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5/09/2007 05:00:00 PM

Top Five Perfect Endings

The Great One had a classy send-off in his final game.
David Klutho/SI
By Mike McAllister, SI.com

Retirement talk is in the air. Women's tennis star Kim Clijsters announced her intentions this week to hang 'em up at the ripe old age of 23. Floyd Mayweather said he will retire from boxing following his win over Oscar De La Hoya. New York Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan suggested he may be done following a 19-year NHL career that included 1,294 points and nearly twice as many penalty minutes.

Mayweather, provided he follows through on his plan (you'd get better odds on an Elvis comeback), will be one of those rare athletes who retires on top. Certainly, winning a championship in your final game is the best way to go out, but that's not the only script for the perfect ending for a sports star. As a bookend to the Daily List's five saddest comebacks earlier this week, here are my five favorite final chapters:

5. Wayne Gretzky ... Prior to the Rangers' game against the Penguins on April 18, 1999, the national anthems of both Canada and the U.S. were adjusted to reflect Gretzky's impending retirement. Gretzky then went out and assisted on the Rangers' lone goal in a 2-1 OT loss in his final game. Afterward, he was named the first, second and third stars of the game, only the second NHL player (besides Maurice Richard in 1944) to be given that honor.

4. Wrestlers ... When Rulon Gardner won the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics, he finished his final match, then untied his shoes and left them in the center of the mat -- a nice tradition for wrestlers when their careers come to an end.

3. Pele ... In an exhibition match at Giants Stadium in 1977 between Pele's NASL team, the Cosmos, and Santos, his former club team in Brazil, the legendary soccer star split his time in his final appearance, playing one half for each side (Pele scored on a free kick for Cosmos in the first half). After the game, he acknowledged the crowd while holding an American flag in one hand and a Brazilian flag in the other.

2. Ted Williams ... In late September of 1960, the Splendid Splinter stepped in against Orioles reliever Jack Fisher in the eighth inning of a game at Fenway. On a 1-1 pitch, Williams delivered a home run in the final at bat of his career. The crowd was small (just 10,453) but the noise was ear-shattering. Even so, they couldn't entice Williams to come out for a curtain call. As John Updike wrote later in the New Yorker: "Gods do not answer letters."

1. John Wooden ... Players such as John Elway, Bill Russell, Ray Bourque and Rocky Marciano all ended their careers as champions, but in choosing one to represent them, I opted instead for a coach, the Wizard of Westwood. Following the Bruins' national semifinal win in the 1975 NCAA tournament, Wooden surprisingly announced his retirement -- which pretty much eliminated any hope of Kentucky beating UCLA in the title game. The emotionally charged Bruins won 92-85, giving Wooden his 10th title in a 12-season span.

OK, so what fond farewells or traditional send-offs do you most remember?

posted by SI.com | View comments |


Posted: May 10, 2007 11:20 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
As long as he stay's retired: Lennox Lewis went out on top
Posted: May 10, 2007 11:29 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
You have got to be kidding me with this list! John Elway retiring as the Super Bowl MVP is the top ending for any athlete in any sport ever! Maybe Wooden going out with a championship as a coach is equal, but you have to be kidding!

