YOKOHAMA – At age 46, Masamitsu Den is still addicted to the game of football.
And he still puts on pads and a helmet on the gridiron, instead of wearing a headset and a sun visor off of it.
“It’s not impossible to play, with proper training,” Den, a quarterback, said after his Tokyo Gas Creators’ final X League regular-season game ended in a 63-42 win over the Meiji Yasuda Pirates at Yokohama Stadium on Sunday.
Den actually serves as his team’s offensive coordinator, too. He has called offensive plays over the last several years, and his understanding of the game from a coach’s point of view has helped him as a quarterback as well.
“I feel like, I’ve been able to read opposing defenses better now,” Den, a backup who would usually come in the final quarters this year, said with a smile. “And it’s certainly made the game more fun for me.”
Den joked that one of the toughest things about being a player/coach is that he has to take time both for training and film studies.
While he watches videos of X League games, Den said that he spends so many hours a week watching NFL games on television. He said that he currently watches the Denver Broncos most often, because of Peyton Manning, a master of reading defenses and one of Den’s favorite quarterbacks of all time.
“When I was younger, I didn’t care about what other quarterbacks would do,” said Den, who also loved to watch Terry Bradshaw, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and Brett Favre among others. “But now I pay respect to them and pay attention to what they do.”
Asked how much longer he thinks he will last as a player, Den, a product of a collegiate powerhouse Nihon University, said, “as long as I’m needed.” But for sure, retirement is a word that goes through Den’s head regularly.
Den, who has played for several X League clubs, admitted earlier this season that it was tough to keep taking hits at his age. But he would still be responsible for developing young quarterbacks and offensive linemen for the Creators, who had their first winning season with a 5-4 record since they were promoted to the X League top division in 2003.
Yet it probably wasn’t the only reason Den would still be on the gridiron. Although he’s changed physically and gotten smarter over his many years in the sport, there’s one thing that has been the same since he began throwing the ball: his excitement for the game.
“I threw a touchdown earlier this season,” Den said, referring to a game-winning TD pass with four seconds left in the Creators’ 10-7 win over the All-Mitsubishi Lions on Sept. 3 at Tokyo Dome. “That kind of a thing keeps you addicted to the game. And it makes you feel you can get better.”
Den plans to return to the field next year, and if that happens, he will of course be suited up in pads and a helmet.