Staying healthy—realizing your body takes a toll with the pounding, icing after practices and games, seeing the trainer, getting sleep and eating right can extend the back end of your career. I know I came out of retirement in 1997 at the age of 39 to play for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA. And again in 2008 at the age of 50 to play for the Detroit Shock of the WNBA.
[In terms of longevity] mental [determination] is key—you have to believe and still have the hunger to prepare and compete each day. Yes, physical matters, but when that declines mental is front and center. You can’t be afraid or doubt yourself.
Emmitt Smith: My best display of toughness and durability… it’d have to be the game against the Giants when I separated my shoulder. I was determined to keep running, to keep playing, to win.
Ron Jaworski: In business, you’re going to get knocked down, you’re going to have people beat on you, and you can’t throw in the towel. You have to keep getting better and better. By getting knocked down, I learned those important lessons and those are the ones that stick in your mind.
I try to pass my experience on to younger players. They don’t always listen. When you’re 23 or 24 and making a lot of money, you think you’re invincible. That’s just the nature of the game, and to a certain extent you’ve got to feel that way. But the number one thing, and this is something I understood when I was younger, is the average NFL career is 3.5 years. I try to impress upon these guys that by the time you’re 25, your career is likely over.
I use the same principles that coaches use to motivate and organize their football team. I played for great leaders, and coaching is about leadership. I’m talking about guys like Chuck Knox and Dick Vermeil, Marty Schottenheimer, and Don Shula, the winningest coaches of all time. Those guys were all my mentors and I learned organizational skills and discipline skills from them.
Pete Rose: The surest way to have a short career is to play like you are protecting a long one.
Playing the way I did and avoiding injury was dumb luck. But, I’m sure that if I played any differently, I wouldn’t have played for very long. I wouldn’t have been me. The club would have found a more talented, more valuable guy to replace me. Each game I wanted to send my fans and my teammates home winners.
It was also dumb luck that my job was to play baseball. I really loved it. The folks Joe DiMaggio and I visited in Vietnam on a USO tour in the late ’60s—they had mental toughness, and a real endurance—I was just playing baseball everyday.
Morten Andersen: Career longevity, durability, and general endurance throughout a career is the product of hard work, diligent preparation, stubbornness, and strong will.
Tim Brown First and foremost, longevity and durability in the NFL has a lot to do with being blessed or being lucky! So many times when I would watch a film on Monday, I saw how close I came to someone falling on the back of my legs or how close I came to being knocked by a defender I didn’t see, but one of my teammates picked off!
Taking care of your body is paramount for longevity! Working out constantly, getting massages, visiting chiropractors has to be the norm rather [than] the exception. I saw a masseuse and chiropractor twice a week during the season the last 10 years of my career! REST, that’s something a lot of athletes don’t think about. Without proper rest, you won’t be able to get the best out of your body. My program for most of my career was to workout Monday and Tuesday, REST on Wednesday, then workout hard Thursday and Friday. Finally, ICE and anti-inflammatory meds! I hate to promote that, but without it, I would not have made it through.
Illustrator: Alexandre Korobov at AlexKorobov.tumblr.com.