Brady hasn’t had any significant injuries outside a knee reconstruction that forced him to miss the 2008 season. So he’s not exactly creaking around like his childhood idol, Joe Montana, or Marino did at the end of their careers.
And the signs of receding skills that befell other legends are nowhere to be seen on him yet.
Think about it:
By the time Johnny Unitas was 35 years old, he was effectively done as a starting quarterback. He threw two touchdowns and four interceptions at 35, and while he played five more years, he never had more touchdowns than interceptions again.
Kelly had a mediocre season (22 TDs, 13 INTs) at 35 and then fell off the table the next year and retired.
Montana couldn’t even play at age 35 or 36 but enjoyed mixed success his final two years when he played for Kansas City. Despite helping the Chiefs, Montana wasn’t Joe Cool anymore.
Dan Fouts retired at 36, Donovan McNabb retired at 35 and Troy Aikman only made it to 34. All were shadows of their former selves when they walked away from the game.
Brady is not only playing well but is still enjoying the process of doing the work (practice, studying) so that he can play better. In other words, he has avoided one of the obstacles that befell Marino later in his career.
“He is still that guy that comes early and leaves late,” Mayo said.
“Sometimes I look at him in practice and I say, ‘Man, you have been doing this for so long and you are still worried about your footwork,’ ” teammate Vince Wilfork said. “But it is just little things, and he is always going that extra mile to make sure he is in the best shape and in the best situation and putting his teammates in the best situation that can give us a chance to win.”
If a parallel can be drawn, the arc of Brady’s career is starting to resemble that of Brett Favre.
Favre, like Brady, was prolific in his prime. Then he threw 152 touchdown passes from age 35 to the end of his career at 41. But that number might only be a modest goal for Brady because 21 touchdowns per season seems like a slow pace for him.
And, unlike Favre, Brady doesn’t spend weeks after every season agonizing whether to keep playing or not.
“I really love playing football, so I think a lot of my time and energy is spent focused on trying to help this team win and trying to be a good teammate and a good leader,” he said. “Like I said last week, I take those things very seriously. I try not to buy into what people say or think.
“I just live my life and certainly enjoy being the quarterback for this team. There’s nothing more fun than running out onto the field in front of 70,000 people cheering for us.”
The Dolphins, Bills and Jets must love hearing that.