Will People Start Hating Aaron Rodgers Soon?
by Dan Conklin
July 20, 2012
Every so often, a poll will be released by Forbes or Yahoo or some other organization listing the most hated players in the NFL. Many of the names who make the list aren't all that surprising. If you run a dog-fighting operation, or (allegedly) make unwanted sexual advances in a restroom, you tend to find that a lot of people hate you. But sometimes, people make the list of hated players for reasons that are hard to understand.
In a poll taken shortly before the Packers-Steelers Super Bowl, Tom Brady was listed as the third most disliked player in the league (behind Brett Favre and Mike Vick). It seems shocking to see Brady's name on a list like this. From most accounts, he is a pretty good guy. He hasn't had brushes with the law. He hasn't stomped on the head of opposing players while they were on the ground. He is generous with his teammates. He is decent with reporters and fans. But he is still hated. Not by everyone. But still by quite a few.
Without a doubt, part of it is because he is so extremely good at his job. A few short years ago, he was widely considered to be the best player in the NFL, and much discussion even centered around the question of whether he was the best quarterback ever. (That immediately made all Joe Montana fans hate him.) Any time somebody is THAT good, there are going to be people who hate them. Especially fans of the teams that he beats in the big games year after year, like the Steelers and Colts.
I have had that feeling before. I used to hate Mike Vick, long before the dog-fighting scandal came to light. I got so mad when we would have all of his receivers shut down and it looked like we were going to stop Atlanta's drive, then he would scramble for the first down. Over and over again. I screamed at my TV, “I hate you Michael Vick!” Of course, it wasn't the real kind of hate. It was the competitive hate. I hated how he could make something when there should have been nothing. And losing to the Falcons 27-7 for our first ever home playoff loss when we were heavily favored is pretty unforgivable.
That's kind of how it has been over the years with Tom Brady. You can't help admiring his skill when he surgically drives his team down the field in the last two minutes. Cool under pressure. Stable feet in the pocket. Yes, he's good. Practically perfect. But we hate it.
He's almost too perfect. He's got dazzlingly good looks. His hair is always stylish, no matter what the style might be this year. His chin dimple is of heroic proportions. He executes his offense almost flawlessly. He handles press conferences with class, even when female reporters ask him to marry them. He'll probably have a career in acting or modeling when he is done playing. And as if to add insult to injury, he goes and marries an international supermodel. Oh, yeah, and he has three Super Bowl rings. A couple of twists here and there and it could have been five rings. What's not to like? And what's not to hate?
It's the kind of hate that we don't really want to think about too much, because it reveals our dark side. It's a hate because he's better than us. Not just a little bit better, but storybook-better. We like our superstars with at least a few flaws. Even the ancient Greek and Roman gods had their faults.
That's why America liked Brett Favre so much (until the last few years). Yeah, he did those amazing heroics in the fourth quarter that no one else could do, which led him to become the winningest quarterback in history, and should have made all the other teams' fans hate him. But for the most part they didn't, because he was so human. He had his flaws. His addictions, his tragedies, his occasional lapses of discipline. We liked him because we saw ourselves in him—a normal person who faced trials and difficulties just like everyone else, yet who stood tallest during the greatest adversity. And he gave us hope that we too could rise above our own turmoils and someday do our own great things.
So if all those people hate Tom Brady, largely because he's so freakishly unstoppable, will they soon be hating Aaron Rodgers in the same way? And especially if the Packers string together a couple more Super Bowl wins? For fans of the Detroit Lions, who are 1-7 against him, or of one of the other teams that he racks up video game statistics against, it can't be fun watching him dissect defenses as if they were the Washington Generals.
During the 2011 season, he set the single-season record for quarterback efficiency, and every indication is that he is still on the way up. No doubt there have been...and will continue to be...many people yelling at their TV, “I hate you Aaron Rodgers.”
But of course, that's just the competitive hate. Not the real hate. Will they be hating Rodgers for real before long? I think not.
First of all, he is pretty likable. Brady comes off elusive, mysterious, and hard to know, but Rodgers has been pretty approachable and self-revealing. His weekly radio show with Jason Wilde, The Aaron Rodgers Show, gives listeners a regular look at who he is, what he values, and how he goes about his business. (This is absolute MUST listening for any hardcore Packers fan.) Rodgers doesn't seem to take himself too seriously (although he approaches his craft as seriously as anyone ever to play the game), and seems to genuinely cheer on the success of other players, such as his backup Matt Flynn, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, or Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount.
As far as likability, Rodgers has Wisconsin locked up. In a November, 2011 survey of Wisconsin residents by Public Policy Polling, Rodgers received an 89% favorable rating, falling just short of Abraham Lincoln (91%) and Jesus (90%). But even outside of Wisconsin, he received a 67% favorable rating by E-Poll/Nielsen as reported by Forbes. So at this point, Rodgers comes across as one of the most appealing players in the NFL.
The self-effacing humor of the State Farm Discount Double-check commercials have probably helped his cause. Peyton Manning has torn up defenses for years in a way similar to Tom Brady, but he seems to garner less hate, and people believe his many humorous commercials have helped to make him seem likable. Rodgers may now be the rising star of commercial endorsements. In a January 2012 survey of sports business executives by Sports Business Daily, Rodgers ranked number one in marketability. At this point, he tends to be pretty selective in his endorsement deals, but whatever commercials he does in the future will probably continue to put him in people's good graces. While he is still less recognized than these other quarterbacks, that will likely be changing.
Another factor that works against Brady is his team, the New England Patriots. They are viewed by many people as cheaters because it has been revealed that they violated league rules by videotaping opponents' practices in what has become known as Spygate. We all know that head coach Bill Belichick is the best coach in the game, but he's not particularly likable. Since Brady is quarterback for a team that is hated, he is hated by association.
At this point, that doesn't seem to be a problem for the Packers. In another survey last December, the Packers were ranked first as the most-liked team, with twice as many votes as their nearest rival. And coach Mike McCarthy doesn't raise people's ire the way Belichick does.
Perhaps the thing that works the most in Rodgers' favor is the way he responded during the on-again, off-again cycles of Brett Favre's retirement. In what became nothing less than a circus atmosphere during the 2008 training camp, Rodgers kept his composure, refused to become critical of either Favre or the organization, and consistently repeated that he had to focus on the things he had control over. He couldn't possibly have handled the situation better than he did. Even when fans still loyal to Favre would boo him, he handled it with a dignity and grace that far surpassed his 24 years.
Without a doubt, these trials had an effect on his leadership and character. Once the circus and the press moved out of town, his poise on the field complemented his poise off the field to allow him to endear himself to Packers fans and eventually to the rest of the watching world. Exactly what the future holds remains to be seen. But unless a major surprise development occurs, I believe he will be largely immune to becoming the player that fans hate.
Unless he wins six more Super Bowls. At that point it will probably be inevitable. One can only hope for the opportunity to find out.
(Photo Credit: The Sports Bank)