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Top 10 “Old” Athletes

Brett Favre has been able to produce well past the standard age of retirement in the NFL Brett Favre has been able to produce well past the standard age of retirement in the NFL
In the world of pro sports, hitting 32 years of age constitutes the twilight for the majority of athletes. Most competitors peak in their mid to late twenties, with only a few maintaining a high level of performance into their thirties. However, some athletes defy the calendar and continue to make an impact well into a time in their lives when most people consider them “over the hill.”

For those incredible athletes whose determination, skill, and genetic gifts allow them to compete at the top level into their late thirties and even into their forties, age is merely a state of mind. So here’s one for the old guys - a look at ten of the greatest athletes to have tapped the fountain of youth, and continually proved skeptics wrong by thriving among athletes young enough to be their offspring.

10. George Foreman

George Foreman raised many eyebrows when he won the world titleGeorge Foreman raised many eyebrows when he won the world titleAt 45 years old, George Foreman became the oldest heavyweight champion of the world when he knocked out 26-year-old Michael Moorer. It was an incredible accomplishment in a career that included a world title 20 years earlier, as well as an Olympic gold medal in men’s boxing at the 1968 Summer Games.

Foreman fought his last match in November 1997 at age 48. He lost a controversial split decision to Shannon Briggs, which cost him a title shot. Shortly thereafter, with an official record of 76-5, Foreman announced his retirement, the second and final one of his career.

Boxing requires one of the most grueling training camps in sports, so for any fighter to be competing at a high level past the age of 40 is remarkable. Bernard Hopkins is one other notable pugilist who persisted in pummeling opponents when he had grown long in the tooth. Hopkins is still fighting at age 45, and, more remarkably, is still relevant in the boxing world.


9. George Blanda

George Blanda was a multi-position sensation into his fortiesGeorge Blanda was a multi-position sensation into his fortiesGeorge Blanda holds a football record for having played in four decades – the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. He played his first pro game in 1949 for the Chicago Bears and his final one for the Oakland Raiders in 1975.

Still more unusual by today’s standards is the fact that Blanda acted as both quarterback and kicker for nearly every team he played on.  Blanda holds the record for being the oldest player ever to compete in the NFL, which he did as a 48-year-old. He was also the first player to score 2,000 points, often throwing a touchdown and then kicking his own extra point.

A long football career is unusual, although kickers often last longest, as their bodies tend to take much less abuse.

Punter Jeff Feagles comes close to Blanda’s gridiron longevity, having debuted in 1988 and having played last in 2009 at the age of 44. Feagles didn’t miss a game in 22 consecutive seasons.

Similarly, kicker Morten Andersen enjoyed a career that began in 1982 and ended in 2007, when he was 47. Andersen holds the NFL record for most games played with 382.

However, George Blanda was not only a kicker, but a quarterback. That makes his career the most unbelievable of all.

8. Dara Torres

Dara Torres competed in five Olympics from 1984 to 2008Dara Torres competed in five Olympics from 1984 to 2008American swimmer Dara Torres has a remarkable story that includes 12 Olympic medals. But still more amazing is that three of those medals came at age 41, in her fifth Olympics, the 2008 Summer Games from Beijing.

But the awe doesn’t stop there. Torres’s first Olympics were in 1984. She did not compete in 1996 or 2004, making her medal count in 2008 even more impressive. Torres is the picture of determination and dedication.

Another female athlete to have halted the hands of time is tennis legend Martina Navratilova. The Czechoslovakian born Navratilova turned pro in 1975 and won her first singles Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 1978.  She retired in 2006 just a month shy of her 50th birthday, but not before winning the mixed doubles title at the 2006 US Open, her 59th Grand Slam title.




7. Satchel Paige

Satchel Paige overcame racism to excel in the Major LeagueSatchel Paige overcame racism to excel in the Major LeagueSatchel Paige is a legendary pitcher whose legacy is one of both excellence and longevity. Paige began his professional baseball career in the Negro leagues the year he turned 20.

Following integration, Paige entered Major League Baseball as a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians in 1948. He was a 42-year-old rookie, at the time the oldest player to debut in the Majors.

Paige went on to become an all-star with the St. Louis Browns, and continued his career in the minor leagues when his skills started to decline.

His whole career, starting as a teenager playing semi-pro, Paige was the center of unusual stories and had to prove himself in unique ways. When he started his minor league career, he had to pitch to the Miami Marlins’ nine best hitters on the condition that if one of them got a clean hit, Paige would only be allowed to play in exhibition games. Paige retired all nine and earned a starting spot.

Another story from his early years has Paige calling his outfielders into the infield, and telling them to sit down while he pitched a strike out to the opposition’s final batter.

For these reasons and more, Satchel Paige is a true sports legend.

6. Jack Nicklaus

The Golden Bear is the greatest golfer of all timeThe Golden Bear is the greatest golfer of all timeThe greatest golfer of all time was a force to be reckoned with on the PGA Tour for the better part of three decades. Jack Nicklaus holds the record for the oldest player to win the Masters, which he did in 1986 at age 46. That big win extended his record for most major championships to 18, a record that still stands.

“The Golden Bear” also racked up 73 PGA Tour wins in his career, a number surpassed only by fellow legend Sam Snead.

