Sports’ 5 most remarkable comebacks (and Vick makes list)

Michael vick is a starter once again.

Michael vick is a starter once again.

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

Muhammad Ali: Scored a TKO over Jerry Quarry after a 3 1/2-year absence.

Muhammad Ali: Stopped Jerry Quarry after a 3 1/2-year absence.

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.

Ted Williams: Fighter pilot in World War II and Korea.

Ted Williams: Fighter pilot in World War II and Korea.

♦ 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

Mario Lemieux scored in his first game back.

Mario Lemieux scored in his first game back.

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?

LogoGrass_652173aSACK 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

Last few posts, on demand

Richt not worried about Georgia players being in funk (yet)

McGarity still calm amid storm, expresses confidence in Richt

Braves’ biggest problem may be Rockies, not Phillies

Matt Ryan overcomes hellish week (not that he noticed)

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and

222 comments Add your comment


September 21st, 2010
11:51 pm

Schultzie, I can’t give Vick credit for this. Maybe it’s a moral stand or maybe I’m still just angry for how he chose to take such risks with a franchise and a city so dependent on him — hell, maybe I just don’t think it’s that impressive [certainly not as impressive as the other four mentioned] — but I still look at Mike Vick and think disappointment.

I do wish him well in life and pursuing his own versions of happiness, but I don’t want him on such an inspirational list just yet.


September 21st, 2010
11:54 pm

I’d put Williams Number One on the list.

Firstly, no athlete would ever do such a thing ever again, especially after Pat Tillman.

Secondly, this is criminally underreported, but Williams was an even better pilot than he was a ballplayer. One of the most decorated pilots in Marine Corps history, Ted Williams shot down more enemy fighters than ANYONE in Marine Corps history during his service in WWII and Korea.

Ted Williams is an American Hero, deserving of the top spot on this list. And not deserving sharing any kind of space with a sociopathic dog killer (or the unfortunate way his wayward son decided to desecrate his remains).


September 22nd, 2010
12:09 am

I’m sick of all of this. Vick was brought up in a bad neighborhood where he probably saw and did things much worse than dog fighting. I love dogs and currently have 4 of them. If everyone is so high and mighty on their high horses on morality to forgive a man who has lost 2 years of his life. Then you must be perfect and have never asked for forgiveness before. Dante Stallworth killed a HUMAN after drinking and driving but no one seems to care. Some countries eat dogs like China, Vietnam, and a few others should we declare war on them?. The guy has changed and is probably the most influential person in the world in regards to eliminating dog fighting. So chill out and let the man enjoy what he has accomplished.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Asheville Dawg

September 22nd, 2010
12:11 am

I agree that Ted Williams military record, going to two different wars (WWII and Korea) is one of the most amazing comebacks ever. Losing three years to WWII and another several years for Korea we can only where he would have ranked on several baseball all time lists. Take home runs, he hit 521, six seasons in the military, had he played hitting 30 hr’s would have wound up with 700 HR’s. And 30 a year would have been conservative.


September 22nd, 2010
12:14 am

Actually, Ted Williams never achieved the rank of ace (five kills in air-to-air combat). In fact, in World War II, he trained Marine Corps pilots and
However, for the Korean War, he was pressed back into duty (and begrudgingly so) and saw active combat in the skies over the Korean peninsula. His wingman? John Glenn.
The leading Marine Corps ace, for years, was Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, who inspired the TV show “Black Sheep Squadron” with Robert Conrad.
But Williams did contract malaria while in service and it took him years to recover, not to mention the fractured elbow he incurred when back with the Red Sox.
Vick’s image certainly has been restored. But his capabilities as a player never slipped away as was feared with the others. Who knew what Ali would do after three years of rust, or Lemieux after cancer?
How about Jim Eisenreich’s comeback from Tourette’s? A top prospect whose career was derailed and returned to be a solid major leaguer? Or reigning Cy Young Zack Greinke, who almost quit over his anxiety disorder?
I’d rate them ahead of Vick. Vick, by all appearances, has seen the errors of his ways and has been a good teammate (he said all the right things after Kolb was initially handed the starting job again).

