By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
A pair of golf buddies will reconnect on Sunday, on a green surface of a different variety, destined to shake hands and exchange a few words before embarking upon a joint quarterbacking duel at Raymond James Stadium.
Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers will get after it in the most anticipated game of the early portion of this NFL season, a marquee blockbuster to top them all, joint top billing for men destined to climb Canton’s highest perch, assured of footballing reverence forever more.
Golf buddies?! Linking Rodgers and Brady on account of how they successfully teamed up in a summer hit-and-giggle against Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen feels frivolous, on account of how many football comparisons there are to be made between the pair, and how few people can hold a torch to either of their career exploits.
But there was actually a point to it; namely, to illustrate how Sunday’s showdown (4:25 p.m. ET, FOX) is a game that doesn’t need to be placed into a grand historical and philosophical contest. In fact, it is probably best enjoyed if it’s not.
This iteration of the Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers is not going to define their legacies, for those are already etched. Pretty much the only thing that could bolster one is for Rodgers to win a second ring.
“I don’t care if Aaron Rodgers throws for 500 yards, in a 40-point win, this game will not impact his legacy at all,” FS1’s Chris Broussard said, on “First Things First.” “There’s one thing he can do to impact his legacy this year — get to a Super Bowl. He’s arguably the greatest regular season QB we’ve ever seen.”
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It’s not necessary to hype up the matchup on account of its postseason implications either, for what happens in Tampa probably won’t have a major effect on playoff prospects and the like. Not with so much of the season remaining — and not with both teams being huge divisional favorites.
Even if it tilted postseason seeding and therefore home field in a possible deep winter rematch, two of the four games these QBs have played were won by the road team (both by Brady, who is 3-1 overall).
Let’s leave all that alone. Such plotlines, coincidences and twists are for regular games, to separate them and give them something unique from the other 271 to be played over the course of the campaign.
Not this one.
Just this once, don’t worry about added meaning or the big picture. Just enjoy it for what it is — potentially the last time two of the greatest players in history will square off, certainly in the regular season.
It is unmissable for that solitary reason. It doesn’t need another.
This is a rare football game where the promise of the aesthetic overrides the importance of the result. Football’s addictive call is that each game matters deeply, because 17 per year is too preciously slight a number to allow any team room for error.
The very purpose of watching football and why untold numbers of people do it is to see who wins. Duh. Except that in this specific game, it feels as important just to see the two central figures play, whatever the outcome. It is not often with NFL games, or contests in any sport, that you can already tell before it happens that you’ll be worse off if you skip it.
There is no hook needed apart from the obvious one: that a pair of legends will be in the same vicinity, both competitors to the last, determined to outduel the other. Not through rivalry or jealousy or due to prior incident, but because winning is what they do.
“He’s an amazing player,” Brady said of Rodgers, this week. “I love watching him play and he’s from California, too, so I feel like we always have a little bit of a connection. He’s an older guy now. He’s been a great player in the same place for a long time, so there definitely are some challenges with that. But he’s navigated them pretty well.”
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Rodgers is seven years younger than Brady and knows himself well enough to confidently state he won’t still be taking snaps and slinging off passes at the age of 45.
“I’ll be doing something else,” Rodgers told reporters. “I have a lot of other interests outside the game. Game’s been really, really good to me. I feel I’ve given my all to the game. At some point, it’ll be time to do something else, and I strongly believe that’ll be before 45.”
Rodgers won’t know what it feels like to play at 45 but for both he and Brady, the other man is the only who “gets” — on some level — what it is like to have gone through what they’ve experienced. Doing it for this long, this well, this relentlessly.
Football was never much of an old man’s game. Brady and Rodgers aren’t the standard-bearers for an army of geezers in the QB ranks. They’re the outliers, but also the headline makers.
They’re the oldest two QB in the league and the two most dependable. The median age for NFL starting QBs last week was 27.5. There were as many guys two full decades younger than Brady as there were signal callers 29 or older.
They’re not just still here, but still the ones everyone is chasing.
Brady, with his titles and standing and eternal youth. Rodgers, with his unceasing quality and throwing imagination and bag of MVPs. They’re unique and they’re incomparable. Except, perhaps, to each other.
Some games take on added importance because of narrative, or situation, or circumstance. Not many still feel unmissable, even without any of that.
This is one of them. We may wait a long time for another.
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