The oil changes and tune-ups have grown more frequent for Tom Brady and James Harrison as their odometers continue to rise. But the NFL’s oldest active non-specialists have kept their vehicles on the road.
No state inspections have been failed along the way.
Brady, born Aug. 3, 1977, completed a career-best 67.4 percent of his passes over 12 games in 2016. The 39-year-old quarterback set a new league record in touchdown-to-interception ratio by tossing 28 scores and only two picks. He threw for 3,554 yards while earning his 12th Pro Bowl honor and second second-team All-Pro selection in the process.
And Harrison, born May 4, 1978, notched five sacks for the third consecutive season to climb to 81.5 for his career. The 38-year-old outside linebacker, who was named the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2008 and has accrued five Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pros and two second-team All-Pros altogether, also stayed out of the service station. He appeared in 15 games and started seven this past campaign, tallying 53 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception through it.
Their longevity has been unlikely. Brady – the 2000 sixth-round pick out of Michigan – and Harrison – the 2002 undrafted free agent out of Kent State who bounced between the Baltimore Ravens and Rhein Fire before returning to the first team to sign him to a professional contract – have been outliers.
Both, though, will be on the field in Foxborough this Sunday as the New England Patriots meet the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.
The 6:40 p.m. ET kickoff will mark Brady’s 11th conference title appearance. For Harrison, it’ll mark his fifth.
There’s inevitably been some overlap between the passer and the pass-rusher over the years. They first encountered one another for a Super Bowl bid on Jan. 23, 2005, when Brady checked in as a fourth-year starter and Harrison checked in as a well-trekked special-teamer. A dozen go-rounds later, their sides have combined to win six Super Bowls and enter for nine.
It’s hard to believe. Yet, here Brady and Harrison are as proof.
“He’s had an incredible career, and I think he’s – he’s been an underdog his whole life,” Brady said of Harrison during his Monday stop by WEEI’s Kirk and Callahan. “I mean, going to Kent State and his whole story – to the Steelers and then he played for the Bengals for a little bit and then he came back to the Steelers and is still playing at an incredibly high level. He works his tail off. I’ve followed his career for a while. So, he’s just been a great player for the Steelers and kind of the heart and soul of that defense. He’s had a great season.”
Either Harrison’s or Brady’s season will end Sunday. The former has brought down the latter for three sacks in nine career meetings. And the latter has outlasted the former’s teams to go 218-of-305 through the air for 19 touchdowns and four interceptions.
But it has been a long run for both to cross paths again. It has taken more than practice reps.
In a recent interview with NFL Network’s Andrea Kremer, Harrison estimated that he spends around $350,000 annually on “body work,” calling upon a trainer, a doctor, a dry-needling specialist, an acupuncturist, two chiropractors as well as three masseuses to sustain his level of play in his advanced football years.
“The problem is going to be trying to keep that up when I’m done playing so that I can still feel good,” said the 6-foot, 242-pound Harrison, who was back at the Steelers’ facility early Monday morning for a workout after Sunday night’s game in Kansas City.
Harrison may not don Under Armour recovery sleepwear, or hold himself to an 8 o'clock bedtime, or avoid nightshades, but there is a standard he, too, has set for himself.
Brady can attest to sticking with what works, having endured a strict diet that excludes caffeine, dairy, white sugar and white flour, according to Bleacher Report’s Dan Pompei. The three-time Super Bowl MVP relies on resistance bands for “about 90 percent” of his training, and works out three times a day during the season under the tutelage of body trainer Alex Guerrero.
“As you get older, obviously this is your body and you’ve got to think long and hard about how you’re going to take care of yourself,” Brady said. “And those things you do when you’re 22 don’t work. You got to think about how, if it’s something you love to do, you’ve got to make the investment in your own body. And [Harrison] seems to have done a great job of that.”
In many ways, like their positions and the demeanor that innately precedes them, Brady and Harrison are polar opposites. In other ways, like their improbable football journeys and the maintenance required to extend them, No. 12 and No. 92 are hard to separate.
Yet while one will be trying to stay close on Sunday night in Foxborough, the other will be trying to keep a distance.