Tom Brady is old, but former Bucs, Chiefs QB Steve DeBerg was older. For now

Steve DeBerg has done the math on Tom Brady’s age.

The former NFL quarterback knows that Brady, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, doesn’t turn 44 until August.

DeBerg also knows that an NFL record is at risk – his own for being the oldest QB ever to start a game, a record he set on Oct. 25, 1998, when DeBerg’s age was 44 years and 279 days.

So if Brady is going to break DeBerg’s record, Brady will need to start at least one game beyond next year’s Super Bowl, no sooner than the start of the regular season in September 2022, when Brady will be 45.

DeBerg, now 67, even discussed the matter during a golf outing before the season with Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians.

Steve DeBerg prepares for Super Bowl XXXIII, where his Atlanta Falcons lost to the Denver Broncos. It was the last game of DeBerg's NFL career.

“I mentioned to him that Brady needs to win the Super Bowl the next two years,” DeBerg told USA TODAY Sports recently as Brady and Arians prepared to lead the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl against Kansas City Feb. 7.

“I like the way you think,” Arians replied, according to DeBerg.

“It’s kind of selfish,” DeBerg told him. “Because if you win the Super Bowl the next two years, I think Brady will probably retire, and he won’t break my record.”

It was worth a chuckle at the time, but then things got weird. Cosmic forces seemed to align and turn back the clock on DeBerg.

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Not only did part of his wish come true with a Super Bowl berth for Brady and Tampa Bay, but the game will be in Tampa, the first time a team will play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. And home is still Tampa for DeBerg, who is having a senior moment as the former starting QB of both Super Bowl teams – the Bucs and Chiefs.  

He played for Tampa Bay (1984-87), then Kansas City (1988-1991), and then Tampa again (1992-93), setting up a whirlwind tour of old times for DeBerg since November, when he watched the Chiefs beat the Bucs in Tampa 27-24.

An old friend even had come to town to visit on Thanksgiving weekend: former Chiefs running back Christian Okoye, DeBerg’s former Chiefs teammate. Their running backs coach back then in Kansas City was Arians, now 68, then in his late 30s.

“We went to the game together,” DeBerg said of Okoye. “I remember telling him, 'I’m predicting this is a preview of the Super Bowl.’ It was wishful thinking at the time.”

Now it’s real, with old man Brady playing an unusual role on a Super Bowl team, much like DeBerg did in 1998 – a player-coach who was old enough to be the father of many of his teammates.

Super Bowl path

One big difference between them is how they got there. Brady, 43, has played in 20 straight seasons since 2000, all of them in New England until this season. By contrast, in the summer of 1998, DeBerg hadn’t played in the NFL since 1993 and even had started a career in coaching as an assistant in 1995-96 under then-New York Giants head coach Dan Reeves.

He wasn’t in the greatest shape back then. But he had a goal: He wanted to be a player-coach as a third-string quarterback, even if it meant he never stepped on the field.

So he sent out letters to select teams, including the Atlanta Falcons, where Reeves was head coach. He asked for a tryout, got one with Atlanta and eventually made the team as a backup behind starter Chris Chandler.

Then Chandler got injured and couldn’t play. In stepped DeBerg to start against the New York Jets, the game in which he set the age record. The Falcons lost 28-3, one of only three losses that season for Atlanta, including the Super Bowl against Denver in January 1999.

“He was such a calming positive influence to me,” Chandler told USA TODAY Sports. Coming off the field during games, Chandler said sometimes he would be upset about the game. DeBerg would see him on the sideline and say, “You’re fine. Relax.”

At the time, Chandler was 33 and a veteran himself after 10 seasons in the league.

“When you have a guy that has been in the league so long, he kind of commanded respect, because he’s been through the wars,” said Chandler, now retired and living in St. George, Utah.  “He was the funniest guy as well.”

Asked for an example of his humor, Chandler said, “You probably can’t print any of it.”

DeBerg’s body still got shocked.

“I remember one game I think we almost got him killed,” said Bob Whitfield, one of DeBerg’s blockers in that game for Atlanta. He believes it was the Jets game.

“He had to come in, and he caught a vicious hit, woo-eee!” Whitfield told USA TODAY Sports. “Somebody missed a blitz pickup, but he got up, wounded. But he got up. That’s saying something.”

Whitfield remembers DeBerg took his share of teasing for being old. DeBerg lapped it up.

“It was an awesome experience, especially helping some of the receivers and some of the young players on the team, encouraging them and trying to help them with suggestions,” said DeBerg, who played in eight games that season including his one start. “The team really blossomed and had a magical year.”

Reeves has said that was the role he wanted DeBerg to play for that team. Arians has said the same about Brady, calling him “another coach.”

DeBerg 'can't lose' in this Super Bowl

This will be Brady’s third Super Bowl since turning 40, an unprecedented feat. But DeBerg is still the oldest player to be on a Super Bowl roster at 45 years, 12 days. Though DeBerg didn’t play in that Super Bowl with Atlanta against Denver, he suited up for it, and it’s still a career highlight.

Before that, his career had been marked by two decades of durability, a footnote stop in Denver, lots of losses in Tampa and a rebound in Kansas City.

“He’s a better player than he got credit for,” Chandler said.

After starting his pro career in San Francisco from 1978-80, he played under Reeves in Denver from 1981-83, paving the way for quarterback John Elway’s arrival there in 1984.

Then came Tampa, where he wore those classic creamsicle orange and white Bucs uniforms but had little success until after he was traded to Kansas City in March 1988. That’s where he helped lead the Chiefs to the playoffs twice, in 1990 and 1991, before finishing there with a starting record of 31-20-1.

He then returned to Tampa as a free agent for his final stint with the Bucs in 1992-93, where he served as a backup to Vinny Testaverde and Craig Erickson. His record as a starter in Tampa was 8-29 over six seasons.  

Nearly 30 years later, he is retired with two children and two grandchildren. He plans to watch the big game with his family at home, where is rooting interest has been smartly considered.

“I’m going to wear a Buccaneers shirt and a Chiefs shirt and a Buccaneers hat and a Chiefs hat and whoever’s on offense I’ll wear that outfit,” he said. “I can’t lose. I really have a good relationship with both organizations.”

Despite what he told Arians before the season, DeBerg also said he’d be fine with Brady breaking his age record. His only advice to him is to stay healthy and don’t get injured.

“He’s the greatest of all time,” DeBerg said. “If somebody’s going to break your record, that’s the guy.”

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