Quarterback Aaron Rodgers provides pulse for surging Packers
Aaron Rodgers has become everything the Packers were looking for when they made the two seminal decisions that led up to reaching its first Super Bowl since the 1997 season.
The Kansas City Star
ARLINGTON, Texas — The Green Bay Packers were in a rut. They were 3-3 in mid-October after back-to-back overtime losses, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers was looking for answers.
He approached coach Mike McCarthy and made a request. No, it was a demand.
Rodgers didn't think he and McCarthy were spending enough individual time together, which could be difficult when the coach, who has so many other responsibilities, is also the play caller.
"We've got a chance to do something special," Rodgers told McCarthy.
So they set a day and time to meet. Every Thursday at 3 o'clock. Sometimes the meetings lasted more than two hours as coach and quarterback went over every detail in the game plan, studied opponents and evaluated Rodgers' every step.
And something special happened. The Packers won 10 of their next 13 games, including three dominant performances in the playoffs, knocking off three straight division champions in reaching Super Bowl XLV on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rodgers provided the pulse of the Packers. He not only was the second-rated passer in the NFL behind Tom Brady during the regular season, but stepped it up in the playoffs, completing 71 percent of his passes for an average gain of 8.49 yards an attempt and a 109.2 rating.
He has become everything the Packers were looking for when they made the two seminal decisions the franchise made that led up to reaching its first Super Bowl since the 1997 season:
• The selection of Rodgers with their first pick of the 2006 draft, the 24th overall pick.
• The decision to trade legend Brett Favre to the New York Jets before the 2008 season and hand the job to Rodgers, who served as Favre's understudy, a role that's as fulfilling as vice president of the United States.
Since taking over the starting job, Rodgers has thrown for 12,394 yards in three years, the second-most in NFL history to Kurt Warner (12,612) for a quarterback in his first three years as a starter. And his 98.4 passer rating is now No. 1 all-time in league history.
"Aaron Rodgers has figured things out," said former NFL MVP Rich Gannon, an analyst for CBS and the Packers' preseason telecasts. "When you watch his footwork and all the things he does, he's a special player.
"He's elusive in the pocket, very intuitive, very smart. And his ability to use his legs ... he's the third-leading rusher this year among quarterbacks."
Waiting his turn
Mike McCarthy was San Francisco's offensive coordinator in 2005 when the 49ers had the first pick in the draft. The 49ers needed a quarterback and it came down to Alex Smith of Utah and Aaron Rodgers of California.
"I can recall walking off his workout at Cal that day, and it was clearly the most impressive workout that I had seen live of a college quarterback throwing the football," McCarthy recalled.
The 49ers chose Smith. Rodgers sat in the ESPN green room and waited. And waited. And waited — until Green Bay picked him at No. 24.
Rodgers made seven mop-up appearances in three years until the Packers, tiring of Favre's will-he-or-won't-he retirement drama, pulled the trigger and traded him.
Rodgers was ready from the get-go, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns in his first year as a starter in 2008.
"Aaron came into a very stable environment," McCarthy said. "He was able to learn from a Hall of Fame quarterback. It speaks volumes for Aaron as a person, just the way he had to handle draft day, the way he had to handle the transition from Brett Favre to his opportunity, it speaks to his character and his upbringing, and that's the kind of character that pushes individuals to become champions."
Still, Rodgers hasn't let McCarthy forget about passing on him in favor of Smith.
"When it's convenient for him, he takes a shot," McCarthy said. "You've got to have a sense of humor about these things."
Something to play for
Rodgers had one other suggestion for McCarthy before the season even started. He suggested that the Packers put up pictures of past Green Bay championship teams in their meeting room.
The Curly Lambeau and Don Hutson teams of the 1930s and '40s ... the Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr teams of the 1960s ... the Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre Super Bowl teams of 1996 and 1997.
An empty space holds a spot on the wall for 2010.
"A good friend of mine, who is also a pro athlete, talked about how his coach motivated them in that way," Rodgers said. "I thought that would be a cool thing for us to see every day in the meeting room because we start a day off in that room.
"To be able to think about the entire season what we're really playing for by having that empty picture on the wall."
|Closest Super Bowl point spreads|
|1971||Cowboys favored by 1||Baltimore 16, Dallas 13|
|1973||Redskins favored by 2||Miami 14, Washington 7|
|1982||49ers favored by 2||San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21|
|1983||Dolphins favored by 2||Redskins 27, Dolphins 17|
|1984||Redskins favored by 2 ½||Oakland 38, Washington 9|
|2011||Packers favored by 2 ½|