The Most Ancient Teams in Sports
Once you’re out of college, it is no longer an advantage to have an old team.
Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, having an abundant collection of veterans on one roster comes in handy, particularly in the postseason.
But oftentimes, having a bunch of old players on your roster has the opposite effect. It means guys are more prone to injury or declining statistics or fatigue. Eventually, “veteran” becomes a euphemism for “old and useless.”
And it means that those veteran teams could be more likely to be destroyed by the up-and-coming stars in the league. Look at what happened to the Lakers last year when they ran into the Thunder in the playoffs.
Here’s a look at the sports universe’s wily old teams.
20. Los Angeles Dodgers
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The Los Angeles Dodgers tried everything to make it to the playoffs in 2012.
They acquired Magic Johnson as an owner. They were involved in one of the biggest blockbuster trades of the season when they got Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez from the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline, which accounted for the biggest trade in franchise history, according to ESPN.com's Mark Saxon.
And yet the Dodgers still missed out on the postseason fun, finishing 2012 with an 86-76 record and a roster with an average age of 28.2.
It doesn't seem that old, but it is. And when you look at some of the most significant players on the club and check out their ages, the way the Dodgers faded a bit down the stretch isn't all that surprising. Beckett, Shane Victorino, Aaron Harang, Juan Rivera, Nick Punto, Ted Lilly and Bobby Abreu are all 32 or older.
The good news for L.A. is that guys like Clayton Kershaw ensure that the future will be bright.
19. Dallas Mavericks
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Well, with Jason Kidd gone, the Dallas Mavericks got a whole lot younger just like that.
Things in the Western Conference have changed since Dallas won the NBA championship just a couple of short years ago. The balance of power has shifted. Younger teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and the L.A. Clippers are starting to stake their claims.
The teams that once were the kings of the conference—the Lakers, the Spurs and the Mavericks—are now old and fading. The veteran teams used to have the edge, and now, it's all about the young guns.
The Mavericks got a big taste of just how good the young Thunder are in the first round of the 2012 playoffs when they suffered a pitiful four-game sweep at the hands of Kevin Durant and company.
For a team like Dallas, it will be crucial to get younger in order to stay competitive—but it just might take a while. You can't revamp a roster overnight, and Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Chris Kaman aren't going to be around forever.
18. Detroit Red Wings
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Now that Nicklas Lidstrom is out of the picture, the Detroit Red Wings are a whole lot younger.
Unfortunately, this team hasn't yet had a chance to put itself to the test, and they probably won't in 2012-13, so let's focus on last year, when the Lidstrom-led Red Wings were one of the NHL's oldest teams.
Lidstrom may have been old, and the NHL may be vicious, but his presence on this Red Wings team was indisputably a benefit. Last season, at age 41, he had 11 goals and 23 assists for 34 points in 70 games—a dip from his career average, no doubt, but still solid.
Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson and Pavel Datsyuk were among those who were also 34 and older, and the Red Wings went 48-28-6 to finish third in the Central Division before losing to the Predators in the first round of the playoffs.
It wasn't the best season for the Red Wings, and it's going to be a long road back without Lidstrom, who was the heart and soul of this team. That's if, of course, hockey ever returns.
17. Denver Broncos
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Peyton Manning coming to town sure bumped up the Denver Broncos' median age. With Tim Tebow at the helm in 2011, the Broncos were young and developing; suddenly, with Manning running the show, they are a well-oiled veteran machine.
Manning's age, in fact, had many an NFL GM skeptical about whether or not he could be effective in 2012. He missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing neck surgery, and as he prepared to re-enter the league at age 36, there was substantial concern that his best days were behind him.
Well, those GMs probably feel silly now. Manning has turned the Broncos into the team to beat in the AFC West; at 8-3, they're essentially running away with the division, and Manning is to thank.
The Broncos have an ideal situation on their hands right about now. Barring injury, they have one of the top veteran quarterbacks at the helm for the next few years, but to complement him, they have young players with potential in Ronnie Hillman (21), Demaryius Thomas (24) and more.
Denver has its oldies, but it has its exciting young players, too, to balance things out.
16. Chicago Bulls
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The Chicago Bulls may not seem all that old because their biggest and brightest star is one of the youngest players on the roster, but in fact, the Bulls were old in 2011-12.
That became excruciatingly clear when Derrick Rose went down with an ACL injury in Chicago's first postseason game, as the Bulls looked utterly lost when faced with the young Philadelphia 76ers.
Now, while the Bulls await Rose's not-so-imminent return, they're trying to get by with those veterans. Richard Hamilton is 34. Carlos Boozer is 31. So is Kirk Hinrich. Guys like Rose and Marquis Teague bring the average age of this team down quite a bit, but many of the players being relied upon to get the job done are getting up there in terms of age.
