Category: Packers

Presty the DJ for Aug. 11

We begin with a non-musical anniversary, though we can certainly add music:

On Aug. 11, 1919, Green Bay Press–Gazette sports editor George Calhoun and Indian Packing Co. employee Earl “Curly” Lambeau, a former Notre Dame football player, organized a pro football team that would be called the Green Bay Packers:

Today in 1964, the Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night” opened in New York:

Two years later, the Beatles opened their last American concert tour on the same day that John Lennon apologized for saying that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus. … Look, I wasn’t saying The Beatles are better than God or Jesus, I said ‘Beatles’ because it’s easy for me to talk about The Beatles. I could have said ‘TV’ or ‘Cinema’, ‘Motorcars’ or anything popular and would have got away with it…”

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 11”

The return of Rodgers

Albert Breer:

It was about relationships last year, and it’s about relationships this year.

Aaron Rodgers wasn’t in a great place with the Packers coming out of the 2020 season, and an upset loss to the 49ers in the NFC title game, so much so that the Green Bay brass spent weeks unable to get ahold of its quarterback. There was the bungling of the communication on the Jordan Love pick. There was awkwardness of a draft-day news drop of a trade demand a year later. There was president Mark Murphy calling Rodgers a “complicated fella.”

And even Rodgers’s reentry to the organization, at the outset of training camp, was wonky, with his airing-of-grievances press conference and insistence that Randall Cobb be acquired as part of his return to Green Bay.

The funny thing is, seven months later, the earmarks of that dispute foretold everything.

Rodgers spent this past weekend officiating his buddy David Bakhtiari’s wedding. Cobb was there and Matt LaFleur was, too—and that served as the perfect precursor to a decision for Rodgers that, in some ways, came down to those ties that bind the quarterback to the only organization he’s ever played for.

Let’s start with the relationships that were never in a bad place, those between Rodgers and his teammates, and between Rodgers and the current Green Bay staff. Rodgers has always loved the guys he played with, evidenced by how close he is with longtime Packers such as Bakhtiari and Cobb, and fellow wedding attendees A.J. Hawk and Clay Matthews III. All the same, his relationship with LaFleur has been pretty steady all the way through.

In fact, that last relationship with his coach wound up being the key to keeping all of this together, with the coach having maintained his bond with the quarterback even through all the tumult of last year. Which is why, in a quiet moment, on the second day of training camp, LaFleur remained optimistic that Rodgers wouldn’t necessarily be eyeing the door when the clock showed zeros on the 2021 season.

And this is important, too—above all else, you could hear how badly LaFleur wanted to keep coaching him.

“I mean, the guy’s, in my eyes, the greatest to do ever do it. So yeah, why wouldn’t you want to?” LaFleur told me that night at Lambeau Field. “I think he’s still got a lot left in the tank. I see it every day. He has so much fun out there, too, just competing. The ball’s still jumping out of his hand so damn effortlessly. So yeah, if he were to have retired, I would’ve put it in the same category as how I felt growing up in Michigan.

“I didn’t really grow up a huge professional football fan, but yeah, it was fun watching the Detroit Lions and Barry Sanders. And when [Sanders] walked away? That was heartbreaking. I know, from my perspective, it just wouldn’t be good for the game of football. And I do believe—I know—that there’s a lot of history here, and a lot that he loves about this place. And hopefully we can continue to work and come together, and fix whatever issues there might be.”

Which brings you back to the issues that were there. Though Rodgers held no ill will against Love, having been through a rocky start to his career alongside Brett Favre, he didn’t like the handling of Love’s selection—he was not told the Utah State prospect would be the pick until the Packers were on the clock—and didn’t like that Murphy and GM Brian Gutekunst hadn’t involved him more in big-picture decision-making. So that’s why when the Packers’ front office tried to change that, and did so last winter, Rodgers more or less ghosted them.

Since then, Gutekunst and Murphy have worked hard to repair their respective relationships with Rodgers and, as you might imagine, that went a very long way. So, too, did the fact that Rodgers, I was told over the weekend, felt like his relationships in the locker room (again, which have always been strong) were as good as they’ve ever been this year.

Now, I’m not naive to the business part of this. The Packers and Rodgers have discussed a four-year extension that’ll likely be finalized now as a part of this, and money’s not a nonfactor in any of these sorts of things, no matter what people try to tell you. I also believe that the Packers’ willingness to take on a Buccaneers–style build, in which they restructure contract after contract, mortgaging deals in order to keep a core in place, was important, too. Rodgers wanted the Packers to work on his timeline, and now they are.

But in the end, none of that matters if the relationships that Rodgers wanted to have with the people he works with, all of them, weren’t where they needed to be.

With one tweet from Pat McAfee on Tuesday morning, we got affirmation.

They are.

Conor Orr:

Aaron Rodgers’s pursuit of a favorable environment in Green Bay was one he took to its theatrical edge, not unlike Leonardo DiCaprio’s desire for an Oscar win that led him to be pummeled by a black bear in The Revenant.

He freed himself from the buttoned-up quarterback norm. He said everything—literally, everything—that came across his mind during a consequential and maddening time in U.S. history. He posted cryptic Instagram photos (before denying their cryptic nature). He called out the Packers’ organization in press conferences with their sponsor logos sitting idly in the background. He became both the disease and the cure, which forced his team to decide between a full-scale surgical removal or ultimate, unbridled acceptance. In vacillating between hero of all jaded employees and suspect Reddit Thanksgiving uncle, Rodgers was essentially forcing the Packers to make a plaster mold of his personalities, desires, preferences and talents for him to comfortably fall back into.

And he did. Even before news of his record-breaking contract leaked Tuesday—the one that will rightfully place him above Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Dak Prescott, the one that will almost surely get Jordan Love traded—Rodgers began to see the changes he desired enacted out of that reticent acceptance. The organization brought back his favorite position coach with no assurance that Rodgers would even sign. Behind the scenes at the combine, Packers execs were prepared to pay him whatever he wanted but also seemed wholly prepared for the entire thing to blow up on a whim if Rodgers decided to walk away. That is a special kind of Stockholm syndrome.

Throughout this process, Rodgers accomplished a few bucket list items. He did what Brett Favre couldn’t do, establishing his value to the point where it was the understudy, not the entrenched MVP, who would have to go. He assured that his thoughts would matter, whether they were actually taken into account inside the Packers’ front office or if they’d simply be espoused on Pat McAfee’s show as a means to second-guess the employer who wouldn’t listen to him.

But mostly, he provided a modern blueprint for the next handful of quarterbacks angling for an extension. Not just ensuring that they would likely continue the trend of market-topping deals after a few years when players at the position started taking strange, below-market contracts, but that they would have to be accepted, wholly and completely. That they would have to be listened to. That they would be undermined no longer at the hands of some process that didn’t exclusively have their best interests in mind.

We don’t know whether Justin Herbert, Matthew Stafford or Joe Burrow has any burning desires to control their respective front offices, sign contracts that could afford them enough money to purchase and rule over a small Caribbean island chain or wade into media as active players religiously defending their own personal narrative. But now they can. They will be able to do so without so much as a sneeze from their employer because they, like Rodgers, have crossed a talent threshold that a franchise will stand on its head to accommodate.

Think about the incredible reality of what Rodgers accomplished. In an era of scheme-forward head coaches, the Packers have Matt LaFleur, who won 13 games in each of his first three seasons. They have a first-round pick at the quarterback position whom LaFleur could tutor. Theoretically, they were armed with absolutely everything they needed to walk away from Rodgers during the most fitful moments of this passive-aggressive power struggle.

What did they do instead?

This is real, concrete power. This is absolute power in a day in age when some seedy owners are so desperate for answers at the position that they’re willing to try to disgustingly force-settle very serious lawsuits in order to attain stability under center. Credit goes to Rodgers for feeling that out. For realizing that no one was going to tell him “no.” And for showing another generation of players just how valuable they are and how desperate those who employ them can get.

While some might say this isn’t behavior to be celebrated, think about how manipulative, controlling and coordinated ownership has become in NFL circles. Think about how many times players have been squeezed, locked out, shut up and buried just to maintain the current illusion of power.

