GREEN BAY, Wis. (NBC 26) — Sunday at Lambeau Field, two rival running backs will compete in freezing temperatures for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
It's ironic, given their relationship was forged in the blazing Arizona heat.
Packers running back Jamaal Williams and Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones spent the 2020 offseason training together. Now, they will compete against one another in the NFC Championship.
Their trainer, Luke Neal, is also Williams' uncle. A high school teammate of former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson, Neal said a troubled past cut his college and potential professional career short.
"It just for me didn't work out," he told NBC 26 on Tuesday. "I didn't have the guidance. I didn't have the trainers. I didn't have access to a conversation with a father."
So instead, he became a trainer himself. This past year, he kept his circle small, training only Williams and Jones.
"We have a saying, with all three of us, we're better together than we are apart," Neal said.
The two backs, close in age, developed a friendship. They even both stayed at Neal's condo together.
"It's fun watching each other because they're like two cartoon characters," Neal joked. "They both text each other, they talk to each other. They love to compete against each other.
"I remember the other times on the hill when Ronald finally got beat he'd be like, let's do one more," Neal said. "I don't want J-Man to beat me, I can't have him beat me."
That's the same competitive fire that helped propel their team's within one win of the Super Bowl.
On Sunday's Neal's eyes will be glued to the TV as he watches the two backs face off for the second time this season.
"It was great seeing them both work so hard together and now play against each other for the second time," he said. "The unfortunate thing is someone is going to a super bowl, and someone is going home, so that's the bad thing."
Neal said he has no rooting interest, he'd just like to see both players perform well.