Last year, the Bulls may have had some experience in Rose's absence, but it didn't matter. This year, maybe they can develop some of their young talent to pick up the slack for the older guys so 2011-12 doesn't repeat itself.
15. San Diego Chargers
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For a long time now, the San Diego Chargers have had some of the same stars trying to get the job done, year in and year out. Now, it's hard to believe that Philip Rivers is one of the league's veteran quarterbacks. It seems like it was just yesterday that he was drafted.
But in actuality, Rivers—and many of the other "impact" players on the Chargers roster—are getting older. Rivers, for his part, has been in the league for nine seasons, including this one. He's 31. He still has yet to take San Diego to the promised land.
And now, his leading wide receiver is 31 years old. He's consistent, but unfortunately, he hasn't exactly been blowing anyone away with his yardage. One of Rivers' most reliable tight ends, Antonio Gates, is 32. The team's second-leading tackler is 31. And the Chargers are just about out of the playoff race at 4-7.
San Diego may not be quite in rebuilding mode yet, but it's approaching it.
14. Arizona Diamondbacks
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The Arizona Diamondbacks, despite the fact that it seems as though they've been building from the ground up for the last decade, rank among the older teams in Major League Baseball.
The Diamondbacks are getting there. They've been to the playoffs twice since 2007. Last year, they finished eighth in the league in runs scored and 13th in batting average, but it wasn't enough in the ultra-competitive NL West.
And maybe that has something to do with age.
J.J. Putz, Wil Nieves, Takashi Saito, Willie Bloomquist and Aaron Hill are all players who were on the older side of the spectrum last year, and as the Diamondbacks tried to build up their younger players, it was up to the older guys to pick up the slack.
There have been brief flashes of success in Arizona over the last 10 years, but all-too-frequent trades haven't exactly allowed this team to build a consistent, stable roster. For them, it's about finding the veteran leadership to balance out the young players that are going to lead this team toward salvation in the near future.
13. Pittsburgh Penguins
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The Pittsburgh Penguins may have some of the best young stars in the NHL on their roster, but overall, they actually rank as one of the league's older clubs. According to Hockey Schedule's Sebastian Egerton-Read, the Pens rank as the fifth-oldest team in the NHL in terms of average age.
Fortunately, though, many of the impact players are on the younger side, starting with Sidney Crosby (25) and Evgeni Malkin (26), two of the best centers in the NHL.
But once you get outside the centers, the Penguins get much older. Left wing Matt Cooke is 34, and Chris Kunitz is 33; right wingers Craig Adams, Pascal Dupuis and Richard Park are all 33 or older. Fortunately, the Pens are young defensively and young in goal, with 28-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury leading the charge.
It's going to be a while before the Pens need to enter rebuilding mode—at least as long as they can hold on to their prized centers and goalie and as long as their superstar centers can stay healthy.
But again, that's dependent on the NHL emerging back into civilization at some point.
12. Philadelphia Phillies
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The 2012 Philadelphia Phillies rivaled the Yankees in terms of age, but unfortunately for them, they couldn't hide it quite as well as New York could when the postseason rolled around.
For the first time in a long time, there was a new leader atop the NL East, and the once-dominant Phillies fell to third place at 81-81. Perhaps that was a signal to them that it was time to get younger—kind of like the Washington Nationals, the team that usurped them atop the division standings.
Juan Pierre (35), Placido Polanco (37) and Jose Contreras (40) are among the now-free agents who were a part of the Phillies' 2012 campaign. Injury-riddled Ryan Howard is 33. Chase Utley is 33, and even Jonathan Papelbon is 32. This roster is studded with stars, but they're all a lot older than they were when they were in their primes.
Were they some of the best, even recently? Sure, but perhaps it's time for Philadelphia to move on. Perhaps it's time to go younger and hope that with youth comes lesser chances of dealing with season-defining injuries.
11. Chicago Bears
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The Chicago Bears are another one of those teams like the Chargers that seem to be getting old fast. Jay Cutler may seem like he hasn't been around for all that long, but he's 29 and has had so many head injuries that he might as well be 40.
And should anything happen to Cutler—which, let's face it, is a very real possibility—his backups' average age is about 32. Those two may be old, but they only have nine games of starting experience in the last two years—combined.
Devin Hester is 30. Julius Peppers is 32, and so is Lance Briggs. Brian Urlacher is 34. A lot of the key defensive pieces to this team have been around for quite a while, and though that's encouraging in terms of veteran leadership, it also leaves the Bears far more prone to injury, especially in a league like the NFL, where all those years take a serious toll.
