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Top 16 athletes over 35 of all-time: From Tom Brady to Serena Williams to Gordie Howe

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 7/17/2019 Scott Gleeson
Tom Brady standing in front of a crowd © Provided by USA Today Sports Media Group LLC

The prime of professional athletes' careers doesn't last forever, but there are many examples of those who have defied age and performed well later in their careers.

Here's a look at 16 of some of the most successful athletes who have evaded the tolls of Father Time by thriving since turning 35 (in no particular order): 

Tom Brady, 41 — active. The New England Patriots quarterback has six Super Bowl rings, including last season — another Pro Bowl campaign. Brady's a surefire Hall of Famer and will be in the debate for the best ever based on both success (he's a four-time Super Bowl MVP, three-time season MVP) and durability (2019 will be his 20th season). But his playoff success in the latter stages of his career stands out, starting with the fact that he has played in more Super Bowls (nine) than road playoff games (seven). According to Pro Football Reference, Brady's statistics since turning 35 would still rank him fourth all-time in playoff passing yards (5,284), sixth in playoff touchdowns (34) and ninth in player passer rating (95.3). Not bad for a sixth-round pick.  

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Tiger Woods, 43 — active. The 15-time major golf champ is widely regarded as one of the best golfers — and athletes — of the generation. After bursting onto the scene in the late 1990s (winning the 1997 Masters by a record 12 strokes), Woods remained a dominant force by winning 13 major championships stretching into his 30s. While personal and health struggles kept Woods  without a major title for the early part of this decade, he punctuated a comeback from back surgery by winning the 2019 Masters — fist-pumping like he did in his 20s and showing optimism for his 40s. 

Serena Williams, 37 — active. The 23-time Grand Slam tennis champ has gone on a majors drought since her daughter was born in 2017 after her Australian Open title (while eight weeks pregnant). But she's been in three finals since — in the 2018 U.S. Open, plus Wimbledon the last two years — and remains the top name in major tournaments. While Williams' career achievements have come early and in the middle of her career, she'd been at her most dominant form well into her 30s — winning four consecutive majors (the 2014 U.S. Open, 2015 Australian Open, 2015 French Open and 2015 Wimbledon). 

Jaromir Jagr, age 47 — active. The right wing played in the NHL until 2018, spanning a three-decade-plus long career in the league and overseas that began in 1990. He has the second most points in NHL history and became the oldest to record a hat trick in 2015 while playing at a high level into his 40s. He's still playing in the Czech Republic Hockey League.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, retired age 43. The Hall of Fame big man known for his skyhook and goggles won four of his six career NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers after he turned 35. He played at an All-Star level right up until his retirement. He was Finals MVP in '85 at age 38 and first-team All-NBA in '86 at 39. 

Barry Bonds, retired age 43. Bonds won four consecutive MVP awards from 2001-04 — all in his late 30s — and went on to become the oldest player to win the NL batting title at 38 in 2002.  Significant circumstantial evidence tying Bonds to the BALCO doping scandal is for now keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. 

Roger Federer, 37 — active. Federer's tennis legacy will be tied to both greatness and longevity. The 20-time Grand Slam tennis champ (the record holder for men's players) is ahead of current tennis juggernauts Rafael Nadal (16) and Novak Djokovic (16) in majors but perhaps most impressive about Federer's career has been his ability to challenge both those players in semifinals and championships — and stay right behind them in ATP rankings. In his prime, Federer was the world No. 1 for a record 237 consecutive weeks, a stretch in which he achieved the coveted Career Grand Slam. His epic five-set tiebreaker loss to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final this month will sting, but the performance also encapsulates Federer's redefining of an age barrier in the sport. 

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, died at 45. Before the renowned golfer died of cancer in 1956, she was still at the top of her game and atop the LPGA Tour. She won the U.S. Open, her 10th and final career major, by 12 strokes at age 43 in 1954.  A two-time gold medalist in track and field at the 1932 Olympics, she is considered one of the best female athletes of all-time. 

Jack Nicklaus, retired age 65. The golfing legend won six of his record 18 major championships after 35, including the 1986 Masters when a 46-year-old Nicklaus became the oldest winner in the tournament's history. 

Gordie Howe, retired age 52. He earned his 20th and 21st NHL All-Star selections after turning 39 and made his final NHL appearance in his 50s. The former MVP spearheaded the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cup titles in his 26-season career and topped 90 points four times when he came out of retirement to play alongside his sons in the World Hockey Association. 

Bernard Hopkins, retired age 51. Nicknamed "The Executioner," Hopkins was known for his longevity and productivity at an older age. Hopkins became the oldest world champion ever when he beat Jean Pascal at 46 for the WBC light heavyweight title. Then, at 49, he beat Beibut Shumenov in a split decision for the WBA and IBF light heavyweight titles. 

Martina Navratilova, retired age 49. Revered for her prowess on the singles (18 Grand Slams) and doubles (31 Grand Slams) courts in the 1980s and early '90s, Navratilova un-retired in 2000 to punctuate her career. She went on to win 12 more doubles titles and three more mixed doubles Grand Slams. That puts her total mark at 59 Grand Slams. Navratilova also won a singles match in the first round of Wimbledon in 2004 at age 47 — making her the oldest player to win a Grand Slam singles match in the open era. 

Satchel Paige, retired age 48. Paige became the oldest rookie in MLB history at 42 after the league was desegregated. He brought more than two decades of experience and prowess from the Negro Leagues. He pitched for 40 years in all and went 28-31 with a 3.31 ERA in five MLB seasons with the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns. In 1965, at age 59, he pitched three innings and gave up one hit in a return game with the Kansas City Athletics.

Nolan Ryan, retired age 46. Ryan led the league in strikeouts for four consecutive years, the last of which was when he was 43. He also had two of his record seven career no-hitters after 43.

George Blanda, retired age 48. Blanda played 26 seasons of pro football in the AFL and NFL over the course of four decades from 1949-1975. The former quarterback and placekicker retired in 1976 as the oldest to play at 48. He topped 3,000 passing yards after age 36 and 37 and made 62.7% of his field-goal attempts after turning 40.  

Dara Torres, retired age 45. The American swimmer made multiple comebacks in her career. She returned to the pool for the 2000 Olympics after seven years out of competitive swimming and then again at the 2008 Games — where she became the oldest U.S. Olympic swimmer in history at age 41 and the first American swimmer to compete in five Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008). In U.S. trials for the 2008 Beijing Games, she set an American record for the 50-meter freestyle, then won silver in the 50-meter freestyle, 4×100-meter medley relay, and 4×100-meter freestyle relay at that Olympics.

Honorable mentions:

George Foreman, Gaylord Perry, Phil Mickelson, Roger Clemens, Phil Niekro, Pete Rose, Hank Aaron, Randy Johnson, Bartolo Colon, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Jerry Rice, Adam Vinatieri, John Stockton, Chris Chelios, Kerri Walsh Jennings, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Top 16 athletes over 35 of all-time: From Tom Brady to Serena Williams to Gordie Howe

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