Over the Hill Gang: Ranking the Top over 35 Sports Stars

Giancarlo Ferrari-King@@GiancarloKingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2017

Over the Hill Gang: Ranking the Top over 35 Sports Stars

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    GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 8:  Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants avoids a sack attempt by Julius Peppers #56 of the Green Bay Packers in the fourth quarter during the NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field on January 8, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Age represents nothing but a number, floating in the world, waiting to be used as a crutch. Today in sports, we've seen countless athletes defy their bodies, turning age into a media talking point.

    We want to introduce all of you to the "over the hill" gang. These are 10 athletes age 35 and above who have continued to thrive, despite Father Time's influence.

    The list was constructed using stats, impact on one's team and of course, age.

    In order to shrink down the field, we went with active sports. Stuff that's currently in-season. Understanding that line of thinking, let's not break down and rank 10 of the top sports stars 35 years and older.

10. Dirk Nowitzki

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    David Sherman/Getty Images

    Who: Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki

    Age: 38

    The Dallas Mavericks have relied on Dirk Nowitzki to lead their franchise since he first debuted in 1998. The veteran power forward used an unorthodox style and a golden fadeaway jumper to cement himself as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

    At 38 years old, Nowitzki has logged enough minutes to break down even the toughest of bodies—nearly 50,000 at the time of this writing. His play has deteriorated this season but it hasn't been a complete failure.

    Nowitzki is currently averaging 13.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. It's not grandiose, but his jump shot still rings true and defenders forever will have issues slowing down a 7'0" forward who can absorb contact and sink contested baskets—he's increased his average to 17 points per game in the month of January.

    We don't know if this season marks the last time we'll see Nowitzki on an NBA floor. If it is, at least we can all say it's been an honor to watch him eviscerate his competition.

9. Julius Peppers

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Who: Green Bay Packers edge-rusher Julius Peppers

    Age: 36

    The Green Bay Packers have relied on Julius Peppers to hold down the edge ever since he came over from Chicago in 2014. After serving time with the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears, Peppers decided Green Bay would be the perfect place to call home.

    Now one game removed from the Super Bowl, that decision appears to be paying off.

    What makes Peppers such an ageless wonder is his athleticism. You rarely get to watch a player flow to the football as effortlessly as he does. In the last two seasons, Peppers has racked up 17.5 sacks—7.5 of those came this season. He is producing from the edge at a high level and generating enough pressure when the Packers need him to.

    That is a formula this team will need if they want to deter the Atlanta Falcons and float back into the promise land.

8. Antonio Gates

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Who: Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates

    Age: 36

    Antonio Gates has spent the better part of 14 seasons in the NFL dominating the tight end position. Now at age 36, No. 85 is tied for sixth in career touchdown catches.

    With the Chargers heading to Los Angeles, we don't know what's next for Gates. He's coming off a season where he suited up 14 times, registering 53 catches for 548 yards on 93 targets.

    Despite his age, Gates has remained a pivotal part of the Chargers' offensive attack. His 6'4" frame creates mismatches in the red zone and Philip Rivers understands this.

    It's hard to believe Gates will ever climb back to that 1,000-yard receiving mark again. Not only does age factor in, but Gates will continue to split reps with Hunter Henry—the Chargers' second-string tight end.

    All things considered, Gates shouldn't be written off. He produced at a high level in 2016 and on tape, he hasn't continuously lost a step. As long as Rivers feeds him the rock, Gates will remain a coverage nightmare near the goal line.

7. Henrik Zetterberg

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Who: Detroit Red Wings winger Henrik Zetterberg

    Age: 36

    Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg remains an important cog in the Motor City. In the midst of a tumultuous season—the Red Wings are eight points out of the final seed in the Eastern Conference—this team is going to need Zetterberg to step up and deliver down the stretch.

    So far he's netted nine goals and 22 assists. Those numbers are far off his prime, but not terribly different than what he's accomplished in Detroit dating back to 2011.

    It's not always about points. As captain, Zetterberg is the player in control of the roster. His role is going to be steadying a rocky ship and attempting to keep the Red Wings' postseason aspirations alive, as George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press found out.

    Realizing a series of robust point totals might be a thing of the past for Zetterberg. However, his will to win and better this franchise remain in tact.

6. Eli Manning

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Who: New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning

    Age: 36

    Eli Manning's career has been a rollercoaster ride from the start. Remember, he entered the league with immense pressure after his brother Peyton had already established himself as a superstar.

