With the potential return of Beast Mode being reported Friday, Marshawn Lynch could be venturing into unknown territory.
The former Seattle Seahawks star is far from the first exciting running back to retire young, but he could become the first to return to the league just a year after exiting at near the height of his abilities.
Here are five other runners we would have loved to see call off their retirement to keep the good times rolling.
Barry Sanders, Lions
Back before playing running back at age 30 seemed so incredible, the best player to ever suit up for the Detroit Lions ended his career just days after his 31st birthday.
For 10 seasons, Sanders’ unbelievable ability to make tacklers miss their mark with his incredible speed and footwork made him arguably the most entertaining runner in the history of football. Despite playing with little talent around him, Sanders rushed for a minimum of 1,300 yards in all nine seasons he played at least 15 games in, and topped the 2,000-yard mark during the second-last year of his career.
The third all-time leading rusher’s retirement was shocking to say the least, as he appeared to still be in his prime, with no major injuries to speak of and a very realistic shot at surpassing Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record. Though he has never pinned his retirement on one thing, seasons of losing with the Lions had put a big damper on Sanders’ motivation to compete.
Jim Brown, Browns
Before Sanders, Payton, Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson, or Adrian Peterson, there was one man who all had deemed the greatest running back of all time – Jim Brown.
The Cleveland Browns stud played for nine seasons, making the Pro Bowl in each of them, and produced at least 1,250 rushing yards seven times. Brown’s combination of power and speed was unheard of when he entered the league in 1957 and has only been replicated a handful of times since.
Brown’s retirement seemed like it could have been undone at the time, but the Hall of Famer was a man of his word. Brown had ventured into a Hollywood career during his offseasons, but when team owner Art Modell threatened to fine him for missing training camp to film “The Dirty Dozen,” Brown called his bluff and retired in 1965.
Christian Okoye, Chiefs
Despite not picking up football until he was in college, “The Nigerian Nightmare” terrorized NFL defenders for six seasons, and led the league in rushing in 1989.
Okoye overpowered would-be tacklers with his 6-foot-1, 260-pound frame, running with fantastic leverage for such a large back and earning a spot in the Kansas City Chiefs‘ Hall of Fame despite his short career.
Due to Okoye’s physical style, he accumulated a series of nagging knee injuries that led to his early retirement, though he admitted later on that the grind of practices caused him to view football as more of a job than a game, so he decided to move on.
Gale Sayers, Bears
Though he only had four seasons with at least 13 games played, Sayers has been called the best football player ever by some of his former teammates.
The Chicago Bears running back showed a one-of-a-kind combination of rushing and receiving skills as soon as he entered the NFL, producing 1,274 combined yards and 20 total touchdowns as a rookie in 1965.
The “Kansas Comet” gave opposing defenses frets with his speed and vision for five seasons, before major injuries to both knees crippled his final two seasons and ended his career in 1971.
Robert Smith, Vikings
(Photo courtesy: Action Images)
History does not seem to remember Smith as fondly as the other members of this list, but the timing of his retirement may be the strangest.
Smith struggled for stardom through the first four years of his career as a Minnesota Viking, but exploded as a key part of the team’s exciting offense that featured Randy Moss and Cris Carter from 1998-2000. Smith ran for at least 1,000 yards in each of his final four campaigns and hit a career high with 1,869 yards in 2000, the last season of his career.
The versatile runner was a perfect fit for the Vikings’ high-flying offense and seemed to just be hitting his stride before retirement. Smith walked away to pursue a career in medicine while he still had his own health, and is now a college football analyst for FOX Sports.
Earl Campbell, Oilers
Campbell is arguably the most powerful runner of all time, and while his reign of dominance lasted about five years, health issues took away the former No. 1 overall pick’s abilities by the time he reached his eighth season.
Bo Jackson, Raiders
We would all love to see more than just four partial seasons of football from Jackson, but it was hard enough for him to play baseball again after suffering a devastating hip injury in 1990. Returning to football would have been out of the question.
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