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SportsMonday: Going Out Intact

For a while my belief was that no athlete should retire unless they were right on the verge of being dragged out of the game. And even then there should be plenty of kicking and screaming as the light dimmed and then went out on their time in the arena.

At least 95 percent of professional athletes will never again engage in a vocation that they execute better than they executed their sport. When they peak on the playing field, they are peaking in their professional lives. And the romantic notion of "going out on top" simply doesn't stand up to "play as long as possible and do your best to get the game completely out of your system." An athlete will miss it after he or she retires but they will find some comfort in the notion that they squeezed every last drop of performance out of themselves.

Lately, given the physical punishment dished out in some sports - and I'm always surprised to hear people condemn football and not at least mention hockey - my view has changed. There is obviously something to be said for getting out of these games when the getting is good - with good money having been made (guys may make dumb decisions about how they spend, but it is just about impossible at this point not to make good money while playing any major pro sport for at least a couple years) and one's health reasonably intact.

If Calvin "Megatron" Johnson ends up retiring from the Lions this offseason, and the veteran receiver is said to be leaning that way, it will sure look like a classic example of a guy who probably could have put in a few more years, and would have been compensated in spectacular fashion while doing so, but who bowed out instead.

And let me just add that as a Bears fan, it couldn't be more obvious to me that Megatron should go this route. Why subject yourself to more punishment, my man? You have done everything you can to lift up the Lions franchise (and hold down the Bears) for long enough and now it obviously makes the most sense for you to go to your rest.

And so we come to Peyton Manning. Obviously the veteran quarterback now has the chance to go out on top and then some. Given his statement to Patriots coach Bill Belichick that "This might be my last rodeo" after the AFC Championship game a few weeks ago, he is obviously thinking about it.

But he didn't just go ahead and complete the storyline everyone was hoping for after the Super Bowl on Sunday. He left himself some options. That's a good call first and foremost because the overwhelming emotions that follow a championship make it impossible to make a reasonable decision. An athlete in this sort of situation needs some time and space before he can be completely confident he is doing the right thing.

And it must be said that if Manning still feels like he has some football in that right arm of his, he should keep playing. Even though the veteran quarterback is obviously a funny and intelligent guy, he still is almost certainly in the 95 percent that will never again scale the heights they did as a player.

His arm might be willing but his fingertips probably aren't. We have every reason to believe the report from earlier in the season that Manning doesn't really feel the football in his hand anymore after injuries - particularly to his neck - did at least some damage to his nervous system.

So he's obviously probably gone. But I wouldn't completely rule out another season behind center just yet.

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Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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