Elway is the first and probably the last superstar to go out by winning the game's biggest prize while capturing that game's biggest honor.
Posted: May 10, 2007 11:30 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
The Pele Fairwell reminds me of a similiar sendoff last year by Roy Keene aka Keeno, who played for Manchester United and was run out of town by Alex Ferguson. He was playing for Celtic and they came to play Man U at old trafford. Man U Fans being as diehard as they come, but who also appreciate and love those special few who come through and leave a mark on the clubs history, all dressed half in Man U gear and half in Celtic gear. It was a sight to behold. Many Irish made the voyage across the sea to watch the game as well. and Keeno played the first half in Celtic Colors and Finished the second half with Man U. getting the assist on the only goal of the game with Man. U taking the match. A memorable night for both countries.
Scotty Bowman went out on top as well. After winning the cup with Detroit in 2002, he told the guys on the ice during the celebration that it was his last game.
Posted: May 10, 2007 11:48 AM   by Anonymous cork182
Tom Osborne - went out with three National Championships in four years...
Posted: May 10, 2007 12:14 PM   by Anonymous blaketheshroom
what about babe ruth's final game? he hit homeruns 712, 713, and 714. thats got to be on the list
Posted: May 10, 2007 12:28 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Posted: May 10, 2007 12:43 PM   by Anonymous Rich
Rocky Marciano?
Posted: May 10, 2007 12:44 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I'm going to pretend that Michael Jordan never played after hitting that jumper vs. Utah to complete the Bull's second 3-peat. Great ending.
Posted: May 10, 2007 12:45 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Pete Sampras, winning the US Open in his final tournament.
Posted: May 10, 2007 12:49 PM   by Anonymous Huge Williams fan
I think Ted Williams should be at the top. He not only homered his last at bat he circled the bases and went straight through the dug out to the club house and never again stepped on the field. ( Except to advise young hitters).
Posted: May 10, 2007 12:50 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Um, Lance Armstrong went out after winning his 7th Tour de France in a row. I don't think it can get better than that.
Posted: May 10, 2007 12:50 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
How can you omit Pete Sampras? To win the US Open in your last pro tournament.....
Posted: May 10, 2007 12:51 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
John Elway! Enough said.
Posted: May 10, 2007 12:54 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I agree.....Elway had the magic carpet ride. Anyone who saw him singlehandedly carry all those Bronco teams for 15 years couldn't have pictured a better ending. Repeat Superbowl winner, MVP, AND he beat Dan Reeves' Falcons in his last game. R U KIDDING ME? AWESOME!
Posted: May 10, 2007 1:09 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
There's no question that Elway should be on the list. Not only did he finish his sensational career with a Championship but he won 2 Back-to-Back Championships. You really can't end on a better note than that.
Posted: May 10, 2007 1:13 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
How about Al Maguire? Wasn't his final game a Marquette an NCAA championship?
Posted: May 10, 2007 1:34 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
The Bus! Jerome Bettis announced his retirement on the podium holding the Vince Lombardy Trophy after just winning the Super Bowl! He did this after being asked to come back for one more year by Ben Roethlisberger. He also did this after the Steelers were the sixth seed in the playoffs and not expected to win one game leading up to the Super Bowl.

It get's NO better than that.
Posted: May 10, 2007 1:46 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
The circumstances leading up to it may not have been perfect, but Lou Gerhig left the game with the epitome of class and respect.
Posted: May 10, 2007 1:47 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
No mention of Jerome Bettis? Retired after winning the Super Bowl in his hometown.
Posted: May 10, 2007 1:49 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
What about Babe Ruth hitting 3 homers in one of his (if not thee) last game of his career?
Posted: May 10, 2007 2:03 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."

