Can't stay away: Armstrong latest athlete to return to sport they love

02/12/2009 1:26 AM

02/12/2009 3:55 PM

Sports is about comebacks -- rallying to take a lead, storming back in the final minutes or overcoming all odds.

But it's the comeback of an individual that especially tantalizes the senses of teammates, fans and those who suddenly become fans. Be it injury, illness, burnout, retirement or the Vietnam War, sports has offered a host of comeback kings who returned to their craft with a degree of success, inspirational or otherwise.

Beginning this weekend, the Tour of California will include one of the biggest comebacks in sports history: Lance Armstrong, who retired in 2005 after winning his seventh consecutive Tour de France, has returned to competitive cycling.

Armstrong's comeback, which hits American soil for the first time with the Tour of California prologue Saturday, brings up a host of comeback stories. Today we look at 10 of them. Some were legendary. Some were forgettable.

Muhammad Ali

Sport: Boxing

The comeback: Before he was truly great, he was stripped of his heavyweight championship in 1967 for refusing induction into the Army to fight in Vietnam. In 1971, the Supreme Court reversed Ali's conviction, and the boxer roared back to fame.

Lance Armstrong

Sport: Cycling

The comeback: Armstrong is attempting his second comeback now, but it won't be nearly as stirring as his first. Amid his climb to cycling success, Armstrong in 1996 was slowed by testicular cancer that metastasized to his brain, abdomen and lungs. He recovered and peeled off seven consecutive Tour de France titles.

Tedy Bruschi

Sport: Pro football

The comeback: Days after playing in the 2005 Pro Bowl, the linebacker suffered a stroke. He rejoined the New England Patriots midway through the 2005 season and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

Jennifer Capriati

Sport: Tennis

The comeback: Capriati went from Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to having jail booking pictures taken for shoplifting in 1993. After 15 months away and a steady climb back, she won her first tournament title in six years in 1999. Capriati won the 2001 Australian Open and collected her third Grand Slam title in 2002.

Ben Hogan

Sport: Golf

The comeback: Hogan was nearly crushed to death in 1949, when his car collided head-on with a bus. He suffered multiple broken bones and lifelong circulation problems. Doctors told him he'd never golf again. In 1953, Hogan had the "Hogan Slam" season when he won five of six tournaments, including three majors.

George Foreman

Sport: Boxing

The comeback: During his first title tour as a heavyweight, he was as surly as he was ferocious. After ending a 10-year retirement in 1987, Foreman impressed in a 12-round rumble with champion Evander Holyfield in 1991. In 1994, he beat Michael Moorer to become the oldest champion, at 45.

Tommy John

Sport: Baseball

The comeback: An ace pitcher well before his name became synonymous with major arm surgery, John was rolling along with a 13-3 season in 1974 with the Dodgers when he ruptured the main ligament in his pitching arm, thus leading to a new medical procedure. A tendon from John's right forearm replaced the damaged one. He spent the 1975 season rehabilitating, then returned to win 164 more games.

Magic Johnson

Sport: Pro basketball

The comeback: Sports nuts remember the 1991 afternoon when Johnson announced he was stepping away from the NBA because of HIV. The Los Angeles Lakers star returned for the 1992 All-Star Game, of which he was the MVP. In 1996, Johnson came back and played 32 games with the Lakers, then called it quits for good because of concerns from NBA players who didn't want to play against someone with HIV.

Michael Jordan

Sport: Pro basketball

The comeback: Jordan steered the Chicago Bulls to a three-peat NBA championship romp before his stunning retirement in 1993, citing the loss of his father and a loss of desire to compete. He returned to the Bulls and keyed another championship three-peat. Never mind the next comeback, to play with the Wizards. The first one made him a legend.

Mario Lemieux

Sport: Pro hockey

The comeback: Lemieux was on his way to an all-time NHL season in 1992-93 when he stunningly announced that he had Hodgkin's lymphoma. Lemieux missed two months of action. On the day of his last radiation treatment, he had a goal and an assist, and finished the season strong. Lemieux also sat out the 1994-95 season to rest before resuming his Hall of Fame career.

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