Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady becoming king of 40-something athletes

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, left, Martina Navratilova, who were competitive after age 40, paved the way for Tom Brady. ESPN Illustration

The GOAT is still doing it. Tom Brady with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is looking pretty much like peak Brady with the New England Patriots.

Through seven games, Brady has 18 touchdown passes, second most in the league. It's not just the touchdowns either. Brady's completion percentage is higher than it was in 2007 when he was NFL MVP and led the Patriots to a perfect regular season.

His passer rating and yards per attempt are also better this year than that season.

Brady is just adding to his post-40 credentials. Including Brady, here are other 40-somethings who made significant impacts after turning 40.

Tom Brady, NFL, 43

Before 40: Five Super Bowl championships and two other appearances in the Super Bowl, to go along with two Most Valuable Player awards, had Brady in the discussion as the greatest of all time before he hit 40. Brady is the first quarterback to lead his team to five Super Bowl wins, surpassing his boyhood idol Joe Montana (four) and Terry Bradshaw (four).

After 40: He became the first player to win the league's MVP award (his third) after turning 40, and led the Patriots to two more Super Bowl Appearances, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII and beating the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Brady continues to say he plans to play until he's 45 and explained why in the "Why Sports Matters" podcast: "I've had an opportunity, based on all the things that happened the last 12 years of my life, to put myself in a position to achieve things that no one else has achieved. So I feel like I kind of have to do it."

Brett Favre, NFL, 41

Before 40: Long before the "Old Gunslinger" aged, he established himself as an all-time great quarterback, winning a Super Bowl and earning NFL MVP honors three consecutive seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

After 40: After "retiring" twice, Favre experienced a rebirth with the Minnesota Vikings in 2009, the season in which he turned 40. He earned his 11th Pro Bowl berth and led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to the New Orleans Saints in overtime. Favre's penchant for unretiring became a running joke, and the St. Louis Rams contacted him about another return in 2013. "It's flattering," Favre said. "But you know there's no way I'm going to do that."

John Stockton, NBA, 41

Before 40: Stockton, a 10-time All-Star, became the NBA's career leader in assists and steals.

After 40: Stockton turned 40 at the end of the 2002-03 season and would play one more season for the Utah Jazz, his 19th with the team, before retiring at 41. He started all 82 games, averaging 27.2 minutes in his final season. When he retired, the unassuming point guard did so without much fanfare. "I think I'm finished," Stockton said. "I informed those guys and that's the direction I'm headed. I just said, 'I think it's time to move on.'"

Hank Aaron, MLB, 42

Before 40: In 1973, at age 39, Aaron earned his 19th consecutive All-Star selection and finished the season one home run shy of Babe Ruth's career record of 714.

After 40: Aaron stood up to racial insults and death threats for months with the Atlanta Braves before hitting his 715th home run on April 8, 1974, against Los Angeles. Dodgers announcing great Vin Scully gave a home run call for the ages: "What a marvelous moment for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol."

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBA, 42

Before 40: The NBA's all-time leading scorer, Abdul-Jabbar was a six-time NBA MVP and a six-time champion while playing for the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers.

After 40: The Lakers made it to three NBA Finals, winning twice, after Abdul-Jabbar turned 40. He was a full-time starter and an All-Star in each of his final three seasons. When Abdul-Jabbar had his jersey retired in 1990, he joked about a possible comeback. "I was absolutely positive I definitely got out of my system the feeling of thrills and chills I get here," he said. "I'm sure that's what Coach [Pat] Riley was talking about when he was trying to get me back playing."

Harold Baines, MLB, 42

Before 40: Baines was a durable slugger who had the rare distinction of having his number retired (by the Chicago White Sox) while he was still an active player.

After 40: In 1999, at age 40, Baines knocked in 103 runs while batting .312 for the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians. His previous 100-RBI season had been in 1985 for the White Sox, giving him the record for the longest span between 100-RBI campaigns. He also earned his first All-Star berth in eight years.

Darrell Green, NFL, 42

Before 40: One of the fastest defensive backs in league history, Green was a seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback and won two Super Bowls with the Washington Redskins.

After 40: Green, who recorded at least one interception in an NFL-record 19 seasons, picked off four passes after turning 40. He played in all 16 games in each of his final two seasons, at ages 41 and 42. Green celebrated his 50th birthday in 2010 by announcing that he ran a 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds. "I think today I became the fastest 50-year-old in the world!" he tweeted.

Dikembe Mutombo, NBA, 42

Before 40: Famous for wagging his finger after every blocked shot, Mutombo was an eight-time NBA All-Star and a four-time defensive player of the year.

