Thursday, November 6, 2003 Updated: November 7, 2:24 PM ET
We wish it hadn't ended this way
By David Schoenfield Page 2 Staff
Twenty-five years ago, on Nov. 8, 1978, Bobby Orr announced his retirement from the NHL. He was just 30 years old, but ravaged knees finally forced him to leave the ice.
If you could take any player in his prime, Bobby Orr may be the one you want.
Orr had led the Boston Bruins to two Stanley Cup championships and revolutionized the game with his two-way play as a defenseman. He twice led the NHL in points -- remaining the only defenseman to do so -- and won eight consecutive Norris trophies as the league's top defenseman.
In 1998, The Hockey News named Orr the second greatest player of all time, behind Wayne Gretzky. Former Boston Bruins general manager Harry Sinden once said, "(Gordie) Howe could do everything, but not at top speed. (Bobby) Hull went at top speed but couldn't do everything. The physical aspect is absent from (Wayne) Gretzky's game. Orr would do everything, and do it at top speed. He's the perfect hockey player."
Perfect except for one thing: He finished his career with the Chicago Blackhawks. Legend has it the Bruins had offered Orr part-ownership of the club, but Orr's agent never informed him of the offer, and he instead signed a five-year deal with Chicago, where he played 26 painful games over three seasons (and returned some of his paychecks because he said he hadn't earned them).
Orr's retirement was too soon, too painful and in the wrong uniform. Page 2's Top 10 Careers We Wish Hadn't Ended This Way:
Orr never should have worn any jersey but Boston's.
1. Bobby Orr
Orr finally got his due from the Boston Garden faithful on Jan. 9, 1979, when the Bruins held "Bobby Orr Night." The Garden crowd stood and cheered for 11 minutes.
2. Babe Ruth
Ruth always wanted to manage, and Boston Braves owner Judge Emil Fuchs promised Ruth a job ... sort of. First, he would play 1935 with the Braves and then replace manager Bill McKechnie. Fuchs' real intention, however, was to use Ruth as a drawing card. Two months into the season, hitting just .181, Ruth announced his retirement a week after his last hurrah (a three-homer game in Pittsburgh on May 25). Fuchs took advantage of the opportunity to announce he was firing Ruth.
3. Johnny Unitas
After 17 seasons, two NFL championships and 287 touchdown passes with the Baltimore Colts, Unitas ended his career with ... the San Diego Chargers. And not in top form. He played five games with the Chargers in 1973, completed just 44.7 percent of his passes and threw three touchdown passes.
4. Willie Mays
After 20 seasons with the Giants (in both New York and San Francisco), Mays was traded to the Mets in 1972. But the homecoming to New York proved bittersweet. The 42-year-old Mays hit just .211 in 1973, and he announced in late September that he would retire at the end of the season. The Mets surprisingly reached the World Series, where Mays played sparingly but fell down chasing one flyball in center field. Unfortunately, the stumbling Mays became an image that was hard to forget.
5. Steve Carlton
There is nothing wrong for a Hall of Famer to hang on even though he's no longer a great player. A player shouldn't have to go out while he's still an All-Star. But there are limits to this, and the end of Steve Carlton's career drug on a little too long. After going 1-8 at age 40 for the Phillies in 1985, Carlton returned at 41 ... and was released after going 4-8 with a 6.18 ERA. He went to the Giants and then the White Sox, finishing the year with a 5.89 ERA. He came back in 1987 with the Indians and Twins, going 6-14 with a 5.74 ERA. But that wasn't enough, as Carlton gave it one last shot with the Twins in '88, finally calling it quits after giving up 19 runs in 9 2/3 innings.
It just doesn't seem right seeing Emmitt in a Cardinals uniform.
6. Emmitt Smith
It's easy to understand why Smith didn't want to retire after 2002 -- he had rushed for 975 yards on a bad team and was still just 34 years old. But after the Cowboys made it clear that Smith wasn't wanted, did the NFL's all-time leading rusher have to sign with the dregs of the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals? After five games, 192 yards and a measley 3.0 yards per rush, Smith has been sidelined by a shoulder injury, and his career appears over.
7. Franco Harris
Franco Harris finished his career with the ... Seattle Seahawks? After Curt Warner tore his knee up in the Seahawks' opener in 1984, the team was desperate for a running back. Harris was desperately trying to catch Jim Brown as the league's all-time rushing leader. It was not a match made in heaven. Harris played eight games with Seattle and averaged just 2.5 yards per carry on 68 rushes and didn't score a touchdown.
8. Bob Cousy
The "Houdini of the Hardwood" had retired in 1963 after 13 seasons with the Celtics and then coached Boston College for six years. In 1969, he became coach of the Cincinnati Royals of the NBA and attempted an ill-fated comeback as player-coach. After playing seven games and just 34 minutes, Cousy decided to stick to the sidelines.
9. Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull
The two hockey all-time greats had spent years with their original teams (Howe 25 seasons with the Red Wings and Hull 15 seasons with the Blackhawks), before jumping to the WHA. That wasn't so bad, although seeing Howe playing with the Houston Aeros was a strange sight for hockey fans. Both players finished their careers in the NHL, however -- in the same season (1979-80) and with the same team: the Hartford Whalers. The Whalers actually made the playoffs, and the two legends finished their careers with a 4-3 OT loss to Montreal in a first-round playoff sweep.
10. Hakeem Olajuwon
The Dream had spent his college years at the University of Houston and then 17 seasons with the Houston Rockets, leading them to NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. But the Rockets traded the 39-year-old Olajuwon to the Toronto Raptors in 2001. Olajuwon played in 61 games but averaged just 7.1 points per game and sat the 2002-03 season injured before finally retiring.