The 9/11 attacks were 19 days old, the NFL had 31 teams, George W. Bush was president and, yes, Donald J. Trump was a registered Democrat.

Sept. 30, 2001.

“I was 12 years old, in seventh grade,” said Vikings safety Harrison Smith, proud of how young he was.

“I was in second grade,” defensive end Stephen Weatherly trumped. “Living down in Georgia.”

That puts Stephen at 7 years old on that date. Can anyone on the Vikings’ active roster see his 7 and lower it to 6?

“I was 5,” rookie defensive end Jalyn Holmes said.

Sorry, Jalyn.

Cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Holton Hill were 4 years old when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady registered his first career start and, naturally, his first career win — over Peyton Manning, of course — on Sept. 30, 2001.

“I was playing football, too,” Weatherly barked. “Little League.”

“Wow,” said Holmes, “I never actually thought of how old I would have been. Crazy.”

The story of the sixth-round draft pick from 2000 relieving the injured Drew Bledsoe in Week 2 of the 2001 season and taking over as starter the next week is, of course, legend and will live forever in the Pro Football Hall of Fame five years after Brady retires. But first the 41-year-old has to stop adding chapters to this five-time Super Bowl-championship saga.

“He’s an ageless wonder,” Smith said.

Last year, Brady became the first 40-year-old to win league MVP. He also threw for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards and three touchdowns at U.S. Bank Stadium playing in his eighth Super Bowl.

This year, he’s 8-3 with a three-game lead in the AFC East heading into Sunday’s game against the Vikings at Gillette Stadium, where he’s 32-4 in December. He and coach Bill Belichick are going for their 10th straight division title and their eighth straight appearance in the AFC title game.

“It’s insane that he’s still playing at that level, but he’s got a knack for taking care of his body,” rookie receiver Chad Beebe said. “He spends a lot of money on his body. My dad [Don] retired from the NFL in 1998. Tom Brady came in two years later. And he’s still playing.”

Beebe was 7 on Sept. 30, 2001.

Then-Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri was a 28-year-old with 583 points in his career. Now the current Colts kicker, he’s scored 1,987 more points for an NFL-record 2,570.

And Brady is still throwing the ball like he’s in his 20s. He’s won 203 regular-season games and 27 postseason games since Sept. 30, 2001. He’s 204-58 in the regular season, 27-10 in the postseason and 231-68 overall.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer first encountered Brady on Nov. 16, 2003. Zimmer was the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator. Brady had already won his first Super Bowl and would win his second one that season.

Dallas went to New England to face a 7-2 Patriots team riding a five-game win streak. Zimmer dialed up a good game plan. Brady completed 15 of 34 passes (44.1 percent) for 212 yards, no touchdowns and a 64.8 passer rating.

But the best winner of all time still won 12-0.

“We played really good on defense that day,” Zimmer said this week. “I remember a couple blitzes that I called, but I don’t remember much else honestly.

“We also played him once to start the season when I was in Cincinnati, and he killed us. Played him another time in Cincinnati and we beat him. I think the score was like 14-7 or something like that. He had the ball in the two-minute drill and it just started pouring down rain, and I was like, ‘Yes!’ I was actually saying a few more things, but I was happy that it rained.”

The oldest player on the Vikings’ active roster is 34-year-old Tom Johnson. Tom was a senior in high school on Sept. 30, 2001.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins, 30, is one of only seven 30-year-olds on the roster. And …

“[Brady] won his first Super Bowl when I was in seventh grade.”

And old Tom might win his last one with Cousins in his early (to mid?) (to late?) 30s.

 

Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider.

Twitter: @markcraigNFL.

E-mail: mcraig@startribune.com