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e our chances Sporting News Conversation:

Aaron Rodgers In his first season as the Packers’ starter, he put up big numbers and eased fans’ fears about the future. In his second, he guided the team to the playoffs. In his third, he has an opportunity to take Green Bay even farther. Photos by Jay Drowns / SN

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ore than a few people would say the quarterback who came before him in Green Bay—and who has spent the past two offseasons keeping all of Minnesota on edge—wasn’t shy about putting himself above the team. That is not the way Aaron Rodgers operates, mainly because doing so would be in stark opposition to how he views himself. “I’m a realist,” says the 26-yearold Rodgers, who doubted he’d make it to the NFL before University of California coach Jeff Tedford plucked him from a community college in 2003; who never rocked the boat as his predecessor pondered retirement from the Packers; who, despite his low-key

personality, is a force of normalness that has made this locker room as clique-free as any in the NFL. And who, during a photo shoot at Lambeau Field, alluded to his moderately muscled arms by joking, “I don’t want to have to get tested.” Which was especially clever because Rodgers’ right arm is a pillar of strength, and—let’s be real—that’s a mouthful to say about any man who replaces Brett Favre. In 2009 the Chico, Calif., native became the first quarterback in league history to throw for 4,000 yards in his first two seasons as a starter. Rodgers, who has put to rest every last concern about his ability to lead Green Bay into a Favre-less future, spoke with Sporting News’ Steve Greenberg.

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Aaron Rodgers SN: How much better are you now than you were in 2007, your third and final season as Brett Favre’s backup?

RODGERS: I felt like I was ready my third year to play, but I’m definitely a lot better going into Year 6 than I was going into Year 3. It’s the experience factor, seeing different looks, taking all the practice reps, the offseason work, the film study of yourself, the game-time experience; all of it allows me to play a lot faster than I did, but at the same time the game has slowed down quite a bit.

SN: You said in an interview with Sporting News during the 2008 offseason—before you knew whether Favre’s days as a Packer were over—that you don’t “relish the spotlight.” Do you like it a little more now that you’ve established yourself as a star?

SN: You also described then what you looked forward to most about becoming a starter: “I’m excited about doing things the way I want them. We’re going to be a team that’s united and connected.” No disrespect to Favre, you explained, but you hoped to be more woven in with the guys. Is that how things have gone for you?

RODGERS: I think every leader leads differently. My style of leadership is different than (Favre’s), and the guy who follows me will be different. I lead by example. I enjoy my time with the guys, enjoy spending time, doing a lot of stuff off the field. We go to the Kentucky Derby, we go on trips, we golf, hang out, play guitar. We spend a lot of time together and are a very close-knit team. As a leader and a quarterback, you need to look for those moments to spend time with the guys because it’s important for team chemistry.

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Rodgers says his style of leadership is different from Favre’s. Both have worked well for the Packers.

SN: Let’s assume quarterback is not the tipping point in the Packers-Vikings debate—what are the most important differences between the teams heading into the 2010 season?

RODGERS: Well, they’re a very good team. They have a talented group of players on offense and defense. It’s a tough environment to play in up there, a very loud stadium. They’ve got playmakers on both he o tball, all,b Pro roPBowlers. owlers. B utBI like ike I l ourro sides off the But ike I l the he toffense ffense o we’ve e’ve w got. ot.gI like ike I l the he t guys. I like mo entum m co ing back mfrom fro last m momentum we have coming ike I l the he tway aywourrodefense efense d has u ashshaped haped s year. I like (coo dinato )rDom Do Capers. r mI like up with (coordinator) camarad rie we e the chemistry we have, the camaraderie he tcharacter. haract c r. I like ike eI l ourrochances. hances. c u have, the

SN: Is the defense really good enough? You gave up at least 30 points in all six games you lost last year, including the crazy 51-45 playoff defeat in Arizona.

RODGERS: They’re getting etting g better. ettb r. With ith eW Do Capersmin Year 2, he has the ability Dom mo e (formations (fo matio r srand n to give those guys more astLseason, eason, s hee could ho cld only nl o give ui y eg v schemes). Last uys g so o much—you s uch—yo m on’t d want uant w to o be te b those guys don’t trad s and a master e no e, as n a jack of all trades of none, cCarthy M ikes l to o say. tay.sYou o Ywant ant w to oube te b Mike McCarthy likes good at what you do.

SN: What’s the biggest obstacle between the Packers and the Super Bowl?

