Even the risk of knee arthritis was limited to those 24 of 36 players who had suffered a ligament tear or other knee injury. "Those people who didn't have ligament injuries had a relatively low incidence of the need for knee replacement and osteoarthritis," Nicholas said.
All of this is in stark contrast with recent, more generalized research into the health of retired pro football players. For example, a study of almost 1,600 retired players, released in April in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found that more than half had high scores for pain, and almost 15 percent reported moderate to severe depression.
That study's lead author said those results may better reflect the reality of life after players leave the gridiron.
"That [Jets team] was a very special team, they had a lot of spirit and camaraderie, and they had this amazing continuity of health care throughout," said Dr. Thomas Schwenk, professor and chairman of the department of family medicine at the University of Michigan School of Medicine. "We know that contributes to overall health and to mental and physical health and vitality."
He also wonders if the 1969 Jets -- a highly select, fit, medically pampered group of men -- shouldn't have done even better than the data shows. "Should they have scores that are only as good as the general population? Should they be better?" Schwenk said.
He believes that for too many players, life after the game is much lonelier than that experienced by the '69 Jets.
"I think a lot of this has to do with what happens to these players after retirement -- do they go off and have minimal connections? No support, no health care, no continuity, no follow-up?" Schwenk said. "Are they just shunted off to the corners of life, or are they connected in ways that give them certain attributes to their overall health?"
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