Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have only faced off against each other one time in their illustrious careers. And while the two will get the chance to run it back for what may be the final time when the Patriots and Packers meet this November, the universe shudders at the mere thought of the two ever facing off in the Super Bowl. The football gods have decided that we — as a fan base, as a nation, as humans — do not deserve it.
That’s the only explanation behind how two perennial contenders have somehow found a way to slide by one another each January like tectonic plates, disrupting and forever altering the landscape of NFL history in the process. Brady-Rodgers is the Super Bowl matchup we’re destined to miss, a battle between future Hall of Famers with the ability to will their teams to victory by threading footballs through a thousand closing windows at once.
But we’ve come so close. The persistent postseason presence of the Patriots and Packers presents possible and popular opportunities for prescient predictions (say that five times fast). New England-Green Bay is a common Super Bowl pick most years when the playoffs roll around, but the fates always find a way to wreck it, leaving us with a trail of “what if” breadcrumbs that ultimately lead nowhere. Instead, we’re forced to reminisce on an inferior version from 1996, a Drew Bledsoe-Brett Favre matchup that serves as the Hydrox to the Brady-Rodgers Oreo.
It’s worked out better for the Patriots than the Packers, but here’s every time we were cruelly tempted with a Brady-Rodgers Super Bowl just to have it yanked from our fingertips.
2007: Tom Coughlin’s frozen face ruins everything
This one doesn’t really count; Rodgers was in the final season of his three-year apprenticeship under Brett Favre. Rather than a showdown between an 18-0 Brady and a budding Rodgers, we would have had the Ol’ Gunslinger riding again in a rematch from Super Bowl XXXI.
But still, the juggernaut Patriots and 13-3 Packers appeared preordained to meet in the NFL title game, especially with a Wild Card Giants team headed to Lambeau Field on a day when the wind chill hit -23. New York head coach Tom Coughlin, then a sprightly 61 years old, wore every one of those degrees like a low-budget Red Skull cosplay.
Coughlin somehow weathered the sub-zero temps through regulation and overtime before a Favre interception and a Lawrence Tynes field goal pushed the Giants to the Super Bowl, thus making “18-1” a thing for the world outside New England to enjoy.
2010: Patriots dook all over themselves vs. the Jets
New England tore through the regular season with a 14-2 record, earning Brady MVP honors for the second time in his career. That led the Patriots to a Divisional Round showdown with the Jets, the archrival they’d beaten six weeks earlier by a 45-3 count.
Despite that history, they managed just three first half points against New York, fulfilling Rex Ryan’s deal with the devil and allowing Mark Sanchez to make one of two career starts in the AFC Championship Game. Meanwhile, the Packers rallied from their Wild Card start, beat a hobbled Jay Cutler in the NFC title game, and dispatched the Steelers to win their fourth Super Bowl in franchise history. Rodgers won MVP honors that game after throwing for 304 yards and three touchdowns.
2011: Packers go 15-1, but Coughlin strikes again
Green Bay was in excellent shape to capitalize on its 2010 championship thanks to Rodgers, who leveled up to command the league’s top offense and earn his first NFL MVP award. A 13-3 Patriots team was waiting on the other side, beckoning Rodgers to challenge their status as the NFL’s preeminent dynasty. It was the perfect cauldron to forge a legendary rivalry.
And then the Packers got absolutely torched by Hakeem Nicks (seven catches, 165 yards, two touchdowns) and once again saw their postseason hopes smashed against the rocks after falling for Tom Coughlin’s “don’t worry about the Giants, we’re not actually very good” siren song. Rodgers needed 46 passes to throw for just 264 yards as Eli Manning soundly outplayed him, sending another disappointed Lambeau crowd back to their local bars to drink brandy Old Fashioneds and stew briefly before reverting to their entirely pleasant natural states.
Three weeks later, it would be New England’s turn to fall victim to Coughlin. Again.
