"He refers to himself as 'just an ordinary superstar.' I don't know about that, but I do know that he is one. There are maybe eight or 10 players coming out of the American colleges each year with his kind of ability, but what makes him stand out is he is a fierce competitor. He wrings everything out of himself."
"Pro ball is strange," Rodgers says. "You catch three passes and people think you excel. I don't think that's true. You can always do more and you should. I feel a big obligation to the fans and it disappoints me when I can't do what they expect me to do. I'd like to be known by the fans as an entertainer. Not just a football player, but one who can entertain them in a way they haven't seen before. Against Ottawa, I ran one of my touchdowns in backward and the people really took off on that. They'd never been entertained that way before. You want to do well, but you want to entertain the people so they'll come back again.
"I don't have any grievances against Coach Levy. He's one of the reasons I came to the Alouettes. We're on the best of terms, but everyone can't take the same share. I want to take a bigger share of it. There are guys on the team who have said in the huddle, 'Don't call my play' or 'Don't give me the ball.' That's exactly the time I want it, when the tension and the pressure are the highest.
"In this league you have to pass to set up your running game, but we're doing exactly the opposite. We hardly have any plays designed to go deep. Here they only want me to go down 15 yards to get the first down. If we throw deep and it's incomplete, they feel that play was a waste. But even if you don't complete the pass, you've made the defensive man worry about when he's going to see it again. At Nebraska we felt we had to have one or two big plays to win the game. Here we don't take any kind of chance whatsoever. None. When Coach Levy has enough confidence in me, then he'll take a chance."
One thing that Rodgers and Levy do agree on is the necessity for changing the CFL's punt-return rule, which makes the beanball and the rabbit punch look like acts of charity. In brief, the rule, which Levy terms a "blight on a great game," stipulates that the receiving team cannot block on a punt return and that you must return the ball. There is no provision for a fair catch. Thus the return man, looking more like a Christian in the Colosseum than a football player, fields the ball and disappears beneath 11 tacklers. Make it 12 if the punter can run. In the CFL a six-yard return is sensational.
"That takes away a big part of my game," says Rodgers, who is not used for such masochistic chores. "I really enjoyed returning punts, but you can't go back by yourself and get anything accomplished."
"I'd love to have Johnny returning punts," Levy says, "but not under this rule. It's barbaric."
So, too, is CFL scheduling, which calls for near back-to-back games of the sort that Calgary played against Toronto and Montreal. League owners defend the practice as a saving on transportation costs, but Levy, among others, doesn't buy it. "The economy they supposedly gain by it," he says, "they lose in medical bills, salaries to injured players and fan interest. It's unjust." It also makes for a game that is both dull and brutal. Montreal's conquest of Calgary, whose No. 1 quarterback was sidelined along with four other starters who were injured at Toronto, was less a sporting event than a mugging.
Rodgers doesn't plan to let such barbarities distract him from his goal of giving the Montreal fans new cause for cheer. That applies outside the Autostade as well as on the rare occasions he gets hold of the football inside it.
"This city has taken to Johnny Rodgers like a duck to water," says J. I. Albrecht, the Alouette general manager. "He's one of the finest kids I've ever come across. Before we had him signed, I asked him for some autographs for my three boys and he wrote a different thought to each one. To the oldest he said, 'Keep the faith. I do.' To the youngest he wrote, 'From one little guy to another,' and to the middle one he said, 'When you're in the middle, you can go up or down. See you on top.' "