Thursday, October 15, 2009

What’s with the Old Guys?

How do they keep doing it?

Favre had another gem of a game in another Monday night game, one week shy of his 40th birthday and although he may never say it or admit to it, this may have been the most satisfying win in his 18 year career.  It would be weird for him to not to have felt extra motivated to win this game, he is after all human.  Every type of pass that Favre could throw, he did and completed them with extreme precision.

It’s amazing how many times Favre has done this, but now it’s time to think about the fact that he may actually lead his team to the playoffs and dare I say the Superbowl.  Stranger things have happened. So many athletes who have aged have reached the highest level and Favre may be one of them.

Last year Bernard Hopkins out boxed and out punched Kelly Pavlik over 12 one sided rounds.  It was astonishing to believe that a man who was 43 at the time could dominate a young power puncher like Pavlik 17 years his junior.

George Foreman reached the top of the heavyweight division years after his best days with a 10th round knockout over Michael Moorer.  The 45 year old Foreman delivered one punch which changed his career forever.

Michael Jordan doesn’t need any explanation.  Even in his final year in the NBA with the Wizards, the 40 year old managed to put up decent numbers.  Even now, it’s not like Steve Nash is young… he’s 35, and he can still dish it out and make highlight real plays.

Gretzky continued to put up good numbers even till his last season.  He was 38 during his last season and still managed to tally 62 points in 70 games.  Not bad at all for a 38 year old.

So what is it about age?  Some guys can still do it and deliver astonishing performances over the age of 35 while some become a fraction of what they used to be at 30.  Ken Griffey Jr. is 39 as well, and most believe he has just played his last game in the MLB.  A report on The Score echoed the obvious statement, what if Ken didn’t have those injuries that have plagued his career?

We can name a whole list of players from all sports who succeeded in their 20’s before failing miserably whether it was because of injuries or personal issues or simply because they weren’t that good anymore.  Boxers have a knack for this.  While Hopkins and Foreman succeeded, guys like Fernando Vargas who became the youngest junior middleweight champion ever at 21, was a shadow (and thick shadow with all his excess weight) of himself by 29.  Eric Hinkse had a great start to his MLB career but hasn’t done much since his rookie campaign.  He was in fact the MLB rookie of the year

Is it natural to be so great when you’re so old? Is it a gift?  I think it’s a combo of discipline, skill and most of all luck.  It’s destiny.  Some are meant to turn back the time and make 39 the new 29, while some go from 20, going on 40.  You’re not as young as you feel, but as young as you play.  In that case, Favre will be turning 30 instead of 40.  With age comes wisdom and I may not that much wisdom because of my age, but I can see the impact wisdom has on a successful and determined athlete. 


Dennis Prouse said...

I would disagree slightly on Gretzky. In his final season, when he only turned 38 half way through, he scored but nine goals in 70 games. Sure, he was still an effective playmaker, but his goal scoring ability had completely abandoned him, and the greatest player in history was now averaging less than a point a game. Anyone who saw him play that final season could see that Father Time had come calling, and good on Gretzky for heeding the call.

I think the difference for the guys who show great longevity is fitness. Look at Chris Chelios - that guy has an off-season workout regimen that would challenge a 21 year old Marine. Jerry Rice was the same - he was a total workout warrior, and as a result he was able to remain productive into his early 40s as an NFL receiver, amazing when you consider that most skill players in the NFL start going downhill quickly in their mid-30s.

On the other side of the scale, I don't think anyone ever accused Gretzky of being overzealous in his off-season training. Mario Lemieux was also notoriously lazy when it came to hitting the gym, and you will note that his career took a dive earlier than it should have. Yes, Mario had illness and injury issues, but you have to think he would have had more to give had he been in better shape. Denis Savard and Guy Lafleur were two guys whose idea of off-season training was cutting down to half a pack a day, and their respective skills completely abandoned them past age 30. Imagine how good Lafleur could have been had he looked after himself off the ice.

Anonymous said...

The fact that George Foreman was a heavyweight champ at 45 was more a testament to what a sorry state that division was in at that particular time.
Other 40 somethings have excelled when they should have been fading for reasons other than fastidious work habits and good genes.
In the case of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, it was good personal chemistry, if you know what I mean.
On the other end of the scale, brilliant careers were cut way too short because the medical help at the time let them down.
Bobby Orr and Gale Sayers were two examples of that.
When they played the surgical techniques used to repair damaged knees were completely invasive and did as much harm as the original injuries.
As far as I am concerned, the greatest freak of nature was Nolan Ryan.
He pitched his first MLB game for the Mets in 1966 and finished his career in 1993!
That's 27 seasons over four different decades, for crying out loud!