At some point in your life, you will wake up and something horrible will have happened: Every professional athlete in America will be younger than you are. Nobody informs you of this. Nobody asks you about it, but it happens. When it does happen, so goes the pretense—and I’m not suggesting it’s anything other than a pretense (although it is a powerful one)—that you could suit up and play, too.
This is a ridiculous conceit, but it’s in everyone’s interest to perpetuate this myth for as long as possible. At some point, however, it becomes untenable. Eventually, even some of the head coaches are younger than you are. This is a turning point—a rite of passage, of sorts.
That is exactly why I’m rooting for Tom Brady to win his fifth Super Bowl on Sunday. And if you’re pushing 40 (and don’t live in Atlanta), you should be, too.
At 39 years old, Brady is competing against guys half his age. He was playing football at the University of Michigan during the Bill Clinton administration, for crying out loud. He was scoring touchdowns while Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House.
If he can continue performing (and, let’s be honest, all he does is win—just like his friend Donald Trump), then I can surely compete against those kids at BuzzFeed. Not to make too big a deal out of this, but at the end of the day, Brady’s success is really all about our own mortality. As long as he keeps scoring, we keep living—we get at least one more season.
Now, the success he enjoys in the twilight of his career may well be a function of his weird diet—and the fact that he goes to bed around the time that most of us are sitting down to dinner. Is there a better example he could set? Would it kill you to hit the sack a little earlier? Would it kill me to go for a jog?
Okay, I get it. Maybe you don’t like Brady because of his good looks and hot wife (I suffer from a similar jealousy). Consider the fact that six teams drafted quarterbacks ahead of him. And remember that he became a starter by accident, because the real starter (Drew Bledsoe) got injured. So even if you discount the fact that you have a moral obligation to root for the old guy, Brady would still deserve some underdog props.
Now, you might think that this is a silly reason to root for a team, and you’d be right. I would never pick “my” team based on these criteria. But the winnowing nature of this annual contest means that you are left with two choices on Super Bowl Sunday. And this binary choice usually does not include your home team. Because I don’t gamble, I must search for some other way to have “skin” in the game. Rooting for the guy who is not only battling the Falcons, but who is also battling extinction, seems like a good way to assign existential importance to what might otherwise be a pretty trivial children’s game.
Let’s not pretend this is unusual. Hollywood recognizes that in setting up the “underdog” character, age is a perfectly legitimate reason to root for someone; it’s why we root for Kevin Costner in Bull Durham.
It is also why we rooted for the 39-year-old Jimmy Connors (despite the fact that he’s probably a jerk), the 43-year old Doug Flutie (who, at 5 feet 10 inches was a “twofer” in the underdog-rooting department). I never once rooted for these guys in their prime; it’s why I started rooting for Brett Favre when he went to Minnesota and Joe Montana when he was shipped off to Kansas City. And it’s why the video of a 46-year-old Nolan Ryan beating up a 26-year-old Robin Ventura still brings us so much joy.
Maybe you think this is tribalism. Consider the fact that sports are probably the only safe space left for a straight, white guy to openly engage in tribalism. You can root for America in the Olympics. You can root for your local team or the team from back home. (Go Redskins!) And, I would argue, you can discriminate based on age—especially if you favor the elderly. That is pretty much it.
For a few hours on Sunday, I’ll be living vicariously through Tom Brady.
Old guys rule—but we gotta stick together.