Aaron Rodgers can throw as well as anyone, but one thing he can’t do is catch: not a soccer ball, but a break.
It’s been like that from the inglorious beginning. Rodgers didn’t appreciate an easy, well-lit path from high school to the NFL, neither literally nor metaphorically. After being rejected by Division I recruiters, he accepted an offer from Butte, a local community college.
In his only season at Butte, Aaron Rodgers played like Aaron Rodgers, throwing 28 touchdowns and leading his team to a 10-1 record. He got a scholarship from UC Berkeley, another local school, and came there with three years of eligibility. In his freshman year, he started after five games of the season and set a school record for the lowest interception percentage. In his sophomore year, he once again led a team to a 10-1 record, completed a record 23 straight assists in one game and posted the highest completion percentage in the Pac-10. There was no third year. Rodgers dropped out to compete in the 2005 NFL Draft, which he attended in person along with other top prospects.
The lights went out on Rodgers again. He believed he would be taken by the San Francisco 49ers as the first overall pick, which would have capped a sensational rise from the bottom of the Northern California football hierarchy in its prime. Instead, Rodgers got a nasty surprise after being sidelined in favor of Utah’s Alex Smith. Team after team followed suit, and he was forced to wait in the Green Room for four hours, his silent agony aired on national television until the Green Bay Packers interrupted his fall in the taking in the 24th pick in the draft.
Then came even more waiting. Rodgers spent the first three seasons of his NFL career as a replacement, sitting behind the Packers‘ the legend Bret Favre. Favre was reluctant to make way for his heir apparent. He retired late and made a comeback a few months later. After a power struggle between the franchise and the quarterback that ended in Favre’s trade to the New York Jets (a truly contemptuous move), Rodgers was given the keys to Lambeau Field just in time for the season. 2008.
The first-year starter established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league, passing for 4,038 yards. The following season, he started his first playoff fight, a Wild Card game in which he pitched for four touchdowns, rushed for one, and amassed 423 passing yards, the most quarterbacks in any his first playoff game. Then, in his third year as a starter, Aaron Rodgers won the Super Bowl and earned Super Bowl MVP honors.
And then, nothing more. Or rather, just three MVP accolades – tied for most other than Peyton Manning – and a list of statistical accomplishments (including the highest career passing score and the highest career interception percentage). below) which shames his peers and garnered him wide recognition as the best quarterback of all time. But this is where Aaron Rodgers’ tragedy lies, as he has never enjoyed team success commensurate with his unprecedented individual success.
Rodgers’ critics would have you believe he’s to blame for this gap, that his lack of playoff triumphs, summed up by his NFC Championship Games record 1-4, betrays a lack of clutch, the most prized athleticism. This is pure hogwash, because even the most superficial investigation into his playoff woes absolves Rodgers of all blame.
His aforementioned first playoff game is a perfect example, as he put in a record performance only for his defense to give up an outrageous 51 points total to the opposing Arizona Cardinals. Another can be found in the 2015 NFC Championship game, which was single-handedly lost (or, if you prefer, hands) by a blocker who played out of position and missed a kick return in Most recently, Aaron Rodgers lost the 2021 NFC Championship game, in which he posted a QBR of 101.6 and his opposing quarterback threw three interceptions in a single half.
Perhaps Aaron Rodgers’ tragedy is an unfortunate testament to the defining qualities of the game he plays for a living. Football is the ultimate team sport, so superior personal efforts do not guarantee superior team results. The NFL playoffs are played in singles as opposed to a series, so a playoff series is likely to end with a fluke. Perhaps this is a futile case study. Regardless, there’s no denying that Tom Brady isn’t the only Northern California native wearing the number 12 to have faced adversity.
Noah Coyle can be reached at [email protected]