One of the greatest achievements in sports is when athletes bounce back strong after fans wrote them off. Sometimes sports stars lose form and struggle to regain momentum. They also suffer horrendous injuries that seem insurmountable. Then there are the athletes who retire and leave their sports behind.
However, in many cases, sportspeople do the unimaginable and return to a high level. Let’s look at some of the most dramatic examples in history. From Tom Brady’s revival in Tampa Bay to the return of George Foreman after 10 years out of action, the list goes on and on. Check it out below via Bleacher Report.
25. Rob Gronkowski
Gronk is one of the most popular players in the NFL. The tight end is a party animal but in the most admirable way possible. There’s a reason fans of all teams love him despite his lengthy affiliation to the Patriots. He was also a phenomenal player and crucial outlet for Tom Brady. He helped New England to a Super Bowl victory over the Rams to end the 2018 season. Then he stepped away from the sport.
He revealed that football had taken a physical and mental toll on him. However, retirement didn’t last long. He took a season to recuperate before joining Brady in Tampa Bay. It was a spectacular success because the rejuvenated Gronkowski played a key role in their Super Bowl win. It was surreal to see Brady and Gronk celebrating together in Bucs’ colors. In the end, Gronk’s will to win brought him back.
Everybody expected Foreman to beat the aging Muhammad Ali. He unleashed a pounding on the legendary veteran but he couldn’t get the finish he wanted. “The Rumble in the Jungle” was incredible but it didn’t go the way he wanted. Foreman continued to box but he retired a few fights later after a defeat to Jimmy Young. Disillusioned, he walked away to become a minister.
The years rolled by and fans gave up hope of seeing him return. But then, 10 years after his last defeat, Foreman returned to action. He went on a lengthy tear and fought his way back into title contention. Finally, he became the oldest heavyweight champion in history when he knocked out Michael Moorer (via SBNation). It was an incredible achievement and a testament to his strong self-belief.
Mir is a former two-time UFC heavyweight champion. Yet his career came to a sudden halt in 2004 after a horrific motorcycle accident. Doctors believed that he might never walk again. Most people immediately wrote him off. But Mir didn’t listen and came back in impressive style. To put this into perspective, the collision snapped his thigh bone in half.
He underwent grueling rehabilitation. This required a strong heart and a lot of willpower. Just to step back into the octagon after such a harrowing ordeal was amazing. His fans were ecstatic to see him because he went through hell and back. Mir showed that anything is possible with a bit of belief. He fought for another decade with the UFC and Bellator (via ESPN).
Vick was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL before the world came crashing down around him. The Falcons star redefined the role as he rushed with remarkable success. But then an investigation revealed that he was the ringleader of a dog-fighting operation. The news rocked North American sports because he was a massive star. Also, the details of the cruelty to the animals were harrowing.
The quarterback went to jail where he spent a couple of years before his release. Fans doubted that he would return but NFL isn’t interested in morals. The Philadelphia Eagles swooped for the QB and made him their starter (via Bleacher Report). He played there with relative consistency for a few seasons before finishing his career with the Jets. It was a strong return after a shameful and unexpected hiatus.
It appeared as though Bisping was destined to retire as a journeyman. The popular British fighter paved the way for his countrymen in the UFC. But he always fell short when it came to winning title eliminators. He lost bouts at crucial times allowing other fighters to achieve the glory that he craved. However, Bisping possessed a strong heart and incredible self-belief. That’s why he agreed to fight Luke Rockhold on two weeks’ notice as a late replacement.
After a tight decision win over Anderson Silva, Bisping was full of confidence. But even he didn’t imagine such an easy victory. He was a massive underdog against Rockhold but knocked the champion out in the first round. Furthermore, Bisping only had one working eye (via MMA Junkie). This made the 38-year-old’s achievement even more incredible. Fans were delighted because they never saw this coming.
Brady is the only athlete with two entries on this list. Let’s start with his ACL tear on opening day in 2008. It kept him out of action for the rest of the season and Matt Cassel replaced him. This was the darkest period of Brady’s career because he was a mainstay until that point. Meanwhile, there were troubles behind the scenes with front office issues and injury setbacks (via ESPN).
