In the world of athletics, there are certain athletes who transcend time and defeat age through sheer athleticism and determination.
Most achieve this through hours upon hours of practice and training, their will to compete at the highest level like a fire raging within.
This year has spawned a resurgence of 37 year old Shaquille O'Neal, and a Super Bowl appearance for the aging Kurt Warner. But there are others. I had to narrow down the field to a top few, and I decided on 11 who have stood the test of time.
Left off my final list were such athletes as Phillies pitcher, Jamie Moyer who is still a good pitcher and turned 46 last year. Warner and O'Neal, though great in the waning days of their respective sports, did not make my top 11, though they were close.
Others who could make anybody's top list of athletes who succeeded beyond expectations at an old age include basketball's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John Stockton, cyclists Keith Bontrager and Marla Streb, Ultimate Fighting champion Randy Couture, and race car drivers Mark Martin and Ken Schrader.
Even the great Satchel Paige, who pitched until around 60, didn't make my cut--though a strong argument could be made for his inclusion. There are many more whose courage and drive to excel kept them at or near the top, long after their best days were behind them.
This list, this top 11, is a tribute, not only to the eleven, but to all who strive with every ounce of courage and strength they possess to better themselves, and to succeed one more time. I hope you enjoy it.
In 1970, Blanda replaced the injured Daryl Lamonica and fired three touchdown passes to lead the Oakland Raiders past the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-14.
The following week, he kicked a 48-yard field goal to give Oakland a tie with Kansas City with three seconds left.
In the AFC title game against the Baltimore Colts, Blanda again relieved an injured Daryl Lamonica and had a superb performance, completing 17 of 32 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns while also kicking a 48-yard field goal and two extra points, keeping the Raiders in the game until the final quarter, when he was intercepted twice.
Aged 43, he became the oldest quarterback ever to play in a championship game. On Jan. 4, 1976, at 48, Blanda played his last game, kicking a 41-yard field goal and scoring one extra point.
Blanda retired prior to the 1976-'77 season, just a month shy of his 49th birthday.
In the Atlanta, Georgia Olympics in 1996,Carl Lewis won the gold in long jump at age 35. One of the most decorated Olympians of all time (nine Golds), Lewis' victory surprised many.
Maybe it shouldn't have. Up to that point, he was undefeated at the event for a decade, winning in 65 consecutive meets. Lewis had burst onto the Olympic scene in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, tying Jesse Owens record four golds in track and field in one Olympics.
In 2003, Martina Navratilova at 46 became the oldest player to win a Grand Slam Championship by winning in mixed doubles at the Australian Open. Teaming with India's Leander Paes, they defeated Todd Woodbridge and Eleni Daniilidou 6-4, 7-5.
Later that year, she and Paes teamed up again to win at Wimbledon. Her career includes 18 Grand Slam singles victories, and 31 Grand Slam Women's Doubles championships.
In 1991, Jimmy Connors at age 39 made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Open.
This is the story. After his career had seemingly been coming to a close, Connors defeated 24-year-old Aaron Krickstein 3-6, 7-6(8), 1-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) in four hours and 41 minutes, coming back from a 2-5 deficit in the final set to make it to the semis where he was defeated by 24-year-old Jim Courier.
But now the rest of the story. Connors had suffered a debilitating injury the year prior, and every one thought he was through. Every one except Connors, apparently.
In 1986, Jack Nicklaus at the age of 46, won his 18th and last major championship when he took home the Green Jacket at the Masters Tournament, becoming the oldest ever major championship winner.
Twelve years later, in 1998, Nicklaus again turned back the clock and finished a surprising sixth at the Masters.
Gordie Howe at 51 was the oldest hockey player to compete in an All-star game.
In his 32 year pro career, Howe made the All-Star team 23 times and won four Stanley Cups. During the 79-80 season, his final year, Howe played a regular shift in every game. He had 22 seasons with at least 50 points.
In Ted Williams' final season, 1960, , he hit .316 with 29 home runs and 72 RBI. He also had a .451 on-base percentage and .645 slugging percentage in 1960, and would have led the league in those categories had he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
Williams holds the record for on base percentage for a career at .482. He hit a home run in his last at-bat.
No list of athletes who turned back the clock would be complete without Michael Jordan. MJ scored 43 points in 43 minutes to become first person over 40 to score 40.
Prior to that game, Jordan had already been the oldest player to score 40. We all know about the Bulls championships. But some of the old magic came through with the Wizards as well.
Karl Malone at age 40 became oldest player to both log a triple double (2003) and start on a NBA-Finals bound team. He is the oldest player in playoff history to score 30-plus points in a game and only the second player over 40 to tally 30-plus points in a post season contest (Apr. 25, 2004).
The Mailman had 11 consecutive seasons scoring 2000 points or more, which no one else is even close to. Malone is second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list.
Nolan Ryan had 301 strike outs in 1989 at age 42, the same year he reached 5000 career strikeouts. Ryan also had a record seven no-hitters, his last coming in 1991 when he was 44. He finished his career with 5714 strikeouts.
Dara Torres at age 41 won three silver medals at the Beijing Olympics. Torres has won 12 Olympic medals including 4 gold in five Olympic Games. In 2008 in the Beijing Olympics, she failed to win gold in the 50 Freestyle by 1/100 of a second.
Her Olympic career began in 1984, and remarkably, the five Olympics she competed in were not consecutive—she skipped the '96 and '04 games.
But Torres showed the true heart of a champion when she asked race judges to hold off on starting a race, so that a competitor who was having trouble with her gear could make it to the start.
Well, that's the end of my ranking of the top older athletes. I'm sure there were some surprises in that group, but it is after all, my opinion. I welcome your comments.