Sports Review

September 22nd, 2010
12:15 am

[...] name Michael Vick starting QB, bench Kevin KolbUSA TodayNew York Daily News (blog) -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) -Tampabay.comall 3,241 news [...]


September 22nd, 2010
12:18 am

When I was a kid growing up my dog was a beagle. Beagles are wonderful friendly dogs. Remember Ono, who won the Westminister Dog Show a few years ago. When Mike Vick’s fighting dog training facility in Virginia was raided a number of beagles were recovered. Because beagles are very gentle dogs they are used by dog fighters to “blood” their fighting dogs. What Mike Vick did was despicible.

However, he was tried, convicted, and served his time. The NFL choose to reinstate him and the Eagles choose to sign him. They got more then they bargined for. Mike Vick, by all accounts, has changed his ways. Too bad for the Falcons and Atlanta he wasn’t this Mike Vick when he was here. Te Eagles have named him their starting quarterback. If Mike Vick plays like he has the past game and a half he will keep the job over the Eagle’s high draft choice anointed starter. In some ways I still despise Mike Vick, but he has earned his second chance. I wish him well and hope he suceeds with the Eagles. Except against the Falcons, of course.;


September 22nd, 2010
12:20 am

I meant to add “and he did not see combat in World War II.”

Sorry UGABugkiller, but that is a myth about Williams’ record as a combat pilot. It belongs in the same heap that Mr. Rogers’ sweater covered up his tattoos from his service as a Marine (Fred Rogers was an Episcopalian minister and did not serve) or that Capt. Kangaroo (Bob Keesham) was on Iwo Jima (he was a reservist following World War II).
But Lee Marvin was wounded on Saipan and Eddie Albert (of “Green Acres” fame) won the Navy Cross at Tarawa. Saved dozens of guys who were wounded and floating in the lagoon by getting a barge full of fuel and on fire out of harm’s way.
Back to the original point — Williams sacrificed some prime years of his baseball career. Many major leaguers did (re: Hank Greenberg, for one, and Bob Feller, for another) in World War II. Far, far fewer did so for the Korean War.


September 22nd, 2010
12:24 am

FWIW, Boyington had 26 “kills”, same as Eddie Rickenbacker, leading American ace of World War I.
The all-time American ace is Richard Bong, who shot down 40 Japanese planes in the Pacific Theater in World War II. Killed in a training crash in 1945 before the end of the war.


September 22nd, 2010
12:26 am

I would think Josh Hamilton deserves a spot on the list. His comeback was more remarkable then Vick’s.

Reid Adair

September 22nd, 2010
12:41 am

Like someone else mentioned, I’m not sure Michael Vick has done what the other four on the list did. Time will tell, though.

I agree with you about Tiger Woods comparing himself to Ben Hogan. That was pretty pathetic.


September 22nd, 2010
12:59 am

Just to see Michael Vick in a list with Ted Williams and Muhammad Ali makes me sick. Are you trying to get a resume bump for your dream job at the National Enquirer? Ali and Williams are true heroes that gave something to history and helped better society as a whole. To put Vick in their company is an insult. To the Vick supporters that seem to defend him ad nauseum, I will honor your argument when Vick actually does something deserving of honor. So far he has shown that he has the ability to lose millions of dollars funding a criminal activity and he has the the mentality of a sociopath. If that is something that should be applauded, then I feel sorry for all of you. I do not think he should not have a second chance. But being in a list with ALI! Jesus Wept.

Najeh Davenpoop

September 22nd, 2010
1:04 am

Of course there are going to be people who miss the point of this article and assume that Schultz is saying what Vick did is as great as what those other guys did. But if you look at what the article is actually trying to say — that Vick’s comeback was as improbable and unexpected as those other guys — then the article makes a valid point.

Ted Striker

September 22nd, 2010
1:21 am

Great list, Jeff. Wouldn’t argue against any of them in the top 5, although I wouldn’t rank Ali first. Also wouldn’t quibble over the inclusion of Lance Armstrong who won 7 Tour de France titles — AFTER being diagnosed with cancer — and retiring for treatment. Wouldn’t debate against Magic Johnson making the list either.

