Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood is Located in Green Bay
All the talk this past week was about Brett Favre against the Packers. Favre wants his revenge against Packers GM Ted Thompson. But this game also means a lot to Aaron Rodgers who patiently waited three years behind Favre for his chance to be the Packers starting quarterback.
On an April afternoon in New York City, University of California quarterback Aaron Rodgers sat and waited for his name to be called in the green room at the 2004 NFL Draft. He was mentioned as the possible number one pick to his hometown San Francisco 49ers, a team he grew up wanting to play for, but they passed on him and went with Utah quarterback Alex Smith.
Over four hours and 22 other teams passed on Rodgers before the Green Bay Packers took him as their first round pick, the 24th overall selection in the first round to be the heir apparent to Brett Favre. The look on Rodgers face that day showed an array of emotions from excitement, to anxiousness, to nervousness and finally relief.
Rodgers came to Green Bay with a few flaws. His detractors claimed he didn’t have “elite” arm strength, he was conceded and was not athletic enough. They also said he had a robotic throwing motion thanks to Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, who taught his quarterbacks to hold the ball at their ear before they threw. He was far from a “finished product”.
But it was the perfect situation for the Packers and Rodgers who would be able to sit and learn from one of the best quarterbacks of all time in Brett Favre for a few years before he took the reigns of the Packers. But Favre wasn’t exactly on board with the Packers drafting of Rodgers. Favre said he wasn’t going to go out of his way to help teach Rodgers the system the Packers run.
During their time as teammates many people thought that the two players didn’t have a relationship. At first both would admit that is was difficult, but both players also have said that they became closer over the time they spent together in Green Bay and did have an actual friendship.
But both knew that Rodgers day as the starter was coming sooner rather than later which meant Favre’s days in Green Bay were coming to an end.
Then it happened. Brett Favre retired, then unretired, then was traded, then retired and finally came back to play for the Minesotta Vikings. We all know what happened in between the chain of events that transpired and that leads us to the Monday Night Football game on October 4th.
The Packers vs Vikings game may end up being the highest rated game televised in NFL history, even more than the 1985 Chicago Bears vs Miami Dolphins game which the Dolphins gave the Bears their only loss that season. ESPN and the NFL Network are billing the match-up as “Favre vs the Packers”, but make no mistake about it means just as much to the Packers and even more so, Aaron Rodgers.
The whole “Favre saga” overshadowed what should have been Rodgers time to shinein his first camp as the Packers starting quarterback. Rodgers handled the situation with nothing but class and dignity showing his maturity and character. But deep down inside Rodgers and in the Packers locker room everyone, including other players, knew that it was unfair to Rodgers.
Greg Jennings expressed that this week when he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “Aaron, in my eyes, wasn’t treated the best,” Jennings said Thursday. “And it wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t like he kicked Brett out of here. He was just the guy that was taking his spot. Unfortunately, he didn’t get welcomed by some and for some he did.
“But there’s definitely that drive to want to win it for him. But that’s been the whole mind-set from Day 1 (when) he took the realm: ‘Let’s play for A-Rod.’ I mean, it’s hard enough coming behind someone like that and then to go against him in a rivalry game on Monday night, I can only imagine.”
This will be Rodgers biggest game in his four year career. It will be on the national stage against the legend he replaced. How can he or how will he be able to control his emotions? Packers fans are used to seeing “rocket balls” from a “geared up” Favre. Will Rodgers do the same thing?
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t seem to think so. He said that Rodgers has a different personality then Favre. he said that when he came to Green Bay as the quarterbacks coach in 1999 and the Packers were going up against the Seattle Seahawks with then new head coach Mike Holmgren, his job was to “keep Favre under control”.
“Didn’t do a very good job of it,” McCarthy said Thursday. Favre threw four interceptions, completed just 14 of 35 passes and the Packers got beat 27-7 at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers positional coach feels his “even keeled” attitude makes him less likely to make the same mistakes Favre has made by getting to emotional. “That’s his type of personality,” Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements said. “He has an even keel. He gets a little fiery on the field at times, which is fine, but he’s an easy-going guy off the field.”
Remember when the so called “experts” talked about Rodgers lack of arm strength, robotic motion and selfish attitude? Well those same experts now say that Rodgers has one of the strongest arms in the NFL, throws one of the best deep balls, has near perfect fundamentals, is one of the best young field generals in the game and on his way to super-star status.
Here is how Packers head coach Mike McCarthy compared Favre to Rodgers in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
FUNDAMENTALS: “You take Brett Favre and freeze frame him from the waist up and you take this guy here (Rodgers) and freeze frame him from the waist up and you’ll see two of the purest throwing motions you’ll ever see. Brett Favre is extremely fundamental with shoulder rotation, point of release, big hands, long arms, elbow pointing to the target, all the things I look for. Aaron Rodgers is no different.”
FOOTWORK: “Brett doesn’t get hurt because he has good feet. Good feet get you out of trouble. You’re going to get hit, but it’s how you get hit. Are you taking those kinds of hits (slaps fist into hand)? Or are you taking those hits (dodges away)? Aaron is a very good athlete, a lot more than people realize, I know more than I was aware of when he came out of college during the draft evaluation. He can move.”
FLEXIBILITY: “They’re gifted genetically. They have the big hands and long arms. I’m sure Brett still today has that flexibility in the shoulders. Your power comes from your left side. It’s the foundation of the foot, hips and shoulder turn and the flexion in your shoulder rotation. A lot of flexibility allows you to spin the ball. Both of those guys spin the hell out of the ball.”
ARM STRENGTH:“Throwing a football, hitting a golf ball, kicking a football are all the same thing, the way I look at it. It’s all about club speed. It’s no different than the ability to rotate your shoulders and hips. You watch Brett throw, when he recoils, the torque he generates, it’s huge. It has nothing to do with his forearm (strength). Both guys have a good foundation, a good, core strength underneath them. I’ve always felt Aaron had a strong arm. I don’t know the guy who said he didn’t have a strong arm when he came out. I was at his college workout and he put on a show. He’s always had a big arm.”
Rodgers has had to deal with the “Favre question” all last season and again all this week. Rodgers, much like last season and many times before, has handled it with class and dignity. He told reporters “That’s not what I do,” Rodgers said. “I’m not looking at this game any different. This is an important game against a tough opponent. But it’s Week 4, and we’ve got 16 weeks.”
Jennings added “He better, I wouldn’t think otherwise. I would probably look at him kind of strange if he didn’t. We want this game. I can speak for myself.
“I’m quite positive he wants it more. I can say the same for probably Brett. Brett probably wants it more. But it’s not about Aaron, it’s not about Brett, it’s about the Packers and Vikings.”
Rodgers cool confidence on and off the field has made him a leader in the Green Bay locker room. He waited his turn and didn’t try to “take over” Favre’s locker room (like Steve Young tried to do to Joe Montana). He earned the respect of his teammates by working hard, attending every OTA and mini camp and taking it upon himself to get the team together and bond.
On Monday night, which is going to be a hard night for Packers fans, make no mistake about it, Rodgers will have his opportunity to show everyone that the Packers are in good hands. But while Rodgers looks to prove his detractors wrong (yet again) and start his own Packers legacy, by beating the Vikings (who is led by the Packers most recent living legend), he won’t get caught up in the moment. He understands there is a much greater goal, bringing the Lombardi Trophy back home to Green Bay.
Aaron Rodgers truly has made Green Bay, “Mr. Rodgers Neighbor Hood”, and luckily for Packers fans, it will stay that way for a very long time. Just how friendly a neighbor hood it becomes remains to be seen, but if it is anything like Rodgers career, sky is the limit.
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