For the bigger part of his career, Aaron Rodgers had to patiently wait for his turn. But after all the time spent in someone else’s shadow, he was rewarded with the biggest prize of them all.
Patience is a strong man’s virtue. Rodgers kept that motto in his mind anytime he faced adversity and scepticism, because he knew that sooner or later his hard work would pay dividends.
He never was a high-ranked recruit coming out of high school because of his limited height and his lack of weight. He never was the first overall pick that many scouts predicted he would be six long years ago.
When he finally was chosen in the first round by Green Bay, he knew he would carry a clipboard for an extended period of time, sitting behind a Hall of Fame quarterback that already won a Super Bowl on a mission to bring the trophy back to Titletown for a second time.
Aaron Rodgers has often been derided by fate. But he remained calm and patient and never lost confidence in his capabilities. Far away from his career beginnings, something really good was waiting for him.
The Chico, Butte County native erased many of his high school’s all-time records, but statistics didn’t attract any attention from major NCAA universities. They kept telling him that his 5'10", 165-lb. frame was too thin and short to play a role where offensive linemen’s height often disturbs field vision, so Rodgers only received a walk-on offer from Illinois.
He refused and chose to wait for another opportunity, opting to remain near his neighbourhood and play for Butte Community College.
Coincidentally, that campus was often attended by Jeff Tedford. One day the Golden Bears head coach was scouting tight end Garrett Cross, a player that he wanted to recruit, but once he realized Rodgers’ upside, he decided to give him a shot.
Rodgers didn’t even have to wait the canonical two years of junior college militancy to put his California helmet on because of his great SAT and grade point score. With that recruitment, he pulled the first big moral victory of his career.
Aaron Rodgers' great revenge began only one month into the NCAA regular season, when he gained starter grades. He ended his first year in Berkeley earning MVP honors in the Insight Bowl with a win over Virginia Tech. In that season the Bears had even beaten USC in overtime despite Rodgers being forced to quit the game due to injury.
His second and last college season developed even better: California registered a 10-1 record, only losing the Trojans matchup. The team was chosen for the Holiday Bowl after being snubbed for a Rose Bowl berth, and Rodgers was improving game by game, showcasing his great poise, his quick release and his pocket presence, forcing NFL scouts to take serious notice.
He ended his college experience throwing for 5,469 yards, 43 TDs (rushing for eight more) and only 13 interceptions despite playing for only one full season. He then decided to forgo his senior year, declaring for the 2005 NFL draft.
That spring, every draft guide debated a well-known issue: Who was going to be picked No. 1 overall, Aaron Rodgers or Alex Smith? Rodgers seemed to have a little advantage since California was running a pro-style offense, unlike Utah’s Urban Meyer-installed spread.
Rodgers was already daydreaming about his best-case scenario, in which he could have performed in a Niners uniform, staying near home and maybe collecting trophies like Joe Montana did in the '80s.
He left college with high passing efficiency statistics, so he would’ve been a perfect fit for a West Coast-based team, and he had a much stronger arm than Smith’s. In many scouts' mind he was the logical top pick. If not, he would be anyhow picked within the draft’s top five.
The eternal dilemma was finally solved on draft day when San Francisco chose to pick Smith, while Rodgers patiently waited for his name to be heard inside an almost empty green room, ending well beyond his top-five projections. The Packers were choosing 24th overall and surprisingly stopped his free fall, transforming him into Brett Favre’s post-retirement insurance policy.
Once again, the situation was not the best for Rodgers. He instantly knew that he had to wait several seasons to take Favre’s place because the legendary No. 4 was not close to calling it a career and was actively chasing his second career Super Bowl ring. In Green Bay he would play the waiting game, like he did inside that green room.
At the time Favre was toying with retirement, which later became the media’s favourite summer pastime, excessively extending his backups’ starting opportunities. Rodgers appeared in two games as a rookie, and just when he thought that he could impress somebody in his sophomore year because of a Favre injury, he broke his foot, ending his unlucky season on injured reserve.
Regardless, Rodgers was fully backed by the coaching staff and management, and he was considered the franchise’s future for his position.
As a backup, he already gained the Packers’ trust; he was undoubtedly considered the future. In his post-Super Bowl press conference, in fact, Rodgers cited anyone who gave him a vote of confidence, giving much credit to these people. He was really grateful.
Rodgers' first full starting season came in 2008, when Favre was traded to New York. In his first two season as a first stringer he registered 4,000-plus yards in each one of those, gained his first Pro Bowl call and last year played his first ever playoff game, a loss against Arizona in a game where Green Bay’s defense was dissected by Kurt Warner. Rodgers lost the game-clinching fumble to Karlos Dansby in overtime.
Nevertheless, his statistics grew as well as his game’s level, and he soon became considered a franchise passer. Mike McCarthy’s offensive philosophy and the semi-complete absence of a decent rushing game put plenty of pressure on Aaron’s shoulders, but he never failed to deliver for his team.
Rodgers finished his second playoff stint throwing nine TDs, three of which came on the biggest stage of his career. If Jordy Nelson and James Jones hadn’t dropped two passes, these TD passes could’ve been five.
Aaron Rodgers is probably thankful to fate, which led him away from home and gave him a greater opportunity elsewhere, in Green Bay’s cold temperatures and great football tradition. His work ethic and professionalism have put him in a position where he can lead the Packers to win many other games for long years to come.
He abruptly came out of Brett Favre’s shadow, making Green Bay fans forget about their legendary hero, and now he’s won as many Super Bowl rings as Favre did.
Someday, he might obtain some more.
Rodgers has led Titletown to the promised land, putting his name near Packers legends like Bart Starr and Brett Favre. He brought the Vince Lombardi Trophy home, where it belongs. On Sunday, Starr was emotionally applauding him from his Cowboys Stadium luxury seat.
They told him that he couldn’t make it, for a variety of reasons. With patience, Aaron Rodgers proved them wrong.