As any avid lifelong athlete can attest, growing older means accepting physical changes and limitations, ones that the mind tries to deny while the body screams: Pay attention!

Now in my early 50s, I have come to grips with the fact I am no longer in my 20s (although my brain and overall love for life is more like a 10-year-old). I am well past my 30s, and, for that matter, my 40s. Oh how I long for my 40s.

I have slowed down and it takes me longer to do, well, just about everything. My mind is still fairly sharp (and remains inquisitive), but even my brain is not what it used to be.

They say the first step to facing and dealing with a problem is admitting you have one. So, here goes. I am an old man. There, that was not so tough, was it?

You bet it was.

Nobody, especially human males, want to admit they cannot do anything as well as they want to. But, as the county song by Toby Ketih goes, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.”

At least I hope that is true.

Well, while I continue to weight train, run and swim a little and walk the golf course now and then to stay in somewhat decent physical condition, I do not play fullcourt basketball, or baseball or even softball anymore as I did in my 20s, 30s and even into my 40s. But one thing I do, at least once a year, is play tackle football.

I know, crazy talk, right? But, I have an excuse. It is tradition and I cannot, no matter what, stop playing.

You see, before we stuff ourselves with traditional Thanksgiving food, from turkey to cranberry sauce to pumpkin pie, we must hit the field for the family football game that has been going on for more than 30 years. We have not missed a year. More importantly, I have not missed a year. I have seen brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews come and go, but myself and my brother, Scott, are the constants for these family football feasts.

We are the old fat guys that simply will not go away. Every year we get the same question from the children: How much longer are you two going to keep playing? Our answer is simply: For as long as we are able.

While I am 52, my brother Scott will hit the big 50 next summer. We are, as they say, slowing down. We used to be the stars of the Thanksgiving football games. Always playing quarterback, firing touchdown passes like Tom Brady, or racing by people to catch scoring passes like Jerry Rice. Now we simply hike the ball and block the little children (tough job, but someone has to do it).

I used to be Wes Welker and now I’m, well, the fat backup offensive guard they allow some playing time.

A sign of how far me and my brother have dropped in importance in the annual family football game is the fact we allow two of the younger children to be captains. They, of course, alternate picking the 20-year-olds and teenagers first, then, with the final two picks, me and my brother are selected. Now that hurts. Ungrateful little brats.

I guess, at this point in my life, I’m just happy someone picked me.

We always hope for mild weather and unseasonably warm late-fall temperatures. Ironically, several days before this Thanksgiving it was in the 50s. The day after Thanksgiving, it was in the 50s. But, the day before Thanksgiving it snowed and the field was both wet and hard on Thanksgiving Day. Tackling hurt, because of the bodies slamming together and when hitting the ground. We quickly opted for two-hand touch.

The thing I most love about our family football games is that everyone is involved, from the smallest to the biggest, from the youngest to the oldest. Everyone gets the opportunity to run and catch the ball. It truly is family at its best. We all end up cold, muddy and happy by the end of the game.

For that, I am truly thankful.

That football game is something we all, from the youngest to the oldest, think about all year. We even give out a trophy to the most valuable player of the game. It usually goes to one of the younger children who worked hard and did their best. They take the trophy home for the year and return it the next Thanksgiving.

I just wish I could win the trophy. But I guess my trophy-winning days are history. That is what happens when the years pass by. While growing older sometimes hurts physically, it hurts more emotionally for those of us who spent their lives playing sports and being active, day in an day out.

There is an old adage that people, like fine wine, get better with age. That, of course, is wrong. We simply get older and suffer all the human physical and mental shortcomings that come with age.

Some say growing older means you become experienced or seasoned. I like to look at it as simply another chapter of life. One that holds a much different story than the chapters that came before.

Still, it is so much fun for me to still be able to play games with my son and my siblings’ children and even their childrens’ children. Now, if I can somehow keep myself in sound enough physical condition to someday play Thanksgiving football with my grandchildren, now that would be something.

At that point, for longevity reasons alone, perhaps they will finally give me the MVP trophy. If, for nothing else, out of respect for their elders.

Village NetMedia Sports Director Ken Waltz can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at kwaltz@villagesoup.com.