Lack of true rivalry hasn't prevented strong kinship between Packers' Aaron Rodgers, Buccaneers' Tom Brady
GREEN BAY – They spent most of their careers in homes located across the NFL. This is not Tom Brady against Peyton Manning. It isn’t even Tom Brady against Eli Manning.
Outside of a Super Bowl matchup long dreamt but never realized, Brady and Aaron Rodgers shared the field too infrequently to forge a rivalry.
That never kept the two future first-ballot Hall of Famers from being the center of all-time quarterback conversations for the past decade. Brady and Rodgers have been the face of the NFL through different conferences, different play styles, even different legacies. One quarterback brought the game to its zenith, uncorking ridiculous throw after ridiculous throw and winning four MVPs. The other won more Super Bowl rings than any single team in league history.
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When two icons play at this level, this long, people can’t help but go there.
“All you’ve got to do is look at, number one, their ability to win games, to lead teams," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. "Certainly, Tom has won a ton of Super Bowls, and you look at the talent of both those guys, it’s not surprising why they’re referred to as two of the greatest ever. I think they’re both great competitors. There’s a lot of similarities in that regard.”
In time, Rodgers said, a “friendship” formed between him and Brady. They are both Kentucky Derby enthusiasts, and for several years they would bring their own groups to Churchill Downs, sitting at adjoining tables. They’ve both participated in The Match, a charity golf tournament in June. Rodgers and Brady teamed to beat Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen in this year’s rendition.
Two great competitors, indeed.
The pair aren’t entirely distant during the football season, especially now that Brady quarterbacks the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are again a primary obstacle for the Green Bay Packers to make a Super Bowl bid. Rodgers said he and Brady “keep in touch pretty frequently” during the season.
“It’s a lot of football with Tommy,” Rodgers said of their conversations,” but a lot of non-football with me. So we balance each other out well.”
That might be the greatest difference between the two quarterbacks. Rodgers’ desire to win is unquestioned, but he doesn’t hide that his mind is already on the future early in his age-39 season. Brady has been unwavering in his career. When his tenure with the New England Patriots ran its natural course after 20 seasons, Brady never indicated it was time to retire.
He was 42 years old at the time. An age almost no quarterback even considers strapping the pads one more time. It didn’t matter. Brady wasn’t done.
Even with all his Super Bowl rings, his ability to thwart Father Time might be his most incomprehensible accomplishment. Brady briefly retired at the start of this offseason, only to quickly change his mind. He’s 45 years old now, leading his team to a 2-0 record through early-season injuries. A year ago, Brady threw for a career-high 5,316 yards. His 43 touchdowns were the second most in his career, behind only what was then a record 50 touchdowns in 2007.
That was four Presidential administrations ago.
“The guy sure looks like he’s in phenomenal shape,” LaFleur said. “Certainly, he’s always been one of the sharpest guys in terms of his mind, his ability to go out there and process and see things, go out there and execute. It doesn’t look like he’s lost anything on his ball.
“We showed some clips today in the team meeting of him firing strikes down the field, and it still looks like he’s playing at a really, really high level.”
Rodgers made it clear Wednesday he has zero intention of playing that long. He first hinted at retirement after the Packers drafted Jordan Love in 2020. Since then, he’s only gone on to win MVP the past two seasons. Even at the top of his game, Rodgers said the shelf life on his career will be shorter.
“I have a lot of other interests outside the game,” Rodgers said. “The game has been really, really good to me. I feel like I’ve given my all to the game. At some point, it’ll be time to do something else, and I strongly believe it will be before 45.”
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There’s still enough time in the twilight of their careers to author the memories that are lacking from their earlier years. After starting against Brady just twice in his first 15 seasons – Matt Flynn was the Packers starter in the team’s 2010 trip to New England – the two have played each other twice since Brady joined the Buccaneers. The first was a 38-10 blowout loss in Week 5 of the 2020 season. The second was more painful, a home loss in the NFC championship game later that year.
It’s possible Sunday’s matchup could be the last. That is, if Rodgers and Brady don’t meet again in the playoffs later this season. Both know their teams stand in each other’s way, especially in a watered-down NFC. Across the league, a young crop of potential Hall of Fame quarterbacks have emerged the past couple of seasons. Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. Josh Allen in Buffalo. Maybe Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. Rodgers and Brady know those quarterbacks are the game’s future.
For now, Sunday will showcase the present. Rodgers said he doesn’t sense any nostalgia entering what could be his final game against a quarterback who never became a rival, but he values as a friend.
“I have a lot of respect of the history of the game,” Rodgers said, “and my part in it, and the game will keep going long after Tommy and I are done playing.”