The classic photo was taken 43 years ago: Y.A. Tittle, 38 years old, kneeling helmetless, blood dripping from his bald head, the victim of one too many hits in a Hall of Fame career that was soon to end.
Contrast that with a picture of a graying Brett Favre, who will turn 38 in nine days, grizzled but happy after setting a career record for touchdown passes; rejuvenated now with an unbeaten team.
Who knows when his career will end? The way he's playing and winning, he might go until he's 45.
Just look at Sunday, when Favre threw touchdown passes Nos. 421 and 422 in Minneapolis, moving past Dan Marino for first on the career list.
That record-setting performance emphasized again that for NFL quarterbacks life isn't necessarily over at 32 or 35 or even 38. Medical advances, conditioning, and avoiding injuries can extend careers, especially at a position where the head is as important as the physical tools.
When Favre does retire, though, he's not likely to hold the TD mark for long.
Peyton Manning, just 31, is currently seventh with 283. Like the Green Bay QB, he doesn't miss games, and he's averaging 30 TD passes a season for his first nine years.
Manning doesn't worry about such things.
``I feel happy for him,'' he said of Favre. ``... It's amazing that he's playing this well at this point of his career. He's still running around, his arm's still alive. It's a real credit to him. I don't see him slowing down anytime soon.''
It pays to have experience at quarterback.
Take, for example:
- Jeff Garcia. At 37, he's playing as well for Tampa Bay as he did last year when he took over for an injured Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia and led the Eagles to the NFC East championship. A perfect fit for the West Coast offense run by both the Eagles and Bucs, he's completed 64.4 percent of his passes, has a passer rating of 98.9 and, most important of all, hasn't thrown an interception.
Asked Sunday why his team is 3-1 after finishing 4-12 last season, coach Jon Gruden replied: ``Last year, we were playing rookies at quarterback.''
- Jon Kitna, Detroit. He's 35, the Lions are 3-1, and he's thrown eight touchdown passes in four games. For most of his career, he's been a sometime backup whose reputation has been that he'll put up numbers but will make the mistake that will beat you. So far this season, he hasn't done that. Maybe he's learned with age.
- Kurt Warner, 36, Arizona. He's excelling in a system that's not supposed to work, a platoon with second-year man Matt Leinart. That's a two-time NFL MVP and 2000 Super Bowl MVP relieving a former Heisman Trophy winner when coach Ken Whisenhunt senses it's time for a no-huddle offense. So far, the traditionally awful Cardinals are 2-2 and Warner's passer rating of 125.1 is nearly double Leinart's. Two weeks ago, the veteran nearly brought the Cardinals back from 17 points down in Baltimore.
- Daunte Culpepper, Oakland. He's only 30 and should be in his prime after a brilliant start to his career. He was derailed by a serious knee injury in Minnesota two years ago, struggled in Miami last season and was cut loose by the Dolphins three months ago. On Sunday, he started his first game for the Raiders in Miami, threw two TD passes and ran for three scores and said (it had to be with tongue in cheek) that there wasn't any extra motivation.
``He had a chip on his shoulder,'' said teammate Warren Sapp, another graybeard. ``He wanted revenge.''
That doesn't mean all veterans succeed. Brian Griese replaced Rex Grossman for Chicago in Detroit on Sunday and threw three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. Grossman had done the same the previous week.
And it doesn't mean all youngsters fail. Witness the heroics of Tony Romo for Dallas this season in his first full year as a starter.
Still, when rookie Trent Edwards, a third-round draft pick, led Buffalo to its first victory, 17-14 over the New York Jets on Sunday, he was the first rookie to win his first start since Drew Henson for the Cowboys in November 2004. In the interim, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, 12 others had lost, including Leinart, Vince Young, Alex Smith and Jay Cutler, all high first-round draft picks.
Even the stellar quarterback class of 2004 hasn't quite blossomed yet.
Yes, Ben Roethlisberger won a Super Bowl with the Steelers two seasons ago, but that was primarily because of the talent surrounding him. Injury and illness caused Roethlisberger to slip back last season. While he's playing well this year, he had a bad game Sunday in Arizona, throwing two interceptions, including one in the end zone that contributed mightily to a 21-14 loss, Pittsburgh's first this season.
Philip Rivers is struggling in San Diego in his second year as a starter with five touchdown passes, six interceptions and a passer rating of 76.0.
Eli Manning of the Giants, who has suffered by comparison with his brother, has been up and down in his four seasons, although his stats aren't very different than Peyton's were in his first four.
In other words, it takes time for an NFL quarterback to get things just right.
Favre is the perfect example.
When Mike Holmgren coached him a decade and more ago, he'd cringe every time Favre threw off his back foot or into a crowd. He did it often, assuming his arm strength would let him throw the ball through defenders to a receiver. It often worked, but sometimes it didn't.
Nearing 38, his arm almost as strong, Favre has learned the lessons Holmgren tried with mixed success to teach him. On the record-setting touchdown pass Sunday, he read ``man coverage'' in a Minnesota defense that didn't necessarily look that way, went over to Greg Jennings to tell him to adjust his route, then hit Jennings for a 16-yard score.
He probably would have done the same thing in 1997. But not the same way.
Experience at quarterback is a great thing.
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