2014: Wherein the Seahawks’ comeback causes the Packers to collapse in on themselves like a dying star
The Seahawks won the NFC Championship Game against the Packers because a million stupid things went their way — if they only had the good fortune of 999,999 stupid things going their way, they would’ve lost. If even a single of the following balls of absurdity bounced the other, more rational way, then it’s Rodgers and Brady slugging it out in the desert for that silver trophy:
• There were only nine occasions throughout the entire 2014 regular season in which coaches kicked from the 1-yard line, but high-rolling Mike McCarthy decided to do it on back-to-back drives in the first quarter. Good decision-making.
• Late in the third quarter, Wilson fumbled a snap from shotgun and recovered it. Nothing particularly abnormal about this play when isolated in a vacuum. But it’s yet another stroke of perplexing good fumble fortune for Wilson throughout the 2014 season. It was his 13th fumble of the regular season and postseason combined, and Seattle recovered every single damn last one of them. Not sure there’s been another instance of fumble luck even close to that glaring.
• Up 12 with five minutes left, Morgan Burnett picked off Russell Wilson and had huuuuuuuuge amounts of green in front of him but decided he’d rather not deliver a knockout dagger. More good decision-making.
• This pretty spectacular onside kick flub.
• Converting the only Hail Mary two-pointer in NFL history
• Hey after all that, you’d think surely the cosmos wouldn’t also have the OT coin toss go the Seahawks’ way. LOL
That luck lasted about 59 more minutes, or roughly enough game time to convince Pete Carroll to throw a slant from the New England 1-yard line with 26 seconds left to play in the Super Bowl. Malcolm Butler’s interception paved the way for the third of Tom Brady’s four Super Bowl MVP awards.
2016: wow, the Falcons were pretty good for six quarters there
For the third year, New England and Green Bay each advanced to the NFL’s final four, but one team managed to derail both ... for about 103 minutes. The Atlanta Falcons wrecked the Packers, one week after Green Bay claimed a short-lived “team of destiny” vibe for knocking off the top-seeded Cowboys in Dallas behind a ridiculous Aaron Rodgers comeback.
Rodgers wound up throwing for three touchdowns in the NFC Championship, but it was all for naught as his team fell behind 31-0 in Georgia. All in all, the Falcons would hold a 65-24 advantage through the course of six quarters in the two biggest games of their 2016 season. And then football was canceled in the American South, never to be spoken of again (except in New Orleans, where March 28 is a holiday).
2017: Anthony Barr forces the good people of Wisconsin to watch entirely too many Brett Hundley passes
Rodgers returned to MVP-candidate form last fall in Green Bay’s 4-1 start, pulling together a 13:3 TD:INT ratio while pushing his team to the top of the NFC North. Then Anthony Barr crushed his collarbone into dust, and the Packers fell into a 3-8 spiral where:
a) their only wins came against the Bears, Buccaneers (in OT), and Browns (in OT!), three teams with 10 combined victories last fall.
b) promoted starter Brett Hundley played five games at Lambeau Field without throwing a single touchdown pass.
That crushed Green Bay’s eight-year playoff streak, allowing the Patriots to rally their way past the Steelers and Jaguars and into the AFC’s slot in the Super Bowl. Tom Brady won his third career MVP in a season where the rest of his competition fell off dramatically, but even his 505-yard showing in the title game could prevent, uh, Nick Foles from fulfilling his Super Bowl MVP destiny.
And that’s it. Six seasons where the Patriots and Packers appeared primed for a collision in the biggest game of the year, but instead flamed out and deprived the world of a Brady-Rodgers duel.
Fortunately there’s still time to correct this mistake. Brady and the Pats are early favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy next February despite the quarterback’s advanced age. The Packers, with a revamped defense and overhauled offense, have the sixth-best odds. Once again, it’s no stretch to make a Green Bay-New England preseason prediction when it comes to the Super Bowl.
But if the past is any indication, we can expect another postseason where the Patriots get upended by a team they’d beaten by 42 weeks earlier, or a Packers’ season derailed when two of the disks in Rodgers’ back spontaneously ignite. Somehow, someway, we are all unworthy of seeing Brady vs. Rodgers in the playoffs. Just accept that it’ll never happen.