It’s rare enough to find athletes who still are playing their sport professionally after age 40. It’s rarer still to find ones who not only play, but excel, beating up on opponents 10, 15 or even 20 years their junior.
Tom Brady hopes to join both of those clubs this season.
The New England Patriots quarterback celebrated his 40th birthday Thursday, reaching a milestone most NFL QBs don’t pass until they’re many years into retirement.
It remains to be seen how Brady will fare post-40. But if he can maintain the level of play that helped the Patriots win their fifth Super Bowl last season, he’ll join an exclusive club of players who remained excellent as they entered their fifth decade.
Here’s a list of few athletes (from the four major sports only; sorry, golfers) who have enjoyed notable success in their 40s:
Retired: Age 41
The Ol’ Gunslinger owns the distinction of being the only quarterback in the post-merger NFL to win a playoff game after his 40th birthday, and he very nearly became the first 40-plus-year-old QB ever to reach a Super Bowl. (An ill-advised interception in the 2009 NFC Championship Game dashed Favre’s hopes of earning his second ring.) His play dropped off precipitously the following season, however, and he ultimately retired for good in January 2011.
Retired: Age 46
Johnson led the National League with 290 strikeouts and finished second in Cy Young voting during his age-40 season — then went on to play five more years in the big leagues. Naturally, the man they call “The Big Unit” declined a bit in his twilight years, but he still was able to toss 13 complete games after hitting 40, including a perfect game in 2004 at age 41.
Retired: Age 42
Widely considered the greatest wide receiver of all time, Rice racked up 92 catches for 1,211 yards and seven touchdowns during his age-40 season for an Oakland Raiders team that lost in Super Bowl XXXVII. Rice was productive at age 41, too (63 catches, 869 yards) before finishing his career with a relatively quiet campaign in 2004.
Retired: Age 52(!)
The late, great Mr. Hockey played a whopping 32 seasons of professional hockey, including 26 in the NHL and 25 with the Detroit Red Wings. He scored 103 points during his age-41 season and finished his career by playing in 80 games for the Hartford Whalers as a 52-year-old. Howe’s son, Mark Howe, assisted on his final NHL goal.
Retired: TBD (currently age 45)
He’s not the 100-point machine he was back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but the gray-bearded Jagr has proven in recent years that he still can compete at the NHL level. In 2015-16, he led the Florida Panthers, a playoff team, in scoring at age 44. Though he’s currently without a team, Jagr said earlier this year he wants to play until he’s 50, and we wouldn’t put it past him.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images