A week from Sunday, Tom Brady surpasses Jerry Rice as the oldest non-kicker to play in a Super Bowl.
Brady will be 40 and 185 days -- 80 days older than Rice was when he played for the Raiders in Super Bowl 37 after the 2002 season.
But being so good for so long doesn’t just inspire awe and appreciation. It causes arched eyebrows.
“Nobody can do what Brady’s doing at 40 . . . it defies logic . . . resistance bands and clean eating? Right. What else?”
On Thursday, the first installment of Brady’s Tom vs. Time documentary was released. It should help demystify the process Brady goes through to keep playing at an unparalleled level.
But that won’t completely beat back skepticism or stop some from tiptoeing through the minefield of “asking but not accusing.”
ESPN’s Dan LeBatard did the 'ol "I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’ . . . " routine on Wednesday, speculating about Brady and PEDs.
FOX Sports Radio’s Clay Travis did the same in August in similarly cautious fashion.
For years, Mike Felger has punctuated discussion of Brady’s training regimen with ominous throat-clearing. Then the fellas all have a good laugh.
A level of cynicism is part of the deal journalistically. We’re not just supposed to elbow each other and say, “Wow, isn’t this amazing?!” We’re supposed to ask why and explain how.
But slapping a suspicion out there is like leaving a flaming bag of crap on someone’s stoop then walking away whistling. You need to ask if you genuinely want to know.
In the past few years, I asked three different people about Brady and PEDs. I like the guy. I respect the guy. He’s good for business. But it’s part of the job.
I don’t want to sell you a bill of goods with my coverage. I don’t want to be sold a bill of goods by the people I’m reporting on.
In 2015, I asked Alex Guerrero, Brady’s body coach and business partner, whether Brady had ever taken banned substances. I asked him in the wake of a Boston Magazine story that painted Guerrero in a negative light.
“You know me better than that,” said Guerrero. “That’s not what I’m about and that’s not what Tommy’s about. No.”
More recently, a source told me he had no concerns about Brady and PEDs. In fact, he added, the Patriots recently began independently testing supplements their players ingest to ensure there are no mistakes. It’s a logical, proactive approach. The supplements Brady and Guerrero market at TB12 Sports Therapy have been tested.
A member of the coaching staff recently dismissed the question out of hand with a flat and dismissive, “No.”
Why didn't I write it then? Because broaching it, context-free, felt somewhat damning. I wasn’t walking around the locker room asking every other player or their trainer if they’d taken PEDs.
Writing a “Tom Brady = Clean” story, I believed, would legitimize a conversation the guy did nothing to warrant being dragged into.
The reality is, Brady’s entire sports, training, nutrition and pliability empire would crumble if he was ever found to have used PEDs. Not to mention his on-field legacy. It's not a story to broach lightly.
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Which returns us now to this: Should we really be that gobsmacked by it all? The answer is . . . no. What Brady is doing is rare but it’s not unprecedented.
That year Jerry Rice played in the Super Bowl at 40?
He had 92 catches for 1,211 yards with seven touchdowns while playing 16 games. He had 14 catches for another 203 yards in three playoff games. I’d argue that’s more impressive than what Brady did this year.
The following year at 41, Rice had 63 catches for 869 yards (13.8 YPC) in 16 games. He retired when he was 42 after a 30-catch, three touchdown, 16-game season.
Darrell Green, the Redskins Hall of Fame corner, played one of the most physically demanding positions in the sport until he was 42.
Back then, Rice and Green were the exceptions. Now, across all sports, more and more players are going deep into their 40s.
In the NBA, Vince Carter turns 41 later this week. Manu Ginobli is a couple of days older than Brady. Jason Terry is a couple of days younger.
Jaromir Jagr is playing in the NHL at 46. Zdeno Chara is five months older than Brady. He averages 23:27 on the ice every game.
He’s 29th in the league in that category. He’s on the ice 30 seconds longer per game than 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy.
Roger Federer, 36 and still a force in tennis, said a couple of weeks ago, “A lot of the guys are just touching 30-plus, you know. Back in the day, at 30, a lot of guys were retiring -- (Stefan) Edberg, (Pete) Sampras. It was like normal at 29, 32, to start looking towards the end of your career. Now you guys expect everybody to play till 36.”
Again, what Brady is doing isn’t commonplace. But he’s not a pioneer. Brett Favre had an MVP-level season at the age of 40 in 2009.
Meanwhile, the notion Brady is defying time at all apparently isn’t wholly believed in Foxboro.
Seth Wickersham’s ESPN piece was chockful 'o quotes from anonymous team staffers cluck-clucking about Brady’s fragility and the poor on-field decisions he was making as a result.
When it came to down to placing a bet on Tom vs. Time, the Patriots put their chips on Tom. After much handwringing.
Why the fixation, then? If -- as we pointed out -- Brady’s not alone, why does he engender stealth attacks? Why is there so much impatience for him to start sucking so bad it’s obvious he can’t do it anymore?
Because of his standing as the best player on a team the country got sick of about a decade ago. Because the NFL framed him as a liar three years ago. Because he’s open and evangelical about his training.
There are probably a few other reasons as well but those will do. The irony is, skeptics won’t stop until Brady either sucks or retires.
In the end, time is on their side.