In his 19th year in the NFL, 41-year-old Tom Brady isn’t showing signs of slowing down. His age is perceived as ancient in professional sports, and this applies twofold to longevity in the NFL. Only a handful of prominent players have eked out decades-long careers on the gridiron.
Most of the criticism about Brady’s age involves assumptions from fans and sports pundits. The best place to look for real answers, as always, is Vegas. With money on the line, the perception of Brady’s middle-age potential performance for 2020 has his New England Patriots as the 8:1 favorite to take the Lombardi once again at Super Bowl LIV in 2020.
Brady’s career longevity is rare, but not entirely unique in the NFL. Let’s look at five of the oldest players (at time of retirement) with the longest careers in NFL history:
Phil Dawson, 44 years old
- Seasons in NFL: 20
With three extra years on Brady, Phil Dawson played for 20 seasons total through 2018. Teams kept returning to the 44-year-old due to his remarkable 436 of 518 FG record, making him the third-best to ever do it.
The kicker is technically still available for the 2019-20 season, although this is an unlikely scenario. Dawson experienced a hip injury last year with the Arizona Cardinals. Never say never, though. Kickers don’t take hits, making the position perfect for players who can stay healthy well into middle age.
John Nesser, 45 years old
- Seasons in NFL: 16
Dawson is still part of the game today. John Nesser, on the other hand, hailed from an entirely different era. He played pro football mainly for the Columbus Panhandles from 1905 to 1921, defining an era of the game alongside his three brothers.
While stat tracking wasn’t quite as well-documented as it is today, we do know Nesser was an accomplished QB. Unlike current football strategy, quarterbacks used to be proactively aggressive. He’d snap the ball, then immediately pivot to blocking. This makes his retirement age of 45 — in an era without pads — all the more impressive.
Adam Vinatieri, 46 years old
- Seasons in NFL: 23
Adam Vinatieri is healthy and active with the Indianapolis Colts today. He earned his 23-and-counting seasons as an incredibly consistent kicker, with two major final seconds Super Bowl field goals to his name. That goes alongside his four Super Bowl rings total.
Vinatieri’s career scoring total is 2,378. And it’s expected that we’ll see that number rise quite a bit more before Vinatieri’s completely done. Whatever happens, his path to the Hall of Fame seems assured.
Morten Andersen, 47 years old
- Seasons in NFL: 25
Yet another kicker, this Danish field-goal phenom is one of the few non-Americans to play in the NFL. He picked up a love for the sport as an exchange student back in 1977. Eventually, Morten Andersen played for several NFL teams including the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.
The athlete became an elite kicker who serves as a yardstick for what’s expected from new kickers today. Andersen’s work ethic continued to his retirement in 2007 — an all-time NFL record that still stands. He knocked down 565/709 field goal attempts, earning his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
George Blanda, 48 years old
- Seasons in NFL: 26
Over 26 explosive years, the NFL elder statesman was one of the defining players for several generations of burgeoning football fans. He played for the Chicago Bears, Houston Oilers, Oakland Raiders, and Baltimore Colts before finally hanging up his helmet.
George Blanda worked mainly as a quarterback in the prime of his career before he felt like he was ready to retire in 1967. The Raiders saw an opportunity to take advantage of his very-much intact playing prowess and offered him work as a passer and spot kicker.
With relish, Blanda played another nine full seasons before eventually making good on his original intentions and retiring at a record-setting 48 years old. He still holds the title for most extra points scored: 943.