Where are you Father Time?

Posted: July 5, 2011 in NHL

There is something to be said about a perfect ending, but what defines perfect? The end is when there is no more, or in most cases at least. The end of the movie is when the director is done shooting until the inevitable sequel and three-qual. The end of a book is when there are no more pages to be read, the end of a meal comes when there is no more food.

Ideally a sports career would come when the athlete has no more game to be played, but we seem to define the end at a certain measure of performance. The athlete may be able to play the game within its context, however their abilities are severely diminished.

I for one support the forced retirement, pushing an athlete out before their time is up. As a fan of the game I do not need my time wasted with old timers trying to recapture their youth, making one last push for the ring, etc. My favourite example of this you ask? That would be the one and only Brett Favre, who refused to retire when it was right. What did it get him? More injuries, potential lifelong disabilities, increased chance of trauma in his twilight years. Most importantly it lost him a lot of respect amongst the fans of the game as he refused to accept what we all were thinking.

But this is not an anti-Favre post, which could be a book in of it self some day when I get the right offer from a publisher. This post is about aging athletes who make one too many comebacks, or maybe the last great comeback.

After Jaromir Jagr announced that he wants to come back to the NHL after some years away but still playing, I thought good for him. Now this was a fresh thought for me as usually I hate when aging athletes try to revisit their glory years one more time only to embarrass themselves and waste our time as a fan.

Evidence for this number one is Michael Jordan.

But Prestononsports he’s the greatest of all time! You say.

Yes I am aware, but wouldn’t it have been great if he won the second three peat with the Bulls and then just said “OK guys, I’ve now won 6 rings, two three peats in an amazing basketball city that has made me a God, time to go hangout by the pool and live life with no limits”

But he didn’t, he decided more years needed to be played and he played with the Wizards. Now luckily he did not bombard us with false retirement press conferences babbling like some clown that he needed the game, etc. He retired with a small blemish on an otherwise perfect professional career.

I would have preferred that he simply took his curtain call into greatness and left on top, see Michael Strahan after helping the NY Giants win the 2007/08 Super Bowl. He is proof that once you win, even though you probably could still play, it’s best to end it now when it can’t get any better.

Now let’s make one thing clear before I continue on, I am not saying once you win the first ring it’s time for you to get out. Jason Kidd still has a year or two to compete at the same level he did this year and contribute on the Mavericks, but only the Mavs. He fit into their system, does not need stats and his age is not affecting his ability to pass the ball which is what he does best.

Strahan was a defensive end whose body was taking a severe beating over a long, potentially Hall of Fame career. He got his long awaited ring and knew there wasn’t much point in going through more punishment with decreasing production when another ring probably wasn’t there.

What I am against is the on going soap operas, guys that are clinging to their younger days that clearly aren’t there anymore. Just get out of the league and accept that the young players are better, faster and making you irrelevant.

These may be strong words, but I feel that some athletes tarnish their otherwise great records by not being told strongly enough “Dude! You are a legend, you’ve made your millions and proven your worth, why are you hanging around when you don’t belong?!”

There are of course those athletes that buck the trend of aging and they will get their credit now, or at least the names I can think of that come to mind easily.

Ray Lewis defies the laws of age and performance as at 36 he is still a menacing force as the field general for the Baltimore Ravens defense as their middle linebacker. The Miami graduate has played 16 masterful season totalling almost 1900 tackles, amazing.

At his advanced age in a gladiator sport he still manages to be the difference every year. Granted most of his skills now come from his ability to lead his troops like a medaled war veteran. They believe in him, his passion and his guidance and they will do everything for him because they know he’d do the same for them.

Teemu Selanne defied everything about age this year if you ask me. The Anaheim Ducks winger compiled a season for the ages, literally, while amassing 80 points in 73 games, including 31 goals. Not bad for a savvy veteran eh? Oh ya, he just turned 41, in case you didn’t know that. Talk about a rebound year after only getting 48 points last year at the ripe age of 39. Factor in having the stellar play of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry this year he still managed to get his, incredible. I guess 40 is the new 30 after all.

Jagr will play next year in Philadelphia on a one year contract worth roughly $3.3 million US, not a bad payday for an aging star who has spent recent years abroad. Many people were baffled with the moves that the Flyers made last week, shipping Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of town. However they new they needed to sign a goalie to finally rid them of that haunting problem.

The deals made room to sign a top tier goaltender, and they received ample pay back when you factor in the youth and price tags. I do not know enough about the trades to offer specific criticism or praise on the value and intelligence of the move, but on the surface I see why they did it and it looks like it has a strong chance to pay off.

In the end, I’m a fan of old timers saying screw you to father time and defying the odds. But for every aging star who manages to prolong his/her career into their twilight years without missing many steps, there are plenty more who should have hung it up a long time ago.

Please Mr. Jagr, when you come back don’t make us regret not having a mandatory retirement in sports. You did so much in Pittsburgh and Washington; I would hate to see you Jordan or Favre your way out of hockey when you could’ve been one of the great mysteries of sport.

  1. Jeff says:

    Good post Mr. Preston,
    It’s kind of a catch 22 (times 2). These players love the game, and we want them to. And yet we scold them for loving it too much. No player knows that he’s not going to be that great, they just know that they love the game. Recchi could have hung up his skates a few years ago, but he played a great season and playoff this year. Like you said, for every player who can go one more season, there’s a player who shouldn’t, but without a crystal ball, how will we know.

    Secondly, even those these players are not in their prime, they are still better than average. If you look at them as players and not all stars then they are good guys to have on your team, especially if they come in asking modest (by Pro sport standards) amounts of money. Jordan had 1600 pts , 300 assists and shot 45% in his time with the Wizards. It’s no 90s Jordan, but he definitely helped the team (They went from 19-63 to 37-45 with Jordan…although I just looked that up and they may have made some other trades as well that helped).

    So what it seems, is kinda what you alluded to, we like having these Gods of our sport, seemingly untouchable.. Our Jordans, Gretzkys, Tigers and what have you. We idolize them as the pinnacle of man kind, a goal of something we could achieve, and then when they fall from that top step onto the level of mediocrity, we fall with them..

    Anyway, good post, keep em coming!

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