Patriots

There’s one quarterback record Tom Brady won’t break

Now that Brady is retired, there are three other quarterbacks who theoretically have a shot.

JOHN BAZEMORE
Steve DeBerg started against the Jets in 1998 — and got sacked three times by a Bill Belichick defense — to become the oldest player to start at QB in the NFL.


Tom Brady retired earlier last week with a room full of trophies and an encyclopedia of accolade. But he’ll lose out on one honor: He’s not the oldest quarterback to start an NFL game.

Steve DeBerg was 44 years and 279 days when he made his last start as a member of the Falcons. On Oct. 25, 1998, against the Jets, DeBerg got the call. A New York defense — led by defensive coordinator Bill Belichick — sacked him three times on the way to a 28-3 win. DeBerg was 9-for-20 for 117 yards and an interception.

DeBerg would see mop up duty the rest of the season for the NFC champions, but that would be it. (He threw his last NFL pass on Dec. 27, 1998, in a win over the Dolphins. He was 44 years, 342 days old.) DeBerg, who turned 45 years old two weeks before the Super Bowl that season, became the oldest player ever to be on a Super Bowl roster.

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As for Brady, he was 44 years and 173 days when he and the Buccaneers were drummed out of the playoffs in the divisional round this year by the Rams. If he had managed to stick around for at least the start of the 2022 season, he would have broken DeBerg’s mark.

For the record, George Blanda remains the oldest player to have thrown a pass in an NFL game. The Hall of Famer, who was almost exclusively a kicker from age 40 on, completed a pass in the Raiders’ 1975 regular season finale at the age of 48 years and 95 days. Blanda is also the oldest player in NFL history to have complete a touchdown pass, throwing for one for Oakland against Dallas on Dec. 14, 1974 at the age of 47 years and 88 days.

DeBerg, who played 17 seasons for six different teams, didn’t subscribe to a special diet — SD17 just doesn’t have the same ring — or have a body coach. But that sort of longevity was enough to catch Brady’s eye a few years back.

“I didn’t know that about Steve DeBerg,” Brady said before Super Bowl LII against the Eagles, when he was quizzed about the mark. “I knew he was a great player, and he played for a long time. That’s a great credit to him.”

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Shortly after Brady’s acknowledgment, DeBerg told me he could see Brady breaking his record. 

“The main thing? Staying healthy,” DeBerg said at the time. “A lot of that is just luck. Being with a good team helps, of course. I think personally that Tom can break the record, but there are a lot of things to factor into the equation. You start with health and luck, and you also have to think about whether your family and your wife telling you they don’t want you to play anymore. But he absolutely has the mentality to do it. He prepares well, and is mentally focused on the important stuff. I think he could easily play until he’s 45.”

Now that Brady is retired, there are three other quarterbacks who theoretically have a shot at DeBerg’s record:

Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will turn 40 in November, was with Washington last year, but his contract is set to expire at the end of the 2021 season. Despite the fact that he showed up shirtless at the Bills-Patriots playoff game, a 40-year-old quarterback with a hip issue doesn’t seem to be a genuine contender to hang around for another four-plus years.

Aaron Rodgers, who will turn 39 in December, is also a free agent, and there seems to be little doubt that he will return for 2022, with the only question being where. Back to Green Bay? Denver? A mystery team? The offseason will be an interesting one for Rodgers.

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Matt Ryan remains an intriguing possibility. The Falcons quarterback and Boston College product has remained remarkably durable over the course of his career, never starting fewer than 14 games in a season. Ryan, who will turn 37 in May, would need to keep that run of good health going for the next several years, but he’s at least positioned to make run at the record.

For now, DeBerg sits and waits for another quarterback to make a run at his record. He offers one final bit of advice for those who want to try and come for his mark.

“The more success you have, the more distractions show up,” he said a few years ago. “The people who continue to improve — even at the end of their careers — are the guys who become legends.”

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