Sport gains its obsessive fervour from an endless list of interesting aspects. On the flip side are the seat-edge thrillers that remain a part of our gossip forever, epic moments handed down for generations, victorious celebrations that bring together a new family, intense rivalries that become the topic of endless debates, heroic moments of our own representatives that turn them into overnight legends, and of course the memorable journey of our favourite stars who continue to defy our logic of failure and mortality.
Saving the soap opera twists, the multi-layered controversies involving finances, fiancés and vices, there is perhaps one unforgettable day that gains utmost importance to any lifelong follower of a sport. The dreaded day of every fan in accepting ‘our clock governed lives’ in granting an unwanted farewell to the legend that lived our dreams.
However, life has a date with surprise and memories at times get engraved in our heart, sadly for the wrong reasons. Imagine for a second, the unpalatable idea of having to see your celebrated hero of a lifetime walking into the sunset, head bent in shame. Apparently at times, a classic could even end with a despicable last frame.
‘With such stories, as much as the art would be appreciated for eternity, history’s maximum interest would only rest on the final scar’
Here’s a compilation of the worst exits in sport and quite surprisingly, each of them was a legend of their sport. However, the more astonishing fact is that for each it was a second innings, returning from injury or retirement to end up in a shameful finale. They were, to say the least, disgraceful, shameful and in remote reasoning, even justifiable. But in the pages of sporting history’s greatest classics – each of them would be an unmistakable blot!
Perhaps, the innate lesson within these infamous instances is that ‘Greatness is not all that counts at the end of the day!’
#1 A peddler loses direction…
There wouldn’t be a more accomplished legend screaming for attention and a rightful place atop this list. I agree leaving out Lance Armstrong would be foolish, but then wasting words on such a media’s darling would only be more foolish and repetitive. Hence saving some space and your precious time, we move on further into the league of extra-ordinary wrecks.
#2 Tennis’ misled queen…
There is probably some magic potion in the snow of the Swiss Alps, for even before Federer stamped his nation onto our imagination, there was an elegant teenage protégé who stole our hearts. In ’11, named one of the ‘30 legends of Women’s tennis of past, present and future’ by Time, this beauty boasted of all youngest-ever records, having made her professional debut 2 weeks after she blew off 14 candles. For a minor feel of her genius, her ’97 was the typical ‘06, ‘07 folklore stuff of Roger Federer.
With 5 Slam titles, 1 mixed doubles title and 9 doubles slam titles including a calendar slam, and 209 weeks atop the world rankings; Martina Hingis was the reigning face of tennis for a while. Injuries perhaps robbed us of more from this lady, who cut short her career and sought to retire in Feb ’03 at 22. For such a remarkable journey, typically as we’d like to categorically classify such rare brilliance, she was a legend!
But having come out of retirement in 05, fighting off her injuries with passion for the sport, she slowly fought her way back to shape and stardom. By ’06 she was easily moving about her deserved greatness, albeit with the loss of her once envious killer finishes.
However, her swansong shall remain deliberated for ages. It remains a controversy still clouded, but the fact stays that she remains guilty, in fault having gone uncontested. For a sport so mysteriously clean, Hingis was under investigation for testing positive for cocaine. Hingis was made aware of the test results post her third round loss to Laura Granville at Wimbledon, with both “A” and “B” urine samples failing the tests. She professed innocence, pleading, “I have tested positive but I have never taken drugs and I feel 100 percent innocent. I would personally be terrified of taking drugs. When I was informed [about the test] I was shocked and appalled.” She chose to not contest the accusation given the enormous time it would demand saying, “Because of my age and my health problems, I have also decided to retire from professional tennis.” She chose to retire even whilst handed a 2 year ban by the ITF for testing positive at Wimbledon ‘07, backdated to October at the start of 2008.
I always admired her and miss her often. But wiping off the tear in the corner of my eye, I’ve to admit, the return of a legend and the life of a queen were finally put to rest with my conscience.
#3 The Football Hall of shame goes to …
In the same vein, here was another rare genius off his foot. A bald Frenchman who led his nation to ultimate glory, he was the toast of the betting lords, a certain magician at work.
With a shimmering career as one of the finest ever attacking midfielder, he carved out a legendary status for himself. His very first World Cup brought home the World Cup for his country and he acquired overnight adoration after the brace that sealed their win over the defending champions and favourites – Brazilians. His impact was evident the way they consequently sealed even the Euros two years later.
The name is Zinedine Zidane!
He retired in ’04 post a surprising loss to Greece in the quarters. But probably, destiny desired a more iconic ending to the story of such a prolific legend. And hence, the man returned to serve his country in the time of its darkest hour. On the coach’s appeal, the dark knight rose to lead a depleted French side that struggled to even qualify for the mega event.
Given his majestic inspiring presence and assists, the team eventually reached the finals of ‘06. But the ending was one that we would’ve, on the worst night, encountered in a nightmare.
In the biggest showdown in modern sport, with close to 3 billion watching around the globe, the setting for his final act couldn’t get bigger. At the World Cup Final, after yet another record opening penalty goal into the 7th minute, he ended up leaving with a red card for the most infamous head-butt in the 110th minute.
In the subsequent interviews, Materazzi’s insults to Zidane’s mother and sister in that dying moment that led to Zidane’s tipping angered reaction came to light. Years later, Zidane remarked that he “would rather die” than apologize to Materazzi for the headbutt in the final, but further admitted he “could never have lived with himself” had he been granted a choice to stay and help France pick a 2nd crown in his services.
Post the infamous red in the final, Zidane retired from pro-football, and confirmed that it was final. FIFA sentenced him with a three game suspension, but given his retirement, the genteel giant condescended to rather engage in three days of community service with kids as part of FIFA’s humanitarian projects.
I haven’t yet understood the experience, nor have I bothered to attempt it either. But for all our accusations of the man’s innate exuberance in the moment, I still forgive him, given the fact that I admired him from when I was 10, with him being my first football legend. I will always salute him and smile while re-reading his long but illustrious 32 awards’ list.
#4 Of men ‘who didn’t play’ for a dime …
It’s a heady caption, perhaps a little confusing even, given that here were men playing and yet paid to not play. But there did live such men of dishonorable reputation who squandered opportunity to a bank balance. However, given that there are far too many competing for the honors to take the prime spot, it felt prudent to make that a separate article altogether!
For now therefore, it’s adios…
‘Remember, at the end of the day, greatness is not all that matters!’