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Ten memorable athlete "unretirements"

March 19, 2015

Michael Jordan John Ruthroff/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Jordan

Retired: 1993, 1998, 2003

On March 18, 1995 -- 20 years ago! -- Michael Jordan and the Bulls announced that he would rejoin the team and play in the following day's nationally televised game against the Pacers.

Jordan went 7-for-28 from the field, scoring 19 points, dishing out six assists and grabbing six rebounds. He would go on to lead Chicago to three additional championships (1996-98) as well as an NBA-record 72 regular-season wins in the 1995-96 season.

Here are other notable athletes who called it quits only to come back to give their sport another go:

Lance ArmstrongPatrickKovarik/AFP/Getty Images

Lance Armstrong

Retired: 2005, 2011

Armstrong retired in 2005 after a record seventh consecutive Tour de France victory, though it would eventually be stripped because of his steroid scandal. On Sept. 9, 2008 he announced he would return, but would never finish first again (he finished third and 23rd in the 2009 and 2010 Tour de France races). Armstrong left the cycling world again in 2011 while facing a federal investigation into doping allegations.

ClemensDoug Pensinger/Getty Images

Roger Clemens

Retired: 2003, 2006, 2007

"The Rocket" retired from the big leagues a few times. He first retired in 2003 after six Cy Young Awards and one World Series win with the New York Yankees. Clemens came back in 2004 to play for the Houston Astros and captured his seventh Cy Young. In 2006, he retired again before returning again for another stint with the Yankees. Clemens would finally hang up the cleats for good in 2007, at the age of 45.

Brett FavreJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBrett Favre more than earned his spot in the Packers' ring of honor.

Brett Favre

Retired: 2008, 2009, 2011

It probably isn't easy for any player to give up playing their respective sport, but it seemed especially hard for Favre. No. 4 formally retired in 2008 only to come back a few months later. But the Green Bay Packers were ready to move on with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, so they traded Favre to the New York Jets that year. He played for one season before retiring again on Feb. 11, 2009. But Favre wasn't done yet. The winningest quarterback in NFL history came out of retirement again a few months later to play for the Minnesota Vikings until finally retiring for good in 2011.

Foreman & MoorerGetty Images

George Foreman

Retired: 1977, 1997

Foreman came back 10 years after his retirement in 1977 at the age of 38. In 1994, nearly two decades after he last held a title, Foreman beat Michael Moorer for the WBA, IBA and lineal heavyweight championships. This made Foreman a rather improbable champion at the age of 45.

Magic JohnsonDavid Madison/Getty Images

Magic Johnson

Retired: 1991, 1996

Johnson's circumstances are unique among the athletes on this list. Before the 1991-1992 NBA season, he found out he tested positive for HIV and announced in a news conference that he would retire immediately. In 2011, Johnson told Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke, "If I knew what I know now, I wouldn't have retired," referring to the misconception at that time that he could spread the disease through minor contact. In 1995, at the age of 36, Johnson returned to the Lakers and averaged 14.6 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game before retiring permanently after that season.

LemieuxGetty ImagesNeither Father Time nor Hodgkin lymphoma could keep Mario Lemieux off the ice.

Mario Lemieux

Retired: 1997, 2006

Super Mario retired from the Penguins after the 1997 NHL playoffs but returned to the ice in 2000 and won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Then, after several health setbacks and the cancellation of the 2005 season, Lemieux retired for good in 2006.

Micheal PhelpsPatrick Hamilton/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Phelps

Retired: 2012

After the 2012 Olympics in London, the most decorated athlete in Olympics history took a break from the pool and retired from swimming. The 22-time Olympic medalist came back in 2014 with plenty of time to prepare for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Deion Sanders George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Deion Sanders

Retired: 2001, 2005

Sanders, who lived up to his "Prime Time" nickname during his several successful seasons with the Cowboys, retired in 2001 after a one-year stint with the Washington Redskins. In 2004, Sanders returned to the gridiron after signing a one-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens. That season, Sanders recorded five interceptions before retiring again.

Ricky WilliamsGregory Shamus/Getty Images

Ricky Williams

Retired: 2004, 2012

Facing a four-game suspension in 2004 for violating the NFL's drug policy, Williams shockingly announced his retirement. He returned in 2005, then left to spend a season in the Canadian Football League in 2006. Williams found his way back into the NFL in 2007 to play for his former team, the Miami Dolphins, until 2010. In 2011, Williams played for the Ravens before officially calling it a career again. Despite bouncing around a few times, Williams tallied 10,009 yards and 74 rushing touchdowns in 11 NFL seasons.

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It's not that the Dolphins didn't have a passing game in Monday's win against the Jets. Chad Henne completed 20 passes and put balls where even Ted Ginn Jr. couldn't drop them. Heck, Ronnie Brown had half as many completions as the Browns' Derek Anderson did Sunday. But it's not images of Chad Henne that are casting doubts on SportsNation's contention last week that the Jets were the eighth-best team in the league. (Even if 77 percent of SportsNation is convinced Henne is the guy the Dolphins can build around).

No, Monday's lasting image was Rex Ryan's vaunted defense getting pushed around, specifically by Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams and the Wildcat offense.

So what's a more miserable way to spend three hours watching football -- knowing there's nothing your defense can do to stop a guy like Peyton Manning from picking you apart through the air or watching Brown and Williams (or Adrian Peterson -- did we mention he's chatting today at 12:15 ET?) churn up yards and clock?

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From posing in a wedding dress with Mike Ditka to one of the 12 most prolific rushing seasons in NFL history to the CFL and back again, Ricky Williams has authored arguably the most interesting careers in memory.

But after suggesting he'll retire again at the end of his latest contract extension (negotiated without an agent, of course), can we say Williams had a great career?

Eagles fans booed when their team picked Donovan McNabb ahead of Williams in the 1999 draft, but the former Longhorn wasn't even the first running back selected, courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts and Edgerrin James. More than a decade later, both are backing up younger runners, but will either or both make it to Canton?


The only thing missing from RW's stats is a NFL title. Other than that, he will be considered in the mix with the best when discussing the greats. The only thing that could possibly keep him outside the looking glass is if anyone wants to throw his personal issues in the hat to gauge his worth to the NFL.

-- raske42

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