AP Photo/Jeff Kowalsky

Following Calvin Johnson’s retirement from the NFL, check out four Hall of Famers who also opted to leave the league at a younger age than most had expected.

By Alex Nieves and Kayla Lombardo
February 01, 2016

On Sunday, news broke that Detroit Lions star wide receiver Calvin Johnson would retire from the NFL at the age of 30. 

Johnson, who spent the entirety of his nine NFL seasons in Detroit, is a six-time Pro Bowler who led the league in receiving twice during his career. 

The news comes on the heels of a 2015 season in which Johnson had 88 receptions for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns, and a career in which he amassed 11,619 receiving yards and 83 scores. Though Johnson is not a Hall of Fame lock, he’ll certainly be considered for NFL immortality one day.

Following his abrupt retirement, here are four NFL Hall of Famers who, like Johnson, opted to leave the league at a young age.

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1. Barry Sanders

Age at retirement: 30

Sanders is one of the most decorated players in the history of the NFL and arguably the most elusive running back to ever play the game. During his 10 seasons with the Lions, Sanders never missed a Pro Bowl, while being honored as a first team All-Pro six times and a second team All-Pro four times.

The four-time rushing champion was twice named the AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year and was the league MVP in 1991. He still holds NFL records for most consecutive 100-yard games (14) and most 1,500-yard seasons (5).

Sanders walked away from the game in 1998, in part because of his frustration with the losing culture in Detroit. He finished his career with 15,269 rushing yards and 99 touchdowns.

The third-leading rusher in NFL history, Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

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2. Gale Sayers

​Age at retirement: 29

Despite playing just seven seasons in an injury-shortened career, Sayers managed to cement his legacy as one of the best running backs to ever play in the NFL.

In each of the four seasons he was fully healthy, the career-long Chicago Bear was selected to the Pro Bowl. He was also named the 1965 NFL Rookie of the Year and twice led the league in rushing.

Sayers retired from the NFL just before the 1972 season, due to a failed comeback from a knee injury. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977, at the age of 34, and is still the youngest inductee in history. 

Sayers completed his run in the NFL with 4,956 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns.

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​3. Jim Brown

Age at retirement: 30

No running back has led the league statistically as many times as Brown did during his career.

In just nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Brown was a nine-time Pro Bowler, eight-time AP first team All-Pro selection and five-time NFL MVP. He is the only rusher in NFL history to average at least 100 yards per game.

More than 50 years after his retirement, Brown still ranks ninth all-time in career rushing yards, despite playing in an era with shorter seasons—12 games in his first four years and 14 in his last five. He retired in 1966 to more earnestly pursue his acting career, which began in 1964.

Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971, after posting career totals of 12,312 rushing yards and 106 touchdowns.

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4. Lynn Swann

Age at retirement: 30 

Swann was a centerpiece in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense during the team’s stretch of dominance in the 1970s.

In nine NFL seasons, Swann helped the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles, and also won the MVP award for his performance in Super Bowl X. He led the league with 11 receiving touchdowns in 1975 and was named to three Pro Bowls during his career.

While Swann did not retire in 1982 with the gaudy numbers of many Hall of Fame receivers, his importance to Pittsburgh and ability to make clutch catches in big games earned him a spot in the Hall in 2001. He pursued sports broadcasting following his retirement from the league, and later ran for Pennsylvania governor.

Swann completed his NFL career with 5,462 receiving yards and 51 touchdowns.

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