Also, Brady had a poor relationship with Cassel which didn’t help matters. A minority of fans wrote Brady off but this was foolish. That’s because he rebounded in style. 2009 was another Pro Bowl year for Brady on his return before another MVP award the following season. He showed no signs of slowing down. In truth, his methodical style prevented his injury from setting him back.
Hamilton was excellent for the Texas Rangers before he relapsed into addiction started taking drugs again. Then his career went off the rails and he went down a dark path. It took a lot of strong support for him to make a comeback but he achieved this. However, he has had multiple relapses throughout his life and these affected his relationships with his family. He knows firsthand how drugs can damage a life.
In 2015, he returned to the Rangers after a fruitless spell in Anaheim (via USA Today). He received the love of Texas supporters after showing up with some great performances. After he retired, Hamilton had multiple legal issues. He lost the structure that a sports career provides. In 2020, police arrested him after he allegedly beat his daughter. It was the latest sad chapter in a tough life.
No athlete on the planet endured more exposure than Jordan in the ’90s. Of course, many sports stars earned celebrity status but Jordan brought it to the next level. He appeared in movies and his line of Nike shoes went down a storm. But after the death of his father, Jordan decided that he needed a change. Suddenly, in 1994, he decided to play minor league baseball (via ESPN).
This shocked many fans because he was the most high-profile sportsperson in the world. Meanwhile, the Bulls were the dominant force in the NBA. But he needed time to recover away from the spotlight. After a season away, Jordan returned to basketball and continued to deliver strong performances for Chicago. It was as though he never left. But his time in baseball remains a curious chapter.
Everybody knows Woods is a golf icon. Some athletes transcend their sports and this legend is one of them. But his squeaky-clean image took a massive dive into the sewer in 2009. After he drunkenly crashed his car one night, his life descended into chaos. Multiple women came forward and revealed that they had affairs with Woods. These included porn stars and strippers, amongst others.
Next, Woods’ wife left him. He entered rehab because he realized that it was time to change his life. Woods’ golfing prowess went into decline over the next few years because of injuries too. After such a dominant period it looked like his time at the top was over. But then something remarkable happened. A decade later in 2019, he won the Masters. Fans were ecstatic to see his strong return to form (via People).
Ali was more than a boxing champion because he became a cultural and social icon. Before the Vietnam War, he was one of the most electric fighters on the planet. He was light on his feet and his sharp wit made him unstoppable. Then the draft came along and he refused to sign up. This put him on the sidelines for four years of his prime because he lost his boxing license (via USA Today).
Despite this, it wasn’t the end of his career. Ali returned to boxing and endured some of the most grueling battles of his career. Now older and slower, he was unable to move like before. So he developed the rope-and-dope style that undoubtedly contributed to his Parkinson’s Disease. However, Ali showed strong self-belief and willpower to regain the titles he lost through no fault of his own.
When Newton won the MVP award in 2014, it validated him as one of the NFL’s most exciting players. But nobody expected his rapid decline. Injuries plagued the Panthers star and prevented him from maintaining his brilliance. Finally, he found himself without a franchise after his contract ended. It was a frustrating period and many analysts said his time was up.
Then, Tom Brady left the Patriots and left them with a gaping hole to fill. Bill Belichick decided to bring Newton in as a stop-gap solution. Suddenly, the quarterback found himself with a second chance. He endured mixed fortunes through his single season in New England. Then, they released him after drafting the exciting Mac Jones. But Newton had one final comeback in store: a remarkable return to the Carolina Panthers (via Boston Globe).
When Arsenal signed Ramsey, he was one of the most exciting teenagers in soccer. He soon commanded a starting place in their lineup and showed glimpses of his talent. However, his early rise suffered a major blow when he broke his leg. That happened in 2010 when Arsenal played Stoke City in the league. Ryan Shawcross came flying in with a challenge and shattered the youngster’s fibula.
It was a gruesome injury and one that scarred many watching fans. Images of the broken limb went viral because the bone protruded at an odd angle through his sock. Many fans wrote Ramsey off and said he’d never be the same again. But he showed strong powers of recovery and rebounded. He became one of their most important players before a move to Italy with Juventus (via BeIn Sports).
Tyson was a juggernaut throughout the late 1980s. Boxing fans felt like they watching human sacrifices every time he fought. His savage power was too much for the majority of his opponents except for Buster Douglas. But then a rape charge came along and Tyson found himself in jail. Immediately, fans saw this as the end of his career because they didn’t think he could return.
