Age, what’s that? Tom Brady, 43, ignites debate after trailblazing seventh Super Bowl triumph

  • At 43, if Tom Brady isn’t the symbol for the oft-repeated acronym GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), then who is?
Tom Brady played in his 10th Super Bowl and already has the league record for rings. (AP Photo)
Tom Brady played in his 10th Super Bowl and already has the league record for rings. (AP Photo)
Published on Feb 09, 2021 07:28 AM IST
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ByRutvick Mehta, Mumbai

At 43, if Tom Brady isn’t the symbol for the oft-repeated acronym GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), then who is?

The National Football League (NFL) may not be wildly popular outside North America, but the legendary quarterback is now transcending his sport. He is also leading a pack of global superstars — also on this list will be Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and at a stretch Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James — who are defying sport’s hitherto insurmountable age barrier.

On Sunday, Brady clinched his seventh Super Bowl title after leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 31-9 win against defending champions Kansas City Chiefs in front of 25,000 masked fans and 30,000 cardboard cutouts to fill their home Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

Brady had already won six titles across 20 seasons with his long-time team, the New England Patriots. But to switch to a new team last year, almost single-handedly lead their charge and hand them their first title since 2002? GOAT stuff.

To throw 201 yards, complete 21 of the 29 passes and produce three touchdowns in the crunch game to cap off a season thrown into uncertainty amid the Covid-19 pandemic? GOAT stuff.

To win a record-extending fifth Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award at that age? GOAT stuff. “If you know, you know!! GOAT talk,” NBA’s LeBron James wrote on Twitter after Brady did the implausible.

Federer, who has for long donned the GOAT tag (though the discussion surrounding that may soon become complicated), wrote on Instagram: “What an inspiring achievement. @tombrady age is just a number.”

For, beyond the Super Bowl title, several athletes are challenging the idea of longevity at the elite level.

Federer is 39 and preparing for a comeback after two knee surgeries and remains one of the top players in the world; Woods donned an Augusta Masters jacket at 43 in 2019; Ibrahimovic shattered the 500-mark for career club goals a couple of days ago at 39; and Ronaldo is breaking scoring records at 36.

LeBron James is 36, too, and seeking more NBA records after capturing a fourth championship title with Los Angeles Lakers last year. England fast bowler James Anderson is still running in and swinging the ball tirelessly on unhelpful Indian pitches at 38. And of course, there’s Serena Williams, who is keeping at her quest of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title at 39. Competing at the Australian Open on Monday, the American was in a hurry during her on-court interview after winning her opening-round match, hoping to watch Brady’s age-defying antics. “It’s unbelievable... it’s unreal,” Williams said in her post-match press conference.

In most of sport, the norm is that athletes peak before they are 30, followed by an irreversible decline. By 40, the playing field is not your friend anymore. Yet, over the past decade or two, a revolution in research and application into nutrition, sports science, technology and data tracking physiological functions has transformed the reality.

It is rare to find athletes training without a GPS vest. Much of athletic longevity depends on how well an athlete’s body is standing up to fatigue; and recovery methods and nutrition have been radically changed by science, data and technology. Cryotherapy uses extreme subzero temperatures to combat inflammation and muscle soreness; and firms such as Athletigen do DNA analysis for athletes that is then used to tailor diets and training regimes.

“Even though the tennis is now more physical, the players are playing less, athletic health care is so much better, travel is easier, and the food and drink the athletes consume has been taken to a whole new level. All of this makes a big difference in the long run — it saves the body and the mind, helps you stay hungry and motivated and, before you know it, you’re pushing 40 while still winning titles,” Martina Navratilova wrote in a column for the WTA in 2018.

“They say that I have an athlete’s body, but it’s not just the physical or the training,” Cristiano Ronaldo told France Football this year. “There is the lifestyle, nutrition, sleep, the choice of exercises that you do... You have to be smart to last. I call it the education of a footballer.”

Yet, what also holds true is that every name mentioned here is of a once-in-a-generation athlete, united by a never-ending quest of pushing the bar higher. Like Brady, who a few days ago said he could see himself carrying on for two more seasons. “Oh yeah, we’re coming back!” he said after his latest triumph.

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