- Published: July 15, 2011 at 02:10 p.m.
- Updated: July 15, 2011 at 06:15 p.m.
Congratulations to the Harry Potter series for knowing when to go out on top. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is expected to be the best edition yet, so that is making a grand exit.
Too bad more NFL players can’t follow the same script. When you think of some of the biggest names in NFL history, you can’t help but think of some rather unfortunate endings. Johnny Unitas in San Diego. Emmitt Smith in Arizona. JaMarcus Russell in Oakland.
But it’s not all bad. Some NFL players knew how to make an exit, and here is a look at the top six. And without further ado …
Considered: Randy Cross
Not only did Cross finish his career with a Super Bowl title -- his third -- but he achieved it in dramatic fashion as Joe Montana rallied the 49ers to a win over the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. Cross was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and he continues his career in football as a member of the CBS broadcast team.
Considered: Bill Walsh
Walsh was the coach of that 49ers team, as he notched his third Super Bowl title. But what keeps Walsh off the list is that he long regretted his decision to leave the 49ers -- a point that was further exasperated when George Seifert led the 49ers to a Super Bowl title the following year. While Walsh technically finished on top, you have to wonder how many titles the 49ers could have won if he stuck around.
Considered: Jerome Bettis
You might not know this, but Bettis won a Super Bowl in his final game, which was played in his hometown of Detroit. You know, something like this should have been covered at length during Super Bowl week, right? Oh, it was? Bettis was considered, but his career was clearly on the decline when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL.
Considered: Ted Hendricks
The Mad Stork was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and a four-time NFL champion. His final championship came with the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII. Hendricks was coming back for another season with the Raiders, but failed a physical in 1984 to end his career. That attempt to come back gets him pushed to the considered list.
No. 6 Michael Strahan
Strahan nearly retired following the 2006 NFL season, and many thought that he would when he missed the entire preseason. Turns out, he just wanted a break. Strahan came back for a final season in 2007 that culminated with a win over the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Odds are, he didn't regret coming back.
No. 5 Don Hutson
Hutson is considered by many to be the most dominant receiver in NFL history -- at least statistically. Hutson shocked many when he retired in 1945, while still at the top of his game. Hutson finished his fifth consecutive season of leading the league in receptions in 1945, though he was bested in receiving yards and touchdowns for the first time in five years. It would take decades before many of Hutson's records were eventually surpassed.
Van Brocklin was the quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950s, leading the team to it's only championship in 1951. Van Brocklin finished his final three years in Philadelphia and ended it in style, leading the Eagles to a championship in the 1960 NFL Championship Game. Van Brocklin passed for a career-high 24 touchdowns during that season.
No. 3 Barry Sanders
Many NFL players were caught off guard when Sanders decided to walk away from the game in 1998. He was only one season removed for a 2,000 yard season, and many figured that he would continue to run strong for many years. Even when he retired, it was thought to be a stunt to avoid training camp (or Bobby Ross). Sadly, Sanders never returned to the NFL.
No. 2 Jim Brown
Before there was Sanders, there was Brown -- arguably the greatest player in NFL history. Brown rushed for more than 1,000 yards in all but one of his nine NFL seasons. Brown retired in 1965 after leading the league with 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns -- which tied a career high. Brown also retired as the NFL's all-time leading rusher, and he even threatened to come out of retirement when his mark was challenged. But he stayed retired and instead delighted us with his wonderful films.
No. 1 John Elway
"This one is for John," proclaimed Broncos owner Pat Bowlen after Elway led the Broncos to their first title in Super Bowl XXXII. And some thought that might be a fairy-tale ending to Elway's Hall of Fame career. But Elway returned for a final season and again led the Broncos to another win in Super Bowl XXXIII and punctuated his career by being selected as the game's Most Valuable Player.