Aaron Rodgers stood on a stage on the 50 yard line with confetti falling all around him like the snowflakes that littered the Dallas area the previous week.
He held the Vince Lombardi trophy in one hand and linebacker Clay Matthews rested a WWE Championship belt across his shoulder.
His smile was as wide as that gigantic HD TV that spans from one 20 yard line to another in Cowboys Stadium as he banged his chest and saluted the Packers faithful.
The moment was his, years and a ton of baggage in the making.
Ever since his senior high school year when Rodgers was offered not one scholarship he has had to prove his worth and has never complained. Not when Cal was passed up for Texas in the Rose Bowl, not when he had to wait in a green room for four and a half hours in the 2005 NFL Draft and saw Alex Smith, Matt Jones and Troy Williamson picked ahead of him, and not when he had to endure three seasons of the Brett Favre saga while he sat behind him ready for action.
If it wasn’t waiting it was the criticism of his game.
Some viewed him as cocky, some said his arm wasn’t strong enough to make him an NFL quarterback, some said he would wilt under the pressure of the legacy that Favre left behind. GM Ted Thompson knew better.
Thompson knew what he had in Rodgers ever since that long day in New York 6 years ago when he fell from a possible #1 to the 23rd player selected in the draft.
He knew Rodgers m.o., that he was a hard worker, that he wanted to improve his game and did what it took to do it.
No school wanted him, he went to Butte Community College. Jeff Tedford found him and put him in his system than helped make Akili Smith and Joey Harrington NFL Draft pick and Rodgers excelled. Fast forward to the draft and while San Fran felt Alex Smith was a better fit (oops) Thompson knew better.
He scooped up Rodgers and picked him to succeed Favre much to his, and critics, disliking. Rodgers developed so well that after the 2008 NFC Championship game the Packers didn’t want to go through another Favre episode and pushed ahead with Rodgers. Even when Favre changed his mind the message was clear, Aaron Rodgers is our guy.
Thompson looks like a genius.
After an up and down first year Rodgers excelled in his second year and took the Packers to the playoffs behind a monster year where he became the game’s best passer when it comes to the deep ball (so much for him having a weak arm). However, after losing to the Arizona Cardinals new questions carried into this season as to whether or not he was capable of coming through in the clutch. Was he the kind of guy who could lead Green Bay to the top of the division and into the playoffs. All he did was answer the bell every single this year and in the process put himself into the same class of quarterback as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
Whenever the injuries mounted and key players like Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley and others went down, Rodgers kept the troops moving. Even after suffering two concussions that knocked him out of a Sunday night match against New England Rodgers returned with a vengeance and led a masterful run to playoffs that saw Rodgers destroy defences like the Giants and Falcons and amaze everyone with his strong arm and fancy feet.
Not only did he win big games, he was dominant. Three scores versus the Eagles. A 31-36, 366 yard performance versus Atlanta that left us shaking our heads and dropping our jaws. In a dog fight against the Bears he wasn’t his best, but he steadied his offense against a very good defense and put the Packers in the the Super Bowl.
All he did there was turn the Steel Curtain into a pair of cotton drapes.
Rodgers executed Mike McCarthy’s pass heavy game game plan to perfection as he caught the Steelers secondary out of position and never let their pass rushers become effective. His quick release and timing with his receivers made life hell for Troy Polamalu and James Harrison and they never were a factor.
Rodgers never lost his poise even when Donald Driver was lost to injury and his receivers let him down with more than a handful of drops (hi Jordy Nelson). He continued to stick with them and Nelson and others atoned for their sins. When Ben Roethlisberger’s final pass fell incomplete, Rodgers leapt in the air in jubilation and took the final snap to seal his victory.
He no longer had to prove anything to anyone or wait his turn, this is his time and his legacy that was being built.
This was the moment he and Thompson had envisioned and had come to pass. At 27, Rodgers has equaled his predecessor (favre) in titles and vanquished the bitterness he left in his departure. Though he claims there was no bitterness to be had trust me that Rodgers is happy that he never has to hear about Brett Favre again in regards to his name.
Favre is long gone, this is Rodgers team now. There are more 12’s than 4’s in the stands. There is no talk of the old man with young man’s enthusiasm or the old gunslinger, instead there is the precision passer with a cannon for an arm and an infectious swagger that can’t be knocked.
Aaron Rodgers rough road and triumph is reason for any player to smile. He has overcome doubts in his game and a legend that wouldn’t die to become a champion. He never once complained, showed anger, or frustration. He was patient and when the time came he let his game do the talking.
For Rodgers, patience has most certainly been a virtue. He’ got the hardware to prove it.