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At least that's what history tells us. Over the years there have been a dozen or so quarterbacks who've been in the same situation as Rodgers, guys who've succeeded alltime greats. Only one, Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers, escaped with his reputation intact. And even he had a rough go, finding the ghost of Joe Montana far tougher to elude than any defensive end. Upon finally winning a Super Bowl in his fourth season as a starter, Young said to his Niners teammates, "I'm going to take this monkey and pull it off my back. I've had it too long."
The others? They are men like Jay Fiedler (who followed Dan Marino), Marty Domres (heir to Johnny Unitas), Richard Todd (Joe Namath), Brian Griese (John Elway) and Cliff Stoudt (Terry Bradshaw). Talented players, to be sure, but none are bound for the Hall of Fame, and certainly none are icons. Instead, they are remembered for what they didn't do, for who they weren't. Scott Hunter, who succeeded Bart Starr in Green Bay in 1971, proposes a name for the group: the We Followed Legends club. Motto: "We Carried Coffee for [Fill in Blank]."
The quip is self-deprecating, but it's not far off the mark. There is little glory in the role, and plenty of pathos. So as Rodgers prepares for his first season as a starter, it might behoove him to listen to the stories of his predecessors. Because if anyone can answer the questions he'll have, it's these guys. Whether he likes what he hears, well, that's another thing.
How bad can it be, really?
Ask Stoudt, who took over Bradshaw's job with the Steelers in 1983 after six years as a backup. During his first season as a starter, Stoudt launched almost twice as many INTs as TD passes (21 to 12) and was booed so relentlessly in Three Rivers Stadium you'd have thought he'd canceled Christmas. His only defense was a sense of humor, and a dark one at that. As he later put it, "I tried to commit suicide, but the bullet got intercepted."
Perhaps wisely, Stoudt fled after that season, signing with the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL. But even then he couldn't escape Pittsburgh. The third game of the 1984 season, the Stallions played at ... Three Rivers Stadium. It was the only sellout in Pittsburgh Maulers history. Fans arrived wearing BOO STOUDT T-shirts and buttons. They threw snowballs, beer cans and anything else they could lift. Three times during the game Stoudt got popped in the helmet by a projectile. Once, play was stopped when an official unlucky enough to be in Stoudt's vicinity got nailed by a full beer can. "It was pretty nasty," recalls Stoudt, now a financial adviser and youth coach in Ohio. "The perfect storm of circumstances, and I was at the center."
Stoudt had it rough, but at least he got out early. Richard Todd not only followed Namath in New York but also stuck around for eight long years. It began well—New York fans held DRAFT TODD banners when he was taken out of Alabama (Namath's alma mater as well) with the sixth pick in 1976—but the good will didn't last. Despite putting up respectable numbers and leading the Jets to the playoffs twice, Todd was regularly booed. At one point, he stopped leaving Shea Stadium with his wife after games so she wouldn't be pelted by the trash fans hurled at him. It didn't help that instead of courting reporters, as Broadway Joe had, Todd stuffed one in a locker in 1981. (The New York Post and reporter Steve Serby filed a complaint that was later dropped.) Todd recognizes that he could have handled things better. "I was very immature," he says from his office in Atlanta, where he's a financial manager. "There are some things I regret." He pauses. "But no matter what I did, I wasn't going to be Joe Namath." Asked if he ever wishes he'd been on a different team, he is wistful. "It does no good to think like that. That's like saying, 'I wish I'd won the lottery.'"
The list goes on, one abused successor after another. Griese followed Elway in Denver and was booed until Jake Plummer came in, and then Plummer was booed. (He responded with a middle-finger salute to the fans, as Todd had two decades earlier.) Danny White took over for Roger Staubach in Dallas, and his inability to come through in the playoffs vexed fans to no end. When White got into a traffic scrape with a 17-year-old in Dallas in 1984, the boy, upon exiting his car and recognizing White, reportedly called him a "choking dog." It's doubtful Staubauch ever heard that.
Isn't what happens on the field all that matters?
The only thing harder to replicate than the performance of an alltime great quarterback may be his aura. As Todd puts it, "We could all throw a 20-yard out. Joe just looked better doing it." The only way to contend with such mythology is to win a Super Bowl, as Young did. Though sometimes even rings are irrelevant. Marino never won in Miami, but that didn't stop Dolphins fans from expecting it of Jay Fiedler.