“We’re nobody’s underdog.”
Former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy used this sentence multiple times during his time in Wisconsin. And there was one main reason for his justified confidence: the quarterback.
On January 15, 2011, Aaron Rodgers faced what was the biggest challenge of his career. The Packers, who had qualified for the playoffs as a sixth seed in the NFC after an up and down season, would face the 13-3 No. 1 seed Atlanta Falcons on the road. That game, for which the Packers were not favorites (their final spread was +1.0), changed fortunes in Green Bay.
Aaron Rodgers, who was just in his third season as a full-time starter after three years backing up Brett Favre, threw three touchdowns and ran for another. He missed only five passes and finished the game with a 122.5 passer rating. He had total control of the game, and the Falcons truly never had a chance. 48-21.
It was the greatest performance by a quarterback, considering quality and importance, in the history of the franchise. And it paved the way for the Packers to win their 13th NFL championship.
By that point, it was impossible to doubt Aaron Rodgers. He was the next great one.
The Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay has come to an end, as everything does at some point. It was a great ride, but it was also time to move on. So the Packers will trade him to the New York Jets after 18 years of a relationship with great moments and frequent strain.
But don’t let these last couple of years change the bigger-picture perception of what Aaron Charles Rodgers means to the Green Bay Packers organization. He is the most talented player to ever wear green and gold. Rival fans might say winning only one Super Bowl was disappointing, and it might have been, but it’s truly hard to win championships in the NFL. And Rodgers did. He carried the 2010 Packers to the fourth Super Bowl title in franchise history, and he won games consistently.
There were playoff meltdowns on the way — and most of them were not Rodgers’ fault, to be fair. By the end, there was disconnection and friction. But history will always remember the four MVP awards, the 10 Pro Bowl selections, the 2010s All-Decade Team appearance.
However, Aaron Rodgers’ biggest legacy for Packers fans is the pure joy he provided every Sunday for 15 seasons. He was so talented it was amazing to watch, dissect, and absorb. When a football observer watches other quarterbacks playing, it just feels different. Rodgers is different on multiple levels, but his playing style was so awkwardly amazing. His mechanics, his control of the game. The bombs, the free plays, the smiles towards the opposing sideline, the hate from other teams fans because he was so good.
“Down years for me are career years for most quarterbacks”, Rodgers rightfully said once, when he was coming back to the top during the 2020 season.
Aaron Rodgers had several particularly great years during his tenure in Green Bay. 2010 was a title year. In 2011, he played at the highest level of his life and had one of the best quarterback seasons in NFL history. The 2014 season was impressive, too, and in 2016 Rodgers led the “run the table” stretch with an astounding level of performance.
But no season was more significant to explain what Rodgers is than 2020. It was his third MVP year and a different one. After a couple of down years, where serious people started questioning if he still could play as he had done for most of his career, and right after the Packers drafted his eventual replacement in Jordan Love, Rodgers bought in Matt LaFleur’s system and showed the NFL world he still had it.
“2020 was definitely a crazy year,” Rodgers mentioned during the MVP acceptance speech. “Filled with lots of change, growth, some amazing, memorable moments, 180 straight days of having my nose hairs scraped, playing for very few fans or no fans the entire season, I got engaged, and I played some of the best football of my career.”
It was a year to remember. And a year to remind us: never doubt greatness.
At the end of the day, one Super Bowl ring feels like a disappointment. But the experience of watching Aaron Rodgers play was so delightful and so significant. The Packers had a chance to win every week, it doesn’t matter how good the opponent was. Every snap had a chance to be a big play. And most of his games were like a regular quarterback highlight reel.
It’s been an amazing experience to watch it every Sunday. And that feeling is Rodgers’ greatest achievement as a football player.