This is Tom Brady’s Super Bowl, if not his world, so let’s get to the point.
Tom Brady is not normal.
You see, by the time you reach your 30th birthday, your decline is well underway.
Your muscles start to atrophy (shrink). It is estimated that you lose 3% to 8% of your muscle mass for each decade after 30. Activity can slow the process, but no amount of pushups or wind sprints will stop it (unless you take anabolic steroids, but let’s not go there).
With the loss of muscle mass, so goes speed, strength, power, quickness ...
V02 max (how much oxygen the body can utilize in exercise) also declines 10% every decade after 30. This is because your max heart rate declines, as well.
And still the bad news keeps coming. Coordination and motor skills decline. According to Healthline, this is due to changes in the structure, function and biochemistry of the cortical regions (cerebral cortex) of the brain.
You also don’t recover from injuries or strenuous efforts as quickly as you did in your youth. Workouts and competitions leave you sore and fatigued for days and injuries take much longer to heal. Everything slows down as you age, including the body’s inflammatory response, which promotes healing.
Let’s see: strength, speed, quickness, coordination, power, endurance. That covers almost everything that makes an athlete and none of it endures long. Science and anecdotal evidence suggest there is something to the use-it-or-lose-it philosophy. Satchel Paige threw three shutout innings in the major leagues at the age of 59. Roger Federer has won three grand slams since turning 36.
But they are aberrations. The average age for athletes in the Rio Olympics was 25.2 for women, 26.2 for men. The average age of an NFL player is 26.
An NFL player’s career averages about 2 ½ years, and the league has been getting younger for years, but this is as much or more about finances as aging (players become vested for a pension at three years and teams cut veterans to save money). Notwithstanding, studies indicate that a player’s peak years are in the range of 26 to 27 years old, as it is in most sports.
Quarterbacks who started in the Super Bowl at 35 or older
Johnny Unitas, 37
Frank Tarkenton, 36
Roger Staubach, 35, 36
Jim Plunkett, 36
John Elway, 37, 38
Rich Gannon, 37
Kurt Warner, 37
Peyton Manning, 37, 39
Tom Brady, 37, 39, 40, 41, 43
Brady himself produced his best season in 2007, at the age of 30. That year he threw for 4,806 yards, 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions, with a career-best passer rating of 117.2. That was 14 years ago. He’s still thriving in the league. He’s played in the Super Bowl at the age of 37, 39, 40, 41 and, counting Sunday’s game, 43.
Quarterbacks can and do play at more advanced ages than players at other positions (besides kickers), especially in today’s game. The physical demands for a quarterback are different than for a linebacker or running back. They also are a protected species.
More and more rules have been adopted that are designed specifically to protect quarterbacks, because they play the most important (and difficult) position in all of sports, because good ones are difficult to find, because they are highly visible and marketable, and because they are vulnerable standing in the pocket while large men try to assault him. They also are better trained when they enter the league these days and work out of better offensive schemes.
The average age of the 110 starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl (counting this week’s game) is 29.7. Only 16 of those 110 starters were 35 or older, but half of them occurred in just the last 13 years (there were only four in the first 31 Super Bowls.) If you eliminate repeat appearances (Brady alone has five of them), there have been just nine quarterbacks who have started in the Super Bowl at 35 or older.
It’s clear that athletes lose athleticism rapidly beginning in their late 20s, but it could be argued that Brady never had much athleticism to begin with and therefore has never been able to rely on athleticism, if it is defined as a mix of speed, coordination, strength, quickness.
It’s clear that athletes lose athleticism rapidly beginning in their late 20s, but it could be argued that Brady never had much athleticism to begin with and therefore has never been able to rely on athleticism, if it is defined as a mix of speed, coordination, strength, quickness (who can forget his 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, which is still on YouTube, or his stumbling, bumbling attempt to catch a pass in the Super Bowl).
Skills endure longer than speed and strength (think golfers here), and Brady has honed his skills. He pays extreme attention, for instance, to the smallest technical details in throwing a football. He also has gone to great lengths to give himself every possible advantage, whether it’s his strict diet or his training regimen. You also can’t discount the immeasurables — his drive, his work ethic, his enthusiasm for the game and competition. Comedian Julian Clary once supposedly said, “The good thing about getting older is that, as you become less attractive, you have less desire to go out and conquer everyone you see.” That doesn’t describe Brady.
Brady has said for years that he wants to play until he’s 45. In an interview with WEEI radio in Boston, he explained, “I think I have always said 45 just because that’s a good goal to set because that is one that has been pretty hard to get to for most guys. I think you have to have goals — you have daily goals, you have yearly goals and you have long-term goals. I think for me it’s really just the love of football. I don’t know if or when I will ever not love it. That’s the thing. I don’t know, it’s just some people are maybe great guitarists, there are great chefs, there are great lawyers, there are great artists, actors, you name it. I think if you really love it, why should you stop? You just love it. I don’t know how to explain it other than I love doing it and that is enough for me.”