Today’s professional athletes have all the resources and knowledge to theoretically play longer than any before them, so why does it seem like so few actually do? Well, Father Time is a fickle beast. One minute you’re on top of your game and the next you're on the bench. You could be a star in your league one year, only to completely break down the next. There’s no rhyme or reason to Father Time’s plans for you, so you better make the most of your career while he lets you. While the average American toughs their job out to age 65, professional athletes have a much smaller window to work with. Believe me, I’m not shedding a tear for them or their astronomical salaries, but I do think people overlook how hard it is to remain at peak physical performance for even a short stretch of time.
Professional sports is a “here today, gone tomorrow” type of industry. Athletes dedicate their lives to one thing, and very few reap the ultimate benefits. To reach the pinnacle of your sport, only to realize you can no longer do it has to be a drag. An elite player can go from the top of the world to toast in the blink of an eye. Injuries, fresh competition, lack of passion and age are factors in any professional athlete’s ultimate demise.
Still, some defy all logic and stay productive well into their twilight athletic years. Whether it’s unbridled passion, world class fitness regimens, or just pure luck, there are a select few old guys still out there competing at the highest level… and some we wish would just retire for their own sake.
15 Tom Brady: 40 Years Young
What can you say about Tom Brady that hasn’t already been said ad nauseam? I can sit here and run down his accomplishments, but this article would top 5000 words. After becoming the 2nd oldest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl, Brady is back at age 40 hoping to break Peyton Manning’s short-standing record. I know, no one wants or needs to hear me wax poetic about Tom Brady at this point, but it’s time we recognize him as the greatest quarterback of all time (if we haven’t already.) Yeah, he lost a few Super Bowls, but the man has been to 7! Not only that, he has stated he wants to play for another 5-7 years, so we can probably expect that Super Bowl appearance number to go up.
14 Ichiro Suzuki: 43 Years Young
I feel like people don’t realize Ichiro is still going strong because he’s a part-time player for a middling team. You would think hitting the amazing milestone of 3000 Major League hits would be enough to ride off into the sunset, but Ichiro just keeps on trucking. While he’s no longer out in right-field every day, he’s still an integral part of the Miami Marlins roster. At 43 years old he finds himself just short of the all time pinch hit record for a season. Despite a little salt and pepper in his hair, he still looks like he’s in as good a shape as anyone in the league, and plans to continue playing on for at least the near future. Ichiro could be the first Major League player to hit age 50 in a long long time. Would it really shock anyone?
13 Tiger Woods: 41 Years Old
Blaming Tiger’s demise on age may be a bit unfair, as some Golfers stay at an elite level into their 50s, while others continue to dominate the Senior Tour. But sadly, Tiger might be toast. He’s had plenty of well publicized trouble off the links, but can we really look past the fact he hasn’t won a major in nearly a decade? I mean, he’s not even making cuts. If I would have told you years ago that Tiger Woods would win his last major at age 32, you probably would have laughed in my face. Life comes at you fast, and we probably took Tiger for granted. He can lay low for the rest of his life and still be looked at as arguably a top 3 golfer of all time, but here’s hoping Tiger can get his act together and get back in the swing of things on the golf course.
12 Dirk Nowitzki: 39 Years Young
I don’t wanna imagine the NBA without Dirk Nowitzki. I’m not sure we’ll ever fully appreciate just how special a player Dirk Nowitzki is. At 7 feet, the things he has done in his career are mind boggling, and he’s a main reason we’re seeing the new “hybrid” style bigmen in the league. Dirk has been getting banged up over the past couple years, so his time in the league may be getting close to an end, but he still managed to put up 14.2 ppg last year for the Mavs. Not only that, he notched his 12,000th career block, and became the first international (6th overall) player to ever reach 30,000 points. This off-season he re-signed with the Mavs for his 20th NBA season, 13 of which have resulted in All Star Game appearances. His future beyond this season is up in the air, but something tells me Marc Cuban isn’t gonna let him walk away without a fight.
