With Super Bowl win, Aaron Rodgers finds place in NFL lore : Packers Insider

With Super Bowl win, Aaron Rodgers finds place in NFL lore

February 17, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Jim Corbett, USA Today

~It seemed fitting that Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews placed a golden heavyweight belt over quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ right shoulder as Rodgers cradled the Lombardi Trophy on the Cowboys Stadium presentation platform Sunday night.

Moments earlier, the Super Bowl XLV MVP took down the Pittsburgh Steelers while knocking out the sizable shadow of his Packers predecessor, Brett Favre.

Rodgers was the shining star of the Lone Star State Super Bowl. He passed for 304 yards and threw three touchdown passes to bring a fourth Super Bowl crown to Titletown, USA, with a legacy-stamping 31-25 victory.

Imagine: What if the Vikings didn't pass on Rodgers in the 2005 Draft, as they did not once but twice. They took WR Troy Williamson and DE Erasmus James with their two picks before Rodgers.

“It’s a special honor,” Rodgers said. “Individually, it’s the top of the mountain. It’s something you dream about as a kid.”

Rodgers had spent three long years shadow-boxing the memory of Favre, never saying a disparaging word. When he got his title shot, Rodgers showed the best way to replace a legend is to create your own.

“Aaron definitely knocked out the shadow of Brett Favre,” defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. “Everybody was talking about our lack of Super Bowl experience compared to the Steelers coming into this game.

“But Aaron looked pretty experienced to me. The Steelers were the ones who looked confused in their final two-minute drill.

“Now we’re going to the White House. Tell the haters they can kiss our Lombardi Trophy.”

Rodgers, 27, joins Bart Starr and Favre as Packers quarterbacks to win Super Bowls. And he follows Starr as the second Packers quarterback to be selected Super Bowl MVP, a feat Favre didn’t accomplish.

“He won the prize, and he won it during a very tough season when he lost some of the great weapons around him,” said Bob Harlan, the Packers’ chairman emeritus, referring to the team’s rash of injuries.

Said Starr: “I like Aaron for many reasons. He’s a super gentleman. You get that two minutes into chatting with him. He’s got a solid foundation and is a quality person. He’s committed to being great.

“Then you have his enthusiasm, his knowledge, his preparation for an opponent; the time he puts forth for that challenge each week is wonderful. When you have that, you can do great things.”

The kid from small-town Chico, Calif., has always dreamt big, hoping to emulate his San Francisco 49ers heroes, Joe Montana and Steve Young. Now Rodgers stands with them in Super Bowl lore.

The Packers have obviously hit a home run with their pick of Rodgers in 2005.

Rodgers more than justified the faith of general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy that he was ready to take the reins from Favre.

“I never felt there was a monkey on my back,” Rodgers said. “The organization stood behind me, believed in me.

“I told Ted back in 2005, he wouldn’t be sorry with this (draft) pick. I told him in 2008 that I was going to repay their trust and get us this opportunity.”

Bold move

McCarthy conveyed belief in his team by channeling his inner Vince Lombardi and having his players sized for their Super Bowl rings the night before they faced the Steelers.

“No disrespect to the Pittsburgh Steelers,” McCarthy said. “But we fully expected to win this game. This is our time.”

And the Packers are Rodgers’ team.

Favre won one Super Bowl in his 16 seasons in Green Bay. Rodgers has one after three seasons as a starter.

“Everybody in Green Bay and Wisconsin can exhale and say, ‘We’re really past Brett Favre,’ ” former Packers running back Dorsey Levens said. “Aaron won’t have to deal with the questions about Brett Favre anymore.

“Imagine what he had to overcome. The Packers drafted a guy to replace a legend who’s going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Packers fans didn’t want Brett to leave. The only guys who had Aaron’s back were Ted and Mike.

“For Aaron to succeed in that environment is just incredible.”

McCarthy put the game on Rodgers’ shoulders, asking him to throw it 42 times (Rodgers was sacked three times) compared with 13 called runs against the Steelers’ No. 1-ranked run defense.

“Aaron Rodgers is our quarterback, and I’m glad he’s our quarterback,” McCarthy said. “Brett Favre is a great quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. He’ll be a great Packer for the rest of his life.

“But this is about passing the torch from one quarterback to the next.”

What a season. What an improbable postseason run.

The Packers were a chic preseason NFC Super Bowl pick but stumbled to a 3-3 start amid various injuries. After suffering his second concussion of the season, Rodgers missed a Week 15 loss at the New England Patriots, leaving the Packers at 8-6 and needing to win their last two regular-season games to qualify for the postseason.

They did that and more, kicking off a six-game winning streak that culminated with a victorious Super Sunday, making the Packers the NFC’s first No. 6 seed to turn the trick.

Green Bay jumped to a 21-3 lead on the Steelers but lost veteran cornerback Charles Woodson to a broken collarbone and wideout Donald Driver to a badly sprained left ankle before halftime.

