This is the way Ted Williams hit the year he turned 39, and all Williams did that year at old Fenway was hit .388 without a single cheap hit that anybody remembers. This is the way Tom Brady plays quarterback right now at the age of 39, with 22 touchdown passes and just two interceptions and nearly 2,900 passing yards, and who knows what the numbers look like if Roger Goodell hadn't stolen four games from Brady because of Deflategate? But then, Goodell leveled those sanctions against Brady, the biggest star in his sport, when under-inflated footballs were apparently still against the law in the NFL.
The way Brady throws right now is the way Mariano Rivera threw for the Yankees all the way into his 40s. This is the way Charles Woodson and Jerry Rice, two of the greatest football players of them all, on both sides of the ball, played when they were old and still thinking they were young, and the way Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played basketball, still averaging 17.5 points a game for the Lakers on his 40th birthday.
Of course, there have been other ballplayers who performed at a high level in their late 30s and into their 40s, too, playing old the way they did when they were young, juicers and non-juicers, and that is where it always gets complicated. Eventually, history will have to sort out where they all should be ranked in the history of their sport, and not just by voters for the Hall of Fame.
Jaromir Jagr is a bit of a wonder in the NHL as he moves up on his 45th birthday. Gordie Howe was much more of a wonder than that, playing 80 games for the Hartford Whalers and scoring 15 goals for them at the age of 51. So there have been other immortals from other sports that have played in a high enough place as they made you wonder what year it was as they refused to give in to age.
Just say this about Tom Brady, who says he wants to play quarterback for the Patriots until he is 45: There is no legendary aging athlete, in any era, who has done better than the 39-year-old Brady is doing this season for the Patriots.
You have to appreciate that, whether you like Brady and the Patriots or not, whether you thought he got what he deserved from Goodell and a few judges or not. Mostly, you have to appreciate that we are all watching one of the great and enduring figures in the history of American sports.
And maybe if he goes all the way to Houston for Super Bowl 51, makes it to his seventh Super Bowl and wins his fifth -- without Gronk this time -- he might even thank Goodell for having him be fresher at the end than he might have been without a four-game suspension that ranks with the dumbest ever handed out by any commissioner in any sport.
Brady, right now, going into the Patriots' game against the Broncos in Denver on Sunday, 11 months after he was the Patriots' leading rusher -- with 13 yards -- in the AFC championship and Peyton Manning finally earned the right to play in one more Super Bowl, is playing quarterback as well as he ever has. If you're an MVP voter, you probably want to resist the temptation to vote for him twice.
Ezekiel Elliott has been a sight in Dallas as a rookie, and so has Dak Prescott, even with the frontrunners in Dallas who want to start talking about Tony Romo because the Cowboys lost to the Giants again. And by the way? What conversation are we having about Prescott if Dez Bryant hadn't dropped a couple of balls in Jersey last Sunday night?
Brady once again does it without Rob Gronkowski. He is always doing it without somebody, or something. Gronk has absolutely played like a Hall of Famer, when he's played. But other than Gronk, the best receiver with whom Brady has worked consistently in his career is Wes Welker. When Welker was gone from Foxborough, here came Julian Edelman before long. Welker ought to wake up whistling that he had Brady the way Scottie Pippen -- still -- should wake up whistling that he had Michael Jordan. No wonder Jordan insists that he and Brady be partners when they play golf together, and for money. Michael's position, basically, is that he and Brady understand things that most athletes, young or old, never will.
Brady is the MVP this season, whether he missed the first four games or not. He is the MVP, even if the Patriots were 3-1 without him, and even though his team's signature win this season is against a flawed but dangerous Steelers team. You could see how diminished Peyton was at the end of his career, certainly at the very end against the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. You could see the decline once he had the surgeries on his neck, and his body let him down and so, finally, did one of the most famous right arms you will ever see, in football or baseball.
There is no such decline with Brady. He is 22 touchdown passes against those two picks and it might be 30 and two if Goodell hadn't clipped him, mostly to get the other owners in the league off his back, and show he could be a tough guy with the Patriots. For the last time, Deflategate was a misdemeanor that got turned, literally, into a federal case. There is no way of knowing how many seasons Brady really does have left. He doesn't know and we don't know. It was plain idiotic that he lost a quarter of one of the regular seasons he does have left because of air.
Now, when the Giants wonder about a couple of footballs in Pittsburgh, the story from the league is that its protocols were followed. Yeah. Says them.
Now the Patriots, grinding hard toward being the No. 1 seed in the AFC, go into Denver, where Brady is 2-7 in his career and could very easily walk away from Sunday's game at 2-8. Most of his history there is bad history. Last year, when Peyton was finally ready to play again, he came off the bench in a game against the Chargers, and the Broncos won on a day when it looked as if they would lose. Because they beat the Chargers, it was the Broncos who ended up with home field for the championship game, one last Brady vs. Manning showdown, and you know how that came out. Peyton ended up winning his second Super Bowl. Brady didn't get the chance to win his fifth.
You know he wants to win this year as much as he ever has, because it would mean Goodell having to hand the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft. You have to know how well the Patriots of Belichick and Brady work when they have a real good grudge going. They have a real good one going this season because Brady started off the year on the bench.
You see what Brady has done since he got off the bench. He has been the best quarterback in football. Again. At 39. In Boston, there is no higher compliment than this: Brady at 39 plays the way Ted Williams hit. They called Williams "The Kid." Brady plays like one.