Rodgers is an extreme example, but when you look around the NFL, his importance to the Packers is not unlike Herbert’s to the Chargers, Mahomes’s to the Chiefs, Allen’s to the Bills, Burrow’s to the Bengals or Stafford’s to the Rams. Everything would fall apart if they walked away, and the organizations must be willing to accommodate so much more, bending and contorting so much more than these players thought possible.

It’s time for them to start asking for the moon and the stars. For Saturn and a few of its rings, and demand that Pluto be reinstated its planethood just because they feel like it. Then, they can thank Rodgers for the ability to get what they wanted, when they wanted it and just because they wanted it.

What A-Rodg thinks and therefore says

Kevin Van Valkenburg:

SITTING IN WHAT has become the most famous living room in football, sipping a scotch and wearing a half-zip with a Masters logo, Aaron Rodgers couldn’t stop grinning.

Peyton Manning and Eli Manning had just asked him, as part of their ManningCast that streams during Monday Night Football, what some of the books were on the bookshelf behind him. What had he been reading? Rodgers, who frequently does interviews from his home, with his bookshelf in the background, was happy to share his tastes with the world.

“I’ve got ‘Atlas Shrugged’ here by Ayn Rand,” Rodgers said, trying hard to suppress a smile. The look on his face was a fairly obvious tell, especially to those who watch him being interviewed weekly. But this was intended for a different audience.

The truth? He had never read “Atlas Shrugged.” Rodgers wasn’t even aware of how to properly pronounce Rand’s first name. He picked it because it was the book with the biggest spine on his bookshelf. He suspected that alone might annoy certain people.

He was right. Social media erupted with chatter, thousands ripping into Rodgers because they assumed he was celebrating Rand’s most famous novel, a libertarian laudation of capitalism and rugged individualism. But in different circles, the selection was applauded, and Rodgers was hailed as an independent thinker. Rodgers found the whole episode painfully predictable.

“I was laughing about it before,” Rodgers said in an exclusive interview with ESPN two days before the Green Bay Packers were set to play the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC divisional round. “I was moving some books over and replacing some things behind me, I was like, ‘Oh dude, I could never read this book.’ It’s however many pages. That’s how stupid this thing is. I’m reading some mentions or Twitter stuff and these people are loving me up. They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, libertarian, blah, blah, blah.’ I’m like, ‘What the f—?’ And then the people on the other side canceled me. ‘That’s kind of trashy, he’s reading Ayn Rand.’ I’m like, I haven’t read it! And even if I did, who gives a s—? It’s a book. I can read something and not immediately have it overtake my personal ideologies. And that’s the problem with society, is everything is triggering and offensive. It’s wild.”

It was the perfect anecdote to explain a season that has, in myriad ways, been a distillation of Aaron Rodgers’ entire being. Both in his cleats and from the confines of his couch, he has behaved as though he feels blissfully unrestrained at age 38.

On the football field, Rodgers has flexed his gifts so frequently and with such brilliance, it is the rare season of quarterback play that feels like he has left behind mechanics of the position and transformed them into something closer to art. His stats (4,115 yards, 37 touchdowns, 4 INTs) barely scratch the surface of explaining what it’s been like to witness. Every game, Rodgers seemed to make a handful of throws that felt like a testament to his genius: throws where he was off-balance, throws where he was falling down and throws where he couldn’t see his receiver, where the ball would whistle through the arms of four defenders, land in someone’s arms, and the difference between euphoria and disaster could be measured in fingernails.

Off the field, he has been equally brazen, leaning into culture wars, showing the world he is unafraid to fight back or denounce anyone he believes has lied about him or wronged him. Just as there appears to be no single throw he won’t attempt, there is also no opinion he will back down from if he feels he is right.

The two sides of Rodgers felt intertwined, each fueled by the same flood of self-confidence and unapologetic joy. At the start of the year, he looked miserable and frustrated with his own team, and admitted he’d contemplated retirement. Now he seemed as happy as he’d ever been.

Last week I sent an email to the Packers, wondering whether Rodgers would agree to speak on the phone, and I crafted some questions I thought might intrigue him. To my surprise, he said he did want to talk, and called on Thursday afternoon. He was blunt when I asked him why.

“It seemed like you’re thinking about writing a hit piece,” Rodgers said. “So I just want to make sure that you got questions answered from me before you went ahead and did that.”

I had spent all season studying his interviews, watching his games and reading books he’d recommended on “The Pat McAfee Show.” The impression I got was that he wanted to be understood, but he didn’t feel like most people (particularly his critics) were even willing to listen.

Rodgers explained that he didn’t think he was right about everything. He was saying it was essential we listen to opposing views, and then be allowed to debate.

“We isolate ourselves into these echo chambers where we’re only going to listen to things or read things or watch things that confirm our initial thoughts about things,” Rodgers said. “That’s no way to grow; that just keeps us divided even more.”

His entire season, on some level, had been about this: He wasn’t going to back down from anything.

LET’S START WITH football. Do you remember Rodgers’ fiery, cathartic fist pump against the 49ers?

It’s OK if you missed it. The season was just getting started. So much happened before and after. But it’s an important part of the journey.

The Packers weren’t a juggernaut back in September. No one was sure, early on, how engaged Rodgers was going to be, particularly after his failed offseason rebellion. The team looked listless in a season-opening 38-3 loss to the Saints, and Rodgers looked awful, throwing two interceptions, playing one of the worst games of his career. One of his ex-teammates, Jermichael Finley, went on ESPN Radio in the days after the loss and declared Rodgers didn’t have the hunger to win another championship, then also speculated that he wanted to quit. Boomer Esiason mocked his “man bun” and his search for “inner peace.” Nate Burleson said Rodgers looked bored on the sideline. Bill Cowher questioned his commitment to continue playing football and said he looked selfish.

An easy win over the hapless Lions in Week 2 offered only minor reassurances. During his weekly appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show,” Rodgers made it clear he did not appreciate the baseless critiques of his mental state and suggested the “blue check marks” on Twitter were trying to use him to get famous. He wanted to make it clear he wasn’t going to listen to people lie about him and stay quiet. Not anymore.

“I think for so long in my life, I was very private about everything and didn’t like really a whole lot of anything out there,” Rodgers told me. “And I still do enjoy a separation of private life and [professional] life, but there were far too many people who were trying to write the narrative of my life and writing things or speaking for me that perpetuated this idea about who I was or what I felt or what the truth was that was just patently false. So, it wasn’t so much about caring what people said about me, it was wanting to halt narratives about me that are just, at their core, not true.”

It wasn’t until Week 3, a Sunday night game in San Francisco, that the real narrative of the season began to take shape.

With 37 seconds left, the Packers looked like a boxer trying to stay upright after absorbing a flurry of punches. Jimmy Garoppolo had just thrown a touchdown to give the 49ers a 28-27 lead, and the Packers had no timeouts. Levi’s Stadium was thunderously loud. Rodgers paced the sideline alone, all emotion drained from his face. Even early in the season, it felt like a moment.

What happened next was as audacious as it was mesmerizing. The 49ers came out in a four-deep zone, prioritized cutting off any passes thrown toward the sideline. Middle linebacker Fred Warner, among the best linebackers in football, retreated to the middle of the field. For half a second, he leaned the wrong way, and that was all Rodgers needed. Standing at his own 14-yard line, he lasered a pass with a flick of his wrist. The playcall was one he and Matt LaFleur had made up just days prior. Rodgers wasn’t throwing the ball to Davante Adams as much as he was flinging it toward a spot only he could envision, a tiny pocket within the 49ers’ defense, trusting Adams to be there. Warner jumped as high as his body would allow, his right arm straining and fully extended. But the ball whizzed past his fingertips and into Adams’ arms at midfield. An extraordinary throw made to look mundane.

“He’s just calm, cool and collected,” Adams said, describing after the game what Rodgers is like with the game on the line. “He’s intense, but he doesn’t say much.”

Another completion to Adams followed, then a spike to stop the clock with three seconds left. As Rodgers ran off the field, ceding the stage to kicker Mason Crosby for the winning field goal, he uncorked a vicious fist pump in the direction of the Packers’ sideline. He was energized and ebullient; he’d just reminded the world there is no one else like him.

“It gives us some legitimacy,” Rodgers said after the game. “It felt like in the locker room that we finally had the energy I’ve been waiting to see. It felt like a growth moment for us. It feels like, ‘OK, now we’re on our way.'”

