By Daniel Bukszpan
On June 29, 2011, news broke that Tiger Woods had secured an endorsement deal with Kowa Company Ltd., the Japanese manufacturer of Valentin Kowa pain relieving heat rub. It's his first deal since the very embarrassing sex scandal that broke in December 2009 and cost him his marriage, his squeaky-clean image and four of his sponsors.
When news of his personal troubles spilled into the public eye, Accenture, AT&T and Gatorade terminated their sponsorship deals with him, and Gillette allowed their agreement with him to lapse, hitting the athlete's $90 million endorsement portfolio hard. The new deal is a three-year agreement that includes advertisements online, in print and on television, and although the price of the deal has not been disclosed, it nonetheless represents sorely needed good news for the golfer. However, it remains to be seen whether or not it's the beginning of a comeback.
|Slideshow: Comeback athletes|
Comebacks are by no means guaranteed. The list of athletes who have retired and then returned with disappointing results is long. Swimming legend Mark Spitz won nine gold medals at the 1972 Olympics, but when he attempted a comeback 20 years later he failed to meet the minimum qualifying time. Tennis great Bjorn Borg won 11 Grand Slam titles before retiring at the age of 26, but when he attempted a comeback eight years later he was beaten effortlessly by 52nd place holder Jordi Arrese. Even Muhammad Ali wasn't exempt. When "The Greatest" attempted a comeback in 1980, he was defeated by Larry Holmes, and it wasn't long before he was forced to face reality and walk away.
If this is, in fact, a comeback for Woods, it would be remarkable, as it would be the second time his career has rebounded from a potentially fatal blow. In 2008, just two days after winning the US Open, he announced that he was scheduled to undergo knee surgery for a damaged anterior cruciate ligament. The timing would cause him to miss the Open Championship and the PGA Championship, but more worrisome was the effect that it could have on his career.
A damaged ACL is a common athletic injury that has taken many pros off the field permanently. However, Woods came back to the links in 2009 and finished in second place in the PGA championship. Whether his luck holds out a second time is an open question. But if he does, he would rejoin an assortment of athletes who recaptured their former glory after physical injuries, messy scandals and even jail time.
Among the athletes who defied logic and came back to their respective sports after conventional wisdom pronounced their careers dead and buried:
People who only know George Foreman as that nice man on TV who sells the grills will no doubt be shocked to find out that he was once considered one of the most ferocious punchers in boxing history. The two-time World Heavyweight Champion first won the title in 1973, just a few days after his 24th birthday. However, in 1974 he fought Muhammad Ali in Zaire, in a fight dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle,” and he was beaten with an 8th round knockout so humiliating that Foreman disappeared from the sport for two years. He returned in 1976 but in 1977 he stopped boxing entirely and became an ordained minister.
Foreman announced his return to boxing in 1987. Then 38 years old, he was already one year older than Jersey Joe Walcott had been when he became the oldest man ever to become heavyweight champion. However, in 1994, he fought Michael Moorer, a man almost two decades younger than him, and scored a tenth-round knockout. At age 45, George Foreman had become the oldest heavyweight champion in history, a feat that stands to this day.
Lance Armstrong is a former professional cyclist. He competed in the 1992 Summer Olympics and won multiple events in 1993, including ten different single-day events. That was also the first year that he competed in the Tour de France, but his 97th place finish was not particularly impressive. However, he kept competing and his performance kept improving.
In 1996, the 25-year-old cyclist was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer, which had already spread to his brain and lungs. The athlete had little choice but to forge ahead with an exhausting regimen of chemotherapy and drugs, but when he did the cancer went into full remission, and he made his return to professional cycling in 1998. In 1999 he participated in the Tour de France and came in first place, which he would do again six more times consecutively, a record that no one has broken since.
Monica Seles is a former professional tennis player. Born in Serbia, she was the youngest person ever to win the French Open, doing so in 1990 at the age of 16. She was the No. 1 female player in the world in 1991 and 1992 and she is the winner of nine Grand Slam singles titles altogether.
In April 1993, a deranged man named Gunter Parche emerged from the crowd in the middle of a game in Germany and stabbed Seles in the back. Her injuries healed quickly, but it was two years before she would return to the sport. Seles came back in 1995 and won the Canadian Open, then won the Australian Open in 1996. She was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2009.
Mario Lemieux is considered one of the greatest players in hockey history. During 17 seasons as a player, he led the Pittsburgh Penguins to Stanley Cup victories twice, won three Hart Trophies and six Art Ross trophies. However, the regular punishment he took on the ice exacted a severe toll on his body, and he was racked with physical ailments, including back pain so severe that he had to have someone else tie his skates for him.
His various injuries paled in comparison to the diagnosis he received of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, for which he underwent radiation treatment while still an active player. He finally retired in 1997, and the following year, the team declared bankruptcy after years of mismanagement. Lemieux saved the day by buying the team, and incredibly, he came out of retirement in 2000 to become the first player-owner in the history of the game. He played for six more seasons before finally retiring for good.
For a complete list and slideshow of athletes who defied logic and came back to their respective sports after conventional wisdom pronounced their careers dead and buried, go to CNBC.com.
-- Check out more Sports Biz with Darren Rovell.