After Rivera retired all four batters he faced, manager Joe Girardi delegated his pitching change to a pair of tenured veterans, Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter, who walked out to retrieve Rivera for retirement. As they reached the mound, Rivera dissolved into tears on Pettitte's shoulder, where he stayed buried for half a minute, longtime teammates who quite literally grew up together through the ranks of the Yankees organization. Rivera then spent time on Jeter's shoulder before the Captain told him, "Time to go." Matt Daley mopped up the inning's final out, and after the Yankees went in order in the bottom half of the inning, the game was over and so too was Rivera's career in pinstripes. Eventually Rivera returned to the mound and used his cleats to loosen the ground for a keepsake.
2 of 29Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images
In the final season of an illustrious 17-year career, Ray Lewis ended his playing days with a victory in the Super Bowl over the San Francisco 49ers. Lewis had announced before the playoffs began that this would be his final year, but even he had no idea it would end the way it did.
3 of 29Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images
Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan stepped down after 23 seasons and 1,127 wins at the helm of the Utah Jazz, saying he simply ran out of energy to coach anymore. Sloan had just recently signed a one-year contract extension to carry him through the 2011-12 season.
4 of 29James V. Biever/SI
In a teary farewell, the NFL's only three-time MVP announced his retirement by saying, "I know I can play but I don't think I want to. It's been a great career for me, but it's over. As they say, all good things must come to an end. I look forward to whatever the future may hold for me." As it turned out, Favre went on to play one season (2008) with the New York Jets and two more (2009, 2010) with the Minnesota Vikings. He is the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 70,000 yards, 500 touchdowns, 300 interceptions, and 10,000 pass attempts. He officially retired on January 17, 2011.
5 of 29AP
The Yankees celebrated one of their most famous players by making Gehrig's No. 4 the first retired number in baseball history. Then, in one of the most memorable scenes in sports history, a teary-eyed Gehrig said to the Yankees faithful, "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
6 of 29Al Tielemans/SI
After winning his first Super Bowl in his 14th NFL season, Elway chose to come back for the 1998 season. The Broncos again made the Super Bowl, and in Elway's final game he threw for 336 yards and one touchdown while also scoring a rushing touchdown in Denver's 34-19 win over Atlanta.
7 of 29Robert Beck/SI
During the final hole of Nicklaus' final tournament, the 2005 British Open, the Golden Bear received a 10-minute standing ovation after crushing the final tee shot of his career. Then, in true Nicklaus fashion, he made a 15-foot birdie putt to close out the greatest career in PGA history.
8 of 29Nick Laham/Getty Images, John W. McDonough/SI
Seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan left the sport on top, calling it quits four months after leading the Giants to a Super Bowl title. Strahan, who holds the NFL single-season record for sacks with 22.5 in 2001, will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
9 of 29Darren Carroll/SI
After failing to win a Stanley Cup in 21 seasons with the Boston Bruins, Bourque was traded to Colorado midway through the 1999-2000 season. In his first full season with the Avalanche the 40-year-old Bourque finally won the Cup. In a ceremony three days later, Bourque returned to Boston and celebrated his Cup victory in front of 20,000 fans.
10 of 29Bob Rosato/SI
In his final NBA game, the Admiral captured his second NBA championship by scoring 13 points ad grabbing 17 rebounds in the series-clincher against the Nets. Later that year, Robinson and teammate Tim Duncan were named SI's Sportsmen of the Year.
11 of 29Harry How/Getty Images
The Bus' last ride in a Steelers uniform came during Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit. Bettis gained 43 yards on 14 carries, and the Steelers defeated Seattle 21-10 to give Bettis his first championship in his final game.
12 of 29Bob Martin/SI
One of only five men to win all four Grand Slams, Agassi called it a career after losing in the third round of the 2006 U.S. Open. He won eight Grand Slam titles and 52 other tournaments and, in 2003, became the oldest man to be ranked No. 1 in the world.
13 of 29Chuck Solomon/SI
In Ripken's final All-Star Game of his final season, Alex Rodriguez, the AL's starting shortstop, moved over to third base to allow the Iron Man to play shortstop as he had for most of his career. After being greeted with a standing ovation in his first at-bat, Ripken homered on his way to game MVP honors. Baltimore also gave him a hero's farewell ceremony (left) and retired his number after his final game there in October.
14 of 29Lou Capozzola/SI
The Rangers retired Messier's No. 11 in a 75-minute ceremony during a game against his old team, the Edmonton Oilers. The ceremony included most of the '94 Stanley Cup squad.
15 of 29Al Tielemans/SI
U.S. women's soccer
With their 2-1 victory over Brazil in the gold medal game of the Athens Olympics, veterans Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain and Joy Fawcett went out on top in their last game together. The contest also marked the last international competition for Hamm, Foudy and Fawcett.
16 of 29Lou Capozzola/SI
Gretzky, the only player in NHL history to have his jersey number retired by all teams, called it a career after 21 seasons and 61 NHL records. During his final game, in which he recorded an assist, he was awarded both the first, second and third star of the game.