In his postgame news conference, Rodgers took a break from X’s and O’s talk to field one philosophical question: Why was he still capable of so much magic, especially considering how poorly regarded he was as a high school prospect?

“I always felt like there are things you can’t measure,” he said. “I’m not the tallest guy, I’m not the fastest guy by any means, but I feel like I have the intangibles. And I’ve grown over the years. All great competitors have to be first critical of themselves and look for growth opportunities, and there are things I’ve said and done that I wish I’d done better over the years. But I’ve always tried to lead with authenticity and stay true to who I was.”

He didn’t wear a mask when he met with the media, and hadn’t done so all season, a violation of the NFL’s protocols for unvaccinated players. But that wouldn’t become clear until a month later, when Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 and had to miss the Packers’ game against Kansas City. (He was eventually fined $14,650 by the NFL.) Asked in the preseason whether he was vaccinated, Rodgers uttered what may go down as four of the most infamous words of his career: “Yeah, I’ve been immunized.”

The phrasing, he said on Thursday, was not misleading. It was in fact purposeful and specific.

“I had a plan going in for that question to be asked,” Rodgers said. “It was a pseudo witch hunt going on — who was vaccinated, who wasn’t vaccinated. I was in a multimonth conversation that turned into an appeal process with the NFL at that time, and my appeal hinged on that exact statement [immunized]. So what I said was, No. 1, factually true. I went through a multi-immunization process. And at the end of that, I don’t know what you would call it, I would call it immunized.”

Why did one of America’s most highly regarded athletes, a former “Jeopardy” host, no less, thrust himself into the center of the vaccine debate? The clues, if you were looking, have always been there. This is who Rodgers has long been — skeptic, alternative thinker and contrarian — dating all the way back to his childhood growing up in Chico, California.

He doesn’t think he’s a jerk, as some people have implied. All he’s doing, in his mind, is being true to his beliefs.

“I don’t want to apologize for being myself,” Rodgers said. “I just want to be myself.”

AS A TEENAGER, he felt like a boy adrift between cliques despite being a star quarterback for Pleasant Valley High School. The colleges where Rodgers wanted to play football had no interest in him, most of them convinced any high school football played north of Sacramento wasn’t worth the effort it would take to scout. Florida State wouldn’t even look at him. Illinois told him he could walk on. When he sent Purdue some tape, someone on the staff replied with a polite letter explaining their lack of interest that contained the line: “Good luck with your aspirations in college football.” The innocuous line enraged him. Rodgers highlighted it and stewed over it for years. His favorite band, Counting Crows, became the perfect soundtrack for his ruminative teenage brooding.

The interest he did have was from Division III schools such as Occidental College, Lewis & Clark and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. He contemplated quitting football entirely. It wasn’t until Craig Rigsbee — the burly, affable head coach at Butte Community College — begged Rodgers to play for the Roadrunners, the junior college just south of Chico, that he figured out his nontraditional path forward.

“His mom said, ‘No son of mine is going to junior college,'” Rigsbee said. “I said, ‘Look, our general ed classes are the same as they are anywhere, whether you’re at Stanford, Cal or Harvard. The War of 1812 doesn’t change just because you’re at Butte College. Those classes will transfer anywhere in the world. Your degree isn’t going to say Butte College.'”

That resonated with Rodgers, who agreed to enroll at Butte as long as he could compete for the QB job as a freshman. By the end of preseason two-a-day practices, Rigsbee named him the starter, giving him the nod over a senior who’d been with the program for three seasons.

“That other guy was a really good player, but he ended up quitting, and his mom wrote me the most scathing letter,” Rigsbee said. “She said, ‘Coach, you’re an offensive lineman, you don’t know s— about quarterbacks. My son is 10 times the quarterback Aaron Rodgers is, he’ll never do s—. You wait and see.'”

A year after leading Butte Community College to a 10-1 record, Rodgers was playing at Cal. Two years after that, he was a first-round NFL draft pick. It’s a story that’s been told many times, but it’s one that is crucial to understanding him. Chico and Butte are where he learned to trust his own instincts and learned that knowledge could come from anywhere. It’s where he drifted away from what he considers the dogmatic religious views of his family.

“Ultimately, it was that rules and regulations and binary systems don’t really resonate with me,” Rodgers said on a 2020 podcast with then-girlfriend Danica Patrick, discussing how he came to see himself as spiritual rather than religious. “Some people just need structure and tradition. That works for them. I don’t have a problem with it. It just doesn’t resonate with me.”

Rigsbee has, over the years, remained close with Rodgers. Maybe not in his inner circle, but something not too far outside it. The coach, now retired, thinks of the quarterback almost like family. He has two signed jerseys of Rodgers’ hanging in his rec room, one thanking him for believing in him when no one else would. They text off and on, and Rigsbee tries to see him play in person at least once a year. Rodgers has even taken him backstage at Counting Crows concerts. It’s not something many people from Rodgers’ hometown can say. In order to become the man he wanted to be, Rodgers decided to leave certain pieces of Chico behind, an evolution that’s not uncommon for aspiring intellectuals but one that isn’t without complications and sadness. Rodgers hasn’t spoken to his parents or his two brothers in several years, for reasons he has declined to disclose.

“Aaron’s traveled the world,” Rigsbee said. “He’s seen a lot. He’s not some little Chico, California, boy anymore. He’s seen people be phony to him, he’s seen his good friends dog him, his relatives dog him. You end up really shrinking your inner circle of friends.”

Rigsbee says he wasn’t surprised when his former player became embroiled in a controversy over the COVID-19 vaccine. “He’s a true independent thinker,” Rigsbee said. “He doesn’t want to be anyone’s activist; he’s not a Democrat or a Republican. He believes you should be able to think for yourself. I think the press is mad at him because they didn’t follow up when he said he was immunized. They should have said, ‘What does immunized mean? Are you vaccinated or are you not?’ I think the press is mad because they think he’s saying he’s smarter than them. Well, guess what? He is smarter than them. He told the truth. They didn’t ask the right questions. I was proud of him.”

There is a lot of skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccine in Butte County, where only 51% of residents are considered fully vaccinated, one of the lower rates in the state. Oroville, a city of 20,000 just south of Chico, made national headlines this past November when its city council and mayor declared it a “constitutional republic” that would not enforce Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide vaccine mandates. Rodgers’ father, Ed, a chiropractor in Chico, has been highly critical of vaccine mandates on Twitter, frequently calling out “brainwashed liberal idiots” who are “destroying their organs” by taking the vaccine. (Ed Rodgers did not respond to an interview request from ESPN.)

Rigsbee, though, didn’t hesitate to get vaccinated. He believed it was the right decision for him considering his age and overall health, but it was a decision that put him in the minority among his friends.

“My best friend in the whole world was a big anti-vax guy,” Rigsbee said. “He was a small-business owner, had a really successful roofing company. He would come over every day and work out with me, and we’d walk our dogs together. He kept saying, ‘Riggs, I’m not getting vaxxed, it’s just the government trying to track you.’ I teased him: ‘I hate to break it to you, buddy, but no one gives a s— about tracking you.'”

One day at breakfast, Rigsbee says his friend started coughing but insisted it was just a cold. The next day, he and his wife were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19. Three days later, his friend died of a heart attack after a blood clot formed in his lung.

“My buddy Greg, he ended up giving it to three of our friends,” Rigsbee said. “All three of them almost died. Only one guy in our group didn’t get it. Guess who that was? Me. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.”

What happened was crushing, Rigsbee said, but it didn’t change how he felt about Rodgers’ own vaccination decision.

“Who am I to condemn someone for what they believe?” Rigsbee said. “If you don’t want to have a vaccination, [who] am I to tell you that’s wrong? Obviously he’s a healthy athlete in his prime. He actually has a very high level of doctors, physicians, physiologists working for him. He’s not the average guy. When he says he did his own research, it’s actually true. He has access to a level of medicine most people don’t. He’s not like one of my buddies who is going on the internet and thinking they found something no one had ever discovered before.”

IF YOU VIEW football as human chess played at bone-rattling speeds, and the personal lives or political views of players are meaningless to you, it’s possible none of what Rodgers has said this season matters. Does anyone care, now, that Picasso was a narcissist? Or that J.D. Salinger cut people out of his life with little explanation? In the end, their talents gave them an easy path to absolution in the eyes of history. Hubris, as Michael Jordan taught us, is often just the backbone of ambition.

Aaron Rodgers did not have his best game of the season against the Chicago Bears when the teams met at Soldier Field in mid-October. He threw for just 195 yards and two touchdowns. But he might have given us the season’s signature moment with 4:38 left in the fourth quarter, the Packers leading 17-14.

From the Bears’ 6-yard line, Rodgers dropped back to pass, pump-faked to his left, then began dancing in the pocket. Everything was covered. He started to look flustered, his eyes darting in every direction. Rodgers scrambled to his right, desperate to find someone freelancing a route in the other half of the end zone, but all he could see was a wall of white jerseys suffocating the green ones. He pump-faked again, then decided to make a feverish dash toward the corner of the end zone. At the pylon, Bears safety Eddie Jackson reached him a step late but lowered his shoulder and knocked Rodgers off his feet anyway, sending the quarterback half-stumbling, half-sliding to the turf. Touchdown. Ballgame.

“I own you! All my f—ing life, I own you!” Rodgers roared, staring down a sea of rowdy Bears fans. “I still own you! All my life!”

He said he could not remember, after the game, what he had shouted.

“Sometimes you black out on the field in a good way,” Rodgers said, unable to suppress a smirk. “I looked up in the stands, and all I saw was a woman giving me the double bird. I’m not exactly sure what came out of my mouth next.”

The Rodgers Tour of Audaciousness was just getting warmed up.

“That’s A-Rod,” Packers running back Aaron Jones said. “I love it. What can you say? He’s right.”

ONE OF RODGERS’ favorite self-help books, “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, urges readers to not make assumptions and not take anything personally. It is an aspirational life philosophy, but those two tenets have sometimes been difficult for Rodgers. He takes many things personally. He has friends who alert him to slights big and small. He is unafraid to clap back at those who he feels have wronged him.

He likes discussion but does not particularly care for scrutiny, which is part of what made appearing on “The Pat McAfee Show” every Tuesday for the past two seasons such a comfortable fit. It is a safe space where Rodgers can opine on the existence of UFOs or recommend books that have been important to him, such as “The Four Agreements,” Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” or Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F—,” as a part of the Aaron Rodgers Book Club.

“We need more people reading books instead of sitting on their asses watching TV,” Rodgers said, kicking off the book club.

McAfee — a former punter with the Colts who became friends with Rodgers after he retired and started a podcasting career — likes to crack jokes, likes to tell stories, likes to talk about gambling, and he hosts nearly every show bouncing on the balls of his feet, in a tank top, with the manic energy of a stand-up comedian or auctioneer. No topic is off-limits, or seen as a waste of time, no matter how trivial. The conversations are typically not meant to be serious, even though Rodgers, at times, likes to address serious topics. It’s part of a new media paradigm that has given the world access to Rodgers that, in previous years, would have been unfathomable.

“This really does take the guessing out of it because you can now watch the interview, you can see my expressions, you can understand when there’s sarcasm — for most publications,” Rodgers said Thursday. “It’s harder to take what I’m saying out of context because most people that see it will probably look at a clip or watch the show instead of reading the transcript. So I do enjoy that. I enjoy Pat and A.J. [Hawk] and the boys, I enjoy talking football with him and then talking not football with them as well.”

Some episodes, Rodgers doesn’t grant interviews on the show as much as he uses them to deliver sermons about life. Regular listeners will quickly grasp that McAfee and Rodgers are playful pranksters, and that trolling the casual listener is sometimes part of the fun. Media that choose to aggregate pieces of the show and repurpose that for their own content (a regular occurrence) may do so at their own potential peril, because in McAfee’s universe, context is everything. Strip it away, by accident or on purpose, and you might end up with Rodgers and McAfee calling you out on the following show. That’s roughly how The Wall Street Journal ended up writing a 900-word story based off a throwaway joke McAfee and Rodgers made about the quarterback having a painful case of “COVID toe.” (He actually had a broken pinkie toe but declined to explain how the injury occurred.)

The story, which The Wall Street Journal’s Twitter account shared to its 19.3 million followers at 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 24, rippled across social media and was retweeted or shared by thousands of people over the next several hours.

One of those who shared it was Molly Knight, a journalist and author who has written about baseball for The Athletic and ESPN and now has her own Substack. Knight was getting ready to participate in an outdoor SoulCycle class in Los Angeles when she opened her phone and saw that “COVID toe” had been trending for hours. Curious, she clicked a link and read the Journal piece. It seemed credible. It quoted doctors. It was from a reputable news organization. She shared it to her own feed, adding what she knew was likely a well-worn joke: This is what happens when you get medical advice from Joe Rogan.

“I think I was the 1 millionth person to make that joke,” Knight said. “I was definitely late to the party.”

She followed it up with a tweet encouraging people to take the pandemic seriously and please get vaccinated. She thought little of it from there. It wasn’t until hours later that she noticed Packers fans bombarding her mentions, telling her they hoped she would die.

“At first, I thought it was just another day of being a woman online in sports,” Knight said. “I even argued a little with a few of them, not knowing that Aaron Rodgers had publicly called me out in a press conference and said I owed him an apology.”

Rodgers, based on some texts from friends, was convinced Knight had written the piece. Noticeably agitated, he went after her during his weekly Zoom with the media, at one point thrusting his bare foot in front of the camera to prove it didn’t have the lesions mentioned in the story.

“That’s actually called disinformation when you perpetuate false information about an individual,” Rodgers said. “I have a fractured toe. So, I expect a full apology from Molly Knight and whoever her editor was.”

Knight, after she finally unpacked what had happened, was baffled. Her mentions and direct messages were being overwhelmed with venom. She even got a few death threats. The New York Post emailed to ask whether she had any comment. Knight deleted the tweet and typed up a message in her Notes app trying to explain that she wasn’t the author of the piece, but it only slowed the harassment.

“It honestly felt like the walls were closing in and I couldn’t breathe,” Knight said. “I felt like I had to explain myself to all these people, but there would be people who would only ever hear his press conference. They’re never going to figure out that it wasn’t me. They’re just going to hate me forever.”

Rodgers showed no remorse when he learned, in the coming days, that Knight wasn’t the author of the story. He said he had a “respectful conversation” with Andrew Beaton, the Journal staffer who wrote the erroneous piece, and appreciated him reaching out to the Packers to clear things up. “I still don’t believe there wasn’t an ulterior motive, but we had a nice conversation,” Rodgers said. But he felt Knight was “definitely not without blame.” He offered no apology, called her “opportunistic” and implied she tried to use the situation to her advantage.

Knight, meanwhile, was having panic attacks. Not only were Packers fans harassing her, so was the anti-vaccination crowd. She left her apartment for five days to stay with her mom, terrified someone might be inspired to track down her address and harass her in person. To Knight, it was the perfect example of one of the most popular plays that men run on the internet: If facing a sea of criticism, find one woman among your critics, single her out, then let your followers take it from there.

“Does he think that’s what I deserve for making a joke about him and Joe Rogan?” Knight said. “He had to know what would happen, that people would come after me. It horribly impacted my mental health. I think it would have horribly impacted anyone’s mental health.”

I ask Rodgers, months after the incident, if there was any part he wished he would have handled differently, given time to reflect.

“In retrospect, I should have read it first, and maybe it would have been different,” Rodgers said. “I wouldn’t maybe have mentioned her name. But she was piling on. It was a perfect storm for her to jump on this anti-vaxxer, flat-earther who ended up getting COVID toe and he’s got lesions on the bottom of his feet. So, she chose her platform to run with an absolutely ridiculous story.”


HE BECAME BOLDER with his throws as the season went on.

In a 36-28 win over the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau, he hit Adams in stride on a throw down the left sideline late in the second quarter that, if you studied it closely, seemed to defy the laws of physics. He’d let it fly without even planting his foot. The ball went 45 yards in the air, landing where only Adams (despite being double-covered) could catch it.

“Both his feet were in the air,” said Dan Orlovsky, an ESPN analyst who has been friendly with Rodgers for 20 years. He called the pass to Adams his favorite Rodgers throw this season. “He just has this ability to throw with very little windup. I think most of us were taught as kids to think of throwing a football like throwing a hammer, but with Aaron, it’s like he’s throwing a dart. His ability to control the football is outrageous.”

To cope with the pain of his broken toe, he needed occasional pregame painkilling injections. But getting jabbed by team trainers seemed, to Rodgers, like an acceptable trade-off to stay on the field.