Rodgers has plenty of respect for the other two quarterbacks in the NFC North, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford (top) and Chicago’s Ch go’s Jay i Cutler. c a

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RODGERS: It starts with the division. You want to have a home playoff game. It’s tough to play on the road in the playoffs, as we found out last year. Not a lot of teams want to come to Green Bay in the wintertime because of the temperature. Most of us are transplants—not a lot of Wisconsin people he tteam—but am—but t eI think hink I t we’re e’re w better ettb r att ea on the dealing with the cold. We get a home playoff hat’s t to o our t roadvantage. dvantage. a u So o itSt starts tarts i s game, that’s inning w he tdivision, i ision, d v and ndait’s t’s going i oing g to o t with winning the o gh. t Chicago hicago Cu has ashgotten ottg n better. ett eb r. Detroit etroit eD be tough. has gotten better. Minnesota is the reigning di ision v champion, ham c ion, a very ery a v talented alent pt d team. am. et It’s t’s Ie division going to be six tough division games for us, wlsoaplay layptwo wot tough o gh t divisions—the i isions—the du v and wee also NFC East and AFC East. It’s a tough fo us. r schedule for

S Are the N Bears still : the Packers’ SN: biggest rivals, or have the Vikings claimed cl athat t t distinction? d t h i ?i im na s

RODGERS AND FAVRE: TOM OLMSCHEID / AP; STAFFORD: CARLOS OSORIO / AP; CUTLER: NAM Y. HUH / AP

RODGERS: I’m still not a big fan. I enjoy my separation of personal and public life. I am a Packer player, but I’m also a person; I have my own life going on off the field. I’m not crazy about being photographed by TMZ or even a shoot like this; it’s a little bit out of my comfort zone. I enjoy being just one of 53 on the team, but I realize I’m the quarterback so I understand I’m in the spotlight more than my teammates. … It has opened some doors and allowed me to do some fun things—celebrity golf, the ESPYs, the Kentucky Derby—which is great. But at times I really enjoy my anonymity and being myself; I don’t like having to be “on” as Aaron Rodgers the quarterback.

RODGERS: The games RODGERS : against the Bears mo e to the fans. r might mean a little bit more But mo e friendsr on o the Bears; n I work wo k r I have more o t with ith waufew ew a foff them hem o t in n San ianSDiego. iego. D For orFthe he t out mo e love r players, I think there’s a little bit more fo r lost with the Vikings—just a little bit, for some reason. I know with both those games, nt insityelevel evel l iss bigger iigger b than han t any nyaother ther o the intensity

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JUST ONE QUESTION For Tommie Harris, Chicago Bears defensive tackle:

Is Aaron Rodgers one of the best QBs you’ve faced? “Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. To have studied under Brett Favre for that long, you learn what to do and what not to do. I just think he’s like a different version of Brett Favre, like a greater model. It’s Peyton Manning and then Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is the most accurate passer in the league.” — Gene Chamberlain

games all season, especially when you go on the road to Chicago or Minnesota. I think to the fans it means a little bit more to beat the Bears than the Vikings, but maybe that’s just because we beat the Bears twice last year and lost to the Vikings twice. I am glad Jared Allen cut his mullet, though.

same kind of success with Jay. I think they’re in a good position. If you ask them, I’m sure they’re happy everybody is talking about the Packers and the Vikings. They know they’re a good team. We know they’re a good team. Minnesota knows it. But nobody is really talking about them.

SN: Is it possible fans around the country are sleeping on Jay Cutler and the Bears?

SN: What do you think of Detroit’s young QB, Matthew Stafford?

ADAMS AND RODGERS: MATT YORK / AP

RODGERS: Yeah, I think they’re very talented, especially having Brian (Urlacher) come back from his injury and adding Julius (Peppers) to the mix. One guy not a whole lot of people are talking about is Chester Taylor, who did a ton for Minnesota on third downs and backing up Adrian (Peterson). The ability he has coming into that offense is going to be big. I’m buddies with Jay and am a fan of the way he plays, and then (new offensive coordinator) Mike Martz is kind of like a wild card. Mike was able to do some great things with Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger, and I’m sure he’s trying to have that

RODGERS: I was really impressed with Matt last year, when he had that significant injury and was able to throw that last-second touchdown (against Cleveland in Week 11) to win the game. Then the next week we played them and he was able to play. So I have a lot of respect for his toughness and his abilities and think he’s only going to get better. To be able to start as a rookie, he must’ve been tough. He has all the talent and a bright future in this league. A big-time arm, good feet, height, athleticism, and to work with Calvin Johnson and the weapons they’re starting to add to their offense is going to really help him out.

