Move over, Tom Brady: Rams' Andrew Whitworth relishes new status as NFL's oldest active player

Nate Davis

Andrew Whitworth is so old that ...

Well, he's now so old – 40  as of Dec. 12 – that no active NFL player has a later birthday given that a certain seven-time Super Bowl champion quarterback last seen on a field in Tampa has since retired.

Whitworth, a member of the Super Bowl 56-bound Los Angeles Rams – the team that sent Tom Brady, 44, into his NFL sunset – is so old that no starting left tackle in the history of the century-plus-spanning league was ever as advanced in years. He's even so old that a player drafted a year after Whitworth entered the league as a second-rounder in 2006 – Calvin Johnson – is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

None of this seems to bother Whitworth, a four-time Pro Bowler who's become an organizational and community pillar, in the least. And why should it?

"Everybody's gonna give me the old jokes and (ask), 'Is it positive to be the old guy,' and all that type stuff. But you know, the reality is – yes, it's pretty cool," he said Monday when asked about his new NFL seniority status.

"It's neat for me to go out on the football field and most weeks facing some 22-, 26-, 28-year-old defensive end who thinks that nothing can faze him. And when they get hit, they feel fine. ... And I'm going out there, just trying to put my body together enough to make it through the game and still get my job done. That's so much fun.

"Guys come up to me after the game and just (say), 'Man, what a fan I am of how you do things and getting to watch your career. It's really cool for me."

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Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (77) during the game against the Tennessee Titans at SoFi Stadium.

Hopefully it will be cool for Whitworth to be the subject of a few more old guy teases here. But why not, given how amazing the punchlines are? 

Andrew Whitworth is so old that ... he's actually four years the elder to his current head coach, Sean McVay, who turned 36 last month. 

But apparently that hasn't detracted from their five-year partnership, both men joining the Rams in 2017 and playing key roles in two Super Bowl berths.

"I think we consider ourselves brothers and have a lot of love and passion for one another and what we've been through," said Whitworth, who spent his first 11 seasons with Sunday's opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals.

"But yeah, at times it can be difficult just because I'm the employee, so the boss gets to take some shots and friendly fire every now and then, and I don't get to fire back right now. If I do end up retiring after this game, then maybe one of the first things I'll enjoy the most is I get to fire back a little bit at the boss man."

The boss man certainly has a soft spot for the graybeard – and Whitworth literally has a graying beard – who's been so exceptional over the years while protecting quarterbacks Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford, which is only a small part of what he's meant to the Rams.

“It's amazing. What a great job he did of being such a great leader, great player, productive player, and doing so many things for the Bengals. Then he's done exactly that and more here for us. He's been so important," McVay said recently. "These players, the ones that you love and care about so much – like the Whitworths of the world, the Aaron Donalds – they are really that easy extra motivation to make sure that you're doing everything in your power to help put them in good positions with the little things that we can control.

"I’m so grateful and fortunate. It's the damnedest thing ever that this guy's still doing it at the age of 40. It's awesome.”

This is also awesome. Andrew Whitworth is so old that ... he's now playing against guys whom he counseled as children while with the Bengals.

"This past year (I had) a really cool moment with Derrick Barnes of the Detroit Lions, who I used to go to Boys and Girls Club and love on him when he was just a young kid in Covington, Kentucky," Whitworth said, referencing the city just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.

"And now for him to have made it to the NFL and to come and find me and give me a hug and tell me thank you for all those years that I mentored him – just some surreal, unbelievable moments that have happened to me now playing at this age."

(For the record, Barnes had just one tackle – not a sack – during Detroit's Week 7 loss while going against Old Man Whit's Rams.)

Andrew Whitworth is also so old that ... current Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was 9 when Whitworth embarked on his NFL career.

Despite the geographic gulf and age gap between the former LSU standouts – Whitworth and Burrow are almost exactly 15 years apart – they've managed to become fast friends. In December of 2020, both were rehabbing knee injuries in Southern California, Rams doctor Neal ElAttrache also performing Burrow's reconstruction. 

