HOUSTON — At 39, Tom Brady is the oldest non-kicker/punter in the NFL. He has been in the league since 2000 and has a full decade of seniority on all but eight of his 52 current New England Patriots teammates.
Brady’s longtime rival, Peyton Manning, was in a similar position at this time last year, preparing to take the field for his fourth Super Bowl at age 39. But that’s where the similarities between the two legendary quarterbacks end.
For all of the tremendous accomplishments Manning had earlier in his career, the Denver Broncos won the title despite him last season, reaching the peak of the NFL mountain thanks to their historically ferocious defense, not their surefire Hall of Fame QB. Soon after that game, Manning announced his retirement, an acknowledgment that the game he once dominated had passed him by.
Brady’s situation is different. Much different.
At an age when most players are either long retired or teetering on the brink of hanging ’em up, the Patriots signal-caller looks better than ever. He made a strong case for the 2016 NFL MVP honor that ultimately went to Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and is favored to win his fifth championship ring (in a record seven Super Bowl appearances) Sunday night when the Patriots take on Ryan’s Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
And unlike the 2015 Broncos, these Patriots have reached this point because of their quarterback, not in spite of him.
“It’s awesome,” Patriots running back James White said earlier this week when asked about Brady. “From the day you step into the building, you see how great of a person he is, how great of a leader he is and how hard he works on the football field. You try to emulate him. He’s a great competitor each and every day. He doesn’t take any moment for granted. You want to follow a guy like that. He’s been very successful in this league. I’m just very happy to have him on my team.”
Statistically speaking, this was Brady’s best season since at least 2010, when he threw 36 touchdown passes with four interceptions to win the second of his two career league MVP awards.
After sitting out the first four weeks of this season while he served his Deflategate suspension, Brady returned with a vengeance and never relented, tossing 28 touchdown passes with just two picks over New England’s final 12 games and ranking second among all QBs in both passer rating and yards per attempt.
“Oh, it’s impressive,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “We don’t think about it as much because the honest truth is we expect just greatness out of him all the time. As players, you get to play with a guy, you see all the hard work he puts in. I think it’s more surprising when he does throw an interception.”
In a Super Bowl week largely devoid of drama or controversy (unless you count Brady’s political leanings), one popular storyline has been the debate over when Brady and/or Patriots coach Bill Belichick will choose to retire. At 64, Belichick is the NFL’s second-oldest coach behind only Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks.
The consensus from those who work with Brady and Belichick on a daily basis? Not anytime soon.
“I think Tom’s just going to go until he can’t go anymore,” Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “That’s just the type of dude is he and the type of competitor he is.”
“I figure Coach will coach until he’s about 95,” special teams captain Matthew Slater added. “Tom will play until he’s about 55.”
“I don’t think they are ever going to retire,” wide receiver Danny Amendola offered. “They are going to play forever.”’
Patriots owner Robert Kraft also weighed in on the matter. But rather than give a prediction, he instead made a request.
“However long the good lord lets me breathe,” the 75-year-old said, “I hope they’re playing or coaching.”
Thumbnail photo via Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports Images