“Getting shot up before a game does a pretty good job of minimizing the pain,” Rodgers said.

He grew bolder with his opinions as well.

“I don’t want to apologize for being myself. I just want to be myself.”Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers wore a sweatshirt on McAfee’s show with the words “Cancel Culture” on the front, but with every letter crossed out, a gift from his friend Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports. In December, he was not happy when President Joe Biden, while taking a tour of tornado-ravaged towns in Kentucky, joked with a woman wearing a Packers jacket that she should tell Rodgers to get the vaccine.

“When the president of the United States says, ‘This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ it’s because him and his constituents, which, I don’t know how there are any if you watch any of his attempts at public speaking, but I guess he got 81 million votes,” Rodgers said Thursday. “But when you say stuff like that, and then you have the CDC, which, how do you even trust them, but then they come out and talk about 75% of the COVID deaths have at least four comorbidities. And you still have this fake White House set saying that this is the pandemic of the unvaccinated, that’s not helping the conversation.”

(Editor’s note: The CDC study found that in a group of 1.2 million people who were fully vaccinated between December 2020 and October 2021, 36 of them had a death associated with COVID-19 — and that of those 36 people, 28, or about 78%, had at least four of eight risk factors.)

On New Year’s Day, Rodgers went on Instagram to recommend a three-hour interview Rogan did with Dr. Robert Malone, a virologist who had been recently banned from Twitter and YouTube for repeatedly violating policies on spreading what was labeled as “vaccine misinformation.”

“3 hours you won’t regret,” Rodgers wrote, sharing a link to “The Joe Rogan Experience.”

Malone — who was involved in the early development of mRNA vaccines and DNA vaccines but says his role was “written out of history” by the hundreds of scientists collectively credited for their invention — believes that vaccine side effects are being withheld or suppressed by the U.S. government, likely at the request of pharmaceutical companies. He also believes what’s going on in America is a term called “mass formation psychosis,” akin to German citizens being manipulated by the Nazi Party in the 1920s and 1930s.

At Rodgers’ suggestion, I listened to the podcast, trying to weigh its assertions with an open mind. But I was more interested in what Rodgers wanted people like me to take away from it. He gave an answer so impassioned, I could hear his voice in my head hours later, the steady drumbeat of his speech.

“When in the course of human history has the side that’s doing the censoring and trying to shut people up and make them show papers and marginalize a part of the community ever been [the correct side]?” Rodgers said Thursday. “We’re censoring dissenting opinions? What are we trying to do? Save people from being able to determine the validity on their own or to listen and to think about things and come to their own conclusion? Freedom of speech is dangerous now if it doesn’t align with the mainstream narrative? That’s, I think first and foremost, what I wanted people to understand, and what people should understand is that there’s censorship in this country going on right now.

“Are they censoring terrorists or pedophiles? Criminals who have Twitter profiles? No, they’re censoring people, and they’re shadow-banning people who have dissenting opinions about vaccines. Why is that? Is that because Pfizer cleared $33 billion last year and Big Pharma has more lobbyists in Washington than senators and representatives combined? Why is the reason? Either way, if you want to be an open-minded person, you should hear both sides, which is why I listen to people like Dr. Robert Malone, Dr. Peter McCullough. I have people on the other side as well. I read stuff on the vaccine-hesitancy side, and I read stuff on the vaccines-are-the-greatest-thing-in-the-world side.

“When you censor and make pariahs out of anybody who questions what you believe in or what the mainstream narrative is, that doesn’t make any sense.”

It sounded like what he was saying mattered to him as much as any football game he’d ever played in, if not more.

IN EARLY JANUARY, the NFL announced that unvaccinated players, even with new guidelines released recently by the CDC, would still be tested daily by the NFL leading up to the Super Bowl. Rodgers, who is currently exempt from that testing because he contracted COVID-19 in the past 90 days, will see that exemption expire soon, before the championship. A scenario in which Rodgers tests positive in the days leading up to a postseason game would be a nightmare scenario for the Packers and the NFL, but with the omicron variant spreading rapidly through the American population, it’s certainly conceivable. In a season with so much madness surrounding Rodgers, the biggest twist might be yet to come. If that does occur, scientists like Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a renowned virologist and research scientist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, shudder to think about how the debate will be framed.

“It will be, ‘Was Aaron Rodgers so selfish that he cost his team in the playoffs?'” Rasmussen said. “But it’s not about the playoffs, it’s about the playoffs of ending this pandemic.”

The influence of public figures who are staunchly anti-vaccination — despite no background in science or medicine — has played a role in prolonging the pandemic, Rasmussen believes.

“It’s profoundly selfish for Joe Rogan and Aaron Rodgers and their followers to say this is just a decision about you,” Rasmussen said. “Vaccines do provide individual benefits, but the bigger benefits of vaccines and masks and all the measures we’ve been taking is reducing the prevalence of COVID overall so we can end the f—ing pandemic. That’s what gets missed. This becomes all about Aaron Rodgers and what the risk is to him, and whether he’s being selfish or not, rather than something that affects all of us as a community.”

As eager as Rodgers has been this season to speak his mind and launch counterattacks against his critics, he insists he is closer to zen than he is to a state of permanent resentment. He has been dropping little hints, all throughout the year, that he has been savoring certain moments, just in case they are his last in a Packers uniform. He’s vowed to make a decision about his future not long after the season ends.

In Green Bay’s 31-30 win over the Ravens in Week 15, Rodgers gathered the offense together before the final kneel-down and delivered a short speech. He wagged his finger for emphasis as he spoke. He later explained to reporters that he wanted the players to savor the moment, to remember this emotion. True, they might have bigger goals, but the future could wait. Try to enjoy this, he urged them, at least for a few minutes. A career can rush past in the blink of an eye.

As I watched the scene play out, it reminded me, oddly, of a line from Rodgers’ favorite show, “The Office,” where Ed Helms’ character laments in the final episode: I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.

I asked Rodgers whether that quote had been bouncing around in his head lately, and he admitted it had been. He’d rewatched the series in its entirety (his third time through) early on during the pandemic, and a lot of it had been lingering ever since.

“Definitely that quote was on my mind,” Rodgers said. “That moment has always stuck with me, when Ed turns to the camera. Because just talking to some guys who moved on and retired that I was close with, that’s a common thread. … I think it’s just good perspective to have that we are in the midst of moments that we’re going to be talking about in 10 or 15 years. So let’s treasure these conversations, these lessons, these times of adversity, times of joy. So that it means a little bit more when we’re sitting on that bench in 20 years talking about the good old days.”

After 28 minutes of talking, our conversation had come to an end. He told me he appreciated the chance to answer my questions. Now it was time for Rodgers — controversial social commentator, former “Jeopardy!” host, media critic, free speech advocate, occasional troll and book club founder — to return to his day job: trying to win an important football game.

Some Packers fans are not fans of Rodgers because of his capacity for independent thought. That used to be a valued trait among Americans. For instance, Sports Illustrated reports:

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has gotten plenty of attention for his play on the field this season in leading his squad to a 13–4 record and the NFC’s top seed for the playoffs. But he’s also made several headlines off the field due to his COVID-19 vaccination status—and his stance on the matter.

Friday, via a fascinating feature on Rodgers by ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg, Rodgers again made waves, this time by taking aim at President Joe Biden.

Rodgers, in a 28-minute phone call with Van Valkenburg, covered several topics, including his experience on the ManningCast, his relationship with Joe Rogan, his frequent appearances on The Pat McAfee Show and, of course, football. But it was a few lines about the commander in chief that generated the most reaction among readers.

According to TMZ, Biden was revealed to have told a Packers fan he wants Rodgers to get the vaccine while visiting Kentucky after a week of deadly tornadoes back in December.

Rodgers reportedly caught wind of the incident and was not happy. In the ESPN feature, he criticized Biden for classifying the pandemic as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” something the president said back during an official White House statement Sept. 9. He also expressed distrust of the CDC and commented on Biden’s public speaking ability.

The quote, via ESPN, includes an editor’s note about a CDC study regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine:

“In December, he was not happy when President Joe Biden, while taking a tour of tornado-ravaged towns in Kentucky, joked with a woman wearing a Packers jacket that she should tell Rodgers to get the vaccine.

