Is Tom Brady the greatest 41 year old athlete ever?

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It might not be breaking news, but the New England Patriots have reached another AFC Championship game.

It’s seemed all but normal of recent to assume the Patriots will advance this far in the playoffs every year. This is their 8th straight appearance in the AFC Championship game, and the 12th under the guidance of Bill Belichick.

But the one constant in New England, besides Coach Belichick, has been franchise QB Tom Brady. Arguably the most well known player in the league, Brady is at the back-end of his 18th season in the league. In his 18 seasons, he has led the Patriots to 15 playoff appearances and 5 SuperBowl’s.

What fascinates me is how Brady has played at such a high level for so long, with minimum sign of decline. He had his 7th best season in terms of pass completions and passing yards. His 29 TD’s thrown rank at 8th best out of 18 seasons. He was sacked 21 times this season, tied 3rd for least sacks in a season (where he has played 12 games or more – which is 16 of 18 seasons).

At 41, how does Brady rank among the other late greats in American Sports? Is it so uncommon to have a 41 year old athlete still in the latter years of his prime? Let’s find out.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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Sport – Basketball

Team – Los Angeles Lakers

41 year old season:

At age 41, Kareem won an NBA Championship with the L.A Lakers. Having turned 41 in April, his Lakers team were brought to 7 games on three separate occasions marking the most playoff games Kareem had played (21) by 9 in his career. His minutes played on average for the playoffs were the second lowest in his career along with his assists, rebounds and points per game ratios.

The team’s leader at the time was Point Guard Magic Johnson, who at that time was in the prime of his career. While Kareem was undoubtedly a key piece of that Lakers Championship victory, he was far from their first option at aged 41, and without the likes of Magic or James Worthy, it’s unlikely he could have led a team to a championship at that time. However, to still remain a starting option on a Championship team at the age of 41 is very rare in the NBA.

Randy Couture 

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Sport – MMA

Weight class – UFC Light Heavyweight

41 year old year:

Randy Couture is widely known as one of few that defied the laws of age in the MMA world. Having began his professional MMA career at the age of 33, Couture had been competing as an amateur wrestler prior to his change of career. With plenty of sporting miles in the bag, at aged 41 Couture beat Vitor Belfort in a rematch at UFC 49 to reclaim the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.

While most divisions in the UFC were considered shallow at that point of time, the LHW division contained the cream of the crop of the best MMA talent in the world. Sadly, Couture got knocked out by Chuck Liddell at UFC 52 and lost the belt to finish off his 41 year old year. His efforts as a 41 year old, to be champion of a talent stacked division, will go down as one of the better 41 year old sporting years in history.

Adam Vinatieri 

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Sport – Football

Team – Indianapolis Colts

41 year old season: 

Vinatieri entered the 2014/2015 season at aged 41 and showed no signs of regression. Having only eclipsed a 90% Field-Goal percentage over his career, Vinatieri scored on 96.8% of his attempts which to date is a career high. It was a monumental season for the Colts kicker, who was named to the NFL Network’s Top 100 players list after, making him the first kicker or punter to make the list, along with the oldest player ever to be ranked.

There is no doubt Vinatieri carried out his role on the team to the best of his ability that year. He went 50 of 50 on PATs and 30/31 on Field Goals attempted. What’s remarkable about Vinatieri is how he seemed to peak at the tender age of 41. Several kicker’s in the past have shown they can play in to their 40s, but Vinatieri proved that and them some. Vinatieri is still seen in a Colts uniform, kicking away, at aged 46.

Jerry Rice 

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Sport – Football

Team – Oakland Raiders

41 year old season: 

Jerry Rice turned 41 on what was his second last season in the NFL. Rice, one of the greatest wide-receivers of all time, played his last full season with Oakland in 2003, starting 15 of 16 games. His 869 receiving yards over the course of the season ranked at 16th best of 21 seasons in the league. His 63 receptions ranked at 17th of 21 seasons, while his 2 touchdowns ranked at 19th.

The unfortunate thing about the statistical comparisons above is we are comparing an out of prime Jerry Rice to in prime, GOAT level receiving stats. In a position widely reliable on athleticism and speed, Rice was in a league of his own still putting up respectable numbers in his 40s. He played one more season at the age of 42, playing in 17 regular season games due to a mid-season trade from Oakland to Seattle.

Yoel Romero 

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Sport – MMA

Weight class – UFC Middleweight

41 year old year:

Yes, the person pictured on the right is the 41 year old. Yoel Romero is a freak of nature that has defied the laws of ageing well into his 40s. The former Cuban Olympian is currently ranked at #1 in the UFC’s Middleweight rankings. At aged 41, he fought for the middleweight belt at UFC 225 on June 9th, 2018. Romero lost the fight via split decision to Robert Whittaker, 14 years his younger at the time.

Unfortunately for Romero, he missed weight by .2 of a pound and became ineligible to win the UFC belt as a result. However, many scored the fight for Romero, with 23 of 27 media members on mmadecisions.com calling the fight as a draw or as a Romero decision. If he had won, he would have become the second oldest UFC Champion in history, behind Randy Couture (above). There are no signs of decline as Romero remains arguably the most athletic fighter in the division.

Brett Favre 

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Sport – Football

Team – Minnesota Vikings

41 year old season: 

Brett Favre was more familiarly known for donning a Packers jersey, but the 41 year old QB laced up his boots in Minnesota for the final team. Favre, the only other QB in this list, is probably the most accurate comparison to Tom Brady. He holds an NFL record for most consecutive starts (297), having been a first choice quarterback for practically all his career. He became the first NFL quarterback to pass for 500 touchdowns, throw for 70,000 yards and complete 6,000 passes.

Favre led Minnesota to a 5-8 record in 2010, but failed to see out the end of the season. He suffered a concussion against the Bears in December of that year, and failed to pass NFL concussion protocols thereafter. Statistically, it was Favre’s lowest season in terms of pass completions, yards and touchdowns since his rookie season. His pass completion rate ranked at 13th of 20 seasons, while his final season was tied 6th in least sacks incurred over the season.

Conclusion: 

There were other honorable mentions that didn’t make this list. Looking at UFC Fighter’s such as Dan Henderson and Anderson Silva, their 41st years looked far distanced from their prime-selves. NBA players such as Dikembe Mutombo, Robert Parish and currently Vince Carter, all active at 41, never were more than a bench piece. In terms of the NFL, Morten Andersen put up near-Vinatieri numbers at the age of 41 as a kicker, while Darrell Green was a useful reserve as Redskins CB. Warren Moon started 10 games as a 41 year old too as QB of the Seattle Seahawks, but was benched for Jon Kitna late in to the season.

It’s a very wide labelled question, to determine the greatest 41 year old athlete ever. In ways, it’s almost indeterminable. But looking at the challengers listed above, Brady has to be in a league of his own. Statistically, he hasn’t shown any drastic signs of decline, contrary to most featured in this list. He continues to show poise as the number one option on one of the best teams in the league. Tom Brady should be appreciated for what he is, a freak of nature.

 

 

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