Super Bowl 48  

 

Packers' big gamble on Rodgers has paid off handsomely

It's been 12 football seasons since Dan Marino retired. To this day, the Dolphins have yet to find a quarterback capable of filling one of his shoes, let alone both of them. Denver has tried Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler and Kyle Orton, but none of them could resurrect any semblance of the glory John Elway brought to the franchise. Now it's Elway who's in charge of the Broncos looking to find the next him.

The Green Bay Packers caught a break.

It's really the only way you can see it. Aaron Rodgers not only panned out as Brett Favre's replacement, but he handled every awkward turn being in, then out, then back in of Favre's cascading shadow better than anyone could have possibly imagined. Even in hindsight. Now, in his third season since replacing Favre, he has finally coverted some folks who couldn't let go of No. 4.

"I take it very seriously not only myself, my family, but the Green Bay Packers," Rodgers said Monday after arriving in Dallas in preparation for the Super Bowl. "It's a privilege to play in this league and even bigger to play for the Green Bay Packers. You're revered in Green Bay not only for the way you play but the way you carry yourself."

Rodgers' growth and play this season has resulted in Favre rarely being mentioned in Titletown. Favre, for the most part, is a memory -- or worse, a Minnesota Viking.

The Packers -- especially general manager Ted Thompson -- look brilliant as a result, even though they were long viewed as blunderers with more of a personal agenda to get rid of Favre, than true football folks with an eye toward the present. Favre hamstrung the Packers and Thompson, claiming retirement after the 2007 season, then opting to return. He then forced them to make the unpopular choice of trading him to the Jets and opening the door for Rodgers. To this day, a share of Packers' fans have not forgiven Thompson.

Had Rodgers not become what he has, the disdain would be far more widespread and ruthless. Thompson might not even be employed. Hitching yourself to the wrong quarterback often is a quick way out of town. The Packers and Thompson were fortunate for Rodgers' steeled will and rocket arm. Thompson won't downplay the turmoil or the way Rodgers professionally handled himself. Through it all, though, the process benefitted both parties because of the natural (sort of) order of things.

"He has a pretty good grasp of what's important and what's not important. That's helped him through this time," Thompson said. "He was sitting for the first three years but that's the way all quarterbacks used to come in. Teams would draft quarterbacks and automatically sit them a couple years to get them along. I never thought that was overly a negative. I'm sure he wanted to play, but being able to sit and watch wasn't a bad thing at that position. Since then, it's clear he has continued to develop and continues to work at his craft."

Rodgers went along with that evaluation.

"I was able to learn the game behind one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever lace em' up," Rodgers said. "I got to learn the offense, study the offense and become an expert of our offense. I got to study myself in the offseason and work under, like I said, an incredible quarterback coach and hone my fundamentals and become a lot better player in those offseasons. I got to get healthy for three years, get my body into really good shape. So when my time did come I expected to play well."

In three seasons as the full-time starter, Rodgers has thrown for 12,394 regular-season yards and been to the playoffs the last two seasons. Favre, meanwhile, floundered with the Jets, and had one magical season with Minnesota in 2009, before getting injured this year during Minnesota's 6-10 campaign.

It's Rodgers, not Favre, who is now considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.

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"When he was going through all the adversity, he handled it well," veteran wide receiver Donald Driver said. "He showed everyone that all he wanted was an opportunity and the Packers gave him that opportunity and he hasn't let that opportunity slip away. He's proven that he is one of the best."

Thompson cautions not to rush Rodgers' greatness too quickly, even though he admits having someone special at quarterback.

"You're able to judge that better from a 10-year view as opposed to a couple-years view," Thompson said of Rodgers being deemed elite.

That's sage advice from a guy who won't dare thumb his nose at anyone who questioned him. But a victory over Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl and a new Packers legend will be born.

Part of the haste to crown Rodgers is because we live in a world of abbreviated judgment. A good story can be Tweeted in 140 characters instead of the depth of a true tale. Coaches are fired in two years, even if they've brought teams back to respectability -- but not a playoff berth. Quarterbacks, because of the immediate success of Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman and, to a lesser degree, St. Louis' Sam Bradford, are declared winners or standouts before fully developing.

With Rodgers, his credibility comes from all those angles. He's also been prolific and professional since he was deemed a starter. Along the way to the Super Bowl this season, Rodgers has outplayed Pro Bowlers Michael Vick and Matt Ryan and outlasted Jay Cutler. Like Favre, he's shown toughness and leadership and the penchant to dazzle.

Because of Rodgers, Green Bay hasn't become Denver or Miami or Buffalo. Or Washington or San Francisco or Chicago. They found The Guy who could step in for an icon, let alone a winner, which is so hard to do.

In the next few seasons, the Patriots are going to have to find someone to replace Tom Brady and the Colts will have to do the same with Peyton Manning.

Take a second to digest that.

Both teams have managed to sustain success in large part because of their future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. They can't play forever, though. Both teams have also sustained success because of their great personnel judgment. But are the successors on the rosters? Will management be bold enough to draft their successors with a first-round pick at the behest of possibly insulting Brady or Manning?

That was the chance the Packers took and it wasn't comfortable.

Then there's the guy who has to come next. What type of challenge do you think that will be for him? Having to step into that vacuum where not only was the quarterback a great player but the team was so consistently successful, any drop-off in either area would be considered failure.

The Packers and Rodgers managed to overcome those hurdles and are now in the Super Bowl.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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