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Rodgers, Brees, Roethlisberger obsess over ring race

Perry Knotts/NFL
Drew Brees didn't get his first ring until his ninth season in the league, and now he's hungry for more.

OAHU, Hawaii -- There once was a time, during a previous chapter of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' career, when the potential for a trip to the Super Bowl host city sounded appealing, even if Rodgers wasn't playing in the game.

He would make a few appearances on Radio Row, maybe show up at a couple parties. All for the same innocent and simple reasons plenty of Pro Bowl players will make the trek from Hawaii to Indianapolis when this week ends.

But this year, Rodgers said he isn't as likely to make that trip. It just doesn't sit well, for reasons that might seem obvious but are otherwise tough to explain. It's a feeling very few in the NFL can understand: The craving for more.

"Once you get that taste in your mouth, that's all you want," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, one of only six active quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl ring. "Everything else is a disappointment. You think about it all the time, you really do."

While the quarterbacks at the Pro Bowl must wait another year for their own shot, Giants quarterback Eli Manning will have the next opportunity to add that second ring to his résumé, something only two active quarterbacks have currently accomplished (Eli's Superbowl XLVI rival Tom Brady boasts three, while Ben Roethlisberger has a pair).

It is a race, as can be explained by the changing emotions of Rodgers as he advances to that place in his own career, that consumes a player's desires. And it's a place, as indicated by the short list of players with the opportunity to even go after a second ring in the first place, that very few get to go.

"The hard part is, it's such a rare thing to get to the Super Bowl, so you never know if you'll ever get back," Roethlisberger said. "So after your first one, you're just so happy to get the one."

But that soon changes, Roethlisberger admitted. The ante goes up. No longer does it seem to matter that you've knocked off that massive task. Quickly -- almost immediately -- the focus changes to the possibility of so much more.

Hearing former Super Bowl winners discuss the quest is like listening to mountain climbers explaining the craving for the next great adrenaline rush. There's always a steeper cliff, always a higher peak.

"You want to win as many as you can," Roethlisberger said. "Once you get one, you set a goal early. My thing was, I just wanted to do one more than everyone else. Five was always the magic number. So that's always been the goal."

Darlington: Pigskin in paradise
With many of the NFL's brightest stars in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, Jeff Darlington can't help but notice a great mix of youth and experience. More ...

Brees, Rodgers and Roethlisberger are spending this week in Hawaii, preparing to play in Sunday's Pro Bowl. Oh, they're enjoying paradise, embracing the honor of being at the top of their sport on an individual level. But as each one will testify, there's only one place they really want to be.

"Look at this year for us," Brees said. "You feel like you have all of the pieces in place. You have a great team. And yet, you just fall a little bit short. And it shows how hard it is, especially once you get into the playoffs, to win and get that ring."

Heck, Manning's brother, Peyton, is a perfect example of this. Five years ago, you'd have had a difficult time convincing anyone that Eli would have more rings than Peyton. Now, he's in a prime spot to take the lead in the Manning family.

"Especially late this year, [Eli's] really been a clutch quarterback," Roethlisberger said. "He's hot right now, and he's playing well. That's what matters most."

Of the current quarterbacks, it's going to be interesting to see which comes out with the most rings of anyone. Brady obviously has the early edge with three -- and a prime opportunity to add a fourth. But Roethlisberger has two rings at age 29, while Rodgers, 28, certainly seems destined for more chances, too.

Eli is 31, Brees is 33, and Peyton is 35. So each of them still has time before they even reach the age of John Elway, who was 38 when he added a second Super Bowl ring to his résumé. But the clock is ticking, and if Eli doesn't win two Sundays from now, his own chances to catch Brady might quickly grow more difficult.

Proper perspective on the amount of time it can take to win just one, though, is always an important factor in such a discussion.

"It was nine years into my career that I was able to win a Super Bowl," Brees said. "It's something you aspire for every year, but you understand how hard it is."

So as each of the league's top quarterbacks continue their quest toward building their legacy, they can all at least take solace that they already have one championship to their name. But on Super Bowl Sunday, Eli will chase his second, Brady his fourth. And everyone else must wait until next season to continue the hunt.

"Once you get there, there's this little bit of a sigh of relief," Brees said. "We won. We did it. But then, it's right back to focusing on how to get back for another."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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