After 40: On March 2, 2007, at age 40, Mutombo had 22 rebounds for the Houston Rockets, becoming the oldest player in NBA history to record more than 20 rebounds in a game. "They had all these young guys around me," he said. "I still got to the ball." Mutombo averaged 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in three seasons after turning 40.

Jerry Rice, NFL, 42

Before 40: Arguably the greatest wide receiver ever, Rice was a three-time Super Bowl champion, a 10-time first-team All-Pro and the NFL career leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches before he turned 40.

After 40: In 2002, the year Rice turned 40, he caught 92 passes for 1,211 yards, his best marks since 1996. Rice played until 2004 and signed a one-day contract with the San Francisco 49ers for $1,985,806.49 before officially retiring in 2006. He didn't collect on that ceremonial deal, the amount of which was derived from his first year in the league (1985), his uniform number (80), the year ('06) and the team he played for over his first 16 seasons (49ers).

Ted Williams, MLB, 42

Before 40: Teddy Ballgame was the greatest hitter who ever lived -- and a war hero, to boot.

After 40: Williams wrapped up his career with a finishing kick, posting a .316/.451/.645 slash line at age 41 in 1960 for the Boston Red Sox. He hit a home run in his final plate appearance and, characteristically, declined to tip his cap or otherwise acknowledge the cheering fans, prompting the writer John Updike to observe, "Gods do not answer letters."

Barry Bonds, MLB, 43

Before 40: Bonds won six National League MVP awards, was named to 13 All-Star teams and, in 2001, hit an MLB-record 73 home runs.

After 40: In 2004, the year he turned 40, Bonds set MLB single-season marks with 232 walks and a 1.421 OPS and won his seventh NL MVP award. He was an All-Star for the San Francisco Giants at age 42 in 2007, his final season. Allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs have kept baseball's career home run king out of the Hall of Fame. On the matter of steroids, Bonds once said, "Doctors ought to quit worrying about what ballplayers are taking. ... The doctors should spend their time looking for cures for cancer."

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Track and Field and Golf, 43

Before 40: One of the greatest athletes of all time, she was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year six times -- once for track and field and five times for golf.

After 40: Didrikson Zaharias was the leading money winner on the LPGA Tour in 1951, the year she turned 40. In 1954, a year after she had colon cancer surgery, Didrikson Zaharias earned her sixth AP Female Athlete of the Year honor after winning the U.S. Women's Open by a record 12 strokes. "It will show a lot of people that they need not be afraid of an operation and can go on and live a normal life," she said after her 10th career major championship. Didrikson Zaharias died from cancer in 1956.

Robert Parish, NBA, 43

Before 40: The Chief was a nine-time All-Star and an integral part of the Boston Celtics' memorable run to three NBA championships in the 1980s.

After 40: Parish finished his career at 43 with the Chicago Bulls in 1996-97 and became the oldest player to win an NBA championship. In one of his first practices with the Bulls, according to ESPN's Jackie MacMullan, Parish botched a play and was amused to find Michael Jordan jawing at him. "I told him, 'I'm not as enamored with you as these other guys. I've got some rings too,'" Parish recalled.

Rickey Henderson, MLB, 44

Before 40: Widely acknowledged as the finest leadoff hitter ever, Henderson was a 10-time All-Star and led the American League in stolen bases 12 times.

After 40: Although he made his last MLB appearance with the Dodgers at age 44 in 2003, Henderson played two more years in independent leagues and never willingly retired. He's still the MLB career leader in stolen bases and runs. In a conference call leading up to his Hall of Fame enshrinement in 2009, a 50-year-old Henderson said, "In my heart, loving the game, I would love to come back and play."

Warren Moon, NFL, 44

Before 40: Moon had already put together a Pro Football Hall of Fame career by his late 30s, with eight Pro Bowl selections and an NFL Offensive Player of the Year award, all after a Canadian Football League career that included five consecutive Grey Cup championships.

After 40: His NFL career was thought to be over by the time he celebrated his 40th birthday, but he had a last hurrah with the Seattle Seahawks in 1997, the year he turned 41. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week twice that season and earned a ninth Pro Bowl berth after leading the NFL in passing yards per game.

Vinny Testaverde, NFL, 44

Before 40: The first pick in the 1987 draft was a two-time Pro Bowler. And he's the last quarterback to win a playoff game for the Cleveland Browns.

After 40: On Dec. 2, 2007, a 44-year-old Testaverde led the Carolina Panthers over the 49ers to become the oldest quarterback to win an NFL game and the second oldest to start one. He had joined the team midseason and won his first start for Carolina too. "To come in with three days of preparation and go out and help a team win a football game and contribute," Testaverde said, "I'm proud of the fact I was able to do that."

