(Photos courtesy of the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos)_
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
PHOENIX, AZ. – With a fourth Super Bowl victory, New England's Tom Brady moves into the upper echelon of all-time NFL quarterbacks – with comparisons to Joe Montana, his childhood idol.
So what now? Well, here’s a suggestion: Retirement.
You heard me. Brady should consider the unthinkable, the unimaginable and, frankly, the damned-near incomprehensible and think about walking away from the game. Maybe not now. But next season. I know, he says he’d like to play into his early 40s, and wouldn’t most quarterbacks? The problem is that not only inadvisable; it’s simply untenable.
Look at the actuarial tables, and they’ll tell you what Brady should know: Quarterbacks hit the wall at 38, with Peyton Manning the latest example.
Brady turns 38 in August, and, with Sunday's victory, he's done more than virtually every quarterback in league history: Four-time Super Bowl champion, three-time Super Bowl MVP, three-time league MVP and Hall-of-Fame lock. There’s nothing left but retirement.
So start thinking about it, Tom.
I know, I know, Brett Favre had one of his best seasons ever when he was 40. He’s the exception. Manning is more the rule. After starting fast this season, he slowed to a crawl, with his performance the last eight games, including the playoffs, evidence of a diminished quarterback: He threw 11 touchdowns, eight interceptions, was 5-3, twice failed to throw a touchdown pass, twice failed to throw more than 20 times and was downright awful in the Broncos’ divisional playoff loss.
Unusual? Maybe for Manning. But not for his predecessors at the position.
When Steve Young was 38, he suffered a series of concussions that drove him from the game. He played only three times his last season and retired afterward. When Dan Marino was 38, he suffered injuries that drove him from football, too. He played 11 games his last year and spurned offers from Minnesota and Pittsburgh to join them.
The issue, he told the Talk of Fame Network here on Thursday, was physical. His body couldn’t take the punishment anymore, and that’s the point. Most bodies can’t.
John Unitas didn’t play more than five games in any season after his 38th birthday. Joe Montana retired at 38. So did Kurt Warner. Warren Moon didn’t have a winning season after he turned 38. Bart Starr retired at 37. Jim Kelly at 36.
Follow the bread crumbs, people: 38 is the new 58 for quarterbacks. There are more injuries, more setbacks and more interceptions. At some point, the body can’t absorb the pounding, and 38 seems to be that point for quarterbacks.
Granted, John Elway won his second Super Bowl at 38 and was named the game’s MVP. But he didn’t play four games that season because of a rib injury. And, by then, it wasn’t John Elway’s team. It was Terrell Davis.’ Without Davis, Elway wouldn’t have made it, and that’s not me talking. That’s Elway. He said as much when we had him on the Talk of Fame Network in October.
I don’t see Terrell Davis in the New England huddle. I see LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen, which means if the Patriots are to get to another Super Bowl it’s Tom Terrific who does the heavy lifting … and the lifting gets a whole lot more difficult when you’re 38.
And that’s why Brady should consider what he can’t at this moment. Brett Favre is not the reason why you stay in the game at 38, but Ken Stabler is the reason you consider leaving it. One of the game’s top quarterbacks, Stabler played until he was 39, and while he suited up for all 14 games at 38 he lost as many as he won and had twice as many interceptions (18) as touchdown passes (9).
‘You’d rather leave the game a year too soon than a year too late,” Hall-of-Fame coach Bill Walsh once told me.
That’s why Walsh told Young to leave it at 38. Young had an opportunity to move on to Denver and play for Mike Shanahan, his former offensive coordinator and a head coach who told him he would make him a starter. All he had to do was sign on the dotted line. But Young did the smart thing at the right time.
Unitas did not. He hung around after an elbow injury short-circuited his career, serving as little more than a box-office draw in 1973 for a rotten San Diego Chargers team. Unitas started four games before he called it quits.
I know, a lot has changed since then. But the message has not. It’s never good to be saying hello when you should be saying goodbye. Tom Brady doesn’t need to think about that immediately. But he should start thinking about it soon.