11 Tony Hawk: 49 Years Young
Whether or not you lump “extreme athletes” in with those of the major sports, it’s hard to look past what Tony Hawk has accomplished on and off his board. At 49, Hawk is still shredding after all these years. While he may not be competing like he used to, the fact he’s even able to still skate giant vert ramps while pushing 50 is remarkable. I never would have expected skateboarders to last beyond their mid-20s, but plenty are going strong well into their 30s these days. Bob Burnquist just competed in his last X-Games at age 40, and regularly skates a 200 foot megaramp in his backyard. Rodney Mullen is still one of the sickest flatground skaters on Earth at age 51. Not only has Tony Hawk been arguably the most influential skater of all time, the next wave of Hawk is already killing it. His son Riley is a professional who has been tearing up the skate landscape for years now.
10 Pablo Sandoval: 31 Years Old
Was it Father Time or Papa John? It was probably a little of both. Pablo Sandoval was never a picture of fitness, but he went from a solid everyday player and postseason legend to one of the worst players in the sport the second after the ink dried on his contract with the Red Sox. Since leaving the champion Giants after the 2014 season, Kung Fu Panda only played 161 games in Boston before being released and returning home to San Francisco. He was paid $95 million by Boston for 14 homers and a .646 ops. That could arguably be the WORST Free Agent contract in baseball history. His return to San Francisco hasn’t been much better. He’s hitting .212 this year and recently had a 0-38 streak at the plate. At 31 his career may very well be over. He isn’t the first player to shut it down after a big pay day, but who saw this coming.
9 Roger Federer: 36 Years Young
Only in the sports world would 36 be considered old. In normal everyday life, a 36 year old probably isn’t even on Father Time’s radar, but in the gruelling world of professional tennis, you’re basically a fossil. In January, Federer became the second oldest player to ever win a Grand Slam at age 35. There’s very little doubt he is the greatest tennis player in history, and still holds the #2 ranking in the world behind his rival, Rafael Nadal. A few years back it seemed like Federer was on his way out, but like the freak of nature he is he bounced back and regained the #1 spot for a stretch of time. There doesn’t seem to be any plans for retirement either. Federer recently said he wouldn’t even consider it until he takes down his 8th Wimbledon title.
8 Fernando Rodney: 40 Years Young
I could argue that outside of NFL running backs, Major League Relief Pitchers fizzle out more than any other position in sports. For Fernando Rodney to still be going strong at age 40, it’s a testament to an underrated career. While he may not be the best closer in the league, he’s on the verge of surpassing his age in saves. His Diamondbacks seem like a lock to clinch a Wild Card berth any day now, and he’s one of the major reasons they’re in that position. For the D-Backs to make serious noise in the postseason, they will need their ancient hurler to keep his invisible quiver full of arrows, and it appears they have the utmost confidence he can.
7 Ryan Howard: 37 Years Old
I always think back to Ryan Howard rupturing his Achilles on the final out the 2011 NLDS and get bummed out. You never want to see anyone get hurt like that, and for it to happen as your team is eliminated from playoff contention just adds insult to injury. Once (and still) a legend in Philadelphia, Ryan Howard was an MVP and one of the most feared sluggers in the game before the 162 game grind started to sideline his career. While he still hit 25 homers as recently as last season, that was basically all he brought to the table. He hadn’t topped a .8 ops in 5 years, and was a statue in the field. His storied Phillie career came to an unceremonious end, and since then he’s toiled in the Braves and Rockies minor league systems with no promotion. I would like to see him try and latch on with an American League team next season, but I imagine he’ll receive a special Phillie retirement ceremony in the not too distant future.
6 Drew Brees: 38 Years Young
It’s tough to put another QB on the list after Brady, but if anyone deserves recognition it’s Drew Brees. The former Super Bowl MVP has played at least 15 games in each of the last 13 seasons. He’s currently 3rd all time in passing yards with over 66,000 for his storied career, and he doesn’t appear like he’s ready to hang up his cleats any time soon. He’s on the final year of his contract with the Saints, and has said he wants to play this one out before his next career decision. With the current crop of QBs around the league, it won’t surprise anyone if suitors line up this coming offseason for the future Hall of Famer’s services.
