WIN OR LOSE, Peyton Manning will make history on Sunday when he becomes the oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl. But the Broncos' 39-year-old soon-to-be Sheriff Emeritus is not the only aged one currently staging an upset against Father Time. To get to his fourth Super Bowl, Manning emerged from an NFL conference championship weekend that featured the second-oldest final quartet of signal-callers in NFL history: himself, the Patriots' Tom Brady, 38; the Cardinals' Carson Palmer, 36; and the Panthers' Cam Newton, 26. On Sunday a Panther of a different type, 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr, kept the spotlight on graybeards, becoming the third-oldest All-Star in NHL history—even though the Florida winger had taken to Twitter to beg fans not to vote for him because, basically, he was too old for this s---.
In a few weeks the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, 37, will chaperone the NBA All-Star festivities. Meanwhile, the Spurs' Tim Duncan (39), along with Manning and Yankees DH Alex Rodriguez (40), continue offering fans of America's three biggest sports the opportunity to see what 2003's MVPs look like 13 years later.
Tennis has also been infected by the spreading senioritis, as 34-year-olds Roger Federer and Serena Williams, the latter the oldest-ever world No. 1, each reached the semifinals at the Australian Open, with Williams losing in the final. All of which raises an interesting question: Is this generation of everlasting elites a historical anomaly, or does it represent a new epoch of extended eras?
Let one man convince you of the latter. Tom House, a major league reliever in the 1970s, earned a Ph.D. in performance psychology, and after he retired worked as a pitching coach until he focused on research. He wound up helping Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a former neighbor in Del Mar, Calif., recover from shoulder surgery in 2006, leading to a third career as a mechanics expert for NFL QBs. All told, House has spent 30 years helping athletes extend their careers (Palmer and Brady included), dating back to his days as the Rangers' pitching coach, when he guided the Nolan Ryan Express to its final stop at age 46.
Today, House says, "there is no reason an athlete, if he is willing to do what he is supposed to do, can't do at 45 what he was doing at 25." He says that when he debuted in the majors, in 1971, half of his teammates smoked or chewed tobacco, and the pitching staff was often banned from the weight room; it was not until the 1990s that strength training gained favor. Sports psychology blossomed after that, which House argues helped athletes in all sports perform under pressure and allowed coaches to better motivate players through off days and off-seasons.
More recent developments have come in the still-evolving fields of nutrition and sleep science. While advances in those practices would in theory benefit young and old equally, a better diet can do more for veterans, says nutritionist Heidi Skolnik, who's worked with NFL, NBA and MLB teams, because it improves recovery time—one of the biggest causes of late-career drop-offs. When Manning came to Denver in 2012, he accepted a new diet planned by team nutritionist Bryan Snyder, but as Manning said at the time, "If you get to this age and you're trying to keep playing, you need help." Three years later, Snyder told The Denver Post that Manning still follows orders perfectly.
Surgical techniques have undergone a revolution too, giving players second, third and fourth careers they might not have had in decades past. Take Super Bowl--bound Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis (32), who had a Pro Bowl season in 2015, four years after tearing his right ACL—for the third time. "It's the perfect storm," House says. "Metrics are getting better. Sports medicine is getting better. Conditioning, information, instruction: It's all getting better."
Of course, there can be a shadow over this geriatric excellence—as Manning well knows. His late-career heroics—he threw an NFL-record 55 TD passes in 2013 at age 37, 2½ years after major neck surgery almost ended his career—make it all too easy to wonder if there's any truth to last month's half-baked accusations by Al Jazeera connecting him to illegal shipments of HGH. (Manning called the allegations "complete trash, garbage.") Whether it's thanks to better living through nutrition, conditioning, medicine or chemistry, the trend of postprime players producing is only beginning. Say goodbye to the age of old. Welcome to the Age of Old.
Tennis Aussie Open
Faces in the Crowd
Steve Smith Sr.
Distance, in yards, of the hole in one by Ha Na Jang on the 8th hole of the Ocean Club Course during the third round of the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic last Saturday, the first ace on a par-4 in LPGA history. The event was won by Hyo Joo Kim, and Jang finished tied for 11th.
Amount that Americans are projected to wager on Super Bowl 50, according to the American Gambling Association. The same report says an estimated 97% of those bets will be made illegally.
Increase in diagnosed concussions from the 2014 NFL season to the '15 campaign, according to an NFL report. There were 271 this season—234 in games and 37 in practice—65 more than in '14.
Weeks, out of 373 total, since the start of the 1996--97 season that Duke has been unranked in the AP poll. The Blue Devils fell out of the rankings on Monday for the first time since the end of the 2006--07 season, a run of 167 consecutive weeks in the Top 25.
CLIVE BRUNSKILL/GETTY IMAGES (FEDERER)
PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (BRYANT)PHOTOJAMIE SCHWABEROW FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MANNING)PHOTOELIOT J. SCHECHTER/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (JAGR)PHOTOJEFF GROSS/GETTY IMAGES (JANG)PHOTOADAM BURN/FSTOP/GETTY IMAGES (HELMET)PHOTOJIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGES (KRZYZEWSKI)