American Football,

A commanding presence


Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ 9/4
Los Angeles Rams @ 5/1
San Francisco 49ers @ 11/2
Green Bay Packers @ 6/1
Seattle Seahawks @ 10/1
Dallas Cowboys @ 12/1
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Aaron Rodgers, the reigning league MVP, is one of the NFL’s most enigmatic characters. He’s blessed with an ability that has many evaluators placing him as the most naturally talented quarterback of his generation, high praise indeed when you consider his career has overlapped with players like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and of course Tom Brady. He’s achieved so much individually: a 9-time Pro Bowler and 3-time All Pro selection, throwing for over 400 TD’s and 50,000 yards, and landing the ultimate prize, the Super Bowl, delivering an MVP performance in the Green Packers win at SBXLV. Yet therein lies the problem. In a championship obsessed, winner takes all culture, it’s a career that some suggest has under-delivered. Why, they ask, has such a great player only got one Super Bowl ring to show for all his undoubted brilliance?

Rodgers’s demeanour, and the associated perception of him by fans, both in Green Bay, where’s he played all his career, and across the NFL world, is challenging. Brees was an emotional leader, indelibly linked with the New Orleans fanbase after the pain Hurricane Katrina. Manning, now part of the ESPN broadcast crew on MNF, is a natural communicator, happy to send himself up, regularly displaying a self deprecating and sharp sense of humour. Brady glides in the slipstream of his “GOAT” positioning, cerebral and unfazeable, and in his recent Tampa Bay years, looser and more relaxed than ever before.

Rodgers is undoubtedly a commanding presence, but one that fans seem to struggle to warm to. He has a detachment, at times on the field where he regularly demonstrates his dissatisfaction if things aren’t going to plan, but also with the media, where his dry, understated approach is often perceived as aloof. It doesn’t help that he was the heir in Green Bay to Brett Favre – the prototypical All-American, square jawed gunslinger. Favre seemed like the kind of guy that would crack open a six pack at the tailgate, and share war stories with the fans, whilst Rodgers, would be more likely to slip out the back door, back to a state-of-the-art condo to watch Jeopardy!

Ah, Jeopardy! – another layer of intrigue within the Rodgers story. In a fractious off-season, where it seemed that his time in Wisconsin was coming to an end, the seismic impact of him hitting the open market, with numerous teams lining up to swoop, was juxtaposed with one of the more curious athlete/entertainment crossovers in recent memory. When it was initially announced that Rodgers had agreed to guest host the long running TV quiz, most suspected it was a wind up. “Rodgers lands his dream job!” and “Rodgers would quit the NFL if offered Jeopardy! hosting role permanently” were typical headlines at the time. Surreal doesn’t even come close. Rodgers duly guest anchored a handful of shows, played it straight, and in doing so opened up a side to him that we hadn’t seen before.

By all accounts, in this off-season there was a very real possibility that Rodgers time at Green Bay was done. Frustrated by several decisions made by the team – not least the acquisition of his heir apparent, quarterback Jordan Love, in the first round of the 2020 Draft, when Rodgers was desperate for more win-now offensive support to be built around him – he was ready to move on, and speculation heightened. San Francisco considered a play, Rodgers going home to California and a Super Bowl contender a logical destination. Denver, a team strong defensively but in need of a quarterback were also heavily linked. So too were Miami, another contending outfit who felt they could be taken over the line by bringing in a future Hall of Famer.

Realistically a deal would have needed to have been done before – or during – the Draft, so when that event came and went, despite the rumour mill in full effect on the opening night, it appeared most likely that Rodgers was staying put, albeit begrudgingly. To add to the intrigue, he released along with his number one receiver Davante Adams, ed an image on his Instagram feed of Last Dance era Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, suggesting 2021 will be his final shot at securing another ring for the Packers.

And he has a very realistic chance of doing so, although the Week 1 implosion against the Saints, wasn’t the most auspicious of starts. Those who play the card that Rodgers has ultimately underperformed misunderstand the complexity of a title winning season. Any player who has achieved a Super Bowl win will tell you that many things need to align, not least, an abundance of luck. The quarterback is the most influential figure on the field, but to a point. Of course, a championship is the ultimate objective for any player, and all-time greats like Dan Marino would undoubtedly trade a big chunk of personal achievement and individual records for a ring, but to suggest Rodgers has an unfulfilled career is a stretch. Because Green Bay have been, for the most part, perennial contenders, doesn’t help, but at times they’ve been elevated into playoff status by Rodgers individual brilliance, if not carrying the team, then being the difference between a winning and losing season.

As too is the perception that he doesn’t care, or rather, isn’t invested in the same way that some of his more gregarious counterparts are. Because he’s not a straightforward character to understand – and possibly does find fame or undue attention a natural companion – Rodgers is unfairly pigeonholed as difficult. Critics point to his frustration when drafted – he fell down the board and was taken much later than expected, in the glare of a watching nation with cameras charting his reaction – as evidence that he’s always played with a chip on his shoulder ever since. This may well be true, but it’s also true of Tom Brady, who fell much further in his draft, and has often talked about channelling that rejection into a positive. For Brady, it’s more proof that’s he’s on a different plane. With Rodgers? He’s just moody!

Inevitably, the manner of defeat to the Saints, stoked the flames that Rodgers has checked out, and this season will be a disaster, such is the culture of overreaction that we seem to embrace. A win against conference rivals San Francisco on Sunday will go a long way to (re) establishing the Packers as bona fide contenders this year. Rodgers last dance in Lambeau may well end up being a season that helps establish him as not just as one of the all-time greats and could thaw the frosty perception that many, perhaps unfairly, hold.

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