Glory Days

Joe: You're Norma Desmond! You used to be in silent pictures; you used to be big!
Norma: I am big! It's the pictures that got small!

You have a Crowning Moment Of Awesome in your past. It haunts you. Either your life went downhill, or you continually fail to match or top that moment, or you try coasting on that glory for the rest of your life.

One of the classic examples is the stereotypical high school jock who won the big game, and spends the rest of his life in an unsatisfying job. Either he didn't make it in college, or he's treated as a rank-and-file drone in the business world. Later he may inform his miserable children that these are the Best Years of Your Life.

Compare I Coulda Been a Contender, Nostalgia Filter (when a character looks back on the past with rose-tinted glasses), Tough Act to Follow, White-Dwarf Starlet, Jaded Washout (spends his time wishing he was still back there), and Trade Your Passion for Glory.

When a character had to leave a dangerous life for a more mundane one, and spends it longing for his glory days, he is in love with being In Harm's Way.

Contrast While You Were in Diapers.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 

  • Tiger & Bunny has a dark example in Mr. Legend, who after losing his powers became a drunk and an abusive husband and father.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Simon and the rest of the Gurren Brigade find themselves bored out of their minds after the Time Skip. Averted in the Distant Finale, where Simon seems content Walking the Earth.
  • The old men from GUN×SWORD. They keep drinking and talking about the glory days in a deceased member's granddaughter's tavern and are chewed out by the other people who don't even believe them. They prove themselves again when an armor attacks their town and they get to show off the El Dorado V. They trump their glory days with more epic moments in the quest to stop the Claw.
  • Rumbling Hearts: Hayase Mitsuki, a once-in-a-generation swimming prodigy had the makings of an Olympic-Grade Champion. She leaves it behind to look after her best friend Haruka's boyfriend Takayuki. He is unable to complete high school because of his suicidal depression over Haruka's car-accident induced coma. An accident inadvertently caused by Mitsuki. Three years on, when Haruka awakens, Takayuki leaves Mitsuki behind to restart life where he left it. Mitsuki, now a mere office lady, meets an old-rival who is now an olympic grade champion-swimmer doubly reminding her of the meaninglessness of her sacrifice.
  • Cowboy Bebop has a trio of old men (possibly former cowboys) which keep talking of the great days back in their youth.
  • In Hoozuki no Reitetsu, Momotaro has become like this. His companions only go along with him because they like him but complain amongst themselves. Hoozuki fixes Momotaro up with a job caring for celestial peaches, and his animal companions find work punishing the spirits of those who were cruel to animals.

    Comic Books 
  • Silk Spectre sums up her comrades' feelings: "I was a hero, goddamn it!".
  • In Nextwave, Monica Rambeau can hardly start a sentence without mentioning how she once led The Avengers.
  • Most of the depowered heroes in JLA: Act of God seemed to not be able to get past the days when they were superheroes. Even Supergirl called the past 'The Glory Days'.
  • Hector "Heck" Hammarskjold, protagonist of the graphic novel Heck, used to be the high school quarterback, and when he returns home for his father's funeral that's all that people remember about him.
    Heck: I'm not that guy any more. And I'm not exactly thrilled that I'm not a star any more, and that I'll never be as interesting or exciting or happy as I was in high school. So stop reminding me of old days and better times.
  • In Astro City, invoked by name by a police officer forced to retire — he didn't look up a superhero he had known because he didn't want to be two old men bragging about their glory days. The superhero, who really had retired because he no longer had it, helps him come to grips with it.

