Two masters of their disciplines, who triumphed while young and stepped aside from competition (Clinton because he had to) while still in top form. Gibbs was 52 when he retired for the first time as Redskins coach, with three Superbowl wins behind him and election to the Hall of Fame ahead. Clinton was 54 when he watched George W. Bush sworn in as his successor, knowing that he would have won in a landslide if he were allowed to run again.

Then each returned. Coach Gibbs, for a disspiriting 31-36 four-year stint with the Redskins capped, if that's the right word, by the extremely disspiriting playoff loss to the Seahawks three days ago (and his resignation today). President Clinton, for what looks like a disspiriting 0-2 run as his wife's campaign booster and apparent strategist, and occasional negative-spin specialist against the candidate who is beating her. [Update: Coach-President Clinton has in fact opened 1-1. The questions below still apply.]

Will either of them be glad he came back into the fray? Were they rash to defy the maxim that there are no second acts in American lives? Other people have much worse problems, and Bill Clinton is probably not the most disspirited member of his household right now. Nonetheless I feel for both him and Gibbs.

Addendum: As readers Matt Megas and Robert Lamirande have pointed out, other obvious entries in this category include: Earl Weaver, who was brilliantly successful in his first stint as manager of the Orioles and then had his only losing season ever during his brief return run; Michael Jordan, who had the least successful of his several comebacks when he joined the Washington Wizards at the end of his career; and, tragically, too many boxers to mention, all of whom kept coming back.