GEORGE FOREMAN, GEORGE BLANDA, ZDENO CHARA AND TOM BRADY
What is it?
Is it genes?
Tenacity of purpose?
Pain tolerance quotient?
The weekend warrior-type athlete can go on forever.
And takes great pride in the effort.
People play tennis, golf, softball and even skydive — thank you, the late George Herbert Walker Bush — into their nineties and beyond.
They jog, they swim, (a tip of the cap to water aerobics), they bicycle and they walk.
It has been drummed into us to stay active — physically as well as mentally — so we try to do it.
Professional athletes on the other hand, have a very short shelf life if you will, not unlike perishable products.
The average career length for an NHL player is five years.
For an NBA player, it’s 4.8 years.
In major league baseball, it’s 5.6 years.
For a professional boxer, it’s about 10.
And in the NFL, it’s 2.5 years.
Average career expectancy.
How to explain George Blanda, then?
Or Tom Brady?
Placekickers and punters are a different breed, specialists with unique job descriptions, but their records of longevity should never be diminished.
There is no sneezing at Morten Anderson’s 382 games played over a 25-year career, or free agent Adam Vinatieri’s 365 thru 24 campaigns, and counting.
Gary Anderson (353 GP; 23 seasons), Jeff Feagles (352; 22), Jason Hanson (327; 21), and John Carney (302; 23) are right at the top of the list, and deserve the utmost respect.
Position players however, who put up these kinds of ridiculous length-of-service numbers, defy logic, plain and simple.
And all odds.
Blanda played in 340 games over 26 years; Brady 301 so far through 21.
Green played in 295 contests; Slater 259.
Each played 20 seasons.
It is unfathomable, to say the least.
How do they do it?
George Foreman, a two-time world heavyweight champion and an Olympic gold medalist, had 81 fights — over 350 rounds — in a professional boxing career which began when he was twenty, and continued until he was forty-eight.
That’s right…for 28 years he fought professionally.
He took a little break in the middle, but so?
Imagine the man’s stamina, his will.
And it wasn’t confined to the ring.
Renowned for his success as a boxer, as well as a celebrity pitchman, his resume boasts another significant achievement.
He is the father of 12.
Married four times and fathering 10 children, he also adopted two girls, bringing the brood to an even dozen.
The girls — seven in number — have a variety of names: Freeda; Georgetta; Natalie; Isabella; Leola; Michi; and Courtney.
They’re all named George.
An effort to keep it simple?
Perhaps a testimony to papa, aka “Big George,” being batted around the head from his teenage years, until he was closing in on fifty.
But individuality must prevail, as Bill Dwyre noted in a 2009 LA Times article.
“George II is Junior, George III is Monk, George IV is Big Wheel, George V is Red, and George VI is Little Joe,” Dwyre explained.
“George V got his nickname because his parents had decided, after him, there would be no more.
He was the ninth child, a stoplight for them.
Of course, they soon ran their own red light, and along came Little Joe.”
As for naming all five boys George, it wasn’t an ego thing with the Big Man.
Quite to the contrary.
Remarked the family patriarch on his official website, “I named all my sons George Edward Foreman so they would always have something in common.
I say to them, ‘If one of us goes up, then we all go up together. And if one goes down, we all go down together.’”
George Blanda, who played 26 seasons of professional football — the most in the sport’s history — suited up and buckled his chinstrap for the last time in 1975.
He was 48.
(Although it’s reasonably certain that he and Foreman never conferred, 48 seems to be a magic number).
A quarterback and reliable placekicker with a strong enough leg to have blasted a 55-yard field goal in 1961, and a 52-yarder nine years later, Blanda scored more points than anyone else in NFL annals upon his retirement — 2,002, good for #7 on today’s all-time list.
Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981, he was one of only two men to have played in four separate decades. (Feagles is the other).
Blanda began his career in 1949 with the Chicago Bears, playing for the legendary George Halas and finished it playing for another legend, the Raiders’ Al Davis.
A guileful, wily and gutsy pocket passer, known for neither his arm strength, accuracy, agility nor foot speed, he somehow came through, especially in the clutch.
He stood up to onrushing linemen, saw the whole field and invariably delivered his best performances when the most was at stake.
Davis, who fashioned himself a silver-tongued orator — among other things — told The Sporting News in 1989, “Blanda had a God-given killer instinct to make it happen when everything was on the line.
