The Denver Broncos sent QB John Elway out of football on a Mile High by winning a second straight Super Bowl in 1998. That seems to be remembered as the gold standard for going out on top. At least for football. Michael Jordan has it for basketball and perhaps all sports, ending his career with a game-winning shot and 6th title for the Bulls. Uh, wait. What is that? He came back??? The Wizards? Seriously? Oh. Well. Never mind then. Elway it is.
Ray Lewis has too many enemies (fairly or unfairly) to surpass Elway as the face of going out on top, but he certainly can join him in that rarefied air of an all-time great playing and winning his final game in the Super Bowl.
Oh yes, there are more.
You old timers would recall the great Otto Graham. He finished a HOF career with his seventh championship in 1955 at the age of 34. The quarterback accounted for 4 touchdowns (2 throwing, 2 rushing) in leading Cleveland to a 38-14 victory. The craziest part? It was actually the second straight season he retired! He decided to call it a career after winning it all the year before, but changed his mind and came back…and did it again! Yes, it was before the age of Super Bowls, but it counts.
Ask your dad about CB Mel Renfro. He spent all 14 years of his career with Dallas, and the Hall of Famer went out on top in winning Super Bowl XII.
One of the original Hogs, HOF G Russ Grimm finished in style with the Redskins, winning his 4th Super Bowl, by beating Buffalo 37-24 in XXVI.
Gary Zimmerman, a HOF OT for the Vikings and Broncos, only played in one Super Bowl, but it was his final game, and a win over the Packers. This one’s for John was yelled out by Denver owner Pat Bowlen after the game, but Zimmerman was happy to go out on top in his last game.
Jerome Bettis was more short bus than Winnebago at the end of his career, playing caddie to “Fast” Willie Parker, but not only won his final game and only Super Bowl, but did it in his home town of Detroit, as his Steelers beat the Seahawks 21-10. Bettis is the 6th leading rusher in NFL history and a finalist for the Pro Football HOF.
And lastly, and most recently, Michael Strahan was a major factor in the Giants stunning upset of 18-0 New England in the Super Bowl. The defensive end is on the HOF ballot for the first time this year.
*I will make note here, that 49ers WR Randy Moss says he plans on playing next year, but if this is his last game, even if it isn’t by choice, he certainly has the HOF credentials to grace this list.
So Ray Lewis would join that impressive list of players playing and winning their final game, in the final game of the season. Of course, there are others that haven’t been so lucky.
HOF TE Jackie Smith was nothing close to his HOF-self in his final season with the Cowboys, but got to play in his only Super Bowl that year. You might recall Super Bowl XIII, “Bless his heart, he’s got to be the sickest man in America,” uttered by Verne Lundquist after he dropped a wide-open touchdown in the 35-31 loss. Talk about a bitter pill to swallow.
Lewis leads the NFL playoffs in tackles, and although is clearly not the same impact player he was earlier in his career, will be in the middle of whatever Baltimore is able to do, win or lose this week.