Lawrence: Father Time Waits For No Man

By Amy Lawrence

Father Time waits for no man. But he may want to slow his roll and admire the achievements of some of the NFL’s “old guys.” More than a few of them turned back the clock in Week 5, proving that wisdom and experience can be nearly as valuable as youth and sheer strength. Knowing how to survive and stay relevant are priceless tools. Statistics show the average life span of an NFL player is only 3.3 years. That includes ALL players, even those who never start a game. Narrow it down to those who make a roster in the season they were drafted or signed, and they last just under 7 years according to the league website. Since the median age of an NFL player is not even 27, the old guard deserves to be celebrated.

A pair of 35-year-olds scoffed at Father Time on Monday Night Football. Chargers tight end Antonio Gates returned from his PED suspension and promptly hauled in the 100th and 101st touchdowns of his career. Tony Gonzalez is the only other tight end to reach the century mark. Gates’ second score put San Diego ahead by 7 midway through the final quarter, but the game was far from over. Mike Vick struggled mightily before a long bomb to Markus Wheaton snapped him into a groove. With that TD, the Steelers offense finally looked viable.

After a Chargers field goal, Pittsburgh began another drive with 3 minutes left in regulation. The Steelers converted several third downs, including Vick’s 24-yard scramble straight up the gut. When Le’Veon Bell pushed his way into the endzone with no time remaining, it was the culmination of an 80-yard drive engineered by a quarterback who wasn’t sure he’d have a job this fall. Vick didn’t hear from the Steelers until they lost their back-up in preseason; and at 35, he knows this may be his last chance as a starter. His first couple games filling in for Ben Roethlisberger were far from perfect. He sprayed throws all over the field and second-guessed himself in a new offense, but his arm strength and creativity served him well in crunch time Monday.

Most of Cleveland desires to see the highly entertaining Johnny Manziel under center, but 36-year-old Josh McCown refuses to give an inch. He sparked a stunning second-half rally to force overtime against the Ravens Sunday, and he guided them into position for a game-winning field goal in the extra session. His 457 passing yards set a new franchise record. He’s also the only Browns quarterback in history with three straight 300-yard games. Young and exciting will have to wait.

Two of the NFL’s most ancient faced off in Oakland over the weekend. Charles Woodson edge Peyton Manning in the Heisman voting back in 1997. They were both selected early in the ’98 draft, and they are among the most accomplished ever to play their positions. On Sunday for the first time in his career, Woodson picked off a Manning pass attempt…and then he did it again. The cornerback’s 63rd and 64th career interceptions came just days after his 39th birthday. He’s the oldest in NFL history with more than one INT in a game, and his four picks this season tie Josh Norman for the league lead.

Tom Brady seems to age at a glacial pace. Despite taking 5 sacks in the first half against the Cowboys, he plunged into the endzone for his first rushing touchdown in almost three years and threw for two more TDs in the second half. New England is still undefeated and drawing comparisons to the 2007 squad that remained perfect until the Super Bowl. At 38 years old, Brady is among the league leaders in both passing yards and touchdowns (with a bye). He’s also one of two quarterbacks yet to throw an interception this season. The other is Matt Hasselbeck.

At 40, the Colts signal-caller is the NFL’s oldest quarterback. Lingering shoulder issues for Andrew Luck have pressed him into service. Hasselbeck spent most of last week fighting a bacterial infection; he even landed in the hospital. But he managed to lead Indy to victory over Houston with a pair of touchdown passes and no turnovers. His Colts were 3-for-4 inside the red zone. He was steady and accurate, nothing flashy but incredibly dependable. Hasselbeck’s primary target? 34-year-old Andre Johnson who caught both TD passes against the team that cut him in the summer. “You get over the age of 30, they kind of count you out,” Johnson said. “But we proved to people that we could still play.”

Of course, any discussion of “old guys” in the NFL begins with Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri. At 42, he tops the age chart. And with a pair of field goals over 40 yards on Sunday, he continues to amaze. He’s the only player in history to score a thousand points with two different teams.

When face to face with their career mortality, older athletes tend to appreciate every opportunity and take nothing for granted. They know how difficult it is keep a job in the NFL, and they cherish the moments when they can defy Father Time. He waits for no man, but no doubt he’s in awe of football’s elder statesmen.

A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @ALawRadio.

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