Just last week I was watching the ESPN 30/30 on Muhamed Ali's sad swan song bout with Larry Holmes. It was nothing if not soul shaking. To have that kind of access in to Ali's inner circle and training camp was harrowing. Some of his closest friends were legimately concerned for his rapidly deteriorating health, some with a financial stake had alterior motives it seemed, and others who had been through it all with the Greatest, from Cassius to Mohamed, new him best, enough to know they couldn't tell the fighter when to stop fighting. I was dying inside watching this performer, this champion, this warrior who truly, perhaps more than any other, embraced his role in our world and gave so much to his loyal fans, kill himself, not for us, for him. Yes, it was self gratifying. He subjected loved ones to the pain of helping him hurt himself in the worst ways, trotting him out on to the worlds stage one more time, one time too many, all for him. At the end of it I couldn't fault him for doing it. He had the entire world in his corner, but when you're too far gone it doesn't matter what't in your corner, just what's left of what's in your head, and in the capabilities of your hands and your feet, and the ability of the three to communicate. Everyone wanted him to win and go out on top and this hope blanketed the underlying fear of watching a legedn die in the ring, but what happened was so much worse. His legacy cannot be tarnished by the Holmes fight. If anything it only strenghtens the publics understanding of the level of fight in this man. He perservered so many injustices to become the Greatest, and at the end of his or any athletes career it becomes apparent how much it is truly all about them. We can love from afar. We can enjoy the ride, but they're flying the plane, and it's their decision whether it's a ten point landing or a crash.
Peter Forsberg is a fierce competitor. Look in to his deathly concrete eyes and you can see the heart of a soldier. An MVP. A Stanley Cup Champion. A gritty and determined athlete. He has suffered physical pain and numerous surgeries to attempt to compete again at the highest level, a level he had asserted himself to the top of, at the apex of a food chain of countless others like him. His near dynasty teams in Colorado were star studded, yet he was still named the Heart Trophy winner along hall of fame names like Roy, Sakic and Blake. After the NHL lockout season Foppa, as he is dubbed in his native Sweden, reunited with his favourite old linemate Paul Kariya in Nashville, and with the team that originally drafted him, the Philledelphia Plyers. He struggled to perform at the level he was accustomed to and he left North America to play professionally in Sweden and represent the Tre Kronor internationally, even winning an Olympi Gold |Medal on a star studded 2006 national team. Rumors of his return littered sports television, radio and blogs until finally, after a brief hold-up with U.S. Imigrations Foppa returned to the Avalanche after working out with them for a few weeks. While he worked out the Avs slipped out of playoff contention, now 14th in the West, 6 spots back of a postseason birth and essentially out of the race for Lord Stanley's Cup. He played two games in three days over a weekend, averaging a respectable 17 minutes in each showing while the Avs lost both. Mere hours ago he announced his retirement amidst talk that the Avalanche would trade him for draft picks. This is a far cry from the rumored 2 year contract he had wanted before he officially signed a pro-rated league minimum salary for one year. His heart was in the right place, the place it had always been as a top-tier hockey star. He wanted to help his old franchise regain the prominence they once had under his first reign, but they were too far gone for Foppa to help, and so he leaves again. If they had won both games they would be within range of a playoff spot, only five points out, but now nine points out with 26 games to play it seems insurmountable, too much for Foppa to overcome. If they were just five points out would he make a difference? Would he stick around for a playoff run?
Retirement is as much a part of most athletes legacies as is their career, and far too many haven't found just the right time to call it quits. That seems to be harder than scoring 500 goals or hoisting Stanley Cups.