Packers’ Rodgers Has Deep Roots in Chico : Packers Insider

Packers’ Rodgers Has Deep Roots in Chico

February 1, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Karen Crouse, NY Times

~CHICO, Calif. — As if anybody here needed reminding, the Pleasant Valley High School marquee last week read: “Excellence Is Not an Act. But a Habit. There’s a PV Viking in the Super Bowl!”

Chico is where the Rodgers family grew up and Chico is very proud of their former unwanted QB Aaron

In this part of the fertile Sacramento Valley, crowing does not thrive. The day after that message appeared, at the alma mater of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, there was talk of taking it down.

“We’re definitely celebrating Aaron’s success,” John Shepherd, the principal, said, “but we don’t need to glorify the school. It’s a fine balance.”

The exclamation point, in particular, seemed out of place, like a Hummer in a line of pickups in the school parking lot. It is a big-city affectation, a honk at the end of a sentence. People do not toot their horns here. They do not try to act California cool.

The usual slang words like awesome or cool are not heard much. Nice is in. As in: “You won the lottery? Nice.”

Will Christensen, Pleasant Valley’s senior quarterback, said: “You don’t see huge houses and a lot of flamboyance. We’re just a dinky little town.”

Situated 90 miles northeast of Sacramento, Chico has a population of 87,713 and is separated from the state capital by roads that run mostly two lanes. The tallest building is a nine-story dormitory on the campus of California State University, Chico, which was built on a cherry orchard and offers 120 majors to its student body of 14,000.

People often come here for college and never leave. That was the case with Rodgers’s father, Ed, who was from Lompoc, a tinier town in Southern California. At Chico, he played on the football team, on the offensive line, and met his wife, Darla, a dancer from whom the younger Rodgers, according to his father, gets his nimble feet.

Rodgers, 27, and his brothers, Luke, 28, and Jordan, 22, grew up here, except for a brief detour to Oregon when Rodgers was in middle school so his father could attend chiropractic school.

One day last week at his office, Ed Rodgers sat at the receptionist’s desk trying to adjust his schedule. It is a short work week for him owing to that secular holiday known as Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Tex.

It is hard for Ed Rodgers to wrap his head around the fact that a native son, much less his middle child, will be playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the N.F.L.’s biggest stage. “I knew Aaron had a special gift,” he said, “but you never think your kid is going to wind up in the Super Bowl.”

Ed Rodgers’s football career stalled after college. He had a few Canadian Football League tryouts and played for a California League semiprofessional team in Marysville. It won back-to-back national championships, and Rodgers’s father wryly noted that the team it beat for the second title was the Pittsburgh Colts.

A good omen, perhaps? Ed Rodgers laughed. His laugh deepened at the suggestion that he taught Aaron his quick release so his linemen would face less stress.

“No,” he said. “You can’t teach that. It’s just a gift.”

At age 2, his father said, Rodgers would sit on the couch and watch an entire N.F.L. game without fidgeting, his eyes riveted to the screen.

By age 5, he could identify the formations used by his favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, and throw a football through a tire hanging from a tree. Larry Ruby, a family friend, said, “That’s when I began thinking his mind was really amazing and his physical attributes were phenomenal.”

Liane Christensen, whose sons, Wes and Will, grew up playing with the Rodgers boys, knew Rodgers had a gift the first time he stood in front of the Christensens’ three-story house and threw a football over the roof and into the backyard pool.

“I never worried about him breaking a window,” she said, “because he was always so darn accurate.”

An old friend of Ed Rodgers attended one of Rodgers’s sporting events and told Aaron afterward, “You’re a really good player.” As Ed Rodgers recalled: “Aaron was like: ‘Yeah, but you should see my brother. He’s better.’ The gentleman turned to me and said, ‘You know, that response is really rare.’ ”

So was Rodgers’s answer to a question posed to him during the admittance interview for Champion Christian, where he attended eighth grade. The principal said, “Tell me one thing you can do to make the school better,” and Rodgers, according to his father, replied, “Your sports teams are going to be really good.”

His father added, “Aaron has always had this interesting combination of being really humble and extremely confident.”

It is a strange mix, like the cooling air masses and warming water vapors that cause the fog that last week sat atop the valley like foam on a cappuccino. It was so thick, Chico seemed to disappear in the mist.

Coming out of high school, Rodgers and other athletes have talked about feeling invisible, not without good reason. A decade ago, on a flight from Phoenix to Sacramento, Rodgers’s father struck up a conversation with his seatmate, an assistant at Arizona State who was on a recruiting trip.

“I remember distinctly saying I’ve got a son who’s a high school quarterback in Chico who I think might be pretty decent,” Ed Rodgers said, “and his response was that between the Los Angeles area and the Bay Area and Sacramento, that’s where they find all their talent.”

Despite his athletic prowess, an A-minus average and an SAT score of 1310, Rodgers did not receive an N.C.A.A. Division I scholarship offer coming out of high school. He stayed home and attended Butte College, a junior college in Oroville, Calif., earned an athletic scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley, and was drafted by the Packers in the first round in 2005.

The spotlight shining on Rodgers has burned through the fog that shrouded this city’s athletes. Students who might have quit after high school are actively seeking to extend their athletic careers. A linebacker at Pleasant Valley is headed to Cal on an athletic scholarship and the quarterback, Christensen, is following his older brother and Rodgers to Butte.

“Knowing that someone has come out of the same situation and achieved the kind of success that Aaron has is definitely a huge motivation for me,” he said. “I’ve seen that it can be done.”

Rodgers realizes his football career, now in full bloom, serves as a kind of canopy for Chico’s athletes. His roots remain as deep as the trees that grow heavy with almonds, the area’s No. 1 crop.

When the Vikings’ football team advanced to the playoffs last fall, Rodgers posted a good-luck message on the wall of Christensen’s Facebook page.

“He wrote something like, ‘Now bring those boys home a championship like I couldn’t,’ ” Christensen said, adding, “For him to take time to post on my wall was huge.”

One of Rodgers’s childhood friends, Amy Ruby, is a teacher who was recently assigned her own kindergarten class after toiling as a substitute. When Rodgers found out, he mailed her a box of Packers paraphernalia to decorate her room.

Ten days before the Packers’ showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, Ruby’s parents, Larry and Diane, received a text from Rodgers, who wrote: “Thank you for being there for me throughout my life. Thank you for all the support. Love you. Can’t wait to see you.”

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