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TAMPA, Fla. — When Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady turned 45 on Wednesday, he joined a very exclusive club: athletes competing at the highest level of their respective sports at age 45.
Brady has long said he wanted to play until he was 45, making his 40-day retirement at age 44 feel like — as he put it in his comeback announcement — there was some “unfinished business ” to take care of. His sights are now set on chasing an eighth Super Bowl ring.
When the season begins, he will also become the oldest starting quarterback in NFL history, coming on the heels of a season in which he led the NFL in passing yards (5,316 yards), completions (485) and touchdowns (43).
“This isn’t about me, it’s about all the people who have supported me to get to this point and I’m very grateful,” Brady said of entering his age 45 season. “I’m just super grateful to everyone who has played an important role and you can’t take anything for granted.”
Tight end and longtime friend Rob Gronkowski, who won four Super Bowls with Brady, is one of those people. “He’s got it down, he takes better care of himself than anybody I’ve seen and he can play forever,” Gronkowski said. “He can go as long as he wants. I think he can stay until 50. He feels good about it, so why stop?”
Bucs coach Todd Bowles said he’s not sure what to give the quarterback who already has everything for his birthday.
“As long as we keep him upright and he’s walking, it’s a great birthday,” Bowles joked.
Brady’s position coach, Clyde Christensen, said he marvels at the way Brady has survived and thrived in his Hall of Fame career.
“Just the joy he still gets out of football and the way he throws a football at 45 is unbelievable to me,” Christensen said. “Every day I’m amazed. Every day I see that thing come out of his hand and I’m amazed. I’m just amazed.”
Some other notable members of this exclusive club:
Chris Chelios, NHL
A three-time Stanley Cup champion (Montreal Canadiens in 1985-86, 2001-02; Detroit Red Wings 2007-08) and three-time Norris Trophy winner, Chelios’ playing career spanned from 1984 to 2010. He competed in 1984, 1998 , 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, served as captain in Nagano, Salt Lake City and Turin. In 2007, he became the oldest defenseman to score a shorthanded goal in a playoff game against the Calgary Flames. At 45, he also became the second-oldest player to play in an NHL game and broke the record for most playoff appearances with 248 en route to his third Stanley Cup. He retired in 2010 at the age of 48, after 26 seasons, becoming the oldest US-born NHL player of all time and the second oldest player behind Gordie Howe (age 52). I have finished his career with 185 goals and 949 points – the third most points by an American defenseman.
Nolan Ryan, MLB
Ryan hit for an MLB record 27 years. He still holds the career strikeout record (5,714) by a wide margin and led the league in strikeouts 11 times. He is the MLB leader in no-hitters (seven), with his last coming in 1991 against the Toronto Blue Jays at age 44 – becoming the oldest player to throw a no-hitter. Ryan posted a 2.91 ERA and led MLB in WHIP (1.01), hits per inning. nine innings (5.3) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.6). I retired at 46.
Oksana Chusovitina, gymnastics
Chusovitina, 47, has been competing for so long that her first world championship gold medals were won when she competed for the USSR in 1991. Since then, she has participated in eight Olympics representing three countries: Unified Team (Barcelona 1992), Uzbekistan (Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Rio 2016) and Germany (Beijing 2008, London 2012). In Rio, she set a record as the oldest gymnast ever to compete at the Olympic Games at 41 years and two months. She is currently training for the 2024 Paris Olympics – which would be her ninth Olympics.
Gordie Howe, NHL
Known as “Mr. Hockey,” Howe played 32 professional seasons over five decades between the NHL (26) and the World Hockey Association (6), winning four Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings. He is second all-time in Hart Trophies as the league’s MVP with six, trailing only Wayne Gretzky’s nine. In 1968–69, he surpassed the 100-point threshold for the first time in his career at the age of 40, scoring 44 goals and 59 assists. In 1974, at age 46, he won the WHA’s Gary L. Davidson Trophy as the league’s MVP.
Randy Johnson, MLB
A five-time Cy Young Award winner and 10-time All-Star, Johnson’s career spanned 22 seasons in which he won 303 games and was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks team that defeated the New York Yankees in the 2001 World Series. At 10 feet, Johnson became the tallest player to enter the league. He threw two career no-hitters (the first was in 1990 with the Seattle Mariners) and pitched a perfect game for the Diamondbacks in 2004 at age 40 against the Atlanta Braves, becoming the oldest pitcher in MLB history to do so.
Jamie Moyer, MLB
While he made just one All-Star team and holds one record to his name — most runs allowed (522) — Moyer made the most of his abilities, winning 16 games for the Philadelphia Phillies at age 45 en route to a World Series title in 2008. In 2012, after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Moyer became the oldest pitcher to win a game (49 years and 150 days old) when the Colorado Rockies defeated the San Diego Padres 5-3. He is one of only 29 MLB players to play for four decades.
Martina Navratilova, tennis
In 2003, aged 46 years and 8 months, Navratilova won the mixed doubles championship at Wimbledon with Leander Paes to tie Billie Jean King’s record for most Wimbledon titles combined with 20, becoming the oldest ever to win at Wimbledon. She retired in 2006, after a mixed doubles victory at the US Open with Bob Bryan, becoming the oldest majors champion at 49 years, 10 months. Her total of 59 Grand Slam titles (18 major singles, 31 major women’s doubles and 10 major mixed doubles titles) is the most in the Open era.
Jack Nicklaus, golf
Nicklaus is a record six-time Masters champion (1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1986) and has 117 career victories, including 18 major championships, and he became the oldest Masters winner at 46 years, 82 days in 1986. Nicklaus Come with me. Senior PGA Tour (now known as the PGA Tour of Champions) at age 50 in 1990. His last competitive tournament came in 2005, following the death of his 17-month-old grandson Jake; Nicklaus said he used golf as a form of therapy with his son Steve.
Dara Torres, swimming
Torres won 12 Olympic medals – including four gold – breaking the all-time medal record set by Jenny Thompson in 2004 and later matched by Natalie Coughlin. Her five Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, 2008) set the record for longest career by any Olympic swimmer. She emerged from a seven-year retirement in 1999 to become the most decorated female athlete at the 2000 Olympics with five medals. Torres retired for good in 2012 at age 45 after placing fourth in the 50-meter freestyle at the Olympic trials.