I really believe that George Blanda is the greatest clutch player I have ever seen in the history of pro football.”
Davis knew whence he spoke.
He had a first hand look at the most famous and remarkable stretch of Blanda’s games in 1970.
1.) October 25, 1970: Replacing the injured Daryle Lamonica, Blanda threw for 3 TDs in the fourth quarter to beat Pittsburgh;
2.) The next Sunday, he kicked a 48-yard field goal with eight seconds left in the game, to salvage a tie against Kansas City;
3.) The week following against Cleveland, he entered the game with a little more than four minutes to go, down by a touchdown. He threw a touchdown pass, kicked the extra point and then drove the team into position to attempt the winning field goal. He nailed a 52-yarder with three seconds on the clock;
4.) The next Sunday, he beat Denver with a late touchdown pass;
5.) The Sunday after that, he beat San Diego with a last-minute field goal.
Five weeks in a row, he saved the day.
He was 43 at the time.
Thought to be too old for pro football after the 1966 season when the Oilers wanted him to retire, he moved on to the Raiders.
He only had nine more seasons in him.
Proclaimed The Sporting News, “He never got older. He just got better. He was the epitome of the grizzled veteran, the symbol of everlasting youth.”
Amen to that.
“The Big Z,” Zdeno Chara, stands 6’9” in socks and about 7'0” on skates.
In less than two weeks he will celebrate his 44th birthday.
A veteran of 23 NHL seasons spanning 1577 games, there is precious little that the Slovak-born defenseman hasn’t seen or done on the sheet.
The tallest player in league history and a 14-year captain of the Boston Bruins, he became the first Eastern Bloc native to captain an NHL team to the Stanley Cup in 2011.
Chara has participated in 6 NHL All-Star Games and he captained the 2012 Eastern Conference ASG squad.
A 3-time NHL First All-Star Team selection and a 4-time Second All-Star Team choice, he won the Hardest Shot event at the All-Star Game SuperSkills Competition five times — 2007; 2008; 2009; 2011; and 2012 when he set a record of 108.8 mph (175.5 km/hr).
He won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in 2009 and the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2011.
In 2013 Chara won The Hockey News’ John Ferguson Award, recognizing the NHL’s toughest player.
Named to the NHL All-Decade Second Team 2010–2019, he was introduced as a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) All-Time Slovakia Team in 2020.
Recording the most Game 7 playoff appearances in NHL history — 14 since 1997 — he is the oldest defenseman ever to score a game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (42 years; 30 days) and the oldest defenseman in history to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Finals (42 years; 83 days).
Obviously, age means nothing to Zdeno Chara who, to this day, may still be the strongest and most fit player in the NHL.
It’s a wonder and a mystery that the Bruins, whom he served so spectacularly, wanted to reduce his minutes and phase him out.
It is no wonder and no mystery that Chara chose to reject that role and instead signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals on December 30, 2020.
He scored his first goal with the Caps on January 28, 2021 against the Islanders, and in 24 games played thus far, he sports a line of 2G; 5A; 7P; +12 for a very good team (14–6–4; 32 points).
What can be said or written about Tom Brady that hasn’t already either been heard or read?
As Foreman, Blanda and Chara did (and does), the man thumbs his nose at Father Time.
With a Hollywood smile no less.
Brady has beaten 31 of the NFL’s 32 teams in his fabled career; only Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Brett Favre have beaten them all.
Of course, Brady has never beaten the New England Patriots.
The 2021-’22 NFL schedule hasn’t yet been released — in May, most probably it’ll happen — but the rotation works out in such a way, that this season, the Bucs and the Pats will face one another.
The fact that Brady has also beaten 19 different teams in the playoffs may be even more impressive when viewed through this lens:
No other quarterback in NFL history has 19 playoff wins, and Brady has beaten 19 teams in his run of 34 career playoff victories.
Brady is 43.
He will be 44 in August.
He signed a two-year contract to join Tampa Bay last March.
The Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV on February 7, 2021.
Multiple outlets have reported that there is “good momentum” on a contract extension for Brady.
He will play beyond his 45th birthday.
Tell me…What else do you need to know?
Juan Ponce de Leon, in search of the “fountain of youth” more than 600 years ago, would concede perhaps, that these four men had sampled its magical waters.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in March 2021.]