“The days of our years are three score and 10.”
– Psalm 90, verse 10
Between the reflection that usually accompanies the turning of the page to a new year and the nonstop speculation surrounding the future of a certain New England Patriots quarterback, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about growing older.
Maybe in biblical times – when Abraham and Sarah became parents to Isaac at the ages of 100 and 90, respectively – Brady would have been able to play quarterback until he at least qualified for Medicare.
But in these days, when the average life expectancy for Americans stands at 78.6 years, according to a 2018 Washington Post story (which also put the figures for men at 76.1 years and for women at 81.1 years), time may be winding down on No. 12’s storied career.
At least, that’s the consensus of scores of national and regional sports reporters and pundits. Many of them have been predicting Tom Brady’s downfall and/or retirement for years, but we all know what happened: TB-12 proved them wrong, winning three more Super Bowls (in 2015, 2017 and 2019), for a total of six, and coming within one score of winning another one in 2018. For nearly two decades, with few exceptions, the Patriots have practically had a standing reservation for the Big Game held on the first Sunday in February.
With that record, who can blame Brady for wanting to continue to play, even though he’ll be 43 in August, one month before the season opener? He’s repeatedly said that he intends to play somewhere in 2020; it won’t be known for a while where he’ll play because he won’t become a free agent until March 18, one day after his current contract with the Patriots expires.
Seeing Brady suit up for another team wouldn’t sit well with New England fans, who have been wicked spoiled over the last two decades.
Since 2002, Boston’s pro sports teams have delivered 12 championships: the Patriots had six, the Red Sox four, and the Celtics and Bruins one apiece. (Nationally, some sports fans think that some of the Patriots’ titles and the Red Sox win in 2018 were tainted, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
That legacy is why so many fans outside of the region are hoping that Brady will go away. In their minds, the Patriots are Public Enemy No. 1 in the same way that national fans were green with envy over the Celtics of the 1950s and ’60s, when they claimed 11 of 13 NBA championships from 1957 to 1969. It’s also why Red Sox fans couldn’t stand the Yankees during their reigns in the ’50s and ’60s and again in the late ’90s through 2000.
Like the Patriots, the Celtics’ dynasty years were aided by the presence of an imposing superstar, in this case center Bill Russell, who retired following the 1968 and 1969 titles, when he was the player-coach. It couldn’t have been easy for Russell to walk away, but he did.
Fifty years later, that doesn’t appear to be the case for Brady. Motivated by his method of training, Brady seems to think he can go on, if not forever, then for up to three more seasons, which would satisfy his goal of playing until he’s 45.
That might please Brady, but at what cost? The ravages of time eventually catch up with all of us not named Abraham, Sarah or Methuselah (who, according to the Bible, lived until the age of 969).
It’s true that many people are defying the average life expectancy and living well into their 90s, while others are making it to 100 or more. In 2012, for example, a United Nations report said there were 316,600 centenarians worldwide, while a 2016 Smithsonianmag.com story reported that in 2014 there were 72,197 centenarians in the United States.
But they appear to be the exception, since most of us can’t avoid the effects of aging. That also applies to well-conditioned athletes – in spite of what they want to believe.
Baseball Hall-of-Famers Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, for instance, played too long. Mays was a shadow of himself when the longtime San Francisco Giant played for the New York Mets in 1973, and Aaron – who in 1974 became baseball’s all-time home-run leader with the Atlanta Braves – hit only 12 and 10 homers in 1975 and 1976, respectively, when he played for the Milwaukee Brewers before his retirement.
Sports history is full of such examples of once-shining superstars paying the price for their reluctance to retire. Babe Ruth, for instance, ended his career with the Boston Braves in 1935, when his skills had significantly eroded.
Patriots fans – and Brady – should hope that the end of his career won’t come at the expense of his long-term health. That should be the most important consideration, because whether you’re a multimillionaire athlete or a retiree living on a fixed income, the time you have left depends on good health – and that’s something that even a mega-contract can’t guarantee.
LARRY KESSLER (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro.