Aaron Rodgers finally gets to play in San Francisco : Packers Insider

Aaron Rodgers finally gets to play in San Francisco

January 8, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle

~Aaron Rodgers once thought he might have a locker at Candlestick Park. On the far side of the big locker room, where the 49ers’ quarterbacks dress.

Instead, it has taken almost eight years for him to arrive at the stadium that was featured in his boyhood dreams. On Saturday, in his first visit to Candlestick as a professional, Rodgers’ locker will be in the minuscule, dank visitors’ room, where his offensive linemen barely will have room to turn around.

Rodgers, for all his strange connections to the 49ers, has faced the team he grew up rooting for and had hoped would draft him only at Lambeau Field, in 2009, 2010 and again in September.

San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith (11) shakes hands with Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers (12) after an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. The 49ers won 30-22. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

“Rodgers will be excited to go back to Cali to play,” Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday. “He’s been through it enough now. I don’t see him overreacting or putting pressure on himself.”

He hasn’t been through it before, though. Rodgers, the best native Northern Californian quarterback in years, hasn’t played at either Candlestick Park or at the Coliseum. He hasn’t had a chance to play in front of family and friends who can make the drive from his hometown of Chico, or in front of the Cal boosters who supported him in college.

He gave a shout-out to the Chico Cheeseheads on Saturday night, urging them to make the I-5-to-505-to-80-to-101 drive. And, he’ll be excited. After all, he was raised on damp January playoff football at Candlestick.

“I dreamt about being the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers,” Rodgers said in a documentary made the year he won the Super Bowl. “I used to draw little plays on note cards and dream I was Joe Montana throwing passes in the backyard with Dad.”

Of course, as we have rehashed constantly for more than seven years, the 49ers did not draft him. Mike Nolan chose Alex Smith over Rodgers, resulting in one of the longest, most agonizing waits in Draft Day Green Room history.

Rodgers ended up in a better spot. He didn’t have seven offensive coordinators in seven years. He didn’t have to watch his team pursue Peyton Manning months after he won his first playoff game. He didn’t lose his job to backup Graham Harrell. His team committed to him, he won a Super Bowl and an MVP award.

But if you think Rodgers isn’t still motivated by the draft-day snubbing, you’re probably wrong.

When he accepted the Most Valuable Player award in February, he noted that his childhood heroes were Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young. He added, “Big Niners fan as a kid – thanks for drafting me.”

And that’s with a Super Bowl ring on his hand.

“On the inside, there was a lot of disappointment, embarrassment, just thinking about how hard you worked,” Rodgers said of his draft-day slide. “But it was honestly the best thing that happened to me. I was 21 years old. I thought I was the best thing since sliced bread, and I needed a little humble pie.”

He got his humble pie – but the opinionated streak, the one that scared the suit pants off Nolan, – is still there. In recent months, Rodgers has been irritated by more than merely those snotty kids in the discount-double-check commercials. He has commented on the firing of Jeff Tedford, his college coach, which he thought was a mistake.

Rodgers also defended his friend Smith, with whom he has been bound through draft history, after Smith was benched.

“Alex and I are buddies,” Rodgers told the NFL Network’s “NFL Total Access.”

“He’s been through a lot. I can’t imagine to have to go through that many offensive coordinators. The turnover in coaches has been tough for him. …

“He’s 70 percent completion. He’s 100-plus quarterback rating last year. He’s like barely over 1 percent interception percentage. He’s a great quarterback. He just needs to go somewhere he gets appreciated for the skills he has and hopefully he gets a chance next year.”

Smith was 20-for-26 for 211 yards and two touchdowns against Green Bay in the 49ers’ 30-22 victory in the opening game of the season. Now, the Packers will face Colin Kaepernick, who grew up dreaming of being the Packers’ or the 49ers’ starting quarterback and idolized Rodgers’ predecessor, Brett Favre.

The 49ers surprised the Packers in September, when Kaepernick came into the game for a 17-yard run at the end of the first half that set up David Akers 63-yard field goal. They won’t surprise the Packers with WildKaep in this game.

It’s the sixth playoff meeting since 1996 between the two teams. Favre’s Packers had some memorable playoff wins over the 49ers, including knocking off the reigning champions at the Stick in January 1996 and ending George Seifert’s 49ers career in January 1997. The only time the 49ers beat the Packers was in January 1999 on Terrell Owens’ last-second touchdown catch in the wild-card game, which sent the 49ers to Atlanta for the divisional round.

These 49ers are different than the ones who beat the Packers in September. And the Packers are a different team, too. They’ve been playing like an angry, motivated team: If they hadn’t been robbed by replacement referees in September at Seattle, they would have been hosting this playoff game.

Rodgers has played well with a chip on his shoulder. This week, the placement of his locker will remind him only of what the 49ers once thought of him.

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