As you watch Saturday Night’s game, keep in mind the following phrase: with the 24th selection of the 2005 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers select Aaron Rodgers, QB, Cal. We all remember that night – seeing an incredibly young-looking Rodgers waiting in the green room for what seemed an eternity. But that night also started the development of a giant chip on Rodgers’ shoulder that he carries to this day.
Aaron Rodgers, now the best QB in the league, shares a trait with Michael Jordan that drives their success – the inability to forget those who have slighted them. For instance, during his HOF induction speech, Jordan made sure to remind everyone for the 1-thousandth time that he was cut from his high school basketball squad.
In a similar fashion, Rodgers doesn’t forget. He still keeps a letter from a college coach during his recruitment that told him he’d never make it. He remembers a professor at Cal advising him that he would never make it. And he even reminds McCarthy that he did not pick him with the 1st selection when he was at San Francisco.
Which brings us back to the present. Saturday night marks the first time Rodgers will play a meaningful NFL game at Candlestick Park, the home of his favorite team growing up in Chico, CA – a shade under 3 hours from the stadium. Rodgers immediately pointed this fact out following the wild-card win against the Vikings. And in doing so, it became immediately apparent that he was relishing the opportunity to go home to face his favorite childhood team and the team that doubted his skills when it took Alex Smith instead of him in that 2005 draft.
This is great news for Packers fans because the signature games of Rodgers’ career can trace back to him entering that game with a point to prove. No matter how insignificant – or even imagined – the doubt, hate, or negative commentary may have been, Rodgers tends to latch onto it and use it to fuel his greatness.
The first instance was the 2010 divisional round playoff game at the Georgia Dome. At the time, Rodgers was 1-1 in the playoffs, having posted gaudy numbers in the epic near-comeback at Arizona in the year prior and impressive stats in the week prior on the road at Philly. Still, he hadn’t validated himself as an elite QB. Heck, PA, the vox of the Vikings, called Rodgers “The Big Box Score.” Entering that evening’s matchup, the talk focused on the young-QBs, with many proclaiming Matty “Far From Ice” as the next one to join the elite club.
All Rodgers did was play his single-best game of his career. In the 48-21 route, Rodgers completed a ridiculous 86% of his passes for 366 yards 3 TDs and one rushing TD. And it wasn’t just these lofty stats. It was the way he did it. He combined pinpoint accuracy with incredible poise and an uncanny ability to escape pressure. Succinctly, it was Rodgers’ coming out party.
Rodgers next signature game was the first game of the 2011 season – the home opener against the ‘Aints. Leading up to the game, the media was praising Brees for organizing player-only workouts while the lockout consumed the summer. Rodgers, in turn, did not.
Rodgers led the Packers to a 42-34 victory, throwing for 312 yards and 3 TDs. And after the game, Rodgers quipped throughout his presser about the fact that the offense was rusty for not having practiced like Brees did. This was the first clear-cut example of Rodgers’ obsession with proving doubters wrong.
The most recent case was the Packers demolition of the previously unbeaten Houston Texans in week 6 of this season. At 2-3*, the Packers were struggling and a date at the undefeated Texans had many questioning this team.
Of course, you know the story. Packers routed Houston 42-24 in its most complete game of the season. Rodgers threw for 338 yards and a career-high 6 TDs. He could do no wrong that evening. And following the game, Rodgers was asked what he’d like to say to his critics: “SHHHHHH!”
There are no critics to motivate Rodgers for Saturday night’s tilt. But, he doesn’t need them. He still has that chip marinating on his shoulder since the 49ers overlooked him in that 2005 draft.
Don’t get me wrong; winning at San Francisco this Saturday will be no small accomplishment. But, knowing that Rodgers will enter the game with that chip on his shoulder gives me a great amount of hope.