“When the president of the United States says, ‘This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ it’s because him and his constituents, which, I don’t know how there are any if you watch any of his attempts at public speaking, but I guess he got 81 million votes,” Rodgers said Thursday. “But when you say stuff like that, and then you have the CDC, which, how do you even trust them, but then they come out and talk about 75% of the COVID deaths have at least four comorbidities. And you still have this fake White House set saying that this is the pandemic of the unvaccinated, that’s not helping the conversation.”

(Editor’s note: The CDC study found that in a group of 1.2 million people who were fully vaccinated between December 2020 and October 2021, 36 of them had a death associated with COVID-19—and that of those 36 people, 28, or about 78%, had at least four of eight risk factors.)

In this case, Rodgers was responding to Biden, who should have kept his mouth shut about things that are not Biden’s business.

It would be most amusing if Biden had to speak to Rodgers at a White House ceremony honoring the NFL champion Packers.

 

(Insert backup alarm sound here)

First, The Score in Chicago Tuesday morning:

Myles Simmons:

Longtime reporter and Associated Press MVP voter Hub Arkush started a firestorm by saying in a radio interview on Tuesday that he wouldn’t vote for Aaron Rodgers for reasons unrelated to his on-field performance. …

But Rodgers himself had plenty to say on the matter when asked what he thought of the comments to begin his Wednesday press conference.

“I think he’s a bum. I think he’s an absolute bum,” Rodgers said. “He doesn’t know me. I don’t know who he is. No one knew who he was, probably, until yesterday’s comments. And I listened to the comments. But to say he had his mind made up in the summertime, in the offseason that I had zero chance of winning MVP — in my opinion, that should exclude [him from] future votes.

“His problem isn’t with me being a ‘bad guy’ or ‘the biggest jerk in the league’ — because he doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know anything about me. I’ve never met him. I’ve never had lunch with him. I’ve never had an interview with him. His problem is I’m not vaccinated. So if he wants to go on a crusade and collude and come up with an extra letter to put on the award just for this season and make it the ‘Most Valuable Vaccinated Player,’ then he should do that.

“But he’s a bum. And I’m not going to waste any time worrying about that stuff. He has no idea who I am. He’s never talked to me in his life. But it’s unfortunate that those sentiments — it’s surprising that he would even say that, to be honest. But I knew this was possible. I talked about it on McAfee weeks ago. But…crazy.”

Rodgers did mention in one of his regular appearances on the Pat McAfee Show that he figured he’d be “canceled” for lying about his vaccination status. But the reality has been different, as the vast majority of criticism has been directed at Arkush after he shared why he disqualified Rodgers from his MVP vote.

Rodgers is the frontrunner to win his second consecutive AP MVP award and fourth overall. In 15 games, he’s completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,977 yards with 35 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He currently leads the league with a 111.1 passer rating.

Arkush was singing a slightly different tune Wednesday:

So in case you haven’t heard, I’ve spent the better part of the last 24 hours making a pretty nasty mess.

Actually, and much to my surprise, that may be the understatement of the year. There is absolutely nothing clever or remotely entertaining about it.

I made a terrible mistake. It was completely my fault. There is no one else to blame, and I am here to try and apologize.

I own this and I couldn’t be more sorry.

I expect some clarity on exactly what I am apologizing for might be relevant and welcome.

There is no more respected bastion of journalism in the world than the Associated Press, and from where I sit there are few greater honors in my business than being chosen one of the 50 members of its panel that selects the NFL’s annual All Pro teams, MVPs, etc.

It has been my privilege to be a member of that team for some time now and Tuesday I violated a trust.

Our marching orders are to cast our votes as reasoned and thoughtfully as possible for those we believe to be the most deserving in our own considered judgment. All that is asked of us is not to discuss our votes publicly until after the awards have been announced.

On Tuesday, at 670 The Score in Chicago, where I am regularly employed as an analyst and host, for reasons that I am still trying to come to grips with but were completely my responsibility, I allowed myself to be walked into a conversation about an MVP candidate I knew I would not be voting for. I said some things that while not unreasonable in the context they were said, I voiced them in totally inappropriate ways.

I couldn’t possibly be more sorry for joining the conversation at all and some of the childish things I said about Aaron Rodgers.

Most of the other 49 AP voters are acquaintances, many are friends, and the reason we are asked not to do what I did is it now puts undo pressure on some of them to comment, not comment, agree, disagree or take grief for doing the right thing and remaining silent.

Worse yet, I’ve apparently unleashed a small army of self-styled social media and talk radio experts who have no clue what they’re talking about to challenge the quality of the voting process and would attempt to invalidate any vote or thought process that doesn’t agree with their own.

A sign of the times I guess.

To everyone in any way associated with the AP awards, you couldn’t possibly do the job any better or be more respected by anyone who actually cares more about getting it right than getting what they want

To any player or coach that’s ever won an AP honor, you couldn’t possibly be more deserving and don’t ever let anyone call that into question.

To Aaron Rodgers, you are one of the greatest players of this generation and one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Whether or not you are this year’s MVP is up to the 50-member panel, neither me, nor my critics.

I couldn’t possibly be more sorry for dragging all of you into my mess and I hope you will accept my apology.

Why or how this became a national news story I don’t understand, and while I would love to be able to explain what I meant to say and butchered so badly, any further conversation about my own vote now would just throw another log on the fire and cloud what matters at the moment

I was wrong, I own it and I couldn’t be more sorry

I’ll be happy to discuss my vote and my reasoning with whomever would like to after the awards have been announced.

For now please don’t tarnish anyone else with my mistake. Think of me as you will, but I hope my responsibility and regret are clear.

As always, the way to avoid having to apologize in public is not to have done something that required an apology in the first place. Note, though, that Arkush is apologizing primarily for causing his fellow AP voters problems and for possibly besmirching the AP’s NFL awards in some people’s eyes, not for his bad take about Rodgers’ being a “bad guy.”

Some readers might say that Arkush is entitled to his opinion. But Arkusb has more responsibility than someone sitting on his couch on social media while drinking beer to know what he’s talking about, since Arkush’s readers assume he knows what he’s talking about.

Wrong opinions are the result of bad information and/or a bad thought process. In a league that has employed domestic abusers, illegal drug users and, in two cases, murderers (see Carruth, Rae, and Hernandez, Aaron), what about Rodgers makes him a “bad guy” in Arkush’s opinion? Because he apparently disagrees with Arkush about the pan(dem)ic? (Rodgers’ teammates certainly have moved on from “immunized” vs. “vaccinated.”) Because he reportedly doesn’t get along with his family? Because of the media-generated sturm und drang that began this season over where Rodgers wanted to play? Nothing Rodgers has done, including being an independent thinker, warrants a “bad guy” label.

Bill Huber adds:

What’s funny is, other than probably postgame interviews for his duties writing about the Chicago Bears and national radio broadcasts for Westwood One, Arkush probably doesn’t know Rodgers at all. So how does Arkush believe Rodgers is a “bad guy” when his coaches and teammates say otherwise? Has he not listened to Davante Adams and others talk about Rodgers? Did he not see Lucas Patrick hoist Rodgers in the air after Rodgers broke Brett Favre’s touchdown record? Has he not talked to former Packers receiver James Jones, who is part of the same Packers pregame segment? Is he unaware of the millions of dollars he’s given for various charitable causes? …

For those who scoffed at Rodgers’ talk of “cancel culture” just because he doesn’t share the mainstream opinion, isn’t what what’s at play with Arkush? He doesn’t like Rodgers, for whatever reason, so is choosing to ignore the fact that Rodgers has led an injury-plagued team to the best record in the NFL while leading the way in passer rating, touchdown percentage and interception percentage?

The interesting side part is that Arkush has a segment on Packers’ radio pregame. (Arkush used to do color for Da Bears when Wayne Larrivee announced for Da Bears. I generally don’t listen to pregame shows, but this one might be wroth a listen, assuming the Packers don’t tell him to not work Sunday.

Arkush may be done with the Packers since WTMJ radio won’t be the Packers Radio Network flagship after this season, and Arkush committed the formerly cardinal sin of a reporter’s becoming the story.

 

 

This didn’t age well, did it, Colin?

With the Packers’ 37–10 win over Minnesota last night Green Bay finished as NFC North champions for the third consecutive season and with the number one seed in the NFC for the second consecutive season.