5 Adam Vinatieri: 44 Years Young
Let’s stick with football. There are only 3 place kickers in the National Football Hall of Fame. At some point down the line, there will be another. Adam Vinatieri is as much a lock for Canton as just about anyone currently in the league, and at age 44 he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. With 4 Super Bowl rings, and the record for 44 straight Field Goals in his back pocket, it’s hard to imagine what else Vinatieri can accomplish in this league. He’s currently 3rd all time in points, and his sights may be set on trying to top Morten Anderson’s 2,544 total. He’s basically on pace to break all kicking records by the end of the 2018 season. Asked recently, Vinatieri said he has no plans on retiring, so here’s hoping he can remain healthy. Kickers tend to have the longest shelf life in football, but only 6 have played beyond age 44 in NFL history, so he’s already in rare company.
4 Derrick Rose: 28 Years Old
28 years old?! How can Father Time pass by a 28 year old? Well, to be fair, Derrick Rose is an OLD 28. C’mon, you probably thought he was older than that without looking. I feel like this guy has been in the league for 15 years, and has been injury prone for about 12 of them. The downward spiral D-Rose’s career has been on since his MVP season with the Bulls has been tough to watch. He hasn’t played a full season since 2010-11. He’s hinted about retirement numerous times in the past, citing his fear he won’t even be able to walk later in life. Basketball is a grueling game, and some guys just can’t hack it for the long term, but I’m rooting for this guy. Hopefully playing alongside Lebron in Cleveland will rejuvenate a once great career.
3 Jaromir Jagr: 45 Years Young
Hey casual hockey fans, did you know Jaromir Jagr was still in the league? Not only that, did you know he played in every single game last year for the Florida Panthers? When you’re 45 years old, it’s hard to imagine your point total surpassing your age, but Jagr put up 46 points last year, notching him comfortably into 2nd on the all time NHL scoring list. After playing for 8 NHL teams, Jagr currently finds himself unsigned, but has said he will make a decision on his future in the coming weeks. If no NHL team takes a flyer – and one absolutely should – he may play professionally in Russia or his native Czech Republic. Gordie Howe played professional hockey into his 50s, and with the shape Jagr keeps himself in, he may go beyond that. Get this man signed! I’d gladly welcome him back to my Rangers.
2 Bartolo Colon: 44 Years Young
Ok, I’ll admit, this one probably could have gone on the “5 He Caught Up To” list, but I just can’t give up on Bart. The 2017 season hasn’t been very kind to the big man, but he’s still a gamer and can still go out on any given night and give you a strong performance on the bump. Earlier in the year while pitching in Atlanta, Colon looked like he was finished. At age 44, and with his… physique, it’s hard to imagine how he even got to his point, but like always, Bart persisted. Colon is just one season removed from a 15 win (I know, wins don’t matter much these days) 3.43 era season with the Mets, and is currently pitching for a Minnesota Twin team fighting for a playoff berth. He has shown in the past he is willing to start or pitch out the pen, and his veteran leadership can’t be measured using numbers. He’s made it this far, and with his rubber arm, it’s hard to imagine he won’t latch on with another team for at least another year in the big leagues.
1 Albert Pujols: 37 Years Old
This one’s tough. I contend that after the juiced up Frankenstein Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols is the single best baseball player I’ve watched on a regular basis. His run with the Cardinals was one of the greatest in the history of the game. Nowadays, things are different. On the surface Albert may still seem like a productive player, but his advanced numbers prove otherwise. The power is still there, but sabermetrics show he is the single worst everyday player in baseball. His 26 home runs are nice, but we’re in a season where over 100 players have 20 or more. Albert currently sports a sub .7 ops and an 82 ops+. Those are back-up catcher numbers. He’s a liability on the field, painful to watch run the bases, and seems like he may fall apart at any time. The worst part about all of this is that Pujols is still under contract for HUGE money until 2021. There’s no debating he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer, but Father Time may have gotten his hooks into Albert Pujols.