ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- They met at the Pro Bowl in 2015, teammates on Team Irvin, and at the time quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan couldn’t have known what was going to follow. They knew each other in passing, two men of 32 with high-profile, high-pressure jobs as starting quarterbacks.
Then they got to talking. They found out they lived close to one another in Atlanta, where Stafford and his wife, Kelly, live in the offseason. So they started to talk. Kelly and Ryan’s wife, Sarah, hit it off.
A friendship was formed.
“Been close friends ever since,” said Matt Ryan, whose Falcons will host Matthew Stafford's Lions on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox). “This circle is small. You get to know people pretty well in this league the longer you hang around. We’ve got so much in common and live in the same place and he’s been a great friend throughout the years.”
The foursome became incredibly close quickly. Months after they met, the Ryans were guests at the Staffords’ wedding. They vacationed together and had meals together. Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan have gone on golf trips together before, too, although Stafford said Ryan is a much better golfer than him: “One of the best I’ve ever played with.”
In Atlanta during earlier offseasons, they played on the same church league basketball team -- along with Buffalo receivers coach Chad Hall, who is Kelly Stafford’s brother -- that won two straight championships.
“They are very, very alike,” Hall told ESPN in 2017. “That’s what I’d say. They like to travel. They just do a lot together.”
They’ve also been there for each other, too.
According to a story on the website of the Atlanta Falcons, the two families comforted one another when Kelly and Sarah went through separate health crises -- complications during Sarah’s pregnancy with her twins in 2018 and Kelly’s brain tumor in 2019.
“We really all four get along great and they’ve been there for us when we’ve been through tough times,” Matthew Stafford said. “And we’ve tried to be there for them when they’re going through tough times.
“It’s a unique and special relationship that I know as my wife and I do, we cherish that one.”
Matthew Stafford said Matt Ryan is his closest non-teammate friend in the game. Ryan is the guy who will reach out to give Stafford a hard time when his name is mentioned -- again and again -- on baseball broadcasts about Stafford’s childhood friendship with Clayton Kershaw.
And they’ll be in constant contact, even during the season. Stafford said he and Ryan have been in touch about all kinds of topics, including family. He wouldn’t get into specifics -- including whether or not they talked after Atlanta fired Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff -- but said “anything everything kind of comes up.”
They aren’t avoiding each other this week, either, when their teams play. Stafford and Ryan were on a Zoom call together Tuesday along with Duron Harmon and Ricardo Allen for the Falcons website. Stafford said they’ll probably have some sort of friendly wager -- possibly dinner -- on the game and they’ll try to beat each other.
Then, around 4 p.m. when the game ends, it'll be another part of a relationship built on many shared experiences.
“A lot of common experiences in life. Always helps when your wives get together and they are really good friends, too,” Stafford said. “A lot of similar experiences.
“He’s a great guy, easy to get along with. I’m sure you ask all his teammates they’ll tell you the same thing.”