Tom Brady isn’t retiring on top. He isn’t even thinking about it. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback affirmed his plan to return after winning his seventh Super Bowl on Sunday night, saying he’ll be back next season. It’s one of the most incredible runs a player has had in NFL history, not only continuing to play well into his 40s, but excelling at the highest level.
Brady will be 44 years old before the NFL season kicks off in 2021. He’s already the oldest player to score a touchdown in NFL history, and returning next season would make him one of the oldest non-specialist players in league history to keep going.
How does Brady compare to old (old!) athletes in other sports? At what point does Brady become one of the greatest athletes to play at his age?
Tom Brady’s resume.
Look, at this point we all know the ins and out of what No. 12 has accomplished, but just for posterity and easy comparison, let’s dive in.
- 7x Super Bowl champion.
- 5x Super Bowl MVP.
- 3x NFL MVP.
- 3x NFL All-Pro First Team
- 2x NFL All-Pro Second Team
- 14x Pro Bowl.
The winningest quarterback of all time, Brady eclipsed both the Patriots and Steelers ENTIRE ORGANIZATIONS for Super Bowl wins with his victory on Sunday night. That’s a stat that might never, ever be touched. Love him or hate him, there’s no question that Tom Brady is better at winning than anyone has been in NFL history.
Gordie Howe was the king of playing in middle age.
Any discussion of longevity in sports needs to start with Howe. There are going to be a lot of big names on this list, but nobody is like him when it comes to competing in a team contact sport.
Howe began his career in 1945, playing his last game in 1997 (NINETEEN NIGHTY SEVEN) at the age of 69. Mr. Hockey officially hung it up in the NHL in 1980, at the spry young age of 52, competing in one last minor league game as an exhibition, but his time in hockey speaks for itself.
Howe was still an effective player until the end of his NHL career, winning four Stanley Cup trophies in the process. He was also a 23-time All-Star, and one of the greatest to ever play.
Sure Roger Clemens took drugs, but he still dominated on the mound.
Clemens will forever be a lightning rod for controversy, but there’s no question that based on pure numbers he’s one of the greatest to ever play baseball. Sure, PEDs likely played a major role in his success, but Clemens was still dominating baseball at age 40, when he won the Cy Young Award with the Astros at the age of 42.
Not quite at the same level as Brady when it comes to age, but another guy who dominated his sport into his 40s. Those steroids definitely helped though.
Richard Petty raced over 1,000 times.
The king of NASCAR, Petty raced 1,184 times in his career — winning the NASCAR Cup Series seven times. Petty raced well into his 50s, finishing in the Top 10 at the 1991 Budweiser at the Glen, 31 years after making his debut in the sport.
Petty’s final NASCAR win came in 1984, when he was 47 years old. Unquestionably one of the greatest the sport has ever seen, Petty went on to become an owner in the sport and remains involved in NASCAR to this day.
Jack Nicklaus considered retirement, then played another 20 years.
One of the greatest golfers of all time, Nicklaus’ name is synonymous with the game. There will be debate forever over who is better, Nicklaus or Tiger Woods — but longevity is a key element of The Golden Bear’s career.
Despite contemplating retirement in the late 1970s, Nicklaus returned to the course for much of the 1980s and shocked the world when he won the 1986 Masters at the age of 46. He would go on to play another 14 YEARS in both the PGA, and then Senior PGA, before retiring at the age of 65.
George Blanda is right up there with Brady in terms of the NFL.
When it comes to the NFL there’s only one quarterback in the conversation, and that’s George Blanda. Starting his career in 1949, Blanda will likely be the only player in NFL history to play in four different decades.
While he technically played until the age of 48, Blanda’s career really ended following the 1966 season when he took a back seat as was kept in the league as a backup. When it comes to success there’s not really a comparison across their careers, though Blanda has achieved something Brady hasn’t: Thrown for seven touchdowns in a game, which he achieved in 1961.
George Foreman was a champion up until the end.
Consider something for just one second. Foreman was a part of the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in 1974 against Muhammad Ali. 21 years later he was recognized as the lineal heavyweight champion of the world.
With a career record of 76-5, Foreman won gold at the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968, and kept fighting until 1997, when at the age of 48 he lost the heavyweight title to Shannon Biggs, who was 22 years younger at the time.
Foreman went on to become a grill entrepreneur and earn hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.
Satchel Paige might have been so great because he didn’t know how old he was.
There is nobody who compares to Satchel Paige when it comes to longevity. It’s hilarious to think about George Blanda playing in four different decades, and, well, Paige did in it five.
Paige started his career in 1926, not long after World War I, he played his last game in 1965 in a ceremonial outing for the Kansas City Athletics. Over the span of his 39 year career he averaged an ERA of 3.29, winning the World Series in 1948, and being named a five-time All-Star in the Negro Leagues.
The best footnote to Paige’s career is that for a long time he didn’t even know how old he was. Paige used to joke about that being part of his longevity, but he finally learned his true age in 1948 when the owner of the Cleveland Indians traveled to his home town of Mobile, Alabama to find out when he was actually born.