When Jack Nicklaus showed up at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, 30 years ago, no one expected much from "The Golden Bear." In fact, some were calling the 46-year old Nicklaus "The Olden Bear."
Nicklaus had not won a major since 1980 or the Masters since 1975. No one thought he would compete for the green jacket in 1986 against the likes of Greg Norman and Tom Kite, the sport's next generation of stars at the time. But Nicklaus incredibly and improbably posted a 6-under par 30 on the back nine at Augusta for a final-round, 7-under-par 65 to win his sixth Masters and 18th and final major. He became the oldest Masters winner in history, a record that still stands.
Other aging stars in the twilight of their careers have also captured lightning in a bottle. While their achievements may not necessarily represent the same as a Masters victory, these athletes turned back the hands of time one last time.
Jordan goes for 43 after turning 40
Four days after turning 40, Michael Jordan scored 43 points in 43 minutes for the Washington Wizards to become the first NBA player 40 years or older to put up 40 or more points in a game. Jordan, who went 18 for 30 from the field without attempting a 3-pointer, also added 10 rebounds, four steals and three assists. Jordan scored the winning basket with 34 seconds left as the Wizards defeated the New Jersey Nets 89-86 on Feb. 23, 2003. The Nets would go on to advance to the NBA Finals for a second consecutive season.
"I don't feel like 40," Jordan said after the game. "I feel good. I feel like I can compete, and on certain nights, I can compete with the best. My effort's always going to be young, no matter how you look at it. My desire to win is always going to be young. My love for the game is always going to be young. My body may say 40, but those other things are going to be young always -- and I think that was an example of that tonight.''
Jordan had 14 of Washington's 25 points in the final quarter, and his 40-point performance would be the 173rd and final one of his career. During the past 50 seasons, Jordan is the only player to have a 40-point game at age 40 or older. He nearly repeated the feat one month later when he scored 39 points in his final game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks.
The Bambino retires with a bang
When Babe Ruth left the New York Yankees and joined the Boston Braves in 1935 to become a team vice president, assistant general manager and player, he was essentially nothing more than a gate attraction for a struggling franchise.
Ruth would soon discover he had no real input on the day-to-day operations of the team, and his eroding talents made it hard to have much of an impact on the field, as well. He was 40 and batting .150 while his weight had surpassed 250 pounds. He had made the decision to retire in mid-May, but Braves owner Emil Fuchs convinced Ruth to stay on through Memorial Day. Ruth agreed and ended up adding one last remarkable tale to a storybook career.
On May 25, 1935, five days before officially retiring, Ruth played in the final game of a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went 4-for-4 and hit the last three home runs of his career. Ruth's final home run, No. 714, went over the right-field roof at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh -- the first time a player had accomplished the feat.
Media accounts from that day stated the ball hit a rooftop at 318 Bouquet St., some 600 feet from home plate. Pirates pitcher Guy Bush later said, "I never saw a ball hit so hard before or since. He was fat and old, but he still had that great swing. Even when he missed, you could hear the bat go swish."
After the game, Ruth was urged by friends to retire, but he had given his word to Fuchs that he would finish out the month, which he did. But the Babe never recorded another hit.
Ryan fires seventh no-hitter at 44
Nolan Ryan was feeling every bit of his 44 years when he woke up on May 1, 1991. Every inch of his body ached as he pounded Advil and told his wife he wasn't sure he could pitch that night. He later told Rangers pitching coach Tom House, "You'd better watch me good out there tonight. I didn't think I'd be out there very long." When Ryan was done with his bullpen session, House provided Rangers manager Bobby Valentine with an ominous update.
"Tom House came over to me with a real pale look and said, 'This could be the end,'" Valentine said. "I had a real bad feeling in my stomach thinking I would have to be there when he walked off the mound for the last time."
But when Ryan stepped onto the mound at Arlington Stadium to face the Toronto Blue Jays, the pain he had been feeling all day suddenly disappeared as he stood before 33,439 fans on Arlington Appreciation Night. After throwing a few pitches, Ryan felt better than fine -- he felt dominant. In fact, he went back to the dugout after the first inning and told his teammates, "Boys, get me one [run]. That's all I'm going to need today."
