Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Tom Brady has a lot but he doesn’t have an ex-Falcons QB’s record (yet)


Oh, the pittance of treasures that sit in Tom Brady’s trunk. A handful of Super Bowl rings. A couple of MVP awards. Model wife. Pfffft.

He doesn’t have what Steve DeBerg has.

“It’s nice,” the former Falcons’ quarterback said Thursday of his unique NFL record. “If Tom ever gets there, I’d be happy to come to the game to help him commemorate the occasion.”

Brady is chasing history. He’s also chasing a former Falcon. DeBerg-envy melts most commoners.

In 1998, DeBerg, having retired after the 1993 season following a 16-year career with five teams, made the surprising decision to come out of beach-bum hibernation. He sent letters to five teams seeking a job. The Falcons bit. Then coach Dan Reeves was looking for a veteran backup, in case of catastrophe, to sit behind the oft-injured Chris Chandler. DeBerg was 44 years old.

“Some of the players called him grandpa,” Reeves said.

“The offensive linemen called me the David Hasselhoff of the NFL,” DeBerg said.

Two things happened. The Hoff-like father figure, mentor to players, not lifeguards, played in eight games. He started one against the New York Jets, thereby becoming the oldest NFL quarterback to start a game.

The Falcons stunned most that season by going 14-2, upsetting the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game and going to the Super Bowl. DeBerg, who turned 45 years old two weeks before the game, then became the oldest player ever to be on a Super Bowl team’s roster.

So here comes Tom Brady, still dazzling the masses at the age of 40. He continues to play at a high level and has managed to stay relatively injury free, failing to miss a game because of injury in the past nine years. In recent months, we’ve learned about his diet, his training methods, his sleeping habits.

We’re now being educated about “TB12,” the gym and treatment program he launched with his long-time trainer and “body coach,” Alex Guerrero.

We see video of him tearing off the ends of a banana and eating only the middle third because, well, we’re not sure, but Tom does it so you should, too. Meanwhile, wipe that queso off your chin.

Brady appears as driven as ever to keep playing, against the preferences of his wife. So as he goes into Sunday’s Super Bowl against Philadelphia, the obvious questions: Was he aware of DeBerg’s age records and does he have any desire to break them?

“I didn’t know that about Steve DeBerg,” he said. “I knew he was a great player, and he played for a long time. That’s a great credit to him.”

And the future?
“I was trying to play into my mid-40s,” he continued. “So we’ll see. Football’s such a physical sport. Every game really could be your last game. That’s the reality of the sport.”

He referenced his rigorous training routine of “the last 10 to 12 years,” and added, “As long as I feel like I’m willing to make that commitment to do those things, I feel like I’m able to” play into his mid-40s.

Brady said earlier in week he worked hard to find a routine “so that when I wake up in the morning I’m excited to go to practice. For a lot of older players, their body doesn’t respond. Football is no fun when you’re hurting.”

He was a sixth-round draft pick. He never made the all-Big Ten team at Michigan. But he went on to become one of the more decorated quarterbacks in history, including a record five Super Bowl wins.

His explanation for the turnaround: his diet.

“When I think about the things I ate when I was little, I can understand why I was a late bloomer. It was terrible. As an athlete, your body is your greatest asset. You need to invest in your body. Otherwise I would’ve stopped playing 10 years ago.”

DeBerg’s re-entry to the NFL was borne out of his son’s desire to play high school football. He showed his son some drills, worked out himself and was “surprised to see I could still throw.”

He got the itch, sent the letters and the Falcons signed him.

“Really, I was just looking for a guy who could be like a player-coach,” said Reeves, who coached DeBerg in Denver. “He did more with his knowledge than his athleticism.”

When Chandler got hurt in the sixth game, DeBerg started against the Jets. He went only 9-for-20 in a loss. But in DeBerg’s defense, New York had a strong team that season and went to the AFC title game behind a defense coached by Bill Belichick.

When asked about the potential of Brady playing to 45 and breaking his records, DeBerg said: “I think he can do it if he stays injury free. When you start getting into your 40s, the injury factor and recovery time takes its toll.”

Part of him would like to keep the age record. “But to have somebody like Tom Brady break it would be an honor in itself.”

What would be an appropriate congratulations gift?

“Something to do with father time,” DeBerg said.

Listen to the, “We Never Played The Game” podcast. Check out the podcast showpage at AJC,com/sports-we-never-played-the-game. Subscribe on iTunesor listen from the AJC sports podcasts page, the WSB Radio on-demand page or Google play.


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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.