Robert Meyer
The legend of Green Bay's "Jolly Rodgers"
By Robert Meyer
February 9, 2011

Okay, this is not a story about the legendary pirate flag, but rather a commentary honoring the Super bowl champion quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. This piece has little to do with the political realm or culture, and I'm certainly not trying to be a sports writer. However, you must indulge me in gloating a bit about this football season's unlikely success for my beloved Packers.

Just less than three years ago I commented at length about Brett Favre's tearful retirement from the Packers. For me it was a combination of profound sadness and a kick in the stomach to boot.

Within a few months Favre wanted to come back, but the organization decided it was too late, and wanted to go with backup quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had warmed the bench for three years. Some people had grown weary of the annual ritual of waiting for Favre to decide if he would play another year. Some feared they might lose the service of Rodgers if they didn't soon commit to him in a starting role.

Brett Favre had become a living legend and folk hero in Green Bay. Replacing him with an unknown commodity was not merely foolhardy, but also sacrilege and disloyalty of the highest order for much of the fan base. I knew the minute Favre wanted to come back that there could be no resolution that wouldn't leave all parties with a bad taste in their mouths, as if they were eating a bar of Lava soap. The divorce was messy to say the least.

But the person I worried about most was Aaron Rodgers. I grossly underestimated him. Not so much that I doubted he could be a good quarterback in time, but that all the hype and hoopla surrounding Favre's departure would get into his head big time, becoming a major distraction. That would be bad for the Packers. People cursed Rodgers for no other reason than because he followed Favre. Who could live in the shadow of a legend? How could he compete with a departed hero? How could he match Favre's enthusiastic demeanor and love for the game, not to mention the unparalleled statistical achievements? It couldn't happen, could it? To make matters worse, Rodgers was the choice of then unpopular GM Ted Thompson. Everything was thus stacked against him.

Rodgers's first season replacing Favre started off well, but as the season wore on, the Packers found ways to lose close games. A quarterback is the face of the team, and soon Rodgers garnered an undeserved reputation for being unable to win close games. His second season began with high expectations, along with excessive media hype over the anticipated matches between Rodgers and Favre, who was now playing with the Packers' arch rival, the Minnesota Vikings. Though Rodgers played well, Favre outplayed him, and the Vikings won both contests played in the first half of the season. With Favre having a stellar year, the replacement of Favre with Rodgers was afterward viewed as a big mistake by many Packer fans. But Rodgers rallied the Packers to a playoff berth in the second half of the season. Rodgers's first playoff game was a phenomenal performance. Green Bay lost because the defense couldn't hold the opposition to fewer points than the 45 Rodgers and the offense put up.

The 2010 season began with Green Bay mentioned as a Super bowl contender. But Rodgers got off to a slow start, and numerous starting players were lost for the season. By mid-season the Packers and Rodgers were playing much better, but then a concussion sustained by Rodgers forced him to miss more than a game and-a-half, with Green Bay suffering narrow defeats in both contests. Rodgers and the Packers were backed to the wall, at 8-6 and with little hope of making the playoffs. The Packers lost six games by a total of 20 points. Once again the critics said Rodgers can't win the close ones.

But then the run started. Green Bay won its final two games to qualify for the playoffs. Then as the sixth-seeded team, they proceeded to knock off Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago, the third, first and second-seeded teams in their conference respectively. Two of the games were close, and Rodgers played well in the first two playoff games and the first half of the championship game with Chicago. Green Bay was making its first Super bowl appearance in 13 years.

In the Super bowl game against veteran-studded Pittsburgh, the Packers got off to their usual fast start, building a large early lead. But the Packers lost both their offensive and defensive elder statesmen to game-ending injuries before half-time. The Steelers came roaring back, partially because a host of dropped passes on third-down plays gave their offense repeated opportunities. But Rodgers kept his cool, and simply went back to the same receivers, allowing them to make clutch catches to redeem earlier gaffes. Two fourth quarter drives netted points and kept the game just out of Pittsburgh's reach.

Rodgers was named the game's MVP and the remaining doubts about his abilities have disappeared. Rodgers and his Packers persevered, and he remained calm under pressure, unflappable since day one. Rodgers has reportedly kept a congenial correspondence with Packer legend Bart Starr. In the post game ceremony, there were several camera shots of Starr and his wife beaming with smiles, while Rodgers was being presented the MVP honor. Even Brett Favre got into the act a few games earlier, boldly predicting that the Packers would win the Super bowl, while contending Rodgers was the best quarterback left in the playoffs.

After his first playoff win Rodgers was asked by a sideline reporter if he had finally got the monkey off his back. He replied that there had never been a monkey on his back in the first place.

Aaron Rodgers succeeded and excelled against the odds, and has a bright future as leader of the Pack. He epitomizes the virtue of making the most of one's opportunities. He has helped Packer fans stop suffering from the sting of futility caused by 13 years of heart-breaking playoff defeats.

This summer, when the football preview yearbooks appear in the magazine racks, perhaps one of them will have a picture of the smiling Rodgers, with pirate hat on head and patch superimposed over his right eye, and the caption "Jolly Rodgers has Packer ship sailing on the right course."

© Robert Meyer


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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)


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