One guy I’d like to have seen make the list? Barry Sanders.

Ted Striker

September 22nd, 2010
1:34 am

If there were a “lifetime achievement Atlanta Falcons comeback/ironman award”, it ought to go to Brian Finneran. The guy had practically no chance of making the team in the first place. And the chances of him still being here?

Finn had already been cut from the practice squad/offseason roster of two other NFL teams after going undrafted.

Where was he? Barcelona Dragons in Europe when the 3-10 (Taylor Smith owned) Falcons inked him to a practice squad offer.

What odds would bookies have given someone in December 1999 on only ONE (1) Falcons player from the 1999 team being on the roster in Sept 2010…….and that player being [then] practice-squad member Brian Finneran?


September 22nd, 2010
1:37 am

I’m happy for Vick that he turned things around, but his comeback pales in comparison to Hogans or Lance Armstrong. They came back from near fatal disease and injury. Vick pumped iron in prison while waiting for his chance to come back.

Matt the Brave

September 22nd, 2010
1:56 am

I agree with you on all counts except Vick, but not necessarily for the reasons that most will say. I would have to see a lot more of his new body of work to rank him as high as with the other four in the top. Yes, he did miss excessive amounts of time because of his own poor mistakes. However, if you notice your own comments, the others were able to win championships of all sorts when they came back. As a historian, he must be the leader of a team that wins multiple Super Bowls (and also do an Herculean amount of charity work) to be listed that high.

I would also point out to the people out in la-la land that you intended the first comeback for Jordan after he played baseball, not his ill-fated decision to play for the Wizards. Ug. I wonder if he still has nightmares about those teams…


September 22nd, 2010
2:32 am

George Foreman is the best comeback story, bar none. After getting beat by Ali in Zaire, he went into obscurity. To come back and win the heavyweight championship at 45 is remarkable. Others who had comebacks were still in their prime or were still at a good age, while former would be way pass his prime at 45 in any sport.


September 22nd, 2010
3:50 am

Really should be a Top 10 list…
Pre dates all of us now…
Grover Cleveland Alexander… Hall of Fame Pitcher (188 wins in 6 seasons including 3 straight 30 plus win seasons) when he was drafted into WWI army and suffered from shell shock (PTSD) and hit the bottle to the point that he was having seizures and became a full blown alcoholic! Was still being a functioning black out drunk, “Alexander the Great” would go on to post 209 more wins including 27 wins in 1920. Seven years later later at age 40, he won 21 games (pitching 22 complete games). There is more to the story especially his amazing feat of shutting down the Yankees “Murders Row” lineup in the 1926 World Series while in the midst of a drunken state.

And on another note… BugKiller, BugKiller, BugKiller… (Enough said already, it is just sad!)

[...] of Baggage, Best Man for the -San Francisco Chronicle -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 3,342 news [...]


September 22nd, 2010
4:19 am

And hopefully one day you’ll do a list with non-traditional sports (in the American view)…
Abebe Bikila’s feat of winning his 2nd Olympic marathon gold in Tokyo 36 days after having a emergency appendectomy (major surgery at that time). He went as far as jogging around the hospital courtyard with an IV bottle hanging on a stand as he trained.

In the greatest feat, Joan Benoit-Samuelson victory in the first Olympic womens marathon. 3 years earlier she had shredded her Achilles tendon (at a time when the injury could be career ending). Less than 2 years later, she ran a course 2:22 marathon victory at Boston (a record that stood for 11 years). Then 17 days before the 1984 Olympic trials Joan tore a tendon in her knee. She had arthroscopic surgery (in its infancy) and went to win the race. She then went on to win the Olympics leading from wire-to-wire in oppressive heat and smog. Amazing!


September 22nd, 2010
4:42 am

Also I would remissed not to mention the 2 greatest stories of people overcoming physical obstacles. “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias who had full blown colon cancer and came back from the butcher surgery performed on her to win on the Women golf tour. Followed by Wilma Rudolph, she overcame childhood polio and wearing 30 pounds of metal on her legs to become an Olympic champion and legend…
I don’t care what most of you think of women, those astonishing feats.


