The most difficult opponent any athlete faces is Father Time.
Aging eventually gets the best of the best.
Michael Jordan? Jordan’s two-year stint with the Washington Wizards is Exhibit A.
Babe Ruth? The Sultan of Swing finished his career with a whimper as a member of the Boston Braves.
Johnny Unitas? He retired as a member of the San Diego Chargers. Joe Montana? He finished as a Kansas City Chief. Jerry Rice? He finished as a Seattle Seahawk.
Wayne Gretzky? The Great One wasn’t so great in his final season, 1998-99, with the New York Rangers. He scored just nine goals in 70 games, making it the only season of his 20-year career he didn’t crack double-digits in goals.
That is what makes the upcoming NFL season intriguing. The defending NFL champion New England Patriots are led by the ageless Tom Brady. The favorite to face the Patriots in the Super Bowl might be the New Orleans Saints, led by the ever youthful Drew Brees.
Officiating costÂ football fans the chance to witness the oldest matchup of quarterbacks in Super Bowl history in February between the 41-year-old Brady and the 40-year-old Brees.
The two find themselves nearly alone atop the NFL record book for quarterbacks. Brees is the all-time passing leader with 74,437 yards. With his 20th touchdown pass of 2019, he will move past Peyton Manning for the career mark in that category as well, unless Tom Brady passes him first. Brady is three back of Brees. Brady is also fourth on the passing yards list, but should move into second in just a few games.
However, they aren’t the only “senior citizens” among signal callers. Ben Roethlisberger is 37 and preparing for his 16th season as the Steelers’ starter. Remarkably, Big Ben only hired a full-time trainer this past offseason. Philip Rivers, the man who chased Brees out of San Diego, is also 37 and entering his 16th season with the Chargers. What separates Rivers from the previously mentioned quarterbacks isn’t the fact he and his wife, Tiffany, had their ninth child this summer, but Rivers is still chasing his first Super Bowl appearance.
One thing this quartet has in common is they have escaped serious injury over the back half of their careers.
Brees suffered a torn right labrum that sped up his exit from the Chargers. Since signing with the Saints, Brees has played in 205 of 208 possible games in the regular season.
Brady missed virtually the entire 2008 season with a knee injury, but he has recovered to play in all but the four games he was suspended due to Deflategate.
The most serious injury Roethlisberger has experienced came from riding a motorcycle without helmet. Even though “Big Ben” has played all 16 games in a season just four times, he has never missed a playoff game. Rivers has started every Chargers game since replacing Brees in 2006.
Peyton Manning’s body broke down. That led to his retirement. Other top quarterbacks through the years have experienced similar fates, including Montana and Favre.
It’s only a matter of when, not if, Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger and Rivers join them. Until then, enjoy what they can do as they stiff-arm Father Time.
Switching gears from football to auto racing, there is another athlete who is bucking Father Time â Scott Dixon.
Chances are, you’ve never heard of him unless you are a fan of open wheel racing in America. Dixon, who is originally from New Zealand, is in his 19th season of Indy car racing. In his career, Dixon has won the 2008 Indianapolis 500 and five season championships, the most recent being last year.
Sunday, he won at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for a record sixth time. Dixon is 39. It was his 46th career Indy car victory. Only A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti have more.
I mention Dixon only because another driver, who is better known, is struggling.
Jimmie Johnson made his NASCAR Cup debut the same season Dixon started in Indy cars. Johnson, 43, has gone on to win seven Cup championships, tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most in history. Johnson has also won 83 times, tied for sixth most in NASCAR history.
His last victory, though, came 80 races ago, June 4, 2017 at Dover. With five races left in NASCAR’s regular season, Johnson is 12 points out of the final playoff spot. Since the playoff format was introduced in 2004, Johnson has never missed it, but he also has not had more than two consecutive top 10 finishes this season. That may be the reason why Hendrick Motorsports replaced his crew chief Monday.
Johnson is discovering what the greats that came before him learned, no matter the sport â it is tough to out-run Father Time.
John Marcase is a former assistant managing editor and sports editor of The Town Talk. He writes a weekly column.