Some athletes catch fire and fizzle out before you can even feel the heat.
Others blink off and on like old streetlights—brief and sporadic flashes of brilliance, but never consistent enough to illuminate the space.
But then there are the torches—the rare athletes whose ability and inner-fire continue to smolder long after many of their peers have hit the showers and changed into their ESPN analyst suits.
Granted, almost no one can play professional sports to the ripe old age of 50—injuries happen, muscles break down and joints wear out.
But the following is a group of the athletes currently playing at the professional level who have the determination, durability and physical talent that makes it seem like they could keep playing long past the age where most athletes would retire.
They have the talent, drive and the unique intangibles to keep their heads and bodies in the game.
And we wouldn’t be surprised to see a team take a chance on them if they played long enough to near the big 5-0.
Still in the NFL. Still intercepting passes. Still winning games.
Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed is 34-years-old, and the highly-touted player the Ravens drafted in 2002 continues to make noise in the NFL 12 season later.
There’s been plenty of speculation concerning what the future holds for Tim Duncan.
The San Antonio Spurs power forward is getting up there in age, and when he collapsed to the floor clutching his left knee during a game against the Washington Wizards this January, many worried it would be the end of his career (it won’t be).
Prior to the injury, however, Duncan was still playing strong basketball for a 36-year-old, especially when you consider he currently has the highest Hollinger player efficiency rating of all power forwards in the NBA for the ’12-13 season.
Obviously it’s unrealistic to think he’ll be playing basketball when he turns the big 5-0, but the point is Duncan is still an incredibly viable NBA player, and will be for some time hopefully.
You don’t earn the nickname “Freak of Nature” by being a one-dimensional flash in the pan.
Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers has dominated offensive lines since the day he first put on the pads. He was even athletic enough to garner playing time on the basketball team at his alma mater UNC (not exactly a basketball program hurting for talent).
At 33, Peppers isn’t a fossil in the league just quite yet—but he has certainly proven that he has the strength and skill to stay and become one if he so chooses.
The 37-year-old midfielder might not be the quickest man on the pitch, but even in his ripe old age, David Beckham is still a free kick threat.
And whether you like it or not—some team, somewhere is going to pay David Beckham to kick the ball until he chooses to call it quits.
LeBron James is a physical specimen in the game of basketball.
James has the size, strength and mobility to excel anywhere on the court, and at the age of 28, he has plenty of hoops glory ahead of him.
But let’s not forget two other unique things LeBron James has going for him:
LeBron James is bulletproof—he falls over again and again, but no blow, no matter how painful it may appear at first, can keep him out of the game.
He also has the unique ability to moonwalk with the ball, which will allow him to stay mobile in his old age.
Forty-two years old and still plugging away, MLB first baseman Jim Thome is another athlete showing some extreme hardiness in the physical meat-market that is professional sports.
Old man Thome (who hit .256 in 56 games last season) is currently a free agent, but is reportedly receiving looks from the Cleveland Indians, a team Thome played for from 1990 to 2002.
His determination to win is unmatched and his fadeaway jumper is unstoppable.
Sure, Kobe Bryant has suffered from some health issues, but as long as he has ice, athletic tape and a German molecular scientist on hand, Kobe Bryant should be able to perform at a high enough level to at least ride the bench in the NBA until he’s growing gray hair.
And oh yea—he's still dunking on young fools.
Manchester United midfielder Ryan Giggs is 39 years old and still producing on the pitch.
Giggs has nothing left to prove to anyone in the game of soccer, and he has certainly showed the world he has the longevity to continue playing the game should he choose.
But Giggs appears to have another thought in mind, and has become the first active player to complete the qualification to become a Premier League manager.
Peyton Manning is already half bionic, considering two of his vertebrae were slowly soldered into a “solid, bony fusion” by surgeons over the past two years to treat nerve damage in his spine.
Few in the NFL believed he would be able to return from the complex procedure, but as we’re now realizing, Manning isn’t quite human, and his comeback this past season took the Denver Broncos all the way to the playoffs.
He might be constructed of titanium alloy if he chooses to play until 50, but we know Manning is quite ready to pull the trigger on it if it means more football.
NFL kickers already experience some of the greatest career longevity in sports, and Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is outlasting the rest of them.
At 40, Viniateri has already been to six Super Bowls (four with the New England Patriots and two with the Colts), and is still knocking in game-winning kicks with gray hair creeping up his temples.
MLB pitcher Jamie Moyer is a unique example on this list, considering he’s the only athlete on here who has actually pulled off the feat of playing into his 50s.
Currently a free agent, Moyer came into league after being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1984, and became the oldest pitcher to win a major league game this past April.
Congratulations Jamie, you did it. You can retire now.
Oh wait, Moyer still doesn’t want to call it quits. What a guy.
Between his ample athletic ability and “%@#$ it, we’ll do it live” attitude, it’s likely that the Rob Gronkowski won’t run out of love for the game until his arms are broken into dust or he’s banned from the league for excessive Playboy models in the locker room.
Physical. Relentless. Dominant.
US Women’s Soccer goalie Hope Solo has all the intensity and natural ability to play this game ‘til the cows come home.
It also doesn’t hurt that she’s a goalie. So unless she takes a few too many free kicks to the temple, she’ll be fine.
He came back from a devastating shoulder injury and led his team to a Super Bowl.
Drew Brees has proven he’s a tough guy with almost unlimited potential as a passer in the NFL, but the biggest factor in why I chose him for this list is this: Drew Brees rarely gets hit.
I know it only takes one hit to change everything—ask Kurt Warner. But as long as Brees continues to receive the protection he’s been afforded from his O-Line and works within Sean Payton’s creative style of offense, there’s no reason Brees (34-years-old) couldn’t continue destroying secondaries for a long, long time.
“You can’t stop her—you can only hope to contain her.”
Dan Patrick’s old cliche was handcrafted for athletes like Serena Williams—individuals whose singular ability has allowed them to lay sole claim to the number one player in his or hers sport.
Sure, her ankle blew up like a grapefruit recently, but the 31-year-old Williams is a unique talent in the world of women’s tennis, and the reins are hers until she chooses to let them go.
I drafted Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez 10 years ago during my first ever fantasy football draft.
He scored 10 touchdowns and paid huge dividends.
I drafted Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez this year.
He scored eight touchdowns and paid huge dividends.
No matter how old he is, or what odds he’s against, Gonzo is unstoppable force of productivity in the NFL. And I hope he never leaves.
He’s an athletic anomaly who can skate and score with the best of them, despite being older than everyone else on the ice.
Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne is 42, and has already put in three goals in the eight games the team has played so far this season.
And Selanne is still getting praise as “the best athlete in the world.”
He’s strong as a rhino, but he doesn't dope. He’s old as hell, but he wants to keep going.
Professional cyclist Jens Voigt is 41years old, and has suffered through more hours on the bike over the past 20 years than I want to even think about, and continues to be one of the best lead-out men and breakaway riders in the history of the sport.
38-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was a largely unknown quantity for most of his professional career, kicking around the league from team to team and dwelling down in minors at times.
That was, until he exploded onto the scene in 2012 with the New York Mets, throwing an ultra-effective knuckleball that tore up batters across the league for the first half of the season.
Dickey’s performance this past season won him a Cy Young Award at a point in his life when most ball players are winding it down and calling it quits.
The kid is so young, but the raw physical power and skills he brings to the table are unrivaled.
It’s hard for any sports expert to argue that Leon Sandcastle doesn’t have what it takes to play well into his 50s, hell, maybe even into his 60s.
I mean he ran a 4.2 40 yard dash. The guy’s a freak.