There was no lecture or screaming. There was Aaron Rodgers doing what he has always done. A one-on-one chat here. A conversation in a position-group setting there.
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No nastiness. No condescension. No hysterics. Just Rodgers showing the most under-discussed of his talents: his ability to lead. Rodgers never stops fighting, and we didn't need the Miracle in Motown to know that.
It's the brain, athleticism and passing accuracy that have made him what he is—a Super Bowl winner and future Hall of Famer. But in what has been his hardest season, away from the cameras and the glare and the fandomvery quietlyhis personal determination to improve this team has been the difference for the Packers. That's not an opinion. It's what multiple teammates told me. One story they tell is from a few weeks ago. Rodgers had been upset for weeks about the study habits of some of the team's younger offensive players.
Cris Collinsworth mentioned this during NBC's Thanksgiving telecast of the Bears -Packers game, saying that there had been a players-only meeting in which Rodgers made this clear. What Collinsworth said wasn't accurate in the details, I was told, but the gist was right.
Rodgers' message was indeed there needs to be better preparation. It was an important message. But the methodology of delivery is what's vital. He didn't make a big speech for the sake of making a big speech. He addressed it on a personal level. The preparation of some guys had slipped since the start of the year. A lot of us were glad he did it. Even when Rodgers was asked about how preparation needed to be better after Collinsworth's comments, he handled it in a way that didn't bother his teammates.
As one told me, "We needed a kick in the ass.
He gave us one. Teammates say that Rodgers has played the role of motivator, psychologist, supporter and constructive critic more this season than ever before in his Packers career. The team has needed him to. For the first time since Rodgers became a star, the team is struggling.
They seemed like a Super Bowl lock at but then lost three straight. The study habits, players told me, changed for the better after Rodgers' intervention, and they played one of their best games of the season, winning at Minnesota. But they followed that with an unthinkable home loss to the Bears. He's been injured, too, the latest coming on Thanksgiving when the helmet of a Bears player banged into his arm in the third quarter, causing numbness in his hand that he said lasted even into the minutes after the game.
He's being tested as he never has before, and we're learning about Aaron Rodgers.
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Learning who he is. Learning how he le. Learning what's beyond the image we see before the cameras and in the commercials. Learning who he turns into when he's in crisis. I spent the week of Thanksgiving with the Packers and sat down with Rodgers and many of his teammates, and in that week a portrait of the man became clear to me.
There is no screaming Rodgers.
Or Rodgers morphing into something he's not. What's clear, what's crystal clear, is that Rodgers has used all of his efforts—body and mind—to get the most out of a talent-drained team that lacks star power on both sides of the football.
Rodgers in crisis, it turns out, is more cerebral—more Professor X than Wolverine. More of a leader. We don't see any of this. It's not a statistic that can be charted. But it's there, and from what many players describe, Rodgers' pushing and prodding has kept the Packers' ship from totally capsizing. Rodgers and I sit at his locker. He is relaxed, the locker room quiet, and we go on to have what feels like one of the best conversations about football I've ever had. Then again, it is always like this.
I've interviewed him for books, long-form stories, short stories, and it is always the same: a fascinating talk. He is calm, yes, but at one point, for the first time since I've known him, Rodgers gets understandably angry. Visibly so. More on that in a moment. To get everyone on the same .
Because we've had to go back to square one in terms of preparation. We've had more conversations about route running, splits, alignments, checks. So that's been a challenge but also a fun thing. My belief is what Rodgers said above is central to the Packers' and Rodgers' challenge. Losing Nelson meant the younger players had to study and prepare harder. But some of the players weren't. When you're running those checks with a Jeff Janis and a Jared Abbrederis and a Ty Montgomery, you kind of have to go back and teach them from Day 1.
How aaron rodgers saved the packers
This is one of the key cogs in identifying who Rodgers is at this moment in time. It's very Tom Brady-like. In many ways, he is Tom Brady, and Tom Brady is him. Let me explain. I believe Rodgers sees some of these young players as highly talented, and highly supported by their organization, but lacking the motivation to prepare like their careers depend on it. And it frustrates him.
This is how Rodgers and Brady play football. They play with a sort of desperation.
Rodgers and Brady were both initially snubbed by the NFL —in different ways Rodgers fell in the first round, and Brady went in the sixth but both snubbed nonetheless. They continue to use that as motivation. Being the best drives them, in part, because the league said: You're not that good. The only time Rodgers gets upset, visibly upset, during our conversation is when I ask him about a written implication that his struggles were because of off-field distractions, which so irritated Rodgers' girlfriend, Olivia Munn, that she responded with a series of tweets.
A ridiculous article. And unfair," Rodgers says. All players have relationships. We all balance a lot and we still come to practice and meetings and the games with clear he. Go ahead. That's fine. But I'm not going to let someone say something ridiculous about me without me fighting back. I have a voice and I'm going to set the record straight. Everyone around Rodgers seems to have a Rodgers moment. A story, a tale.
It is a moment that sticks with them. They are moments of respect. Those moments are building blocks. Rodgers draws upon them to build trust. To lead.
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He uses these moments as connective tissue. They build trust for times like these, when the Packers erase the good feelings of a start by losing four of their next six. Sometimes Rodgers le with a laugh or a shout or screaming at his line.
Or he le with his study habits. Or the use of his photographic memory.