Lou Gehrig July 4, 1939
Posted: May 10, 2007 2:07 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
What about Ray BOurque winning the Stanley Cup in his last game as a professional! That is truely one of the greatest momnets in sports seeing him finally reach the prize that he never got close to in 20+ years!
Posted: May 10, 2007 2:10 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
John Elway? Sandy Koufax?
I agree with Lance Armstrong and I have to add Roberto Clemente. It was a forced retirement, but he arrived to 3.000 hits in his last game.
Posted: May 10, 2007 2:14 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I'd have to say Sandy Koufax. He did lose his last game, but he was one of the dominant pitchers of the game. A Class act all the way.
Posted: May 10, 2007 2:26 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Are you guys kidding?
How about the greatest basketball player of ALL TIME.....Bill (11 Freakin' Championships) Russell
Posted: May 10, 2007 2:31 PM   by Anonymous Rich
Agree about Clemente, he didn't just get to 3000 in that game. His last hit ever was his 3000 and it was a double off the wall if I'm not mistaken.
Posted: May 10, 2007 2:36 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Lance Armstrong? Give me a break. Too many doping allegations (the entire sport is FULL of dopers). Wathcing cycling is like going to your local gym and watching a spin class. YAWN!
Posted: May 10, 2007 2:47 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Al McGuire winning the NCAA Tournament -- final game he coached
Posted: May 10, 2007 2:50 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Lots of other hockey posts, but none as appropriate as Lanny MacDonald. Scored his first, and last, NHL goal in the Montreal Forum. That goal, a wicked slapshot over Patrick Roy's shoulder, put the game away for the Flames. This was the only time a visiting team won the deciding game on the Forum ice. Nothing short of spectacular!
Posted: May 10, 2007 3:54 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Ummm....Bill Russell going for Championship #11 at Lakers game 7, it was suppossed to be the day Lakers finally bulit the Celtics, the balloons were ready to drop and Russell made sure the balloons stayed up there. Russell the greatest of all-time beating winning on the road in game they were expected to lose...that is how you exit the game.
Posted: May 10, 2007 3:56 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Stone Cold Steve Austin's last match was against The Rock, his great rival at Wrestlemania 19. The Rock finally beat him in a big spot, but Austin was able to soak in the years and walk out the ring with respect. Sure its scripted, but still a great ending to a career.
Posted: May 10, 2007 4:20 PM   by Anonymous Bob Awawa
That's a great story about Babe Ruth you guys are spinning but it's patently false. He hit those homers on May 25, 1935. His last game was May 30, 1935.
Posted: May 10, 2007 5:13 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Coach Knight chocking that kid ... wait, he came back. Sorry.
Posted: May 10, 2007 5:18 PM   by Anonymous jeff
OK Can we leave wrestling out of this???
Posted: May 10, 2007 5:41 PM   by Anonymous Chad
Unless Elway is the #1 on this list, its completely invalid.
Posted: May 10, 2007 6:40 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
MJ in his 2nd out of 3 retirements, after hitting the game-winner against the Jazz to win the championship. if he hadn't come back to play for the wizards, that would've had to be up there.
Posted: May 10, 2007 6:45 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Teddy Ballgame's #1 - You left out the best part:
Curt Gowdy's immortal call of the play.
Posted: May 10, 2007 7:57 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
If We're going to have Stone Cold and The Rock - where are the Tonya Harding and Nancy Karigan posts? Come on - bash a knee and then do a home movie with your new husband - doesn't get much better than that.

I was glad that someone beat me to the facts on the Babe - great player, and great icon of the sport, but not a great ending unless you count his speach from the mound at the house he built.

I would have to agree with the majority of the comments here - however this list is only here to fuel debate and keep us coming back for more. For the fan who knows nothing of soccer - they know who Pele was because they watched a movie with Will Farrel and Robert Duval recently. For the non-boxing fan - if his name's not Balboa - they don't know who you're talking about.

Sports have played a huge role in this nations history - and have gotten us through some rough times such as world wars and depressions - but to expect to be able to get an agreed upon list for the 5 greatest career enders - why not add Woody Hayes clothes lining that kid from Syracuse.

War Michigan winning the National Championship - GO BLUE!!!
Posted: May 10, 2007 8:29 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
You need to write a retraction and apology to Jerome Bettis. How is winning the super bowl in your hometown after coming back for a final year just beacuse you wanted the ring not in the top five. He walked out on top bottom line!!!
Posted: May 10, 2007 9:49 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
How about Andre Agassi's farewell at last years US Open?
Posted: May 10, 2007 9:58 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
wen the steelers won super bowl XL, the bus went out on top... but so did TOMMY MADDOX.. c'mon he has to be top 5 at least... haha..
Posted: May 11, 2007 2:23 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Elway and Bourque, definitely co #1's. Both left at the absolute top of their game.
Posted: May 11, 2007 9:31 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Jason Mcartney played his last AFL match for the Kangaroos after recovering from injuries received in the Bali Bomb blasts. He helped his team win the game.
Posted: May 11, 2007 10:08 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Anonymous had it right but the wrong coach. Woody!!! Go Blue!!!
Posted: May 11, 2007 11:14 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Elway by far! The Bus MIGHT also be on this list, but he did not go through the same type of career that Elway did. ALSO...Ray Bourque hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head is one of the GREATEST trophy celebrations in the history of sports. Seriously, I was at a sports bar in Denver when he did that and 90% of the crowd was damn near crying at that moment. Sampras winning in his last tournament also should be on the list. Wrestling??????????
Posted: May 11, 2007 11:19 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
What about Jack Nicklaus's farewell at the British Open at St. Andrews in 2005, his final major tournament? Taking a moment on the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th, and the fact that he made a 15 footer for birdie to go out in style.
Posted: May 11, 2007 12:09 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I know it's not going to rate very high, if at all, for most sports fans but on a personal note for myself I will always have the fondest memories of Texas defeating Washington in the 2001 Holiday Bowl, as Major Applewhite went out with a bang racking up 473 yds and 4 TDS. It was a fantastic ending for a fantastic guy and Quarterback.
Posted: May 11, 2007 12:11 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Both Elway and Bettis decided to retire after they had won the Super Bowl, taking away some of the luster of going out on top (in my opinion). David Robinson said before the 2002-2003 season started that it would be his last year, and the Spurs ended up winning the title. It doesn't get any better than that.
Posted: May 11, 2007 3:07 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
i think you are all forgetting about zidanes last game. i mean his headbutting will make him go into history as one of the most famous soccer players of our time. not a very classy act but certainly a grand way to end your career!!
Posted: May 12, 2007 1:35 AM   by Anonymous awake in Colorado
Rulon who??

