Tom Brady is about to start a Super Bowl at age 43. Which is unparalleled and amazing and worthy of great praise.
It is also, in my opinion, only the second most-breathtaking athletic feat accomplished by a 43-year old.
A distant second.
Back in the lord’s year of 1991, Carlton Fisk was the Chicago White Sox 42-going-on-43-year-old catcher. He played in 134 games—starting 106 behind the plate and 12 more at first base. Which is unbelievable, and would be unbelievable had the future Hall of Famer batted, oh, .210 with six homers and 40 RBI. Bust Fisk, being both prideful and skilled, remained a legitimate offensive threat. His 18 home runs tied for third on the club, as did his 74 RBI. He committed six errors, two of those (I believe) at first.
Now, the football fan will argue, “Oh, baseball. Big deal …” But the modern NFL is a far cry from the sport’s inglorious heyday, when quarterbacks like Terry Bradshaw and Doug Williams were bugs to be splattered on a windshield. Just go to YouTube and watch a game from the 1970s or ’80s. Quarterbacks get hit when they should get hit, they get hit when they shouldn’t get it. They get hit standing, hit leaning, hit sitting. It was, bluntly, brutal.
Now, however, quarterbacks like Brady are (rightly) protected. If the Buccaneer veteran took, oh, five legitimately hard blows this season, I’d be shocked. It’s a different game; one that values its marquee stars and stands terrified of future CTE lawsuits.
Catching 106 games, by comparison, is hell—and certainly was hell in 1991, when there were no rules protecting backstops from getting run over. Fisk entered 1991 having played 19 seasons (plus parts of 1969 and 1971)—a jaw-dropping number, if one considers the mere act of squatting, standing, squatting, standing, squatting, standing. In the blistering heat. In the bitter cold. On early afternoons following night games. Chasing knucklers in the dirt and fastballs above a batter’s head. Back in the day, being a catcher meant enduring concussions and ignoring them. It meant rubbing dirt on bruises, covering blood with a paper towel and wiping it away.
Jeff Torborg, Chicago’s manager, conceded one thing to Fisk’s age: When Charlie Hough, the tricky knuckleball pitcher, started, Ron Karkovice (age 27) usually got the start.
But maybe that was merely because Torborg feared having too many years on the field.
Like Fisk, Hough was also 43.