Rodgers Has Chance To Add To Legacy
by Mike Conklin
December 28, 2013
Aaron Rodgers is already considered one of the best players in the league, and is paid handsomely for his efforts.
That's not enough for him. He wants to add to his legacy.
As the Packers enter a win-and-you're-in game against the Bears this weekend with the prize being an invitation to the big dance, Rodgers has a chance to ride in on a white horse and do something that will not be forgotten anytime soon.
Enduring impressions are crystallized in big moments. The world of sports offers countless examples.
More than forty years later, people still talk about Willis Reed limping on to the court shortly before tipoff in the 1970 NBA Finals. He was severely hampered by a torn thigh muscle and only scored four points in limited minutes, but his legacy was cemented in that moment as he provided his team the inspiration to go on and win a championship.
Kirk Gibson provided a similar moment during the 1988 World Series when, after not being expected to play because of a stomach virus and two injured legs, he was sent to the plate as a pinch hitter. Despite having virtually no power in his legs, Gibson managed to hit one of the most clutch home runs in the history of baseball. The image of him hobbling around the bases has been replayed countless times.
Those moments came during championship series, and it may not be the perfect comparison for a regular season game like Aaron Rodgers will play this week. Even so, with a dramatic return from an injury at just the right moment, he has a chance to write another chapter in his own personal legacy.
Such things are important to Rodgers, and he does not hide from that fact. During an interview with Bob Costas last season, Rodgers articulated his view on this topic.
"I really believe that you earn your paycheck during the season," said Rodgers. "Play at a high level and get your team to the playoffs.
"And then the postseason is all about creating your legacy."
Even though the upcoming tilt against the division rival Bears will not technically count toward his playoff legacy, if Aaron Rodgers is able to play well and lead Green Bay to a victory it will go down as a defining moment nonetheless. It may not deliver the same drama that Willis Reed or Kirk Gibson provided, but the moment would undoubtedly go down in Packers lore.
This has a chance turn out to be the stuff of legend. After missing nearly half the season, Rodgers will have a chance for redemption against his team's oldest rival, who also happens to be the same team that knocked him out of the lineup two months earlier.
(It also just so happens to be the same team the Packers had to beat in the final week of the 2010 regular season in order to make the playoffs, and it will long be remembered how that turned out.)
As poorly as the Packers played the first month after Rodgers went down, it almost seemed like a perfect confluence of events came together in the past few weeks to allow them to have this almost unthinkable chance to still make the playoffs. The Packers do not even have a winning record as they enter the final game of the season, but because everything broke their way as their division rivals kept losing games just at the right moments (from Green Bay's perspective, at least), the playoffs are still within their grasp.
By all accounts, Rodgers has been lobbying to play and has been willing to assume the inherent risk involved with coming back from an injury of this magnitude. The team had decided it was better to take the high side of caution the previous few weeks, but with everything on the line Rodgers will get that chance he so desperately wanted.
We will likely never know the exact dynamics involved as Rodgers, team doctor Pat McKenzie, Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson discussed the situation over the past few weeks.
As it stands now, it is easy to envision a scenario where Aaron Rodgers lobbied heavily to play week after week, and even though some of the other key members involved with the decision-making process may not have fully embraced the idea they finally acquiesced to his wishes. Whether that is true or not, it may very well be the narrative that sticks. The close-to-the-vest Packers are unlikely to offer any information to the contrary.
The stage is set for Rodgers. Even if the Packers go on to lose in the playoffs, most observers would likely not hold it against him. With as many injuries to high-profile players as the Packers suffered this season, just making the playoffs would feel very satisfying to many fans.
Ten years ago, the Packers make the playoffs when the Arizona beat the Minnesota on the virtue of a touchdown reception by Cardinals wide receiver Nathan Poole as time expired. Poole was brought to Green Bay and given a key to the city.
How much more fondly would fans feel about one of their own, who is already beloved in his own right?
In order for Rodgers to add such a chapter to his legacy, he first has to help his team win against the Bears. That result is not exactly a foregone conclusion.
"We're not just going to be handed the game because he's playing," said T.J. Lang. "It's a tough game no matter who's back there."
Even if Rodgers doesn't miss a beat after a long layoff, he won't be able to win the game by himself. He can't defend a high-point pass to Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshall, nor can he stop Matt Forte from being a dual threat out of the backfield. (Forte is third in the league in yards from scrimmage, and racked up 179 total yards against the Packers in November.) Rodgers also can't take advantage of the league's worst run defense all on his own.
Aaron Rodgers' legacy may be on the verge of becoming worthy of the verses of poets and troubadours from ages past, but first it may be in the hands of a beleaguered defense and a rookie running back with a gimpy ankle.
Perhaps that is why football is often called the ultimate team game.
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