Life begins at 40: For Tom Brady and some other sports legends, age is just a number

Tom Brady is celebrating his 40th birthday like no one before him.

Having won a fifth NFL championship ring and a fourth Super Bowl MVP at the age of 39, the New England Patriots quarterback has shown no signs of aging even as he inevitably gets older. He’ll turn 40 on Wednesday, and fans usually celebrate by singing “Happy Birthday” to him during training camp.

Brady just keeps on going.

Golfers such as Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin won majors in their 40s. Bill Shoemaker won the Kentucky Derby at 54. George Foreman was heavyweight champion at 45. But for team sports — especially at a position as important as NFL quarterback — it has been a while since an athlete has been this good this late in life.

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Here are some of the active fortysomethings in sports, along with all-time greats whose careers stretched into a fifth decade.


Bartolo Colon, 44, is the oldest active player in the majors. But he is 2-9 with a 7.70 ERA.

Ichiro Suzuki, five months younger, is a reserve outfielder for Miami. Carlos Beltran is a role player at 40, but for the best team in the AL.

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None of them is going to make anyone forget Satchel Paige, who, because of the color barrier, didn’t reach the majors until he was 41. He stuck around for five seasons, and then made a one-shot appearance at the age of 58. Pete Rose led the majors in hits at 40, played every game the next year and broke the career hits record at the age of 44.

Honorable mention: Carlton Fisk, who was an All-Star at 43 and played until he was 45 — as a catcher, the most grueling position on the field.


When you’re 39, like Manu Ginobili, every game can be your last. So San Antonio fans gave him a huge cheer when he was pulled from the playoff game against Golden State that eliminated the Spurs from the Western Conference finals.

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“It felt like they wanted me to retire,” Ginobili said with a smile. “Like they were giving me sort of a celebration night. And of course, I’m getting closer and closer.”

But Ginobili, who turned 40 a week before Brady, is coming back for a 16th season with his only NBA team. Vince Carter, already 40, will be back with his seventh team.

They’ll have to keep it up to catch Hall of Famers Robert Parish, who played well after his 43rd birthday, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who started every game of his final season at the age of 42.


Jaromir Jagr, 45, is looking for a team after finishing his 24th pro season with the Florida Panthers, when he played every game and scored 16 goals with 30 assists. The previous year, he was awarded the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and sportsmanship.

But the king of longevity on the ice is Gordie Howe.

Mr. Hockey finished in the top 10 of the NHL MVP voting every year until he turned 41. He took one more spin around the league, scoring 23 goals, and then took a few years off before a comeback with the World Hockey Association that brought him to the age of 50.

He made another comeback in the NHL at 51, playing with his sons Mark and Marty on the Hartford Whalers and scoring 15 goals while appearing in 80 games.

In 1997, he made a cameo with the Detroit Vipers at the age of 69 — making him the only hockey pro to play in six decades.