GREEN BAY — When Tom Brady called it a career on Wednesday morning — “for good” this time, he said in a brief social media video, referring to last offseason’s short-lived retirement — the announcement came as his friend and fellow all-time great quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, remained undecided about his own NFL future.
While Rodgers seems unlikely to retire — based on his recent conversations on “The Pat McAfee Show,” it seems the real question is where Rodgers will play in 2023, not if, despite his insistence he hasn’t made up his mind to play next season — it’s worth revisiting how Brady’s influence played a role in Rodgers’ longevity.
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Even though defining their intersection on the NFL space-time continuum is difficult.
The 45-year-old Brady and the 39-year-old Rodgers aren’t exactly contemporaries, as Brady had already won three of his seven Super Bowl titles before Rodgers entered the league as the Packers’ first-round pick in the 2005 NFL draft.
And they aren’t quite rivals, either, having faced each other as starting quarterbacks only five times, the last of which was the Packers’ 14-12 win over Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 25 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
But they did become friends, and in 2013 Rodgers spent his first extended time with Brady in what turned out to be a life-changing and career-altering afternoon at Brady’s suburban Los Angeles home.
“He had me over for a day, and we just spent the day watching film, talking ball,” Rodgers recounted to the State Journal in 2018. “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.”
Asked during a conference call with a small group of Wisconsin-based reporters in 2018, shortly before Rodgers’ Packers and Brady’s New England Patriots faced off, if he remembered that day and realized how much it meant to Rodgers, Brady said he did.
“Of course, I remember being with him (that day). And I’ve always watched him,” Brady said at the time. “Not only because he’s an incredible player, but he went to Cal, where I almost went; we actually played them a few times earlier in my career in the preseason, (so I) got to watch him play, watched him really become a great player — from a college prospect to one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.
“We always love hanging out, and I enjoy the time I get with him. I’ve got nothing but great things to say about him and everything he’s accomplished. What he’s continuing to do at the quarterback position is just spectacular.”
Brady also described his friendship with Rodgers as “unique” because of their semi-closeness in age and their limited head-to-head matchups.
“Playing as long as I have, outside of the guys on my own team or guys I played with, the guys I probably relate to the most would probably be other quarterbacks,” Brady said then. “And just again with Aaron’s own career longevity and his performance … I think there’s a lot of things we have in common. So it’s great to talk about those things.
“There’s probably not many of people that I’ve had a chance to talk to that go through a lot of similar experiences that I do. And he’s probably one of those guys.”
Before spending that time with Brady, Rodgers said he’d certainly been thoughtful about nutrition and workouts, but not obsessive the way Brady had become. Rodgers had been following what he called his “80/20 rule,” which meant eating healthy for 80% of his diet and enjoying less nutritionally-smart foods — like Girl Scout cookies and In-N-Out Burger cheeseburgers — the other 20% of the time.
After their time together, Rodgers began to reconsider his approach and decided he needed to think more holistically.
“It really sunk in then that if I really wanted to keep playing — and be as pain-free as possible — this was what I needed to do,” Rodgers said.
Asked in 2018, at age 34, if Brady would deserve a bit of credit if he played into his 40s, Rodgers replied, “One hundred percent.”
Rodgers said at the time his commitment to overhauling his lifestyle took hold after he underwent surgery on his left knee — the same knee in which he tore the ACL in high school — following the 2015 season.
“Before that, I had been serious about my diet, but I really got serious about it. And my body felt so much better,” Rodgers said. “The entire 2016 season, I felt amazing — and into 2017, when I even went vegan for a stretch during the offseason.
“It was really a matter of just realizing how that affects my body and how I’m feeling, my joints. Having a knee problem since you were 15 years old, like I did — when you don’t feel it, like after the ’15 season surgery, and the only thing I changed was diet?
“Really? Just cutting out inflammatory foods? You can’t point to anything else. I was 32 years old. And the only thing I changed was diet?”
Now, with Brady done after 23 seasons — he’s a first-ballot lock for the 2028 Pro Football Hall of Fame class — and Rodgers still mulling what to do next season, it’s also worth recalling Rodgers’ words before he and Brady faced each other early in the 2020 season.
Although they would play against one another two more times after that (in the 2020 NFC Championship Game and in their early 2022 meeting), Rodgers recommended everyone — fans, players, coaches, reporters, casual observers — enjoy seeing the two of them on the field together, not knowing if it might be the last time such a meeting occurred.
“Tom has obviously done it at the highest of levels for so long. He’s been an icon at the position. He’s been somebody that we’ve all looked up to for so many years as the standard of excellence,” Rodgers said then. “I think there’s a ton of admiration and respect for the way that he’s played the game from so many of us, especially us guys who’ve been in the same era for so many years with him and gotten to compete with him every now and then, (me) being an NFC guy.
“I think fans should enjoy what they get to watch, because there are some guys who people have watched for 15-plus, 20-plus years at the position who are some of the best to ever play it. I think it’s good that we just enjoy it for what it is, have respect and admiration for the way that we have played over this time and enjoy where we’re at in our careers now.”
Now, one of those careers is over, while the other is nearing its end — perhaps altogether, perhaps just in Green Bay.
“Look, it’s going to be a little bit more time for my decision,” Rodgers said during his Tuesday conversation with McAfee when asked when he might decide on 2023. “I feel confident that in a couple weeks I’ll feel definitely more strongly about one of the two decisions.”
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