Remarkably, he returned to action in 1995 after four years out. Tyson won the WBA and WBC titles as he showed glimpses of his previous brilliance (via Bleacher Report). Indeed, he wasn’t the same force of nature but he was still a strong fighter. He went on to have some iconic moments including his clashes with Evander Holyfield. After years on the sidelines, he returned in 2020 for an exhibition against Roy Jones Jr.
Tannehill just couldn’t do it in Miami. No matter what he tried, he couldn’t win over the Florida fanbase. However, that changed with a move to Nashville. The Titans signal-caller is one of the most consistent playmakers in the NFL. It’s quite the turnaround after a tough few seasons with the Dolphins (via Fansided). He played through injuries but failed to show he had what it takes to be a bonafide starter.
Now that looks like lunacy because the Titans are real contenders. A lot of it is down to the fact that Tannehill fell on his feet. He’s never been the most charismatic personality, but he doesn’t have to be. It’s not quite as simple as just giving the ball to Derrick Henry. But there’s no denying Tannehill has benefited from having such a strong outlet. In 2020, the quarterback even delivered the most productive year of his career.
Teixeira first fought for the UFC light heavyweight title in 2014. He lost to legendary former champion Jon Jones but didn’t expect to wait another seven years for his next shot. The Brazilian veteran is a popular figure but consistency let him down. After a couple of knockout losses to younger contenders, fans called for him to retire. However, Glover didn’t listen. Instead, he went on a five-fight tear and earned an unexpected second shot at gold.
The craziest aspect of this was that he was 42 at the time. But he dominated champion Jan Blachowicz and inspired fighters around the world. His strong will got him the victory because he refused to give up. Teixeira became the oldest first-time champion in UFC history. Meanwhile, Danbury, Connecticut awarded him the freedom of the city. Remarkably, he first arrived there as an immigrant landscaper in 1999 (via MMA Fighting).
Johnson’s story isn’t just inspiring. He also singlehandedly changed international perceptions about HIV. The disease carried a massive stigma through the 1990s after the horrendous AIDS crisis. After Johnson admitted that he contracted it, many players didn’t want to play against him. He retired from the sport but was determined that this wasn’t the last that fans saw of him.
Most people wrote him off because it was such a big deal at the time. But Johnson proved that he still had gas in the tank. He returned to action after a couple of seasons away and continued to deliver for the Lakers. Many fans still regard him as the greatest NBA star of all time. His impact on the game as well as social issues was profound. But his strong spirit meant that he was never going to give up (via The Guardian).
George was in top form in 2013 on his way to the NBA Most Improved Player award. The Thunder star carried his momentum in the next season but it came to an abrupt end. He was playing in a Team USA scrimmage when he broke his leg in the most gruesome manner. It came after an awkward fall and George missed the next season (via New York Times). Many fans wrote him off because it was a harrowing injury.
However, the good news is that bones usually heal well. It’s a different story when it comes to ligaments because they’re much trickier. George recovered and delivered a strong comeback. He established himself as one of the best players in the NBA before attracting the attention of the Celtics. From there, he moved to the Clippers. Now he’s one of the highest-paid athletes in basketball.
Brown’s return isn’t the most inspiring on this list but fans wrote him off. He was sensational for the Steelers with a series of phenomenal performances. But the receiver’s life off the field brought him a lot of negative attention. He almost killed a baby when he dropped furniture out of his hotel window. Then there were sexual assault allegations and a speeding charge.
The Patriots washed their hands of him and it looked like his time in the NFL was over. Brown flirted with Logan Paul for a boxing match but found himself back in football with the Chiefs. Remarkably, he won the Super Bowl with Kansas City after lighting up the league alongside Tom Brady. It was an incredible return after so much controversy and drama. He deserves some credit for that despite his flaws (via The Sportsman).
Cech went down as one of the best goalkeepers in Premier League history. But the Czech star almost died after a serious collision in 2006. He moved forward to collect a ball but took a knee to the head from Stephen Hunt. The Irishman refused to pull out of the challenge and left Cech sprawled on the floor. It quickly became clear that the situation was serious because the keeper lay prone on the floor.
