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Great comebacks in sports history

Ryan Horne, BarDown (@RyanHorne27) Apr. 18, 2014 11:30 AM
This week, swimming great Michael Phelps came out of retirement in hopes to compete in his fifth Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.

Apparently, 22 medals, including 18 gold, isn't good enough for the 28-year-old. Phelps has never had trouble with confidence as seen in this clip from an interview when he was just 15-years-old.

This won't be the first time an elite athlete has come out of retirement for one final shot at glory. Athletes from across all sports have continually decided to strap on the skates, put on the shoulder pads or lace up the basketball shoes once more to get back in the game they love. Whether it's boredom with the retired life, feeling like there's still something left in the tank or an undeniable itch to win their respected championship, the best always seem to find a way back, for better or for worse.

We here at BarDown thought it would be a good time to take a look at other professional "comebacks" in sports history to see how they fared. Click "Read More" to see the rest.

Mario Lemieux - 2000

Super Mario's comeback is arguably the most improbable return in sports history.

After playing 12 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning two Stanley Cups in the process, Lemieux decided to retire after the 1996-1997 season at the ripe age of 32. Years of injuries alongside a scary diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma back in 1993 wore Lemieux's body down to a point where he had to hang them up.

After Mario left, the Penguins found themselves in deep financial trouble and declared bankruptcy in Nov. 1998. Lemieux put together an ownership group to buy the team in Sept. 1999, keeping them in Pittsburgh.

Then to everyone's surprise, he returned to the ice as a member of the Penguins two days after Christmas in the year 2000. The return was especially improbable because he announced his "attempt" to comeback just two weeks prior.

So Mario had already won a pair of Cups in Pittsburgh, defeated cancer, saved the team from relocation and then did this in his first game back in three years against the hated Toronto Maple Leafs.

Lemieux scored 35 goals and 41 assists for 76 points in just 43 games the rest of that season, a truly remarkable feat. Mario played four more injury plagued seasons – winning Olympic gold in 2002 in Salt Lake City – before officially retiring in 2006.

He may have never hoisted Lord Stanley's mug in his second NHL go-around, but the way Lemieux saved the team financially and persevered through his own personal health problems to get back to the top, makes his comeback the most memorable in sports history.

Guy Lafleur - 1989

Guy Lafleur is one of the greatest Montreal Canadiens to ever play the game.

In his 14 seasons with the Habs he won five Stanley Cups and is the all-time leading scorer in Canadiens' history, recording 1, 246 points (518 goals and 728 assists).

However, during the 1984-1985 season Lafleur's production drastically decreased and he wasn't seeing eye-to-eye with head coach Jacques Lemaire. On Nov. 26, 1984, Lafleur announced his retirement to the shock and dismay of many.

Three and a half seasons later, Guy's itch to play the game returned and joined the New York Rangers on a one-year deal. In February 1989, Lafleur made his return to the Montreal Forum.

He never came close to dominating in New York or later with the Quebec Nordiques like he did in Montreal, but his return to the Forum was closure for the two sides that left on uneasy terms.

Michael Jordan – 1995

Michael Jordan's return is undoubtedly the king of sports comebacks in terms of success and domination.

Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won back-to-back-to-back NBA championships from 1991-1993 as the undisputed best player in the world. Then, shockingly, Jordan announced his retirement on Oct. 6, 1993 citing personal reasons. He followed that bomb with his attempt at playing professional baseball with the Chicago White Sox.

And we all know how that turned out.

The Bulls still made the playoffs in the 1993-1994 season, but weren't the same team without Jordan. The following year, Chicago struggled even further until Jordan decided to trade his cleats for sneakers and returned to the NBA.

M.J. didn't miss a beat. This video is of his first game back on March 19, 1995 against the Indiana Pacers.

The Bulls went on to win a second set of three consecutive championships from 1995-1998 with Jordan taking the Finals MVP honours each time. He also won the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 1996 and 1998.

Jordan's comeback was the ultimate, simply due to the fact that he was the best when he left and was still the best when he returned.

There's really no need to mention Jordan's second comeback with the Washington Wizards in 2001. Let's try to stay as positive as possible here.

Lance Armstrong – 2009

This comeback was not as warm and happy as the others.

After winning the Tour de France seven years in a row from 1999 to 2005, Armstrong decided to retire after the 2005 season when the first drug accusations began to surface.

In 2009, Armstrong got back on the bike and finished third in the Tour de France. He retired once again in 2011 with more allegations of performance-enhancing drug use.

Then it really began to unravel for Armstrong.

In the following year, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency charged Armstrong with performance-enhancing drug use and proceeded to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles. In 2013, after years of denial, Armstrong confessed to Oprah in a nationally televised interview that he in fact cheated.

The return of Armstrong was negative for so many reasons, but mostly because it ruined the image of a person that was so beloved and inspired so many during his heyday. The cancer surviving elite athlete was long gone. Instead, he was considered a lying cheater.

However, it's fair to say that all of this would have still happened if he stayed retired after the 2005 season.

Honourable Mention:

Brett Favre (2008) – Technically Favre never truly retired. In 2007, Favre said he was done with football, but then proceeded to join the New York Jets the following year. He did something similar with the Minnesota Vikings in 2009. Sorry Brett, but being wishy-washy isn't the same thing as coming out of retirement.

Roger Clemens (2007) – This return was cool because it happened on the bigger-than-life stage of New York City. Clemens had come out of short stints of retirement before to join the Houston Astros, but nothing compared to making his return to Yankee Stadium.

Muhammad Ali (1970) – Ali never retired, but rather was exiled from boxing because he refused to fight in the Vietnam War. When he finally got back in the ring in Oct. 1970, Ali was as dominate as ever.