Friday, December 29, 2023


As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Former NFL 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.

I’m not 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.

Even with 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.

In Ernest 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.”

Athletes 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.”

The cycle 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? 

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