An ambulance rushed him to the hospital where he underwent surgery (via Sports Illustrated). Medics discovered that he had a depressed skull fracture. This was a life-threatening injury if they didn’t treat it quickly. Fortunately, he recovered and bounced back after the traumatic experience. Cech wore a distinctive rugby-style skull cap for the rest of his career. This was because doctors warned him to protect his vulnerable injury.
Fury defeated Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 and won a clutch of heavyweight titles. Fury also became the lineal champion of the world. It appeared as though a new era was about to begin. But then he didn’t defend his belts against mandatory opponents and failed drug tests. The downward spiral escalated when he fell into alcohol and drug addiction. Finally, his weight blew up to over 300 pounds and he contemplated suicide.
However, the controversial boxer showed his strong will with one of the most incredible comebacks ever (via Business Insider). He returned to action in 2018 with a couple of warm-ups before an epic clash with Deontay Wilder. Fury wasn’t fit but he still dominated the fight and survived two knockdowns. The judges ruled the fight a draw. Then he went on and won an exciting trilogy against the “Bronze Bomber.”
The great Lemiuex never completed a full NHL season. Despite this, fans widely regard him as one of the best players to step onto the ice. He endured a series of serious ailments throughout his career. These included spinal problems as well as cancer. Indeed, many expected the latter to end his tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But Lemieux’s desire to play was too strong to deny (via Sports Illustrated).
He continued to deliver exceptional numbers despite his ailments. Most humans struggle to do anything when they’re undergoing cancer treatment. But Lemieux wasn’t an ordinary person. He loved hockey more than anything else and was never happier than when he was in a game. It’s amazing to imagine what he could have achieved if he didn’t have to deal with constant health problems.
Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after 20 seasons with the Patriots. This left fans with mixed feelings because he showed signs of age in his final semester in New England. They thought that he was looking for one last big contract before hanging up his cleats for good. Of course, he received the money he wanted but he delivered far beyond anyone’s expectations.
The wildest part was that the Bucs didn’t start well. Brady allegedly struggled with Bruce Arians’ playbook before it all clicked into gear. Then the fairytale built up momentum until they found themselves in the Super Bowl. He put on a fantastic display to crush Kansas City and earn an unprecedented seventh ring. It was a strong comeback and a reaffirmation he’s going nowhere (via Boston Globe).
Agassi’s career is very similar to Tyson Fury’s in a lot of ways. He reached the pinnacle of his sport before succumbing to external pressures. Then he demonstrated incredible willpower to return to the top. A combination of a toxic relationship and persistent injuries sent him into a downward spiral. This escalated into full-blown depression and Agassi began to use crystal meth (via Reuters).
He went from being the number one tennis player in the world to 141 in the blink of an eye. But he cleaned up his act and returned to the form. Agassi rehabilitated and fought his way back up the rankings. In the end, he became the oldest player ever to become world number two. After staring down at the abyss, Agassi demonstrated that everybody can overcome their demons.
There was a lot of talk about the Packers being Super Bowl contenders before the 2021 season. But then Rodgers rocked the NFL. He demanded a trade and spent the summer at loggerheads with his franchise. Finally, he reluctantly agreed to spend another year in Green Bay. Fans saw danger signs. Then, the Packers suffered a humiliating loss on opening day against the New Orleans Saints.
The 38-3 blowout immediately created a reaction. Many analysts shook their heads and said that there was too much drama in the locker room. But the Packers bounced back with a series of strong displays to top the NFC North. Rodgers still created drama off the field but was brilliant on it (via Sporting News). He showed the fans why knee-jerk reactions are foolish. Things can change very quickly.
It seems ridiculous that even one person ever wrote Mahomes off. Fans spoke about him as a lock for the Hall of Fame after his first Super Bowl win with the Kansas City Chiefs. The franchise hadn’t won the coveted prize for 50 years, but their quarterback inspired them to glory. They had a second shot at gold in 2021 but fell dismally short against Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, it was the worst performance of Mahomes’ short career.
The Chiefs were inconsistent at the start of the following season. Mahomes escaped criticism at first but then whispers began about the changes in his displays. However, they ruthlessly turned a corner. One game against the Raiders showed Mahomes at his ruthless best. He completed 35 of 50 passes for 406 yards with five touchdowns (via CBS Sports). Also, he didn’t throw a single interception in the strong showing.