Garber: History now on Broncos' side

Garber: Great Dane and a pup with pedigree

QBs make for Super contrast

Focal Point: Chandler vs. Broncos secondary

Peyton trying to take things slowly

  Tuesday, Jan. 26 3:55pm ET
Older QBs definitely prove wiser
By Greg Garber, special to

For 11 NFL seasons, quarterback Vinny Testaverde's legacy was losing. His teams in Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Baltimore were 61-113-1 (.351). He made the playoffs once, with the Browns in 1994, and it probably landed him his job this season with the New York Jets.

 John Elway
 John Elway, 38, isn't the only NFL quarterback thriving in the twilight of his career.

It was Jets defensive coordinator Bill Belichick -- the Browns' head coach in 1994 -- who recommended Testaverde to coach Bill Parcells.

"One of the things that coach Parcells told me early in camp was, 'Use your running backs, your tight ends more,' " Testaverde said. "'Try not to scramble as much. Throw the ball away when you have to. That will help you be a better quarterback.'

"For years, when people mentioned that I wouldn't believe that, because I felt like I could run with the football. I didn't need to use my backs and tight ends. And just by not being as stubborn and listening to one head coach, it helped me a great deal."

The rest, of course, is history. Testaverde, in his 12th season, had a breakthrough year. He completed 61.6 percent of his passes, threw 29 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. He was the NFL's No. 2-ranked passer and was voted to play in the Pro Bowl.

Wisdom. Maturity. Experience. It all happened for Testaverde at the advanced age of 35. Considering the difficulty of the position -- there is none more challenging in professional sports -- this actually makes sense.

It's kind of like when you realize, at the age of 25, that your grandparents are a lot smarter than you gave them credit for. Or, at the age of 35, that your parents just might have a clue.

Going into the 1998 season, the major storyline was the arrival of rookie quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. And although Manning had a deceptively terrific debut with Indianapolis, the story as we head toward Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami is, well -- there is no kind way to say this -- old quarterbacks.

Denver's John Elway is 38. His Atlanta counterpart, Chris Chandler is 33. And if they are, by the definition of age in athletics, venerable, what does that make their backups, who average more than 40 years each? Incredibly, the Falcons' Steve DeBerg turned 45 last week. Denver's Bubby Brister, who won four starts when Elway was injured, is a only a slightly-less-brittle 36.

This is no fluke. Look at the six quarterbacks in the Pro Bowl: Elway, Testaverde and Chandler will be joined by San Francisco's Steve Young (37), Buffalo's Doug Flutie (36) and Minnesota's Randall Cunningham (35). That's an average age of 35.6. And it's no accident that four of the five top-rated passers led their teams into the conference championship games.

There's more evidence, too. Of the 12 quarterbacks who started playoff games, eight were 32 or older. Arizona's Jake Plummer (24) was the only Generation Xer; Jacksonville's Mark Brunell (28) and Green Bay's Brett Favre (29) are pushing 30 themselves.

What does it mean? An older quarterback who can still move around just enough to avoid the rush -- hello, there, Dan Marino -- is smarter and more effective than a younger quarterback.

Young, Cunningham and Flutie were notorious scramblers early in their careers; they didn't always believe their porous offensive lines at Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and New England were capable of creating functional pockets. Like Testaverde, they eventually calmed down.

"I can't run around like I used to," Flutie said. "Guys that maybe early in their career -- Steve Young or Elway or myself -- we just scrambled. Sometimes we'd look at one guy, it wasn't there, so you took off. Now, maybe you hang with the receiver a little longer. Maybe you come off a read.

"The bottom line is, you've seen things over and over, so your reads are crisper and more exact."

Veteran quarterbacks talk of seeing a slower game.

"Each year it gets slower and slower," Brunell said. "The field seems to get a little bigger, guys seem to slow down a bit. You're just able to see everything develop, able to see what the defense is doing. Things are clicking much faster.

"I think Elway, Randall Cunningham -- all those guys -- will tell you that they're still learning."

The problem is the NFL makes bodies old before their time. Even Favre, who was the league's MVP for three years running, is not quite physically what he was.

"Mentally," Favre says, "I feel really sharp. But sometimes I come off the field and tell my quarterback coach 'I saw this, I saw that, but I didn't really play the play the way I should have.' I think sometimes even though mentally you see everything much clearer than you did five years ago, that your body is not quite as quick as your mind.''

Young, whose elastic mobility seems to defy the laws of time and space, not to mention physics, agrees.

"I think it was Neil Lomax who told me the most frustrating thing in a quarterback's career is when he learns how to play NFL football, his career is over," Young said.

"There's some glory years, where if you play long enough and you've figured the game out, and physically you're still healthy enough, there are some years in there where you can really be productive. And those are fun years."

Like Testaverde, former Giants quarterback Phil Simms had his most effective, efficient season late in his career with Parcells on the sideline. After years of listening to Parcells urge him to give up on plays a little more quickly and not force the ball into places it didn't fit, Simms finally calmed down and acted on the advice.

In 1990, his 11th season, he led the league with fewest interceptions (four) and had the best passer rating of his career. Simms didn't play in the Super Bowl that season because he broke his foot, but he proved an old quarterback could learn new tricks. Naturally, three seasons later he was out of the league.

"They say, 'Sorry, we're trying to get younger,' " said Simms, now an analyst for CBS. "You really do get to the point where you understand things and then it's time to go. It was good to see all those guys get the opportunity to succeed this year. They found systems they were comfortable in and they thrived.

"You know, I'm only 44, younger than DeBerg. You think I could find a job somewhere?"

Greg Garber, a regular contributor to's NFL coverage, will write a daily column during Super Bowl week.

Copyright 1995-98 ESPN/Starwave Partners d/b/a ESPN Internet Ventures. All rights reserved. Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form. Privacy Policy (Updated 01/08/98). Use of this site signifies your agreement to the Terms of Service (Updated 01/12/98).