10. Toronto Blue Jays
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The Toronto Blue Jays have been trying—and failing—for years to compete in the AL East. This year was no different from the last several. They finished 73-89 and in fourth place in the division.
And if the Blue Jays want to be competitive at any point in the next few years, they're going to have to avoid pulling the trigger and trading their youth for veterans; instead, they're going to have to rely on their farm system a bit more.
Back in February 2012, ESPN's Keith Law named Toronto's farm system the third-best in the league. If they hold onto the young talent that hasn't quite made it up to the show yet, they stand a chance to become extremely competitive extremely soon.
And that means they can also stop relying on the likes of Shawn Hill, Jose Bautista and Maicer Izturis to carry the team. It's not that those guys aren't good; it's just that they aren't getting any younger.
The Blue Jays are never going to buy their way to a championship with the Red Sox and the Yankees in their division, so to compete, they need to pull a Rays and build up from within. If there is one team that needs to rely on youth instead of the old guys, this is it.
9. New Jersey Devils
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The New Jersey Devils are another team whose veterans have been the make-or-break players for a long time, particularly goalie Martin Brodeur.
Brodeur, at 40, has often been the player who dictates whether the Devils are in the hunt or out of it. Most of the time, though, because of him, the Devils have been in it.
Brodeur has consistently been one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. In 2012-13, though, things were tougher. He posted a 2.41 goals-against average with a .908 save percentage, which was 33rd in the NHL.
For most of the postseason, though, those numbers were long-forgotten. Brodeur went 14-9 with a 2.12 GAA and a .917 save percentage, leading the Devils to the conference finals, where they eventually bowed out to the unstoppable L.A. Kings.
When you have a veteran goaltender in the NHL, you're good to go for a while, especially when you have one of Brodeur's caliber. It's hard to outsmart him, but at 40, his days are numbered. And when he's gone, the Devils are going to yearn for the days when they were one of the oldest teams in the NHL.
8. Detroit Pistons
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How the Detroit Pistons have fallen.
They used to be one of the perennial contenders in the Eastern Conference every season. Now, this is a middling team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2008-09 and desperately needs the height upfront that it hasn't had since Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Jason Maxiell were still in their primes.
The Pistons got old years ago, and they're still old—and still desperately trying to rebuild into one of the NBA's best. Maxiell is 29. Prince is 32. Charlie Villanueva is 28, and the young players the Pistons have been trying to work into the mix are unproven.
In last year's draft, they selected UConn's Andre Drummond, a player who was often criticized for being yet another soft big man who was dominant in college but wouldn't be able to compete in the NBA.
The Pistons were dominant during the many years their stars were at the top of their game. Now, some of those stars have departed, and the ones that are still around are getting older. And the team is having trouble drafting the kind of young talent that will take some of the pressure off the old guys.
Until they can find a happy medium between the young guns and the veterans, the Pistons are going to continue struggling.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Pittsburgh Steelers are fading in 2012, and whether or not it has anything to do with the ages of the impact players is up for debate, but it certainly gets people speculating about whether or not there will be some significant changes in the offseason.
Part of it is simply luck, and the Steelers haven't had much of it this year, enduring at least one devastating injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who could miss the rest of the regular season. And judging by where the Steelers record stands at the present, the regular season could be all they have in 2012.
But it's worth looking at the ages of the significant players on this roster.
Roethlisberger is 30, but he's been ravaged by injuries over the last few years in particular. He's not young anymore. Recent addition Plaxico Burress, 35, certainly brought the Steelers' median age up a little bit. The guy stepping in for Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, is 32 and has only made six starts in the last five years.
The Steelers clearly still have some young talent to build around—primarily Mike Wallace—but given the way things have gone this year, you have to wonder whether this roster will look different and younger in 2013.
6. Los Angeles Lakers
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In the week leading up to the 2012 NBA draft, the Los Angeles Lakers were getting a little bit desperate. They were trying anything and everything they could to trade into the draft lottery in the hopes that they could bring in some much-needed youth to reinvigorate the franchise that bowed out to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 postseason.
They weren't able to make a trade in time for the draft, but they did make a trade to bring in Dwight Howard. It didn't necessarily make the Lakers significantly younger, especially since they had to part ways with Andrew Bynum to complete the deal. But at least it got them enough talent to be able to compete in the Western Conference.
The Lakers are at an interesting place right now. The star of the show is 34, and it seems like the injuries may be starting to catch up with him. Their point guard is 38 and only has two or three years left in him. This team obviously isn't built for the long haul, which means the pressure is on to win—soon.
L.A. has one of the most talented, star-studded rosters in the NBA. Hopefully, they can translate that star power into a ring in the short term because these guys aren't going to be around forever.
