- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Rodgers recalls, "We needed a play to get us going. I liked the matchup, Jordy on [Steelers cornerback] William Gay. I do remember thinking at the top of my drop, I better make this one work." Besides the touchdown, Nelson caught eight other passes for a total of 140 yards, a performance that included four drops but otherwise defined him as a major player in the NFL.
In the lockout spring that followed, the Packers scattered as they often do. "We're not a carpool team," says Rodgers. "There are maybe two guys on the team who live here year-round." But as Brees got love for leading the Saints in voluntary workouts, Rodgers was ripped for not gathering the Pack. Jennings, the team's leading receiver in 2008 and '10, hosted a charity golf tournament on June 10 at Merrill Hills Country Club in Waukesha, Wis. "We hit this point on the course where all the holes kind of come together," says Jennings. "I'm there and Wood [Packers cornerback Charles Woodson] is there, and Aaron comes over and says, 'Do you guys think we need to get together?' The word comes out of my mouth and Wood's mouth simultaneously: 'No. Take this time to concentrate on individual workouts.'"
Jennings came to Green Bay in 2006, a year after Rodgers. He caught 93 professional passes, all from Favre, before catching one from Rodgers. He has since caught 271. "He throws with velocity," says Jennings. "You turn, and the ball is going to be there. His deep ball is better than Brett's. His accuracy running outside the pocket is second to none, almost better than when he's in the pocket, which is almost impossible."
Before he became a star, Rodgers waited. He waited, famously, in the NFL draft day greenroom until the Packers took him with the 24th pick of the first round in 2005. He waited, quietly, for three seasons while Favre extended his Hall of Fame career before moving on to the Jets and the Vikings. (This is the first season that Rodgers has played without Favre in the league.) But he did not just wait. He also worked.
Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Rodgers's job was to run the Packers' scout-team offense, mimicking the upcoming opponents' schemes to prepare the Packers' defense. It's thankless work. The defense knows what's coming, and the scout-team offense is populated by disgruntled players who think they should be starting or by starters just helping out and making sure they don't get hurt. "But Aaron took every scout-team possession like it was the last possession of his life," says Driver, who often jumped in to take scout-team reps.
"Those were my game reps," says Rodgers. "I tell [Packers backup] Matt [Flynn] now, 'Scout team is a chance to work on things. Throw it into tight spots. Work on your look-offs. Do things you're not comfortable doing.' For me it was an awesome experience."
Rodgers's leadership grew in other ways. Says Ruvell Martin, a scout team receiver for four seasons, "The first day I'm in the locker room [in 2005], Aaron walks over to me and says, 'Hey, I'm Aaron, what's your number?' He punches my number into his phone. Then on my birthday he sees me in the locker room and says, 'Happy birthday, man.' So how does that happen? Aaron gets everybody's number, looks up their birthday and then sets an alarm on his phone so that he wishes them happy birthday. Pretty cool that he cares about people like that."
Before one 2007 game at Kansas City, Martin was made inactive, and instead of going out early to throw with Rodgers, as he normally did, he sulked in the locker room. "Right before the game," Martin says, "Aaron came up to me and said, 'Why didn't you come and throw with me?' I told him I was inactive, and he got upset. He said, 'I throw with you every week, when we both know I'm not going to get into the game. And you're inactive for one game and you can't throw with me?' I thought, Wow, this is not all about me. This is about the team. And Aaron brought that to my attention."
Throughout Rodgers's apprenticeship and even through his rocky ascension in 2008 (the Packers went 6--10 in their first year post-Favre), he never complained. Every day that he remained on the high road, he earned more respect from his teammates. "He bottled everything up and then just performed at a high level when he got the chance," says Jennings. "It was impressive. I mean, he got booed in training camp just because he wasn't Brett. And he just took it. I don't know if I could have done that."
Talent helps smooth any transition. James Jones was a third-round draft choice in 2007 and caught balls from both Favre and Rodgers every day. "This kid was making throws in practice that Brett was not making," says Jones. "I know Brett was older then. And you could never say that Aaron was going to be as good as he's turned out to be. But he was throwing no-look passes, deep balls on a string. I had never seen throws like that."