There’s no need for 40 to be the new 30 when it comes to football-ancient and yet ageless Tom Brady and the 2017 Patriots. The old 30 would suffice just fine.
Time has accelerated like Brandin Cooks on a fly pattern, and somehow it has now been a decade since Brady, whom you may have heard turned 40 Thursday, submitted the single greatest individual performance a quarterback has ever produced.
Four-thousand-eight-hundred-and-six yards. A 68.9 completion percentage. Just eight interceptions. Fifty touchdown passes. And a 16-0 regular-season record.
Certainly the Super Bowl loss to the Giants left a single but glaring imperfection on it all. And Peyton Manning threw 55 touchdown passes six years later, breaking Brady’s record. Still, Brady’s 2007 season, his age-30 year, remains the pinnacle of quarterback performance in the history of the NFL.
Which makes this truth all the more staggering: A decade later, with so much time passed, Brady remains as brilliant as he ever was, and in a sport in which its intrinsic brutality so often abbreviates promise. Perhaps he’s lost a mile or two off the fastball, or maybe he has not. If so, it hasn’t mattered, probably because he’s grown even savvier, with so much knowledge gained and processed in his remarkable football mind in the decade since.
He makes few physical mistakes, and even fewer of the mental variety. He threw 28 touchdowns to just two interceptions last year, and you know the two picks gnaw at him. He continues to improve aspects of his game when there seems to be no further room for it. Also, he eats better, if weirder.
But what really fuels him, still, is the obsession with victory, and he’s mastered seizing those victories in pressurized moments that would crush mentally weaker men. The last time we saw him in a football scene that mattered, he was rallying the Patriots from a 28-3, third-quarter sinkhole to their second Super Bowl victory in three years and the fifth of his tenure.
Is 40 just a number to Tom Brady?
He’s still writing memorable chapters to his career when pretty much every other quarterback in history would be well into the prologue. Just look at him in the context of Patriots history. Steve Grogan seemed old in his final seasons with the Patriots — because he was. He hung up the neck roll for good at age 37. Drew Bledsoe was done as a Patriots quarterback at 29 and an NFL quarterback at 34.
Heck, when Brady arrived in New England in 2000, the oldest player on the roster was the punter, Lee Johnson. He turns 56 in November.
As Brady hits an age milestone that comes for most athletes after they are long since retired, it’s fascinating to consider his career trajectory and where he stood at other benchmark birthdays.
At 20, he was in his sophomore year at Michigan, caddying for starter Brian Griese on the 1997 Rose Bowl and co-national champions. He threw 15 passes all season, completing 12, without a touchdown or an interception. The following season, with Griese graduated to the NFL, he emerged as the starter even though the Wolverines had brought in hot-shot recruit Drew Henson to be their next presumed golden boy.
Brady had supreme self-belief even then about his football future, but few shared it. It’s probably why, in that famous photo from the 2000 NFL Combine meat market — right, the one where a scrawny, bedheaded Brady wears no shirt but a slight scowl — he looks like he already knows he’s going to be drafted later than the likes of Spergon Wynn.
At 30 . . . well, you know. No quarterback has ever been better, and it’s hard to fathom another ever will. There was still a debate then regarding whether Brady or Manning was the superior player. That debate rages on only in corners of the Internet where reality and common sense have long since ceased being factors in forming an opinion.
And at 40? What will this season bring? His legacy already is unmatched in NFL history, and yet he still has a reasonable opportunity to significantly add to it. The Patriots might have their deepest roster in his 18 seasons. They are gunning for their sixth Super Bowl victory, with the opportunity to win three in four years for the second time in the Brady/Bill Belichick era. There is talk by us hyperbolic media folk of going undefeated. It’s highly unlikely, sure, and downright silly to talk about now, before the season and the inevitable attrition even begins.
Then again, who would have thought when Tom Brady was 20, or even when he dazzled at 30, that more great feats would be possible at 40?
Only one person, really. Ol’ Brady himself.
There’s no rush to get there, of course. Time is already passing too fast. But I can’t wait to see what he’s up to at age 50. Whatever he has in mind, we should probably know better by now than to doubt it.