Still trying to understand why Peter Forsberg called it quits – again – after playing just two road games with the Colorado Avalanche? Ask yourself a better question: Why did he try another comeback in the first place?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Great athlete, bound for the Hall of Fame one day, has accomplished pretty much everything he could in his professional sport. Championships, individual awards, the whole bit. He’s financially set. He could walk away into the sunset, relax, do a few commercials, a few promotional appearances; He could work on TV if he wanted to, or just spend his time catching up with the family. He could chart his own worry-free course for the rest of his life.
But no. He wants to make a comeback. He can’t get enough. Wants to hang with the boys in the locker room some more. Wants to stay young forever. Wants everyone to keep looking at him.
Is this describing Brett Favre? Absolutely. Roger Clemens and many many more. Now, sadly, you can throw Peter Forsberg into that group as well.
The list of historically great professional athletes who hung around too long is too long: Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Steve Carlton, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Rickey Henderson…Clemens and Favre, too. And there are plenty more. Still remember what Karl Malone looked like in a Lakers jersey? Michael Jordan as a Washington Wizard? Bad visuals.
Fortunately, Forsberg’s ill-fated comeback didn’t drag on for four years like the attention junkie Favre’s did, and he’s not getting destroyed like Clemens or Barry Bonds as the truth comes out about HOW they stayed around so long. Nonetheless, Forsberg’s latest ill-fated attempt to find the fountain of youth will stain, every so slightly, what should be a pristine legacy.
Peter Forsberg was arguably the greatest hockey player of his generation. The man could do it ALL, and most importantly, he knew HOW to play the game the right way and how to make his TEAM better. He was the farthest thing from a selfish player. He was a gifted athlete and a champion. That should be our lasting memory. We should never have had to see an aging and injured Forsberg struggling up and down the ice.
Luckily, Forsberg was not completely a mere shell of his former self like Carlton or Namath were when they hung on too long back in the day. Forsberg was more like Montana or Henderson. Yes, he could still probably contribute on some level, but he was clearly not the player he used to be. Didn’t he already know that going in? It obviously mattered to him that he couldn’t play the game the way he used to after just two games. So the question remains: What happened to knowing when to say when?
The list of prominent professional athletes who did it right is long and distinguished: Ted Williams, Tom Seaver, George Brett, John Elway, Steve Young, Michael Strahan…and former Avs like Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy and Ray Bourque, just to name a few. There are a lot of great players who walked away healthy, on top of their game, legacy intact. Did they miss the game? Absolutely. But here’s a newsflash: Unless you draw your final breath right there in the locker room, you miss the game no matter WHEN the end comes. You’ll get over it.
Guess what? We will NEVER have to picture the image of John Elway hobbling around, wearing an ugly New York Jets uniform, throwing interceptions and ambling off the field, head down, looking like Jay Cutler (on a good day.) No, our lasting impression of Elway, Bourque, Strahan and others who did it right is of them being carried off the field, or better yet, leaving the field, trophy in one hand, with the other fist raised in celebration. As it should be.
Hopefully, as time passes, we will forget Forsberg ever tried to come back. We will remember him as Peter the Great, leading the Avs to a pair of Stanley Cups and being the toast of the town. In his time, he was a good as they came. It would have been better for everyone if he had realized ahead of time that his time had already passed.