May 6, 2011, 4:03 PM EDT
People like storybook endings, but reality often paints a different picture. After all, not everyone can be John Elway, the Hall of Fame NFL quarterback who finished his career with two consecutive Super Bowl wins.
If the Detroit Red Wings end up getting swept by the San Jose Sharks tonight, it’s unlikely that future Hall of Fame center Mike Modano will be in the lineup. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock indicated that Detroit wouldn’t make any lineup changes, which means Modano will probably remain a healthy scratch.
Even if the Red Wings win another game (or four) and Modano finds himself skating in the 2011 playoffs, it’s tough to shake the sinking suspicion that his time in Detroit will place him in an unflattering group in sports history. Modano seems poised to join the Sports Stars Who Stayed Too Long and Wore the Wrong Uniform Club. He’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with Michael Jordan looking old as dirt in a Washington Wizards jersey, Emmitt Smith running like molasses with the Arizona Cardinals and plenty of other just-wrong moments in sports.
Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but it didn’t take an expert to see that last season was his perfect send-off. He received a rousing, tear-jerking ovation from Stars fans in his last game in Dallas and came full circle in Minnesota. Modano even showed glimpses of the player who once sold hockey to Texans and became one of the greatest American-born hockey stars ever in those last two games.
Instead, he chose to give it another go, but the 41-year-old forward’s 2010-11 season has been depressing. Modano was ineffective in 40 regular season games with Detroit before a freakish skate injury kept him on the shelf. Now he finds himself on the bench and with good reason. He simply doesn’t “have it” anymore.
So, the question is, did he make a mistake by playing another season?
Most people will say yes, but I’m not so sure. Armchair experts always decry athletes for staying too long, but it must be terrifying to face the end of your career before you’ve even reached mid-life crisis time. Why begrudge a great player for clinging to that job a little too long, just so they know that it’s truly gone?
It didn’t go well for Modano, but now he can retire without the nagging question “Do I still have something left?” He’ll hang up his skates with a Stanley Cup ring, more than 1,300 career points and a drop-dead gorgeous wife.
Something tells me he still comes out ahead even if he ruined his riding off in the sunset moment.
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