Mark Rypien is pulling for the veteran quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, to somehow continue to forestall the forces of aging and physical attrition. He understands the ultimate futility of that battle.
But if Charles Darwin were handicapping the NFL’s conference championship games, he’d urge the bettor to beware of the teams led by the hungry youngsters, Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City and Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams.
“I really believe that the dichotomy between the old and the young is going to play a huge role in how these games come out,” said Rypien, the Shadle Park graduate who earned Most Valuable Player honors of Super Bowl XXVI for quarterbacking the Washington Redskins over Buffalo.
“This really could be a changing of the guard,” Rypien said last week. “They’re going against the young guys who are going to be the face of the NFL in the future, so maybe (it’s) the last chances for Tom and Drew to take their teams to championships.”
This inflection point in the evolution of the quarterback species may have been delayed beyond the regular cycle of renewal as the Patriots’ Brady (age 41) and the Saints’ Brees (40) give scant indication of deterioration.
Brady, who is looking for his ninth Super Bowl appearance and his sixth title ring, put up statistics that exceeded his career averages in almost every category. Brees registered the highest passer rating (115.7) and completion percentage (74.4) of his career, leading the NFL in both metrics.
“It’s amazing,” Rypien said of Brady and Brees. “The physical training these guys go through. They’re in their 40s but say they feel like they’re 30.”
Brady’s personalized training regimen has become famous, featuring hydration, nutrition, stretching, massage, and the wearing of some manner of special (presumably magic) pajamas. Brees’ routines are more conventional, but nonetheless maniacal.
Perhaps as important to their longevity are the increasingly protective rules that essentially bubble-wrap quarterbacks like Chihuly glassware being prepped for shipping.
“The rules changes help quarterbacks,” Rypien said. “They’re trying to protect their health and well-being, so you’re not seeing as many lower extremity injuries because (low) hits are penalties. I think it’s allowing quarterbacks to extend their careers.”
Rypien cited the quick maturation of Mahomes and Goff, products of early quarterback camps, enhanced coaching and the expanse of NFL-like schemes all the way down to the high-school ranks.
With astonishing arm strength, the 23-year-old Mahomes led the league in touchdown passes (50) and is considered the presumptive NFL MVP. Goff, 24, is a former No. 1 overall draft pick who finished fourth in the NFL in passing yards and leads a powerful and balanced Rams attack.
“These guys are being schooled at a high level and coming into the NFL having played multiple years at high levels,” Rypien said.
He’s seen it first hand, as his nephew, Brett, starred at Rypien’s old high school, Shadle Park, and went on to start for four years at Boise State.
“Brett was in the same type of system at Shadle that he played at Boise State,” Rypien said.
Brett Rypien competed Saturday in the East-West Shrine game in St. Petersburg, Florida, while Mark Rypien played in the celebrity portion of the LPGA’s Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in Lake Buena Vista.
“Brett’s a good kid and a good athlete,” Mark said. “We’re hoping he gets his shot (in the NFL). Maybe he’ll get drafted by the Redskins and be the next guy to lead them back (to the Super Bowl).
Until his nephew lands in the NFL, Rypien will continue to root for the aging quarterbacks. He knows Brady and Brees from having shared festivities at Super Bowls involving former MVPs.
“Tom was a sixth-round draft pick, like myself,” Rypien said. “So we’ve talked and kidded about that a little bit.”
If Brady can add another Super Bowl championship ring to his collection, it would solidify the argument so many have that he is the best quarterback in NFL history.
“Joe Montana was a lot like Tom, winning a lot of championships,” Rypien said. “Brett Favre played at an amazing level; he was a guy who was fearless. I played with Peyton Manning (Colts, 2001), and I think he may be the smartest, most intellectual quarterback I’ve ever played with.
“Drew has the numbers and he deserves the recognition, to be able to be healthy the number of years he has. But I think Tom has to be at the top.”
Rypien also is a fan of Seattle’s Russell Wilson, whom he says seems to be still improving.
“I believe this was his best year,” he said. “I marvel at the success he had, especially when this was supposed to be a down year. He kind of willed them back into the hunt.”
On Jan. 28, Rypien will join Green Bay Packers Hall of Famer Jerry Kramer at an event at the Bing Crosby theater titled “Super Stories: Tales from our Super Bowl Champions.”
In the meantime, the 56-year-old Rypien will be cheering for Brady and Brees to meet in Super Bowl LIII.
“Taking nothing away from the two young quarterbacks,” Rypien said. “But I’d love to see the older guys going against each other in the big one.”
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