September 22nd, 2010
4:48 am



September 22nd, 2010
4:50 am

By the way, to Bug Killer, look up the name Tim James…Sometimes you just talk too much for your own good!

Dr. Warren

September 22nd, 2010
4:52 am

Despite the need to mass-produce blogs to satisfy the Web-crazed, sports-crazed public, isn’t it still premature to call this an all-time great comeback? One and a half games don’t even really equal a comeback yet, much less the 4th best all-time.


September 22nd, 2010
5:15 am

@ DW…
He said has the potential to be, not that it was!

Najeh Davenpoop

September 22nd, 2010
5:35 am

“If there were a “lifetime achievement Atlanta Falcons comeback/ironman award”, it ought to go to Brian Finneran. The guy had practically no chance of making the team in the first place. And the chances of him still being here? ”

Not to mention, he’s hands down the best wide receiver Michael Vick ever had.

Najeh Davenpoop

September 22nd, 2010
5:37 am

JSS, you’re like an encyclopedia dude.


September 22nd, 2010
5:58 am

@ Najeh…
And that as you pointed out many a times, that Finneran was his best is the true indictment of the Falcons. Finn is like the best he had, along with Crumpler. It is like the fool who buys a Ferrari and then goes and gets his tires from Lee’s Used Tires and your oil change from Jiffy Lube… You are asking for your investment to get to tore up! And the Reeves and Mora era was just that, tore up!


September 22nd, 2010
6:08 am

. . .”he put an entire shoe store in his mouth.” I almost snorted my Corn Flakes when I read that line. Thanks Jeff, U 2 phunny, Dude.

What about Bob Wickman coming to the Braves when he almost died after ingesting 17 bratwursts when he got word of the trade to Atlanta? O sorry, we shouldnt count that, ‘cuz he SUCKED when he got here. The comeback stories should reflect success on the playing field after the time kept away from it, no? My bad.


September 22nd, 2010
6:15 am

EW! EW, Mr. KOTTER!!! I got one!!! How about Jim Mora coming to the NFL broadcast booth AND TOTALLY SUCKING at it (complete with lame self-references too numerous to count) after getting fired by both the Falcons and the Seahawks for TOTALLY SUCKING as a head coach? I mean, the guy completely and totally sucked in both endeavors. It was an impressive display of suckage. His middle name should be Hoover.

One game...

September 22nd, 2010
6:28 am

…does not a ‘comeback’ make – can’t anyone in Atlanta stop talking about that guy…

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September 22nd, 2010
6:45 am

Utterly ridiculous!

How on earth anyone with more than a double digit IQ (Jeff, you do qualify for triple digits, correct?) could possibly award a guy given the name, Cassius Clay, by his parents and then changes it stupidly (did Clay even finish high school?) to be cool and different—worst of all, the most radical of all religions, a Muslim! Then this draft dodging slime ball refuses to fight for the same country that made him a millionaire.

As for this author, to rank a person as the number one comeback story who refused to fight beside his fellow citizens for the United States and took three years off from boxing (how many fights would he have missed…Three? Four?) so he could fight for the United States Dollar makes me want to absolutely puke! Worse, the sad irony of placing a superior athlete and loyal American, Ted Williams, beneath this traitor, and willingly did what the traitor refused to do, is beyond appalling. Even as a noted left coast liberal, Jeff, I’m appalled at your judgment.

As much as I disliked what Michael Vick did, I’d bet the mortgage that if his country came calling he would be there for his country, and although I do not think Michael Vick will become a Super Bowl caliber QB–he’s not smart enough or accurate enough to win consistently in the NFL–I will gladly applaud this young man if he has genuinely turned his life around and lives the American dream; you know, Jeff, that dream and privilege that all of those guys beneath the earth’s surface at Arlington and other military cemeteries around the globe who paid the ultimate price for people like you to worship and rank as your #1 comeback kid and traitor like Clay!


