Life begins at 40 for a football player only if you have the will to score a Spartan victory over yourself, because only then do you have a fighting chance against Father Time. Tom Brady won’t be playing in Super Bowl 2022. But Andrew Whitworth will be. And it is Whitworth, age 40, who now will be carrying the banner for the Life Begins at 40 crowd.
“Yeah it’s wild to think there’s only two of us at this time. … It’s unbelievable, to even think I’d be in the conversation with somebody like that, right? It just blows my mind,” Whitworth told The Post.
“I was filling something out the other day for one of our end-of-the-year medical things, and in the sheet it said 40 years old, and I don’t why but I was like, ‘What?’ And then I realized like, ‘Actually I am 40. Damn.’ It still hasn’t resonated with me sometimes.”
It undoubtedly resonates with Brady, with George Foreman — Andrew Whitworth plays left tackle for Sean McVay, the 36-year-old head coach of the Rams. Whitworth will be chasing that elusive first Super Bowl ring against Zac Taylor, the 38-year-old coach of the Bengals, the team for which he played 11 seasons.
“I guess the hardest part really playing at my age is seems like in the last five years there’s always like some injury that I get that maybe when I was younger I either didn’t get it or I could get over it really fast,” Whitworth said. “And now, it’s like, ‘Oh man, you’ve had surgery on this ankle, you’ve had surgery on this knee, you’ve got this knee, your MCL’s loose, or if your PCL’s torn on this knee, messed up this shoulder, you tore this elbow. So it’s like you start having little things and you’re like, ‘Crap. All the different injuries are kinda like bugging me right now.’ I think the thing that maybe guys don’t understand or even respect that have played that age is I don’t have a single day, like in the last five years, where like I feel good. Like there’s not a ‘Oh man, I feel 100 percent today, I’m ready to ride.’ I don’t even have that day anymore. When you’re young, you might get banged up, but then like by Thursday or Friday you have a day where you’re like, ‘Oh man, I feel awesome,’ like ‘I can’t wait to run into a wall.’ Like that day doesn’t exist anymore.
“So it’s like constantly every single day is a mental, physical grind to talk yourself into what’s possible, and what you can get through, and what you’re able to do. And then get yourself to Sunday and be able to play at a high level amidst all the things that you’re kinda fighting through.”
If you want to be Forever Young, be forever in love with the game.
“Yeah you gotta love the game at a really high level to play at my age, there’s no doubt about that,” Whitworth said. “I’m not gonna be the type of guy that’s gonna sit out here and go, ‘Well I’m gonna go compare myself, I’m better than this guy and that guy,’ but I will say this — you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody that has the passion and the want-to because I see guys sit out every Sunday for things much less than I would ever even imagine. These past couple of years I’ve actually had to miss a couple of games here or there and it’s been like the first time in my career that’s happened. It blows my mind that it’s possible. That’s the tough part, you gotta love the game to play it at my age every week.
“Sometimes that thing of like, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ has kinda been the mind game I’ve played on myself for a really, really long time. And it drives me to like seize the moment, basically, Like, ‘Hey, this might be your last game ever, this is your last time to ever play.’ I’ve constantly done that to myself for probably seven, eight years.’ And it’s like eventually that’s gonna take its toll, and it really is gonna be the last one.”
He was a second-round pick out of LSU in 2006 who never imagined this kind of career. Who could? Whitworth was Pro Football Focus’ fifth-highest graded tackle this season. It thrills him that so many rival coaches and players tell him after games what an inspiration he has been to them and for them.
“You got lots of things that are your whys,” Whitworth said. “Obviously for me now it’s been really over the last probably four years, you’re entering territory every time you go out and play — every start, really. You’re entering territory of, ‘Nobody’s ever done this.’ And how many people have? There’s only two, there’s only three, there’s only four. You’re almost counting down the list of how many guys have started as many games as you at left tackle or in general on the offensive line, and how many guys at your age are still playing in general across the NFL? It’s like, ‘ feel good enough, I still love it, I still have a passion for it, I’m gonna keep checking off boxes that put me in really rare positions to look back one day and go man, I can’t believe that this age I was playing and playing at this level.”
His training across the years — which has included CrossFit, MMA, jujitsu and boxing — and his diet — leaner and cleaner during the offseason — have clearly paid dividends. He played in 168 of a possible 178 games in 11 years with the Bengals. He tore his MCL and missed seven games at 39 with the Rams.
“I’ve got enough battle wounds and scars that I definitely don’t feel 22 anymore,” Whitworth said. “Your body talks to you every single day. But I definitely don’t feel 40. I feel a little bit more of a mid-30s guy, or somebody playing in their 30s that’s played a long career.”
The game has changed. Whitworth has changed with it.
“All throughout my career, I was always finding a way to find a new version of myself, or reinvent myself to how the game changed a bunch from the moment I got in it to where it is now. It’s almost a complete different football game,” Whitworth said.
Now the Bengals stand between him and the Lombardi Trophy.
“What’s funny about it is it’s almost like less stressful to me because it’s kind of like, ‘Man, what a cool opportunity,’ a franchise that I poured my heart and soul into that I know a piece of me’s still there, in a city that I love so much,” Whitworth said. “For them to accomplish this and to be there, and for me to be there too, I couldn’t dream of a better scenario to get back to a Super Bowl. I’m just so excited for everybody. I’m ready to go compete and try to win the game, but I couldn’t be more elated for the city of Cincinnati but also for us. Honestly, it’s like one of those things that makes you just so grateful. I’m just so happy to be exactly where I’m at. I can’t wait to go through the week, I can’t wait to prepare, I can’t wait to go out and play those guys. I got a lot of people there I care about. Honestly, if I do retire, it’s gonna be one of the greatest moments I’ve ever had in my life, the last game I ever play, which I don’t know how you could ever draw it up better.”
He was denied a Super Bowl LIII ring by the Patriots and offered perspective afterwards when he said that you will be remembered more for how you respond to such a crushing defeat. “At the end of the day, we’re all gonna die,” Whitworth said.
What if he wins this one? Would he ride off into the sunset?
“I’m such a gullible guy when it comes to going out and riding with the guys — it’d be pretty easy to talk me into playing football,” Whitworth said. “But I don’t know, that’s why it’s such a hard question, ’cause to me it’s like I gotta get away from the season, assess where my body’s at and then figure it out, and then also find out if the Rams want me back. And if they want me back, then that’s a whole different conversation, and just something that right now I’m just not prepared to really chew on.”
One day, he’ll be chewing on the Hall of Fame.