Robert Griffin III
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The life of a scrambling quarterback can be volatile. Most coaches would prefer that their prized possession stay out of harm’s way. With that said, there are instances where teams have stellar athletes at the quarterback position. Griffin dazzled during his rookie year with the Redskins. His track speed was buoyed by a strong and accurate throwing arm.
The former Baylor QB had the Redskins in the playoffs in Year 1, and was perceived to serve as the team’s franchise player for years to come. One knee injury later, and Griffin was zapped of his athleticism and confidence. He’s struggled to ever fully-regain a starting job since, and has been on and off the disabled list for the majority of his career.
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Hockey by nature is a tough and rugged sport. Injuries are a part of the game — particularly when it comes to concussions. Savard is one of the most infamous stories of a player riddled by head injuries over his career. It eventually led to his retirement.
The former Boston Bruin had really come into his own as a professional towards the latter part of his 20s. From 2006-2009, Savard scored 359 points in 320 games (missing just eight games in the process). In 2011, Savard was forced to retire due to the effects of a concussion sustained the year prior. It’s relieving to know Savard exited the sport before any more damage could be caused to his brain. However, every hockey fan wishes he would have been able to retire on his own terms.
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The Patriots haven’t always been the most fortuitous organization. The franchise currently with six Super Bowl rings was an up-and-coming team in 1998. Edwards looked to be the team’s long-term solution at running back. The Georgia product rushed for an impressive 1,115 yards during his rookie year.
Edwards’ potential was promising, but a freak injury would cut his career short. Playing in a flag football game during the NFL Pro Bowl, Edwards leaped for a catch and hyperextended his knee. He wouldn’t play another NFL down until 2002 with the Miami Dolphins. After a strong rookie season, Edwards rushed for just 107 more yards in his career before hanging his cleats up for good.
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No NBA franchise has been more riddled with the injury bug than the Portland Trail Blazers. There are a few other Blazers on this list, but we’ll kick off their woes with a guy who would be a perfect fit in today’s NBA. Roy was an offensive juggernaut in his heyday. The versatile combo guard had no discernible weakness in his game. He could shoot from range, get to the foul line, and set up his teammates.
Minor injuries hampered Roy’s early career, but that didn’t stop him from making three All-Star games and an All-NBA Second Team in 2009. In April of 2010, just eight months after signing a four-year deal worth the max, Roy suffered a meniscus tear. The proceeding three years consisted of major rehabilitation for the former Washington Husky. After making a brief return with the Timberwolves in 2013, Roy’s career was done after just 326 games.
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In the early 2000s, Williams was one of the most electric basketball players on the planet. Selected the pick after Yao Ming, Williams went second overall to the Chicago Bulls in the 2003 NBA Draft. Williams would go to have an up-and-down rookie season with the Bulls (which included earning entry to the All-Rookie Second Team). Sadly, he never appeared in another NBA game after this campaign.
In 2003, Williams was involved in a collision while riding his motorcycle. His career was over before it ever got going, and Williams has since written a book about his life leading up to and post-injury.
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The running back position is painfully cruel to its users. With one bad cut or one awkward tackle, even the most talented of backs can suffer majorly debilitating injuries. At 5-foot-11, 230 pounds, the bruising Campbell was built like a tank. He began his career with four straight seasons of at least 1,300 yards and 10+ touchdowns.
By the age of 30, Campbell was out of the league, citing the punishment and ailments he suffered after taking 2,187 career carries as the major factor.
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In a league filled with giant humans, Ming stood tall above the rest. The 7-foot-6 center was selected with the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets out of Shanghai. Ming was an international superstar, beloved by both his home country and domestic NBA fans.
Although many believed he was ‘too’ big to be successful in the league, Ming silenced the critics by putting together a quality seven-year career in which he averaged 19.0 points and 9.2 rebounds. Eventually though, Ming’s sheer size weighed on him. He was forced to miss nearly the entirety of the 2011 season with a foot injury. A third fracture of his left foot led to his retirement at the age of 30.
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Playing in an era that featured legendary guards like Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson, and Ray Allen, it could be argued McGrady was the most talented of the lot. He had everything. At 6-foot-9, McGrady could handle the ball like a guard but had the length of wing. At his peak, he was virtually unguardable on the offensive end, and was an underrated defensive player to boot.