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Rodgers’ breakthough season ended with a fumble that he has had to spend eight months getting over.

  

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Aaron Rodgers SN: Who’s the best quarterback in the game today?

SN: How do your receivers—Greg Jennings and Donald Driver—stack up against the best tandems in the league? RODGERS: I’d say as a 1-2 tandem, or a 1-1A tandem, they’re as good as it gets in the NFL. I like their unselfish attitudes; they block for each other, they run good routes, they’re great after the catch. Donald has been one of the best in his career at putting his kickstand down, as we like to say—putting that foot in the ground and making plays after he catches the ball. Greg is Mr. Smooth: in and out of his breaks very quickly and smooth. And if you put the ball in his area, he’s going to catch it. I’m really blessed to have those guys.

Driver (left) and Jennings both have two 1,000-yard seasons in Rodgers’ two years as a starter.

I’D SAY AS A 1-2 TANDEM, OR A 1-1A TANDEM, (JENNINGS AND DRIVER ARE) AS GOOD AS IT GETS IN THE NFL.

JUST ONE QUESTION For Drew Brees, Saints quarterback:

Do you think Aaron Rodgers can follow the path you did: from a statistical standout guy to a Super Bowl-winning quarterback? “Aaron Rodgers is strong and talented and can really throw the football. He’s got a little swagger to him. He’s another guy I watch and try to pick up things from.” — Mike Triplett

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SN: Back to that Arizona game: How did you respond to a loss in which you threw for 423 yards and four touchdowns but fumbled on the decisive play of overtime?

RODGERS: Well, it’s a bitter taste in your mouth because you put so much work in starting in March, and to be in early January and end up losing a game like that where I made some mistakes but felt like I made some good plays as well, it was disappointing. Where do I go from there? I get away. I went back to my home in California and got away from it. I was able to start to digest the season and the good plays, the mistakes, things we need to clean up, and start to get a new hunger for the next year. Although you realize you’re eight months away from anything, so that’s tough because you want to get back out there.

SN: There are only a handful of rock-star coaches in the NFL, and Mike McCarthy definitely isn’t one of them. What’s he like? RODGERS: He’s great to work with. I don’t think he needs to be a rock-star coach; he’s just a hard worker who’s successful. He puts the time in; he’s a grinder. He cares about us and takes care of our bodies, but he also puts a lot on us; he expects us to prepare and perform and expects his coaches to teach and prepare us well. I think he does a great job allowing his coaches to coach and giving them the latitude to use their experience; lots of them are former players. He’s gotten funnier in his four years here, but at the same time he

gets very serious about what he’s passionate about, and that’s winning and doing things the right way. … Mike and I are close, and we’re going to be close long after I’m done playing and he’s done coaching. He’s a good man and a good family man. I’m in his corner, and I know he’s in mine. SN: That sounds like you—a loyal guy whose closest friends are back home, the guys you grew up with. What’s that all about for you? RODGERS: You have to have guys around you who have known you since you were younger, who knew you before all this stuff and will look you in the eye and tell you how it really is. A lot of people that I meet will tell you how good you are, what you’ve done, want to pump you up. You have to have guys who will call you up and tell you you’re being an idiot, just tell you how it really is. That’s my close friends.

SN: What do you “get” about Green Bay that you couldn’t get unless you played here?

RODGERS: How much it means to the people. This is a community team, a team that means a lot to this area, this state. These people live and die for football. Tickets are passed on here; they’re also one of the main fighting points in divorce cases in Wisconsin. The game is the main talking point at the grocery store. When you don’t win the Super Bowl, which hasn’t happened here in a while, the offseason is a really long one. It’s not like this anywhere else. Talking to friends in the league, they enjoy

DRIVER, JENNINGS: CHRIS O’MEARA / AP

RODGERS: Drew Brees is a good friend of mine; I work out with him in the offseason, and it was fun to watch him win the Super Bowl because I know how hard he worked from March to July, and I got to work alongside him and see how he did it. That’s a guy who put up big numbers for a while, and finally it paid off in a Super Bowl win, so I’m definitely proud of him and happy for him. I got to work with Tony Romo at the Pro Bowl and really enjoy watching him play. I think we have similar games; we both make plays outside the pocket and do some unorthodox things, him maybe more than me, but he makes it work. But the guy who I want to be like is Tom Brady. That’s because he has won three Super Bowls and had a ton of success and done it the right way. He does stuff in the pocket that nobody else does; he’s able to make subtle movements in the pocket strictly based on a feel that other people just can’t do. We’d have to watch film and go over it for me to explain it, but it’s impressive. So I just put him with his three Super Bowls as a cut above the rest, although Peyton (Manning), when he’s retired, will probably be the most decorated quarterback statistically in NFL history, if he’s just able to stay healthy. But three Super Bowls puts you up there in the Joe Montana category.

