GREEN BAY, Wis. – They have spent most of their careers in homes across the NFL. It’s not Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning. It’s not even Tom Brady versus Eli Manning.
Outside of a long dreamed but never realized Super Bowl game, Brady and Aaron Rodgers have shared the field too rarely to forge a rivalry.
That never stopped the two future first-round Pro Football 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 styles of play, even different heritages. A quarterback took the game to its zenith, uncorking ridiculous pitch after ridiculous pitch and earning four MVPs. The other has won more Super Bowl rings than any team in league history.
When two icons play at this level, so long people can’t help but go for it.
“All you have to do is look, number one, at their ability to win games, lead teams,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “Certainly Tom has won a ton of Super Bowls, and you look at the talent of these two guys, it’s no surprise that they’re considered two of the greatest of all time. I think they’re all both great competitors. There are a lot of similarities in that regard.
Over time, Rodgers said, a “friendship” formed between him and Brady. They are both Kentucky Derby aficionados and for several years brought their own groups to Churchill Downs, sitting at nearby tables. They both participated in The Match, a charity golf tournament in June. Rodgers and Brady teamed up to beat Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen on this year’s render.
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Two great competitors, indeed.
The pair aren’t entirely distant during the football season, especially now that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Brady is once again a primary obstacle for the Green Bay Packers to make a Super Bowl bid. Rodgers said he and Brady “stay in touch quite 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 nicely.
This is perhaps the biggest difference between the two quarterbacks. Rodgers’ desire to win is unquestionable, but he makes no secret that his mind is already on the future at the start of his 39-year-old season. Brady has been unwavering in his career. When his tenure with the New England Patriots took its natural course after 20 seasons, Brady never indicated it was time to retire.
He was 42 at the time. An age where almost no quarterbacks even consider tying the pads one more time. It didn’t matter. Brady wasn’t done.
Even with all of his Super Bowl rings, his ability to thwart Father Time might be his most incomprehensible achievement. Brady briefly retired early this offseason, only to have a quick change of heart. He is now 45 years old and leads his team to a 2-0 record due to injuries early in the season. A year ago, Brady threw for a career-high 5,316 yards. His 43 touchdowns were the second of his career, behind only what was then a record 50 touchdowns in 2007.
That was four presidential administrations ago.
“The guy really looks like he’s in phenomenal shape,” LaFleur said. “Certainly he was always 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. Looks like he didn’t lose anything on his ball.
“We showed some clips today at the team meeting of him firing shots on the pitch, and it still looks like he’s playing at a very, very high level.”
Rodgers made it clear Wednesday that he had no intention of playing that long. He first hinted at retirement after the Packers drafted Jordan Love in 2020. Since then, he’s only won MVP for the past two seasons. Even at the top of his game, Rodgers said his career life would be shorter.
“I have a lot of other interests outside of the game,” Rodgers said. “The game has been really, really good for me. I feel like I gave the game my all. At some point, it will be time to do something else, and I firmly believe it will be before 45 years.
There is still enough time in the twilight of their careers to create the memories that their early years lack. After starting against Brady only twice in his first 15 seasons – Matt Flynn was the Packers’ starter during the team’s trip to New England in 2010 – the two have faced each other twice since Brady joined the Buccaneers. The first was a blowout 38-10 loss in Week 5 of the 2020 season. The second was more painful, a home loss in the NFC Championship Game later this season.
It is possible that Sunday’s game will be the last. That is, if Rodgers and Brady don’t find themselves in the playoffs later this season. Both know their teams get in each other’s way, especially in a watered-down NFC. Across the league, a younger generation of potential Hall of Fame quarterbacks has emerged over the past two seasons. Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. Josh Allen in Buffalo. Maybe Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. Rodgers and Brady know these quarterbacks are the future of the game.
For now, Sunday will highlight the present. Rodgers said he felt no nostalgia in what could be his last game against a quarterback who never became a rival but considers a friend.
“I have a lot of respect for the story of the game,” Rodgers said, “and my role in it, and the game will continue long after Tommy and I are done playing.”