Rodgers rewarding Packers' confidence in him
By Mark Concannon
Six years ago, Donald Driver had a gut feeling about a rookie quarterback.
"Aaron came in in 2005," Driver recalled. "One thing I saw, I saw the fight, the hunger in his eyes. You kinda see where a guy wants to be."
About a year later, Driver sat next to Aaron Rodgers on a long plane ride to a charity golf tournament. Rodgers lamented not being the top pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, having to endure his now famous slide to the 24th spot where the Packers selected him.
"I told him, 'You know, you got a great future.' said Driver, who reassured Rodgers that everything happens for a reason. "And you see what happened, " Driver said. "It all works together."
Rodgers "great future" is here now. And he made the leap from potential, to promise to performance with lightning speed once he got a chance to play.
"There's been a lot of quarterbacks over the years who had to replace great players," said former Cowboys quarterback and current Fox Sports analyst Troy Aikman. "And I don't think anyone is going to make anyone forget Brett Favre. But the fact that three years after he's left, no one's asking about Brett Favre speaks volumes about Aaron Rodgers has been able to accomplish. I've been thoroughly impressed watching him play."
Rodgers waited patiently as Favre's apprentice, reaching out to friends and family for advice that helped him adjust to a new football perspective as a backup quarterback after being a star at the University of California. But his three years as an understudy proved invaluable. Rodgers had time to learn the Packers system, but perhaps more importantly, he got an opportunity to build personal relationships in the locker room.
One can't understate the importance in any team pursuit of fitting in, and becoming "one of the guys." As a player who wasn't in the starting lineup, Rodgers was a humble presence among his fellow Packers, something his teammates say hasn't changed since Rodgers has become a star.
"Aaron's a friend," said guard Daryn Colledge. "And he's a friend off the field. We eat together, we play golf together and to see him have success that he has and to know the work he puts in to get to that point, it's awesome. It's great to watch. I don't want to say I'm proud of him because I'm not his father but you're proud of him as a friend."
Rodgers went a long way in reinforcing the perception that he is nothing special by insisting that he would do non-game day interviews at his locker, unlike his predecessor who spoke in the media auditorium. Those of us in the press sometimes grouse about the mob scene in front the #12's cubicle, but Rodgers decision was a big hit with his teammates.
"He doesn't want to be any different than anyone else," said wide receiver Jordy Nelson. "He does his interviews in the locker room. He doesn't go to the podium, separate himself, does it right there with everyone else. He's obviously a big part of it but he believes everyone else is as well. He knows if the guys up front aren't doing what they're doing, he won't be able to do what he's doing. He knows it's a team game and it's good to have a leader like that."
Rodgers will sing the praises of his offensive line to anyone who will listen. That group developing into one of the league's better units has gone a long way toward making Rodgers an elite quarterback. He has set the bar high and makes no exceptions for himself or anyone else who doesn't meet the standard.
"He does an excellent job of expecting greatness from everyone," said center Scott Wells. "He steps up and plays at a great level and he expects the same from everyone else. He's been cool, calm, relaxed when he needs to be and at the same time, he'll jump on you if he has to. He really does an excellent job of handling the ups and downs."
Rodgers will occasionally have words with someone who doesn't execute properly but he mostly speaks through his actions on the field, which this season, have spoken volumes.
"For one, it helps the confidence," Wells said. "Anytime he has the ball in his hands, anything's possible. So if you're able to extend your block and continue to give him time, he'll find the open receiver and deliver a strike."
Rodgers is just one of the guys and he's not. Not everyone gets to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated and has hundreds of people surrounding him on Super Bowl media day.
"I know as a quarterback you're gonna be often, fairly or unfairly labeled as the face of the franchise and given more credit and more blame than you deserve." Rodgers said.
Rodgers is the face of this franchise. But it is not a face made of marble. It is a face that often smiles, sometimes at the thought of a prank he's about to pull on a teammate or how he'll defend himself when the gag turns back on him.
"He jokes with everybody, everybody jokes with him," said wide receiver James Jones. "He cracks jokes on people, we crack jokes on him. I mean we're a very close team, we don't treat him like the star quarterback like, 'nobody mess with Aaron,' we all treat him the same, he treats us the same and we just have fun."
"Aaron's one of those guys who's approachable," said Colledge. "He's one of our guys. Nobody in that locker room is putting him on a pedestal, which he more than deserves to be on. He's one of the finest players we have on our team but he's one of the guys."
There's an old business adage that you don't have to be great friends with everybody you work with. But in the football business, it certainly helps.
"You want to see great things for a guy who's as good as he is, not just on the field but off the field," Colledge said. "He's a good person. He works in the community and he works his butt off. When you have somebody like that, you have more of an emotional attachment and you want even more success for that person. "
Packers general manager Ted Thompson had faith in Rodgers despite a substantial negative reaction from the public at the initial offensive changing of the guard.
"Aaron's a good person and he's a good leader," said Thompson. "He is still growing, still getting better. I think we'll be able to write all the history about him, 10, 12, 15 years from now, but we're very glad he's our quarterback."
"I just try to wrap myself around the team and realize that I am just one of 53," Rodgers said. "I play an important role. I have to play well every week. But this is a great group of guys. Guys who believe in each other, spend time with each other and it's been a great season and I realize I am just one of the 53 and we're all gonna enjoy this experience this week."