FOXBOROUGH — In the real word – not the National Football League, 35 isn’t retirement age.
But after celebrating his 35th birthday on Friday, the Patriots’ Tom Brady was met with the requisite questions Sunday about how much longer he can play now that he’s hit that age.
There have been players who have seen a rapid physical decline in their performance once they hit a certain age, but for quarterbacks, particularly those who keep themselves in top physical condition, 35 isn’t quite the career death knell it might be for a running back or cornerback, players who rely more heavily on their legs.
Brady took the questions in stride and reiterated that he plans on playing for at least five more years.
“I want to play a long time,” he said. “I think the reality is we’re focused on this year and there’s no season other than this season that I’m worried about. We’ve got our work cut out for us — it will be a huge challenge.”
Brady’s boyhood idol, Joe Montana, played until he was 38. John Elway also played until he was 38 and won a Super Bowl in each of his final two seasons. Brady has been teammates with Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde during his time in New England, and both were 42 during their respective seasons with the Patriots, so he’s seen it done.
Not surprisingly, however, the two-time league Most Valuable Player wasn’t willing to look so far into the future.
“[Flutie and Testaverde] were great teammates and I certainly learned a lot from them in terms of how to play the position and how to prepare mentally and physically for the season,” Brady said. “Both were great athletes and I really enjoyed having them as guys that I could play with.”
But he added, “I’m a long ways from 42 and hopefully I’m still talking to you guys when I’m 42.”
A week earlier, Brady noted that he still loves training camp and that his entire life is still geared toward playing football and quarterbacking the Patriots.
While he wasn’t big on talking about getting older (and really, who is?), Brady was able to point to some advantages of being an older player.
“The advantage is that it’s not like I have to study my playbook a ton,” he said. “I know what we’re doing, I know why we’re doing it and I know the calls. It’s more mentally making sure that you bring emotion and energy and making sure you have the enthusiasm and the execution is good.
“Everyone is working on something. It’s not like you can just go through the motions out here, or else you don’t improve. I’m competing just like everybody else. I’m competing for my role and my spot and trying to be a good leader and trying to set a good example as quarterback. I think that’s my challenge: to come out here every day and bring everything I have to try to make us a better team.”
That’s rarely, if ever, in question. On Friday, when two nearly full-team skirmishes broke out toward the end of the day’s practice session, Brady kicked the coaching staff out of a team huddle after Bill Belichick spoke, in an effort to get everyone re-focused on the task at hand: continuing to improve.
He gets upset with himself when he makes an error, and can be heard scolding a teammate he’s frustrated with, though he almost always talks with them after about what can be done better next time.
In short, he is still the unquestioned leader of the Patriots, perhaps even more now that he’s 35 and still performing at a high level than when he was 26 or 28.
“He’s still the leader of this team and he goes out there and shows that and proves it every day,” receiver Jabar Gaffney said. “He works hard – day in and day out. In the film room, on the game field, and on the practice field. He’s a hard worker, and to stay at the elite level you have to put in that hard work, and he does.”
Even at the (apparently) ripe old age of 35.