Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Herschel Walker Can't Be Serious!

Maybe the Celebrity Apprentice got to him as Donald Trump and Walker reminisced about those days with the New Jersey Generals. After all, Trump says that his show remakes careers. But at 49 (at least in March), Herschel Walker wants to play NFL football again? 

Damn I wish this were Bret Michaels!
I can see the MMA.  Anyone in decent shape who can fight has a fighting chance in that sport because we're talking about one fight. But the rigors of pro football? Given how the game has changed since Walker last tied up his laces in 1997 (And he was washed up by then) why is Walker doing this? Are his failed businesses causing some financial heartburn?  Is it what I call Favre-itis - the inability of famous sports stars to retire away from the spotlight with dignity?  I don’t know. Walker, assuming there is professional football next year (and if Antonio Cromartie had his way there definitely will be), would be the oldest athlete ever to play in the National Football League at the age of 49. It's amazing considering the lifespan of most NFL players is about 5 years.  Yeah, when you look at Walker's career, he only carried THE load for 4 or five years, so maybe his body is still "football young."  But this got me to thinking.  Who are the oldest athletes ever to play in the major professional sports?

Baseball.  Everyone knows this one. A star in the Negro Leagues for years prior to integration in Major League Baseball, Satchel Paige didn’t actually play in the major leagues until he was 42 years old. By then, his best days were well in the rear view mirror when he was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948. After knocking around professional baseball in various forms through the 1950’s and early 1960’s, Paige’s last game was a three inning effort for the Kansas City A’s against the Boston Red Sox.

Paige ended up with a 28-31 record for the Indians, Browns and A’s after retiring from baseball in 1966. Unfortunately, statistics in the Negro Leagues were scant and thus Paige’s statistical legacy was more anecdotal.   Still one of the best pitchers ever, however.

Basketball.  From one of the best pitchers in MLB history to one of the worst teams in BAA history (the predecessor to the NBA), the Providence Steamrollers featured a coach by the name of Nat Hickey who did not actually know how to coach his own players, leading the team during his tenure to a 4-25 record. As a result of his lousy coaching, Hickey determined one game to coach himself in January of 1948. The coach/player dynamic took a hit this game as Turner's skills resulted in 2 points and 5 personal fouls on 0-6 shooting. Needless to say the player didn’t like the coach’s coaching style as the Steamroller lost again to the New York Knicks. Shortly thereafter, both player and coach were fired.  The franchise disbanded the following year.  Ugh.

Hockey.  The oldest player ever to play in an NHL game also may be one of the most famous. Gordie Howe started play for the Detroit Red Wings in the 1946 season after an uneventful year for the Omaha Knights in the USHL. After 25 years playing for the Red Wings, Howe finally hung up the laces (or so we thought) after a chronic wrist injury forced him out of the game into retirement after the 1970-71 season.

After a couple of lackluster years as a hockey management stiff, and disgruntled by his treatment by the Red Wings, Howe became the face of the upstart WHA, first for the Houston Aeros and later for the New England Whalers. Surprisingly, two of Howe’s three 100 point seasons came in the WHA after he turned 45. A call back to the NHL arrived when the Hartford Whalers were one of the four teams to be invited to the NHL after the WHA merger after the 1978-79 season. At the age of 52, Howe scored 41 points for the Hartford Whalers in 82 games.

Football.  George Blanda was an extraordinary football player. After joining the league in 1949 with the Chicago Bears, Blanda originally retired at the age 31 because his original coach (the legendary George Halas) felt Blanda wasn’t cut out to be a full time quarterback anymore. But the AFL came calling two years later and Blanda again found the opportunity to be the signal caller.  First for the Hoston Oilers and then for the Oakland Raiders. In fact, Blanda was named to the AFL All Time Team leading his team to three AFL Championships. Eventually, used as a back up quarterback and field goal kicker through the early 1970’s, Blanda last played in 1975.

By the way, I don’t count field goal kickers.

Interestingly, all four players retired from playing before ultimately coming back to finish up their careers. And two of them restarted their careers for new competitive leagues.  Not surprisingly, the end of the careers of these players was not impressive.  Maybe Walker will fare better in the NFL, but probably not.  I know how I feel just playing designated Quarterback for my boys in the back yard.

photograph courtesy of Sherdog.com

No comments:

Post a Comment