"I took the (road) less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."-- Robert Frost, from his poem "The Road Not Taken"
Like Frost, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, for whom nothing has ever come easy, has taken a divergent path in his life.
Ignored by college scouts, Rodgers was not recruited during his two-year run as the starting quarterback at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, Calif. Discovered only when a college recruiter from Cal attended a game to scout one of Rodgers' teammates, the overlooked quarterback scratched and clawed his way to a 17-5 record as the field general for the Golden Bears.
Never coddled or cajoled in the same way most quarterbacks who are picked in the first round get treated, Rodgers has quietly prepared for the day when he would inherit the job as the Packers' starting quarterback. So, it was no surprise that Rodgers used his time this offseason to visit the U.S. troops at Ft. Wainwright in Alaska to prepare for his most challenging season yet.
"During my visit with the troops I saw 18-, 19- and 20-year-old men exude discipline, hard work and fearlessness," Rodgers said. "I saw that despite the negative things said about the war, by the press and many others, the morale of the troops remain very high. This is what I've learned and will take with me into the upcoming season. It doesn't matter what those on the outside think, but only how the people inside feel about you is what matters the most."
Rodgers believes that the hard road he's traveled to this point will make the ultimate difference in how he deals with adversity.
"I waited a long time for this opportunity," Rodgers said. "I waited three years, picking my spots in practice to exude leadership. I've had an agenda to improve, to get the guys to rally around me and then to connect with them off the field as well, by having (teammates) over to the house to share meals and play cards."
Rodgers' most significant showing as a Packer came in last November's Thursday night matchup in Dallas, when Favre was knocked out of the game.
"It was an important game," said Rodgers, who completed 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown in a 37-27 loss. "It was important that I played well for my teammates and for the fans. My teammates needed to see the things I had done in practice translate into success in games. It was also important to ease the anxiety of the fans as we head into the post-Favre era."
As Favre goes on to join the Mt. Rushmore of legendary NFL quarterbacks, Rodgers seems to believe that he can never rise above the lofty heights where Favre's memory now rests.
"I know I'll always be compared to Brett, and will never live up to his records and historical achievements," said Rodgers, who plans to deflect the pressure of following Favre by placing most of the burden on his teammates. "I'm not the guy who has to make it all happen. We're deep at wide receiver, especially with the addition of our top pick, Jordy Nelson. Our running back (Ryan Grant) is a stud and we have great depth. I know my role, but the pieces are in place. It's going to be a team effort if we are going to have a successful season."
After looking ahead to the 2008 season, Rodgers began to reflect on his relationship with the iconic Favre and what it has meant to him.
"Our relationship was a lot better than the media portrayed it to be, especially over the last two or three years," said Rodgers. "What I've learned from Brett the most is how to deal with adversity, pressure and setbacks. He dealt with those things privately. He never brought it to work, he left it at home. On the field, he had incredible eye control where he could move defenders with his eyes, and his ability to anticipate when a receiver would come open was amazing."
Rodgers' past speaks to the fact the most unlikely road has often led to the most unique experiences. Now he must once again take the unfamiliar path to achieve the kind of success few men have ever known.
Solomon Wilcots, a former NFL defensive back, is an analyst on the NFL Network as well as a color commentator for CBS football telecasts.