Age issue

The Baltimore Sun

In a society where your age can be viewed as a blessing or a curse, the focus on age is even more pronounced in sports, where athletes who are 30 or older are usually categorized as slower, weaker and less productive.

With a veteran nucleus, the Ravens have been frequently mentioned as a team whose window for winning a Super Bowl is closing.

The team has 10 projected starters who are 30 or older -- center Mike Flynn, defensive tackle Kelly Gregg, linebacker Ray Lewis, wide receiver Derrick Mason, cornerback Chris McAlister, quarterback Steve McNair, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, cornerback Samari Rolle and kicker Matt Stover.

And four more players (running back Mike Anderson, cornerback Corey Ivy, linebacker Gary Stills and tight end Daniel Wilcox) also have reached that stage.

But the Ravens are unfazed about getting older.

"For players in general, I know it's not a factor," Gregg said. "I mean, I feel great, and I'm sure all of the other guys would say the same thing. It's what you do in the offseason to stay healthy. So I don't think age is that big of a deal."

The Ravens aren't the league leaders in projected starters (11 each for offense and defense, kicker and punter) who are 30 and older. The Kansas City Chiefs have 12, and the New England Patriots, St. Louis Rams, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 each.

No one denies that as an athlete gets older, some facets of the game become slightly more difficult. A veteran gets more winded, recovery time from workouts, practices and games becomes longer, and bodies don't respond the way they once did.

Pryce said the daily grind of training, practicing and staying healthy -- not getting older -- is a more significant factor.

"When John Elway retired after 16 years, he could have played another year, and he told us that," said Pryce, who played two seasons with Elway in Denver. "But ... doing the same thing over and over is the big deal. It's not so much, but how long you've been doing it."

But Mason said the older players have one tool to combat age: experience.

"You become smarter. Sometimes it's the old adage: 'Work smarter, not harder,' " he said "In the offseason, you know when to start up your workouts. You know what you need in the offseason to get ready for the next season. ... You've got to learn how to pace yourself and move from there."

Still, many experts have singled out the Ravens as a team whose time is running out. The average age of the projected staring lineup is 28.3, which is more than a year older than the starting lineup that won the Super Bowl during the 2000 season.

McNair, 34, is the fifth-oldest starting quarterback in the NFL (Green Bay's Brett Favre, Tampa Bay's Jeff Garcia, Detroit's Jon Kitna and Miami's Trent Green are older); Ogden has contemplated retirement for the past two years, and some experts have said that Lewis is in the twilight of his career.

But several players aren't buying into the notion that being older means being out of contention. Stover and Mason pointed out that the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl championship team in the 2005 season had 14 starters over the age of 30 and the New England Patriots' title-winning squad in the 2003 season had 11.

Pryce said Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor won the Defensive Player of the Year award at age 32, and that Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash won his two NBA Most Valuable Player awards after he turned 31.

As for those who have already counted the Ravens out? Pryce has a rebuttal.

"I don't see where that comes from," he said, shaking his head. "They think when J.O. and Ray and Steve and those guys retire, all of a sudden the organization is going to stop moving? That's so stupid. That's about the dumbest thing I have ever heard."


Teams with projected starters on offense, defense and special teams who are at least 30 years and older.

12 -- Kansas City.

10 -- Ravens, Miami, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Washington, New England.

9 -- Philadelphia, Seattle, Miami, Denver.

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