Winning tomorrow would give the Green Bay QB as many rings as Brett Favre has
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 5, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 5, 2011
DALLAS » As the 2005 draft crept uncomfortably along into hour 2, then hour 3, then hour 4 and beyond, Aaron Rodgers looked at the board, saw the words "Green Bay" up there and knew there was an outside chance his long day would end there.
Then, he heard his name. In a matter of seconds, he went from draft day disappointment to Brett Favre's backup.
A lot of baggage to carry up to the Frozen Tundra.
"I never thought it was baggage," Rodgers said. "I was happy someone picked me."
The Packers are happy, too.
Despite skeptical fans and a less-than-welcoming Favre, Rodgers took over the starting job three years ago. This year, he led the Pack to the Super Bowl and is now as revered in Green Bay as the guy who once wore No. 4 — the quarterback they once said was irreplaceable.
"It was a difficult situation," Rodgers said. "It was tough to stand up every day in front of the media not knowing what questions were coming at me and how the fans were going to react that day in practice. But the whole time, the organization stood by me and they told the truth, and I told the truth, and we moved on together."
Those who knew him, who had studied his game and his slow, steady rise through the sport, could see this coming.
One of the most savvy moves Rodgers made was to contact Steve Young, who went through a very similar scenario in San Francisco when he waited behind Joe Montana in the 1990s.
Young's advice: "You have to take a laser focus on the opportunity to be on a good team and play good football and not worry about the other stuff. You try to forget about all the things that make it hard. If you go there, you'll find yourself doing the human-nature thing and trying to get people to understand how hard it is. That never works. You never want to let that happen."
Rodgers was a record-setter at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, Calif., but at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, didn't get a serious look from the major colleges. So, he stayed in the area, enrolled at Butte Community College and immediately won over a group of players in their 20s who had as much experience in the school of hard knocks as on the football field.
After throwing for 28 touchdowns in one season at Butte — along with starting a growth spurt that would see him add 4 inches and 50 pounds — Rodgers made his way to Cal, where he worked with coach Jeff Tedford. In two years there, Rodgers went 14-4 as a starter, threw for 5,469 yards and, for a long time in the lead-up to the 2005 draft, was being touted as a possible No. 1 pick.
Reputations change, though, and when his favorite team growing up, the Niners, used the first pick on another quarterback, Alex Smith, Rodgers' slide down the board began.
Picking at No. 24, the Packers hadn't spent any time in the offseason considering the possibility that Rodgers would fall down to their spot. But about 10 days before the draft, they saw his stock was still fading. It wasn't so much that they needed a quarterback. It was that Rodgers was such a bargain at that point, he'd be almost impossible to pass up.
The pick, of course, was not all that popular — not with Favre still in the late part of his prime and showing no signs of the retirement-unretirement game he'd saddle the Packers and others with a few years down the road.
"In some ways, sitting for three years and then playing is helpful," said general manager Ted Thompson, who was questioned when he made the pick, then criticized when he traded Favre to make way for Rodgers to become the starter.
In the salary-cap era, finances make it hard to justify spending first-round money for a player to sit on the bench, even if he is a quarterback who needs time. Add that shortly after Rodgers was chosen, Favre said in an interview that it wasn't his job to mentor his understudies, and it was clear this was not going to be the most comfortable situation.
"The best way to describe it was, we were teammates the first year," Rodgers said in a 2008 interview. "It was a very business relationship. But I was kind of in his hip pocket. My biggest thing was, if we're not going to be friends yet, which is fine, I'm still going to be in his hip pocket until he tells me to get lost."
With his focus squarely on football, Rodgers has done nothing but get better since getting his first chance in Dallas. Favre went out with a concussion that day in 2007 and Rodgers completed 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown as his backup.
Many experts measure the real greatness of a quarterback by Super Bowl victories. With a win tomorrow, Rodgers would be even with Favre.