Special Report

Famous Athletes Who Decided Retirement Was Not for Them

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

6. Jacques Plante
> Career: 1952-1965, 1968-1975
> Team(s): Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs
> Accolades Hall of Fame, 6x Stanley Cup, 7x Vezina Trophy

Before his first retirement, NHL goalie Jacques Plante had amassed numerous accolades – six Stanley Cups, six Vezina trophies as the league’s top netminder, and one Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, all with the Montreal Canadiens. Following the 1962-1963 season, Plante was traded to the New York Rangers, where he played a season and a half before retiring.

Four years later, at age 40, Plante returned to pro hockey and suited up for the St. Louis Blues. In his comeback 1968-1969 season, Plante won his seventh Vezina Trophy. He continued playing for many more years, later going to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and then the Quebec Nordiques and Edmonton Oilers of the upstart World Hockey Association before hanging up his skates in 1975.

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7. Eric Weddle
> Career: 2007-2019, 2021-2021
> Team(s): San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Rams
> Accolades 6x Pro Bowl, 2x All-Pro, 1x Super Bowl

Eric Weddle retired in 2019 following 13 excellent years in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, and Los Angeles Rams. As the 2021 Rams were gearing up for a playoff run, two of their top safeties were injured late in the season, so the team turned to Weddle for help.

His sure tackling and veteran leadership helped propel the Rams through the playoffs. Weddle even played through a torn pectoral muscle to help the Rams win the Super Bowl. Just after getting his ring, Weddle retired again, opting to coach high school football in San Diego.

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8. Gordie Howe
> Career: 1946-1971, 1973-1980
> Team(s): Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers
> Accolades Hall of Fame, 4x Stanley Cup, 6x Ross Trophy

Gordie Howe is undoubtedly one of the greatest hockey players ever. He played 25 seasons for the Detroit Red Wings, hoisting the Stanley Cup four times, winning six MVPs, and leading the NHL in points six times. Though he initially hung up his skates at age 42, Howe came back three years later, this time to the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association, to play with his sons Mark and Marty.

The family helped Houston win two straight league titles in 1974 and 1975. After the 1976-1977 season, all three Howes moved on to the Hartford Whalers. Gordie Howe’s final season was the 1979-1980 season, when the Whalers were absorbed into the NHL. Even into his 50s, Howe played in all 80 games that year before finally retiring for good at age 52.

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9. Randall Cunningham
> Career: 1985-1995, 1997-2001
> Team(s): Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings
> Accolades 4x Pro Bowl, 1x All-Pro

Randall Cunningham was one of the most electrifying players ever at the QB position. He starred for the Philadelphia Eagles in the late 1980s and early 1990s, making three Pro Bowls. Cunningham later struggled after a string of injuries and eventually lost his starting job and retired ahead of the 1996 season. But after one season away, he came back to the NFL, this time with the Minnesota Vikings.

Though he was not the starter in his first year back, Cunningham eventually became Minnesota’s top QB in 1998. That year, he had his best season and led the Vikings to a 15-1 record, though they lost in the NFC Championship game. Cunningham played three more seasons before retiring again.

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10. Michael Phelps
> Career: 2000-2012, 2014-2016
> Team(s): Team USA
> Accolades 23x gold medal, 3x silver medal, 2x bronze medal

Even before his first retirement, American swimmer Michael Phelps may have had a claim as the greatest Olympian of all time. He won 22 medals, 18 of which were gold, in his first four Olympics – 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. Following the 2012 games, Phelps announced his retirement.

Following a DUI arrest and a stint in rehab, Phelps opted to return to the pool with a new outlook but the same dominance. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, Phelps added to his already impressive medal tally, winning five golds and a silver, bringing his total to 28.

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