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their places, but a lot of them have other professional teams in the area, other stuff that’s going on that’s bigger than football. We’re the only show in town. SN: Is this now, or should it be, a

hot place for NFL players to want to come? Because it didn’t used to be.

RODGERS: I hope so, I really do. I definitely know some stories about free agents who would never consider here. One guy in particular who we were interested in signing a few years back wouldn’t take a trip up here until a deal was in place. So you get disappointed about that a little, but at the same time (general manager) Ted Thompson’s philosophy I really enjoy—we draft guys, they go through our system and we pay them. You look around here, a lot of guys were drafted by the Packers and stuck around: Mark Tauscher, Chad Clifton, Donald Driver. And then younger guys like myself, Greg Jennings, Nick Collins, Nick Barnett—guys who are on their second contracts now with the Packers who were drafted by the Packers.

SN: Do you ever imagine what might have been if that rumored 2007 trade to the Raiders for Randy Moss had happened?

RODGERS: Well, I know the basis of that rumor and always knew it was not legitimate, so I have a different perspective on that. But there were 23 picks before I got picked in 2005, so there definitely could’ve been a different situation or scenario: playing time, who I’m playing with, where, coaches, coaching changes. But I’m glad I’m here. Green Bay wanted me, and I’m forever grateful for that and hopefully will repay them with another trophy in the case.

SN: Look ahead 10 years. What’s the Aaron Rodgers story?

RODGERS: Ten years, I think I’ll be done. One way or another—either playing well and retired, or not playing well and on the street—I’ll probably be done. But hopefully the legacy I’ll leave is one of somebody who was of high character, did things the right way, cared about his teammates, was coachable and was good to the community he lived in.

You don’t know [Aaron Rodgers ] like I know [Aaron Rodgers ] By Jeff Tedford, California coach

TEDFORD AND RODGERS: DAVID ZALUBOWSKI / AP

I didn’t know anything about Aaron until we were looking for a tight end in 2002. We were watching tape of this kid from Butte College (Calif.), and I said, “Man, his quarterback looks pretty good.” Nobody really knew who he was. I told my coaches to check on him and came to learn he was an academic qualifier; he could transfer after his first year and be eligible to play. We had a bye week and I drove to watch him practice. I saw the talent he possessed, and he seemed to be a great leader on the field. I was sold. Aaron played one season in junior college and, of course, missed our spring practices in 2003 because he was finishing his school year. Then he took over as our starter in the fifth game of the ’03 season but missed the following spring because he had knee surgery. Then he played one full season and was a first-round draft pick. How he ascended to get where he is, it’s pretty much unbelievable. We went down to play USC in the Coliseum in ’04 and came so close to winning. Aaron tied a single-game NCAA record with 23 consecutive completions in that game—amazing. What I remember most about him that day is his calmness

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Tedford says Rodgers’ progress from junior college quarterback to NFL star is “pretty much unbelievable.” beforehand; he was laughing with people, keeping everybody loose. That aura of confidence really rubbed off on his teammates and made everybody else relax going into a potentially stressful situation. I was so proud of the way he handled the Brett Favre “retirement” situation a couple of years ago. The media can ask you the same question in so many ways; sometimes they try to bait you into saying something. The poise Aaron showed all that offseason,

that’s who he is—poised and mature. When he comes to town now, we’ll go somewhere pretty low-key—a dive bar where there aren’t a lot of people hanging around—and have a beer and just talk. I’m always trying to get him up to my house on Lake Almanor. When we’re together, we don’t get into a lot of the hoopla about stuff. He’s still the same Aaron. It’s great to see he hasn’t changed with his success—he’s still a great person. — As told to Steve Greenberg

  

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"I Like Our Chances"  

Sporting News Conversation with Aaron Rodgers.

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