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NFL

In Which Aaron Rodgers Becomes The Highest-Paid Player In NFL History


I’ve met Aaron Rodgers three times, all of them interviews (or interview attempts) at the American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament in Stateline, NV. The first meeting went quite well: Rodgers had just joined the Packers, and was learning to get along in a world where Brett Favre was king, and the rest of us peasants.

We had a good interview, and Rodgers talked of his days at Cal, growing up in laid-back Chico, CA, and of the future. It wasn’t cool getting picked No. 24 in the draft in 2005, but he had moved on. Or so he said.

Two years later I attempted to talk with Rogers again. It was the off-season (the tournament is held every July on the shores of Lake Tahoe), and Favre had said he was going to retire … then infamously deciding at the 11th hour to return to the Packers. Everyone wanted to talk to Rodgers — Favre announced his return literally hours before Rodgers landed at the Reno airport — but Rodgers was having none of it. He ignored reporters, including me, without a word. Just stalked away. It was the birth of Aaron Rodgers Aloofness.

Ah well, I figured: you couldn’t really blame him. He got what we now call Jay Leno’d. He was back on the bench.

The following year, Favre left for real — off to the Minnesota Vikings. Rodgers was finally the Packers’ starter, and again I looked for my interview. But it was not to be. Rodgers ignored me for a second time — even though celebrity golf tournaments are the one event where participants are told to be accommodating to us press monkeys.

It was near a little bridge at Edgewood Country Club that connected the hospitality tent with the main practice putting green, and I was on one end, and Rodgers on the other. I thought I had him trapped, and pulled out my tape recorder.

But as we approached each other, Rogers juked by me. That’s admittedly not difficult to do, but still, it’s not cool to leave the words “Aaron, do you mind if I …” hanging awkwardly above a small man-made creek. It was the birth of Aaron Rodgers Douchebaggery.

I thought of the Three Degrees of Aaron Rodgers today when NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that he signed a huge contract extension with the Packers: $110 million over five years, according to Rapoport, with $62 million in the first three years and $40 million in the first year. That’s a $22 million average, which surpasses the $20.1 million annual checks that Joe Flacco gets on his six-year, $120.6 million contract.

This makes Rogers the highest-paid player in the history of the NFL.

Not bad for a kid who grew up in the wilds of Butte County, CA. People from Chico grow long hair, study holistic medicine and lobby furiously for marijuana legalization. But Rodgers doesn’t fit any particular mold. He’s a devout Christian: the son of a Texas-born chiropractor who played offensive tackle at Chico State and taught his sons not to drink or party. Which, in Chico, is like a being a duck that prefers not to swim.

The contract was a smart move by the Packers for sure: a steal, really. Rodgers is durable, accurate and a proven leader. He also has that intangible factor guys like Montana, Bradshaw and Aikman also had — he’s a winner. His one Super Bowl ring (2010 season) will surely not be his last.

But Rodgers still plays like the guy who sat out the first 23 picks of the 2005 NFL Draft, becoming angrier and angrier as each team passed him by. He makes frequent reference to his multiple draft snubs, and that’s no doubt part of what fuels him now. It’s a bit of a cockeyed attitude, though, in my opinion. Drafting a quarterback is a crap shoot: by most estimation, Jim Drunkenmiller (49ers, ’97) was supposed to be the next Steve Young. Colin Kaepernick (49ers, ’11) was not. Teams get burned all the time. It’s not an exact science, and taking it personally is foolish.

I recall an interview Rodgers did with ESPN in the summer of 2012, in which the interviewer asked him what he thought of the 49ers passing him by in the ’05 draft. With head coach Mike McCarthy sitting next to him, Rodgers said, self-satisfyingly, “Well, they could have had me.”

It was the birth of Aaron Rodgers Smugness.

Rodgers didn’t mention that in ’05, McCarthy, the guy sitting right next to him, was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator, and reportedly also was the guy who pulled the trigger on drafting Alex Smith ahead of Rodgers.

And of course Smith and the 49ers then went on to beat Rodgers and the Packers two straight times after that interview. Prior to the first loss, last season’s opener, Rodgers said he’d wear a 49ers jersey for a day if the Packers lost. He has yet to pay up.

But don’t get the idea that I don’t like the guy. Despite our Little John/Robin Hood showdown on the bridge that day, I like him quite a lot. I like the fact that a multi-millionaire with a Super Bowl ring can still play with a chip on his shoulder. That’s part of what makes him great, no doubt. No matter how good things get, he feels that someone, somewhere, is disrespecting him. And that cannot stand.

In other words, Aaron Rodgers has a message for the rest of the NFL. And it’s not a very comforting one:



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