Not only did Ryan throw a record seventh no-hitter, his second past the age of 40, he pitched arguably the most dominant game of his Hall of Fame career. Of his 122 pitches, 83 were strikes. He struck out 16 batters and walked two. "I had the best command of all three pitches," Ryan said after the game. "This is my most overpowering night."
The home crowd stayed long after the final pitch and chanted, "No-lan!" In the clubhouse, Valentine broke out a bottle of champagne that had been on a shelf in his office for five years. It had been reserved for a World Series berth, but this moment deserved some bubbly. "This is the one I wanted the most because it was in front of the fans on Arlington Appreciation Night," Ryan, whose other no-hitter as a Ranger came on the road, said afterward. "The fans have been so supportive of me, and it was really great to pitch one in front of them."
Torres wins three Olympic medals at 41
Two years after the birth of her first child, 41-year-old Dara Torres became the oldest female swimmer to medal at the Olympics when she won three silver medals at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
Torres won silver as the anchor swimmer for the U.S. team in the 4x100 freestyle relay, another silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle -- finishing with an American record time of 24.07 seconds -- and her third silver medal in the freestyle anchor leg of the 4x100 medley relay. Her 12 overall Olympic medals tied the all-time record for a female swimmer during a remarkable career that saw her medal at the Summer Games in 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and, finally, 2008 -- after a seven-year absence from competitive swimming.
Following her performance in Beijing, Torres' coach, Michael Lohberg, said, "I think this performance ranks up there with the biggest performances in sports ever. It puts Dara in the ranks of Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods. What she has done is really not measurable."
Torres attempted to qualify for 2012 Summer Olympics in London at 45, but she placed fourth in the finals of the 50-meter freestyle trials, 0.32 of a second behind the winner. After the trials, Torres announced her retirement from competitive swimming.
Foreman regains title 20 years after losing it
George Foreman was 45 and had lost his previous two championship heavyweight fights, most recently to Tommy Morrison, when he was set to face Michael Moorer, the 26-year-old heavyweight champion who had just defeated Evander Holyfield. Foreman was unranked and on the verge of retirement, but he was viewed as a lucrative, high-profile, low-risk opponent for Moore on Nov. 5, 1994.
Foreman trailed on all three judges' scorecards entering the 10th round and seemed destined to lose his third straight heavyweight championship bout, likely ending his career. But he caught Moorer with a short right hand, knocking him out and pulling off one of the bigger upsets in boxing history. Foreman regained the title he had lost 20 years earlier to Muhammad Ali in "The Rumble in the Jungle" and became the oldest fighter to win the world heavyweight championship.
After Moorer was counted out, commentator Jim Lampley famously yelled, "It happened! It happened!" Foreman, wearing the same red trunks he wore when he lost to Muhammad Ali in 1974, walked to a neutral corner and knelt in prayer as a stunned crowd erupted.
"For all my old buddies in the nursing home and all of the guys in jail, always remember that song, 'When You Wish Upon a Star,'" Foreman said in the ring after the fight. "It doesn't matter who are. Anything your heart desires can come to you. Just don't give up on your dreams."
It would be Foreman's last big bout, as he fought four unheralded fighters over the next three years, dodging bigger-name opponents while being stripped of the WBA and IBF heavyweight world championships for refusing mandatory fights. In his final fight before retiring, Foreman lost Shannon Briggs.
Couture once again rules the Octagon
At 43, Randy Couture came out of retirement on March 3, 2007, to win the UFC heavyweight championship from Tim Sylvia by unanimous decision at UFC 68. Couture had not fought at heavyweight since 2002 and had retired a year earlier after losing to Chuck Liddell by knockout in the second round. Couture caught Sylvia with a punch eight seconds into the fight, controlled the action for five rounds and won by unanimous decision. All judges scored the fight 50-45 for Couture. Many of the more than 19,000 fans at sold-out Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, the largest crowd for an MMA event in the United States at the time, counted down the final 10 seconds in unison.
"I seem to thrive in that spot where nobody expects me to win," Couture said afterward. "The countdown at the end was sick. I heard the 10-second warning and to hear everybody counting it down was pretty wild."
Couture became the oldest fighter to win a title in UFC history, and he went on to be the oldest to defend one when he finally lost the heavyweight title to Brock Lesnar in 2008 at age 44.