Matt Ryan is more than Stafford's Kershaw. 'He's the friend who gives me sh*t for it'


With Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers back in the World Series, you may have heard about a kid he grew up with in Texas. You may have heard that kid crouched for Kershaw in baseball, and Kershaw crouched for that kid in football. You may have heard that kid was ... Matthew Stafford! Kershaw and Stafford! Childhood friends!!

What you probably haven't heard is that Kershaw and Stafford have grown apart over the years, that they root for each other but don't really keep in touch, that they're not the chummy, dimpled pals you see in all those photos on TV -- which makes the whole thing pretty funny to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

"He’s the friend who gives me sh*t for it coming up again, and again and again and again," Stafford cracked on Wednesday. "He’s the best kind of friend when it comes to that."

Stafford and Ryan are the best kind of friends, period. They met at the Pro Bowl in 2015 and they've been tight ever since. Stafford and his wife Kelly are godparents for the Ryans' son Johnny -- John Matthew, to be exact -- and Ryan and his wife Sarah are godparents for the Staffords' daughter Hunter. Stafford said Wednesday Ryan is his closest 'non-teammate' friend in the NFL.

The two will go head to head Sunday in Atlanta.

"He’s obviously a great player and a great friend of mine. Our wives get along extremely well -- we really all four get along great," Stafford said. "They’ve been there for us when we’ve been through tough times, and we try to be there for them when they’re going through tough times. So it’s a unique and special relationship that I know my wife and I cherish."

Ryan, 35, entered the NFL as the third overall pick in 2008, out of Boston College. Stafford, 32, was the first overall pick a year later. Only five active starting quarterbacks have been around longer: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers. Only Brees, Roethlisberger and Rodgers have had longer stints with their current teams.

"From a male perspective, there’s only 31 other guys that do what I do and what he does, and not too many of us left over that have done it for as long as we have," Stafford said. "So it’s great to have somebody just to talk about it with during the season and during the offseason."

Sunday's showdown will be the fifth all time between Stafford and Ryan, and the second since that fateful meeting in 2015. Ryan has the 4-1 edge, including a last-second win in Detroit in 2017. (You may remember this as the 10-second-runoff game.) There will be a lot on the line for the two teams, and perhaps a meal on the line for the two quarterbacks.

"When we play (each other), we’re both competitive dudes. We just want to go win. We’ll probably have a dinner wager on it or something like that, something friendly, but we’ll be just trying to beat each other," Stafford said. "Both of our teams didn’t get off to the start we wanted, so it’s important for us to go out there and win as many as we possibly can."

For years, the Staffords and Ryans lived just blocks apart in the same Atlanta suburb in the offseason and somehow never met. They hit it off once they did, two easygoing dudes with fun-loving wives. The couples went to church together, vacationed together and even played basketball together.

"We were a tough team to beat in Atlanta Church League," Stafford said with a grin. "Couple championships down there."

Then life brought them closer. When Sarah was pregnant with twins in 2017, health complications forced her to go on bed rest for six weeks, according to the Falcons' website. Kelly was one of her most frequent visitors in the hospital. And when Sarah ultimately delivered the two boys, Kelly was one of the first three on the scene -- along with Matt and Sarah's mom.

A couple years later, Kelly was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The Ryans were among the first to find out. They were there for the Staffords at every turn, from Kelly's scariest moments to her ultimate recovery. Matt and Sarah designed the light blue Stafford Strong bracelet that the Lions quarterback wore on his wrist last season.

Stafford and Ryan stay in touch throughout the year, even with jobs that tend to get a little crazy. Like in Atlanta, where the Falcons just fired their head coach and general manager and where Ryan's name is popping up in trade rumors. Or in Detroit, where the Lions might be on the brink of another regime change and where Stafford might be on his way out.

"We talk about a lot of stuff," Stafford said. "We talk quite a bit during the season, everything and anything kind of comes up. We’re always checking in on family, making sure everybody’s doing good."

He smiled and added, "Part of having a friendship is being able to have conversations and not have to tell everybody in the media what we talk about, so I’ll do that."

And we'll sit back and enjoy Sunday's show.