(Reuters) - Athletes have built careers on dazzling fans with their talents, but despite their success, many are remembered for their last image before walking away from the game they loved.
With New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter set to retire following the 2014 Major League Baseball season, Reuters looks back at some of the great and not-so-great sporting goodbyes.
Nicknamed “The Iron Horse” for his hitting prowess and durability, the six times World Series champion with the New York Yankees retired from baseball in 1939 after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disorder now commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Despite a record-setting career, Gehrig is most remembered for a speech he gave during an appreciation day in his honor. “For the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got,” he told the hushed Yankee Stadium crowd shortly after he retired. “Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
After suffering three Super Bowl losses early in his career, the Denver Broncos quarterback finally won the game’s top prize in 1998. But rather than call it career, Elway would go on to become the first quarterback in history to end his career with back-to-back Super Bowl titles, earning Most Valuable Player honors in his final game, at 38. Elway announced his retirement weeks after becoming the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl and was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Williams combined a keen vision with quick wrists and a scientific approach to hitting to set numerous batting records and establish himself as one of the best baseball players of all time despite missing nearly five full seasons due to military service and two major injuries. The Boston Red Sox left fielder, who remains the last major leaguer to hit .400 in a season, closed out his Hall of Fame career in 1960 by hitting a home run in the final at-bat of his career.
Menzies ended his stellar Australian professional rugby league career with the Manly Sea Eagles in the 2008 Grand Final against Melbourne Storm. Playing his 349th game for the club, equaling the record number of NRL appearances set by Australian great Terry Lamb, Menzies, aged 34, came off the bench and scored a try with his first touch of the ball to help Manly seal a record 40-0 victory over the team who had beaten them in the previous year’s final. It was his 180th career try, second on the all-time list behind Ken Irvine but a record for a forward.
In his final game as a professional, the France captain was sent off for head-butting Italy’s Marco Materazzi during extra time of the 2006 World Cup final. Without Zidane, whose stellar career includes 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 triumphs, France went on to lose on penalties. The final image of Zidane, who said he had been verbally provoked, showed him walking past the golden trophy with his head down.
Considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, the American quickly developed a reputation as an honest, hardworking fighter during an era when the sport was dominated by gambling interests. He was the world heavyweight champion from 1937 until he retired in 1949. But at 36 years old and after being away from competitive boxing for two years, Louis returned to the ring because he needed money to pay back taxes. A year later he faced undefeated heavyweight Rocky Marciano and was knocked out in the eighth round of what proved to be his last professional fight.
The National Football League’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns, Favre may be most remembered for his indecision regarding retirement. He cried when he announced his retirement from the Green Bay Packers in 2008. With Minnesota interested but the Packers unwilling to let him join their rival, he was traded to the New York Jets. After a season there he again said he was done, only to be wooed back to the field by Minnesota for two more seasons. His career finally came to an end after a hit left the 41-year-old three-time Most Valuable Player face down on the field and motionless for about 10 seconds with a concussion in what proved to be his final game.
The Russian was the undisputed king of freestyle sprinting in the 1990s, winning the 50 and 100 meters double at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, a feat still unmatched today. He held the world record for both events and also won six world and 10 European titles, including three gold medals at the 2003 world championships in Barcelona aged 31 and seemingly past his best. But his final international appearance, at the 2004 Athens Olympics, was a disappointing ending for Popov. The oldest competitor in the pool, he failed to qualify for the final in either event and never swam competitively again, formally announcing his retirement a few months later.
Compiled by Frank Pingue; Editing by Gene Cherry