David Wells, MLB, 44

Before 40: Ah, Boomer -- a pot belly, a rubber arm, pinpoint control and a perfect game to his credit.

After 40: Wells, who made six postseason starts after turning 40, idolized Babe Ruth. While playing for Boston at age 42, he realized a careerlong dream by convincing the Red Sox to let him wear No. 3 -- Ruth's number -- thereby joining the small fraternity of pitchers who've worn single-digit numbers.

Roger Clemens, MLB, 45

Before 40: The intimidating right-hander was named to eight All-Star Games and won six Cy Young awards and one MVP award.

After 40: Clemens was named to three more All-Star teams, won the 2004 NL Cy Young Award and led the NL with a 1.87 ERA in 2005, the year he turned 43. Clemens, like home run king Barry Bonds, has yet to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame because of allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Of the suspicions, he said during a "60 Minutes" interview: "I should have a third ear coming out of my forehead; I should be pulling tractors with my teeth."

Carlton Fisk, MLB, 45

Before 40: By the time he turned 40, Pudge had already been American League Rookie of the Year, a 10-time All-Star and the guy who hit the most famously body-Englished home run in World Series history.

After 40: Despite playing the game's most punishing position, Fisk kept strapping on the catcher's gear until his was 45. At the time of his retirement in 1993, he held the career records for games caught and home runs by a catcher (although both have since been broken). When his No. 27 was retired by the Red Sox -- joining the No. 72 that already had been retired by the White Sox -- he summed up the experience of the over-40 athlete by saying, "A million years went by quick."

Jaromir Jagr, NHL, 45

Before 40: Jagr's NHL debut was on Oct. 5, 1990, when he was 18, and he recorded his first point -- a goal -- two days later. Jagr won the Art Ross Trophy as the leading point scorer in the league five times.

After 40: Jagr became the third player in NHL history to score 750 goals and moved into second in career points in 2016. He signed a one-year deal with the Calgary Flames in October 2017; Jagr didn't play in the preseason or take a tryout contract because, he said, "After 25 years they know what kind of player I am." He now plays in Czech Republic Hockey League.

Gaylord Perry, MLB, 45

Before 40: The most famous spitballer since Burleigh Grimes, Perry was also one of the best pitchers of his era, with five 20-win seasons and the 1972 American League Cy Young Award. He also wrote a book, "Me and the Spitter," about throwing spitballs without getting caught.

After 40: Perry won the 1979 National League Cy Young Award for the San Diego Padres during the season he turned 40 (and notched his 3,000th career strikeout two weeks after his 40th birthday), going 21-6 with a 2.73 ERA and becoming the first pitcher to win the award in both leagues. He earned his 300th win -- a complete game -- at age 43. He kept on throwing the spitter (and not getting caught) through the end of his career at age 45. When he retired, he said, "The league will be a little drier now."

Pete Rose, MLB, 45

Before 40: The 1963 National League Rookie of the Year and 1973 MVP molded himself into Charlie Hustle, the heart and soul of the Big Red Machine.

After 40: In 1982, at age 41, Rose played all 162 games for the Philadelphia Phillies and made the NL All-Star team for the second consecutive year. Three years later, he broke Ty Cobb's career hits record. MLB's last player-manager retired with 4,256 hits and holds the career records for games played, at-bats and plate appearances. As a result of gambling on baseball, Rose voluntarily accepted a permanent place on baseball's ineligible list in 1989. The ban precludes him for Hall of Fame eligibility.

Dara Torres, Swimming, 45

Before 40: Torres won nine swimming medals as a sprinter for the United States in four Summer Olympics: 1984, 1988, 1992 and, upon returning to competition after a seven-year hiatus, 2000.

After 40: Torres came back again -- 24 years after her first Olympics -- and anchored the 4x100-meter freestyle relay to silver at the 2008 Beijing Games. Torres volunteered for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's stiffer testing program along the way, explaining: "I want people to know that I'm 41 and I'm doing this right. I'm clean."

Randy Johnson, MLB, 46

Before 40: Johnson was the most dominant left-handed power pitcher of his generation, racking up five Cy Young awards and generally scaring the heck out of opposing batters.

After 40: At age 40, the Big Unit still had enough gas in the tank to lead the NL with 290 strikeouts in 2004 -- the same season in which he also became the oldest pitcher in history to throw a perfect game. "Not bad for being 40 years old," he said. "Everything was locked in." He won 17 games in each of the next two seasons and finished with 303 wins and 4,875 strikeouts, numbers that made him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Nolan Ryan, MLB, 46

Before 40: The most overpowering pitcher in history, Ryan already was baseball's career strikeout leader with a record five no-hitters to his credit.