    Film 
  • Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard is convinced that she is still as big a star as she was in the silent film era, even though she hasn't made any films since then.
  • Producer David O. Selznick had his greatest hit with Gone with the Wind. He made hits after that, but nothing on the level of that movie. Of course, no one made hits on the level of that movie, ever. Adjusted for inflation, it is to this day the highest-grossing film of all time.
  • In Galaxy Quest, the main character suffers from a brief Heroic BSOD at the beginning, when he overhears someone laughing at the fact that he and his colleagues haven't had an acting role since the titular Star Trek Fictional Counterpart a decade or two earlier.
  • Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite is a particularly sorry example of this trope, as he looks back on a football game that he spent warming the bench. He spends all his free time practicing his throw and lamenting that he could have won the game and gone pro if the coach had put him in. He even buys a "time machine" on the Internet so he can go back and change his life.
  • Played with to the point of subversion in Music and Lyrics; whilst former pop-star and professional has-been Alex Fletcher's glory days are well and truly behind him at the beginning of the movie, he is, if not exactly ecstatic with his lot, comfortably resigned to it. Having found some measure of contentment in the low-rent theme-park gigs he does to support himself, he doesn't demonstrate a burning desire to get back to the old days, and seems to have accepted the fact that his glory days are behind him. His main motivation throughout the movie is not getting back on the charts, but ensuring he has a sufficient profile to secure a lucrative contract singing at Disneyland.
  • In This Is Spinal Tap, the titular band spend most of the movie actively determined to pretend that the Glory Days aren't well and truly behind them, despite the fact that the crowds and venues are getting noticeably smaller.
  • Randy "The Ram" Robinson, the aging, lonely, deteriorating title character of The Wrestler, keeps going back into the ring to recapture as much as he can of the exhilaration and adoration of his heyday in the 1980s, culminating in a "revenge bout" against his in-ring rival, "The Ayatollah", several decades after their original rivalry.
  • The end of Goodfellas has Henry lament his boring life in witness protection and flashing to a montage of his glory days as a gangster. It ends with a homage to The Great Train Robbery, implying an association to America's glory days of The Wild West.
  • Sam Rothstein laments the old Vegas at the end of Casino.
  • Robert De Niro's character in The FAN, to an Axe Crazy degree.
  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were going through this in TMNT, which is odd, since there was no indication from the last movie that things would turn out this way.
  • Rocky Balboa was also meant to remedy such a situation caused by Rocky V.
  • "Fast" Eddie Felson in The Color of Money. We saw his Glory Days in The Hustler but when The Color Of Money opens, he's a bitter burnout selling booze and ends up working as a stakehorse to a younger player. Subverted when he makes a comeback towards the end of the film.
  • Mr. Incredible from The Incredibles. After a forced retirement from his career as a super-hero, he settles down and becomes a typical cubicle dweller. While his wife has adapted to their new circumstances, he is stuck re-living his past glories, a fact which the villain exploits to get Mr. Incredible to unknowingly help him. He is even on the cover of a ''Glory Days''' magazine.
    Helen: Risking our family again so you can relive the glory days is a very bad thing!
    Bob: Well, reliving the glory days is better than acting like they didn't happen!
  • Parodied in Hamlet 2; Elizabeth Shue plays herself as a survivor of the Hollywood Hype Machine having decided to quit acting and become a nurse instead. The main character is a huge fan of hers and invites her to the school to give a talk about acting to his drama class — which ends up embarrassing for all concerned, as the kids have no idea who she is.
  • One of the main themes in The Turning Point. Emma was once a great dancer, but now she's in her mid-forties and can barely execute a double pirouette. Her old friends Wayne and DeeDee, also once on their way to ballet stardom, abandoned their performing careers shortly after having their first child. And Michael, the artistic director, has devolved from a great choreographer into an administrator.
  • Velma Von Tussle from Hairspray will not hesitate to remind you of her supermodel days when she won Miss Baltimore Crabs.
  • In The Fighter, Dickie Eklund constantly replays his boxing match where he managed to score a knockdown against Sugar Ray Leonard, despite the fact that Leonard eventually won the match. Everybody gets tired of Dickie constantly talking about the fight and later, he runs into Leonard and Leonard can barely recognize him.
  • The World's End: In his teenage years, Gary was the coolest kid in school. Twenty years later, he still hasn't moved on.
  • Before he was upstaged by penguins, Dave the octopus from Penguins of Madagascar used to be a star attraction at the Central Park zoo, entertaining crowds with his dexterous antics.
  • In Pixels, Sam used to be world vice-champion of arcade games. Today, he's fixing electronic installations and still regrets not doing anything with his talents.

