Monday Night Football announcer Jason Witten announced he would be unretiring and returning to the Dallas Cowboys for the upcoming season, thereby joining the likes of Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, and Mario Lemieux as Hall of Famers who decided they retired prematurely and returned to the game.
Witten signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys and he’s vacating the Monday Night Football booth to return to his old team.
Witten is not the first, and certainly will not be the last ex-player to return to the game they loved. Almost every player who enters retirement feels a little lost after stepping away from the game. Sometimes they are unable to resist the urge to lace up the cleats, sneakers, and skates and put a uniform back on.
MJ Retires 3x
Michael Jordan abruptly retired from the Chicago Bulls at the end of the 1993 NBA season in the wake of his father’s tragic murder, when he was killed while sleeping in his car along side of a freeway. Jordan decided to follow his childhood dream of becoming a professional baseball player. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf also owned the Chicago White Sox. Jordan signed a minor league contract with the Durham Bulls.
Jordan’s career in baseball was a short one. He hit a paltry .202 with 3 home runs in the Southern League. He returned to the NBA in the middle of the 1995 season with the infamous words, “I’m back.” Jordan wore #45 for a stint because the Bulls had retired his renown #23. During his return to the court, Jordan won three more NBA titles with the Bulls before he retired a second time in 1998.
His second retirement was short-lived. Jordan laced the sneakers back up for two more seasons with the Washington Wizards starting in 2001. He donated his NBA salary to relief victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Jordan officially retired for good in 2003. Jordan is a part-owner of the Charlotte Hornets, one of the many bubble teams vying for the final seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs this season.
Brett Favre had a tough time deciding when it was time to hang up the shoulder pads for good. There were multiple points in Favre’s career when he made the decision to walk away from the game, but then decided to return.
The Packers sort of forced retirement on Favre after the 2007 when they were ready to go in the direction of their young backup Aaron Rodgers. Favre had a tearful press conference in Green Bay in Spring 2008, only to decide he still had gas left in his tank later that summer.
The Packers didn’t want Favre, so he signed a contract with the New York Jets and headed to the New York City suburbs. He threw 22 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in one season with Gang Green. After the infamous “dick pic” scandal, Favre’s time with the Jets had come to an end. He was ready to head into retirement a second time before he had second thoughts.
Favre signed with the Minnesota Vikings. That particularly stung to life-long Green Bay Packers fans because the Vikings were one of their rivals in the NFC North.
Even at the ripe age of 40-year old, Favre had one of his best seasons of his career with the Vikings. He played 19 games over two seasons and threw 44 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. A concussion forced him to the sidelines permanently. Favre retired for good after the 2010 season.
Cancer-Free Super Mario
Mario Lemieux suffered back injuries for most of his storied career with the Pittsburgh Penguins that included back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. A bad back coupled with a Hodgkins cancer diagnosis sent Super Mario into retirement.
When he retired after the 1997 season, Lemieux was only 31 years old. He had logged 745 games in the NFL with 1,494 points. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame six months later after the NHL waived the mandatory three-year waiting period.
During his retirement, Lemieux stepped in and bought the team. The owners owned him $32 million in back pay, but he took a piece of the Penguins instead.
After time off to rest his back and become cancer free, Lemieux decided he still had some fire left in his belly. After all, he retired earlier than he would have wanted.
Lemieux returned in 2000 and played six more seasons, scoring 77 more goals. He finally hung up the skates for good at the conclusion of the 2006 season. Super Mario even won a gold medal at the 2002 Olympics for Team Canada.