First off, a big thanks to all Veterans out there reading this, your service and sacrifice are much, much appreciated. I hope you are getting to enjoy today off (unlike some, ahem, veterans of this site). Now, not to belittle the real reason for this holiday, but I figured it gives me a reason to revisit something I did for baseball a few years ago when I counted down all the active baseball players who had been around for a long, long time. That was fairly easy, there’s always a Satchel Paige, Jamie Moyer, or Julio Franco in baseball…but football, where being 25 makes you middle age, it’s a little more difficult. Still, age is just a number. The Lakers are actually trying to talk Phil Jackson (67) back. General Petreaus (60) still has it going on.
The NFL, however, can age people faster than being President. Steve Smith seems impossibly old, but he’s only 33. Reggie Wayne, Ed Reed, Sebastian Janikowski, they all seem like they’ve been around forever, but they’re each only 34. Of all the positions in the game, nothing ages you faster than toting the rock. The oldest running backs in the league are Willis McGahee, Fred Jackson, and Ronnie Brown, each of whom have been associated with the word “fragile,” and yet each is just 31. You want longevity, be a kicker. Phil Dawson (37) kicked five field goals for the Browns last week, and is pretty much their entire offense. Then there’s punter Sav Rocca (who’ll turn 39 next week), who didn’t even debut in the NFL until he was 33 in 2007, making him the oldest rookie ever…though he’d had a full career playing Aussie Rules Football down under before that. Punter Shane Lechler (36) is one of the few remaining players drafted in the year 2000.
How about people who were drafted in the last millineum who still play? The class of 1999 has two old-as-dirt receivers in Donald Driver (37) and Brandon Stokely (36). The class of 1998–still the class to beat–included Peyton Manning (36), Charles Woodson (36), Keith Brooking (37), Randy Moss (35..yes, he’s still on San Fran’s active roster), Takeo Spikes (35), Vonnie Holliday (36), Matt Hasselbeck (37), and centers (oddly, center is the place to play as a lineman) Matt Birk (36) and Olin Kreutz (35). Honorable mentions go to London Fletcher (37) who went undrafted but signed in 1998, and is second among active players in consecutive starts with 187. Also undrafted in 1998, another center, Jeff Saturday (37…still starting every game, only now under Aaron Rodgers).
The active player with the most consecutive starts at 207? That would be Ronde Barber (37), part of the class of 1997 (how long ago did his brother retire to obscurity?). Also part of 1997’s draft, a guy many might guess as the oldest oldie, Tony Gonzalez (36). Many would be wrong, because in 1996, Ray Lewis (37) went with the 26th overall pick. Another future hall of famer, undrafted but signed in 1996, Adam Vinatieri (who’ll turn 40 next month) actually played professionaly in 1995, albeit with Amsterdam in the now defunct World Football League.
Before 1996, you’d have to go all the way back to the draft of 1992 to find somebody still playing…and that would be your oldest player in the NFL: Jason Hanson (42). Along with Ben Graham (39…another Aussie Rules player who, before Rocca came along, held the distinction of being the oldest NFL rookie), the Lions easily have the oldest kicking combination in the league…but how about a few more kickers to round this out: David Akers is 38, Matt Bryant is 37, and Jay Feely is a young 36.
And lastly, a special honorable mention for Dick Lebeau. I know this gets mentioned Every. Single. Steeler. Broadcast. but the dude is 75, he played for Woody Hayes at Ohio State for crying out loud, and won a national championship there in 1957, playing both offense and defense. Did they have leather helmets back then? Today’s players can only wish they still have one tenth the brain cells left at that age as he does. Actually, today’s players would be happy just to make it near that age at all.
Now don’t you feel old? Speaking of veterans of this site (though I still consider him “the new guy”), Grote2DMax is up tomorrow.