    Literature 
  • Tan'elKoth in Blade of Tyshalle literally fits this trope to a T. He used to be a god. As a line points out, his very name was changed to an unwilling admission that he no longer is that being. Hari also longs for the glory days of his career, when he was an unstoppable assassin instead of a paraplegic bureaucrat. See also Orbek's obsession with reviving the Black Knife nation in Caine Black Knife
  • One of the main themes in The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar, at least for the characters associated with the secret societies that were crushed in 1825 (the book is set in 1828). The main character's glory days are seemingly still in full swing, but a) he has great and well-founded fear of suffering this trope in the future if he doesn't take some risks and b) while his political and social career has been doing well, he has become increasingly detached from many of his old friends and has also hit a major writer's block, which leads to a lot of regret and nostalgic reminiscing on his part.
  • Robert Baratheon in A Song of Ice and Fire longs for the days of the Rebellion, when he was a strong, dashing and popular hero, with a clear enemy to fight and a damsel in distress to rescue. He really hates being king, and he'd give it up in a heartbeat if he could.
  • Bavragor Hammerfist from Dwarves. He created some of the finest stonework in the world, before his love of drink took over.
  • Conan the Barbarian:
    • In Robert E. Howard's story "A Phoenix on the Sword", Thoth-amon's days when he owned the Ring of Power.
    • Conan himself suffers from this in later years:
      When I was a fighting man
      The kettle drums they beat.
      And the people scattered gold dust
      At my horse's feet.
      But now I am a great king
      The people hound my track
      With poison in my wine cup
      And daggers at my back.
  • The Great Gatsby:
    • Many characters, but especially Tom Buchanan, who used to be a star football player for Yale. Nick's impression of Tom is as a restless man who goes about his entire life looking for another football game to win.
    • Gatsby himself inverts this. He never had such pure happiness in his past, but he's ignoring reality in order to try and make the future glorious and perfect and lovely.
  • Subverted in Children of the Lens, last in the Lensman sequence: the surviving crew of the battleship "Dauntless", now top brass, cast off their regalia and revert to their original roles aboard ship of twenty years before in order to re-enter a strange universe and craft the ultimate weapon. They literally get to relive their glory days, even as they are living a second set.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • A witch in one episode (who didn't see this coming) never got over her glory days as a cheerleader, so forcibly switched places with her daughter to relive "her glory days".
    • Buffy has moments of this, at least at the beginning of the show, missing her popular cheerleader days, back when she didn't have to be a slayer.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series, episode 2x24, "The Ultimate Computer," had Dr. Richard Daystrom who invented the duotronic computer system used on Federation starships when he was 24, and spent the next 25 years trying to recapture that moment of brilliance (leading to the disastrous results of the M-5 computer). However he seems to have made some historical impact, as by the 24th century a prominent scientific institute is named for him.
  • Did you know that Al Bundy of Married... with Children once scored four touchdowns in one game of high school football? Al sure wants you to know.
  • Illyria, a Cthulu-esque goddess demon from Angel, awakens from millions of years of stasis to find herself trapped in a human body, her cult all but extinct and her armies long since turned to dust. She spends a lot of time moping about how powerful she used to be. It's actually quite poignant to see how she deals with the modern world.
  • In NCIS, it's amazing that Ducky has even had the time to experience all the things he's always rambling on about. He's not that old...
  • A running gag in Babylon 5 with the Centauri Republic in general and Londo Mollari in particular, leading to an in-universe Lightbulb Joke:
    Q: How many Centauri does it take to change a lightbulb?
    A: Just one... but in the glory days of the Republic, hundreds of servants would change thousands of lightbulbs at our every whim!
  • The main theme of The Twilight Zone episode "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine", in which aging actress Barbara Jean Trenton longs for the days when she and her friends were young, beautiful stars. Her inability to accept the reality in which they have grown old and moved on to other professions is so profound that at the end of the episode, she enters the world of one of her films so that she can remain young and beautiful forever.
  • Highlander actually has an episode called "Glory Days", where Joe Dawson, who was the star quarterback of the high school football team, meets up with the head cheerleader he'd once dated. He gets depressed because he lost his legs in Vietnam, and doesn't think she'll like him, that he's 'damaged goods' (she was actually married anyway, but she does reassure him that he isn't damaged). Meanwhile, Mac is targeted by a former mobster immortal who's depressed and unhappy and wants Mac dead for instigating the 'death' that got him kicked out of the mob back in the 30s.
  • On Glee, Terry accuses Schuester of obsessing over the Glee club in order to revive his Glory Days from high school.
  • As part of its Biting-the-Hand Humor, 30 Rock likes to make fun of the fact that NBC's last glory days were in the 1990s. In one episode, Jack reveals this pie chart.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: In "King of the Lake", the father of the Victim of the Week is a former Olympian whose career was cut short and who is attempting to relive his glory days through his son's athletic success.

    Music 

    Mythology 
  • Jason from the Argonautica met his end because of his obsession with his glory days. After Jason's lack of faith to Medea destroyed his life, he found himself years later on the beach where the hulk of his old ship the Argo lay. As he sat reminiscing about his adventure, the rotting prow of the Argo fell on him and killed him.

