By Jason Keidel
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About 28 months ago, the New England Patriots lost to the Kansas City Chiefs. You may recall it was a bad beat on the road to a good team. The Pats strolled into Kansas City, into that beehive called Arrowhead, and the Chiefs just rolled Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the entire team, all the way down to the ball boy. The score was 41-14.
The loss, the Pats and Brady were so bad that the NFL world order was suddenly questioned. Brady’s mortality came under sharp focus. Treating him like he was a 35-year-old boxer who looks unbeatable in January then ancient in April, the media and masses stood over Brady’s prostrate body, shovels in hand, ready to dig a grave at midfield.
Consider this commentary on Sept. 30, 2014, from CBSSports.com: “Less than a month ago Brady said ‘when I suck, I’ll retire.’ If he’s true to his word he’ll walk away tomorrow, because he straight up sucked on Monday.”
Of course, with the aid of flawless hindsight, that logic is laughable now. Brady took a giant eraser to every negative syllable written about him in 2014, and you could argue he’s never looked better than he does now, in 2017.
While Brady was pushing the laws of logic and science at 37, he’s making a mockery of our football sensibilities now.
And while he’s at it, it’s time to wonder how long Brady can thumb his nose at history.
Sports Illustrated compiled a list of the oldest — or most mature, if you prefer — quarterbacks to play in a Super Bowl. And if you thumb through it, you’ll notice that not a single player, win or lose, breached 40 years of age. Brady turns 40 in August.
Maybe you find it macabre that we stand over Brady like gridiron morticians, waiting for that moment when his absurdly fertile skill set runs dry. But it’s not so much that we want him to get old, bad and retire. We just realize that everyone does, that Father Time is the only opponent Brady will never beat.
Out of that list compiled by SI.com, five won their respective Super Bowls (and, obviously, five lost). And of those five, only John Elway — who made the list twice during his last two Super Bowls — was a driving force in the team’s victories. Peyton Manning is the oldest, with his win in Super Bowl 50 last year at age 39. But we all know Manning was more ornamental than essential, riding his defense into the sunset, retirement and Lombardi Trophy. Perhaps it was fitting that Manning ended his career in a town and manner that his boss (Elway) enjoyed.
The other two quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl on the wrong side of 35 were Earl Morrall and Johnny Unitas. And they played in the same game: Super Bowl V. Both were so bad — in what many consider to be the ugliest Super Bowl in history — that it took the Baltimore Colts QBs to muster 16 points to Dallas’ 13.
Even in Elway’s case, Denver needed Terrell Davis’ record-breaking rushing in order to nudge No. 7 into the winner’s circle. At his young, absurdly gifted best, Elway was a running, throwing machine who got Denver to the Super Bowl three times, and got smoked in all three.
So what does all this mean? It means Brady shouldn’t be this good and, based on 50 years of source matter, he can’t keep this up. Which also means Brady better win the Super Bowl this year or he may not get another shot to slide a fifth ring on his bejeweled fingers and eke past his hero, Joe Montana, and Terry Bradshaw on the list of the league’s greatest winners.
Sure, with the surging progress we see in training, nutrition and technology, Brady, whose Patriots host the Steelers in Sunday’s AFC championship game, has been able to defy the realities that devoured Manning, Elway and Marino. But you can only stiff-arm Mother Nature for so long. For all the dietary audibles Brady calls — evidently, he hasn’t eaten a processed sugar since the Civil War — sometime in the next year or two, he will fall off the football map.
Brady even has these new super pajamas that help him sleep and recover. He recently directed some bizarre YouTube takedown of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a film that hardly reminded us of Martin Scorsese. It’s some new clothing line called Athlete Recovery Sleepwear. You can decide if Brady is merely cashing in on his name and game or if he really has found the fountain of youth in his jammies.
That’s all lovely. Whatever athletic Botox Brady can summon to keep his football body beautiful, go for it. As long as he doesn’t turn into one of those deformed housewives we see on TV every day — their swollen, comical faces stripped of gestures, their lips unmoving while they talk.
Tom Brady is the American dream. He turned that body by Pedro (see: “Napoleon Dynamite”) into a machine. He has only two peers on the Super Bowl mountaintop — Terry Bradshaw and, fittingly, one named Montana. But if history is a true metric, Tom better win two more games before he finally becomes an ordinary Joe.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel