A career as a professional football player does not last forever. It is one of the most grueling sports in existence. The amount of abuse one puts their body through to play through an entire season is unparalleled. Because of this, it is very rare to see somebody dressing up with a pro football team over the age of 40.
When a young man enters the NFL draft in his early twenties, he can pretty much expect to retire long before his 40th birthday. Most players who get drafted will only play four to six years in the NFL. Some will not even make it long enough to play a single year in the league. When we see someone over 30 years old take the field, we automatically assume their career is coming to an end shortly.
There is, however, a list of players who made it longer than most. These are known as the NFL’s 40 and Over Club. The club only has 55 members. Many of these players were placekickers. However, the list does include some of the finest talents to ever grace the gridiron. This list ranks the greatest of them all. It is based on how impressive they were over the entire course of their careers. Because of this, all but one of the players listed are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The lone member who is not in the Hall will be soon, though.
10 Jackie Slater - OT - Retired at 41
Jackie Slater is the legendary offensive tackle for the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams. He spent his entire twenty-year career with the Rams organization. Slater is tied with two other players for the longest tenure with a single team. He was elected to seven Pro Bowls during his career and retired from the NFL at age 41. He is a member of the 2001 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.
9 Len Dawson - QB - Retired at 40
Len Dawson was one of the best quarterbacks the AFL had to offer. He is best remembered for his years starting for the Dallas Texans/ Kansas City Chiefs organization. During his time with the organization, he was elected to six AFL All-Star games and one NFL Pro Bowl. He led three teams to victory in the AFL Championship game and was the MVP of Super Bowl IV. Dawson retired at 40 years old and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
8 Warren Moon - QB - Retired at 44
Warren Moon’s impressive career spanned four different decades. He began his professional football career in the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos. After five years with the Eskimos, he was picked up by the Houston Oilers. He would play with the Oilers from 1984 to 1993 before going to short stints with the Vikings, Seahawks, and Chiefs. The nine-time Pro Bowler led the NFL in passing yards in 1990 and 1991. Moon’s 49,325 career passing yards place him sixth all-time in NFL history. He retired from professional football at age 44 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. At age 57 he is still involved with the NFL as a broadcaster and a mentor to young quarterbacks.
7 George Blanda - QB - Retired at 48
George Blanda holds the record for being the oldest person to ever play professional football. He competed at a high level as a quarterback and kicker until the age of 48. His 340 games played are the most all-time. During his career, Blanda made four Pro Bowls and was the AFL Player of the Year in 1960 and the AFC Player of the Year in 1970. He was a three-time AFL Champion as a member of the Oilers and Raiders. He led the AFL in passing yards in 1961 and 1963, and lead the league in passing touchdowns in 1961. He retired as the NFL’s all-time leading scorer. Blanda was enshrined in Canton in 1981. He died o September 28th, 2010 at the age of 83.
6 Bruce Matthews - OL - Retired at 40
Bruce Matthews is widely regarded as the best offensive lineman in professional football history. His entire 19-year career was spent as a member of the Houston Oilers/ Tennessee Titans organization. In 1999, he helped the Titans claim the AFC crown. Matthews is tied with Merlin Olsen for having been elected to 14 Pro Bowls, the most of all time. He is a member of the 1990’s NFL All Decade Team and the 2007 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class.
5 Jim Thorpe - RB - Retired at 40
For those of you who do not know who Jim Thorpe is, he is the man who put professional football on the map. By signing with the Canton Bulldogs in 1915, he became the first star athlete to play professional football. Prior to his career in football, he was a start college football player, a baseball player, and an Olympic gold medalist. When the NFL’s predecessor, the American Professional Football Association, was formed, Thorpe was elected as the new league’s first president. He lead the Canton Bulldogs to APFA championships in 1916, 1917, and 1919 as the standout running back and coach of the team. Thorpe retired at 40 years old due to financial problems caused by the Great Depression. He was a member of the first class to be enshrined in Canton. Jim Thorpe tragically died at the age of 64 due to complications from years of alcohol abuse.
4 Bruce Smith - DE - Retired at 40
Bruce Smith is the arguable the best defensive player of all time. He is a member of the NFL’s All Decade Teams for the 1980s and 1990s. Smith went to 11 Pro Bowls during his career and was named the Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1996. He was a member of the Buffalo Bills team that went to four straight Super Bowls and is the only player in the history of professional football to have recorded 200 sacks. After retiring at age 40, Smith was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2009.
3 Brett Favre - QB - Retired at 41
Brett Favre is one of the most decorated quarterbacks in NFL history. He was drafted in 1991 by the Atlanta Falcons. After one season on the Falcons bench, he became the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. As a Packer, Favre made 11 Pro Bowl appearances; was a three-time NFL MVP, and was named the MVP of Super Bowl XXXI. He holds the record for most passing yards, most passing touchdowns, most completed passes, and most wins by a quarterback. His final seasons came as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Despite his amazing career, his best statistical season came as a Viking. Favre retired at age 41. He will be up for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
2 Johnny Unitas - QB - Retired at 41
Johnny Unitas was the NFL’s original superstar quarterback. During his career as a member of the Baltimore Colts, Unitas was a three-time NFL champion, a three-time NFL MVP, and a ten-time Pro Bowler. He is also a member of the Colts’ team that won Super Bowl V. Unfortunately; Unitas went down in the fourth quarter of the game and was not on the field when the team celebrated its victory. He retired at age 40 and held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass for 52 years before it was finally broken by Drew Brees. Unitas was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. In 1994, he was named a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All Time Team. Johnny Unitas passed away in 2002 at the age of 69.
1 Jerry Rice - WR - Retired at 42
Jerry Rice’s nickname is the G.O.A.T. It stands for the Greatest of All Time. Rice was a 13-time Pro Bowler. He won three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and was name the MVP of Super Bowl XXIII. He holds nearly every receiving record for both the regular season and post season and was named a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All Time Team in 1994, 11 years before he officially retired from professional football. He finally ended his illustrious career at 42 years old. Rice was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. Since his retirement, Jerry Rice has been called the greatest player in football history by the NFL itself.