Never one to say die, Nicklaus continued competing in PGA events until the age of 65, when he played in both the Masters and The Open Championship.

Fellow golf superstar Tom Watson might have made this list if he had pulled off a victory at the 2009 Open Championship. Instead, the 59-year-old Watson lost in a playoff, finishing second and thereby missing out on the chance to claim Nicklaus’s record as the oldest player to win a major.


5. Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice holds pretty much every receiving record known to manJerry Rice holds pretty much every receiving record known to manWhether Jerry Rice is the greatest football player of all time is debatable, but he’s easily the best wide receiver to ever take the field. On that point, there’s no debate. Rice holds virtually every major receiving record there is to hold in addition to multi-position records like most touchdowns and most yards from scrimmage.

Almost as remarkable as the number of records Rice holds is the fact that he played in the NFL until the age of 42. To have thrived at his position in as punishing a sport as football for that long is nearly unheard of.

Brett Favre gives Rice a run for his money as the 40-year-old quarterback enters his 20th NFL season in 2010. Favre has had incredible success and remains an effective player in football’s most important position into his third decade tossing the pigskin.


4. Randy Couture

Randy Couture is pushing 50 and still taking on all comersRandy Couture is pushing 50 and still taking on all comersSome call him “Captain America,” some call him “The Natural,” but everyone calls him amazing. UFC veteran Randy Couture seems ageless, competing in one of the current marketplace’s most brutal sports at age 47.

Couture got started in mixed martial arts in his thirties, after a distinguished Greco-Roman wrestling career that saw him earn multiple Pan-Am medals. Including his MMA debut at UFC 13 in 1997, he’s had 29 fights, winning 19 of them.

Couture’s most recent win came at age 47 in August 2010 when he defeated 42-year-old boxing legend James Toney by submission in a one-sided affair. Couture shows no signs of slowing down, and will be back in the octagon a few more times before he hangs up the gloves for good.


3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the NBA record for most career pointsKareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the NBA record for most career pointsKareem Abdul-Jabbar started his NBA career in 1969 and wrapped things up in 1989 after 30 years as one of the most effective big men in hoops history. Abdul-Jabbar holds the NBA record for most points, which makes a nice compliment to his six NBA championships and his record six regular season MVP awards.

Abdul-Jabbar entered the league in his early twenties under his birth name, Lew Alcindor. Following a conversion to Islam, he changed his name. As a member of the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, the 7’2” center became famous for his indefensible “skyhook” shot.

Abdul-Jabbar retired from pro basketball at age 42. At the time he held the record for most games played in the NBA, but fellow aged big man Robert Parish eclipsed that mark following his final game in 1997 at age 43.

Basketball has seen its share of “over the hill” players continue with effective careers into their forties. Besides Abdul-Jabbar and Parish, the most notable examples are ten-time NBA all-star John Stockton and two-time NBA MVP Karl Malone, both of whom excelled as members of the Utah Jazz before retiring in their early forties.


2. Nolan Ryan

Nolan Ryan's name is synonymous with longevityNolan Ryan's name is synonymous with longevityOne of the first names that pops to mind when talk of “old guy” athletes comes up is Nolan Ryan. The MLB pitcher played pro ball from 1966 until his retirement in 1993 at age 46.

Ryan was an eight-time all-star and a World Series champion. He played for the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers, the latter three of which have retired his jersey.

Despite his many accomplishments, which include a record seven no-hitters and 5,714 career strike outs, Ryan’s status as the ultimate “old guy” was cemented one night in 1993. After being hit by a pitch, 26-year-old Robin Ventura charged the mound. The 46-year-old Ryan grabbed the much younger man in a headlock and laid a beating on the lad.

Pitching has been the domain of a few other 40+ baseball stars, including Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, and Phil Niekro, all of whom are or were forces to be reckoned with long after most of their contemporaries had left the game.

Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are other baseball players who had extended careers, but their fountain of youth appears to have had as much to do with performance enhancing drugs as it has with their determination, skill, and genetics. Despite their considerable talent and longevity, that fact keeps them off this list.

1. Gordie Howe

Mr. Hockey has done it allMr. Hockey has done it allGordie Howe’s nickname of “Mr. Hockey” is the most apt moniker in the history of sports. Howe started his NHL career at age 18 in 1946. He retired at age 52 in 1980, the only player to have competed in five decades.

Howe was an effective player until the end, playing a full 80-game season in his final year. He is best remembered as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, but retired as a member of the Hartford Whalers. It was there he played with his sons, Marty and Mark, each of whom had successful pro hockey careers as well.

A record holder for both most NHL regular season games played with 1,767 and most professional games played with 2,186 (his WHA and NHL totals combined), Howe has earned every accolade there is to earn in hockey. Among those are four Stanley Cups, six Hart Trophies as NHL MVP, and an incredible 23 NHL All-Star appearances.

His name still pops up in games from time to time when a player records a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” – a goal, an assist, and a fight in the same game. The term is a tribute to the legendary player who was both one of the most talented and one of the toughest players ever to lace up a pair of skates.

The second oldest NHLer was defenseman Chris Chelios, who retired in 2010 at age 48. He was a member of the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Montreal Canadiens, and remained a sought after blueliner until his final game. Chelios appeared in the playoffs a record 24 times, all but two of his 26 NHL seasons.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 09 November 2010 20:07

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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