NFL Wild Card Weekend: Old quarterbacks still rule the roost
PITTSBURGH - Out with the old and in with the new. Well, not so fast in the NFL, where some of the quarterbacks competing in the playoffs this weekend were born during the Carter Administration.
Wild-card weekend might as well be sponsored by AARP. The elder statesman is six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, the 43-year old ex-Patriot who was born in August of 1977, one year after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into existence. Now he is trying to lead the Bucs to the Super Bowl after 20 years as New England's quarterback.
Brady will become the oldest quarterback to ever compete in the playoffs. Fifty years ago, George Blanda quarterbacked the Oakland Raiders in a playoff game at the age of 43, but Brady will best him by a few days. Blanda, who relieved starter Daryl Lamonica in the 1970 AFC title game, fell short of the Super Bowl. Brady will be gunning for his seventh Lombardi trophy in a year his new city is playing host to Super Bowl LV.
Drew Brees was born in 1979, six days before the Steelers won Super Bowl XIII over the Dallas Cowboys. He turns 42 in 10 days and came into this world the same month "Dukes of Hazzard" premiered on CBS and The Village People, Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees had top-10 singles.
These guys just aren't "Staying Alive," they're thriving in a game where many of their teammates and opponents are half their age.
More than half of the starting quarterbacks this weekend (7 of 12) are 32 or older, and five of them are over 35. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 38 and Phillip Rivers of the Colts is 39. They were part of the same 2004 draft class that also included former Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who retired last year.
Washington quarterback Alex Smith was the No. 1 overall pick the following year. He'll turn 37 in May. Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill, the youngest of the old guard, are 32 and members of the 2012 quarterback class.
And don't forget about Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who at 37 is the frontrunner for NFL MVP. The Packers earned a bye as the NFC's No. 1 seed and don't play until next week.
"It's cool," Roethlisberger said Wednesday afternoon. "It's fun to be a part of it with them. Obviously, if we were sitting at home and people were talking about the old guys and 'Why aren't you a part of it?' Then you'd be disappointed. But to be a part of it, to be in the tournament, it's an honor and a pleasure to be able to do it. I'm hoping we're not one-and-done. We're going to give it everything we have so I can be the last old man standing maybe."
Part of the intrigue this weekend is the competition many of these older quarterbacks are facing. Some young guns are trying to knock the venerable quarterbacks out of the tournament, and perhaps, end an era in the process.
At Heinz Field on Sunday night, it will be Roethlisberger against Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, who will be competing in his first playoff game. He is one of three quarterbacks from the highly touted 2018 draft class in the playoffs.
Josh Allen of Buffalo is playing Rivers. The No. 7 pick of the '18 draft, Allen guided the Bills to six consecutive victories to end the regular season and overtook the Steelers for the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
Lamar Jackson of Baltimore, the final pick of the first round that year, will lead the Ravens into Tennessee, where he hopes to avenge a loss to Tannehill and the Titans in last year's playoffs.
In Seattle, it could be John Wolford for the Rams against Wilson if Jared Goff can't play due to his thumb injury. Wolford, 25, made his NFL debut last week when he beat the Cardinals to get the Rams into the playoffs. He also entered the league in 2018, as an undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest.
Roethlisberger remembers well his first playoff experience. It came in his rookie season after the Steelers earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC. He was on a team full of veteran players such as Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward. Now he's repeating the same advice they gave to him.
"There are a lot of guys who don't understand what it's all about," Roethlisberger said. "I get it. When I was a young guy and they tried to explain it to me I was thinking, 'I'm young. I'll get back.' But it's not guaranteed. All the veteran guys, as we're winding down our careers, we don't know if there's going to be a next time for some guys. We want to make the most of this opportunity and emphasize to those guys how important this time is."
To drive that point home, Roethlisberger gathered the team Wednesday morning to make sure they know how to approach the week. Even though the Steelers have a veteran roster they could have as many as 10 players making their first playoff start against the Browns.
"I think every player should approach this playoff game like it could be their last playoff game ever," he said. "We used examples of players and coaches that have been in this league for a long time and have never been to a postseason or never been to a Super Bowl. I think it's prudent for every player to take that mindset and that approach. I know I am. Nothing is guaranteed in this game or this world.
"I think they took it to heart. I hope they did. The sole intention was to let them know how important every play is, every rep in practice is. I felt like today we could re-emphasize that and let people know how special this is. Half the teams in the NFL aren't playing this week. It's an honor."
This is Roethlisberger's 11th postseason appearance. He's won two Super Bowls and carries a 13-8 playoff record into the Browns game. He can tie Terry Bradshaw, Peyton Manning and John Elway for the third-most playoff wins all-time with a win Sunday night.
With a Super Bowl victory, he can pass Joe Montana (16) for second-most postseason victories all-time, but that's as far as he'll go. Brady will carry a 30-11 playoff record into his first playoff game against Washington on Saturday night.
That's why they call Brady the GOAT.