The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

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Tom Watson, at age 59 years old, nearly made history Sunday at the British Open. Watching Watson shred both the course and all of his opponents, a generation younger than him, evoked images of every Rudy, Walter Mitty and Tom Dick and Harry who ever laced up a pair of cleats or ice skates, swung a bat or club or tried to sink a three pointer at the buzzer. It is hard to imagine any golf fans over the age of 30 who did not sit riveted to their lounge chairs pulling for Watson to pull off arguably one of the greatest upsets of all time. It was riveting, blistering and exciting action to watch. It also begs two questions, could a similar event happen in other major sports and has it ever happened before. Further, who if anyone matched the timeless effort of Watson in the sport of sports, the National Football League?

In baseball, the plethora of famed knuckleball and specialty pitchers who thwarted hitters into their late 40's is legendary. This list includes the storied Gaylord Perry who pitched and tricked hitters until he was 45 with an array of pitches which included every type of spitball pitch known to mankind. This list also includes knuckleball pitchers like the Neikro Brothers to Hoyt Wilhelm to the current artist known as Tim Wakefield who played in the 2009 MLB all-star game. Yet these players did not succeed with power or speed but with guile and artistry. A footnote must also go to the famed and unique Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige who did not even embark of his Major League career until he was around 42 years old (Paige was legendary for questions about his true age) due the archaic and insane rules against minorities participating in major league baseball at the time.

Hockey's version of Tom Watson most definitely is the great Gordie Howe, who made a come back with his two sons, Marty and Mark with the Houston Areos of the old WHA in the 1980's in his mid 50's! Howe was at least serviceable as a player at the time when he played and his return was as much of a marketing gimmick as it was true hockey. The story goes that when Hall of Famer Michel Goulet, playing in his first WHA game as an 18-year-old first round draft choice, made the fateful mistake of getting in a fight with Howe's older son, Marty. Upon his release from the penalty box after serving his obligatory 5 minute punishment, Goulet made the mistake of lining up next to the father Howe for a face off and within milliseconds of the puck dropping was floored with a fist to the back of the head and an upper cut to the chin by Marty's father who remarked "don't mess with my son!" A lesson well learned.

The NFL has had its run of senior citizens who have played in live games, most of whom were specialty type players. The greatest was the future hall of fame kicker Morton Andersen who kicked for six teams over a 25 year career which ended when he was 47 years old and placed him solidly on top of nearly very kicking record in the NFL. However, Andersen was a kicker, no disrespect, but he did not play a position.

Yet the greatest senior citizen ever to play in the NFL undoubtedly is the hero of most baby boomer's youth, the venerable and fabled George "the Fossil" Blanda, of Oakland Raiders fame. Blanda, the son of a Pennsylvania coal miner, played 26 years of real professional football. Blanda, while a noted kicker, was also an accomplished quarterback, throwing for more than 26,000 yards, and 236 touchdowns. He played in four decades and holds the distinction of being the oldest player ever to start a championship game at quarterback at the ripe young age of 43. Blanda embodied all that is good and pure about the NFL using guile, experience and pure heart to win the title of the NFL's Tom Watson.

By Peter Schaffer  |  July 20, 2009; 7:37 AM ET  | Category:  NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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That was truly unbelievable yesterday…everyone in America, except Mrs. Cink, was rooting Tom on. How anticlimactic when he ran his fringe putt by 10 feet and feebly nurtured the ball closer on what could have been one of the most famous putts in golf history. Hate to say it but Tommy gagged and looked like me and you on that one. What a story though and a class act. I told my son that I don’t think anyone can fully appreciate what is going on…winning a MAJOR at age 59 when there are former golfers announcing in the booth a generation younger. Incredible, and yet sadly it’ll soon be forgotten just like Norman’s run in last year’s Open. That would’ve even surpassed the Fossil’s accomplishments! Winning a MAJOR, wow!

Posted by: JimBeam2 | July 20, 2009 7:33 PM

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