MINNEAPOLIS — As Tom Brady prepares for his eighth Super Bowl, he can’t possibly be 40 years old — despite what the New England Patriots quarterback and the team’s media guide say, right?
“I’m convinced he’s not 40 years old,’’ Joe Theismann, the former NFL quarterback, told USA TODAY Sports. “I think his birth certificate was sealed hermetically a long time ago, and he’s a genetic freak is what he is.’’
Brady, who turned 40 on Aug. 3 — go ahead, look it up — has defied Father Time and astonished a host of retired quarterbacks that spoke with USA TODAY Sports about the seemingly ageless Brady. Count Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre among those who admitted they were hardly the same at 40.
“My style of play was totally different than Brady’s,” said Favre, who played 20 seasons in the NFL and retired at 40. “I moved around and had to use my legs. By the end of my career, I didn’t have total trust in my abilities. I didn’t feel like I could get away (from the rush) like I used to. Tom hasn’t had to do that. He’s always had good protection.”
Theismann and 17-year NFL veteran Ron Jaworski pointed out that when it comes to throwing the football, Brady’s arms doesn’t appear to be impacted by the years on the calendar ticking away.
“It’s phenomenal,’’ Theismann said, citing arm strength as a hallmark of Brady’s high-level play at an age when quarterbacks like Peyton Manning faltered. “I think that was the biggest indicator with Peyton, is he just didn’t have the velocity on the ball that he had a year or two before. And when you’re watching Tom work, you just don’t notice a drop off in his ability to put the ball where he wants to.
“When your arm starts to wane, you don’t make those (precision) throws anymore. And in Tom’s case, I haven’t seen any dropoff.’’
Jaworski admitted that wasn’t the case for him when he retired at 38 after the 1989 season with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“In my 17th season and I wasn’t the same guy,” Jaworski said. “The throws I could make effortlessly, now required a really strong effort. Those were a lot harder to make. When I watch Tom Brady — and I’m probably one of like two guys who have watched Brady throw every pass of his career — he’s still making those though throws. The ball comes out with a great deal of velocity. His mobility may even be better at 40 than it was 30. It’s amazing. I marvel at the guy. At (38), I was at the end of line and I was hanging on.”
Although Theismann called Brady a genetic freak, he attributed part of Brady’s success to sophisticated training methods.
“What we see in Tom is an indication of the way times are today,’’ said Theismann, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Washington Redskins in 1983 and retired at 35. “Everybody is much more conscious of taking care of themselves, watching their diets, getting the right rest, getting massages, hyperbaric chambers. There’s a lot of guys doing a lot of things to allow them to be able to continue to perform.
“You almost have to look at Tom as sort of the tip of the spear, but then you look at Eli (Manning), you look at Drew (Brees), you look at Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, guys that have played well into their late 30s. You see a guy like Alex Smith sign a five-year contract at 33 (Redskins) fully expecting him to see the entire contract.’’
Added Jaworski: “The medical staffs, the athletic training staffs, the strength staffs and the nutritionist now allow them to last longer and they’re healthier.”
Roman Gabriel, who played for 16 years in the NFL before limping away at 37, said he admires Brady’s durability.
“He’s taken real good care of himself physically, and other than that one strained knee he hasn’t been beat up,’’ Gabriel said. “That was a big difference back then. When we played the game, you got beat up pretty bad. My right leg was out of commission and my right arm was bad.
“If it wasn’t for my right leg and my right arm, I would have probably tried to play more. It’s hard to give it up because even when we played, you made a little bit of money. But these guys, when you’re making $20 million, $24 million (a year), why should they give it up if you can play?’’
Dan Fouts, the six-time Pro Bowler with the San Diego Chargers who retired at the age of 36, noted Brady’s toughness.
“If you look at Tom this year, he was hit a lot early in the season and he doesn’t flinch,’’ Fouts said. “He’s not affected by a lot of things, and one of them is contact. It doesn’t seem to bother him.
“He’s remarkable, and I give him a lot of credit for doing what he’s doing.’’
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Sonny Jurgensen, who played until age 40 with the Redskins before retiring in 1974, called Brady “the best that’s played.’’ But he also called Brady fortunate, considering Brady has played for the same franchise and the same head coach, Bill Belichick, since he entered the NFL in 2000.
“He understands the system, you know, where to go with the ball, against what defenses and it’s very easy to understand,’’ Jurgensen said. “When you watch him play, he never goes to the wrong guy. He’s always going to the open receiver or the one that’s got the best chance because he’s played in the system for a long period of time.
“He understands it. He knows how to operate it.’’
Rich Gannon concurs.
“I think the game really slows down for a player like that,” said Gannon, who played 17 seasons in the NFL and retired at age 39. “He processes information so quickly and efficiently, so what he’s lost in quickness, he’s made up for it on other ways. He doesn’t take any unnecessary hits. He throws the ball away, so he doesn’t take sacks. He changes protections at the line of scrimmage to get out of bad plays. He’s a machine out there.”
Favre, however, said experience can also be a hindrance when you’ve seen everything, either in a game situation or repeatedly studying film.
“You almost know the game too well,” Favre said. “There was a time in my career where I didn’t know the difference between a blitz cross and a regular 4-3 formation. I was still learning how to play quarterback. I didn’t bog myself down with that kind of stuff. I just went out there and played. Near the end of my career, I was more prone to overthinking things.”
Super Bowl LII will be Brady’s 290th NFL game overall and — at least according to Brady — he won’t be retiring any time soon. He’s a few seasons away from becoming the oldest NFL player to start a game (Steve DeBerg started for the Atlanta Falcons at age 44) and long way from George Blanda, the oldest quarterback in NFL history on a roster at age 48.
Whether he approaches those milestones, Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton said we should all appreciate what he’s doing currently.
“What he’s done is ridiculous, and he’s done it week in and week out at 40 years old,” said Tarkenton, who retired at age 38 after 18 NFL seasons. “Unbelievable.”
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