Bird at Play: Knowing when your time is up

It's sad to see Ed Reed at the end of his football career in yet another uniform that's not purple and black when he comes to M&T Bank Stadium rocking his green and white J-E-T-S uniform, marking his second trip back to Baltimore this season to play against the team where he made his name.
I'm not advocating for Ozzie to sign Reed back to the Ravens'; roster to finish out his career. This is not his team anymore. What a sad thing it is to witness when an athlete fails to see when the end has passed them by. I love Ed Reed and his name will go rightfully on the Ravens Wall of Fame at M&T, but like his fellow Miami alum, he should have used the opportunity to leave the game at the top and walk off into the sunset a Super Bowl Champion.
Reed is not unlike many professional athletes who just don't know when their dance card has been punched one too many times. Seeing the great Johnny Unitas wearing that God-awful San Diego Chargers uniform at the end of his career will forever be burned in my memory.
One of my most depressing times as a sports fan was seeing the cover of Sports Illustrated with a well-past-his-prime Muhammed Ali beaten by Larry Holmes and unable to answer to the bell with the caption "The Last Hurrah." And what was Michael Jordan thinking sporting that Washington Wizards uniform at the end of his career? Good marketing move for the Wizards' ticket office, but a black mark on an otherwise superb basketball career.
You can't put a universal cap on a professional athlete's career that would apply to all. If you did, you'd be at risk of missing some great performances. You may have missed John Elway's Super Bowl MVP performance in his last game with 336 yards and a passing and rushing touchdown. Wilt Chamberlain's 24-point, 29-rebound MVP performance in Game 5 of the 1972 NBA Finals for the Lakers' first championship, would never have happened.
And we may never have had the experience of the George Foreman Grills if the 45-year old champ hadn't knocked out Michael Moore in the 10th round with a short uppercut.
One of the hardest things for me to learn about high school sports is that when the season is over, it's over. There's not another tournament or a spring season to look forward to. Whether your season ends in the first round of the playoffs or hoisting the state championship trophy like the North Carroll and Gerstell boys' and Century girls' soccer teams did this week, it is the end of the road for the seniors. A few will make the jump to play in college, but for most of the players this is it.
It's hard to walk away from the game you love that has given you the same love in return all those years. Baseball pitcher Jim Bouton said it best, "You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."
Isn't it funny how sports can do that to us?