    Lining up strictly with the New York Giants, the younger Manning bounced between dismal seasons and ones that resulted in Super Bowl wins. With two rings to his credit—both against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots—Manning's legacy is pretty much set in stone.

    As the Giants made a push into the 2016 NFL postseason, No. 10 put together another vintage Manning year. Completing 63 percent of his passes, he threw for 4,027 yards, 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

    The years may be creeping up on Manning but his level of play has remained strong. He deserves to join the over the hill gang.

5. James Harrison

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Who: Pittsburgh Steelers edge-rusher James Harrison

    Age: 38

    James Harrison has to be some sort of enigma. The Pittsburgh Steelers edge-rusher is 38 years old, yet he still goes out and makes pivotal plays on a weekly basis.

    The tape proves Harrison isn't an elite edge-player in terms of pure skill at this stage of his career—that's not to say he isn't fantastic. Where he makes up for it is with sheer hustle, grit and the will to overpower offensive linemen.

    For the 2016 season, he registered five sacks and served up countless pressure on opposing players. Chase Howell of Pro Football Focus discussed why he has remained such a factor on the field, using the 2015 season as evidence.

    Harrison rotating in with other edge players in Pittsburgh has given him the chance to not only consume pivotal snaps, but remain fresh. The combination has worked out beautifully as Harrison has helped guide the Steelers to this year's AFC Championship Game.

4. AJ Styles

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    Image courtesy of WWE.com

    Who: WWE superstar AJ Styles

    Age: 39

    At 39 years old, WWE superstar AJ Styles isn't supposed to be the best wrestler in the company. However, since his debut at the 2016 Royal Rumble, Styles has captivated audiences and sky-rocketed to the top of SmackDown Live—the show he was drafted to during the brand split.

    Listed as the current holder of WWE's Championship, Styles has put together an incredibly diverse run. He's battled with superstars like Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and John Cena, putting on classic matches in the process.

    Due to the sheer physicality and craftsmanship of his work, finding out Styles is almost 40 is stunning. He operates like a guy half his age.

    Wrestling fans understand what Styles has brought to the business. He's been shouldering the load during his most recent WWE run. For those who don't watch the sport, you should tune in to watch a genuine master of his craft.

3. Philip Rivers

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    Leon Bennett/Getty Images

    Who: Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers

    Age: 35

    From his unorthodox delivery to his fiery competitive streak, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has continued to show-out for his team and help lead the way.

    The NFL is a league littered with excellent quarterback play. Worshippers of the sport understand this. Rivers has been part of that narrative since he first took over from a departing Drew Brees in 2006.

    It's a fair to say he's criminally underrated. Aside from throwing for over 4,000 yards eight times in his career, Rivers has also mastered each element of the game. He controls the field launching the ball effectively across all areas.

    Now at 35 years of age, Rivers will logically be the man to assume quarterbacking duties in Los Angeles. Few guys in this league are better suited to fill the position taking a franchise into a new city.

2. Drew Brees

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Who: New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees

    Age: 38

    New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees hasn't seen his star dwindled with age. The 38-year-old quarterback just got done logging another prominent campaign with the Saints, slinging the football a staggering 673 times for 5,208 yards for 37 touchdowns.

    If Brees deserves credit for one particular thing, it has to be that the Saints' offense continues to revolve around his arm. Throwing the ball a league-high 673 times at age 38 should warrant 400 shoulder surgeries. Yet Brees continues to push the ball downfield and find his receivers for points.

    It's a shame the Saints have gone 7-9 four out of the last five seasons. For as good as he's been—and remains—Brees deserves another shot at claiming the Lombardi Trophy.

1. Tom Brady

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Who: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

    Age: 38

    Tom Brady leads the "over the hill" gang, thanks to his consistent approach to winning. A tireless effort leading the New England Patriots hasn't slowed Brady down in terms of production.

    At age 39, Tom Terrific threw for 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions during the 12 games he started this season. Unlike his once-longtime rival, Peyton Manning, Brady hasn't lost enough zip on his ball to warrant any type of serious regression.

    New England continues to win ball games and move the chains with Brady at the helm. After dismantling the Houston Texans 34-16, Brady now moves onto his 11th AFC Championship Game since the start of his illustrious career.

    There's no telling when Brady is going to start to suffer traits of regression. For now, he seems to be working at a lasting pace. As he once famously said back in 2014, "When I suck, I'll retire."

     

    All stats, box scores and information via Sports-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.