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Fine line between longevity, Tom Brady and a Gale Sayers career


NFL

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) gestures while being carried off the field during the first half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — There’s a fine line between a Tom Brady and a Gale Sayers.

Whether a player is a seven-time Super Bowl champion playing well into his 40s like Brady or an all-time great running back eliminated from football in his prime like Sayers, there is an element of luck in longevity in the NFL.

It is unavoidable, whatever the era.

Despite all the advancement in technology, increased awareness of the value of year-round fitness programs, and rule changes designed to make the game safer, players admit that good fortune is a common denominator to stay on the ground.

“People don’t like to use the word luck, but there’s definitely something to it,” Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks said. “You have to take care of your body and do everything you can to give yourself a chance to play every week, but you also have to be lucky.

“I can’t tell you how many times my ankle twisted in the bottom of a pile or someone hit me and I was like, man, I’m lucky I didn’t get hurt. “, added Brooks. “Then you look at someone else and think it’s not such a bad move, and it turns out to be a serious injury. You never know.

Trey Lance can understand. The San Francisco quarterback suffered a season-ending injury on Sunday after just two games into the season. But the 22-year-old need look no further than Brady for inspiration.

In a league where the average career spans three to five years, Brady is in his 23rd season and is the oldest starting quarterback in NFL history at 45. in 2008 to break numerous records and elevate the NFL’s winning streak.

Sayers, an electrifying runner whose career with the Chicago Bears was cut short by injuries 50 years ago, wasn’t so lucky.

The first player to score six touchdowns in an NFL game retired in 1971, having played just 68 games in seven seasons. Sayers played two games in each of his last two seasons, but had such an impact on the Bears and the league that at 34, he became the youngest player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“We don’t know when our career will end. We just have to prepare for every day and attack every day with our best effort,” said New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston, who is back this season after missing much of 2021 as he was recovering from surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

“I’m lucky to be able to play quarterback. I don’t have to play as a running back, linebacker, defensive line or offensive line. So I can’t complain,” added Winston. “These guys in the trenches, they really hit. They really put their lives on the line with every play. But they appreciate it and do whatever it takes to protect themselves.

Brett Favre made 297 consecutive regular season starts from 1992-2010 for the Green Bay Packers, New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings – the longest such streak for an offensive player in league history . Jim Marshall had the longest iron-man streak for a defensive player, starting 270 in a row with the Vikings from 1961 to 1979.

Brooks’ streak of 208 straight starts for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2008 is tied for 12th on the all-time list with Peyton Manning.

“Every player knows the risk, what’s at stake on every play,” Brooks said. “You don’t think about it. You go out and play. You can’t play in fear.

Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, whose father Steve played in the NFL, was drafted by New Orleans in 2011 and has missed just one game in his entire career.

And that was because of COVID-19, not a football injury.

“Everyone plays with nicks and bruises,” Jordan said. “The funny story my dad used to tell me, or I’ll probably tell my kids, is that the first day you play football is the last day you’ll be truly 100 per cent healthy.”

One of the reasons for this is that an injured player will take the field when an injury sidelines him.

Brady has the longest consecutive starting streak among active quarterbacks (94). He is close to becoming the only player with three streaks of at least 100.

The Bucs entered this season with two new young starters on the offensive line. Second-year pro Robert Hainsey and rookie Luke Goedeke had earned Brady’s trust in practice, in part by “showing up every day” and learning from their mistakes.

“Football is a dangerous sport. If they don’t do a great job, they put other people at risk. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it could be dangerous for the (current) fullbacks and for the quarterback, and vice versa,” Brady said.

“Nobody wants to be hung up to dry,” Brady added. “We are all out there together, we are all trying to protect each other. The more you feel like guys know what to do and care about what they’re doing, I think the more confidence you gain in them.

Aaron Rodgers is 38 years old and in his 18th season. He said poor quality playing surfaces can contribute to injuries, and noted that it can also be difficult to prevent random things from happening off the pitch.

The Green Bay quarterback said he fractured his left toe while training at home while in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 in 2021.

Although the injury did not cause him to miss a game or limit his effectiveness, Rodgers recalled playing without training due to his ailing toe.

Jordan knows how to do everything to be available for the Saints.

“As far as not missing a game, I feel like those are just major blessings from above,” the defensive end said. “I feel like God blessed me not only with talent but also with opportunity and I was able to take advantage of every opportunity that came up.

“I mean, long before the NFL, there’s college, and I missed a game there too,” Jordan added. “So I missed one at this level, one at this level. Apparently I have the right to miss one.

Few NFL players can say that.

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AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in New Orleans and Steve Megargee in Green Bay, Wisconsin contributed to this report.



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