Howe about that Fleury?

Jean Lefebvre
September 18 2009 09:17AM

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Even if Theoren Fleury’s comeback bid winds up going nowhere, the little runt has managed to write himself a neat little bonus chapter if his conveniently soon-to-be released autobiography has a second printing. If nothing else, Fleury coaxed a few more of the undecideds into his corner on Thursday night by dramatically scoring the shootout winner in a pre-season tilt with the New York Islanders.

What Fleury is attempting to do isn’t unprecedented but it’s important to note that most of the great sports comebacks were accomplished by athletes much younger than the 41-year-old winger.

Just a few of those other second comings are sampled below but first, here’s a completely unrelated question: If animal activists are successful in their quest to have Lucy the elephant relocated from Edmonton to California, will the pachyderm then be renamed Chris Pronger?

OK, on to the sports encores of the past:

Gordie Howe, hockey: Mr. Hockey was two years older than Fleury is now when he retired for the first time in 1971. Two years later, at age 45, he was back in the game as a member of the Houston Aeros in the World Hockey Association. Howe had three 30-goal seasons in the WHA and had a 15-goal, 41-point campaign as a 51-year-old with Hartford after the Whalers joined the NHL as part of the so-called NHL-WHA merger.

Guy Lafleur, hockey: The Flower was just 33 when he hung up the skates as a result of serious differences with former linemate Jacques Lemaire, who had become the Habs’ coach. Three years later, with suspiciously thicker hair than when he had left the game, Lafleur returned at age 37 and scored 107 points over three seasons with the Rangers and Nordiques. He retired for good at age 39, two years younger than Fleury is now.

Mario Lemieux, hockey: Chronic back trouble, just one entry on Mario Le Magnifique’s thick medical dossier, forced Lemieux to pack it in at age 31. He returned at age 35 and played in parts of five more seasons but continued to be bothered by numerous ailments. Still, he dazzled when he did play as he accumulated 229 points in 170 games.

Michael Jordan, basketball: Not happy to have just one comeback, Jordan returned to the NBA on two separate occasions. Of course, having originally quit at age 30, he did allow himself a lot of time to do revivals. His first comeback started at the age of 32 and lasted for four years, during which time he won the MVP award twice and helped the Chicago bulls win two championships. In 2001 at age 38, he returned once again and averaged better than 20 points per game over two seasons with the Washington Wizards.

Pele, soccer: The futbol legend went into semi-retirement in 1972 but returned in 1975 at age 34 to play for the North American Soccer League’s New York Cosmos. He played three seasons in New York.

Lance Armstrong, cycling: Inspirational to some, controversial to others, Armstrong returned to competitive cycling at age 37 after an absence of more than three years. He turned in an impressive third-place finish at the 2009 Tour de France.

George Foreman, boxing: As the story goes, Foreman found God in 1977 and stopped fighting at age 28. He was back in the ring a decade later and enjoyed surprising success before hanging up the gloves again in 1997. At age 45, having made the conversion from snarly thug to lovable lug, he became the oldest heavyweight champion in history when he defeated Michael Moorer in 1994.

Martina Navratilova, tennis: The Czechoslovakia-born Navratilova was already considered by many the greatest women’s tennis player in history when she retired in 1994 at age 38. She returned to the courts at age 43 and while she played sparingly in the singles division, she earned a number of mixed doubles titles at Grand Slam events including the 2006 U.S. Open when she was just a few weeks shy of her 50th birthday.

Dara Torres, swimming: At the ripe old age of 41 — ancient in the swimming game — the American returned to the Olympic pool in 2008 after an eight-year absence and won a silver medal in the 50m freestyle as well as another silver in the 4x100 team relay.

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Lefebvre is in that awkward stage of hockey following -- old enough to fondly remember the Cleveland Barons and too set in his ways to accept charity points and games where there's a winner but apparently no loser. As a long-time ink-stained wretch, he's also a firm believer in the old Bobby Knight quote about journalists: "All of us learn to write in second grade, but most of us go on to better things."
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#1 kermitology
September 18 2009, 10:32AM
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Hiya Jean!

Fleury was a childhood hero of mine (Doug Gilmour was, and is still, my all-time favourite player) and I have to admit smiling like a fool when I watched Theo skate in and score in the shootout last night, but I'm feeling uneasy about this whole thing. I think the Flames have done right by Theo to allow him a try-out and to show his stuff to the Flames faithful, but let us get serious here for a moment. How can anyone honestly justify taking away a roster spot from a Dustin Boyd, Brandon Prust, Mikael Backlund because Theo doesn't know when to quit? I can't think of any way in which the Flames don't come off as the bad guy now that Fleury really thinks he has a shot at making the team, even if he doesn't.

I hope Fleury can recognize the chance that Darryl gave him and treat the team with the respect it deserves and say: "This isn't my game anymore, I'll leave it to the kids. Thank you Calgary, for your support."

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#2 Lefebvre
September 18 2009, 10:42AM
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@ kermitology:

Hey Kermitology, good to hear from you again.

That's a valid point. I'm of the opinion that there's a gentleman's agreement that Fleury will start the season in the AHL but you're right -- if Fleury convinces himself he's worthy of an NHL job right away, it could create a sticky situation for the Flames.

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#3 Ender the Dragon
September 18 2009, 02:52PM
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I think Theo takes that AHL job and works hard for a call-up. He had to know for the last year or two that nothing was going to be handed to him, and as he read Sutter's comments in response to his comeback bid a month or two ago he has to be grateful just to be at camp. Sure, he probably wishes he could be there for game one; who wouldn't? But realistically I think he knows he has to play in the top six to be effective and after so much time away from an evolving game, he's just not ready for that quite yet. If nothing else, I think this provides the Flames' real top-six with some added motivation, knowing that Fleury is waiting in the wings to take their slot if they stumble.

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#4 LiveOne
September 19 2009, 04:07PM
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That goal by Fleury is already my personal highlight of the last two years. It really brought me back...

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#5 Long shots, no shots and the in-betweens - OilersNation.com
September 21 2009, 11:58AM
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[...] ranks up there as one of the better ones in awhile. Our man Jean Lefebvre over at the FlamesNation had an interesting article on the matter, taking a look at other old fogey types that have returned from the Athlete Retirement Village to [...]

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#6 The Menace
September 21 2009, 01:04PM
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Does Gordie Howe have his first and last names on the back of his jersey in the picture? Wow, those really were different times.

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September 27 2009, 03:00PM
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