After Sunday’s stellar Super Bowl performance by Tom Brady, his status as G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) as an NFL quarterback was cemented pretty solidly. At the well-seasoned age of 43, Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a surprisingly one-sided 31-9 win over the favored Kansas City Chiefs.
In a strong rebuttal to the idea that traditional dropback pocket passers were an anachronism, Brady completed 21 of 29 passes for two touchdowns, 201 yards and no interceptions.
Certainly, Brady is not only the G.O.A.T., but also the H.O.A.T (Handsomest of All Time). Where is it written, by the way, that quarterbacks have to be good-looking? Maybe being a hunk gives you the confidence to lead a football team.
Regardless of that, Sunday’s events made me think about other pro athletes who played at a high level long after most of their peers were on the golf course or getting wide in the recliners.
When thinking of creaking NFL quarterbacks, the name that comes to mind is George Blanda, who played (mostly as a place kicker) to age 48, although he looked more like 73. But the record for someone primarily behind center is actually held by a local “lad,” Steve DeBerg. Born in Oakland, he attended Savanna High in Anaheim, where he led the Rebels to gridiron glory.
After retiring in 1993, he sat out the next five years and returned to action in 1998 – at age 44 – to play for the Atlanta Falcons, starting one game and passing for 369 yards overall and three touchdowns. He was intercepted once.
However, Brady – who says he’d like to play to age 45 or longer – and DeBerg and Blanda fall short of the sports longevity records of certain other professional athletes.
Golfer Gary Player was still putting at 73. Ice hockey legend Gordie Howe played a shift at 69. Nancy Lieberman, WNBA pioneer, was still shooting treys at age 50.
The most interesting senior citizen of sports is Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige, who played pro baseball to the age of 59. Maybe.
The reason for the doubt is that there is some uncertainty about his actual age, as his birthdate is given as anywhere from 1900 to 1908. He began his career in the Negro Leagues, debuting with the Chattanooga Black Lookouts in 1926 in the segregated era of pro baseball. He played for 10 teams in that part of his career before signing with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 at the age of 42. He won 146 games in the Negro leagues, which are gaining acceptance now as major league operations.
In the newly-integrated “big” leagues, Paige had a 28-31 record (finishing in 1965 with the Kansas City Athletics) but was named a major league all-star twice and helped the Indians to the 1948 World Series title.
Aside from his incredible longevity, Paige is remembered for his homey witticisms. “Don’t look back,” he once said. “Something might be gaining on you.” It’s unlikely anyone will ever play pro baseball to almost 60, but as for Tom Brady and the NFL, well, who knows?
“Sports Monday” is written by Pete Zarustica.