A Rare Breed – NFL’s Prestigious Over-40 Club

Playing a major professional sport is a rigorous task in itself at any age, a feat that challenges a person both physically and mentally, no matter what their age or abilities.  Competing at such a high level over the age of 40 presents a myriad of additional challenges.  As if it weren’t tough enough, players in the NFL are subjected to much more than a player in the MLB or even the NBA.  Football players are subjected to brutal hits and constant physical competition.  To be able to play such an intense and demanding sport at the age of 40 and beyond is an impressive accomplishment to be admired.

There is no doubt that biology makes playing football at age 30, long before 40 comes along, a strenuous and grueling endeavor.  As age increases, players seem to be more susceptible to injuries and those injuries linger on for a longer period of time.  Accordingly, those who make it past that milestone number are granted an “ironman” mentality.

Granted, many of the players who still play in the league past age 40 are kickers, punters, and even quarterbacks, positions that are not exposed to as many violent hits and physical brutality as others such as lineman.  No matter the position played though, to be able to compete effectively at such an elite level commands superior skill, as well as physical and mental toughness alike.

More than 50 players have competed in the NFL after they hit the big 4-0.  Some of the more notable names include Brett Favre (41) while playing for the Minnesota Vikings, Jerry Rice (42) during his time with both the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks during the 2004 season, and Doug Flutie (43), former quarterback of the New England Patriots.

Some of the most impressive members of the over-40 club include Morten Anderson, most recently a kicker for the Atlanta Falcons during the 2007 season at the remarkable age of 47.  Even doing one better though, was George Blanda, quarterback/kicker for the Oakland Raiders.  He played in the NFL at 48, only a few days shy of his 49th birthday, a long, fulfilling career that culminated with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, his legacy to be enshrined forever in Canton, Ohio.

Other current Hall-of-Famers that played into the fourth decade of their lives include Kansas City quarterback Warren Moon (44), Lou Groza (43), Jan Stenerud (43), Darrell Green (42), Jackie Slater (41), Ken Strong (41), Len Dawson (40), Sonny Jurgensen (40), Bruce Matthews (40), Bruce Smith (40), Jim Thorpe (40), Johnny Unitas (40), and Jerry Rice.

John Kasay (42), kicker for the New Orleans Saints, is one of the few players currently still playing in the league over age 40.  He continues to make a major impact on the scoreboard even after his 20 years of professional experience, kicking 28-34 FGs with a long of 53 yards, as well as converting on all 63 of his extra point opportunities this past season.

If current Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews accomplishes such a feat, he will be the third member of his family to join the prestigious club.  His father, Clay II, played linebacker in the NFL for 19 seasons until the age of 40 with both the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons.  Matthews’ uncle Bruce also played 19 NFL seasons during stints with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans, currently the offensive line coach for the Titans.

With all of the current medical treatments and superior athletic training that is provided to NFL players, playing past 40 might not be as tough of a task for Matthews as may be expected. Although, even with major advances and breakthroughs in the field of athletic training, as well as safety in the NFL compared to earlier decades, the hits have become harder and more violent at the same time, taking a bigger toll on player’s bodies and overall stamina.

It is unknown how many more NFL players will still be competing in the league past age 40 in the future, but the players who have already done so can know that they have accomplished a feat that not even a quarter of all players throughout the league’s history have achieved. As members of one of the roughest sports in the world, playing at such ages exemplifies the definitions of toughness, competitiveness, and resiliency.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.