Armstrong returns to cycling; should we be surprised?

SACRAMENTO -- Sports is all about comebacks.

Be it injury, illness, burnout, retirement or the Vietnam War, sports has offered a host of comeback kings who returned to their craft with a degree of success, inspirational or otherwise.

The Tour of California includes one of the biggest comebacks in sports history: Lance Armstrong, who retired in 2005 after winning his seventh consecutive Tour de France, has returned to competitive cycling.

Armstrong's comeback, which hit American soil for the first time with the Tour of California prologue on Saturday in downtown Sacramento, brings up a host of comeback stories in sports. Today we look at eight of them.

Michael Jordan

Sport: Basketball

The comeback: Jordan steered the Chicago Bulls to a three-peat

NBA championship romp before

his stunning retirement in 1993, citing the loss of his father and a loss of desire to compete. He returned to the Bulls after a failed baseball try with the White Sox and keyed another championship three-peat. Never mind the next comeback from retirement, to play with the Wizards. The first one made him a legend.

Magic Johnson

SPORT: Basketball

THE COMEBACK: Like those who remember when a politician was assassinated, sports nuts remember the 1991 afternoon when Johnson announced he was stepping away from the NBA because of HIV. The Los Angeles Lakers star returned for the 1992 All-Star Game, of which he was the MVP. In 1996, Johnson came back and played 32 games with the Lakers, then called it quits for good because of concerns from NBA players who didn't want to play against someone with HIV (though he and some of those concerned players helped the Dream Team win Olympic gold in 1992). Still, Johnson's message was clear: Even those with a deadly disease can compete at the highest level.

Ben Hogan


THE COMEBACK: In the midst of his storied career, Hogan was nearly crushed to death in 1949, when his car collided head-on with a bus. He suffered multiple broken bones and lifelong circulation problems. Doctors told him he would not golf again. In 1953, Hogan had the "Hogan Slam" season when he won five of six tournaments, including three majors.

Tommy John

SPORT: Baseball

THE COMEBACK: An ace pitcher well before his name became synonymous with major arm surgery, John was rolling along with a 13-3 season in 1974 with the Dodgers when he ruptured the main ligament in his pitching arm, thus leading to a new medical procedure. A tendon from John's right forearm replaced the damaged one. He returned to win 164 more games.

Lance Armstrong

SPORT: Cycling

THE COMEBACK: Armstrong (above) is attempting his second comeback, but it won't be nearly as stirring as his first. Amid his climb to cycling success, Armstrong in 1996 was slowed by testicular cancer that metastasized to his brain, abdomen and lungs. He recovered and peeled off seven consecutive Tour de France titles.

Muhammad Ali

Sport: Boxing

The comeback: Before he was Ali, he was Cassius Clay. Before he was truly great, he was stripped of his heavyweight title in 1967 for refusing induction into the Army to fight in Vietnam, saying earlier,

"I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong." In 1971, the Supreme Court reversed Ali's conviction, and the boxer roared back to fame, winning two epic bouts against Joe Frazier and the George Foreman showdown.

Tedy Bruschi

SPORT: Football

THE COMEBACK: From Roseville High School to the Super Bowl, Bruschi basked in the sunlight of fame. Then he nearly died. Days after playing in the 2005 Pro Bowl, the linebacker suffered a stroke. He rejoined the New England Patriots midway through the 2005 season and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, sharing the award with Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith.

Jennifer Capriati

SPORT: Tennis

THE COMEBACK: From teen phenom to being engulfed by the pressure to live up to her potential, Capriati went from Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to having jail booking pictures taken for shoplifting in 1993. After 15 months away, she steadily climbed back and, in 1999, won her first title in six years. Capriati won the 2001 Australian Open. She claimed her third Grand Slam title in 2002.