The Senior Bowl is coming early this year.
Normally the Senior Bowl is played the week before the Super Bowl. It is the showcase game for the next generation of NFL stars, a college all-star game with more scouts in the stands than the U.S. Cavalry had during the Westward Expansion. But not this year.
This year’s Senior Bowl will not be for the young and the restless. This year it’s for pro football’s geriatric set.
While they will still play the Reese’s Senior Bowl on January 30 at the University of South Alabama’s Hancock Whitney Stadium, the real 2021 Senior Bowl will be contested this Sunday night at New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome when 43 years-and-158-day old Tom Brady leads his TOMpa Bay Buccaneers out to face 41 years, 359-day-old Drew Brees and his New Orleans Saints. If they moved the game to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas they could have dubbed this battle of football’s senior citizens as “Two Geezers at Caesars’’ and left it at that.
Brady became the oldest quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in a playoff game last weekend when his 38-yard throw to Antonio Brown wiped George Blanda’s name out of the record books. Blanda had held that aged distinction since January 3, 1971, the day he came off the bench to replace Oakland Raiders’ starting quarterback Daryle Lamonica in the second quarter of the 1970 AFC championship game. The Colts' Bubba Smith had destroyed Lamonica in a way that would have resulted today not only in enough penalty flags to make you think it was Flag Day but also in Smith’s banishment to solitary confinement.
Instead that hit elicited barely a shrug of the shoulders from both teams and a call to Blanda, who already had a remarkable season in which he’d come off the bench to win or tie games five times on his way to winning the Bert Bell Player of the Year trophy. Would this be his next act in what had become his football resurrection at the age of 43 years and 108 days?
Although Blanda did throw two touchdown passes against Baltimore that afternoon, he also finished 17-for-32 with three interceptions and four sacks in a 27-17 Colts’ victory that sent them to Super Bowl V and an eventual win over the Dallas Cowboys. Later that year, at the awards ceremony where Blanda received the Bell Trophy, Kansas City Chiefs’ owner and American Football league founder Lamar Hunt quipped, “This George Blanda is as good as his father, who used to play for the Houston Oilers.’’
They were, of course, the same man. Blanda came out of retirement in 1960 after a squabble with Chicago Bears’ owner George Halas and signed with Houston, where he led the Oilers to the AFL’s first championship by throwing two touchdown passes to beat the Los Angeles Chargers. He was a mere lad of 33 then.
Sunday evening Brady will top that by a mile, becoming the oldest quarterback to start an NFL playoff game. He and Brees, at a combined 85 years and 155 days, will also be the oldest quarterback matchup in pro football playoff history, eclipsing the mark set by Brady and Philip Rivers of 78 when they squared off in 2018.
Brady had more than a little fun with this whole concept when he suggested on social media this week that the game should be broadcast on the History Channel rather than FOX. That led comedian and impressionist Frank Caliendo to post a phony TV promo doing his impression of Morgan Freeman’s voice of God baritone saying, “The two oldest human beings on planet Earth will battle for the opportunity to play in the NFC Championship Game…It’s Great Grampa Drew and the New Orleans Saints vs. Big Bang himself, Tom Brady, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Only on History.’’
While this “Senior Bowl’’ won’t be on History it will make history in a number of ways. In addition to all the AARP records Brady and Brees will break, Brees will also try to become the only quarterback in NFL history to beat Tom Brady three times in the same season. That would advance a record he set earlier this year when he became the only quarterback to ever beat Tom Brady twice in the same season. Will three times be the charm? For one of these old coots but who knows which one?
Whoever wins will likely end up freezing his butt off in Green Bay in a week while facing the 37-year-old whipper snapper Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field -- unless the L.A. Rams upset Green Bay this weekend. I wouldn’t bet on that, especially if the wind starts blowing down from the Arctic Circle which is about two blocks away from Lambeau.
Old bones tend to take a while to warm up so that could be a problem for either of them in a week, but at least they won’t have to be concerned with that Sunday night. They’ll be in the climate controlled environment of the Superdome, where nearly 19 years ago Brady began his legend with a 20-17 upset of the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
He made history that evening, and Brady will be trying to prevent Brees from making some history of his own at his expense by beating him a third time in one season. For one of them, the third time will be the charm.
For the other it will be like George Blanda’s performance 50 years ago against the Colts. Anything but old hat.