Detroit Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson reportedly plans to retire this offseason. At 30 years old, “Megatron” is in the prime of his career, but the wear-and-tear on his body may be just too much for him to handle.
Johnson is hardly the first player to call it quits with their best years ahead of them. Here’s a look at five players who left the game too soon:
Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns, 1957-65, retired at 29
Jim Brown is arguably the greatest football player ever, and he decided to cut his career short to pursue acting. In just nine seasons, Brown retired as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher (12,312) and held records for rushing touchdowns (106), total touchdowns (126) and all-purpose yards (15,549). He made nine Pro Bowls and led the league in rushing a record eight times. Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. Though his records have since been broken, there has never been another running back to have the cultural and societal impact that Brown had, as his talent on and off the field transcended the game of football.
Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions, 1989-98, retired at 30
Barry Sanders single-handedly made the Detroit Lions franchise relevant in the 90s. With his flashy style of running complimented by dazzling spin moves and uncanny elusiveness, Sanders captivated the nation in his brief time in the NFL. Sanders shared the NFL MVP award with Brett Favre in 1997 after rushing for 2,053 yards with an NFL-record 14 straight 100-yard games. Despite being healthy and just 1,457 yards away from breaking Walter Payton‘s career rushing record, Sanders retired in 1999. There was much speculation as to the reason why he walked away from the game, but Sanders later admitted that the losing culture of the Lions franchise had diminished his competitive spirit, and he wasn’t happy with the direction in which the team was headed.
Gale Sayers, Chicago Bears, 1965-71, retired at 28
“The Kansas Comet” fell from the sky in 1965 and exploded onto the scene with a rookie-record of 22 touchdowns as a running back and kick returner. Gale Sayers was known as the first running back to be considered a legit receiving threat out of the backfield. Multiple injuries to both his knees forced Sayers to step away from the game, but his impact was obvious, as he was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in 1977 at just 34 years old, the youngest person ever to be enshrined in Canton.
Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys, 1989-2000, retired at 34
As one of the “triplets,” Troy Aikman quarterbacked probably the greatest offense of the 90s. Along with Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, Aikman led the Cowboys to three Super Bowls in four years from 1992-95 and earned the Super Bowl MVP award in 1992. Aikman was named to six straight Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. After the 2000 season, the Cowboys waived Aikman a day before he was due to receive a seven-year, $70 million contract extension. He retired after being unable to find another team, and later said his persistent back injuries also forced him to leave the game behind.
Bo Jackson, Los Angeles Raiders, 1987-1990, retired at 28
Jackson played just three seasons in the NFL before a freak hip injury cut his career short. Probably the greatest pure athlete ever, Jackson also played in the MLB and was the first athlete to be an All-Star in two different sports. His natural ability made him the subject of many myths and legends describing him pulling off some kind of seemingly-impossible feat. Jackson retired from baseball at the age of 32 as a .250 hitter with 141 home runs.
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