FOXBOROUGH — The birthday card industry doesn’t treat the 40th birthday too kindly.
“Some ages are better left unspoken.”
“40: The ultimate F-word.”
“Keep calm you’re over the hill.”
“Enjoy your first colonoscopy!”
Happy 40th birthday, Tom Brady.
“They don’t have a fun term for 40, do they?” said Brady’s partner in crime, Julian Edelman. “There’s ‘Dirty 30,’ and then it’s just, ‘40.’ So, he’s pretty old.”
Brady will hear plenty more wisecracks on Thursday, when he celebrates his birthday at Patriots practice.
“I mean, we’ve got to, right?’’ backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t. We’re there to bring him back down to earth every once in a while.”
Brady has always found himself in rarefied air on the football field, ever since beginning his career with three Super Bowl victories in four seasons.
Next month, he enters yet another exclusive club. Brady will become the 60th player in NFL history, and 19th quarterback, to play at age 40, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Patriots have had a few quadragenarians on the roster in the Bill Belichick era — including quarterbacks Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde — but none since Junior Seau in 2009.
Thursday marks the 18th time Brady will celebrate a birthday in Patriots training camp.
“Hopefully it’s just a day of practice. That would be the perfect day,” Brady recently told Sports Illustrated. “I want the day to just come and go, where I’m enjoying being out there with the guys like any other day in August over the last 25 years of my life.”
Good luck with that. Edelman and Garoppolo have something cooked up for Brady, flashing devious smiles while declining to reveal any details.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said he won’t be poking fun at Brady. At 41, McDaniels just went through the indignity of turning 40.
“I already lived through that,” he said. “I don’t really talk about age in there a whole lot. That’s really a non-factor for us.”
“Always remember that age is just a number (a really huge gigantic number in your case).”
Brady will wake up Thursday as the oldest non-kicker in the NFL, more than six years older than any of his Patriots teammates and nearly twice the age of Patriots defensive back D.J. Killings, who will be 21 years old until Aug. 9.
Brady still has a long way to go to be the oldest starting quarterback in NFL history — Steve DeBerg holds that distinction at 44 years, 279 days. But Brady must feel like an uncle to many of his teammates. Most of this year’s rookie class was born in 1994-95, when Brady was finishing his senior year of high school.
“I mean, I’m only 23, so let’s put it like that,” said Brady’s new star receiver, Brandin Cooks. “This guy is still playing this game, so hats off to him. That’s amazing. That’s a special milestone to hit and I’m happy for him.”
“By your age, Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon, Boudica had defeated the Romans, and Alexander the Great had conquered the known world. But, hey, you’ve done stuff too, yeah?”
But Brady isn’t just playing football — he’s still dominating it. He has won two of the last three Super Bowls, produced arguably his best season ever at age 39, and continually amazes teammates with his obsessive and relentless training and dieting regimen, which he calls The TB12 Method.
“You kind of don’t think about the age, because you’re like, ‘Man, this dude is good,’ ” said Patriots third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. “I think that’s what’s unique about seeing somebody that’s been in the league so long, approaching every day as if it’s their first day, and it may be their last. That’s the approach he gives to me and Jimmy and the offense, is to attack every day. That’s one of the biggest things that you learn from watching him.”
Brady’s longevity has impressed even those who blazed the 40-year-old trail before him.
“The thing that’s more impressive to me is how consistent he’s been, and how he’s been able to play at such a high level for such a long time,” said Hall of Famer Warren Moon, who threw 25 touchdown passes for Seattle in his age 40-41 season and last started a game when he was 44. “You look at how he doesn’t get hit a whole lot because of the way they throw the football so quickly. Combine that with the fact that he takes tremendous care of his body, probably better than anybody in the league, there’s no telling how long he might be able to play.”
“40 is great when you look 28!”
Moon said he was able to play until he was 44 because he started taking better care of his body in his mid-30s — focusing on core exercises and flexibility, and paying closer attention to his diet (sound familiar?). His career finally ended because he was in a backup role in Kansas City, and he lost the motivation to train hard in the offseason and be away from his family.
But motivation isn’t an issue yet for Brady. He knows he will eventually succumb to Father Time, but his entire life’s work now revolves around delaying his defeat as long as possible.
The avocado ice cream and pliability exercises and 8:30 bed times have helped Brady stay on top of his game, and he’s now in the process of commercializing his regimen for the public with TB12. Brady reiterated with Sports Illustrated that he wants to play until his mid-40s, which is the linchpin of the TB12 brand.
“There’s no question in my mind I’ll be able to do it,” Brady said. “I know what to do. I know how efficient I am. I know what it takes. And here’s the biggest thing: I’m willing to make the commitment. That’s important.”
“Forty is the new nothing. It’s just old.”
Also driving Brady’s commitment: fear. It’s an emotion he has internalized ever since joining the Patriots as a sixth-round pick in 2000: fear of not making the team; fear of sitting on the bench; fear of losing his job.
Today, it’s the fear of being too old. Tear up your knee at 28 and you can come back the next year. Tear up your knee at 40 and now you’re the old guy who can’t stay healthy.
It certainly explains why Brady would hide any concussion symptoms from the Patriots last season, as his wife said this summer.
“When I broke my ribs in Seattle, I was getting shot up every day in practice in order to play the game, instead of maybe taking three weeks off, letting it heal,” said Moon, now 60 and the president of his own company, Sports 1 marketing. “I was at that stage where you felt like if you got hurt, when you were older, that your career was over. So I was going to try and stay on the field however I could, and that was my probably my downfall.”
And Brady can eat all the avocado ice cream in the world, but injuries in football are unavoidable. In your 40s, those sprained ankles and bruised muscles just don’t heal as quickly.
“Mother Nature has a weird way of taking away your abilities, even when you might be thinking you’re doing all the right things in the world,” Moon said. “But you look at what he’s doing right now, he can definitely play a lot longer.”
“You’re not 40. You’re 18 with 22 years of experience.”
Brady’s training and diet keep him young, but so does being around his teammates every day. He demands that Garoppolo, 25, and Brissett, 24, compete with him in throwing drills during practice.
“Tom doesn’t allow us not to compete against him,” Brissett said. “He holds all of us accountable, and he wants us to do the same for him.”
Brady is also open to sharing his secrets. He wants Garoppolo and Brissett to change their diets, embrace his training program, and learn how to live like a pro, on and off the field. This past May, Brady flew Garoppolo, Brissett, and a few other teammates on a private jet for a bro’s weekend at the Kentucky Derby.
“That’s the most cool thing about it. He’s open to helping you out,” Brissett said. “It’s definitely a blessing, to say the least.”
The birthday card industry thinks Brady has a beer gut, a bald spot, and gray hairs growing out of his ears. It thinks Brady is afraid of turning 40, that he’s over the hill and coasting toward the finish line.
The birthday card industry hasn’t met Tom Brady.
“To play with a guy like that is special,” Cooks said. “The way that he pays attention to the game, he makes you up your level a little more. So when you have that from a teammate you can’t ask for anything more.”