This is 40: Rams' Andrew Whitworth doing something no other left tackle has done

Forget the gray in his beard: Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth is still one of the most effective left tackles in the NFL despite turning 40 later this week. Mark J. Terrill/AP

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The salt and pepper beard left tackle Andrew Whitworth arrived in Los Angeles with five seasons ago now features a lot more salt and much less pepper.

The wisdom he brought after 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals to the Los Angeles Rams continues to stand the test of time while always evolving. After a loss in Super Bowl LIII, Whitworth said the easiest way to get over it was to remember, "At the end of the day, we're all gonna die."

And the best way to remain relevant and adapt with the NFL? "Be like a tree," he said earlier this season. "Either you grow or you die."

Whitworth's teammates with the Rams call him Big Whit, Big Uncle, Unc, Big Brother and sometimes other iterations that all essentially mean, in the kindest way, the old guy on the team.

"He's like 500 years old or however you want to do it," said a smiling coach Sean McVay, who is five years younger than Whitworth. "I'm always ragging him in some way, but it's really a backhanded compliment because I'm probably just jealous that I couldn't do what he did."

When the Rams (8-4) face the division-leading Arizona Cardinals (10-2) on Monday Night Football at State Farm Stadium (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), Whitworth will do what no one else has, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Start an NFL game at left tackle at age 40.

"It's pretty amazing, it's great," said a 39-year-old Whitworth a few days before his birthday Sunday. "I'll be definitely emotional about it and very thankful."

Whitworth insisted his wife, Melissa, cancel an over-the-hill extravaganza, saying he's not much for birthday celebrations. But he is willing to concede it’s pretty cool to have made it to age 40 in the NFL, reaching a goal he set for himself several years ago.

"To be here, to think of all the things I've been through," said Whitworth, a second-round pick in the 2006 draft, "it's pretty wild."

On Monday, Whitworth will join Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady as the second 40-year-old currently playing in the league, a feat only 71 other players have accomplished in NFL history. And he will become only the fifth offensive lineman since the NFL merger to play in a game at 40, joining Rams Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, Jeff Van Note, Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and Ray Brown.

A four-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro, Whitworth has played in 235 of a possible 252 games in his career and doesn't show much, if any, signs of slowing in his 16th season.

"He sure has meant a lot to this organization both on and off the field," McVay said about Whitworth, who was among his first free-agent recruits when he became coach in 2017. "I think sometimes you take for granted that he's 40 years old. If you didn't know with the bald head and stuff like that, I mean he moves around like he's young and he's got great athleticism."

In a Week 3 game against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, Whitworth threw his behemoth 6-foot-7, 330-pound frame onto the ground to recover a fumble in 34-24 victory.

He ranks as the No. 3 tackle in the NFL with a pass block win rate of 93.3%, behind New Orleans Saints tackle Ryan Ramczyk and Philadelphia Eagles tackle Lane Johnson. He's played a key role in the Rams achieving a team pass block win rate of 68%, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL behind the Cleveland Browns.

He's helped keep Matthew Stafford upright, as the 13th-year quarterback has been sacked 17 times this season, which is tied for second fewest among quarterbacks who have started at least 11 games.

Firmly entrenched as a leader on the team and in the community, Whitworth continues to find a way to relate to his younger teammates. The Rams roster has an average age of 26.1 years old, making it the third-youngest in the NFL (the league average age is 26.7 years).

He's always prepared with advice but also finds ways to remind his much-younger teammates that he was once in their shoes, too -- even if they would never guess it when he plays some of his classic R&B favorites, songs that leave teammates asking, "Who the hell's playlist is this?" according to Whitworth.

"He's one of my best friends on the team and obviously incredible playing for someone who's played for so long and has so much knowledge but can still do the things that he does at his age, at his -- you know -- advanced age," said receiver Cooper Kupp, who routinely catches a ride to home games with Whitworth. "And as big as he, to be able to do the things that he's doing this is pretty incredible."

In a 37-7 victory over Jacksonville this past Sunday, Whitworth chuckled when a Jaguars player asked him how old he was during a television timeout.

"He came up to me and he was like, 'Hey man, be honest with me, how old are you?'" Whitworth said, telling him he was 39 years old. "He was like, 'You've got to be kidding me?! You're not ... give me some secrets.'"

Last season, in a 30-10 win over the Washington Football Team, Whitworth experienced a similar encounter.

"Montez Sweat and Chase Young were kind of beside each other talking and obviously I had been going against both of them because they flipped sides during the game," he recounted. "I could tell both of them were pointing at me, and finally they just had to scream at me, 'Hey! How old are you?' and I was like, 'I'm 39!' and they're like, 'No way!'"

Whitworth said his own offensive line got a good chuckle out of the situation, as Sweat and Young made sure their entire team knew they were lining up across from someone nearly twice their age.

"It blew them away to think I'm that old," Whitworth said, laughing.

"It's amazing he's still doing it," said Whitworth's former teammate, Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff after they faced off in a Week 7 game. "That's what I told him [after the game]. I said, 'I don't know how you're still doing it.' He is as good as they get."

Whitworth says the key to his longevity has been taking care of his body with a regimen that includes everything from yoga to mixed martial arts, with plenty of trips to the sauna in between.

As for whether 40 years old could mark the end of a career for Whitworth?

It seems unlikely, given he says he's enjoying the game now more than ever.

"To me, the only way that I would retire is there'd have to be a situation where either financially the Rams can't afford me or there's just some way where it doesn't work out for the both of us for me to be back," Whitworth said. "So that would really be the only scenario where I would ever really see me retiring."