I don’t remember much about the 2005 NFL Draft without having to look it up but I do remember two things distinctly:
1. Alex Smith was taken #1 overall by the San Francisco 49ers and 2. The ESPN cameras at Radio City Music Hall kept zooming in on the disbelieving face of Aaron Rodgers each of the 23 times he was passed on.
I wish I had the access and privilege to speak to the teams owning those 23 draft picks and ask them if they’d like to do it all over again, starting right at the top with San Francisco.
Rodgers would finally be selected 24th overall by the Green Bay Packers, meaning he would be the understudy of the great Brett Favre (for longer than most people thought).
Aaron Rodgers spent the 2005 and 2006 season behind the Green Bay hero and icon. He got some limited playing time due to some Brett Favre injuries and in one game in 2006, amidst a 35-0 blowout at the hands of the New England Patriots, Rodgers broke his foot and missed the remainder of the 2006 season.
By the time the 2007 season came around, his foot was healed and he was ready to play. One obstacle was still in his way though, the ageless Brett Favre. Favre decided he wasn’t ready to call it quits and wanted to give it one more shot. That year the Packers had a 13-3 record and made it to the NFC Championship game but lost to the New York Giants.
That following offseason Brett Favre announced his retirement and Aaron Rodgers was the heir apparent. Then Favre pulled what is now an infamous flip flop (one of many) and decided he still hadn’t had enough and wanted to give it one more go. The Packers, however, decided that they had enough of Favre and his indecision and traded him to the New York Jets and put all faith in Rodgers. This caused a split amongst the Green Bay faithful. Some fans backed the Packers and others were on Favre’s side. Rodgers received a lot of backlash from this because the ‘Favre faithful’ blamed him for Favre being forced out. During this whole process Rodgers handled it perfectly. He stayed quiet and out of the spotlight.
Rodgers’ first year as starting QB (2008) was good individually, 4,000+ yards and 28 TDs, but a failure for the team. After being a year removed from the NFC Championship, the Packers finished the season 6-10.
2009 was an even better year for Rodgers. He threw for more yards, more TDs, and less INTs than in 2008. More importantly the Packers finished 11-5 and earned a playoff spot. The Packers played the Arizona Cardinals in what could only be described as a SHOOTOUT. The two teams combined for a NFL playoff record 96 combined points. The game was back and forth and needed overtime to settle it. In the end, the Cardinals prevailed 51-45. In his first playoff game, Rodgers threw for 422 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 INT. Even with this incredible postseason debut, Rodgers was for some reason dubbed by some as someone who can’t win the big game. Maybe he should’ve threw for 6TDs. Ridiculous.
Fast forward to this year. Rodgers became a household name and was regarded by many as one of the best QBs in the league. All of the Green Bay faithful have given him their full support and put Brett Favre on the back burner (lobbying for and successfully landing a job with division rival Minnesota Vikings probably didn’t help Favre’s legacy in Packer Land). Rodgers didn’t have his best year numbers wise and the Packers had to sneak into the playoffs securing a 6 seed but what they did with that 6 seed has made this season the most successful so far for the Packers since 1997.
The first obstacle for the Packers was MVP candidate Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles. Rodgers threw for only 180 yards but had 3 TDs and the Packers stellar defense limited the explosive Vick in a 21-16 victory.
The next challenge presented to the Packers was the NFC #1 seed Atlanta Falcons who went 13-3 and were the favorites to take the NFC. How did Aaron Rodgers respond? He threw for 366 yards and 3 TDs and the Packers embarrassed the Falcons 48-21.
On to the NFC Championship game. The Packers were set to play their most bitter division rival in the Chicago Bears, adding another game to the NFL’s oldest rivalry. Rodgers didn’t have his normal 3+ TD playoff game but he did the start the game off with an opening drive rushing TD and then the Packer defense carried them the rest of the way and the Green Bay Packers became the 2010 NFC Champions. The most impressive stat of Green Bay’s 3 playoff victories: every game was a ROAD game.
With all the trials and tribulations set before him, Aaron Rodgers rose above and is one step away from football immortality. He’s getting a chance to achieve what every football player sets out to do. On February 6th, Rodgers and the Packers will face off with the league’s number 1 defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. He’s come a long way since being the guy who kept dropping on draft day, since being Brett Favre’s backup, since breaking his foot, since being the guy to blame for Favre’s departure, since being the guy who couldn’t win a big game. Now he’s 60 minutes away from being the guy that brought Vince Lombardi back to Lambeau Field.