With age comes Derrick Mason, and with Derrick Mason comes age.
The fountain of youth really exists? Baloney. Brett Favre would have soaked up every last drop. Or at the very least, Terrell Owens would have exploited it—and charged Terry Bradshaw a greenback to take a sip.
Old age, it sure is depressing.
It's impossible to associate the likes of corduroy pants or lawn bowls with Mason. He won't let you. Heck, his statistics toss up an argument of their own. Seven touchdowns and 802 yards last year? Of course that's impressive. Tell me any other 37-year-old who could accomplish that much?
But Mason isn't ready to quit on himself, either. Why should he? He's one of the league's most respected wide receivers. The Baltimore Ravens most dependable player. Not to mention, one of the most well spoken guys worth listening to who isn't named Tony Dungy.
And yet whipper-snappers continue to poke the belly of the beast. Bad move fellas.
It's a line Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder crossed last season when he referred to Mason as "the old guy." That one mistake cost Crowder a slice of embarrassment. It also cost him a verbal tongue lashing, one he won't soon forget.
"There's only one other guy who's playing at this level who's 36, and that's Terrell Owens. What is Crowder? 20-something? He was still peeing on himself when I was playing football."
The old dogs still got it. He's as subtle as ever, too.
At the ripe age of 37, most athletes are calling it a day. Mason is now considered "old" in NFL years. While in reality he is still worthy of a high-price Manhattan job. Or a spot next to another league legend discussing the week's top plays.
Welcome to Mason's No. 1 trouble in life.
Obviously, he isn't ready to settle for weekly rounds of 18 at the local country club. Instead, Mason wants more. I like to call it "Marino Syndrome," like Dan, Mason has failed to win a Super Bowl himself—and it continues to haunt him.
It's been an area that has caused a great deal of pain for Mason since his birthday in January. Rather than celebrating an extra step toward the inevitable age of 40, Mason cleaned out his locker and reflected on another season which slipped through his fingertips.
Obviously, substituting a touchdown for a nine iron is easier said than done.
Again, another point worth raising appears: Mason simply hasn't been in the right place at the right time.
If it wasn't his days in Houston, Baltimore has been as disappointing as it has been encouraging. Joe Flacco continues to lead the team in leaps and bounds. The offense is taking strides as each season progresses. And although the Pittsburgh Steelers have been the sole face anguish, Mason can find comfort in knowing he is still relied upon by head coach John Harbaugh.
Still, that doesn't mean everything is wrapped up in a neat package.
The Ravens ranked 20th in pass yards last year, how that happened I'll never know. New recruit Anquan Boldin played his own game of silent ball at the drop of a hat, and Ray Rice's five touchdowns was a smack in the mouth for any fantasy player who believed in him.
Mason's late season performance wasn't much better. In fact, it was worse.
When the Ravens needed him the most, Mason's age shone through. He went without a catch against the Steelers in the AFC Divisional Round, and was more or less insignificant in the postseason when Baltimore was at the mercy of Heinz Field.
Things looked bleak, I know. Coincidentally, they still do. Don't for one moment believe that Mason has hit the dust, though.
Mason is the NFL's version of Ray Allen. He eats well. He takes care of his body. He doesn't spend nights on the town with immature billionaires. And with the Super Bowl such a focus, nothing but hard work is poured into the offseason.
What does that mean for this year?
Mason will still be working. He will still be jumping over hurdles as NFL Films shoots footage, but another man will also be taking some time out to evaluate Mason's physical condition: a surgeon.
Again, minor shoulder surgery is needed this offseason. It's been a problem for as long as I can remember, one that possibly opens another world of doubt for Mason in regards to returning to the NFL in 2011.
That doubt also comes at the cost of pressure. People laughed as Favre fell helplessly to the turf last season, acquired bruise after bruise, and limped away from Lambeau Field as a shell of his former self. You can't tell me that same doubt hasn't entered Mason's head.
As a result, Mason now realizes some progress must be made before August. He plans to spend time with his family. Contemplate what the best option is going forward. While he still holds hope of achieving what Donald Driver did in Green Bay this past season.
Perhaps Mason's outspoken attitude toward the work stoppage indicates a return this season. The Super Bowl is also a worthy reason. His skill has certainly maintained a balance. His body on the other hand, is going south—fast.
So often, though, it's how a player responds to these setbacks that goes unnoticed. We forget about that, until they hoist the Lombardi Trophy several years later.
Fortunately, Mason has never been one to quit.
I'll leave you with this quote from Joe Dimaggio, who summed up age with his usual trustworthy wisdom:
"With age you get jittery. It's true of golfers, it's true of any man when he gets into his 50s. He doesn't take chances like he used to. The younger golfer on the greens, he'll stroke his putts better. The older man, he becomes hesitant. A little uncertain. Shaky."
Thank God, Mason doesn't play golf.
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