Adam Vinatieri, perhaps the most clutch player in NFL history and the league’s all-time leading scorer, has announced his retirement on Wednesday after 24 seasons.
We could go on and on about Vinatieri’s best moments in the league, like his multiple Super Bowl-winning kicks or the time he (incredibly) chased Herschel Walker down and tackled him during a kick return. What we’ll focus on here is the fact that, by playing for 24 seasons, he holds the additional distinction of being the last NFL player who debuted in the 1990s to retire. Up until Wednesday, he was the only player still active who could have made that tackle, as Walker retired at the end of the 1997 season.
Indeed, with Vinatieri’s retirement, there’s no one left in three of the four major American sports who debuted before things like the Y2k bug or smartphones were really even things. Here we pay tribute to the last holdouts — and wonder how long the final 90’s kids will last.
Pro debut: Vinatieri scored the first points of the Patriots’ 1996 season during his NFL debut. He booted a field goal and an extra point in New England’s 24-10 home loss to the Dolphins on Sept. 1, 1996.
Teammates of note: Before he teamed with two of the NFL’s all-time great quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, Vinatieri played with the likes of Drew Bledsoe (1996-2001), Tedy Bruschi (1996-2005) and Hall of Famer Curtis Martin (1996-97) in New England.
Vintage matchup: Prior to becoming a Super Bowl hero, Vinatieri showed in the 2001 playoffs how reliable he can be. Even in a blizzard. With the Patriots trailing the Raiders 13-10 in the final minute of their AFC divisional round game, Vinatieri blasted a 45-yard field goal off the snow-packed turf and into swirling winds at Foxboro Stadium. The kick hugged the right upright and sailed through to send the game into overtime. His 23-yard field goal with 6 minutes, 35 seconds left in OT delivered the Patriots to the AFC title game and helped make him a household name.
When did he retire? Vinatieri said he was calling it quits on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.
Pro debut: On Feb. 5, 1999, Carter was victorious in his first NBA game, scoring 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting as the Raptors earned a 103-92 road win over the Celtics.
Teammates of note: Wing defenders were likely wiped out after games against the Raptors from 1999 to 2000. Not only did they have to keep up with the high-flying Carter, they had to deal with the explosive Tracy McGrady, who turned 21 at the end of the 1999-2000 season. In 2001, Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon joined the Raptors for his final NBA season. He was 39 years old.
Vintage matchup: Vince Carter vs. Michael Jordan — a North Carolina fan’s fantasy. Well, the matchup between two of the most athletic Tar Heels (and players) in history actually happened four times from 2001 to 2003. Carter’s Raptors split those four contests against Jordan’s Wizards, with the youthful Carter winning the scoring battle each time. Carter, who averaged 40 minutes in each contest (11 more than Jordan), registered 23.5 points per game. Jordan scored 14 per game, including just four in their last matchup in 2003 — his final season in the NBA.
When did he retire? Carter played his last game on March 11, 2020, shortly before the NBA suspended its season due to COVID-19. He officially retired on June 25, 2020.
Pro debut: On April 4, 1997, Colon had a no-decision for the Cleveland Indians against the then-Anaheim Angels. He pitched five innings, gave up four earned runs, and struck out four.
Teammates of note: Colon pitched for 11 teams in his career, so … an awful lot of people. Just a partial list: Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Orel Hershiser, David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, and CC Sabathia. Colon also played with Julio Franco, another longtime player whose career began in 1982 and ended in 2007
Vintage matchup: All you need to know about Bartolo Colon is that, near the end of his career, he hit a home run and pretty much everyone thought i was the best thing ever.
When did he retire? He technically hasn’t, but even though Colon still yearns for a comeback, his last game in the majors was September 22, 2018.
So, who’re the last ones standing from the decade that practically invented nostalgia?
Zdeno Chara, Washington Capitals
Joe Thornton, Toronto Maple Leafs
Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks
Incredibly, three members of the NHL from the 90’s are still playing at a high level in the league. Thornton’s Maple Leafs are even still alive and kicking in the playoffs, while Chara’s Capitals were eliminated on Sunday and Marleau’s Sharks didn’t make the playoffs. Leave it to hockey to have players toughing it out well beyond what anyone might expect.