Tom Brady of the New England Patriots turned 40 years old on Thursday; a big day for Brady, the Patriots and Patriots Nation. Somehow it just doesn’t seem possible that Brady is that old, either because he’s still playing at a high level or because his improbable rise to stardom doesn’t seem like it happened nearly as long ago as it did. But it’s true, 2001 was a long time ago, especially for a football player. According to the NFL Players Association the average length of a NFL player’s career is 3.3 years. Brady is on the verge of starting his 18th year.
As a player in his 40’s, Brady is set to join an exclusive club. Only a handful of players have attempted to keep their career going that long and the results are mixed. Brady has shown few signs of slowing down (I mean, he did win the Super Bowl last year, plus the Pats are favorites to repeat) but one of the oldest sayings in sports is that father time is undefeated. It’s nothing the team or their fan’s want to admit or face sober, but the end is a lot closer for Tom Brady than the beginning.
The NFL’s “In Their 40’s” Club isn’t a big group. Let’s just say that any kind of group meetings they have wouldn’t require that big of a venue. They could probably get by meeting in booth at a neighborhood bar. The club is comprised of quarterbacks (with one who eventually became a kicker,) something that isn’t all the surprising. What is somewhat surprising is how much traveling each player did, especially when you consider it’s a very real possibility that Brady could retire as a Patriot.
Here are the other NFL players who played into the 40’s.
1. Mark Brunell
The most recent NFL player to play in their 40’s was Mark Brunell. Brunell was 41 years old when he retired in 2011 as a member of the New York Jets. Brunell’s best years were spent in Jacksonville with the Jaguars, where he played from 1995 to 2004. He was traded to Jacksonville by Green Bay in 1995 for a third round pick and a fifth round pick.
Brunell was selected to three Pro Bowls as a Jaguar and led the league in passing yards in 1996 with 4367. He had three seasons where he was in the top ten. With Brunell leading the way, Jacksonville got within one game of the Super Bowl in 1996, losing to the Patriots in the AFC Conference Championship.
Brunell was somewhat of a journeyman during his last few years in the league, playing for Washington and New Orleans before finally wrapping things up in New York. Brunell finished his career with over 32,000 yards and 184 touchdowns.
2. Brett Favre
A year before Brunell called it a day, Brett Favre, who was 41 retired in 2010 as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, a rival of the team he had made his mark with, the Green Bay Packers. In 2015 Favre told Sports Illustrated that even at 45, he still thought he could play.
“I think I could play,” Favre said. “As far as throwing. Of course, we’re not trying to start some he’s-coming-out-of-retirement deal. Do I think I could play and lead a team? Look, no. But I could play. I could make all the throws I made before, I just couldn’t throw it near as far, but that never matters anyway.”
Favre was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, but spent the majority of his career in Green Bay, where he won the Super Bowl in 1996, beating the Patriots.
In 2008 Favre was traded to the New York Jets, but only lasted one season in New York before going to Minnesota. He played two seasons for the Vikings, going 17-12.
3. Doug Flutie
Doug Flutie, who retired in 2005 at 43, was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 11th round of the 1985 draft after a legendary career at Boston College. Flutie’s biggest college moment is also one of the biggest moments in college football.
He never suited up for the Rams, though. After one year in the USFL, playing for the New Jersey Generals, he started his NFL career with Chicago Bears, appearing occasionally in games for them over the course of the 1986 and 1987 seasons. Flutie then made his first stop in New England, playing for the Patriots for two seasons.
Flutie went to Canada following his first stint in New England and played in the Canadian Football League from 1990 to 1997, playing for the British Columbia Lions, Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts. He threw for 41,355 yards and 270 touchdowns in Canada and won three CFL Championships, the Grey Cup.
In 1998 Flutie returned to the NFL, signing with the Buffalo Bills, where he went 39-30 over the course of three seasons. This was followed up by four seasons with the San Diego Charges and then finally one last season with the Patriots.
4. The Two Decade Guys: Vinny Testaverde & Steve DeBerg
Vinny Testaverde called it a career in 2007 at 44. Testaverde’s career spanned two decades, playing for Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Baltimore, the Jets, Dallas, New England and finally Carolina. He was drafted by the Buccaneers first overall in the 1987 draft.
Testaverde spent the most time as a member of the Jets, where he went 35-26 and threw for over 12,000 yards. Overall Testaverde retired with a record of 90-123, 46,233 yards and 275 touchdowns.
Another quarterback in the club is Steve DeBerg. DeBerg retired in 1998 and was 44 years old. His career also lasted two decades and like Testaverde, he did some traveling, playing for San Francisco, Denver, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Miami and Atlanta. Despite his long career, DeBerg was largely a back-up, having only started 140 games. Yet he was apparently something of a favorite among fellow quarterbacks, including Peyton Manning (who retired at 39,) who reportedly was a frequent study of DeBerg’s game tapes.
5. Warren Moon
Warren Moon is one of the more successful members of the club, having thrown for over 49,000 yards and 291 touchdowns, which at one point was a NFL record. Moon retired at 44 in 2000 as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Yes, the Chiefs. Moon is mostly associated with the Houston Oilers, but even he made some other stops during his career. After Houston, Moon played for Minnesota and Seattle before finishing things up in Kansas City.
Moon also spent time in Canada playing football, having spent his first five years after college playing for the Edmonton Eskimos. Moon’s best year up north was in 1983 (coincidentally his last year in the CFL.) He threw for 5648 yards and had 31 touchdowns compared to 19 interceptions.
The following year Moon headed south, joining the Houston Oilers. Moving to the NFL took some adjusting and his few years were shaky. He hit his stride starting in 1988, starting a eight year run of being selected to the Pro Bowl. In 1991 the Oilers logged their best record with Moon under center, going 11-5. Moon had a career best 4690 yards and had a completion percentage of 61.7. In the end he went 70-69 in Houston with 196 touchdowns and over 33,000 yards.
After Houston Moon spent three years in Minnesota, two in Kansas City and two in Seattle, where he went 11-13. Moon was elected into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
6. George Blanda
Unless Brady surprises everyone and lasts another eight years, the president of the “In Their 40’s” club is George Blanda. Blanda’s career started in 1949, when he was a quarterback for the Bears and it didn’t end until 1975 when he was a kicker for the Raiders. Blanda was 48 years old when he finally hung up his spikes.
Blanda was drafted by the Bears in 1949, going in the 12th round (119th overall.) He spent 11 season of his 26 seasons there. His 26 seasons is the most played, regardless of the sport, and spanned four decades. Blanda was a quarterback and a placekicker for the Bears, as well as the occasional linebacker. He thought of himself primarily as a quarterback though and briefly retired from football following the 1958 season because George Halas, the owner of the Bears, was only interested in using him as a kicker. His retirement wasn’t long and in 1960 he joined the Oilers of the American Football League, a league which ran from 1960 to 1969 before becoming the American Football Conference, part of the NFL.
During his time in Houston, Blanda helped lead the Oilers to the first two AFL league championships. In 1961 he led the league in passing yards with 3,330 and touchdown passes (36.) His 36 touchdown passes stood as a league record until Dan Marino threw for 48 in 1984.
Blanda finished his career in Oakland, playing primarily kicker for the Raiders. He played nine years for the Raiders before retiring in 1975.