The year 2021 in sports so far has been one for the ages.
Not only has it been challenging as coaches, athletes and fans continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic but three older professionals have proven that athletes in their 40s and 50s can still win major championships.
Quarterback Tom Brady won his unprecedented seventh Super Bowl title at age 43 years, six months. Brady claimed his first six Super Bowl titles with the New England Patriots and then on Feb. 7 won his seventh title and ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they upset the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9. Brady proved that he’s the best big-game quarterback in NFL history. It’s one thing to lead the league in passing yards or touchdown passes in the regular season but quite another to make the plays that win Super Bowl championships. I’ll take the big-play quarterback every time over the one with the best passing stats.
Brady was a very efficient 21-of-29 passing for 201 yards and three TDs and no interceptions in the Super Bowl. Not the most impressive of stats but what’s on the scoreboard counts the most.
I think Brady could win another Super Bowl title. Wouldn’t that be something?
Phil Mickelson, age 50 years and 11 months, became the oldest golfer on the PGA tour to win a major championship when he took the PGA Championship on May 23 by two shots over four-time majors champion Brooks Kopoeka and one-time majors champion Louis Oosthuizen. Mickelson not only defied Father Time with his sixth major title but also the oddsmakers: he was a 200-to-1 longshot. The oldest previous majors winner was Julius Boros, who won at age 48 and four months in 1968. Before Mickelson was born.
I’ve been following Mickelson’s career since he was a junior golfer in California. He’s always been one of the most talented players on the tour and can make so many shots. That’s why he’s won 45 tournaments on the PGA tour. But sometimes he’s gambled too much instead of playing the safer shot and it has hurt him but he played smart in the PGA tournament. He also looks like he can win more tournaments and more majors.
The crowd at the Ocean Course in South Carolina sure seemed to be pulling for Mickelson, who was swarmed by the gallery on his way to the 18th green.
Helio Castroneves won his fourth Indy 500 on May 30 at age 46, winning an exciting duel with Alex Palou over the last few laps. Not only did Castroneves tie the Indy record for most victories but it was the fastest Indy in history with an average speed of 190.690 mph. It also set a record with 30 of the 33 starters still racing at the end.
Castroneves has been nicknamed Spider-Man because he likes to climb the fence after a victory. He didn’t disappoint this time, twice climbing the fence and then ran down the track pumping his fist at the cheering crowd. I don’t recall ever seeing a happier Indy 500 winner.
“Doesn’t matter if it’s age, color or gender,” said Castroneves after his victory. “You can prove them wrong if you believe in yourself.”
Believe in yourself. That’s the key for champions, even after they turn 40.
I always appreciate it when an athlete or a coach talk to the media after a sporting event. The postgame quotes and sound bites make the story better.
But I feel for tennis player Naomi Osaka, who pulled out of the French Open after she was fined $15,000 for skipping the post-match press conference following her first-round victory.
Osaka admitted she’s been dealing with long bouts of depression since 2018 and the press conferences have caused her “huge waves of anxiety.”
If talking to the press is that much of an issue for sensitive players like Osaka, maybe the tournament officials can make allowances. Let the player post a statement about the match on social media during their wind-down time from the event.
The media are observers. We shouldn’t overshadow the event.
David Claybourn is sports editor of the Herald-Banner.