Column MITCH REYNOLDS
Ah, Drew Brees. He said the other day he can play until he’s 45.
“Why not?” the New Orleans Saints quarterback asked with all of the alacrity that a 35-year-old can rightfully muster as his knees, ankles and eyes begin their silent, revolting slide into the reality of what it actually means to be 45.
Um, 45 is not 35, I’ll tell you that, Mr. Own-every-record-in-Purdue-Boilermaker-history. Take it from a 45-year-old who tests his mettle on the court of the YMCA at 5 a.m. against opponents young and old and averages an injury every few months.
This Y game consists of the guy who is pushing 50 that roams the court beating anybody off the dribble – not quite sure how he does it. There’s the former Kentucky recruit, who most recently played in Qatar, that nobody can cover. Many others of all ages and varieties of talent. And me. The 45 who hurts every morning to get out of bed. And, I know, I’m not in the same universe as an NFL pro.
But I remember what he felt like, a youngster at 35. Still believing he can go on forever. A pretty good feeling.
My kids were in elementary school at the time – kindergarten and first grade. We walked them to school in the morning. My daughter had one of those faces that encouraged you to smile at the sun and take your time admiring the neighbor’s raspberry bushes.
Pretty sure I was still smoking and not understanding that I had to get cigarettes out of my life forever.
And now, at 45, I can’t imagine why I smoked. How I smoked. Where that money came from. Just really glad I quit. For as injured as I find myself after playing basketball a couple times a week, as a guy who eats right and is fairly healthy – but getting more brittle – I can’t imagine how wheezingly pathetic I would be with that diseased, poisoned smoke in my lungs.
“Push the envelope,” said Brees.
Right. Did that at 40. I was in shape. So, I tried out for an arena football team. Broke my ribs on the first day. Spent the second day watching and gathering sound for a story that didn’t win any awards.
That first day was the mortality marker. I had been reckless with my body for years. Never ceasing. Never giving up. Always pushing. A relentless feeling that I had yet to tap the inexhaustible limits of what my corporal self could provide. And then I was hurt. And only wanted to sit and watch instead of strive and persevere.
The physical torment that plagues you in between 35 and 45 is debilitating and humbling. But that’s not the thing that really gets you, Mr. Most Consecutive Games Throwing A Touchdown Pass.
It’s the teenager you can’t understand.
The dog whose heart murmurs just enough to keep you up at night when he coughs and struggles to find comfort.
The wife who strokes your forearm in a knowing way when you can’t decipher a text message on your phone because you left your glasses on a horizontal surface somewhere in on the first floor and your knee hurts too much to walk down the stairs to find them.
The suspicion that you have left something undone. Somewhere. What was her name? What class was that? What year was that truck? Where are my keys?
Mr. 5,476 Yards, you are truly one of the greatest to ever play the game. And, at 35, you should feel strong, immutable as iron.
I hope you can, indeed, play until you’re 45. I hope you, who has inspired a legion of underestimated athletes from Savannah to Seattle, really can stay a relevant NFL athlete for the next 10 years.
I hope you aren’t icing your knee after a bad landing following a layup in the early morning on the court at the Y. Should that happen, I won’t be surprised.