GREEN BAY, Wis. — Nobody needs to remind Aaron Rodgers of the gray in his beard. He sees it himself, just as he feels the hits a little harder, notices the rushing lanes close a little quicker, watches his rookie teammates arrive a little more baby-faced each offseason.
The quarterback potentially poised to win a second straight MVP this season might be defying Father Time at age 38. Rodgers knows where he’s at in his career. The math is every bit as undeniable as the gray. When Rodgers tossed his last touchdown pass Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, an 11-yard slant to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, he tied Brett Favre with 442 thrown as a Green Bay Packers quarterback.
That makes the next touchdown pass Rodgers throws, likely coming Saturday against the Cleveland Browns, perhaps the most special so far in his Hall of Fame career.
“I have a lot of love for Favrey,” Rodgers said. “And, again, a lot of gratitude for the time I got to spend watching him. Not a lot of young quarterbacks are blessed with the opportunity to go to a team with a first-ballot Hall of Famer in the same room, and to get to watch and learn for three years. Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Do you think things would have turned out the way they did if you’d been a starter in Year 1?’ The obvious competitor in you, and the confidence and the ego, say, ‘Of course. Of course. I definitely would have turned out this way.’
“But I think the human element, and the observer, and the gratitude is understanding things happen the way they happen to allow me to get in this position.”
There was a time, of course, Rodgers might not have used the word “blessing” to describe the first three years of his career. It didn’t start the way he’d hoped. Even getting his eventual shot in 2008 came with turbulence. Rodgers was unforgettably booed inside Lambeau Field during Family Night that year. For a time, it seemed like Packers fans might never give him a chance.
He’s long since put those doubts behind him. The state of Wisconsin now hangs on every spiral. That there will be no split allegiances when Rodgers breaks Favre’s record, no disappointment or reservation at all, shows how deeply the kid who was once booed has ingratiated himself with the fan base.
It’s striking to hear Rodgers glowingly share his admiration for the former gunslinger, something that also carries a different tune that it once might have. Their relationship is different now than when they shared a locker room, back when Favre made clear his job was not to mentor his eventual successor. They are peers now, members of the most exclusive club, one a Hall of Famer and the other a quarterback who will be enshrined five years after he throws his final touchdown.
Rodgers said his three years with Favre served a mixture of humility and growth that was invaluable early in his career. He doesn’t doubt his career would have landed here, on the doorstep of Canton, Ohio, without those three years to wait and learn, but the extra development provided Rodgers a chance to see what greatness looked like.
“Ultimately that’s what was best for me,” Rodgers said, “not just to be able to learn behind Brett, but to be picked by this organization. To kind of have a resettling of the ego and the competitive drive and the work ethic of, OK, now I’m in the room for the first time in my life with a guy who’s better than me. He throws it better. His mastery of the system is better. Instincts are better, pocket presence is better. And that was great for me because I really got to see exactly what I needed to work on in order to become great. Because my dreams and my aspirations and my drive was to be great.
“Had I gotten to a space where I didn’t have that in the room, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to firsthand see kind of comparatively where I’m at to where I want to be.”
Rodgers reached that pinnacle, eventually. Just as Packers fans had to embrace Rodgers, Favre had to realize some time ago his franchise records would be erased. For some time, his next touchdown pass has seemed to be an inevitability. Rodgers, though, said he never thought of his 443rd touchdown throw with the Packers that way.
From his first touchdown pass, an 11-yarder to Greg Jennings as a backup in Dallas during the 2007 season, Rodgers has ascended into a legend. It’s easy to forget the quarterback also had knee surgery after the 2015 season, a broken leg in 2018, the broken collarbones in 2013 and 2017.
To throw 443 touchdowns is to survive the battle of playing 17 seasons in the NFL, and wearing the scars to prove it.
“After last season,” Rodgers said, “I knew I was getting closer, and if I had a decent season this year I could get home and get this record. Which is definitely meaningful to me because of the history of the franchise, and how much I’ve enjoyed my time here.”
Coach Matt LaFleur called it a “special record” for Rodgers. The team did not commemorate Rodgers’ 442nd touchdown pass, the one that tied Favre, but LaFleur said there will be plenty of celebrating 443.
“Absolutely we’ll do something when he breaks that record,” LaFleur said.
Rodgers said he keeps in touch with Favre “periodically” now. Their communication ebbs and flows. Favre appeared to be a mouthpiece for the quarterback in the weeks after the Packers traded up in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft to select Jordan Love. Rodgers has perhaps never understood his predecessor better, another link that connects them.
Favre made it clear Sunday night on Twitter he embraces Rodgers breaking his record. That same night, Rodgers said, Favre texted him to appreciate the moment.
“He just said, ‘Enjoy it. Because it goes by so fast, and the next thing you know, it’s over,’ ” Rodgers said. “It harkens me to one of my favorite clips from ‘The Office,’ one of my favorite TV shows, where Andy Bernard is looking at the camera, Creed is playing the guitar in the background and doing a mantra, and he says, I’m kind of paraphrasing it, ‘I wish they’d tell you, you were in the good ol’ days, before you left them.’ I’ve often thought a lot about that.
“You just enjoy these times, because these are the good ol’ days. You never know when they’re going to be done, and it goes by so quickly.”
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort