IN ALMOST every
culture, 40 is a mystical number. Forty is the length, in days, of Biblical
floods and fasts. Forty is the only number, spelled out in English, whose
letters appear in alphabetical order. To millions of Americans, 40 is a figure
of almost divine significance, consecrated by Casey Kasem.
The same is true
in sports, in which 40 was worn by Pat Tillman and Gale Sayers, whose football
hopes hinged on a fast time in the 40. When repeated, the number gives you the
hardest club to crash in baseball: 40-40.
So why doesn't
anyone want to be 40? "At 40, you feel incredibly old as an athlete,"
says Mike Richter, the New York Rangers goalie who retired three years ago and
now attends Yale. "You certainly feel old as a 40- year-old senior in
Forty years ago
this Friday, on Sept. 22, 1966, Richter was born in suburban Philadelphia and I
was born in suburban Chicago. We both went to college in Wisconsin, took jobs
in New York City and then settled in Connecticut, where Richter studies
philosophy, politics and economics at his third Ivy League institution and I
watch TV in my underwear. Worse, he's funny, whip-smart and a doting father of
three young boys. "My brother says I'm either reading Plato or playing with
Play-Doh," says Richter, who has unwittingly dedicated his existence to
making me look ridiculous by comparison.
who share your year of birth are a handy reference point for how you're doing
in life. And so I've long consoled myself that I have fewer gambling debts than
John Daly, fewer drug arrests than Michael Irvin, fewer Maori face tattoos than
But the only
measure that has ever mattered to me is the Richter Scale. The guy who has
walked the Earth exactly as long as I have played 15 seasons in the NHL,
attended Columbia and Cornell in his summers off, competed in three Olympics,
won the Stanley Cup, earned millions of dollars, saw his number 35 hoisted to
the rafters at Madison Square Garden and now spends his days and nights
reading. "Kierkegaard and Green Eggs and Ham," says the student-father,
who commutes to New Haven from his home in coastal Guilford, one of MONEY
magazine's 100 Best Places to Live in 2005. Sigh.
Forty years is
forever ago. On the night Richter and I were born, the Yankees and the White
Sox drew 413 spectators to Yankee Stadium, a figure that is inconceivable
today. But Richter doesn't believe that four decades is an epoch, perhaps
because he just emerged from his class on Greek antiquity. (When the girl in
front of him wirelessly summoned a Google map of Macedonia on her laptop—now
that made Richter feel old.)
semester, students have approached Richter in lecture halls and asked for a
copy of the syllabus, mistaking him for a Yale professor. "I assure you, it
has a hell of a lot more to do with my hairline than any air of
intelligence," says Richter, who is less bald than I am but more
For athletes, 40
might as well be 80. Stefan Edberg is 40, and he retired from tennis 10 years
ago. Zola Budd is 40, and her greatest fame came 22 years ago, at the L.A.
Olympics. " Athletics give you a skewed idea of what you are," says
Richter, who retired at 36 after fracturing his skull. "At 35 you've had a
long career as a hockey player. An Olympic gymnast might be 'too old' at 19.
But 40 is still young for a normal working person. Hopefully, you've still got
more ahead of you than behind you."
And yet he has no
plans to celebrate himself with a gala on Friday. "We just had a pirate
party for one of our boys," he says, "so that theme is taken."