Whitworth had "admired (Burrow) from afar" and brokered a get-together through ElAttrache, who thought the players would hit it off.

"I'd wanted to meet him forever," said Whitworth, "just to shake his hand, tell him thank you for the national championship at LSU."

He invited Burrow and his girlfriend to the Whitworth household, and they put down their crutches, shared meals, watched football and celebrated birthdays (Burrow's on Dec. 10, two days before Whitworth's).

"Those relationships have been great to bond and cultivate. It gave me a chance to get an inside vision of what that guy's like," Whitworth said, labeling Burrow a "special one" as they talked about Baton Rouge, Cincinnati and life.

"Sitting with him for just that full day, I realized, 'Man, this guy's gonna be a really, really special quarterback for quite some time.'"

Said Burrow of Whitworth: "(T)hat was a cool thing that he did for me. Reaching out to me and making the rehab process a little easier for me being in California away from a lot of people that are close to me. He took me in.

"He’s become a good friend.”

Andrew Whitworth is also so old that ... his lasting impact remains quite evident on former Bengals teammates he played with a half-decade ago.

"I can't speak highly enough about Whit," Cincinnati's C.J. Uzomah said, crediting Whitworth for taking him under his wing and teaching him some of the finer points of a tight end's blocking duties when Uzomah was a quiet fifth-round rookie in 2015.

"If Whit's saying something, I'm gonna do it. That meant a lot, it meant a lot to have a veteran, especially a veteran who was as good as he was on the field and as great of a man as he is off the field, to take a second (with me)."

Bengals wideout Tyler Boyd had a similar experience after being the 55th pick of the 2016 draft – one decade after Whitworth was the 55th selection himself.

"He was one of the guys who played a big role to me as a rookie," said Boyd. "He's a family man first of all, and he's really, really, really determined to be a great leader and a father. He takes pride in everything he does. And, despite his age, it doesn't seem that way, because he does his job to perfection.

"He was the main guy who actually talked to me and told me the ins and outs of just being a player in the league. He was basically that leader-figure for me to understand how to be a pro. And I appreciate him for that a lot."

Andrew Whitworth is so old that ... it seems everyone in the NFL and, more importantly, the places he's lived, appreciates him at this point.

The Rams' Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee four years running, Whitworth finally won what the league considers its most prestigious honor Thursday night. He's heavily involved with helping veterans, families with housing insecurity, food banks, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and social justice initiatives and has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to these causes. 

"Just being able to say, 'You know what, even in the good times, can I make sure I'm making things about other people? And that will help when I go through the bad times," said Whitworth, who's also been focused on donating his time and money to local Los Angeles businesses struggling to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking of survival, Andrew Whitworth is so old that ... he's entering what might be the final game of his illustrious 16-year career, his long-sought Lombardi Trophy on the line as his current team and former one prepare to clash.

"It's a really special week for me. To be playing a franchise that I invested so much time in for 11 years. And not only that, but a city that my family and I were invested in, supporting and being a part of the community," said Whitworth. "(Cincinnati) was a place that we knew every restaurant we went to, every store we walked in, we knew everybody by name. They were a family. It's a place that we're very near and dear to, and we will follow and be fans of forever.

"So, for me, this week couldn't be more special to have both franchises we've poured our hearts and souls into to be playing each other in the Super Bowl is just unbelievable. It's hard to put into words how cool it is."

Asked about the prospect of retirement, which he's faced for several years now – and continued playing to McVay's surprise – Whitworth had no specific words, offering he'd "step away for a second" after the "Whitworth Bowl" reaches its conclusion Sunday before deciding whether he'll play in 2022, the final year of his contract.

"Man, what a cool ending if it is," Whitworth added. "Two places that I poured my heart and soul into that mean the world to me. Couldn't be happier for Cincinnati to be where they're at and happier for us. So if it is it, man, it would be one heckuva way to end it."

Certainly an ideal way for a young man, still only 40 mind you, to begin a second act where it seems likely he'll still have quite a lot to offer the world.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.