Tom vs. Time: An athlete fights the years

by Gary Shelton on June 21, 2020

in general

The world waits to see what Brady has left./TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Sunday, 4 a.m.

Every day, we fight the clock.

Every day, we look for hair that has turned gray, or for another wrinkle, or for another spot on our arms. Time is a sneaky thing, and as they say, it is undefeated. Sometimes, it seems a player goes from being too young to being over the hill in a single afternoon.

Most of the time, however, it is a battle that most Tampa Bay sports fans never have to worry about.

Hey, Tampa Bay teams are young by nature, aren't they? Most of the time, they invest their hope into draftees and other young, promising players. They hype them, and they load too much of the burden for winning upon them, and then they throw them away.






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In 1979, the Bucs were good for the first time, reaching the NFC title game. The star of that team, Lee Roy Selmon, was 25. Doug Williams, the quarterback, was 24, There were no jokes about the Early Bird Special.

In 2002, the season in which the Bucs won it all, Warren Sapp was 30. Derrick Brooks was 29. Two years later, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup.Martin St. Louis was 28. Vinny Lecavalier was 23. When the Rays reached the World Series in 2008, James Shields was 26. Evan Longoria and David Price were 22.

Older players, you see, are more expensive. Winning comes at a cost. In most seasons, we have not been a mountain where the wise men reside. We do better with up-and-coming athletes than we do with old-and-settled ones.

So, whatever are we to make of this battle against time that Tom Brady is now waging.

It's odd. The older an athlete gets, the more people pay attention. For a long time, they talked about Brady's accomplishments. Now, they wonder how much strength remains in his arm, and how much Bill Belichick knew when he decided to turn Brady loose. Every day, you hear the questions. Brady has won a lot of Super Bowls, but time has won them all. And critics notice.

Oh, Belichick doesn't bat 1.000. Richard Seymour made two Pro Bowls after Belichick traded him. Jimmy Garappolo made a Super Bowl. Chandler Jones has made two. Logan Mankins was a serviceable guard for two seasons.

So who do you bet on? The calendar, or the resume?

At his age, almost 43, no one is counting on Brady to win another six Super Bowls. But if he can squeeze a couple of playoff seasons out of his body, it will be interesting to see.

And yes, athletes do succeed late in life.

-- Yuichiro Miaura was 80 years old when he climbed Mount Everest in 2013.

-- Diana Nyad was 64 when she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Miami without a shark cage in 2013.

-- Satchel Page threw three scoreless innings for Kansas City in 1965 at the age of 59.

-- Tom Watson was 59 when he came within a stroke of winning the 2008 British Open.

-- Gordie Howe was 52 when he played his last game for Hartford in 1980.

-- Martina Navratilova won the US Open mixed doubles title just shy of her 50th birthday.

-- Julius Boros won the PGA championship in 1968 at the age of 48.

-- George Blanda finished a 26-year NFL career in 1975 at the age of 48, although he was primarily a kicker his last few years.

-- Jack Nicklans won the 1986 Masters at 46.

-- George Foreman won a heavyweight championship in '94 at age 46.

-- Nolan Ryan threw his last no-hitter in 1991 at age 44. He would pitch until he was 46.

-- Robert Parish won an NBA title with Chicago in 1997.

-- Dara Torres was 41 when she won three silver medals at the 2008 Olympics.

And on it goes. John Goodenough won a Nobel Prize at the age of 96. James Ivory won an Academy Award at 89. In 1998, John Glenn went into space at age 77.

And Tom Brady is still facing the blitz as he nears his 43rd birthday.

It shouldn't surprise us that players such as Brady and Drew Brees are still excelling late in life. For a great quarterback, playing quarterback has become as cerebral as it is physical. Almost every rule change -- throwing it away when out of the pocket, penalizing borderline hits, liberalizing pass protection, restricting defensive backs as they bump downfield -- has favored the quarterback. The days of being done at 35 are over.

In other words, it isn't how old you are. It's how good you are.

Soon, Brady will get a chance to show us all.

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