Wednesday, May 21, 2008


If there is a perfect moniker for the 2008 sports calendar, it is The Year of the Retirement.

It’s not as if all the professional athletes in the world had a convention somewhere to schedule their sunsets ahead of time, but there have been a few more farewell press conferences and phone calls than normal. It’s come to the point where Sports Illustrated’s website features a slideshow of the “twenty biggest retirements” thus far; those that have already happened and those that will start after the end of their seasons.

Some athletes who called it a career are without a doubt more recognizable than others. Some were newsworthy as they left fans scratching their heads. However, there are a few announcements that, for various reasons, have gone relatively unnoticed. Instead of ranking the importance or the overall careers of these athletes, tonight’s Scribe post looks into those various reasons that go outside of “it was just time”.

Dan Morgan and David Pollack: Most of the retirements that have been announced have been related to the National Football League. Yet, the circumstances of these goodbyes differ vastly from those of more famed retirees such as Steve McNair and Brett Favre. Both Morgan (top right; six seasons with Carolina) and Pollack (second right; three in Cincinnati) came to the League with a lot of promise, but debilitating injuries jeopardized their careers early.

Morgan, a hard-hitting linebacker who first made his name like many of the league’s best defensive players of the past three decades; in Football U, also known as the University of Miami. After being drafted with the eleventh pick by the Panthers, he started 11 games in 2001, helped solidify the league’s second best defense en route to the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance the following year and made the Pro Bowl in 2003. Yet, he only played 66 of Carolina’s 119 games (including all seven of the playoff games) in seven seasons. A series of concussions, an ankle injury and a partially torn Achilles tendon took their toll on him as he felt that he could not contribute to what is supposed to be a revamped New Orleans Saints defense in the upcoming season.

Pollack was a stud defensive end out of Georgia, collecting several major college football awards on his way to the NFL. In 2005, the Bengals selected him with the 17th pick in the first round and converted him to outside linebacker. He played fourteen games in his rookie season and despite just notching 28 tackles (22 solo), he picked up 4 ½ sacks for a team that found itself in the postseason for the first time in 15 years. Yet, in the first quarter of an early 2006 season game versus Cleveland, Pollack broke his sixth cervical vertebrae on a tackle. Though not paralyzed, he was unable to suit up again that year. His injury was initially considered career-threatening, but even with the improved prognosis in January 2007, he didn’t play that season either. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said a few weeks ago that Pollack is going to retire, though the exact words have not been uttered by the player himself.

Football is a very high-risk, high-reward sport. It may have the country in a daze for twenty weekends a year, but for many of its players, it can cause a lifetime of pain. Morgan (29) and Pollack (26) would have been at both ends of an NFLer’s prime, but no matter how much their hearts wanted to get on the field, their bodies were unable to match that desire. Their retirements serve as another reminder for those of us who believe that it’s always about the Almighty Dollar in pro sports; no matter how much we are aware of the fortune and fame that come with success, the physical body doesn’t know how much money you make.

Maurice Greene: There seem to be more controversies than track and field competitions, if you are like me and rarely keep up with the sport outside of the Olympics. It’s as if every athlete is connected to some performance-enhancing drug ring and check fraud (notice the and, not or). What makes Greene stick out above names as Trevor Graham, Justin Gatlin, Marion Jones or Tim Montgomery? It’s that until he officially retired in February, he avoided any questions of his professional integrity due to PEDs. Then in a New York Times article published in April, Greene responded to claims made by a former drug adviser that he used PEDs.

Greene had a longer career in track than many of the sport’s elite could manage. He notched two gold medals in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, along with a silver and bronze in 2004 (Athens). He held the world 100-meter record at 9.79 seconds back in 1999, a race he had dominated for two years going back to the 1997 World Championships. With the clouds hanging over the sport, his name may be more aligned with a $10,000 check that he wrote to this former adviser than his former records and medals.

When someone retires with a record of excellence, ideally, (s)he is not supposed to leave much doubt about the contributions made throughout her or his career. Yet, in the case of Greene – who has never failed a drug test, even if that leaves you skeptical – he left more questions than answers. With the Beijing Olympics on the horizon, this story may pick up some steam as the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) is seeking an explanation for his actions.

So why did he retire? His reason could be as legit as they come: in training for Beijing, he could not physically keep up due to injuries over the years. He wants to make room for new stars, he said in his farewell. For some, however, this recent news makes it hard to believe that Greene walked away for purely altruistic reasons.

Larry Allen: Another NFL retirement, this time with a player who set a high standard in his position in the way that many of the heralded quarterbacks and running backs did for many of the league’s current stars. Allen – considered by football people as the strongest player in the league’s 88-year history – retired after fourteen years in the league; having spent twelve with the Dallas Cowboys and his final two with San Francisco.

When kids growing up in the 1990s debated if Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders was the better running back, the difference always lied with the superior offensive line Dallas possessed for nearly the entire decade. Allen’s brute strength and deceptive quickness blasted holes in the defensive line for Smith to run through. He made eleven (yeah, that’s right, eleven) Pro Bowls at three different offensive line positions: left guard, right guard and left tackle. He blocked for Hall-of-Famers and Pro Bowlers: running backs Smith and Frank Gore along with quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Drew Bledsoe. He won his lone Super Bowl ring in his second season with the ‘Boys and remained with the organization for twelve years.

Likely, he will join the other ten Cowboys who are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Since offensive linemen are typically low-key and still unsung, Allen didn’t get a pomp-and-circumstance press conference or video package on the sports channels. It was certainly the case for the perennial Oiler/Titan Bruce Matthews until he joined the Hall last year. The same will go for other all-time greats such as Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace.

Until Canton…

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