TAMPA — It’s been 10 years since Aaron Rodgers won his only NFL championship. Tom Brady is attempting to reach his 10th Super Bowl and has lifted the Lombardi Trophy six times.
The discussion of Brady’s past and Rodgers’ future will collide in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field.
It’s not lost on Brett Favre’s successor in Green Bay that, at 37, he may not have many more opportunities to play for a title, saying, “it’s out of my control.”
“I’m always just trying to stay present, especially this year as much as anything, and enjoy the moments,” Rodgers said.
“My future is a beautiful mystery, I think. The present is such a gift to be able to stay in the moment and to have gratitude for being in this situation again and being with the guys and having fans in our stadium and maybe snow in an NFC Championship Game.
“I’m going to enjoy these moments, for sure, and just not worry about what happens down the line,” he continued, adding, “I don’t feel any extra pressure going into this one.”
But there clearly is more pressure on Rodgers than Brady entering Sunday’s game.
This will be Brady’s 14th appearance in a conference championship game, albeit his first with the Bucs and against an NFC team.
At 43, he faced enormous odds to reach Sunday’s game after spending the previous 20 seasons with the Patriots. Not only was there a pandemic that wiped out offseason workouts, a limited training camp and no preseason games, but Brady had to learn an entirely new offense, coaching staff and players.
At one point, the Bucs were floundering at 7-5 before catching fire after the bye week and winning six in a row.
“There were a lot of reasons to come here,” Brady said of his decision to join the Bucs. “Obviously, (we’ve got) a great coaching staff and a lot of really great players. (I was) just wanting to come and compete. I’ve loved working with my teammates. We’ve all worked really hard to get to this point. To play in a championship game is a great experience.
“I love being able to do that with this group of guys who have worked really hard to get to this point. We’ve competed hard. We had a few rough moments in there, but we’ve won two playoff road games, and we’re going to have to win a third if we want to get to continue playing. It’s a tough test. It’s a great football team we’re playing. It’s certainly not an easy task, but we’ve got to figure out a way.”
Rodgers has never played an NFC Championship Game at home, where the Packers are 8-1 this season and have averaged 31.5 points per game. They also will benefit from nearly 9,000 fans that were allowed to attend the division playoff against the Rams.
“It’s definitely historic; there’s nothing like it,” Rodgers said of Lambeau Field. “I’ve played in just about every stadium now. I’ve been a lover of the NFL most of my life. And dreamt about playing in this stadium since I watched those VHS tapes of the Green Bay Packers and the Ice Bowl: Bart Starr and Max McGee and Fuzzy (Thurston), Willie Davis, Ray Nitschke.
“That’s what I dreamt about, being a part of an organization that had that kind of excellence. Vince Lombardi, all the quotes that he has that still resonate to this day. The trophy is named after him for a reason. ... It’s a special place to play.”
Rodgers says he’s been a longtime fan of Brady, and the admiration is reciprocal.
“He basically does everything well, so he’s got great command and experience,” Brady said of Rodgers. “And (his) leadership — players are playing hard. He’s got a great style of play.”
The Bucs aren’t putting much stock in their 38-10 win over the Packers in October, a game in which they intercepted Rodgers twice. Three months later, he is the odds-on league MVP favorite with 48 touchdown passes and just five interceptions.
But the second Super Bowl ring hasn’t been slipped on Rodgers’ finger. When Brady joined the NFC, Rodgers believed it was almost inevitable his road to the Super Bowl would include an encounter with Brady.
“I remember when I heard the news about him coming to the NFC, I thought this was a real possibility,” Rodgers said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to play against him.”
Comparisons between the quarterbacks are inevitable, but also maybe a bit unfair to Rodgers.
“It’s a tough thing, because you look at Brady, and everybody wants to make that comparison forever,’” Packers receiver Davante Adams said. “So it’s basically turned into a quarterback stat, a Super Bowl. So if that’s what it’s going to be, then obviously we’re going to put as much as we can in ourselves to help him get there.”