His best year came in 2003 as a 23-year-old. McGrady averaged 32.1 points per game, and made the All-NBA First Team alongside Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.
By the time he was 30, he was averaging just 8 points per game. For context purposes, Stephen Curry just finished his age-30 season, and averaged just under 28 points per game. McGrady never once played all 82 games in a season, and was essentially forced to retire due to the multiple injuries he sustained to his back by the age of 32.
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Sayers was as electric of a ball carrier the football world has ever seen. The brash Chicago back would often say about himself “Give me 18 inches of daylight, that’s all I need” — meaning Sayers needed the slightest sliver of an opening to burst out into the open field. His quickness and ability to make players miss was akin to a player like Barry Sanders.
In Sayers’ rookie year, he scored an NFL-record of 22 touchdowns and gained 2,272 all-purpose yards. The next season, Sayers won the rushing title with 1,231 yards on the ground. Unfortunately in 1968 (just one week after Sayers enjoyed the best game of his career), Sayers went down with an ACL, MCL, and meniscus tear.
The road back to the league was tough for Sayers, but he did return and lead the league in rushing once more. However, following an injury to his other knee, Sayers was forced to call it quits after playing in just 68 NFL games.
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The ’92 and ’93 drafts will live on forever in the annals of the Orlando Magic. It was in those consecutive drafts that the Magic acquired the two stars who were expected to deliver the city an NBA Championship: Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. Both players were anomalies, but we all know how O’Neal’s career turned out (four-time NBA Champion, of course). Hardaway’s career arc was a bit more tragic.
The 6-foot-7 point guard was often compared to Magic Johnson — only a better athlete. A four-time All-Star from 1995-98, Hardaway was riddled with knee injuries. From his age-25 season up until he was 29, Hardaway never played in more than 60 games in a single year. He remained a serviceable point guard for most of his career, but never realized his full potential as a star.
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Sharpe often goes by the wayside when discussing great receivers of his era. Part of that can be attributed to Sharpe only playing seven years in the league. In 112 career games, Sharpe collected 595 receptions, 8,134 receiving yards, and 65 touchdowns.
In 1992 — Green Bay’s first year with Hall of Famer Brett Favre at the helm — Sharpe set the record for the most receptions in a single season (108). He broke the record the very next year when he caught 112 passes. The following year, he set a career-high for touchdowns with 18 scores — the second-most for a single season in league history at the time.
A neck injury cut his year and career short, leaving us wondering what could have been if Sharpe and Favre had another half-decade together.
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Stokes appeared on track to becoming one of the all-time greats. The former Cincinnati Royals No. 2 overall draft pick was named Rookie of the Year after averaging 16.3 rebounds per game in his inaugural year. During his short stint in the league (1955-1958), Stokes hauled in more rebounds than any player (3,492). He also recorded the second-most assists behind only Bob Cousy (1,583).
Stokes’ career was cut short when he suffered a fall on the court during a game in 1958. Stokes struck his head on the hardwood, and complained about feeling ill a few days later. He later suffered a seizure leaving him fully paralyzed from the neck down. There’s no telling the kind of player Stokes could have become had it not been for his tragic accident.
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The Massachusetts born and bred Conigliaro debuted for his hometown Boston Red Sox in 1964, and immediately made an impact on the diamond. Conigliaro posted a .276 batting average through his first four years in the majors, led the league in homers (32) in 1965, and became the youngest ever player to reach 100 career home runs.
His blossoming career came to a screeching halt during a game in 1967 when the outfielder took a fastball on a cheekbone. Given the lack of advancement in helmets at the time, Conigliaro’s face was exposed, and it led to him losing almost all eyesight in his left retina. At one point, he looked poised to become one of the greatest Red Sox hitters ever. The next moment, it was gone.
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The Trail Blazers will never live down selecting the oft-injured Oden over Kevin Durant in the 2007 NBA Draft. However, at the time, it wasn’t all that ridiculous of a move. Oden was dominant during his lone season at Ohio State. He displayed elite defensive ability, and a soft touch around the rim.
