Tom Brady’s start at quarterback for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI Sunday night will bookend an unforgettable week for aging champions.
Brady is 39 and playing in his seventh Super Bowl, but he has looked like a quarterback 10 years younger. After serving a four-game suspension at the start of the season for his alleged role in Deflategate, he led the Patriots to an 11-1 record in the 12 games he started in the regular season, threw 28 touchdown passes with only two interceptions, and finished as the second-most productive quarterback in the NFL after Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, his opponent tonight. He averaged 296.2 passing yards per game, the fifth best of his 17-year career. His two interceptions were the fewest of his career and his 112.2 quarterback rating second best.
Last month, during his regular appearance on a Boston radio talk show, Brady said that playing until he is 45 is a “great goal.” If he stays healthy and maintains his desire to endure the necessary off-season training, he just might reach that goal. Even if he does, he will not displace George Blanda as the oldest quarterback in NFL history. The Oakland Raiders oldie but goodie played games in four decades and was 48 when he retired in 1975.
The current run of aging super champions began last Saturday at the Australian Open, when Serena Williams defeated her sister Venus in straight sets for the women’s singles title, her record-breaking 23rd Grand Slam tennis championship. At 35, Serena is the oldest women to win a slam singles title in the Open Era, which started in 1968. Adding to the AARP angle of this match was Venus’s age, 36.
The next day, Roger Federer, 35, outlasted his old rival Rafael Nadal, 30, in five sets and won the men’s singles championship, his 18th Grand Slam title.
How did those four oldsters do it? All missed significant time in 2016 because of medical issues. Serena Williams played only eight tournaments because of knee trouble. Venus Williams has contended with energy-sapping Sjogens Syndrome for five years. Federer shut it down last July to properly rehab his knee post-surgery. Nadal ended his year in October because of a nagging wrist injury.
Yet all four showed up at Melbourne Park and defied expectations, thanks to fitness regimens, medical treatments and nutrition practices that weren’t available to aging athletes of old. Then there was their skill, grit and guts, not to mention luck, like No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic losing in the first week of the tournament.
Watching the Williams sisters, Federer and Nadal reminded me of another champion who gave us an age-defying performance in 2016. David Ortiz of the Red Sox hit .315 with 38 home runs and led the American League with 48 doubles and 127 runs batted in. He was 40.