10 Athletes Who’ve Tried to Make Comebacks in Smaller Leagues
Sometimes professional athletes just can’t walk away from the game they love, even if they that means seeking out a smaller stage to prove they still have some skills. Here are 10 athletes who’ve done just that — tried to come back by playing in a lesser league.
Currently in second place to Jerry Rice on the all-time receiving yards list, former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens will almost certainly be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame one day. However, even though no NFL team offered Owens a job in 2011, he still hasn’t retired. Instead, Owens, 38, is trying to show NFL teams that he can still play by dominating the Indoor Football League. Owens scored three touchdowns in his recent debut for the Allen Wranglers.
Since leaving the major leagues in 2001, Jose Canseco has been anything but retired. After forays into boxing, mixed martial arts and reality TV, Canseco, 47, is back in professional baseball as an outfielder/designated hitter for the Quintana Roo Tigers of the Mexican League. In the past decade, Canseco has often played with independent league teams such as the San Diego Surf Dawgs, Long Beach Armada, Laredo Broncos and Yuma Scorpions.
After starting his career in the Canadian Football League, quarterback Jeff Garcia played with six NFL teams from 1999-2009. After being cut during his second stint with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009, Garcia played with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League in 2010. In December of 2011, Garcia, 41, was signed by the Houston Texans after quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart both suffered season-ending injuries.
After a very successful NBA career that lasted from 1996 until 2010, former NBA most valuable player Allen Iverson could not find a team to sign him for the 2010-11 season. Iverson opted to play with Besiktas Cola Turka in the Turkish Basketball League, but he was never re-signed by an NBA team afterward.
After a mediocre early career with the Toronto Blue Jays, Cecil Fielder found himself without a major league team in 1988. Fielder, then 25 years old, signed with the Hanshin Tigers of the Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. He hit 38 home runs in Japan’s Central League in 1989. Fielder returned to MLB with the Detroit Tigers in 1990 and cracked 51 home runs.
Recently-retired running back Ricky Williams played 11 seasons in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens. While with the Dolphins in 2006, Williams was suspended from the league because of his fourth violation of the NFL’s drug policy. Just 29 years old at the time, Williams opted to keep his skills sharp by signing with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. The Dolphins allowed Williams to play in the CFL with the understanding that he would return to Miami when his suspension was lifted. Williams was reinstated to the NFL in October of 2007.
Baseball Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson played for parts of 25 major league seasons, yet the all-time leader in stolen bases and runs wasn’t sure he was finished when he played his last big league game in 2003. Henderson played with the Newark Bears in the minors in the spring of 2004 and with the San Diego Surf Dawgs of the independent Golden Baseball League in 2005. Henderson finally retired in 2007.
Former Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie played with the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots in the NFL from 1986-1989. Unable to land a starting quarterback job in the NFL in 1989, Flutie signed with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. Flutie played in the CFL from 1990-1997, also starting for the Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts. Flutie made his return to the NFL by signing with the Buffalo Bills in 1998, before going on to play with the San Diego Chargers and the Patriots for a second time.
Having played 26 seasons, former NHL defenseman Chris Chelios seemed like he could play hockey forever. Without an NHL job at age 47, Chelios signed consecutive 25-game contracts with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League in 2009 before latching on in the NHL again with the Atlanta Thrashers later in the 2009-10 season.
Once among the biggest pitching sensations in the history of Major League Baseball, Fernando Valenzuela starred for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1980-90. When he didn’t make the Detroit Tigers’ roster in the spring of 1992, Valenzuela played with Jalisco of the Mexican League, before eventually making a comeback with the Baltimore Orioles in 1993. Valenzuela spent time in both the Mexican League and MLB from 1994-1997, before retiring. From 2004-06, Valenzuela again pitched in the Mexican Pacific Coast League and Mexican winter leagues, even though he was in his mid-40s.