We all age, and the older we get the more quickly years seem to slip by.
Aging through the prism of sports is especially fascinating: not only do we get to watch ourselves age but we get to see careers begin, flourish, decline and inevitably end. Players you remember as young, upstart rookies gradually age in confident veterans and leaders before they transition to the final stage of their careers as grizzled vets. In our own lives we move from youth and inexperience to careers and families and genuine responsibilities. At some point you can no longer be considered “young” but are thought of as an “adult”. How does this happen?
Age happens to us all. Consider the following players: Charles Woodson, Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter and David Beckham. I remember each when they were a rookie. One of my most vivid sports memories is Charles Woodson having the greatest season a defensive back ever had in 1998 – stealing Peyton Manning’s Heisman and National Title. Now, Woodson has a Super Bowl ring and is nearing the end of his career as one of the best defensive backs in the history of football. Bryant began his career in a draft day trade from the Hornets and over the next few years became one of the best players in the NBA. Early in his career he won three titles and then stopped measuring himself by winning and focused instead on personal glory. Now in the twilight of his career, he has rededicated himself to being a Champion. Jeter has transitioned from a confident rookie into one of the great leaders in New York Yankees history. Beckham just announced he is planning to leave LA at the conclusion of this season – in what many figured was the final stop for him after playing for Man U and being the face of English soccer for a very long time.
Others who are now grizzled vets are guys I remember as rookies and young bucks: KG, Paul Pierce, A-Rod, Pujols…the list goes on endlessly. As sports fans we will probably see three or four cycles of players in our lifetimes. In mine I feel I am on the second. The vets like Duncan and Kobe and Peyton and Tom Brady are going to be on their way out in the next few years. New players like KD, and LeBron and Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan are moving in to take their place. Somewhere other future players are being born, and in eighteen years they too may be on our radar as future Hall of Famers.
This is the true gift of sports: we get to see entire careers play out over the course of years and when our old favorites leave there are always new ones waiting to take their place. Great careers never fade completely but as we get older the connection never dims because our own lives so often mirror what athletes go through.
Sports is the great metaphor for life and I can only wonder if as I get older I will find myself with more and more of an affinity for those grizzled vets who just want one more chance at winning a title.