That breeze you feel is Packer Nation exhaling in relief.
The decision is in. Finally, after dangling us for what seems like forever with tweets and trolls and cryptic remarks and late-night media posts with hidden messages upon which a horde of hermeneuticians descends with fervor, the four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers has decided to wear green and gold and play with a big “G” on his helmet for another season (or four).
And thus has the most interesting man in all of sports closed the latest chapter in his soap opera of a career. His critics — and they are legion — lambaste him for his ego, his self-centeredness, his lack of consideration for his team and teammates, his political leanings, his choice in reading material, his vaccine stance. His plight has led nightly sportscasts for at least a month now, and he regularly sucks all the oxygen — and nitrogen and argon and trace gases — out of Colin Cowherd’s radio studio.
Although I see the critics’ point, I am not among them. Ego aside — a weighty “aside,” I grant you, but rare is the all-time great, in any sport, that does not boast a large ego — here we have a player of extraordinary athletic ability and versatility, who can throw the long ball with accuracy and shorter passes with nonpareil touch, and yet tuck the ball on fourth down and lower his man-bunned head into 260-pound linebackers. And that’s just on the field. Off the field he wins at Celebrity Jeopardy! and goes on to successfully host real Jeopardy! He dates a cavalcade of high-profile celebrities and movie stars yet chats with a couple of elderly ladies sporting Packers gear at the Phoenix Open about Wisconsin and the Packer glory years. He exchanges obscenities with antagonistic fans and yet talks love and serenity and inner peace on a level unseen in sports this side of Bill Walton.
What is it with Packers quarterbacks and the off-season Sturm und Drang?
Like I said, an interesting cat. Thanks to an obsessive media, we know he loves horse racing and The Office and movies by Wes Anderson. He’s a scotch nut with a crystal decanter supplied with $200 bottles of the spirit. He’s also into UFOs and is a sucker for conspiracy theories (even chemtrails), and seems inordinately interested in who built the pyramids of Egypt.
And, shocking in his business, Rodgers is an avid reader. He appears on a podcast in front of a wall of books; he urges his social-media followers to read books; he is buds with an author, a theologian no less, albeit a heterodoxical theologian (Rob Bell). He has even started his own book club, with selections from self-help books and books on meditation and lost worlds, but also Somerset Maugham, Malcolm Gladwell, Sun Tzu, Paulo Coelho — it’s not the Great Books of the Western World, but still, it’s something to pull the average football player away from the latest iteration of Madden for at least a few hours.
He shone particularly this past season with his stance on the vaccine. He wouldn’t get vaxxed, preferring to undergo a “multi-immunization process” of his own making. When he came down with COVID and had to miss a game, and the “woke” coronabros mob came after him like a cover-zero blitz, he responded with an epic pushback in which he castigated the CDC and questioned our dear president’s mental acuity. He’s a free thinker who favors no political party but isn’t afraid to come down hard on cancel culture and the blue-check-mark brigade.
But he does have trouble making up his mind sometimes. What is it with Packers quarterbacks and the off-season Sturm und Drang? The great Bart Starr had a little trouble walking into the sunset after five championships and two Super Bowl victories, but his departure was a Karen Carpenter song compared to the Metallica number Brett Favre put fans through at the end of his career. First in, then out, then in, then positively out … and a few months later we’re reading ominous accounts of the gunslinger from Kill, Mississippi, “seen throwing with kids down at the high school.” Two years he did that to us. And now Rodgers is in his second off-season of will-he-or-won’t-he. But if that’s what it takes to have three decades of Hall-of-Fame-caliber quarterback play — since 1992 — I think we can live with it.
Rodgers has faced adversity in his football career, from being a skinny but talented high school kid with few Division I scholarship offers being forced to play junior college ball, to entering the 2005 NFL Man-Hug Show (aka draft) as a can’t-miss high first-rounder, possibly first overall pick, only to see his stock drop precipitously, and then to squirm in his pinstripe suit on national television as 23 names were called before his. Then having to bide his time behind Favre on the Packers bench for three years before getting a shot.
When he finally got on the field, Packers fans knew he had been worth the wait. He sees the field better than his peers, divining where his receivers are going and then dropping the ball into their hands. He understands defenses and exploits them. Every game he plays features a handful of magical plays, rollout bombs, wrong-footed precision tosses, passes in which he can’t see his receiver when he throws the ball. He is a maestro on the field, a difference-maker, and a winner.
Yes, it’s a good day to be a Packers fan. For what it means is another year of exemplary quarterback play, another year of contention for the Super Bowl, another year of victories and comebacks and intriguing off-field activities.
And another year of … I almost forgot … owning the Bears.