Despite his age, 2016 may go down as Tom Brady’s best season. Most professional athletes are long retired once they reach 40, but Brady is cementing his place as the greatest quarterback to ever play. When it comes to ranking the best “old guy performers” ever*, he’s near the top of the list.
*Ever is a loooooong time. More like the past 20 years. So with apologies to George Halas, Nolan Ryan, Gordie Howe, and George Foreman, here we go…
No 5: Tim Duncan: Duncan’s numbers slipped once he reached his late 30’s. But San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich carefully managed him during those seasons, ensuring he would make an impact in the playoffs.
That’s exactly what happened in the 2013-14 campaign, when Duncan became a five-time NBA champion. He averaged 16.3 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per contest that postseason, propelling the Spurs to a dominating 4-1 series victory over LeBron James’ Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
After a lackluster showing in 2015-2016, Duncan retired –– without even issuing a statement. It was the perfect, understated end to one of the all-time great careers.
No 4: Jaromir Jagr: Jagr is only six years away from qualifying for AARP membership, and yet he’s still playing in the NHL. At 44 years old, Jagr remains a key contributor to the Florida Panthers. In 2015-2016, he posted 66 points and 27 goals –– the second time he’s eclipsed the 60-point threshold since turning 40.
Unsurprisingly, Jagr is an eccentric figure. He’ll often put in full workouts in the middle of the night and famously skates around the ice after games are over. With a work ethic like that, it’s no wonder why he’ll be playing in a professional hockey game when he celebrates his 45th birthday in February of 2017.
No 3: Tom Brady: In the two seasons since the NFL smeared Brady’s reputation over football air pressure, he’s thrown for 7,646 yards in 25 games to go along with 58 touchdowns and nine interceptions. To put that interception number in perspective, 22 quarterbacks have thrown more than nine picks in 2016 alone.
Suffice to say, Brady is better at 39 than he was at 29. He also led the Patriots to their fourth Super Bowl two years ago, leading a game-winning touchdown drive and taking home MVP honors.
In eight games this season, Brady is 8-1 while averaging 320 yards and 2.5 touchdowns per contest. Those are MVP numbers, without a shadow of a doubt.
No 2: David Ortiz: In 2016, the Red Sox DH set the record for most RBI (127), doubles (48) and extra-base hits (87) for a player in his last year.
What’s most impressive about Ortiz is that he seemed to be on the precipice of declining during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He struggled mightily at the start of those campaigns, especially against left-handed pitching, which resulted in former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona infamously pulling him for a pinch-hitter in April 2010. But Ortiz rebounded in the second half in each of those seasons, averaging 30 home runs and 100 RBI.
From there, Ortiz continued to mash as he reached his late 30’s. He won his third World Series in 2013, hitting .688 in the Fall Classic and belting a game-tying grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS.
Much like the #1 player on the list, steroid questions linger around Ortiz, due to his positive drug test on a preliminary round of testing in 2003. But he never tested positive once baseball instituted a drug program the following year. The numbers he put up at 40 years old are truly unbelievable.
No 1: Barry Bonds: Bonds was a Hall of Famer for the first decade of his career. But then he turned 35, and became perhaps the best player in baseball history.
The tale goes like this: after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa raked up most of the national attention during their 1998 home run chase, Bonds decided to use performance-enhancing drugs so he could keep pace. Over the next seven years, during his age 35-42 seasons, Bonds averaged 39 home runs per year with an astonishing 1.217 OPS. Though Bonds posted a .966 OPS during the first 12 seasons of his career, those numbers blow them away.
Bonds captured four consecutive MVP awards from 2000-2004 and led the league in OPS for four straight years as well. During this period, he became the all-time home run champ, passing Hank Aaron.
It’s impossible to determine how much of Bonds’ late-career surge can be attributed to steroid use. But there’s no arguing it was one of the most impressive feats to watch in sports history.