Rob Gronkowski returns from retirement, joining list of notable NFL stars to come back to football


Rob Growkowski’s stunning trade from New England to Tampa Bay — following his one-year retirement from the NFL — has taken the sports world by storm. Instead of the talking about the highly successful Bulls documentary and the upcoming NFL Draft, sports fans everywhere are talking about Gronkowski, quite possibly the greatest tight end of all-time, reuniting with another GOAT, Tom Brady, in Tampa Bay.

Gronkowski, who will turn 31 in May, will now try to have the most successful second act in NFL history. He will have beat out several pretty good comebacks that include the ones listed below.

John Riggins

The owner of the best second act in NFL history, the Hall of Fame running back called it quits after the 1979 season following a contract dispute. After just one year away, the 32-year-old Riggins was coaxed out of retirement by new Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. Riggins’ decision to return paid off handsomely. In 1982, Riggins carried Washington to their first Super Bowl title, rushing for a playoff record 610 yards in four playoff games that included his 166-yard effort in Super Bowl XVII. His 42-yard touchdown run in the second half propelled the Redskins to a 27-17 victory over the Dolphins.

In 1983, the 34-year-old Riggins won league MVP honors while scoring a then-NFL record 24 rushing touchdowns while leading the Redskins back to the Super Bowl. He led the NFL in rushing touchdowns again the following season before retiring after the 1986 season. Remarkably, Riggins rushed for more yards in his 30s than he did in his 20s, which the majority of those yards coming during his second act in Washington. 

Randall Cunningham

One of the NFL’s biggest stars earlier in his career, Cunningham retired after a disappointing 1995 season. He resurfaced two years later in Minnesota, leading the Vikings to a come-from-behind victory over the Giants in the 1997 wild card round. The following season, Cunningham enjoyed the best season of his career. With Cris Cater (his former teammate in Philadelphia) and rookie Randy Moss as his disposal, Cunningham earned All-Pro honors while leading the Vikings to a 15-1 record. Cunningham and the Vikings’ Super Bowl dreams fell short, however, in an overtime loss to the Falcons in the NFC title game.

Cunningham lost his starting job to Jeff George in 1999 before spending his final two seasons as a backup in Dallas.

Ricky Williams

The former Heisman Trophy winner and 2002 NFL rushing champion, Williams famously retired just before the start of the 2004 season. Williams, who was solid upon returning to the Dolphins in 2005 while sharing time in the backfield with Ronnie Brown, missed the entire 2006 season after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He played professionally in Canada that year before appearing in just one game for the Dolphins in 2007.

Williams’ career finally got back in track in 2009, when he rushed for over 1,000 yards for the first time since his first retirement. He enjoyed a successful one-year stint with the Ravens in 2011, helping them advance to the AFC Championship Game before retiring that offseason. Williams was actually credentialed as a cameraman for the next year’s Super Bowl, as he watched his former Ravens teammates defeat the 49ers.

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Despite missing most or all of three different seasons, Williams is one of 31 players with over 10,000 yards rushing.
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Deion Sanders

One of the greatest cover corners in NFL history, Sanders missed three full seasons before signing with the Ravens before the start of the 2004 season. Sanders, who wore his age (37) as his jersey number that season, returned one of his three interceptions for a touchdown during his first season in Baltimore. He picked off two more passed in 2005 before retiring after the season. 

Bronko Nagurski

A two-way star and one of the greatest players of his era, Nagurski had been out of football for five years before returning to the Bears for one final season. His touchdown gave the Bears the lead for good in Chicago’s win over Washington in the NFL Championship Game. It was the third championship win for Nagurski, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.

Jason Witten

The Cowboys‘ all-time leading receiver, Witten spent one year in the broadcast booth before coming out of retirement in 2019. His 2019 numbers were nearly identical to the stat line he put in up in 2017, catching 63 passes for 529 yards and four touchdowns. Witten, who will turn 38 in May, signed with the Raiders earlier this offseason.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys

Jason Witten’s second NFL stint will include a stop in Las Vegas.
USATSI

Marshawn Lynch

The battering ram behind the Seahawks’ run of success from 2011-14, Lynch retired after the 2015 season before joining his hometown Raiders in 2016. Lynch put up solid numbers during his two years in Oakland before re-signing with Seattle just before the start of the 2019 playoffs, scoring a touchdown in the Seahawks’ wild card victory over the Bears.

Reggie White

The “Minister of Defense,” White’s remarkable career included a three-sack effort in Green Bay’s victory over New England in Super Bowl XXXI. After a one-year retirement, White signed with the Panthers before the start of the 2000 season. He recorded 5.5 sacks that season — raising his career total to 198 — before retiring for good during the 2001 offseason. 

Charles Haley

The first player to win five Super Bowl rings, Haley retired after the 1996 season before being signed by the 49ers just before the start of the 1998 playoffs. The 34-year-old Haley was effective enough to help apply pressure to Brett Favre while helping San Francisco dethrone the defending two-time defending NFC champion Packers in the wild card round. Haley returned for the 1999 season, recording three sacks — raising his career total to 100.5 sacks — before retiring for good after the season. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.





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