Football is a unique sport. It takes extreme athleticism, unparalleled guts, and a strong work ethic every single day to be successful in America’s most popular game. It’s also the ultimate team sport. Even superstars like George Kittle, Aaron Donald, Stephon Gilmore, and Cooper Kupp – who possess all the talent in the world – need to rely on their teammates in crucial situations to keep winning games.

With the responsibility of a win weighing on everyone’s shoulders, a successful team must build a strong bond of trust throughout their squad. How is that done, you ask? For Aaron Donald, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, it’s all about building and maintaining relationships on and off the field. 

“The bond and brotherhood you build with your teammates is beyond football,” Donald said. “When you’re able to battle with a guy on the field and also have a good time with him off it, you tend to have fun playing with that guy knowing he has your back.”

Another defensive player of the year, Stephon Gilmore, echoed what Donald had to say about a brotherhood being formed, but attributed that bond strengthening after overcoming obstacles as a team instead of individuals.

“When you overcome adversity as one, you gain a great deal of respect for those people who have shared that experience,” Gilmore said. “That mutual respect is the brotherhood.”

Even for the ultimate, alpha competitors like George Kittle, guys take time to reflect on the camaraderie formed just from playing the game together.

“I’m going on nine years with (quarterback) C.J. Beathard,” Kittle said. “We did five years at Iowa and now we’re going on year four in San Francisco. I’ve got a bond with him that I’ve never shared with anyone else in my life just because we played football. It’s crazy and that’s one thing I love about the game.”

And it’s not just the personal rapport these men build with each other, it also comes in the form of winning on the field. Los Angeles wide receiver Cooper Kupp took a more systematic approach when talking about how football is the ultimate team sport.

“You rely on the guys to the left and right of you to do their job effectively,” Kupp said. “Without group efficiency, you won’t be effective as a team. From the offensive line, to running back, to wide receiver, and quarterback, if one person isn’t right, the only chance to save that play is for someone else to pick up the slack.”

Winning obviously helps the bond between teammates grow stronger, but there’s also something to be said about the mutual respect gained throughout the heat of a battle, even in a loss. For these men, their differences don’t’ matter — when they step onto the field, they’ve got each other’s backs no matter the cost. That’s the brotherhood football creates.

“Our greatest successes and worst failures happen right there next to one another,” Kupp said. “Those experiences provide incredible opportunities to lift each other up and overcome things together.”