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Inside the Tom Brady-Aaron Rodgers relationship, including when it all began

Ryan Hannable
November 04, 2018 - 12:07 am

Everyone knows how strong the relationship is between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, but when exactly it came to be isn’t as well-documented.

It was after Rodgers was rising the ranks as a young quarterback in California, not far from where Brady grew up, and long before their first regular-season meeting as starters in 2014. 

The two future greats would officially meet on August 26, 2005 at Lambeau Field.

The Patriots met the Packers in the second preseason game that year, which, evidently was Rodgers’ rookie season. Bill Belichick challenged the Patriots to treat the game like a regular-season game and they responded in a big way, blowing out the Packers, 27-3.

Brady started that game and went 12-for-21 with 127 yards and a touchdown, while Rodgers relieved Brett Favre and went 5-for-9 with 52 yards. Although Rodgers wasn’t very impressive in the game and hadn’t done much in training camp that point, he was able to connect with Brady and form a bond that has continued to this day.

“We played them in the preseason, his rookie year. He was this young, up-and-comer, first-round pick, went to Cal, so I always got my eyes on those guys,” Brady said to NBC’s Rodney Harrison this week. “He had all the athletic ability.”

The two met again on the field the following season — December 19, 2006 — except it wasn’t under circumstances Rodgers would have liked. Favre got injured in the 35-0 win by the Patriots, which meant Rodgers came into the game and it didn’t go well for him, either. He suffered a broken ankle in the essentially meaningless reps.

“Well, I think we got our ass kicked if I remember correctly,” Rodgers’ long-time quarterback coach Tom Clements said via phone this week. “I don’t have any great memories from that game.”

Of course, Rodgers had to wait longer than most for his opportunity as a starter.

The Cal product served as Favre’s backup from 2005-07 and after that season the legendary Packers quarterback announced he would be retiring. He then change his mind, but the Packers were set with Rodgers and Favre was traded to the Jets.

It was going into Rodgers’ first offseason as the starter that he began learning from Brady. Clements recommended he watch every snap of Brady’s historic 2007 season the year prior. And that is exactly what the two did, spending close to 20 hours on the project.

“Just getting ready for Aaron’s first year as a starter we spent a lot of time in the offseason — at that time you didn’t have the restrictions you have now under the CBA — so we spent a lot of time on our offense and I think we watched every one of Tom Brady’s game from the previous year,” Clements said. “You learn from watching great players. He watched how he moved in the pocket. He watched how he used his eyes to move the defenders to create a throwing lane. We watched him because he was a great player and you try and learn as much as you can from great players.”

Added Rodgers on a conference call this week: “Just watching him in 2007 especially, his smooth nature in the pocket and he’s able to make subtle movements and he has his entire career to create space through a throwing lane or a throwing platform. And that’s one thing – not looking at the rush and being able to find that soft spot in the pocket is something he’s just been incredible at. It’s an innate sense but something you can really work on as well. That’s one thing I definitely took from him, and just like Favre, Tom’s always been great with his eyes – being able to manipulate defenders and move them out of zones that he wants to throw into and move safeties to be able to get to spots down the seams. Him and Brett are the best two I’ve seen on film.”

As Brady continued to perform as the one of the best quarterbacks in the entire league, Rodgers was becoming one. 

The two were destined to meet in 2010 at Gillette Stadium, but after suffering a concussion the week before, Rodgers missed the contest. Missing the game ended his streak of consecutive starts at 45, which was tied for the second-longest in team history.

Matt Flynn replaced Rodgers as the starter and the game was much closer than anticipated, but the Patriots were able to come away with a 31-27 win. Green Bay actually had a chance to win the game late, but on fourth-and-1 from the Patriots’ 15-yard line, Tully Banta-Cain strip-sacked Flynn and Vince Wilfork recovered to seal the win for New England.

Although Brady won the league MVP award that season, it was Rodgers who was named Super Bowl MVP when the Packers won Super Bowl XLV over the Steelers — 31-25.

The following season — 2011 — Rodgers was named league MVP, and Brady and the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl where they ultimately fell to the Giants. Both players continued their dominance, making deep runs in the postseasons, but ultimately coming up short in the end.

Despite those disappointing postseasons, it became evident that these two were not only among the best quarterbacks in the league, but among two of the best ever to play the game.

"I think there's a lot of things we have in common, so it's great to talk about those things," Brady said on a conference call with the Green Bay media this week. "There's probably not many people that I've had a chance to talk to that go through a lot of similar experiences as I do, and he's probably one of those guys."

In 2013, Brady had Rodgers over to his place in California, where the two actually hung out for the first time.

