Monday night signaled the end of an era. Ben Roethlisberger played what, in all likelihood, will be his last game at Heinz Field with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers joined ESPN’s “ManningCast” coverage in the fourth quarter during the sendoff for Big Ben. Watching that goosebump-worthy event could have a lasting effect on Rodgers.
Roethlisberger has spent his entire 18-year career with the Steelers and got the well-deserved red carpet rolled out for him last night. Fans in Pittsburgh piled into the stadium on a brisk January night for Big Ben. Reality has set in that the Steelers will likely be on the outside looking in for the playoffs unless the Jacksonville Jaguars pull off the unthinkable in Week 18. Sure, Steelers fans were there to root on the Black and Gold. However, the primary purpose was to salute their legendary quarterback in his final home game. Because Rodgers was on ESPN2 with the Mannings, it was hard not to think about how things will wrap up for No. 12 when all is said and done.
Rodgers hasn’t ruled out retirement after this season. But he has referenced one of the overriding factors: He doesn’t want to be playing at a point where he’s a “bum.” He said as much last week.
“I think that I’m just enjoying this season for this season, and I think playing next year will definitely be in the thought process,” Rodgers said. “One of the things that obviously [I want is] to not be a bum on the way out and to still be able to play, I think it’s important to me. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that I still can play, I still have a love for the game, I’m still super competitive, and still enjoy the process of the week.”
With Rodgers being well on his way to back-to-back MVP awards, it’s more than safe to suggest he isn’t close to reaching “bum” status on the field. That box can be checked off. What Rodgers will do after this season is where the intrigue sets in. This postseason run could factor in heavily.
If Green Bay ends up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, Rodgers may realize his best chance to continue to win is with the Packers. If they fall short, he could run it back. But he could also believe that it just isn’t going to work in Green Bay because they continue to come up short. His issues with the front office were well documented this offseason. Still, as the regular season gets ready to wrap up months later, Rodgers is on much better terms with Brian Gutekunst and the front office and has said so a few times this year and as recently as last Wednesday.
“There will be a lot of things that I’ll weigh in the offseason,” Rodgers said. “Saying that doesn’t mean, or any of the comments I’ve made, doesn’t mean I’m thinking about [playing] elsewhere, I do want to clarify that. The things that I’ve said about the team this year, about Brian’s and I’s relationship, has been heartfelt and genuine, and I do appreciate a lot of the things that I’ve seen from the team that are directly related to conversations we had in the offseason, and that was meaningful to me. I’ve enjoyed being a part of conversations that directly affect my job, which I talked about in the offseason, and Brian’s taken the lead in that, and I do appreciate the way our relationship has grown.”
Could seeing Big Ben, who has spent all 18 years with Pittsburgh, have Rodgers wanting a similar path whenever he hangs it up? It’s certainly possible. Rodgers has spent his entire 17-year career with the Packers, and there may not be a better spot for him to be in after this year. His relationship with Gutekunst has improved. He’s said so himself. Why would he leave if that’s the case and the Packers can run the table in the playoffs? Wouldn’t he want a similar sendoff a few years from now from a raucous Lambeau Field crowd?
Rodgers saw firsthand how a scenario like this could happen when Brett Favre wound up with the New York Jets and then the Minnesota Vikings. The circumstances were different given that Favre initially retired and the Packers moved on, but Rodgers has seen that a late-career change of scenery doesn’t always produce dazzling results. It’s become somewhat rare to see the Roethlisbergers in sports today. Superstars now bounce around a hell of a lot more like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole, Tom Brady, and others. Yet Rodgers has every reason imaginable to want to stick it out and Green Bay for the remainder of his career.
Rodgers cares about legacy, perception, and milestones. He doesn’t take any of it for granted, as evidenced by countless quotes. This offseason will bring a lot of uncertainty, and Rodgers has already said he won’t drag out the process. Seeing Ben Roethlisberger’s sendoff may very well have had No. 12 wondering what his own could look like if he ends his career where it started: in Green and Gold.