    Theatre 
  • Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman is so obsessed with his glory days that he occasionally flashes back to them. Whether or not the glory days actually had that much glory in them, or if Willy and his son are re-imagining the past is an important part of the story.
  • That Championship Season is about an all grown up Six Student Clique who long for the simplicity of their youth, even though some of them are now successful (though their success is built on rotten foundations).

    Video Games 
  • Guybrush at the start of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. After he beat LeChuck in the first game he had a great life, but people were expecting more and eventually he lost Elaine and people forgot about him. This one of the factors motivating him to find the Big Whoop.
  • Langdon Ricketts of Red Dead Redemption. He clearly misses the old days and refers to himself as an old relic sitting around Chuparosa as some 'low-rent would be messiah.'
  • Actual yakuza said that Kiryu in the Ryu Ga Gotoku series embodies the kind of noble spirit that they no longer see in their members anymore.
  • The Dwarves in Dragon Age. Due to the Darkspawn having overrun the Deep Roads that once connected their Thaigs together, their great Empire that once spanned Thedas has been reduced to just two remaining cities, separated by thousands of miles. While the Surface Dwarves and Casteless are fully aware of their glory days being a long-distant memory, the Noble Castes refuse to admit it and insist on acting like they're still living them.
  • Two are mentioned in Tears To Tiara 2. The Canaanites and the people of Hispania under legendary king Eshmun. Laelius mentions that The Empire has seen much better days and he's determined to return it to its former glory.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Camp Lazlo: on the episode "Dead Bean Drop", Slinkman, of all people misses his days as a death-defying daredevil, but he seems to have shoved it into the back of his mind over the years until Lazlo, Clam, and Raj find out and begin talking about it nonstop. He apparently moves past it when after fifteen years of having quit, he manages to jump the titular cliff, and it is never mentioned again.
  • Chowder has the episode "Big Food" regarding Chowder coming across the legendary Big Food, a now washed up Grand Dame actress based a lot upon Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
    Big Food: I am Big Food, it's the refrigerators that got small.
  • Bob Parr in The Incredibles misses his glory days, now that he's been forced into hiding. The soundtrack's track for the flashback opener of the film is even named "Glory Days".
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone", Gilda's grandfather is stuck in the days when the kingdom of Griffonstone was a mighty nation instead of a dump.

    Real Life 
  • The Renaissance saw Ancient Rome as the Glory Days of mankind, hence the popularity of the term "Dark Age Europe" and "Medieval Morons". Petrarch even said "What else, then, is all history, but the praise of Rome?"
  • The United States, Great Britain, Russia, and China all, to some extent, see World War II this way. Germany, Italy, and Japan feel differently.
  • During World War II, the period in which German U-boats enjoyed the upper hand against the British and later the Americans was called "the Happy Times." The first period lasted from roughly mid-1940 to late 1941, with the second period (consisting of German attacks on the American East Coast) lasting from January to August 1942. Once the battle shifted against the Germans, these became replaced with "the Sour Pickle Time"; by then, German crews had no more fun going out into the Atlantic.
  • The pre-American Civil War South for some.
  • Some see communist Russia as this (one aspect of Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell).
    • There's quite a bit of this in the other European ex-communist countries. However, the difference is that some see the communist era as the Glory Days, while others see the pre-communist era as such (which is also rather problematic since almost all of these countries were dictatorships in the pre-1945 period).
    • Some Eastern and Central European countries go even further back, in sharp contrast to their less-than-stellar experiences in the 20th Century. Whether it's memories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth or the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  • The British Empire, depending who you ask; many people consider the methods used to acquire and keep the Empire as nothing to brag about and are quite glad to see the back of it.
  • The Sixties for the American and Russian space programs is a pretty good example.
  • Most real-world fascist movements express this trope in their rhetoric, generally The Theme Park Version or with Historical Hero Upgrade / Historical Villain Upgrade.
  • Some professional athletes attempt to forestall the end of their careers trying to prove they can still play at the same level despite the drop off in skills.
  • This sentiment was actually one of the motivations for Germans in the German Workers' Party following the country's defeat in World War I. Hitler ended up becoming enamored with the groups belief, and after ascending the ranks, the Nazi Party would be formed.
  • Many people who leave the military have this mindset, especially if they were combat arms and did something heroic. Special Operations guys get it particularly hard, because after they leave the job, there are dozens of reasons why they can never be a world class Made of Iron badass ever again. It's also really difficult to go from having a direction, a purpose, and camaraderie in the military to suddenly having to make your own way as a civilian. If you want to keep a hold of your badassery, you won't be able to; you'll have neither the money nor the time nor the facilities to keep your body in shape and your skills sharp.