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Super Bowl dreams span ages from kid to Weekend Warrior
By Burt Constable | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 2/2/2010 12:00 AM

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On the weekend before Super Bowl I, even though there was a huge age difference between those professional football players and me, I braved the cold, played football outside and imagined I was 33-year-old quarterback Bart Starr.

On the weekend before this Super Bowl, even though there still is a huge age difference between those professional football players and me, I brave the cold, play football outside and imagine I am 33-year-old quarterback Peyton Manning.

It took XLIV years, and while I'm certainly no Manning, I finally reached my original goal. I played football this past weekend as if I were Bart Starr. Of course, Starr just celebrated his 76th birthday. And truth be told, I'm not sure the almost-octogenarian doesn't have more mobility and greater arm strength than I do. But from the shoulders down I certainly feel like a 76-year-old man today as I heal from my annual January football folly with equally competitive old friends.

Even during the game, my 52-year-old eyes scramble to find the open receiver. When they finally lock onto a target, my middle-aged mind struggles to remember if that wide-open player is on my team or the enemy's. The only part of my game that doesn't register the over-50 mark needed for AARP status is my quarterback rating.

On plays when I do nothing more than turn my head, cough and lob an incompletion, I come up limping. However, I always get rejuvenated during the short walk back to the dejected huddle. I look like Kevin Spacey in "The Usual Suspects" morphing from Verbal Kint into Keyser Soze.

My memory is the best part of my game. The older I get, the better I remember I used to be.

But I'm at work Monday, thankful just to be limping. In 2008, more than 166,000 people between the ages of 45 and 64 were treated for injuries related to exercise, according to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. We are Weekend Warrior Baby Boomers.

"You're talking about the core of my practice here," chuckles Dr. Rocco Monto, spokesman for the Rosemont-based American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. "The only thing busier than a Baby Boomer is his orthopedic surgeon. We love Mondays here. It's Shoulder Day."

And sometimes Knee, Elbow, Ankle or Achilles Tendon Day. But Monto says that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"There are a lot or positives that come out of it," notes the surgeon, adding that ours may be the first generation where people in their 50s and 60s are actively playing team sports. Not only do people who play sports get some exercise and try to live healthier, they also get a mental health boost.

"If I save a PK (penalty kick), I'm good all week," notes Monto, a 49-year-old surgeon who still plays pickup soccer on weekends with the same gusto he did as a college goalie.

"I wouldn't say this group of patients is all that mature," adds Monto, who clearly proves he is one of us as he explains why that time he broke his nose doesn't mean he shouldn't be playing soccer any more than my artificial hip means I shouldn't be playing football.

"I'm sure there was a moment during your game when you didn't think about it," Monto says.

Exactly. The sting of my rally-killing third interception still hurts worse today than my hip.

This time of year, it's natural to be enticed into an athletic endeavor where your brain is more confident than your hamstrings. Just stay hydrated, wear the proper equipment, stretch and warm up ("and not just that day," Monto says) and have fun.

On the way home after the football game, I stop at a store to look at elliptical machines. After having watched my Super Bowl dreams head downhill faster than 1968 gold-medal skier Jean-Claude Killy, it dawns on me that I only have 10 more days to train for the 2010 Winter Olympics Weekend Warrior dreams.