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Old Dogs

Phil Mickelson and the nine greatest old-guy runs in sports history

May 22, 2021

Sam Greenwood

If you were to look at the top of the PGA Championship leaderboard on Saturday morning, you would see a familiar name: Phil Mickelson. No surprise there. At least not initially. Phil is no stranger to major success, after all. But take a look at the calendar, and you’ll see that year is 2021. Phil is 50 going on 51. He’s fallen to 115th in the world and dabbles on the Champions Tour now. His Friday 69 made him one of six golfers all time to lead a major in four different decades. Four. Different. Decades.

All of which is to say Phil is old. Newsflash. But while the joints might hurt a little worse than they used to and the existence of decaf no longer the mystery it once was, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As these nine incredible old-guy runs in sports prove, the number that matters most isn’t age, it’s the one on the scorebaord.

Brett Favre’s 2010 season

Age: 40 years young

There is no greater motivator in life than revenge. For all intents and purposes, Brett Favre was done. He’d been usurped in Green Bay and flamed out of New York in messy fashion. He had just “retired” for the second time. Then Vikings came calling and he saw one last opportunity to stick it to Cheesehead management once and for all. And hell if he didn’t almost do it. In his final full NFL season, Favre put up MVP caliber numbers, throwing throwing 33 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, good for the gunslinger’s lowest interception ratio of his career. Most importantly, however, he beat the Packers twice, including a memorable 38-26 triumph at Lambeau Field. In typical Vikings fashion, they would come up short in the NFC title game, but by that point Favre had made his point.

Jimmy Connors’ 1991 U.S. Open semifinal

Age: 39 years young (that’s 73 in tennis years)

Here’s a couple things you should know fully about Jimmy Connor’s incredible 1991 U.S. Open run: He was ranked 174th in the world. He played all of three matches in 1990 due to a wrist injury and lost them all. He entered the tournament as a wild card and then celebrated his 39th birthday with a win over 24-year-old Aaron Krickstein, coming back from a 2-5 deficit in the fifth set to win in a tiebreaker. All of that is why, despite not even making the final, Connors’ last stand is widely regarded as one of the most unlikely and heroic moments in modern tennis. Men’s U.S. tennis has fallen a long, long way since Connors’ Flushing feat, but it’s proof that anything is possible . . . even John Isner winning a major (OK, maybe not that).

George Foreman’s 1994 heavyweight title

Age: 45 years young

George Foreman first retired in 1977. Nineteen seventy seven. Let that sink in for a second. Forget MJ’s baseball hiatus. Forget Ali’s incarceration. There has been no longer layoff (or greater payoff) in sports history than Foreman’s. Foreman returned to boxing a decade a later at the ripe old age of 38 with his sights squarely on the world heavyweight belt. Impossibly, he would accomplish that feat, but not until 1994, when at 45 he took down Michael Moorer with a 10th-round short right to capture the IBF and WBA titles. Put that on your grill and cook it, haters.

Jamie Moyer’s 2008 World Series championship

Age: 45 years young

Fun fact: During the 2008 season, 45-year-old Jamie Moyer’s average fastball clocked in around 82.9 mph. Most guys' changeups are faster than that. He also won 16 games and was a vital cog in a stacked Phillies rotation that led the franchise to their first World Series title in nearly thirty years. It’s what you do, not how you do it, that truly gets remembered. Remember that when you’re in your mid-40s, kiddos.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 1988 NBA championship

Age: 41 years young

There are older ages with far worse supporting casts on this list, but the reality is that when Kareem Abdul-Jabaar claimed his sixth and final NBA championship in 1988, he had more miles than anyone on the odometer. So many, in fact, that he was the all-time NBA leader in games played, starting 80 while averaging 28.9 minutes per for the Lakers that season alone. Incredible even in its day, Jabbar’s longevity and legacy look even more impressive by today’s NBA standard, where “load management” is the rule not the exception.

Tom Brady’s 2021 Super Bowl MVP

Age: 43 years young

Maybe you expected to see Peyton Manning’s 2015 Super Bowl triumph here, but two things disqualify him: 1. Peyton was 39 that season, four years younger than Brady during Super Bowl LV. 2. He was benched for Brock Osweiler at one point during the 2015 season. You just don’t come back from that. Brady on the other hand, was 43 in 2020, and facing questions about whether or not he could hack it without grandmaster Belichick at the helm. There were some growing pains—Brady himself admitted he didn’t learn the playbook until over halfway through the year—but after the Bucs’ Week 13 bye, everything clicked. The Buccaneers rattled off eight straight wins enroute to Brady breaking his own record for the oldest starting QB to ever win a Super Bowl (and be named MVP).

Ray Bourque’s 2000-01 Stanley Cup

Age: 40 years young

22 seasons and 1,826 games. That’s how long Ray Bourque had to wait to lift the Stanley Cup, and like so many veterans, he had to force a gutting late-career trade to do it. As the centrifuge for a consistently underachieving Boston Bruins squad for much of the ‘90s, Bourque became the NHL record holder for the most career goals, assists, and points as a defenseman. All that was missing was a capital-C Cup. An uber-talented Avs team in need of some grit helped him achieve that in the spring of 2001, but when it came time to celebrate, Bourque made sure to bring Lord Stanley’s chalice back to Boston not Boulder.

Bobby Allison’s 1983 Winston Cup

Age: 45 years young

There’s an inverse relationship between age and driving speed. The higher the first number gets, the lower the second. If you’ve driven anywhere in Florida, you’ve seen this phenomenon play out in real, excruciating time. In 1983, however, NASCAR legend Bobby Allison—a man who almost single-handedly put NASCAR on the national map fist fighting Cale Yarborough at the 1979 Daytona 500—turned that equation on its head, claiming his first and only Winston Cup at an age when most people are hitting the brakes (literally and metaphorically). Despite a near fatal crash at Pocono five years later that ended his career, Allison remains the oldest driver to ever capture a NASCAR series championship.

Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters victory

Age: 43 years young

I mean, duh.