Wednesday October 29th, 2008

Seems to me like an awful lot of old folks are in sports today. You noticed? I don't mean your decrepit 30-something-year-old players, who are invariably called "aging veterans," but the actual AARP geezers who are still breathing and pulling the strings. Senior citizens, oldsters, who are -- ugh -- many years young, graybeards who are -- ugh -- up in years.

Yes, old is in. In college football, 80 is the new 60. If Penn State keeps winning, Old Joe Paterno -- in the vernacular, JoePa (with the emphasis on the latter) -- will be coach of the national champions at the age of -- wow -- 82. But then, Pa can't stop coaching, or Old Bobby Bowden, who is merely 78 and has his Florida State team ranked No. 15, will pass him for most lifetime wins. Bowden has had two middle-aged sons fired as big-time coaches, while he keeps on rolling toward octogenarian land.

But look back in olden times. What aged wimps. Old Pop Warner -- Pop! -- was 67 when he decided he better hit the rockin' chair. Old Bear Bryant was such an ancient 69 when he retired that he went to that great gridiron in the sky only a few weeks later. Old Woody Hayes was 65 when he was overcome with a moment of pigskin dementia, punched an opposing player and had to be put out to pasture. Sunset came earlier back then before Centrum Silver, Viagra, Levitra and Cialis.

See, it aint easy for the elderly coaching under the big tent. Terry Francona, manager of the Red Sox, is a pup of 49. He moans that it takes him the whole off-season just to get ready again to ride chartered airplanes, cogitate and spit. "This job -- sometimes it almost sucks the life out of you," Young Terry whines.

Hey, buck up, kid. Look who's managed the Phillies in the World Series: Old Charlie Manuel, a war baby of 64. The general manager, Old Pat Gillick, is a Depression Baby of 71. And the Phillies had to beat Old Joe Torre's Dodgers to get to the Series.

Of course, the Methuselah of all sports was another Philadelphian: Old Connie Mack. He managed the A's 'til he was 87. But then, Mack owned the team. Does Joe Paterno own Penn State?

The commissioner of baseball is Old Buddy Selig, who is 74. Imagine being called Buddy when you're 74. But, another three years and change and Selig passes Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the oldest commissioner on record.

Now basketball: Old Lute Olson, age 74, quit as the coach at the University of Arizona the other day. But here comes Old Larry Brown, taking on his 10th different professional team in Charlotte at 68. Talk about reinventing yourself at twilight time. And the NBA has developed a wonderfully dear system of having aged former head coaches serve as wise-men assistants, the eminence gris of the staff. Old Tex Winter stayed with the Lakers 'til last year, when he was a whopping 86.

Sometimes these days, sports look like facilities for the assisted living or ... the United States Senate.

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