5. Baltimore Ravens
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The Baltimore Ravens might be in one of the only situations where their older players are far more of a benefit to them than a liability. And part of that is because they have some younger up-and-comers to balance out the aging vets on the roster.
Ray Lewis, at 37, is one of the older players not only on this roster but in the league. Still, the Ravens are a much better team when he's around, even if he's not on the field; the impact of his leadership on this team—and particularly on this defense—cannot be understated.
Ed Reed is 34. Brendon Ayanbadejo is 36. Several key members of this defense are on the very far end of the old-player spectrum, and though it's shown in the unit's performance this season, those players have made this team smarter and tougher.
Part of that is because of the leadership qualities Reed and Lewis bring to the table. They may be old, but they are crucial to the Ravens, whether they're playing or watching. And another part of it is because offensive stars like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Torrey Smith balance out the age with a much-needed infusion of some youth.
4. Boston Celtics
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If there is one thing Kevin Garnett doesn't want to hear, it's that his Boston Celtics are old. Atlanta Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. discovered that the hard way during the first round of the playoffs in 2012, when Garnett publicly blasted him for suggesting that Boston was too old to compete with Atlanta.
The Celtics obviously could compete—they dispatched Atlanta to move on to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2012—and Garnett sounded off on just how much offense he takes to being called old. He told ESPN.com's Chris Forsberg:
I take this very seriously, so you guys calling me old, that number defies. You have no idea what you are doing when you say those 'old' comments. I appreciate that. I don't read your columns, but it gets back to me.
But Gearon was on to something.
The Celtics are old.
Garnett is 36. Paul Pierce is 35. There are a handful of young players on the roster who are still developing, but they're not ready yet, and as a result, this team has to rely primarily on Garnett and Pierce to lead this team to the promised land.
There's no doubt that the Celtics work hard to defy their age. But that only gets you so far when the injuries start cropping up and the long exhausting pace of an NBA season starts to sink in.
3. San Antonio Spurs
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Everyone spent the 2011-12 NBA postseason talking about how the San Antonio Spurs couldn't possibly be going anywhere because they were just too old. Their ship had sailed. They may have been a championship machine five to 10 years ago, but you can't expect to continue to be a championship machine when your same old stars keep getting older and older.
Or can you?
The Spurs proved the world wrong for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs last season, sweeping both the Utah Jazz and the L.A. Clippers—one of the young, up-and-coming teams in the league—in succession to earn a trip to the Western Conference finals. They were living proof of the fact that veteran teams are one of the best postseason weapons you can have, even when two of your biggest stars are 36 (Tim Duncan) and 35 (Manu Ginobili).
Then, of course, the Spurs ran into the best young team in the league and saw their winning streak promptly halted as the Oklahoma City Thunder got the best of them.
For a while, their veterans looked unbeatable, but maybe they got tired. Or maybe you just need some young quality talent to balance out the vets.
2. New York Knicks
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Not only are the New York Knicks one of the oldest teams in the NBA this year, they're one of the oldest teams in the NBA—ever. While many NBA teams took the summer as an opportunity to bring in some young and exciting talent, the Knicks—who lost restricted free agent Jeremy Lin to the Rockets—took the opposite tactic. They got older.
They brought in the likes of Marcus Camby (39), Jason Kidd (39), Rasheed Wallace (38) and Kurt Thomas (40). Those numbers are insane. These guys are really, really old. And yet it hasn't hurt the Knicks over the first snippet of the 2012-13 season as New York is sitting pretty atop the Atlantic Division.
And maybe the veterans are the reason for the team's early success. According to one unnamed ESPN analyst, that's the case; he told the Wall Street Journal:
They're not counting on their oldest players to be their best ones. Plus, Kidd and these other guys love the game. That love won't negate Father Time, because Father Time is undefeated. But it might stave off a year or two.
There's something to be said for guys who have an undying passion for the game. But let's not get ahead of ourselves; let's see how long these guys can stay healthy.
1. New York Yankees
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When you think about how old the New York Yankees were in 2012, the things they accomplished look pretty good. They finished first in the league in slugging percentage, second in runs scored and eighth in batting average. And they did it all with a lot of wily old veterans, to say the least.
One of them was Mariano Rivera—the oldest member of the roster—who wasn't all that effective in his 18th year in the league due to an ACL injury suffered about a month into the season. Another oldie was Andy Pettitte, who, after missing all of 2011, rejoined New York in 2012 to go 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA. He was the second-oldest member of the team.
Derek Jeter (38) and Alex Rodriguez (37) weren't without their own injury woes, but they still managed to get the Yankees to the postseason, where they took down the Orioles before bowing out to the Tigers.
New York's age didn't hurt it too much during the regular season, but those injuries are going to keep piling up the older these guys get, and that will continue to hurt New York in the playoffs.