London has, over the years, been spoilt by the visitation of sporting greatness.
A lifetime spent inside the confines of the M25 might comfortably have taken in Roger Federer and Serena Williams at Wimbledon, Shane Warne working his magic at Lord’s, Lionel Messi on top of Europe, Muhammad Ali conquering the world and Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt on another planet altogether.
But alongside those names in the canon of GOATism exists a category of Stateside stars whose greatness has had to be taken largely at transatlantic word and transmission, greatness accepted, acknowledged, adored, but never quite, to the same extent, lived. Michael Jordan, for instance, never played a game of any meaning in London, nor, unsurprisingly, did Babe Ruth or Wayne Gretzky, equivalent giants of three of the four major American sports.
Rodgers, it is worth noting at this point, does not quite belong in the same lofty, trans-era conversation, having ceded what is surely now irretrievable ground to Tom Brady in the debate over who sits atop their own golden generation of NFL quarterbacks. Brady, at 45, has won the longevity argument and, with seven Super Bowl rings to Rodgers’ aggravatingly lonely one, by some margin that geared around cold, hard success, too.
Rodgers, though, remains arguably the most talented quarterback the sport has ever produced and perhaps the greatest regular season (admittedly, hardly where greatness is made) player in NFL history. The 38-year-old is a four-time regular season MVP - one shy of Peyton Manning’s record five - and somehow comes to London both in the apparent twilight of his career and yet, statistically, still somewhere close to his prime.
The last two regular seasons alone have harboured consecutive MVP awards, 85 touchdown passes and league-leading numbers in passer rating, pass completion and both interception and touchdown percentages. Rodgers’ enduring - perhaps even expanding - genius makes it all the more baffling that the Packers have not managed to turn any of three successive 13-3 campaigns into another trip to the Super Bowl.
Getting the Packers to London has been no mean feat, either. They have been reluctant to give up one of their eight home games per season to travel across the pond, citing the value of each to Green Bay’s comparatively small local economy and a home season ticket waiting list of 140,000 as reasons not to take a fixture away from Lambeau Field.
Rodgers’ enduring genius makes it all the more baffling that the Packers have not managed another trip to the Super Bowl
The expansion to a 17-game season has resolved that sticking point and Sunday’s meeting with the New York Giants will see them become the 32nd and final NFL franchise to play an International Series game. Fittingly, it will be the first of 32 played in London to be contested by two teams with winning records.
Rodgers has been, at least publicly, supportive of the idea for some time, claiming back in 2020 that he has been keen to make the trip since the first London game was played in 2007. While head coach Matt LaFleur this week expressed some reservations about the strains of international travel, Rodgers’ only regret was that the Packers - who only arrived in London this morning - did not have more time on British soil.
“We’re all excited,” he said. “I think the reason I said I wanted to go over early was just to experience a little bit of that culture, to be able to get out and see some sights and interact with fans and ... shoot, go to a pub and have a Guinness or whatever the local brew is.”
The intersection of geography and brewery is not, it seems, Rodgers’ strong point. But on Sunday, at Spurs, London will be afforded something of a rare treat, a first-hand glimpse of a sporting talent for so long confined to home shores.