After 40: The Ryan Express didn't slow down. After turning 40, Ryan led his league in strikeouts four consecutive years. With the Texas Rangers, he also added two more no-hitters. And don't forget he was 46, nearing the end of his final season, when he famously used Robin Ventura's head as a punching bag after Ventura made the regrettable decision to charge the mound after getting hit by a pitch.

Morten Andersen, NFL, 47

Before 40: The soccer player-turned-kicker from Denmark was named to the Pro Bowl seven times and received first-team All-Pro honors three times.

After 40: Andersen played seven seasons in his 40s, scoring 704 points and converting 83.7 percent of his field goal tries, and he finished as the NFL's career scoring leader. He became only the second true kicker in league history to earn a Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, in 2017. The opening line from his induction speech: "Good evening, Canton, Ohio. Good morning, Denmark." He finished his career with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007.

Randy Couture, MMA/UFC, 47

Before 40: A three-time Olympic wrestling alternate, The Natural switched to mixed martial arts and became the only UFC fighter to win the heavyweight and light heavyweight belts.

After 40: Couture retired in 2005 after getting knocked out by Chuck Liddell in the final chapter of their epic light heavyweight trilogy. Couture returned two years later to take on heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia. Couture's first punch sent the 6-foot-8 Sylvia to the canvas eight seconds into the bout, and the 43-year-old challenger won a unanimous decision, taking the heavyweight title for a record third time. "I'm not scared to fail. I'm not scared to lose. I'm not scared to die, for that matter," Couture once said. "Accept the worst outcome. ... You'll be free and fight like you're able to."

Phil Mickelson, Golf, 48

Before 40: Perhaps the best golfer of his generation not named Tiger, Mickelson won the 2010 Masters -- his fourth career major championship -- two months before turning 40.

After 40: Lefty was 43 when he broke through in 2013 to win his first British Open, leaving the U.S. Open as the only major to elude him. After entering the final round tied for ninth, five shots off the lead, Mickelson closed with a 66 for a three-stroke victory. "Today will be one of the most memorable rounds of golf I've ever played," Mickelson said. "It's probably the greatest and most difficult win of my career."

George Blanda, NFL, 48

Before 40: Blanda threw for 25,196 yards, 214 touchdowns and scored 1,148 points as a quarterback/kicker with the Chicago Bears and Houston Oilers -- and his first game with the Oakland Raiders.

After 40: Blanda turned 40 on the day of his second game with the Raiders and started only one game at quarterback after that, but he scored 863 more points as a full-time kicker. He's the oldest player in NFL history, having retired after the 1975 season at age 48. Blanda holds pro football records for most seasons (26) and extra points (959), but he once said, "The one record I was happy to get rid of was the one for the most interceptions, when Brett Favre got that one."

Chris Chelios, NHL, 48

Before 40: Chelios won three Norris trophies as the NHL's top defenseman and was a 10-time All-Star.

After 40: Shortly after turning 40, Chelios appeared in his 11th All-Star Game, won a silver medal with the U.S. Olympic hockey team and captured the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings. He finished his career at age 48 with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010 after 1,651 career games, the most by an NHL defenseman. "I couldn't have played any longer than I did, and I accomplished what I wanted to," he said.

George Foreman, Boxing, 48

Before 40: The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Foreman was such a feared puncher by his 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" title defense, many feared 32-year-old challenger Muhammad Ali might get hurt. But Ali upset the 25-year-old Foreman with his improvised rope-a-dope tactics, and Foreman retired by 1977.

After 40: Foreman returned to the ring at 38 after a decadelong absence and fought for another 10 years. He eventually regained the heavyweight title at 45 by knocking out Michael Moorer wearing the same red trunks he wore more than 20 years earlier in his loss to Ali. "I've exorcised the ghost once and forever," Foreman said afterward.

Phil Niekro, MLB, 48

Before 40: Nicknamed Knucksie, Niekro spent his 20s and 30s establishing himself as the most successful knuckleball pitcher in MLB history, building a solid career around an eccentric pitch.

After 40: Niekro recorded 121 wins after turning 40 -- an MLB record. He won his 300th game at age 46, a four-hit shutout in which he avoided throwing any knuckleballs until the game's final batter. "I always wanted to pitch a whole game without throwing knuckleballs because people thought I couldn't get people out without throwing them," he said after the game. Niekro, who finished his career with the Braves, continued playing to age 48 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997.

