The New Face of the Franchise
Last Updated on Monday, 29 November 1999 19:00 Written by Mike Davidsen Wednesday, 16 June 2010 09:38
On December 28, 2008, the Packers concluded their first season in Aaron Rodgers’ era, posting an ugly 6-10 record. Seasons like that don’t go unaccounted for in Green Bay, usually resulting in strong criticism toward the players with leadership role. Interestingly enough, Aaron Rodgers’ name wasn’t necessarily one that fans and critics were slamming to the ground over the ensuing months. Most comments were in the neighborhood of, “He did what he was supposed to...plus more” and “he handled the Favre saga incredibly well - his defense just let him down”.
Rodgers didn’t take nearly as much blame as one would expect a first-year starter to take after leading the team to a 6-10 record…and rightfully so. He posted some exceptional numbers (28 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 4038 yards passing) after replacing a long-time Packer legend and playing through injury for much of the season, putting down any talk of his fragile build. He remained unfazed in training camp through the Brett Favre summer saga and into the regular season, making relentless efforts to gain his teammates’ support and become the leader of the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers really just did everything right.
First Steps in Leadership Role
Sorry to say, but while Rodgers spent the whole year trying to do so, I don’t think it was fully his team in 2008. Players and coaches were still making the transition from their long-time savior to the new guy. The team was in a state of flux and it wasn’t entirely possible for Rodgers to take the reins and make it “his team”.
Instead, he had to earn that title with phenomenal play and remarkable composure. He kept his mouth shut and performed to the best of his ability, waiting for the approval of teammates and fans. This type of behavior is hardly how one would describe a leader, but that’s the path he had to take to get there.
Putting on the Leadership Mantle
This past season, Rodgers started to see some return on all the time he invested in ensuring that the Packers were his team. After taking a 30-plus-sack beating through the first eight weeks of the regular season, Rodgers battled back to lead the Packers to an 11-5 season and a playoff berth. With that came a major increase in support from his team…and even from the once-loyal-to-Favre-only fans. Rodgers’ role as a leader and as the face of the Packers began to blossom.
Rodgers likely knows full well that keeping your mouth shut and doing all the right things is not normally how one attains a true leader status. Leaders typically have a little bit of spice to their personality, and sometimes a tad bit of cockiness to go with it. Players that are known as leaders and looked at as the face of their franchise often times speak their mind openly, having earned the right to critique others in their respective sport.
Perhaps that’s why Rodgers took that next step last week, extending his opinion on several faces in pro sports, most notably, ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser. Rodgers told a radio show host about how unprepared and unimpressive Kornheiser was during pre-game interviews, while answering questions regarding various topics. Rodgers’ critiquing certainly wasn’t something he had to do, but it’s definitely something that he now has the right to do. Anyone who questions this should take a step back and recall all that Rodgers has done and been through to get to this level. No, it doesn’t start with the Brett Favre saga…or the draft.
Earning It the Hard Way
Rodgers didn’t receive a scholarship to play at Cal out of high school, instead having to first prove himself at Butte College before making the jump to the Pac-10. Rodgers wasted no time working hard to become one of the best quarterbacks in college football. His play was so outstanding in just two years that in 2005 he entered the draft, and even had a shot to go number one overall to his hometown team, the Forty-Niners.
Passed on by the 49ers
The Niners provided the next obstacle in Rodgers’ road to greatness as they passed on him with the first pick in the draft to take Utah’s Alex Smith. Rodgers spent hours alone in the green room on draft day waiting for his name to be called until the Packers finally did with the twenty-fourth overall pick. While it was a relief that he had finally been picked, the fact that he had been selected by the Packers meant that he’d likely spend his first couple seasons sitting behind Brett Favre, rather than starting right away. On top of that, Packers fans weren’t quite as welcoming to Rodgers as Niners fans likely would have been, provided that most Packers fans were looking for the front office to supply Brett Favre with an offensive weapon and make run deep in the playoffs in that upcoming season.
While Smith got his first taste of NFL action immediately, Rodgers spent his early years in Green Bay studying the playbook and learning behind Favre. Though it wasn’t the way he intended to open his professional career, his hard work behind the scenes paid off during a late November game in 2007 at Dallas when Rodgers stepped in for an injured Brett Favre and showed Packer Nation that he could compete. Rodgers put on display all that he had learned and nearly staged a comeback against the powerhouse Cowboys.
After the 2007 season, Favre retired and it appeared as though Rodgers would finally realize the dream of being an NFL starting quarterback. But while Rodgers had already demonstrated his readiness to perform at the pro level, he still had much to overcome before the start of the 2008 season. That April, the Packers added “insurance” to the quarterback position by drafting two young passers, one being highly-touted Brian Brohm. Just what Rodgers needed: a competitor.
The Favre Fiasco
Still, Rodgers had enough confidence in his play to fend off any rookie competition. What he didn’t need, however, was the return of Brett Favre out of retirement, with the intent of rejoining the Packers. Fortunately for Aaron, the organization understood all that he had been through to become the Packers’ starting quarterback and ultimately entered the season with him under center.
Not that he had green pastures ahead of him just yet. Rodgers would have to fully earn the respect of teammates and fans who had become accustomed to the “Brett-Favre Way” in Green Bay. With a defense that couldn’t finish the job in 2008 and a poor offensive line in 2009, Rodgers never truly had it easy. He had to work extremely hard for every single one of his achievements. As Packers fans and now-avid Rodgers supporters, we now see Aaron in a different light – a proven, elite quarterback poised to lead the Packers to a Super Bowl.
Welcome to Leadership Aaron Rodgers
After all the hard work put in and the jaw-dropping numbers he’s put together in just two seasons, Aaron Rodgers has unquestionably attained the leader role on the Packers. What all does that mean? For starters, it means that he’s not expected to “do everything right”. Aaron should be free from intense scrutiny and criticism, especially the kind that surrounded him in 2008. He can openly express himself and take his turn at being the critic.
Rodgers is not only allowed to act this way, but should, as he has become the face of the Green Bay Packers. In my opinion, Rodgers chose the right time to open up this side of his personality, publicly – that is, the moment it was safe to say that he is the Packers’ true leader. He has earned the right to become a mentor to others (Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb just recently came to Rodgers for help in starting an era of his own in Philadelphia). There should be no objection from fans or writers when Rodgers decides to express his opinion to the public – that’s the player, teammate and leader he’ll be going forward.