"Everybody in Green Bay and Wisconsin can exhale and say, 'We're really past Brett Favre,' " former Packers running back Dorsey Levens said. "Aaron won't have to deal with the questions about Brett Favre anymore. "Imagine what he had to overcome. The Packers drafted a guy to replace a legend who's going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Packers fans didn't want Brett to leave. The only guys who had Aaron's back were Ted and Mike.

“This is like our season: We faced a lot of adversity, and guys stepped up,” Rodgers said of those final hurdles.

Lombardi goes home

It had been 14 years since the Packers, one of the league’s oldest, proudest franchises (founded in 1920), last won a Super Bowl.

“It’s time to bring the Lombardi Trophy back home,” McCarthy said.

They did it with a gritty team that overcame losing 15 starters to injured reserve. Green Bay starters missed a league-high 91 games to injuries.

“No one blinked,” McCarthy said.

It seemed perfect symmetry, in this year of an HBO documentary dedicated to the memory of Lombardi and a Broadway play celebrating the NFL coaching legend, that the Packers are bringing the 7-pound sterling silver trophy named in his honor back to Wisconsin.

“It’ll be fun driving down Lombardi Avenue with the Lombardi Trophy,” said wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who caught a career-best nine passes for a game-high 140 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh.

These Packers honored Lombardi in every sense.

“Lombardi would have loved coaching this team,” David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, wrote in an e-mail to USA TODAY.

“These Packers are balanced offensively and defensively, as Lombardi’s teams always were. It is a deep team with many good and great players but no outsized superstar, just like the old Packers.

“They are led by a brainy quarterback who was underrated or overshadowed at first and has a quiet determination.

“Aaron Rodgers is a more talented and nimble Bart Starr.”

The league’s only community-owned team is a celebration of NFL parity, showing how a franchise from a hamlet whose capacity is smaller than Cowboys Stadium’s can bring home the ultimate prize through shrewd drafting, belief and playing for each other.

“Whenever the team from the smallest city in professional sports does well, whenever a team that is owned by the people and not some wealthy megalomaniac does well, it is good for the soul,” Maraniss said.

“The beauty of the Packers is that they have all the mythology and symbolism of a dynasty. Yet they are different from other dynasties … so unlike the corporate super-rich Yankees or the glitzy glamour Cowboys and Lakers.

“So they don’t engender jealousies the way other dynasties do, excepting Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings fans from that equation. And you so often hear fans from other cities say the Packers are their second-favorite team.

“These Packers resemble the old Packers more than any Green Bay team since the 1960s.”

But instead of relying on Lombardi’s famed sweep featuring the punishing running of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung and led by guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston, these Packers have built their foundation on the passing of Rodgers to Driver, Nelson, Greg Jennings and James Jones and a defense that limited playoff opponents — the Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Bears and Steelers — to an average of 19 points in four postseason games.

The last time the Packers and Steelers met — a 37-36 Pittsburgh win in Week 15 of the 2009 season — quarterback Ben Roethlisberger marched Pittsburgh 86 yards in 11 plays, capping the win with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace after the Packers had gone up 36-30 with 2:06 to play.

This time, with the Steelers down six points with 87 yards to go and 2:07 remaining, the Green Bay defense held.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing to lose,” Roethlisberger said after throwing for 263 yards and two touchdowns. “For me, it’s even more disappointing because you feel like you let a lot of people down.”

In 20 games this season, the Packers did not allow a single touchdown in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, a testament to their defense’s will.

“I didn’t think we were getting respect as a defense,” Matthews said. “Defense wins championships. And here we are world champions. I like to think we etched our names as an all-time defense.”

And maybe as a new-age dynasty, returning a core of players who seem far from peaking.

“(Former general manager) Ron Wolf and I felt the team that won Super Bowl XXXI was really good enough to win two, maybe three Super Bowls,” Harlan said. “We didn’t get it done. But I think this team has the same potential.

“Ted Thompson knows how to build a football team. … He said he was going to build through the draft and build a deep roster. We’ve got a team with a great quarterback that can win for a long time.”

People in Green Bay weren’t saying that about Thompson or Rodgers three years ago when Thompson and McCarthy moved on from Favre after he abruptly unretired, leading to his 2008 trade to the New York Jets.

“I remember being up there the year when Ted traded Brett to the Jets, and I was on the field pregame at Lambeau Field,” Levens said. “I said, ‘Ted, I want to stand here and talk to you for a little while. But I’m a little nervous about standing next to you. … There’s a lot of hunters up here in Wisconsin, a lot of guys with orange vests.

Leader of the Pack.

” ‘I’m going to step over here and get away from you because you’re not the most popular guy up here.’ ”

Thompson has been validated as much as Rodgers, who threw nine postseason touchdown passes and found closure from Favre as the new king of Titletown with the symbolic championship title belt honoring his transformative performance.

“Aaron’s got that monkey off his back,” Driver said. “He’s a superstar quarterback in his own right. He’s on top of the football world. He has the ring and the Super Bowl MVP to prove it.

“We’re glad we’re coming back to Green Bay with the Lombardi Trophy, where it belongs.”

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