Longevity in sports is an interesting thing. For some athletes, it is celebrated. For others, it can be used against them if stick around too long and pick up the dreaded label of a statistical compiler.
This NFL season, and the playoffs, became the Year of the Veteran.
Jets running back Frank Gore kept plugging along while his son, Frank Jr., became a breakout star at Southern Miss. Forty-seven-year-old Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri retired and missed a chance to become only the third player in NFL history to play in four decades. A number of others survived and thrived, however. Six quarterbacks in last week’s wild card round were drafted in 2005 or earlier.
It’s unclear if this is any sort of record, but it is remarkable for a brutal sport where the average career only lasts about four years. It’s also sad to think that a number of players who have become synonymous with their teams or football in general are entering the final phases of their careers.
Ben Roethlisberger might have played his last game for the Steelers when they were blown out by the Browns last weekend. Phillip Rivers’ run of 240 consecutive starts over 14 seasons could have come to an end in Buffalo. Sunday’s playoff game against Tampa Bay might be the last stand for the Saints’ Drew Brees.
Other stars will eventually come along to replace all of these guys. For those of us who watched them play their entire careers, however, it feels like a piece of us dies when they do.
We’ve followed them for years. They’ve brought us great joy and sadness with their successes and failures. They’ve been fixtures in our lives.
At some point you know the spirit is willing but the body breaks down. To be able to do something at the height of a physically demanding profession for as long as these guys have is nothing short of amazing. It’s downright inspiring. And seeing them ride off into the sunset is a bit depressing, since we know we’ll all reach that point in our lives one day.
Until then, however, we can just plug along ourselves. Whatever we do, strive to do it well and for a long time. We might never be as good at it or as famous as Tom Brady or Drew Brees, but we can certainly try.
Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org