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Rodgers stakes claim in Titletown lore with Super Bowl journey

DALLAS -- This night wasn't about Brett Favre.

The Packers said good-bye to the most decorated quarterback in franchise history 30 months prior to the day of Super Bowl XLV, and the Favre questions were really only coming up again for Aaron Rodgers in big moments like the one he had Sunday night. And all that stuff was really superficial anyway, since the shadow Favre casted hardly seemed to have any effect on the rising, young team he left.

But for a brief minute in Cowboys Stadium, still picking confetti out of their hair and with older brother Luke Rodgers toting Aaron's trademark title belt, those closest to the newest Packers legend let the scars show.

I told both Luke and father Ed Rodgers that for all the things Brett Favre accomplished over his career, No. 4 never won Super Bowl MVP, like the kid from Chico, Calif. just had.

"He didn't?" Ed said, grinning ear-to-ear. "Oh, I didn't know that. OK, I like that, though. That's awesome."

"I didn't know that," Luke responded earlier. "That's fantastic. Now Aaron's got one up on Brett."

If those words have a tinge of edge to them, well, then so be it.

That's what happens when you see your son or little brother told, for the first six years of his career, more about what he isn't than what he is. That's what happens when the kid finally erases that last "isn't," leaving only room for what he's become. And for Rodgers, that's the biggest star on the game's biggest stage.

Despite some uneven moments on Sunday night, particularly in the third quarter of the game, Rodgers was, to use his family's words, awesome and fantastic.

Rodgers fought through a slew of drops by receivers to keep his completion percentage north of 60, while throwing for 304 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. Favre was good in Super Bowls XXXI and XXXII, but not quite like that, compiling an aggregate 56.5 completion percentage for 502 yards, five touchdowns and one pick in his two games.

Still, those numbers, and that legacy gave Rodgers plenty to live up to. And it wasn't easy.

"I hate to use the term monkey-off-his-back, but with this victory, it seems like, hopefully, everybody will move on and the past will be the past, and he can start his own legacy from here," Ed said. "It was really hard (replacing Favre), so this has got to be sweet for him, to erase all those things, and move on from here."

The really interesting thing is, the way these guys see it, the monkey was already off of Rodgers' back, or it had been for at least a few months.

The evolution of Rodgers as a quarterback kicked into high gear in 2009, when the Packers improved from 6-10 to 11-5. But even then, he couldn't quite get past the whole Favre thing, with Green Bay getting swept by the Vikings, and his predecessor leading Minnesota to the NFC title game. Rodgers might not admit it now, but those wins over the slumping Vikings this year meant something, according to those who know him best.

"I think that was really big to get that monkey off his back," Luke said. "And that was always the thing, 'couldn't beat Brett.' Then, it was 'couldn't win big games,' 'couldn't win playoff games,' 'couldn't win the Super Bowl,' and that's all put to bed now."

And maybe that progression is part of it. After vanquishing Favre and the Vikings, going to Philly, Atlanta or Chicago in the playoffs didn't seem like such a big deal. Coming away with wins in those places only made the Super Bowl more manageable.

Or maybe that progression started much earlier than most of us who were watching thought. All these moments simply revealed what Rodgers had all along, something that was evident again as he battled past all those crucial drops without having ol' reliable Donald Driver out there with him. Maybe it's why the Packers seemed so comfortable with the quarterback transition when few others were.

"It's not something totally out of what was normal for him," Luke said. "Aaron didn't get a D-I offer out of high school, played a year of junior college, got found really by mistake there by Jeff Tedford, didn't know he was a qualifier, and then is projected (as the) No. 1 overall (pick) and falls in the draft.

"I think it makes Aaron play with a chip on his shoulder, and I think replacing Brett is just another challenge. And he got to overcome it and really stake his claim in Titletown, in Green Bay. He's got as many trophies as Brett does now. I think sometimes it's the hard things in life, the times that can be really hard, that show our true character."

Rodgers' teammates could certainly identify it, long before they got to Dallas.

Second-year nose tackle B.J. Raji emphasized that, "There's no question who's the guy now in Green Bay." Captain A.J. Hawk added, "When you talk about deserving something, no one deserves this more than Aaron, with everything he's been through, because he's earned it."

That's how you make 30 months ago seem like 30 years ago.

Rodgers did it by not imposing himself on those teammates, but letting leadership come naturally to him. If he hadn't done it that way, in a place where there was one quarterback for 16 years, he might never have lasted long.

As a result, the rest has come naturally to him as well, even if it's difficult to explain just how it happened.

"He's really gifted with it," Ed said. "He's been that way since he was in fifth grade, really. He's just a natural leader. It doesn't surprise me. He just takes the bull by the horns, and he's really good at it. It just happens. It really does. He's just good at it."

Now, he's more than just a leader or a replacement. He's a champion, too.

And if that's what it took for Rodgers to finally put the Favre thing behind him, well, then maybe it was all sweeter this way anyway.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @albertbreer.

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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) rushes during an NFL football game between the between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)

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