You must be kidding. Elway was the MVP of the final game he ever played - happened to be a Super Bowl - you have heard of the Super Bowl??
Posted: May 13, 2007 9:16 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I don't know but in 10-15 years from now when Gilbert Arenas lays that jersey down at center court that'll be one to remember. In fact every great NBA player should do that when their career comes to a close, "leave it out on the floor".
Posted: May 13, 2007 9:41 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
in my mind, michael jordan went out on top with his jumper over bryon russell...the fact that he came back to be with the wizards for 2 years was a shame, but in 10 years will anybody remember?

and babe ruth played for another week after he had his 3 home run game
Posted: May 13, 2007 10:12 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Jordan has to be up there with the shot over B. Russell. Playing for the Wizards doesn't count.
Posted: May 14, 2007 3:37 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
the bus def. should have been included, with the playoff runs, making a comeback with the steelers, and hoisting the trophy in his own hometown announcing his retirement, it doesnt get much better than that
Posted: May 14, 2007 1:08 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
The great thing about sports are the stories they leave with us through the years, where with all of our rivalries a moment can be forgotten and pure enjoyment can be found for a split second of one man or woman's glory. That said all these people on the list are one of if not the best all time at their respective sports, but should we not include those who inspired everyone with the determination that sports installs in certian people. However great these men are is not questionable, but the truely great memories and perfect endings come from those that were given no chance to attain it. So why not give credit to the little people who make the sports we watch so amazingly passionate and enjoyable, this one is for all the Rudy's of the world who's endings are glorified in the history of sports, not due to their statistics, but the memories which all sports fans have for these individuals accomplishment... Heres to everyones perfect ending that has never been told, and sadly won't.
Posted: May 15, 2007 2:07 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Pete Sampras beating his ultimate rival, Andre Agassi, at the US Open in 2002. It was s ridiculous match. Back and forth. The best rivalry in the sport of tennis concluded an icon's career in a very iconic way.
Posted: May 16, 2007 1:04 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I don't think the way Sampras went out gets enough props, probably because there are only a few of us who watch tennis. He practically came out of nowhere at the age of 31 and beat Roddick and Agassi easily enroute to winning his last tournament. He wasn't even seeded.
Posted: May 17, 2007 4:36 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
#1 ROBERTO CLEMENTE! Doesn't get any more legendary than getting your 3,000th hit in your last game before being killed doing humanitarian work. You also cannot leave out PETE SAMPRAS. And although Elway might have been a bit of a better player, JEROME BETTIS' Super Bowl win had more memorable circumstances, and was his first, not second.
Posted: July 11, 2007 7:13 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Pete Sampras winning his 14th Grandslam at the 2002 U.S Open and bowing out was a fantastic moment.
Posted: August 8, 2007 1:39 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Live on the track... Die on the track. DALE EARNHARDT!!! He was the most perfect ending in sports history with 7 titles and is the face of NASCAR still to this day. Dale died on the last lap of his 2001 Daytona 500 race which also was his favorite race. His son (Dale Jr.) won the very next race that was at Daytona that same year. Dale Sr. brought NASCAR to where it is today and even though they don't retire numbers in NASCAR, no one will dare drive with that number on their car because Dale Sr. is so respected. I think you all need to re-think your answers!
Posted: August 21, 2007 2:11 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Florida NCCA champ starting five winning, foregoing the money, and coming back to do it again, when anything but a championship wouldn't do. The pressure, the potential costs, the potential embarassment. Others could choose to go out on a win. They had to have the win.
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