After being forced to miss the entire 2008 season, Oden made his debut and enjoyed a solid — yet underwhelming — rookie year. He would go on to play just 105 games over a six-year span. Over the course of his career, Oden dealt with tears to both of his knees, a chipped knee cap, and a fractured patella. At one point considered a sure-fire All-Star caliber center, Oden has been denied of several comeback attempts since his retirement.
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With Michael Jordan slowly approaching the end of his career, the NBA so direly yearned for the next great guard to take his place. The 1994 NBA Draft delivered the aforementioned Hardaway, and 1995 brought us Hill.
Hill wasted no time in establishing himself as one of the best all-around players in the league. To kick off his career, Hill made six consecutive All-Star teams. After the 2000 season, it all went downhill. Hill appeared in just 47 games from the 2001-04.
Towards the latter part of his career, Hill developed into a reliable spot-up shooter. However, Hill’s explosiveness was shot. He never made an All-NBA team after the 2000 season. In the process, we are left wondering as to what could have been for the former Duke star.
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Connolly dominated women’s tennis during a playing career which only lasted from 1951-1954. At the 1951 U.S. Championships, Connolly became the youngest ever winner when she defeated Shirley Fry at the age of 16. She went on to have one of the greatest four-year runs — man or woman — in the history of the sport.
By 1952, she was the top-ranked player in the world…and hadn’t even turned professional yet. By the end of her run, Connolly had won nine Grand Slam titles — including three consecutive victories at Wimbledon. Just two weeks after her third Wimbledon title, Connolly suffered an accident while horseback riding in her hometown of San Diego. The injury she sustained to her fibula effectively ended her career at just 19 years of age.
Ken Griffey Jr.
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Had it not been for Griffey’s nagging hamstring injuries, we might be talking about him as the greatest player of all-time. ‘The Kid’ was a teenage phenom from the jump, as he made eleven-straight All-Star appearances to start his career.
In 1997. Griffey secured his first and only MVP trophy. That same year, he helped in leading the Seattle Mariners to a 90-win season. The three-year run that extended from the 1997 season until 1999 — before he was shipped to Cincinnati — was the only stretch of Griffey’s career when he could stay healthy. Had he been able to stay on the field consistently, Griffey may have had a chance to challenge Barry Bonds’ home run record.
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Rose was expected to be the torchbearer for Chicago sports. After a successful one-year run at Memphis, Rose was selected first overall in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Bulls. Rose’s blend of speed, leaping ability, and court vision endeared him to fans of every team. In 2011, Rose became the youngest MVP in league history, leading the Bulls to a 62-win season and a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The following year, Rose tore his ACL in the closing minutes of a playoff game that had already been decided. This was the start of a series of lower body injuries which would debilitate Rose for the prime of his career. From 2012-2018, Rose appeared in just 255 out of 558 possible game (45 percent) . He looked like a shell of his former self.
Rose has experienced a bit of a resurgence in 2019, highlighted by a 50-point game against the Utah Jazz. However, he will likely go down as the only MVP in league history to not one day be enshrined in the Basketball of Hall of Fame.
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Walton enjoyed arguably the most impressive collegiate career for a basketball player ever. The skilled big man was a two-time NCAA Champion while at UCLA, and was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in both years. He went first overall in the 1974 NBA Draft to the Trail Blazers, and helped guide the franchise to its first and only NBA Championship in 1977.
The following years of Walton’s career were filled with unfortunate and untimely injuries. He broke his foot prior to the 1978 NBA Playoffs, and sat out the 1979 season while demanding a trade.
Walton was shipped to San Diego and played in just 14 games in his first year with the team. He then proceeded to miss all of the 1981 and 1982 seasons due to multiple surgeries to repair his foot. He eventually made a nice run towards the end of his career — most notably as a member of the 1986 NBA Champion Boston Celtics team. At that time he was mostly just a supporting player. Given his perceived trajectory early on, Walton’s career left fans yearning for more.
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Jackson was as can’t miss of a prospect as there is in sports. After a stellar Heisman-winning career at Auburn, Jackson went professional in two sports (football and baseball). He’s the first ever athlete to make an All-Star team in both the NFL and the MLB. His blend of strength, size, and inhuman speed may never be seen again.
After enjoying arguably the best season of his career as a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders, Jackson suffered a career-ending hip injury on a routine tackle during a playoff game. Had it not been for that injury, there’s no telling the records Jackson could have broken.