Age is supposed to sap a player’s abilities; stealing physical gifts and exposing a body beat down by years of play to more injuries.
It’s supposed to make stories like Kurt Warner and Brett Favre a virtual impossibility in the NFL.
Instead, Favre, who turned 40 in October, is having arguably his best season in a career that already has three MVP trophies. Warner, 38, is playing as well has he ever has. For the national TV audience that will see the Cardinals and Vikings play on “Sunday Night Football,” the main storyline will be the quarterbacks – just as it would have been a decade ago.
“A lot of it has to do with knowing how to play the game,” Warner said, “and knowing your limitations.”
The numbers for both players are stunning and would have been at any age. Warner missed the Cards’ last game with a concussion, but before that Warner was working on a streak of 41 straight starts and has thrown nine touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last three appearances.
Favre is considered one of the favorites in the MVP race, is about to start his 283rd straight game and has piled up 24 touchdown passes compared to only three interceptions this season – leading to a stunning passing rating of 112.1.
Moreso than Warner, Favre has been considered an interception machine over his career, giving a big-risk mentality.
But like Warner, Favre has used age to make himself better rather than decline.
“I definitely think in all the years I’ve played I’ve played to not hurt the team (this season),” Favre said. “I just don’t feel I have to make every play. Maybe that’s being a little older, a little wiser. At 40 years old, it’s easier to question … I just think I’m using my discretion better.”
Vikings coach Brad Childress never had a sit-down with Favre insisting he take better care of the ball; in fact, Childress said he wants a quarterback who is a risk-taker.
“You want that wild horse rider,” Childress said.
But age mellows just about everyone, and it’s hard not to see the positive aspects of that with both Warner and Favre. Warner said he plays the game the same as he did 12 years ago, but there have been minor changes he has allowed; since coach Ken Whisenhunt arrived Warner has become more adept at ball security – using two hands more – and moving around in the pocket.
If a player can adjust those parts of the game while staying true to his talent, it’s easier to see where the production still comes.
“Reading defenses, reacting and then being accurate with the football with my right arm,” Warner said. “As long as those things stay consistent, I don’t know how much my game changes from five years ago to five years from now.”
But there’s also an awareness that hasn’t been lost on either man. Favre suffered through a torn biceps tendon in his right arm – playing with it during his last few games as a Jet last season – and he believed the injury could officially end his career.
He had surgery and didn’t commit to the Vikings until he was sure he could still come back and play. Admittedly, a fear of more arm trouble hasn’t gone away, even has he has dominated this season.
“I probably as surprised as anyone,” Favre said of his arm staying healthy. “At 40 years old, you’re almost looking for it.”
Perhaps that’s another way age has helped. Warner knows all about injuries of late, dealing with the concussion that he admitted might have left him less cautious earlier in his career.
When you are older, perspectives change. And you learn your limitations.
“I definitely think a lot of it goes to being more mature and being wiser and being toward the end of my career,” Warner said. “It’s a lot more than about football now. In the early stages, it seemed to be all about football. You play the game as long as you can and don’t worry about anything. You’re going to be fine when you’re done. You’re invincible.
“Over the years, you realize that’s not the case.”