As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
N. Guy Jr.
kicker Adam Vinatieri was, by my count, the last. Born on December 28, 1972, we are nearly the exact
age. So, as long he kicked in the NFL,
which he did until age 47 in 2019, I retained some argument, albeit flickering
and desperate, that I was still generally the same age as current elite
athletes – and if they could still do it at the highest level, then I still had
a little athletic gas left in the tank.
alone here. Right? Please say I’m right. Don’t leave me hanging. Aged athletes of any skill level, past or
present - high school bench warmers, church league softball players, marginal
college intramural participants – do this.
We hate admitting it’s over, even if, by all reasonable accounts, we
know it’s over. Any data points that can
be mined or cobbled together to conclude that some athleticism remains in our aging
legs and creaky joints is psychological gold and the basis of boastful claims. That our spouses furrow their brows, give us
side eye or burst into heckling laughter at our athletic hubris matters not. There’s no shame in our game. Plus, it’s not like we have to actually prove
it – why not talk the talk if there is no reasonable expectation of having to
walk the walk? If pride is indeed a
deadly sin, proud sinners are we. Once a
competitor, always a competitor.
Vinatieri long gone from the NFL, and with him any claim that I have to real
athletic ability, I root for aging athletes – i.e., anyone cheating father time
and stretching elite performance, or just a roster spot, far beyond perceived date
of birth constraints. How do they do
it? Luck. Hard work.
Determination. Tenacity. Finding a niche. Yeah…all of that. But the most prominent and powerful
sustaining force? Wisdom.
Heminway’s “A Farewell to Arms”, there’s an interesting conversation between
Count Greffi, an elderly Italian, and Lieutenant Frederic Henry, the main
character. As Greffi reveals struggles
with his age, brittle body and flickering spirit, Henry offers, “But you are
wise.” Greffi replies, “No, that is the
great fallacy; the wisdom of old men.
They do not grow wise. They grow
careful.” To which Henry responds,
“Perhaps that is wisdom.”
always occupy some point on a double line graph. Think of time along the horizontal axis and a
scale of wisdom and athleticism on the vertical axis. The first line, athleticism, starts high-left
and trails off over time. Wisdom behaves
inversely: starting low in one’s youth and increasing over time. For a brief period, the lines remain in close
proximity – an athlete’s prime. Stated
differently, an athlete starts being able to do most things, but struggles with
knowing what to do. As a career ends,
the veteran athlete knows what to do; the body just isn’t always a willing
partner. It reminds of that popular
quote, attributed to Henri Estienne and Sigmund Freud, among others: “If youth
only knew; if age only could.”
of life follows an athlete’s chart.
Parents feed off the energy of their kids and impart their wisdom over
time. Long-tenured employees are
energized by the ideas and optimism of new hires while sharing priceless
professional knowledge only gained through experience. In time, those kids turn into parents one day
and young professionals turn in to bosses – and the cycle repeats. It is a beautiful thing – a symbiotic relationship
between young and old, fresh energy and sage wisdom.
As for me
and Adam Vinatieri, we’ve embraced our place on the curve and the huge, growing
gap between our increasing wisdom and evaporating athleticism. Retirement is fitting. But you know, there is this one data point in
sports history that keeps the door ajar.
Back in 1965, a 59-year-old Satchel Paige, 12 years removed from his
last MLB game, pitched three scoreless innings for the Kansas City Athletics
against the Boston Red Sox. I’m not
saying there’s a chance of a comeback for me, Vinatieri or any retired athlete,
but I’m not saying there isn’t.
My wife is laughing. It can’t be at me, right?