27 amazing sports comebacks
A look at athletes (in alphabetical order) that overcame time away from the game for reasons beyond an on-field injury to make an impact in their sport.
By Bobby Bonett
Calling himself a conscientious objector, Ali refused to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces for the Vietnam War in 1966. Ali went before a trial in 1967 and was found guilty. In 1971, the conviction was overturned, and Ali would return to the ring to have the most illustrious boxing career in history.
Capriati, who battled addiction problems throughout her career, took a break from tennis following the 1993 season, playing only one match combined in 1994 and ‘95. She returned in 1996, and in 2001, won both the Australian Open and French Open.
In 1967, Conigliaro, a right fielder for the Red Sox, was hit in the face by a pitch from Jack Hamilton. He suffered facial fractures and damage to his left eye. Conigliaro would return in 1969 to hit 20 home runs and drive in 81 RBIs, earning the Comeback Player of the Year award.
Crawford enrolled at Ball State University at 29 years old after spending four years in the Marines. He’d go on to have a solid enough career in college to get consideration in the NFL Draft. Though undrafted, the Giants invited the 33-year-old to rookie mini-camp in 2010.
After 11 seasons in Philadelphia, Cunningham sat out the 1996 season after teams passed him over in free agency. He returned in 1997 to the Vikings, then led them to a 15-1 season and the NFC championship in 1998.
A colon cancer diagnosis AND an ALCS home run in the same season? No problem for Davis. Just five months after the devastating news, Davis came back and went deep for the Orioles in Game 5 of the 1997 ALCS. The following year, Davis had one of his best professional seasons, hitting .327 with 28 homers.
Imagine an MLB season with no Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez? That?s what 1943-45 was like when DiMaggio, like his contemporary Ted Williams, was called to serve for the U.S. during World War II. The Yankee Clipper barely slipped, and after a below average - by his standards - first year back, DiMaggio won the MVP in 1947.
In 1999, one year removed from hitting 44 home runs in Atlanta, Galarraga was forced to the sidelines after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. After undergoing chemotherapy, the first basemen returned in 2000, hitting .302 with 28 home runs and winning the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Playing linebacker for Boston College, Herzlich was ACC Defensive player of the year and an All-American in 2008. In 2009, he was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer and was forced to miss the entire college season. However, just four months after being diagnosed, Herzlich announced he was cancer free, and in 2010 he returned to play a full season with BC. Then, on July 26, 2011, the New York Giants signed Herzlich as an undrafted free agent.
In 1949, Hogan and his wife were involved in a head-on collision with a bus. The 36-year-old golfer suffered fractures to his pelvis, collar bone and ankle, a chipped rib and a series of blood clots. Doctors said Hogan might not walk again, so he responded by winning the 1950 U.S. Open.
Howe retired from the NHL in 1971 after an ugly divorce from the Detroit Red Wings. After a brief stint in management, Howe signed with the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association. Howe would earn MVP honors his first season, and led the Aeros to back-to-back championships.
After a brief hiatus from the NBA to pursue a professional baseball career, Jordan returned to the podium in 1995 and said, “I’m back.” The post-retirement Jordan was arguably better than the pre-retirement version, with Jordan’s Bulls again winning three straight championships, and compiling win totals of 72, 69 and 62.
Before Lance Armstrong’s cycling comeback, there was Greg Lemond. After winning the 1986 Tour de France, Lemond was actually shot while turkey hunting. He’d miss the next two Tours, but returned to win the the race in 1989 and 1990.
After a break-out rookie season, Mays was drafted by the United States Army for service in the Korean War - though he spent most of the time playing baseball for the Army. The "Say Hey Kid" missed most of 1952 and all of 1953 before returning to the Bigs. He led the Giants to the 1954 World Series, and his 660 career home runs speak for how well he re-adjusted to Major League pitching.
After signing a large contract with the Nets in 2003, the two-time NBA Defense Player of the Year was forced to retire because of complications from a kidney disease. He received a successful kidney transplant on Dec. 19, 2003, less than a month after retiring. While his return to New Jersey wasn’t an amicable one, he managed to make an impact in Miami during the final four years of his career.
Pelé retired from his Brazilian soccer team in 1972 after 17 seasons with Santos. He came out of retirement in 1975 to play for the New York Cosmos. While his numbers with the Cosmos were unremarkable, he brought awareness to the sport across the United States.
"The Admiral" was selected first overall in the 1987 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs, but had to serve two years in the Navy after graduating from the Academy. Following his brief stint in the military, Robinson went on to have a Hall of Fame career, and is regarded as one of the best centers of all time.
After bursting on to the scene as a teenager in the early 1990s, winning a handful of Grand Slam titles, Seles was stabbed by a crazed fan while on the court in 1993. Her first tournament back, in 1995, Seles won convincingly, and would go on to win the 1996 Australian Open.
After completing his tenure at the Naval Academy, which included him winning the Heisman Trophy in 1963, Staubach was drafted in the 10th round by the Dallas Cowboys. However, before stepping on the gridiron, Staubach had to complete his mandatory tour of duty for the Navy. He’d make his debut in 1969 at 27 years old, and go on to win two Super Bowls.
Waitkus, whom the movie "The Natural" was loosely based on, was shot in the chest during the 1949 season by an obsessed fan. He nearly died, the bullet narrowly missing his heart, but would come back in 1950 to hit .284 and finish 24th in MVP voting.
After a failed baseball career, Weinke enrolled at Florida State University in 1997 at 25 years old. Weinke earned the starting job, and pioneered the team to the National Championship in 1999, beating Michael Vick’s Virginia Tech Hokies. The following season, Weinke became the oldest Heisman Trophy winner at 28 years old.
Williams, insulted by the lowest starting quarterback salary in the NFL, left the Buccaneers in 1982 to pursue a career in the USFL. After the league disbanded in 1986, Williams signed with the Washington Redskins. He’d go on to quarterback the Redskins to a win in Super Bowl XXII.
Arguably the league’s best hitter of all time, Williams was forced to miss several years in his prime because of his enlistment in the Navy during World War II, and then part of two later seasons because of the Korean War. His post-war numbers in each instance? .342 BA, 38 home runs and the MVP award in 1946, and a .345 BA with 23 home runs in 1954.