On a fall afternoon in 1973, I remember watching my home town Washington Redskins do battle with the San Diego Chargers. I was only 12 years old at the time, but the image of Johnny Unitas, struggling to stay upright, and fully embarrassing himself at the helm of the Chargers offense will always be etched in my mind. I was too young to remember Unitas in his glory years, but recall my father telling me how great he was as the leader of the Baltimore Colts. I was a little sad, and was left to ponder why someone would extend their playing career past their ability to compete. Thankfully he retired after that season. Unitas was 40 years old.
For athletes who’ve competed from adolescence through the present day, the hardest thing for them in life is to know when to quit. Usually the deterioration in capacity is gradual, with the mind remaining sharp as the physical skills slowly atrophy. Derek Jeter comes to mind, with his retirement feeling timely and right.
For the last two years, I’ve been watching the Tiger Woods saga and pontificating about his decline in performance and how his chances of catching Jack Nicklaus were nill, and how maintaining this charade of injury and comeback attempts was no longer continuing to the betterment of the professional game. We all know that golf is a unique sport in which players can compete at the elite levels for longer because the physical demands are not the same as other professional sports. However, Tiger’s performance at The Farmers was Johnny U. He’s clearly done from a physical standpoint and should retire before the embarrassment gets worse. We can hold on to the greatness of the Tiger memories, but too much time in the gym, too much Navy Seal training, and too much repetitive stress on his back and legs has taken its final toll. I actually believe he is capable of recovering from his mental foibles, but his body is sending a clear message. It is time.
Do we continue with the false hope that he’ll somehow recover the old magic, or is it time to take his seat in the booth next to Jim and Sir Nick? How do you see it?