GREEN BAY, Wis. — When the Packers’ defensive linemen are playing cards inside the locker room, Aaron Rodgers sits down to deal a hand. When undrafted rookies are added to the team, Rodgers makes it a point to greet them, welcome them to Green Bay and get to know more about them. When offseason acquisition Anthony Hargrove wants to joke around on the field during practice, Rodgers is more than happy to oblige. When up-and-coming wide receiver Diondre Borel is standing alone momentarily near his locker, Rodgers stops to talk and offer words of encouragement.
These are just a few examples of the many ways in which Rodgers is the unquestioned leader of the Green Bay Packers.
On the field, Rodgers enters his eighth season as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player and a Super Bowl champion and is widely regarded as the best player in the league. But elite performance alone wouldn’t garner the vast amount of respect Rodgers has among his teammates. His ability to relate to players who are coming into Green Bay from different backgrounds and situations is what makes Rodgers more than simply a great quarterback.
“Everybody responds differently; in order to encourage somebody, they have different buttons as well,” Rodgers told FOXSportsWisconsin.com in an exclusive interview. “I think that’s what getting to know guys is all about, getting to know their personality, how they respond to conversation, how they respond eventually to criticism, is the way you’re going to get the most out of your teammates.
“Not everybody responds the same way. You have to push different buttons on them, some guys need to be praised a lot, some guys need a kick in the butt, some guys need repetition of the same thing they’ve heard. You don’t learn that by just being on the field, you learn that by getting to know somebody and taking the time.”
Rodgers does more than just say the right things. When running back Brandon Saine first put on a Packers uniform in 2011 after going undrafted out of Ohio State, he recalls that it took his quarterback less than two days to pull him aside and start talking about life, football and anything else that came up.
“I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was definitely happily surprised,” Saine said. “I’m glad he did it. Now I know what kind of guy he is and I wouldn’t expect anything different. I can’t think of a day when he hasn’t said ‘hi’ to me.”
That’s not part of the job description for Rodgers, but it’s something he would be doing regardless of the circumstances or his role on the team.
“I enjoy getting to know guys’ first names and calling them by their first name,” Rodgers said. “I think it’s a very empowering thing when you acknowledge someone and call them by their first name or give them a nickname, which I feel like has been another thing that I use. It’s an empowering thing when you have a personal connection with a teammate, and that chemistry is often overlooked in the general sense of the team.
“It’s something that I think is important to our success is the chemistry that we have in the locker room.”
Rodgers views the quarterback position as a spot that requires leadership. Though the actual style of leadership can be interpreted and executed in many different ways, Rodgers realized during the 2009 and 2010 seasons that the best way to lead the Packers was to act like himself.
“It’s got to be authentic leadership, it’s got to be believable and it can’t be forced,” Rodgers said. “From the moment I got here, I wanted to let those guys know what kind of guy I was and try to be consistent. The best compliment I can get is that I’m the same guy I am today that I was when I was playing on the scout team.”
“He just does stuff like, walks in a room, asks, ‘Anybody need a water?’ ” McCarthy said. “He’s a gentleman, he has manners, he’s got a really good personality, he interacts with everybody. That goes a long way with people, a lot more than what people realize.
“He did before he was a starter, and he still does now. He’s been consistent in his growth of success; his consistency in how he treats people has been very good. It’s his room. Those are his guys. He’s exceptional. He does a great job with it.”
Rodgers has taken his leadership a step further when it comes to the rest of Green Bay’s quarterbacks. Last season, with the Packers at 14-1 and Rodgers sitting just 441 yards away from Dan Marino’s all-time single-season passing yards record, it was Matt Flynn who started for Green Bay in Week 17. Rodgers not only happily stepped aside to give his backup a chance to shine, but he spent extra time helping Flynn study and prepare for the game. Flynn ended up breaking the Packers’ single-game franchise records for passing yards (480) and passing touchdowns (six) and landed a lucrative, multi-year contract in Seattle with an opportunity to become the Seahawks’ long-term starter.
Flynn, a 2008 seventh-round pick, was replaced on Green Bay’s roster this offseason by a seventh-round pick when the Packers drafted B.J. Coleman. It didn’t take long for Coleman to realize exactly the type of person he was playing behind.
“Aaron’s a great leader,” Coleman said. “He interacts with all guys; special teams, offense, defense. He does a great job with that. He asks me questions constantly throughout meetings to keep me on my toes, making sure that I’m paying attention to what I need to be paying attention to.
“He’s a professional. That’s the best way I can put it. He knows what he’s doing, and there’s not a better guy that I can learn from.”
Spend some time around the Packers and it quickly becomes obvious: Rodgers is more than just Green Bay’s best player, he’s also the team’s leader in every sense of the word.