Best 40-Something Players in NFL History

Josh Zerkle@JoshZerkleChief Writer IIIApril 18, 2012

Best 40-Something Players in NFL History

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    NFL posts aren't typically inspired by athletic feats in baseball, if you want to consider that sport athletic. But when Jamie Moyer, a 49-year-old pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, becomes the oldest player to earn a win in a Major League Baseball game, that's inspiring.

    Pro football is a bit of a different animal than baseball. Nobody gets cracked in the head in baseball—at least nobody has been since Albert Belle retired.

    In fact, no 49-year-old has even appeared on an NFL roster, let alone in a game. In fact, only 53 players have ever suited up past their 40th birthday; 18 of those players were exclusively kickers or punters.

    What follows is my list of the best NFL players to play into their 40s. That's not to say that, at age 40, they were operating at the same high standards of their younger counterparts (though some were); it's more of a nod to great NFL players that happened to enjoy long careers in the league.

    But first, some stipulations: I didn't include full-time kickers (sorry, Morten Andersen) and I only included one full-time punter. I'll explain why I made that exception when his name appears.

    Secondly, this list is in alphabetical order. If you want to rank these guys in the comments, feel free, but that wasn't my objective here. I just wanted to showcase 11 guys that enjoyed longevity in pro football. I honestly could have made a case to put any of them in the top spot...except for the punter.

George Blanda: Played Until Age 48

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    It's true that Blanda (No. 16) was used exclusively as a kicker for the last five years of his career with the Oakland Raiders, but this list would have been incomplete without him. Blanda spent 26 years in the old AFL and NFL as a player, more than anyone in history.

    Besides, the guy did play quarterback until he was 43, leading the Raiders to Super Bowl II in 1968. Early in his career with the Chicago Bears, he also took a few snaps at linebacker.

    When the Bears (and later, the Houston Oilers) tried to use him exclusively as a kicker, Blanda continued to fight for the right to play quarterback in both the AFL and NFL. 

    Blanda was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981.  

Brett Favre: Played Until Age 41

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    Blanda held the NFL's record for career interceptions (277) before the original gunslinger smashed it in 2007. Brett Favre spent 20 years in the NFL with four different teams, setting a record with 297 career starts.

    The Southern Mississippi product was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1991, but wouldn't reach NFL stardom until being traded to Green Bay the following season. The 11-time Pro Bowler won Super Bowl XXXI with the Packers before finishing his career with stints in New York and Minnesota.

    He was also kind of a jerk 

Darrell Green: Played Until Age 42

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    Green won two Super Bowls and was named to seven Pro Bowls in a 20-year career, all with the Washington Redskins.

    Green, an undersized player with incredible speed, played cornerback and also returned punts during the heyday of the Redskins' dynasty under head coach Joe Gibbs. His 54 career interceptions rank 20th on the NFL's all-time list.

    According to his Twitter, he ran a 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds...on his 50th birthday. Green was enshrined into Canton in 2008.  

Sean Landeta: Played Until Age 43

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    Landeta broke into pro football in the USFL, but had a leg strong enough to catch the eye of the New York Giants before that league went belly-up. The two-time Pro Bowler gave a nod to his former league in 2008, when he announced his retirement on the 25th anniversary of the USFL's first-ever game.

    Landeta punted for 60,707 yards in his career with five different teams. He won two Super Bowls with the Giants, along with two USFL titles with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars franchise in the USFL. 

Jim Marshall: Played Until Age 41

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    Marshall personifies NFL longevity. The Ohio State product played 20 years in the league as a defensive tackle, and held the league's record for consecutive starts at the time of his retirement.

    He also played for the Saskatchewan franchise in the CFL in 1959. I guess he just wanted to see Canada. In 1960, he joined the Cleveland Browns for a year, then spent 19 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

    Marshall was a part of Minnesota's famed "Purple People Eaters" defensive front that featured Alan Page, Carl Eller and Gary Larsen. His very good NFL career is often overshadowed by his "Wrong Way Run."

    During a 1964 game against San Francisco, Marshall recovered a fumble and ran 66 yards down the wrong end of the field, resulting in a 49ers safety. 

Bruce Matthews: Played Until Age 40

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    Matthews played 19 seasons for the Houston Oilers franchise that eventually moved to Tennessee in 1997. The 14-time Pro Bowler had an interesting career: He played against both the Baltimore Colts and the Baltimore Ravens in games at their old Memorial Stadium.

    Matthews was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007. He's currently the offensive line coach for the Tennessee Titans. His nephews, Clay and Casey, currently play for the Packers and Eagles, respectively.

Warren Moon: Played Until Age 44

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    When Moon entered the NFL draft in 1978, nobody drafted him (let's just say that he was more than qualified). The Washington product spent six years in the CFL before landing a nice free-agent contract with the Houston Oilers.

    The nine-time Pro Bowler would eventually break the record for career passing yardage in all of pro football (CFL plus NFL) before being enshrined into the Hall of Fame of both leagues. 

Jerry Rice: Played Until Age 42

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    I was about to write that Jerry Rice is arguably the greatest wide receiver of all time, but I can't think of another player who would provide a decent argument.

    Rice was the centerpiece of a San Francisco 49ers offense that won three Super Bowls in a seven-year span. Rice collected 13 Pro Bowl nods and the MVP trophy from Super Bowl XXIII.

    Rice smashed the career touchdown receptions record, which he still holds (208), among others. In 2010, the NFL listed him No. 1 in their listing of the top 100 all-time players. Again, how does one argue with that? 

Jackie Slater: Played Until Age 41

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    Slater had a great NFL career for a guy stuck with a girl's first name. He played all 20 years with the Rams as an offensive lineman. His last season was the club's first in St. Louis.

    He was an ambassador for the franchise on and off the field. He won the league's Bart Starr Man of the Year award in his last active season, 1995.

    The seven-time Pro Bowler was enshrined into Canton in 2001.

Junior Seau: Played Until Age 40

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    It's a foregone conclusion that Seau, he of 12 Pro Bowls and All-90s Team credentials, will be enshrined in Canton. The linebacker spent 19 years in the NFL, 13 with the San Diego Chargers.

    Seau was lured out of retirement in 2006 by Bill Belichick, spending his last four seasons with the New England Patriots in limited duty. He currently remains unsigned, though not officially retired. 

Johnny Unitas: Played Until Age 40

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    The iconic quarterback enjoyed a career that spanned three decades, but was actually cut by the team that drafted him, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in 1955. Unitas spent that fall on a semipro team while working in construction.

    The following season, with borrowed gas money, Unitas made the trip to Baltimore for a tryout. He would make the team and set the rookie completion percentage record that season.

    The 10-time Pro Bowler went on to win three NFL titles and three AP MVP awards over a legendary 18-year NFL career. He was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. 

    Full list of NFL players over 40 provided by Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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