Since the National Football League is crowning its conference champions this week and his team is one of the four vying for such honors, the sports media has been punting Brett Favre's name from coast-to-coast. As much as I hate to admit it, the Ol' Gunslinger has earned his moment in the spotlight.
Nobody would ever describe me as a Favre Fan, but even I must acknowledge that he has validated the considerable circus he created. I still don't agree with all the self-inflicted media frenzy No. 4 seemed to cultivate with his retired-unretired-retired-unretired charade, but to each his own.
The man has backed it up with his play in a brutal sport at an age where most humans similarly situated are beginning to deteriorate physically—give him his due.
America has a long sporting history of forgiving various human foibles (ranging from comical to serious) based on an athlete's ability to bring his/her unique talents to bear. Especially when the serious heat is on.
The Minnesota Vikings' quarterback has done that pretty much all season, barring a stumble here or there. On Sunday, he'll get another crack at it with a Super Bowl trip on the line.
If he and his cohorts can upend the New Orleans Saints in the Big Easy, you can bet the hills will be alive with the sound of a 40-year-old man-child from Mississippi.
It will be loud and it will be incessant. Again, rightly so.
But Brett Favre isn't alone in his battle against Father Time, no matter what the chattering heads would have you believe.
In fact, he's not even leading the charge. As impressive as the future Hall-of-Famer is, the warrior truly opening new frontiers for those hoping to stall the hands of time is already enshrined in his sport's Hall of Fame.
That would be Randy "The Natural" Couture, the fourth inductee into the Ultimate Fighting Championship's Hall of Fame. Legend has it he also answers to "Captain America."
No disrespect to the signal caller, but Couture is everything Favre is and a little bit more.
For starters, the Natural gives new meaning to the phrase "grizzled veteran."
This specimen clocks in at 46 years of age. He began his professional mixed martial arts career in May of 1997, but that's really joining the story midstream. Prior to that fateful day, Couture had been a three-time NCAA All-American wrestler for the Oklahoma State Cowboys in addition to spending about seven years in the United States Army from 1982 to 1988.
Yeah, for those of you putting the dates together in your head, Captain America joined up for Uncle Sam straight out of high school.
Then came the college wrestling and then came the UFC.
There is mental toughness and there is physical toughness—anyone who survives armed services training as an 18-year-old kid has both.
As proven through Couture's subsequent years of success in a discipline like wrestling, which demands far more endurance of both types than I or anyone who hasn't wrestled can understand (but I knew a couple wrestlers in college so I can pretend).
Nevertheless, it is in the world of MMA where Randy Couture has made his bones.
This is a five-time champion at two different weight classes—Couture has worn the heavyweight championship belt three times and the light heavyweight championship belt twice. Scattered throughout his career hit-list is a who's-who of elite adversaries and almost all were a full decade younger than Captain America when they joined him in combat (Couture was born in 1963):
1. Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort (born 1977)—The pair fought three times with Couture winning twice via technical knockout and losing once due to a cut.
2. Jeremy "Gumby" Horn (born 1975)—The Natural claimed a unanimous decision over the man with more than 100 fights to his credit.
3. Kevin "The Monster" Randleman (born 1971)—Couture took out his fellow wrestler via TKO to win the heavyweight championship for a second time.
4. Tsuyoshi "TK" Kosaka (born 1970)—The author of Fedor Emelianenko's only "loss" dropped a unanimous decision on this occasion.
5. Valentijn "The Python" Overeem (born 1976)—It's pretty unbelievable looking back through the lens of hindsight, but Couture suffered the third of his 10 career defeats in this 2001 bout (via guillotine choke).
6. Pedro "The Rock" Rizzo (born 1974)—The Rock collided with the Natural twice and took the worse end both times, once by unanimous decision and once by TKO.
7. Josh "The Baby-Faced Assassin" Barnett (born 1977)—Apparently the 14 years Barnett had on Couture weren't enough because he'd test positive for steroids after punching the older fighter into submission. Class-act.
8. Ricco "Suave" Rodriguez (born 1977)—Uh, his nickname prevents me from commenting other than to say the duo met in the Octagon.
9. Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell (born 1969)—Who else knew Liddell was so...vintage? Couture squared off with the Iceman three times and was knocked cold twice, but he did win the first meeting of minds via TKO (looking back, that might not have been a wise decision).
10. Tito "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Ortiz (born 1975)—Love him or leave him, Ortiz was the class of the light heavyweight division for a long time and Captain America took him out when he was at his peak in 2003. This was Couture's first tour as light heavyweight champion.
11. Tim "The Maine-iac" Sylvia (born 1976)—Randy spotted almost 13 years and seven inches to the 6-foot-8 giant, but still emerged victorious and claimed the last of his three heavyweight championships.
12. Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga (born 1979)—Gonzaga is younger than I am and he's a 260-pound beast who broke the Natural's arm with a savage kick in this bout. Of course, that was before Couture ended the Brazilian's hot streak with yet another TKO via punches.
13. Brock Lesnar (born 1977)—You have to be a little insane to consider getting in a cage with Lesnar when you're in the bloom of youth; Couture did it when he was 45 and Brock was 31. Even more incredibly, Randy held his own for almost 10 minutes against that terrible mass of humanity.
14. Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira (born 1976)—In the fight that chased Couture from the heavyweight division back into the light heavyweight ranks, Minotauro and the Natural put on a show for the ages. It ended in a UD for the Brazilian monument.
15. Brandon "The Truth" Vera (born 1977)—How'd you like to be a brash youngster who predicted he'd be the first to hold championship belts at two different weight classes, simultaneously, and then get whomped by a 45-year-old dude? That's Vera's current predicament after he dropped a UD to Couture last November (although the boast was years before).
Randy Couture has competed at the highest level of a grueling combat sport for almost 15 years. During that time, he's seen the best the sport has had to offer and, frequently, been the better man despite significant size and age disadvantages. For good measure, he's helped MMA evolve into the popular force it's become.
And he's still at it.
The day before Super Bowl XLIV, Randy Couture will continue his quest for Lyoto Machida's Light Heavyweight belt when he takes on Mark Coleman (himself a tender 45 years old) at UFC 109.
If Brett Favre isn't playing in Miami, maybe he'll be cage-side in Las Vegas.