New home for the aged: An NFL expansion team More teams mean more ‘senior citizens’ in league

By The Columbia Chronicle

Consider this the next time you think that the NFL is having a youth movement:

When 44-year-old Atlanta Falcons backup quarterback, Steve DeBerg gets sacked again, he’ll be the oldest man shot into space since John Glenn.

DeBerg is old enough to be Glenn’s cousin. But here he is, still playing for the 7-2 Falcons in midseason. DeBerg isn’t the only old dog up to new tricks. With expansion adding two teams in 1995 and the Cleveland Browns next year, more ‘retro’ players are creeping there way back into lineups.

And there is more movement in the works. The NFL is looking to complete a 32-team by the 2002 season with another franchise in Los Angeles and Houston. Who’s the next relic they’ll have to wheel out on the field out of necessity? Neil Lomax? Eric Dickerson? Gary Hogeboom? Brian Sipe? Ickey Woods? Or (gasp) the always-coming-out-of-retirement ageless blunder— Vince Evans?

Hey, Joe Montana, want to come back and play? Those might be stretches of the imagination, but with the decline of quarterbacks coming out of college, teams are relying on the more experienced signal-callers.

Although they may be closer to 50 than they are to their college days, seven teams are currently starting QB’s 35 years of age or older.

Having to suffer through another Sunday watching Tennessee’s Dave Krieg (40) toss balls as accurate as a scud missile or New England’s Henry Ellard (38) trying to hang onto a career and a Drew Bledsoe pass is enough to make you want to scream “Retire already!”

But there are a few who turn back the clock every time they step on the field.

•San Francisco’s Steve Young (37) and Denver’s John Elway (38) are still in prime form. Young currently leads the league in passing, again.

•Doug Flutie (36), in his fifth NFL season after a long Canadien Football League tenure, is yet again leading miraculous comeback after comeback for the resurgent 5-4 Buffalo Bills.

•The 49ers’ Jerry Rice (36) is cooking’ again as Young’s favorite target.

•Kevin Greens (36) is prowling for the sack record. Carolina’s lone star is halfway there with 13 stuffs.

•Chris Doleman (37) left unsigned by Atlanta a few years ago, has kept on the pressure with 30 sacks in the last 37 games for the Niners.

•And what would an old man list be without kickers? Minnesota’s Gary Anderson (39) and Atlanta’s Morten Andersen (38) are about as reliable as chills in December, and just as cold when the game is on the line.

This year there are 47 players born before 1963. Add in the dozen that were born in or before 1960, you have yourself an entire team of over-35 players.

And with the two teams yet to be added, that number will almost certainly go up. As will the Geritol bill.

In their zest for parity, the NFL is becoming a parody. Former commissioner Pete Rozelle’s dream of all 8-8 teams that can win “on any given Sunday” is succeeding, but at what cost?

Fans will almost certainly begin to turn away from the watered-down talent that is seeping back into the NFL.

Can you blame the owners, who are divvying up the over $1 billion they will collect from the Cleveland Browns and the 32nd team?

Can you blame the cities, for wanting to cash in on one of the more lucrative opportunities around?

No. But it is their greed that is creating such a mediocre product every weekend. And as long as we buy into that, they’ll keep growing.

So when commissioner Paul Tagliabue is asked if the NFL will expand beyond 32 teams and he says, “not in my lifetime,” you know who will be the quarterback of that 33rd expansion team when he does pass away…..Steve DeBerg.