Top 15 Most Shocking Retirements In NFL History
Since Dr. Bennet Omalu published a paper in 2005 discussing the effects of CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, on NFL players, there has been an increase in early retirements from NFL players who would rather live the rest of their lives with full use of their brain instead of waiting until it is too late.
Several players that have died over the past few years have had their brains tested and each one of them tested positive for CTE. The constant trauma on the brain simply from taking hit after hit can cause the brain to slowly die until their is hardly anything left of a player. Junior Seau, Ken Stabler, Bubba Smith, Andre Waters, Mike Webster, and Frank Gifford are some of the recent NFL deaths associated with CTE.
With the number of players being diagnosed with CTE on the rise, players have become very cautious about the value of their NFL career compared to their life. It has left us shocked as some of the biggest names in the business have called it quits recently.
Here are the 15 Most Shocking Retirements in the NFL.
- CHRISTIAN OKOYE, RB, KC (1992)
In 1987, the Kansas City Chiefs took a chance on the “Nigerian Nightmare” Christian Okoye, and he quickly became their star running back. For six years, he was their lead back and retired as their all-time leading rusher with 4,897 yards and 40 touchdowns. His hard-nosed running style scared the ever living souls out of defenders with his giant 6’1″, 253 pound frame that hit like a tank, bulldozing the opposition in the process. He made it look easy but battled knee injuries throughout his entire career which ended up causing him to retire with a few years left of football still in his soul.
He was only 31 years old when he hung it up after claiming that the game was no longer fun. He started seeing the game has a job and once he lost his passion for football, it was no longer something he wanted to risk his body for anymore. He retired and has now become one of the most successful post-NFL career athletes of all-time.
- TIKI BARBER, RB, NYG (2007)
In 2000, Tiki Barber rushed for 1,006 yards, marking the first time he surpassed 1,000 yards in a single season for his career. Two years later, he surpassed that mark again when he rushed for 1,387 yards. That was the first of five consecutive seasons where Tiki Barber rushed for more than 1,200 yards. Between 2002 and 2006, Tiki rushed for 7,643 yards, which was second most in the NFL during that span behind only LaDainian Tomlinson.
So it was a bit of a surprise when Tiki Barber made his intentions known that he was ready to retire following the 2006 season, at the peak of his career because he wanted to protect his future.
In an ironic twist, one of Tiki’s biggest career goals was to win a Super Bowl and the Giants seemed destined to be nothing more than a talented team that could not win a Super Bowl. However, the year after he retired, the Giants would defeat the New England Patriots to win Super Bowl
- TROY AIKMAN, QB, DAL (2001)
If he had better protection, and maybe a little bit of luck, then Troy Aikman could have played another six more years in the NFL. But because of a history of concussions, and a nagging back injury that he had been dealing with since 1991, it was finally time for Troy Aikman to hang up the cleats and retire following the 2000 season. He was only 34 years old when he retired, so most fans were shocked to say the least. They were hoping he could play another few seasons at least.
His retirement caused an implosion on the Dallas Cowboys offense that has seen them struggle almost every year since. This season marks one of the first times since the 90’s Cowboys dynasty that the fans in Dallas have an actual feeling of hope for another Super Bowl title.
- JEROD MAYO, LB, NWE (2016)
After three consecutive seasons ending early due to injury, Jerod Mayo decided it was time to move on and he officially retired from the NFL on February 16, 2016. It was an unfortunate ending to a once promising career with the New England Patriots, where he played all eight seasons of his NFL career.
In the first five years, he was mostly healthy and played in 75 games, starting 73 of them including all 16 during his 2008 rookie season. He wound up with 126 tackles that year and was already becoming a team leader, right out of the gate. In 2010, he would have his best season of his career with 175 total tackles, two sacks, three fumble recoveries, and he was credited with five pass deflections. He was a part of the Super Bowl XLIX winning team and did earn himself a ring before he decided to retire from the game.
- GALE SAYERS, RB, CHI (1972)
Gale Sayers was one of the NFL’s greatest running backs of all time that we will never quite know just what he could have become had his knees held up. Unfortunately for him, he battled several knee injuries and had gone back and forth with retirement and trying to play but he could not get away from those nagging injuries that just kept slowing him down.
At 29 years of age, he officially retired following his second comeback in which he played in a 1972 preseason game for the Chicago Bears and fumbled twice. He was not the same and knew right then that he had to give it up because he had nothing left in his tank. His legacy remained intact and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977 after just 68 games over seven seasons. He is tied for fourth on the list of Pro Football Hall of Famers with the fewest games played.
- BO JACKSON, RB, OAK (1991)
There has never been a better athlete in professional sports since Bo Jackson. In fact, there have not been many, if any, two-sport athletes like Bo Jackson since the ’90s. But not a single one of the two sport athletes in professional sports history could come close to Bo Jackson’s talent. He was simply a freak on the football field and a monster on the baseball diamond. He ran like Adrian Peterson, but faster, and he threw the baseball like Willie Mays, only faster. He hit like David Ortiz, but was smarter when running the bases, oh, and he was faster.
But his powerful running style made him a candidate for the injury bug and during a 1991 playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals, he dislocated his hip after a tackle. It would be his final play in the NFL leaving fans always wondering what could have been if he was able to just stay healthy.
- ROBERT SMITH, RB, MIN (2001)
When Robert Smith left the NFL, he was another one of the surprises because he was not only healthy, he was actually one of the biggest free agent running backs on the market heading into the 2001 season. He could have signed for nearly $30 million dollars but decided to give it all up because he was afraid of his future health.
He retired right around the time many other athletes started leaving the NFL after being practically forced out because of brain injuries, mostly concussions. It was before the infamous CTE discovery but Robert Smith could see it happening long before anyone else did.
- TONY BOSELLI, LT, JAX (2002)
Tony Boselli is the only player in NFL history to be drafted twice by two different franchise’s, as their top pick. When the NFL added the Jacksonville Jaguars, they were one of two expansion teams in 1995. The Carolina Panthers were the second team and both of them participated in the 1995 NFL Draft as the top two picks. After adding 31 players to their franchise, Jacksonville entered the draft looking at several key players they were going to need if they wanted to find success. So they drafted Tony Boselli with the second overall pick. He was later drafted by the Houston Texans as their first ever selection, during their expansion draft.
However, due to injury, Tony would not be able to play for Houston and ended up retiring shortly after he signed on with the team later on in the year at the age of 29, which is very young considering most offensive lineman go well beyond that in terms of years in the NFL. He only played seven seasons, making five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams.