Certainly not every sports figure gets to go out on their own terms

You dedicate your entire life to the game. You put in endless hours of practice, training and watching film. You get to the top of your field and enjoy great success. Eventually though, you know it will come to an end.

Just how that end plays out may not be a decision that you get to make yourself. Some people in the world of sports dictate how they leave the game. Derek Jeter, David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Mariano Rivera come to mind. All three of these major leaguers announced that the next year would be their last and had a season-long farewell tour.

Whether you are a player, official, coach or even broadcaster, how you exit the sport varies. Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers for so many years, called it quits a year ago. He went on his own volition and it was fun to watch.

Ernie Harwell, the legendary voice of the Detroit Tigers, wasn’t as fortunate. New Tiger ownership decided to clean house and that included Harwell as he was unceremoniously sent packing. As if the broadcaster had a whole lot to do with the team’s success!

The thought of how and when a sports personality leaves the game came to my mind recently following a spate of firings. Bowling Green State University parted ways with Mike Jinks following a 7-27 record in three-plus seasons. The Cleveland Cavaliers fired head coach Tyronn Lue after the Cavs began the season with six straight losses. I’m not sure what ownership was expecting given the departure of LeBron James. Apparently a better start!

Then we have the Browns and the departure of head coach Hue Jackson. After winning one game in two seasons, a somewhat positive start this year (well, in comparison) was not enough to save his job. Owner Jimmy Haslem fired his third head coach since he took over the team in 2012. In contrast, the Pittsburgh Steelers have only had a total of three head coaches since — are you ready for this — 1969!

Some superstars stay past their prime. Brett Favre and Joe Montana seem to fit that category. Even legends are not immune to a surprise ending. Most Ohio State fans recall the name Charlie Bauman. He was on the receiving end of a punch that Woody Hayes threw after he intercepted a Buckeye pass. The action caused Woody his job.

The point is this, most people do not get to choose when and how they leave their sport. Then there is the case of one Denny Douds. The longtime East Stroudsburg University football coach did it his way.

Douds had spent 53 years coaching football at East Stroudsburg, the last 45 as head coach. He knew that someday he would tire of the grind and have to step away from the game he loved. That day came a couple of weeks ago. Here’s how it went down.

With four seconds left in a game that East Stroudsburg was trailing 48-35 to Ohio Dominican, Douds sidled up to the official along the sideline and nudged him. “Sir, we are going to call a fourth timeout. I know that is illegal and you are going to penalize it, but that’s OK. I am retiring.”

As the official goes to the referee to confer, Douds pulls a whistle from his pocket and blows it one more time, summoning his team to meet him. There he tells them what he is doing, informs them that he loves them and heads to the opposite sideline to shake hands with the Ohio Dominican coach. This is something he has done 491 times, which makes him the Division III leader in games coached.

He then walks out of the stadium tipping his cap to the crowd, gets in his car — which he has strategically parked next to the visitors’ locker room — and drives home. As Douds puts it: “I smiled all the way home.”

Only his wife and the university president knew of his plans. He went out on his own terms and I can’t imagine a better way to do it. I’m sure some people will have a problem with his gambit. They will say things like he let his players down as East Stroudsburg had two more games remaining.

My take is that after 45 years as head coach, Douds deserved the opportunity to leave the game as he saw fit. I hope he enjoys his retirement. His exit is one of a kind and only one other one had the potential to top it. Let me explain.

Todd Helton played all his 17 years in the majors with the Colorado Rockies. A five-time All Star, Helton put up some incredible numbers. In September 2013 he announced that the season would be his last. On the day of his last home game, Helton was honored with a pre-game ceremony where he was given some gifts by the Rockies.

One of the gifts was a horse. This is where he missed his chance for the best exit ever. Helton played in the game and hit a home run and drove in three runs. I think he should have jumped on the horse, rode around the diamond tipping his cap to adoring fans and then left the stadium. A cowboy riding off into the sunset!

What could be better than that?

Al Stephenson is a sports columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune

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