Fiedler seemed the ultimate underdog story. An Ivy Leaguer from Dartmouth (and
only in the sports world are Ivy Leaguers considered underdogs), he played one
year in the NFL and then spent two out of football before getting another shot,
with Jacksonville in 1999. After a strong half-season for the Jaguars, he was
signed by Miami in 2000, and—wham!—he's succeeding Marino, the man with the
golden arm and the Hasselhoff tan. From the start, it was a like/hate
relationship with the fans. Only when Fiedler was injured in 2002 and his
backup, the hapless Ray Lucas, directed the Dolphins to four losses in six
games did the fans come to appreciate Jay. Even that was short-lived; while
Fielder went 37--24 as a starter for Miami, he was an unforgivable 1--2 in the
playoffs. "It was tough, because everyone down here thinks the glory days
are right around the corner," says Fiedler, 36, who runs a Florida-based
entertainment company and co-owns the East Kentucky Miners of the CBA.
"Sometimes they don't realize how hard it is."
You can always
just get on with your life, right?
Asked about the
Favre comparison, Rodgers says, "It's going to be with me my entire career
in the NFL, and I'm fine with that." But that's not the whole story. These
associations stick for life. Just ask Marty Domres, who replaced Unitas in
Baltimore in 1972 and started for two seasons before finishing his career as a
backup with the 49ers and the Jets. To this day Domres receives about 30
letters a month, some at home and some at his office in Baltimore, where he
works as a financial adviser for Deutsche Bank. Most of the notes mention
Unitas—and if they include football cards to sign, they're usually of Johnny U.
"Mine aren't worth much, signed or not," jokes Domres, who remained
good friends with Unitas until Unitas's death in 2002. Likewise, Todd and
Namath were close, and remain so. Namath still calls Todd by the nickname
bestowed upon him 30 years ago, Double Duty, because as Todd explains, "I
have a big butt."
The We Followed
Legends club is not, however, clubby itself. Most members have never met. Brian
Griese does not call Cliff Stoudt in the middle of the night for a
heart-to-heart. Some, like Hunter, think it would be fun to get together.
Others, such as Fiedler, prefer not to make the association. "I've always
looked at my career the same way," he says. "What I did on the field
has no bearing on who was before me or who was after me."
sentiment, certainly, but sometimes the best thing that can happen is when the
next quarterback comes to town. And the next. And it turns out that none of
them is a legend either. Suddenly that first replacement looks a lot better.
"It seems like I'm more popular now than when I was playing," says
Fiedler. "Miami fans have had a rough go of it the last few years, and a
lot of them kind of look back and say, 'Hey, we really respect you. It was too
bad you had to be compared to Marino.'"
Stoudt's moment of
reconciliation came in 2004, when he returned to Pittsburgh for a celebration
of the Steelers' 1979 Super Bowl team. It had been 20 years since he'd left,
but Stoudt was nervous about running back out in front of the fans. Would they
boo again? Would he get nailed by an airborne can of Iron City? He began
walking across the turf, and as he did it was like shedding weight with each
step—and each roar. The Pittsburgh fans were cheering. "It's nice that time
has healed some wounds," says Stoudt. "In some ways, I guess it's neat
to be part of history. As long as they spell your name right and keep telling
the stories, you live on, right?"
So how will it
turn out for this kid?
Ask these men
about Rodgers's situation and they see it as double-edged. On the one hand he
inherits a good team—the Packers went 13--3 last season—but on the other hand
... he inherits a good team, which means he's expected to do well.
He'll have the
advantage of playing in a ball-control offense, where he doesn't need to pass
for 300 yards a game ... but then so did Fiedler, and he was booed for the
slightest mistake because the job is presumed to be easy.
He's familiar with
the system and the players after three years in Green Bay ... but that means he
can't hide behind the excuse of a breaking-in period.