Last night’s win also improves coach Matt Lafleur’s regular-season career record to 39–9. with one meaningless game left in this season.

Which means this 2019 take from alleged sports expert Colin Cowherd was full of cow … well, you know.

Yes, Lafleur hasn’t won.a Super Bowl (which places the Pack in the same place as 30 other NFL teams the past two seasons), and there are reasons to believe the Packers won’t win the Super Bowl this season. But Cowherd’s opinion has been proven spectacularly wrong, and not for the first time.

I used to think Cowherd knew more than, say, Stephen A. Smith or Brainless Skip Bayless. I may have been mistaken about that.

This is why I neither listen to nor watch sports talk. Too many opinions, too few informed opinions, and far too little  insight.

 

Bucky, the Packers, the Brewers and the Bucks vs. Goldy Gopher, Viktor Viking et al

Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis–St. Paul Star Tribune:

Current head-counting has the Minnesota population at 5.7 million and Wisconsin at 5.9 million. The major difference is that 3.65 million of Minnesotans are concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area. The Milwaukee metro is 1.58 million and Madison, located 80 miles west, is 670,000.

Wisconsin’s larger population is fed by more mid-sized cities than in Minnesota, including Green Bay, home to an NFL franchise with a metro area population of 325,000.

Tom Oates, the now-retired, long-time columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, said: “I was asked frequently in press boxes, ‘How can Green Bay support a football team?’ Those people don’t understand how it works in the Midwest, and for sure, in Wisconsin.

“The Packers aren’t Green Bay’s team. They are Wisconsin’s team.

“There are no divided loyalties in Wisconsin. Everyone is a Packers fan, everyone is a Brewers fan, everyone is a Bucks fan and everyone is a Badgers fan.”

Oates paused and said: “Except Marquette in basketball. Marquette fans don’t like the Badgers in basketball.”

Much of Minnesota’s rivalry with Wisconsin stems from similarities. Population (as cited). Lakes, woods, fishing and deer hunting. Starkly divided politics by urban and rural.

Twin Cities media outlets have thrived on claiming “hate” for Wisconsin teams and their fans, but they are basically us — with a few more 16-stool taverns in the small towns.

The Minnesotans embracing that hate are having a very tough 21st century. And the competition taking place around pandemic outbreaks in 2021 has been toughest of all.

Consider the period from July 20 to July 27:

On the first of those Tuesdays, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to their first NBA title in 50 years. On the second of those Tuesdays, Aaron Rodgers showed up in Packers camp after an offseason drama in which management refused to trade him.

In between these two happenings, the Brewers were winning two out of three in a home series vs. the White Sox. The attendance for the series was 111,287, and the Brewers’ lead was seven games in the National League Central.

Here in Minnesota, the lowly Timberwolves were preparing to sit out the NBA draft after a trade that ridded them of Andrew Wiggins and brought in No-D-Lo Russell, the Vikings were about to discover that their quarterback’s plan to avoid another COVID quarantine was to shield himself with Plexiglas, and the Twins finished July last in the woeful AL Central, 17 games behind the White Sox.

What was left was for the Minnesota’s haters of Wisconsin sports entities was to gaze eastward and say, “This interstate rivalry has gone from bad to worse.”

Minnesota and Wisconsin started playing football in 1890. The only year missed was 1906, when 19 deaths in college football the previous season had caused a national campaign to ban the activity. Wisconsin’s response was to play a five-game schedule that did not include its “fiercest” rivals: Minnesota, Michigan and the University of Chicago.

The game was almost missed again last season because of the pandemic. The Gophers bowed out of two late games because of COVID issues, then agreed with the Big Ten to play at Wisconsin in mid-December.

A subpar Gophers team lost to Paul Chryst’s worst Badgers team 20-17. The Badgers are 16-1 in Paul Bunyan’s Axe games since 2004. There are other huge discrepancies, but leave it at this: 0-7 in Axe games vs. Bret Bielema.

In men’s basketball, coach Greg Gard had a group of seven seniors that primarily disliked him. And they beat the Gophers 71-59, putting Richard Pitino at 3-11 vs. Wisconsin and helping him to get fired after eight seasons.

Worst of all, there’s volleyball, where Hugh McCutcheon has the best program on the Twin Cities campus. The Badgers played for the national title in last spring’s delayed season. Now, they enter the fall season rated No. 2 in the nation, with the Gophers at No. 7.

Wisconsin has a two-time NBA MVP in Antetokounmpo, said by Oates and other observers to be an all-time great guy. It has a three-time NFL MVP (including 2020) in Rodgers, an all-time great quarterback. And it has a Brewers team that’s 25 games over .500 with the 2018 MVP, Christian Yelich, still waiting to get warm.

Plus, the Brewers now have Eduardo Escobar, “Effervescent Eddie,” who’s supposed to be our guy.

Face it, alleged haters of our Wisconsin rivals. They own us.

Minnesota is known as having 10,000 lakes (the correct number is 11,842). Former Gov. Tommy Thompson would say that Wisconsin had more lakes (15,874), “and ours have fish in them!”

YouTube provides us with a couple of highlights:

 

From the GREEN Bay Packers

Packers.com:

The Green Bay Packers on Thursday introduced their new, history-inspired third uniform: the 50s Classic Uniform. The new uniforms will debut at Lambeau Field on Oct. 24 against Washington.

The 50s Classic Uniform is inspired by the team’s uniforms from 1950-1953, which was the second time the team wore green and gold in its history. The Packers first wore green in the mid-to-late 1930s.

The uniforms are all green, with gold numbers and stripes similar to the jerseys worn in the 1950s. In those days, the green was a Kelly green and the team alternated between wearing it with green or gold pants. This alternate jersey, which is the Packers’ traditional green color, with gold numbers and stripes, will be worn with matching green pants with gold stripes, and matching green socks.

“The 1950s were one of the most interesting times in our organization’s rich history, creating the bridge between two of the greatest eras in pro football,” said Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy. “With the NFL growing rapidly, this time period set the stage for the construction of Lambeau Field and for the team’s success in the 1960s and beyond. We hope our fans enjoy celebrating our history with this new alternate uniform.”

First: How does it look?
This new uniform is based on this old uniform …
… which, though the new uniforms are forest green, not the kelly green of the earlier uniforms …
Green Bay Press–Gazette
… makes it a departure from the Packers’ previous throwbacks that were based on their navy-blue-and-gold days from founder (and one-year Notre Dame student) Curly Lambeau.
Once the Packers unveiled green uniforms in 1935 …
… they went back and forth between blue and green until Vince Lombardi said the Packers were the GREEN Bay Packers and would remain as such.
As someone who hates the Blue Bay Packers look, not to mention the White Bay Packers look (for the Nike-mandated Color Rush, though white isn’t really a color for purposes of clothing), I believe these are superior for that reason alone, though I am not usually a fan of monochrome uniforms. The Packers should, in fact, redesign their road look to replace the gold pants with green pants when wearing the white jersey.

I assert this (because I’m always right in this blog, and if you agree with me you’re right too) as someone who is not necessarily enamored with the green and gold look — specifically the “gold” part, which is more accurately described as “athletic gold” or “yellowgold,” basically a little bit darker than yellow. During the early 1950s apparently the Packers used a more metallic look …

… which is preferable to me from their current yellowgold.


(A Twin Cities sportswriter once described the Packers’ look as lemon and spinach. I have no problem with either description, but the writer should have included the Vikings colors — bruises and pus.)Other than the monochrome look, I have another issue:

While the early 1950s were not a particularly successful time for the Packers on the field, it was the dawn of an extraordinarily eventful decade off the field, a decade that began with the departure of the team’s founder Curly Lambeau and ended with the arrival of Vince Lombardi. In the 1950s, the NFL was growing quickly and gaining nationwide interest through television exposure. The Packers organization was at a turning point and a franchise-saving stock sale helped lay the groundwork for the eventual construction of Lambeau Field and set up the team to stay in Green Bay through modern times.

The first two seasons of green ended with the Packers’ 1937 title. The four seasons of the 1950–53 look that the Packers will debut against the don’t-call-them-Redskins-anymore were 3–9, 3–9, 6–6 and 2–9–1, which seems an era not worth commemorating. The rule of caring about how your team looks is that quality of look and quality of play are inextricably linked.

