Archive for Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers joins elite

February 8, 2011


— Hey, Aaron Rodgers, now that you’ve won a Super Bowl MVP, where are you going?

From here, it looks like very close to the top of that hypothetical list cherished by fantasy-league geeks and daydreaming general managers alike:

If you were to start a franchise today, which guy would you take to play the most important position?

Tom Brady? Peyton Manning?

With a championship ring, a trophy and the best postseason stats to back up the Green Bay Packers’ 4-0 playoff run, Rodgers has nudged himself into that group.

Rodgers cannot match Brady’s three Super Bowl titles or Manning’s four regular-season MVPs, but he is almost seven years younger than Manning. So I’d place him in a grouping of two.

In that 400-plus-horsepower Camaro he officially received the morning after the Packers’ 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers has symbolically zipped by Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brews, Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan as the NFL’s best quarterback not playing for New England. If Rodgers remains healthy, he has the chance to become the greatest quarterback of his generation.

“Aaron played like Aaron Rodgers,” a sleepless Packers coach Mike McCarthy said way too early on the Monday after his first Super Bowl title. “That’s why he’s the MVP.

“I think he’s got the best skills in the league for pinpoint accuracy, and his best football is ahead of him.”

So give it to the Packers for having the confidence to size their fingers for Super Bowl rings the night before the game was played. It was the same outright gall they displayed when Rodgers and his offensive linemen wore cowboy hats to a training-camp dinner.

But the primary reason McCarthy knew his team was better than Pittsburgh was the guy he and general manager Ted Thompson chose three years ago to replace Brett Favre when No. 4 still had tread on the tires. Rodgers’ superior skills and reluctance to take Favre-like risks made him the only choice to bring home another Lombardi Trophy.

“Aaron’s disciplined,” McCarthy said. “He took no chances. That allowed me to be aggressive as a play-caller. We put ourselves on his shoulders.”

But there wasn’t quite as much room up there as one might assume.

See, Rodgers has been playing this waiting game all his life.

He waited on a college scholarship.

He waited on draft night.

He waited for Favre to leave the building.

And Rodgers, to his benefit, forgets none of it. As graceful as he was in handling the whole Favre mess in 2008, Rodgers wasn’t above needling his coach when they shared the NFL’s biggest Monday morning podium. To some degree, Rodgers is still bothered by the fact that McCarthy, the offensive coordinator of Rodgers’ home-area San Francisco 49ers at the time, took Alex Smith as the No. 1 draft pick.

“Mike and I, I’ve had a chip on my shoulder ever since he passed on me in San Francisco.” Rodgers said with a smile.

That’s good. Whatever motivates the guy on whom McCarthy eventually gambled and won, the ante to keep it going was just raised.

Rodgers joked with reporters who said he has already climbed all of his personal mountains.

“As a kid I wanted to win the Super Bowl,” he said. “Now what? Let’s go get another one.”

The Packers have that chance now. They’ll bring back the league’s best tight end, a 1,200-yard rusher and all the other playmakers who were lost to injured reserve in 2010. Labor problems willing, the Packers are positioned to be serious contenders for many years to come.

Having maybe the league’s best quarterback in his prime will do that for you.


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