17 of 29Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Bird and Magic Johnson made one of the most compelling rivalries in sports history, but the two also struck a close friendship over the years. The bond was on display when Johnson showed up to Bird's retirement ceremony dressed in a Bird jersey and said of his longtime rival, "Larry, you only told me one lie. You said there will be another Larry Bird. Larry, there will never, ever be another Larry Bird."
18 of 29AP
Though no official announcement had been made, most felt the 1997-98 season would be Jordan's last, and he wanted to go out on top. So with six seconds remaining in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Jordan used a crossover dribble to fake out Byron Russell and nailed a 17-foot jumper to give the Bulls their sixth championship of the decade. Though he later returned to the NBA with the Washington Wizards, this was his last game with the Bulls.
19 of 29Illustration by C.F. Payne
The coach of 1983 national basketball champion N.C. State, Valvano will forever be remembered for two famous speeches. The first came at old Reynolds Coliseum, in which he gave his "Don't give up, don't ever give up" quotation. The second came during the 1993 ESPYs after a teleprompter informed Valvano that he had 30 seconds to wrap up a speech. "They got that screen up there flashing 30 seconds, like I care about that screen," Valvano said. "I got tumors all over my body and I'm worried about some guy in the back going 30 seconds." He closed the speech by saying, "Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever." He died less than two months later.
20 of 29Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Despite retiring before the 1991-92 season, Johnson was voted into the '92 All-Star game by the fans. In his farewell, he scored 25 points, including a three-pointer in the game's final seconds, and dished 9 assists on his way to MVP honors as as the West routed the East, 153-113.
21 of 29Bill Frakes/SI
Talk about leaving on a high note. In Osborne's last five years at Nebraska, the Cornhuskers went 60-3, including three national championships. In 1997, his final season, Nebraska won the Orange Bowl with a 42-17 victory over a Peyton Manning-led Tennessee squad and shared the national title with Michigan.
22 of 29Heinz Kluetmeier/SI
With McGuire announcing plans to retire as Marquette basketball coach after the 1976-77 season, his impending retirement was no surprise, but few expected his Marquette squad to upset North Carolina (67-59) and win the 1977 national championship. After the game, McGuire did not join the celebration. He sat on the bench by himself, his face buried in his hands, crying. "I'm not ashamed to cry," he finally said. "It's just that I don't like to do it in front of people."
23 of 29Andy Hayt/SI
By the time he retired, Abdul-Jabbar was the NBA's all-time leading scorer and the only player to win six MVP awards. He received standing ovations in every visiting arena and ended his career on a high note after being maligned through much of the '70s. He said after his retirement, "The '80s made up for all the abuse I took during the '70s. I outlived all my critics."
24 of 29Getty Images
In true Williams fashion, the Splendid Splinter hit a home run in his last at-bat and walked into the Red Sox dugout without tipping his hat. As the Boston fans chanted "We want Ted," Williams stayed in the dugout until the cheers died out. This last at-bat was chronicled in John Updike's famous New Yorker essay entitled "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu."
25 of 29Rick Stewart/Getty Images
The Dr. J retirement tour lasted throughout the season, where he was honored in every arena the Sixers played. But the most special honor came the following year, when he became one of the few players in modern basketball to have his number retired by two franchises, the Nets and the Sixers.
26 of 29Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
Few Knicks fans came to MSG that late February night just to see the Knicks-Rockets game. They were there to honor one of the Knicks' all-time greats. After being presented with a 2003 Hummer, Ewing took center stage and said to the New York faithful, "It's like the song says: If you can make it here in New York, you can make it anywhere."
27 of 29Lynn Johnson/SI
Fully aware that a picture is worth a thousand words, Gardner said it all when he left his shoes on the mat at the Athens Olympics. The affable wrestler had won the gold medal in the 2000 Games, but had to settle for the bronze in his last Olympics.
28 of 29V.J. Lovero, Al Tielemans/SI; Pool
Tony La Russa
A four-time manager of the year, La Russa retired on top after leading the Cardinals to the 2011 World Series title. He won with Oakland in 1989, and St. Louis in 2006 and 2011, joining Sparky Anderson as the only manager to win a World Series title with clubs in the American and National Leagues.
29 of 29Lou Capozzola/SI; Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images; Scott Bales/Icon SMI
After winning a third Stanley Cup with a third different team, Mark Recchi hung up his skates at age 43 -- 22 years after entering the NHL with the Penguins. Drafted in the fourth round (67th overall) in 1988, he went on to play 1,652 regular season games for seven teams, scoring 577 goals (12th all time) and 1,533 points. He tacked on another 147 points in 15 postseasons and won the Cup with Pittsburgh in 1991 and Carolina in 2006, keeping his promise to retire should the Bruins win it in 2011, which they did in seven games over the Vancouver Canucks. In the process, Recchi became the oldest man to score a goal in a Stanley Cup Final.
You May Like
More More Sports
Sign Up for our Newsletter
Don't get stuck on the sidelines! Sign up to get exclusives, daily highlights, analysis and more—delivered right to your inbox!