Presty the DJ for Aug. 11

We begin with a non-musical anniversary, though we can certainly add music:

On Aug. 11, 1919, Green Bay Press–Gazette sports editor George Calhoun and Indian Packing Co. employee Earl “Curly” Lambeau, a former Notre Dame football player, organized a pro football team that would be called the Green Bay Packers:

Today in 1964, the Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night” opened in New York:

Two years later, the Beatles opened their last American concert tour on the same day that John Lennon apologized for saying that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus. … Look, I wasn’t saying The Beatles are better than God or Jesus, I said ‘Beatles’ because it’s easy for me to talk about The Beatles. I could have said ‘TV’ or ‘Cinema’, ‘Motorcars’ or anything popular and would have got away with it…”

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 11”

Aaron Rodgers, unedited

In my day job I summarized the soap opera called As Aaron Rodgers Turns and the epic traveshamockery over what he wants to do, what he’s feeling, etc., by saying that doesn’t include the words “Rodgers said” (that’s what we call “attribution”) should not be believed.

So when he showed up for training camp, this is what Rodgers said:

All the “fans” who claim that Rodgers is a diva and needs to just shut up and play especially need to watch this.

Posted on April 19, not April 1

The radio station where I announce spring football (including Fennimore at Brodhead/Juda tonight at 6:40 Central time) reposted this piece of speculation/argument from four days ago:

The Jason Smith Show

Why Aaron Rodgers Will Be Traded to 49ers For Third Overall Pick


Jason Smith: “The Aaron Rodgers situation with the Packers is going to blow up when Rodgers has all the momentum in the world. It’s silent right now but Rodgers still wants out, and the Packers still hate him and want to move on. This offseason should have been Aaron Rodgers getting a long-term commit – NOPE – we’re not seeing that. ‘Hey, let’s do something with his contract so it makes it easier for to do…’ NOPE, they didn’t help each other. They didn’t go out and get players for Aaron Rodgers because he’s taking up too much money in their salary cap. Everything is still the same as a year ago. When they drafted Jordan Love, they’re going to give the job to Jordan Love and Aaron Rodgers is going to be out. It’s going to happen THIS YEAR, and Aaron Rodgers is waiting because he’s going to play his leverage at the exact right moment, either right at the Draft or right before the Draft, and he’s going to say “YOU GET ME TO ‘TEAM X’ OR I’M GOING TO SIT HOME IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA AND JUST WAIT UNTIL IT HAPPENS”… The Niners trade up to get the number three pick knowing that at some point, either right before the Draft or leading up to it, Aaron Rodgers is going to play that card of ‘You’re going to trade me to the 49ers or I’m going to sit at home’ and the 49ers are going to say ‘we will give you the number three overall pick and get you Justin Fields, and you give us Aaron Rodgers.’ That’s my hot take, the number three pick will wind up going to the Packers and Aaron Rodgers gets traded to the 49ers.” (Full Segment Above)

Listen to Jason Smith explain why he believes Aaron Rodgers will end up being traded to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for the number three overall pick, as Jason thinks the volatility between Rodgers and the Packers is just a temporarily dormant volcano about to blow.

Check out the audio above as Smith details his theory on why Rodgers will finish his career in San Francisco, and Justin Fields becomes the new quarterback in Green Bay.

Or don’t.

This, I must say, is why I don’t listen to sports radio, and I don’t often read sports radio social media. One of the great scourges of our day is the so-called “hot take,” where some mouth comes up with an outrageous opinion for the sole reason of generating clicks, irrespective of whether he believes what he asserts, whether it is based on any facts or logic, or whether it makes any sense. (See Bayliss, Skip.)

(Crap like this, by the way, is one reason I am not dissatisfied that my career didn’t advance to bigger markets. If “hot takes” are required to get paid, I’m not interested.)

First: The assertion that the Packers “hate” Rodgers might be the most idiotic thing you read today. The assertion that Rodgers wants out of Green Bay is certainly not based on anything Rodgers has said publicly. People who feel the need to read between the lines of Rodgers’ public statements to confirm their own stupid theories need to get a life. (Do Smith and Rodgers even know each other?)

Rodgers was only being honest when he said recently that his NFL future might not be entirely up to him. That is not a synonym for “Get me the hell out of Green Bay.”

One reason this speculation comes up is that Rodgers’ contract was not restructured to provide more salary cap space for the Packers before next week’s NFL draft. The contract Rodgers signed in 2018 includes a salary cap jump from $21.6 million in 2020 (based on, well, read it for yourself) to $37.2 million this coming season. Rodgers becomes a free agent in 2024, which is the year Rodgers turns 40.

One effect of having your quarterback take up a lot of your salary cap ($182.5 million this coming season) is it forces you to go with younger (and therefore lower-paid) players elsewhere. Pittsburgh has been notorious for developing players and then having them leave in free agency, recently due to Ben Roethlisberger’s contract. That in turn puts pressure on your scouts to find great young players, and your coaches to develop them.

Another reason is the parallels people think they see with the end of Brett Favre’s Packers career. The Packers drafted Rodgers in 2005, but Rodgers didn’t become the starter until Favre left after the 2007 season. Baseball executive Branch Rickey was fond of saying it’s better to let a player leave a year too early than a year too late. That, however, assumes you have an adequate replacement on hand, and the Packers do not have that with Jordan Love. The other thing, of course, is that the only person who was with the Packers when Favre left and now is president Mark Murphy, who certainly would be consulted on a Rodgers decision, but is not the guy making that decision.

Smith speculates that the Packers will trade Rodgers to San Francisco (the team that famously spurned him in 2005) for the 49ers’ first-round pick, the third in the draft (acquired from Miami), which the Packers then would use on Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. One list (and remember what opinions are like) has Fields as the third rated quarterback in the draft, and one of four quarterbacks likely to get drafted in the first round.

If I were the Packers, though, I’m not sure I would be that interested in Fields. Ohio State has been a college football powerhouse for too long, but not because of its quarterbacks. Who, you ask, is the most successful Buckeye quarterback in NFL history? It’s, believe it or don’t, Mike Tomczak.

College quarterbacks must be analyzed as NFL prospects by the skills that pass on to the NFL, not necessarily based on how they played in college against inferior teams. Fields apparently has great arm strength, but “strength” and “accuracy” aren’t the same thing. Fields also apparently is a great athlete, but Cam Newton shows that being a great athlete doesn’t make you even a good NFL quarterback. Does Fields (or anyone else) have the ability to find a third receiver on a play with defensive linemen and linebackers all over his face? I suspect, given how good O!S!U! has been, that you might be able to count the number of times he’s had to do that with two hands in his entire career.

And for the Packers to make this trade (whether or not they would then draft Fields, or frankly any other QB) would require you to believe that the Packers are willing to go backwards from 13–3, which they certainly would with someone not named Rodgers as their quarterback. (There may be rookie quarterbacks who start this year, but that doesn’t mean any of them should.)

There is no sign that the Bears (who is their quarterback now?), Vikings (still paying Kirk Cousins the rest of his $84 million) or Lions (who couldn’t win with Matthew Stafford, the quarterback with great stats except for his win–loss record) are going to be substantially better next season. So at least on paper the Packers remain the team to beat in the NFC North, which means they’re still a Super Bowl contender, unless they no longer have a Super Bowl-level quarterback.

If I were the 49ers, I’m not sure I’d be interested in making that trade either. The 49ers were 6–10 last season and finished in last place in the NFC West. The 49ers would have to believe they are one player away from being a Super Bowl contender, and that one player — who, in Rodgers’ case, would be an injury-prone player (remember that Rodgers lost three seasons due to injury)  at an age where you don’t get less injury-prone — is worth giving up a draft pick that could be used on someone who could be a 10-year contributor. (Say, Justin Fields.)

This fantasy is also the fault of Tom Brady, who went to Tampa Bay and won a Super Bowl. So maybe every team without an NFL-caliber QB (note that “NFL-caliber QB” and “NFL QB” are not synonyms either) now thinks they’re the right QB from being a winner. The list of teams who thought that and found out otherwise is quite long.

This is not to say that Rodgers will be the Packers’ QB indefinitely, or to the end of his contract. But those predicting, or wishing, the end of Rodgers’ Packers career should remember what happened when Favre left — 6–10, followed by humiliating losses to their former quarterback. The Packers have been unbelievably lucky to have two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. What are the odds of a third?

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