Commentary

The Shock of the Old

Updated: September 6, 2013, 2:05 PM ET
By Jeff MacGregor | ESPN.com

Diana NyadErnesto Mastrascusa/Getty ImagesWe're all swimming against the clock, just don't expect the sacrificial culture to remember that.

60 is not the new 30.

As inspiring as Diana Nyad's swim from Cuba to Key West may have been for baby boomers, the symbols and limits and pigeonholes of age remain weirdly fixed in American culture. Or at least in the minds and blogs and daily columns of our zombie sporting press.

Part of Ms. Nyad's greatness at the age of 64 is to remind us all what's possible. If you believe and work hard and love what you do, you can still surprise yourself. There's all the time in the world. There's hope.

[+] EnlargeChris Horner
Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty ImagesChris Horner has the full support of his team in answering doping questions.

Or not. Up in the press box that same week, we all convinced ourselves Roger Federer, now 32, is washed up. Kaput. He lost a tennis match and with a few exceptions, sportswriters couldn't wait to pack his trophies away in his Louis Vuitton bags and hustle his corpse off stage.

Perhaps hoping to avoid the same embarrassments, Usain Bolt, 27, announced his retirement well in advance.

Still, 41-year-old bicycle racer Chris Horner led the Vuelta a España for a few days, and Raúl Ibañez, also 41, had a big week for the Seattle Mariners. Peyton Manning is 37 years old, and somehow the Broncos' quarterback threw seven touchdowns Thursday.

The average age of the NFL players he threw to or against is about 26. The average age of NFL owners is not quite 67. That ratio holds in other categories of show business, too. Newsmaker of the month Miley Cyrus, for example, is 20. MTV is run by a 54-year-old man. His boss at Viacom is a 59-year-old man. The whole shebang is owned by a 90-year-old man.

Creepy? Sure. But that was probably the operative age range of the priesthood when we were still sacrificing our child stars to placate the corn god. That all these symbols of virility or potency or sex or fertility have to be seen again and again and learned and relearned by every generation becomes more exasperating as you get older. The endless lesson being the lessons themselves are endless.

We've just supercharged the technology and the storytelling.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesOh, the youth of today (and of yesterday and of Constantine's day)!

As Twitter and 19-year-old Jameis Winston prove, a magnificent career is now a single game. All that's left for us to do is stack the accolades. The cycle of creation, destruction and reanimation of fame happens 140 characters at a time as fast as you can type, and what used to take days or weeks or years, even in 15-minute increments, now arrives instantly, pinned to 25-of-27. Or to @vodka_samm and her heroic .341 blood alcohol level. Thanks to social media, it is possible at last to be over someone before you ever meet them.

So we're back to carpet bombing you with Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football. Johnny Money, Money Johnny, Johnny Football! He's a hero. (He's a bad boy.) Yin! (Yang!) Alpha! (Omega!) Check your local papers for the latest. (As of today we've circled back to "Let Johnny be Johnny!" Better to goose newsstand sales and set up next week's return to poor manners and all that handwringing at the local vicarage.)

Manziel, exhausted and exhausting, whose talents include running and throwing a football, is a symbol. He knows this. And he knows that we know that he knows. A symbol of what remains uncertain. Johnny Football is whatever you think he is. Last week Johnny Football was Biff Tannen. This week Johnny Football is on the cover of Time magazine.

Johnny Football!

Johnny Football is a type. An archetype. Ask Paul Hornung. Or Achilles. Johnny Football is as old as the stars. Johnny Football started breaking hearts and curfew in the Bronze Age. Johnny Football has been stuffing you into your locker and knocking the cafeteria tray out of your hands and helping old ladies across the street since the beginning of time. Johnny Football is worth millions. Johnny Football is all played out. Johnny Football is 20 years old.

Maybe 20 is the new 60.

Jameis WinstonJustin K. Aller/Getty ImagesFresh legs, a fresh name and a fresh face to restart the cycle: Jameis Winston.

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