|Morry Gash / Associated Press|
|After spending three years backing up Brett Favre, it is now Aaron Rodgers' turn to lead the Green Bay Packers.|
GREEN BAY, Wis. - Aaron Rodgers knows his history. And if he didn't, he says, he hears about it almost every day. Even from his friends.
"They keep (me) grounded," he said.
The history is this: The NFL has not been kind to quarterbacks who follow a legend, as Rodgers is trying to do after Brett Favre's retirement.
Rodgers hasn't studied it closely, but he has a theory, that in many cases, when a great quarterback retired or moved on, the team around him had grown old and its so-called window of opportunity was closing, anyway.
|Morry Gash / Associated Press|
|Aaron Rodgers says he had a good relationship with Brett Favre and that he learned a lot from the record-setting QB.|
"My situation is probably a little different," he said Thursday during an interview following an OTA practice. "We have a great team already in place."
And a young one, too. The Packers reached the NFC Championship game last season with the league's youngest roster. So there is reason for optimism. Nonetheless, everyone, even those in the organization giving Rodgers their unconditional support, knows it's going to be different.
"I think he's prepared well and we're as prepared as we can be, but it's still a new frontier," said general manager Ted Thompson
"Most of the quarterbacks who come into the league do not become Hall of Fame quarterbacks, so already the odds are weighed against you. I think it can get a little daunting. From the day we drafted Aaron, it was apparent in my mind that he would eventually be the guy who ultimately took over."
Rodgers, who says, "I've never lacked confidence in myself," believes he can buck the trend. He has taken easily to a new leadership role, hosting teammates at his home for dinner, TV and games. He doesn't look for special treatment, and he relates well to the other players.
He had three years of learning behind Favre, which is how quarterbacks used to be groomed before the salary cap, free agency and, to some degree, the modern media and fan demands, conspired to reduce the development periods.
Although there have been reports of strained relations, Rodgers says that in fact he and Favre "did have a very good relationship ... I just kind of stayed in his hip pocket. Anytime he said something, I was listening. I definitely learned a lot from him."
Favre's shadow, of course, is a long one, and everyone knows there will be endless references.
"If (Rodgers throws) for three touchdowns, then the fan down the street's going to say, 'Well, Brett would have thrown for five,'" Thompson said.
Yet, Rodgers has enough confidence and thick skin that he'll likely be able to shrug that stuff off.
"I see a dude with all the tools that's just ready to show his talent," said James Jones, a second-year receiver. "He's not trying to do what Brett does, but just be himself and lead this team."
In Wisconsin, they know this drill as well as anywhere. Green Bay reached the playoffs just twice in 21 years between Bart Starr, whose last season was 1971, and Favre, who arrived in 1992. At one point, the Packers were so desperate, they gave up five picks in the first five rounds of a single draft (1975) in trades for three different quarterbacks.
Miami has employed 12 starting quarterbacks in eight seasons since Dan Marino retired following the 1999 campaign, and has not won a playoff game since 2000.
Chuck Noll coached the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles with Terry Bradshaw at quarterback, but his teams were seven games under .500 in the eight seasons he coached after Bradshaw retired.
Buffalo hasn't won a playoff game in the 11 years since Jim Kelly, who led the Bills to four AFC titles, retired.
Denver has won one playoff game in the nine years since John Elway retired following back-to-back Super Bowl victories.
Rodgers plans to call other quarterbacks later this spring and summer to talk about what lies ahead for him. He plans to start with the rare one who succeeded following a legend, Steve Young, who earned his own spot in the Hall of Fame after taking over for Joe Montana in San Francisco.
We know one thing for sure. Rodgers has had time to learn his craft. That has enabled him to modify the way he held the ball up high and to show Mike McCarthy he was more athletic than the head coach once thought. Rodgers is that rare commodity in today's game, a first-round quarterback who was not rushed into action.
In fact, Rodgers' time with the Packers has been kind of in slow motion, ever since that draft day in 2005 when he spent an agonizing four and a half hours in the "green room," the last of six invited players at the draft to be selected -- No. 24 overall, by Green Bay.
Disappointed at the time, Rodgers now says that "turned into the best day of my life, the best thing that could have happened to me."
Coming to Green Bay instead of, say, his hometown San Francisco 49ers who had the first pick, enabled Rodgers to learn behind Favre. When Favre was injured and Rodgers had to replace him in a late-season game at Dallas last year, Rodgers played very well.
"It put a little more weight to the work I put in the past few years, especially in the classroom," he said. "I was very well prepared. (It showed) I do have some ability, but now it's time to put that together for 16 weeks.
"Looking back, I know I wasn't ready (to play right out of college). At the time, you want to play, obviously, but a situation like this ... it prepared me very well, because I got to sit behind a guy and learn for three years, kind of like they used to do it with quarterbacks. I feel like now, I'm more prepared than if I had been thrown in right away."
In separate interviews, Rodgers and McCarthy both pointed to the same time, the spring workouts a year ago between Rodgers' second and third seasons, as the turning point for the young quarterback.
"He made a big jump in all areas," McCarthy said. "It was a more mature Aaron Rodgers coming out of that spring, and he had a very good training camp."
It was a key moment in more ways than one for Rodgers, who admitted it took him several weeks of his rookie year to come to grips with the fact he wouldn't play immediately, and much, much longer to realize that was best for him.
"When the light started to turn on (last year), as far as understanding the offense, that's when I realized I was in a great situation," he said.
Veteran NFL writer Ira Miller is a regular contributor to NFL.com.