A Study in Patience

by Tuesday Morning Tailback

NFL2ToiletAaron Rodgers has led his team to the ultimate championship with a victory in Super Bowl XLV. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and his four-game performance in this year’s postseason is already being touted as the “best ever”.

You can expect the rush towards his bandwagon to be faster than Michael Vick (who, by the way was selected over Rodgers as the third and final NFC Pro Bowl quarterback). We here at Big Blue Bullfrog are not above such hypocracy, as we failed to even mention Rodgers in our recent article about NFL quarterbacks. Fire and Ice.

The fact that Rodgers was still vastly underrated into his third season as a starter, even though he became the only player in history to throw for over 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter, is just the latest in this amazing story of perserverance and patience.

Like most NFL stars, Rodgers was a standout in high school, breaking many records along the way. But because he was only 5’10” (he would eventually grow to 6’2″), he received no recruiting attention from big name colleges, with his best offer being a tryout as a “walk-on” at the University of Illinois. Knowing that, best case scenario, this would only lead to a slot as third or fourth string backup, Rodgers decided instead to attend the local Butte Community College in Oroville, California. He started immediately in his freshman season and threw for 28 touchdowns while leading Butte to a #2 divisional national ranking.

Soon Rodgers was discovered by a coach from the University of California, who visited the Butte campus to recruit another player but was impressed by Rodgers instead. Due to his high grade point average and SAT scores, Rodgers was able to transfer immediately to the prestigious PAC 10 school.

He was named the starting quarterback in the fifth game of his first (sophomore) season at Cal in 2003. Despite only playing about half of the season, he tied the school season record for 300-yard games with five. As a junior in 2004, Rodgers led Cal, who usually finishes in the middle to bottom of the PAC 10, to a 10–1 record and the verge of a national championship, with their only loss coming to #1 (and eventual national champion) USC 23-17 in a last second nail-biter. In that crucial game, Rodgers tied an NCAA record with 23 consecutive passes completed in a single game.

Foregoing his senior season, Rodgers entered the NFL draft in 2005 and was expected to be selected early, possibly even number one overall. That pick was owned by the San Francisco 49ers, the team for which Rodgers had grown up rooting. However, the 49ers decided to pass on Rodgers in lieu of another quarterback, Alex Smith. So then Rodgers waited. And waited, And waited.

22 more teams made selections, and all 22 passed on Rodgers to draft someone else. During the coverage of the draft, ESPN had a constant camera of Rodgers to gauge his reaction once he was chosen. Instead it caught his poise as he was constantly passed up. This poise was partially the reason that the Green Bay Packers decided to take him when Rodgers was still available for their 24th pick, despit the fact that they had an all-time great, Brett Favre at that position.

2005 was Favre’s 14th season with the Packers and he had never suffered a losing season in any of the previous 13. But that year, with Rodgers on the bench as a rookie backup, Favre and the Packers suffered their worst year ever with a record of 4-12 and a last place finish. There was wide speculation that Favre was finished and would retire after the season, especially when head coach Mike Sherman was fired. New coach Mike McCarthy immediately traded wide receiver Javon Walker, the Packer’s top receiver, to the Denver Broncos. This symbolized a move towards youth and rebuilding and Rodgers got ready to step in as the team’s starter.

But in April, after several months of uncertainty, Favre annouced that he would return for the 2006 season. That season started as bad as the previous one ended, with an embarissing 26-0 loss at home to the rival Chicago Bears and an eventual 1-4 record to start the season. For the first time in his career, some fans were openly calling for Favre, who had started every game since 1992, to be benched in favor of Rodgers. However, the Packers did turn it around and finished the season strong, closing out with a big victory against those same Bears in Chicago. Following that game, Favre gave an emotional, tear-filled interview that most took as a sign that he had already decided to finally hang it up. Rodgers again got ready to step in as the team’s starter.

But Favre again surprised fans and pundits by announcing he would return for the 2007 season. There were rumours that the Packers were in negotiatons with the Oakland Raiders to trade Rodgers for wide receiver Randy Moss, but these rumours ended when Moss was traded to New England, where he would set an all-time record for receiving touchdowns that season.

Favre and the Packers had an excellent year in 2007, finishing 13-3 and advancing all the way to the NFC Championship Game. In that game at Lambeau Field, one of the coldest games ever, the Packers battled the New York Giants in a classic overtime game, that the Giants won in overtime following an interception by Favre. Soon after, a poet wrote “Iron Man’s Last Stand” as a tribute to Favre in what was surely his very last game, as that poet “knew” just like everyone else, that Favre would finally retire following that galliant season. Favre officially confirmed this on March 8, 2008, when he publically announced his retirement. The NFL decided to honor Favre by putting him on the cover (in his Green Bay uniform) of the Madden 2009 video game and Rodgers again got ready to step in as the team’s starter.

Although he had learned much by being the backup to a legend, in those three years he only attempted 59 passes with one touchdown and one interception. So there was still much doubt as to how well Rodgers would perform week in and week out.

In mid July, just weeks before training camp, Favre announced that he wanted to come back. He reported to Packers camp in early August, but Green Bay, to their credit wanted to solidify their committment to Aaron Rodgers, so they traded their legendary quarterback to the New York Jets. As he headed into his first start as a professional, Rodgers now not only carried the burden of replacing an “irreplaceable” legend but also the added pressure of his team “gambling” on him in lieu of another season with that legend.

The Packers started strong in 2008, with a 2-0 record but finished weak, losing 5 of their last 6 with the lone victory coming against the winless Detroit Lions. Rodgers had a solid season, throwing for 4,038 yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and a 63% completion percentage.

2009 was a bit better for both Rodgers and the team. The quarterback threw for 4,434 yards with 30 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions and a 64% completion percentage. The Packers improved to 11-5 and made the playoffs as a wildcard team, finishing second their division. However, the team that won the division, the Minnesota Vikings, did so with their “new” quarterback, Brett Favre, who had retired after just one season with the Jets, but again made a late decision to return, this time as a Viking. Favre defeated his old team twice, giving his new team the divisional crown, and causing some lingering doubts about Aaron Rodgers.

For this season, Rodgers and the Packers came in with high hopes as did Favre and the Vikings. However, both teams struggled a bit early in the season and by the time they met the for first time, at Lambeau Field on October 24, 2010, it was a must-win for both teams. This exciting, back-and-forth game came down to the last minute with Green Bay holding on for a 28-24 victory, and Aaron Rodgers finally getting a win against his former mentor. When they met again later in the season in Minneapolis, it was not so close as the Packers blew out the Vikings 31-3.

Favre’s streak of consecutive starts eventually ended late in the season. Rodgers was also injured late in the season when he suffered a concussion, causing him to miss a couple of games which the Packers lost. Their playoff prospects in peril, the Packers had to win a couple of late season games just to get in to the post season, and then had to win all of those games away from Lambeau Field.

With a victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, the Packers have regained the ultimate prize, brought the Lombardi Trophy back to “Title Town”, and Aaron Rodgers has just as many championship rings as Brett Favre.

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