We all love comeback stories. It’s understandable if not everybody in Atlanta is completely embracing the Michael Vick comeback story. But if Vick’s sudden ascent to starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting quarterback turns out to be not just an aberration for the rest of his NFL career, his return to the top will go down as one of the most remarkable comeback stories in sports history.
I would put Vick’s comeback as No. 4 all-time. You may put him higher, or lower, or not at all. But here are my top 5.
♦ 1. Muhammad Ali: He was the heavyweight champion when being the heavyweight champion meant something. But he was stripped of his title after refusing induction into the army in 1967 because, as he said, “I ain’t got no quarrel against no Viet Cong.” When Ali returned to the ring three years and seven months later in Atlanta, he
dropped Jerry Quarry in three rounds and eventually regained the WBA and WBC championship by knocking out George Foreman.
♦ 2. Ted Williams: He hit .327, .344, .406 and .356 in his first four major league seasons. Then he left after the 1942 season to fly as a fighter pilot in World War II, came back in 1946 and won his first of two MVP awards and the Triple Crown in 1947. He left again to fight in the Korean War, came back and immediately became an All-Star.
♦ 3. Mario Lemieux: The former Pittsburgh Penguins great took a year off (his first exit). He came back from radiation treatments and surgery for Hodgkin’s lymphoma (as well as two back surgeries). He “retired” for the first time in 1997 – despite winning the scoring title that year with a 50-goal, 122-point season. Three and a half years later, he decided to come back and had an immediate impact: 35 goals and 76 points in only 43 games in the 2000-01 season. He had a goal and two assists in his first game back.
♦ 4. Michael Vick: No athlete lost more than Vick when he went to prison, and I’m including Mike Tyson, when you take into account NFL salary, off-the-field income, career stature and personal stature. Vick’s wounds obviously were self-inflicted, but that
makes his return to starter even more impressive because it shows he has matured and overcome personal demons.
♦ 5. Ben Hogan: Last April, Tiger Woods compared his comeback from a sex scandal to Hogan’s comeback from nearly dying in a car crash. Woods didn’t put his foot in his mouth, he put an entire shoe store in his mouth. Hogan, like Williams, missed two years on the PGA Tour to serve in War World II. But his most stunning return followed a head-on car collision with a bus in Texas in 1949. He suffered a fractured collar bone, double-fracture of the pelvis, fractures in his ankle and ribs and near-fatal blood clots. He spent two months in the hospital. Then he returned and won two Masters, three U.S. Opens and the British Open between 1950 and 1953.
You’ll notice I’m not including athletes who come back from normal sports injuries. Others high on my list included: George Foreman (boxing), Dara Torres (swimming), Michael Jordan (basketball) and Gordie Howe (hockey).
So where would you rank Vick’s ascent back to starter?
SACK SCHULTZ: I’ll have an update on my slow climb to No. 1 later this week. Meanwhile, there’s still time to join the fun. Click here for more info on the weekly college football picks contest and then sign up at ajc.com/go/sack-schultz.
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