“He had me over for a day, and we just spent the day watching film, talking ball,” Rodgers told reporters this week. “We played nine holes at Riviera, and [came back to the house], his chef was there cooking super-healthy stuff. That was my first exposure to him really off the field, seeing what he does. I don’t think I was privy to anything way before [the general public]. I just listened and watched and read.”

Finally, after many years, Week 13 of the 2014 season came and the Patriots traveled to Green Bay. The game marked the first time Rodgers and Brady would face each other as starters.

The game lived up to its hype, coming down to the very end. Trailing 26-21 in the middle of the fourth, Brady and the Patriots converted a fourth-and-3 and a third-and-10 on the same drive, but then after a nine-yard sack, Stephen Gostkowski missed a 47-yard field goal just north of the two-minute warning.

On the ensuing Packers possession, the Patriots forced a third-and-4, but Rodgers converted it to give the Packers a 26-21 win.

“That was a great game,” Brady told Harrison this week. “We had our chance. We kind of blew our chance and never got the ball back and he completed the ball on third down to run out the clock.”

Despite the loss, many said this was the game that ultimately changed the Patriots’ season, as they then went on to spend the week in San Diego before taking on the Chargers and rolled the rest of the way and won Super Bowl XLIX.

The two continued to add to their legacies and actually met once more in the first preseason game of the 2015 season. However, Brady was in the midst of his Deflategate legal battle, during which Rodgers showed his full support of Brady.

"Tom's a buddy, and he's going through some stuff right now," Rodgers said after the game. "I'm sure we'll have resolution here pretty soon. ... I don't know enough about it to make any comment on [Deflategate]. But Tom's a buddy, and I'd like to see it get figured out before the season.

"There's only 32 of us. [There are] a lot of expectations. A lot of adversity. We also have a great opportunity and platform to make a difference. I think you realize how difficult it is to play the position, the stuff you deal with every single day. You wear a lot of hats, as a leader, as an encourager. As a supporter. As a cheerleader. Disciplinarian. You lead from a lot of different vantage points. It's also really thrilling. You know what those guys are going through and it's fun to get to know some of the guys.”

Presently, following another Super Bowl win for Brady — Super Bowl LI against the Falcons — and another Super Bowl loss against the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, the Patriots quarterback is continuing to play at a high level even at 41 years old. And at 34, Rodgers is doing what he can to play as long as Brady.

The Patriots quarterback has helped Rodgers in that regard.

According to MMQB’s Albert Breer, Brady sent Rodgers a copy of his TB12 book that was released last year. Rodgers has applied some aspects of the training program into his own routine, along with advice from Packers director of performance nutrition Adam Korzun.

“I do my own reading, and Adam’s been a fantastic resource, and obviously Tom and I are close,” Rodgers told Breer this summer. “We’ve talked about the stuff he does. I don’t swear off nightshades like he does. But I had a lot of room to grow in that area. I love sweets and food in general, so being smart about what I was eating tied to my performance.”

While it may seem like Rodgers has benefited more from the relationship with Brady, that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Brady has learned a lot from Rodgers as well.

“What he’s done as a quarterback, I think it’s inspiring, even for me,” Brady said this week on Kirk & Callahan. “I watch his game, and it makes me want to get out there and practice and improve, because I think he’s so phenomenal with the way he manages himself in the pocket. And his ability to throw the football is unlike anyone probably in the history of the league. “It’s pretty awesome to watch. He throws some of the best incompletions I have ever seen.”

“I have watched a lot of their offense over the years,” Brady added when speaking with Harrison. “He has great poise in the pocket. I think he moves around in the pocket incredibly well. He is so poised in the pocket. I think he uses his blockers so well and he must have great peripheral vision because a lot of times guys are running behind him and he glances and looks around to see where they are at. With that ability to throw the ball, there is no throw that he sees on the field that he thinks he can’t make, and I think that is why he makes a ton of them.”

Even though many have tried to pit the two against each other in a competition for the label of the greatest of all-time, it’s clear they don’t view it as a rivalry thing at all, which isn’t surprising to Clements.

“I think it’s fairly common, really,” he said. “If you see other great players and you know them — obviously, you try and compete to their level so it’s helpful, but I think especially more so today there’s a camaraderie among all the quarterbacks.”

It’s a shame Sunday night will only be the second, and maybe last, time Brady and Rodgers will meet as starters as the next regular-season meeting is scheduled for 2022. But, who knows, maybe they will meet on the biggest of stages, competing for a Super Bowl title, something the football world deserves.

Whether that happens or not, one thing is for sure, these are two of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game and share a bond that will last longer than either of their NFL careers.

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