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The NFL's aging process for qbs


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The NFL's aging process

History shows most starting quarterbacks hit a wall at 38, which doesn't bode well for the New York Jets, who are being forced to turn to 39-year-old Vinny Testaverde

By Don Pierson

Tribune pro football reporter

August 25, 2003, 9:02 PM CDT

Vinny Testaverde, who takes over the Jets in the wake of quarterback Chad Pennington's broken wrist, turns 40 in November. The Jets hope he's another Warren Moon, one of the few successful post-40 quarterbacks to play in the NFL.

Moon threw 25 touchdown passes for the Seahawks as a 14-game starter in 1997, turning 41 at midseason.

Usually, quarterbacks hit a wall at 38, the age Bears backup Chris Chandler turns Oct. 12.

Moon's last 16-game season was with Minnesota in 1995, when he threw 33 touchdown passes as a 39-year-old. Testaverde's last 16-game season was also at 39. Ex-Bear Doug Flutie's only 16-game NFL season came at age 39 with San Diego in 2001. He'll turn 41 in October.

Sonny Jurgensen won the NFC passing title with Washington at age 40 in 1974, but he was sharing time with 35-year-old Billy Kilmer.

"There wasn't a good body between us," Jurgensen said. "To play full time, I couldn't have."

Magic number 38

More quarterbacks have found less life after 38.

Dan Marino and Steve Young retired at 38. Young suffered his last concussion two weeks before his 38th birthday and never played again. John Elway staggered through his final season in Denver at 38, missed four games with injury, won the Super Bowl and retired a month before his 39th birthday.

Joe Montana played his final season for Kansas City at 38. He missed two games with a foot injury, lost the first playoff game and hung them up. Phil Simms started 16 games for the New York Giants at age 38 and was released before the next season.

Johnny Unitas led the Baltimore Colts to the Super Bowl title at 37. At 38, he had Achilles' surgery. He played until 40 but never threw more than four touchdown passes in a season after 37.

George Blanda? He played until he was 48, but mainly as a kicker. When he was 38, he threw 30 interceptions for Houston. His playing time was cut in half at 39 and then he was traded to Oakland, where he never threw more than 58 passes in a season.

As soon as Washington's Sammy Baugh turned 38 in 1952, he broke his hand in the preseason, threw only 33 passes and retired.

Y.A. Tittle led the New York Giants to the 1963 title game against the Bears at 37. At 38, the Giants crashed to 2-10-2 and Tittle retired.

Injuries a factor

Kansas City replaced Len Dawson when he was nagged by injuries at 38. Dawson regained the job the following year, but the Chiefs had their first losing season in 11 years. Dawson shared playing time at 40 and retired.

Earl Morrall turned 38 in 1972 and filled in for injured Bob Griese during Miami's perfect season. Morrall played four years after that as a sub, but never threw more than 43 passes in a season.

Chandler's father-in-law, San Francisco's John Brodie, turned 38 in 1973, was benched, announced retirement plans, started the season finale and left in the first half with a sore arm.

The year Minnesota's Fran Tarkenton turned 38, he threw almost as many interceptions, 32, and retired.

Lots of quarterbacks don't reach 38. Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Ken Anderson and Steve Grogan saw the handwriting on the wall and quit at 37. Jim Kelly and Dan Fouts were 36, Terry Bradshaw and Griese 35.

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the past is not always prologue.

remember it used to be a stereotype that you had to be an NFL veteran to lead a team to a title.

then Kurt Warner and Tom Brady came out of nowhere to do so in 1999 and 2001.

you can throw Trent Dilfer in there as a guy no one expected to go to Disneyworld :)

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The writer presents an interesting case, but a lot of those old examples aren't really relevant. With modern training and proper care of the body, today's athletes can probably go longer than their forebears.

Still, I think the body can't take the pounding as well as the player moves into his late 30s. The body doesn't recover as quickly. A lot of these guys probably just got tired of the abuse, had accomplished all they were going to, and got out.

It's a young man's game.

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