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Worst Player Comebacks in Sports History

Worst Player Comebacks in Sports History - Jason Witten

Worst Player Comebacks in Sports History - Jason Witten

Jason Witten surprised everyone with his decision to return to the Dallas Cowboys. Whether he will be the missing piece that turns last year's NFC East champ into a Super Bowl team will be decided this season. 

However, it is doubtful Witten’s comeback will go down as one of the worst in sports history. As you look at the worst encores in baseball, basketball, boxing, football and hockey, it is easy to see why.


Jim Palmer, P, Baltimore Orioles

Retired from Orioles: 1984

Returned: 1991

Palmer battled injuries through much of the 1980s, retiring in ‘84 after the Orioles released him and taking up broadcasting. In 1991, the Hall of Famer (he had been inducted in ‘90) parted ways with ESPN and decided to try to return to the Orioles. However, it became clear early on in spring training that Palmer did not have his old stuff. He retired for good after giving up five hits and two runs in two innings of an exhibition game.


Bob Cousy, PG, Boston Celtics

Retired from Celtics: 1963

Returned to Cincinnati Royals: 1970

Cousy retired in 1963 after winning five straight titles with the Celtics and took the head-coaching gig at Boston College. In 1969, Cousy returned to the NBA to helm the Cincinnati Royals (now Sacramento Kings) and decided to lace up his high tops late in the season to boost ticket sales. He scored a paltry five points in seven games, but the worst encore in NBA history was not a total loss; Royals’ ticket sales went up by 77 percent.


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Muhammad Ali, Heavyweight

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Retired: 1979

Returned: 1980

No sport welcomes its athletes back from retirement so easily and the treats them so mercilessly in the way that boxing does. There have been countless tragic examples, but the most glaring is Ali. After not having fought in more than two years, “The Greatest” came out of retirement to face Larry Holmes for the heavyweight title. The fight was as ballyhooed as any of Ali’s previous title bouts so all eyes were on the most pitiful loss of his career. Way past his prime and weakened by thyroid medication, Ali could do nothing against Holmes, who took it easy on him until trainer Angelo Dundee stopped the fight after the 10th round. It was the only knockout loss of Ali’s career and the image of him slumped on his stool should be warning sign for any athlete tempted to go to the well one too many times.


Lyle Alzado, DE, Los Angeles Raiders

Retired from Raiders: 1985

Returned to Raiders: 1990

The 41-year-old Alzado attempted a return to the Raiders in 1990, saying, "I miss the violence. It's just that simple." Despite suffering a knee injury, Alzado managed to play in one preseason game before being cut by the Raiders. What made this comeback even more tragic was that he was mixing human growth hormone and steroids to physically prepare. Alzado was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1991 and although his illness was never linked to steroid use, he believed steroids were the cause and stated so in a Sports Illustrated piece. Alzado passed away on May 14, 1992, less than two years after being cut by the Raiders.


Bobby Hull, LW, Hartford Whalers (now Carolina Hurricanes)

Retired from Whalers: 1980

Returned to New York Rangers: 1981

After retiring for what seemed to be for good during the 1979-80 season, the 42-year-old decided to make one more go of it with the Rangers. Hull still had the intensity, but not the skills that made him an NHL legend and he and the Rangers decided to part ways after five exhibition games.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

(Sports Illustrated cover courtesy of