September 22nd, 2010
7:05 am


September 22nd, 2010
7:16 am

Okay so Vick plays well in 1 1/2 games of the 2010 NFL season and Bradley and Schultz feel compelled to write about Vick’s remarkable comeback to the Atlanta fan base. The same fan base that Vick’s irresponsible, childish, selfish and destructive actions (not just the dogfighting but obscene gestures and the water bottle incident , etc.) caused us much consternation, divisiveness, and disappointment. Do you really expect us to feel all warm and fuzzy for Michael Vick? Top 5 comebacks of all-time Schultz? Are you trying to audition for ESPN by heaping ridiculous hype on a situation unworthy of such status? Forgive me if I take note only of Vick’s stats in my fantasy league and yawn about the great comeback of Michael Vick.

Roy Barnes

September 22nd, 2010
7:27 am

Talk about a comeback fighter..Wait til I kick some Tea Party butt in November! Don’t worry folks..My new job program will have y’all back to work in January! There’s enough pinestraw raking the Georgia forests to keep all y’all busy and happy!


September 22nd, 2010
7:54 am

Winning one game against the Lions makes Vick one of the greatest comeback stories in sports history?

. . . . Viet Cong

September 22nd, 2010
7:55 am

” We ain’t got no quarrel against no Cassius Clay.”


September 22nd, 2010
7:59 am

Mike Vick’s football talent has never been questioned. His comeback in not remarkable, and in no way demonstrates some sort of increased maturity. He could be running and throwing with equal aplomb with or without having gone to prison.


September 22nd, 2010
8:02 am

Don’t know about this being one of the greatest comeback story; but it is defintely the second chance we all hope for in life. Vick is the best option in Philly. I just hope he relishes this opportunity more than what did here with the Falcon’s.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

September 22nd, 2010
8:06 am

i would add the LB kid from Boston College in there too. Coming back to play after bone cancer treatment and smacking folks around. the difference between vick and the other athletes is that none of them went to prison. only time will tell for vick.

Boise Dawg

September 22nd, 2010
8:14 am

I wish Vick all the best, but I think it is a little quick to put him on a top 5 all time comeback list. He missed two seasons, but didn’t have to deal with coming back from a major injury or disease, so I don’t find it that suprising that his skill level is still there. Hard to believe Lance Armstrong doesn’t make this list…. or even consideration. Did you forget? Not think he is worthy? If the doping allegations bother you then I would say the same for Torres.


September 22nd, 2010
8:17 am


I am sorry but there is no way that Hogan was number 5. The man was basically lucky to walk and then dominated his sport. No one has beaten an injury into submission that badly. He like Lemieux on this list had to work hard and beat long odds to return. A true comeback.

Mike Vick, Ted Williams, and Muhammad Ali didn’t comeback from anything they just resumed work. All of them were healthy and still solid atheletes with external complications. I guess it was a remarkable thing to see them compete again which is how you are defining comeback. In that case I nominate Manute Bol and Gordie Howe for their old people ice hockey comebacks.


September 22nd, 2010
8:19 am

Vick’s comeback was about as improbable as Corey Dillon’s was on the Patriots.


September 22nd, 2010
8:21 am

Too soon. Wish him the best though, and must admit I keep hoping the philly games will start at a different time than the falcons games – ’starship 7′ is must-see-tv right now for this football fan.


September 22nd, 2010
8:36 am

I keep remembering, before Vick went to prison, saying, “I will redeem myself. I have to.”

I think he has.

PJ for Governor

September 22nd, 2010
8:37 am

VICK SHOULD STILL BE IN JAIL. Unfortunately none of the dogs he slaughtered and abused will make “remarkable comebacks”. I’d like five minutes alone with this dirt back with no repurcussions. VICK, MAY YOU SUFFER A CAREER ENDING INJURY AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AND MAY YOU, YOUR FRIENDS, AND RELATIVES ALL DIE PAINFUL DEATHS.


September 22nd, 2010
8:44 am

Being a patriot, I would put Hogan and Williams on top, for their voluntary service to their country. Ali basically spit in the face of his country.