Julio Franco, MLB, 49

Before 40: Franco was a three-time All-Star, won the 1991 AL batting title and accumulated more than 2,000 hits.

After 40: After stints in Japan, Mexico and Korea, Franco hit .285 in in parts of seven seasons with the Braves and the New York Mets. He played his final MLB game at age 49 in 2007. He played in the Mexican League in 2008 and appeared in seven games for the independent Fort Worth Cats in 2014. Last year, Franco served as a player-manager in a Japanese independent league at age 57. "If you're a certain age, they want to run you out," Franco said in 2005. "It's simple. Don't stereotype. Can you do the job? Yes or no? Look at the ability."

Jamie Moyer, MLB, 49

Before 40: Moyer was the quintessential soft-tossing lefty journeyman, quietly finding a way to get guys out without looking particularly impressive.

After 40: Like the Energizer Bunny, Moyer kept going and going and going. Moyer's final win came on May 16, 2012, when he was 49 with the Colorado Rockies, making him the oldest pitcher in MLB history to record a win and the oldest player to knock in a run (on a bizarre two-RBI infield single, no less).

Martina Navratilova, Tennis, 49

Before 40: During her prime, Navratilova dominated women's tennis, winning 18 Grand Slam titles in singles, 31 in doubles and seven in mixed doubles.

After 40: After retiring from singles in 1995, Navratilova returned for a second act in 2000 at age 44, joking, "The ball doesn't know how old I am." She won 12 more doubles titles and three more mixed doubles Grand Slam titles -- the last one in 2006, a month shy of her 50th birthday. "Every time we walked on the court, it was like a rock concert," said Lisa Raymond, one of Navratilova's doubles partners.

Bernard Hopkins, Boxing, 51

Before 40: Hopkins had been at least one organization's world middleweight champion for 10 years when he hit 40 and carried a career mark of 45-2-1 with 32 KOs.

After 40: In 2011, at 46, The Executioner surpassed George Foreman atop the list of oldest world champions by beating Jean Pascal for the WBC light heavyweight title. Three years later, a 49-year-old Hopkins unified the WBA and IBF light heavyweight titles with a split-decision win against Beibut Shumenov. "Money is great, but history is something that you can never get rid of and act like it didn't happen," Hopkins said afterward. Hopkins lost his last bout by TKO to Joe Smith Jr. on Dec. 17, 2016.

Gordie Howe, NHL, 52

Before 40: Mr. Hockey helped lead the Red Wings to four Stanley Cup championships and won six Hart trophies as the NHL MVP.

After 40: Howe earned his 20th and 21st NHL All-Star selections after turning 40. He also played alongside sons Mark and Marty in six World Hockey Association seasons and made his final NHL appearance at age 52 after the WHA's Hartford Whalers joined the NHL. At age 69, Howe skated one shift for the IHL's Detroit Vipers in 1997, marking the sixth decade in which he had played professionally.

Satchel Paige, MLB, 59

Before 40: Paige played 18 seasons in the Negro Leagues, including stints with the Birmingham Black Barons, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Kansas City Monarchs.

After 40: After MLB was desegregated, Paige played in the majors at 42 and went 28-31 with a 3.29 ERA in six seasons with the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Kansas City Athletics. At age 59, he pitched three innings -- giving up only one hit -- for the Athletics in 1965. In all, Paige pitched professionally for 40 years. "Age is a question of mind over matter; if you don't mind, it doesn't matter," he once said.

Jack Nicklaus, Golf, 65

Before 40: The Golden Bear had won 15 of his record 18 majors and staked his claim on the title of greatest golfer in history.

After 40: Nicklaus won two majors in 1980, the year he turned 40, but managed just two PGA Tour victories from 1981 to 1985. At the 1986 Masters, however, vintage Jack was back. The 46-year-old Nicklaus shot a blistering 6-under 30 on the back nine in the final round to become the oldest winner in the tournament's history. "I might have been 46, but my nerves were still good." Nicklaus told Golf Digest in 2011. "And I did not want to leave the game playing poorly."

Sam Snead, Golf, 70

Before 40: Slammin' Sammy's 1952 Masters victory a month before his 40th birthday was his sixth career major.

After 40: Snead added a seventh major at the 1954 Masters, but that might not be his most impressive post-40 victory. Snead was less than two months shy of his 53rd birthday when he won the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open. "I don't feel very old," Snead said afterward. "In fact, right now I feel pretty young." More than 50 years later, he's still the oldest golfer to win a PGA Tour event.

Johnette Howard, Paul Lukas, Arash Markazi, Thomas Neumann, Mike Reiss and Kevin Stone contributed to this story.