Lakers

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  • LaDainian Tomlinson10

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceRosebud, Texas, United States of America

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

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    #47 of 1,323 The Best Football Players Ever#4 of 206 The Best NFL Running Backs of All Time

  • Rico Carty11

    Rico Carty

    Age: 81

    BirthplaceSan Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic

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

  • George Foreman12

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceMarshall, Texas, USA

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    #150 of 568 American Public Figures Who Are National Treasures#3 of 190 The Toughest Professional Fighters in History

  • Eric Lindros13


    BirthplaceLondon, Canada

    TeamsPhiladelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars

  • Patrick Ewing14

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceKingston, Jamaica

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

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    #7 of 161 The Best NBA Players With No Championship Rings#6 of 165 The Greatest NBA Centers of All Time

  • Chris Chelios15

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceChicago, Illinois, United States of America

    TeamsDetroit Red Wings

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    #30 of 502 The Best NHL Players of All Time#9 of 116 The Best Defensemen in NHL History

  • Chuck Liddell16

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceSanta Barbara, California, United States of America

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  • Wade Boggs17

    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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    #55 of 149 The Greatest New York Yankees Of All Time#6 of 146 The Best Boston Red Sox Of All Time

  • Joe Montana18

    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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  • Hulk Hogan19

    Hulk Hogan

    Age: 67

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceAugusta, Georgia, United States of America

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  • Ricky Ponting20


    BirthplaceLaunceston, Australia

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

  • Sachin Tendulkar21


    BirthplaceMumbai, India

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

  • Wally Hammond22

    Wally Hammond

    Dec. at 62 (1903-1965)


    BirthplaceDover, United Kingdom

  • Jim Kaat23

    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

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    #100 of 278 The Best Starting Pitchers of All Time#155 of 197 The Greatest Pitchers of All Time

  • Michael Jordan24

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York, United States of America

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

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  • Tony Esposito25

    NationalityCanada, United States of America

    BirthplaceSault Ste. Marie, Canada