The long run: Can Rodgers match Brady’s prolonged reign?

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Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy was asked recently if he thought that Aaron Rodgers might be able to enjoy the same late-career success as Tom Brady.

Last month Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, became the oldest player (39) to compete in a Super Bowl, where he led the biggest comeback win in the game’s 51-year history. It was his record fifth Super Bowl title and the second time he’d won after the age of 37.

McCarthy said, correctly, that given some good fortune along the way it was entirely possible for Rodgers to continue at a peak level for the next six or seven years.

Rodgers had another great year as the Packers’ QB, and also led an amazing comeback along the way. They went from a floundering 4-6 mark at mid-season to win their last 6 regular-season games, earning a playoff spot for the eighth straight year and another division title. During those six must-win showdowns and the two following playoff games Rodgers was nearly flawless, throwing 21 touchdown passes with just 1 interception.

There is no reason to believe he’ll be slowing down any time soon. As far as career longevity, the good fortune to which McCarthy alluded will have much to do with the offensive line, which last season was outstanding. The elusive Rodgers also had a hand in staying free of injury, flashing strong self-preservation skills dodging in and out of the pocket.

The idea of his hanging up the cleats is of great interest in this locale. The past decade has demonstrated that as he goes, so go the Packers. The end of the Rodgers era, whenever that comes, will be a sad day for the organization and the fans.

Rodgers is 33 years old – the age that was once postulated as the back end of an athlete’s physical prime. But today’s advanced sports medicine and conditioning programs have pushed that guidepost back a few years, and Rodgers has a fanatical devotion to staying game-fit. His long-term prospects are good.

In any case, sports history is smattered with tales of aging athletes whose play would have made Ponce de Leon envious.

Jack Nicklaus won the Masters Tournament at 46 years old – and finished tied for sixth at the Masters when he was 58.

Nolan Ryan threw two of his seven no-hitters after he turned 40, and finally retired at 46 after having pitched almost 5,400 innings.

Contact sports have also produced a few competitors who told Father Time to take a hike.

Hockey great Gordie Howe skated until he was 51, scoring 15 goals in his final season – in which he played a career-high 80 games. George Foreman slugged his way to a heavyweight boxing title at 45.

Football is a slightly different animal, of course, given its format of weekly mutual annihilation. The average career length for an NFL player is 3.3 years. Yet, there are anomalies there, too, like quarterback/placekicker George Blanda of Oakland finishing second in the league MVP voting at the age of 43.

As for geezers taking the snaps in the Super Bowl, John Elway played in one for the Broncos at 37, and then another at 38, winning that game and the MVP award.

Jim Plunkett led the Raiders to a title at 36. Roger Staubach played in back-to-back Super Bowls for Dallas at 35 and 36 years old. Minnesota’s Fran Tarkenton and Arizona’s Kurt Warner both led their teams to Super Bowls at 37.

Such precedents shore up the high hopes of Rodgers’ sticking around for a nice while, and adding his name to the list.

Some of the more quotable reflections on growing old came from pitcher Satchel Paige, who at 58 years of age threw three scoreless innings for the Kansas City Athletics in a game against Boston.

Paige said age is a question of mind over matter: if you don’t mind, it don’t matter. He also gave some advice that holds double meaning to a scrambling quarterback in his mid-30s: Don’t look back, because something might be gaining on you.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. To contact him, send an email to sports@wolfrivermedia.com.