Sports fans have an easier time facing their own mortality than reckoning with the fallibility of their sports heroes. The buffer of an undefinable timeline pushes off expectations, lowering the stakes about “window” talk with a player like Aaron Rodgers. Trading up to take Utah State’s Jordan Love snaps into a focus a world without the Green Bay Packers’ suis generis signal caller, like a favorite show announcing it is going off the air. Even if we can all agree that the show’s quality fell off the last few seasons, it was still a familiar pleasure. There was comfort in knowing it would come on every Sunday and deliver, in ways both jubilating and occasionally devastating.
Jordan Love could be great. That’s not the point. His very existence threatens to upend a decade of established greatness, not because he will absolutely force Rodgers out, but because it starts the clock on QB1 in Green Bay. Three years, maybe four. Seeing the end amps up the pressure to win now, a feeling that, in itself, incites frustration with this draft pick. Taking Love is not a move to win now. It doesn’t bring Green Bay any closer to winning a Super Bowl with Rodgers in 2020 or 2021.
So long as Rodgers never develops an affinity for wearing Crocs and Love refrains from any use of “grandpa,” the transition from one to the next should go much smoother this time around.
History Repeats Itself
Fifteen years ago to the day, the Packers drafted Rodgers, delivering a moment that became part of our personal history as much as it did the NFL’s. Once Favre retired, then unretired, he forced fans to draw lines in the sand. There was Team Favre vs. Team Rodgers, and by extension Team Ted Thompson. The animosity built to such an extreme that some fans even bought Vikings Favre jerseys when he ended up in the Twin Cities a year later. It wasn’t about Rodgers. It was about what it meant for Favre: our time with the ole’ gunslinger would soon run out.
Some Packers fans made a deal with the purple devil to prolong their lives with the quarterback who defined a generation of football for so many.
For those predisposed to bitterness, this pick also reminds them that between Favre and Rodgers, Green Bay managed two Super Bowl wins, as if that’s some sort of penalty. Still, putting Rodgers on the clock means even if the Packers end up better off long-term with a quarterback whose talents would be unreachable in most other drafts, that doesn’t help Rodgers. Of course, no one complained when the Lombardi Trophy came back to Green Bay in 2010 with Favre hocking Wranglers and Rodgers winning Super Bowl MVP under center.
This is about what’s already been lost, about battles fought, tried, and forfeited. It’s a reminder that our heroes sometimes fail us, and sometimes we fail them just the same. And sometimes, in an attempt to find just the right words for the moment, we flail and end up sounding like a B-side Dispatch song.
Old Arguments Made New
Drafting Jordan Love dredges up old arguments about Thompson’s passivity as a general manager, Mike McCarthy’s conservatism in big spots, and Dom Capers’ absurdly long leash. These are pain points for Packers fans, shared traumas to once again be aired as grievances against the man for holding down their guy.
It’s getting increasingly difficult to combat the “Tom Brady is the GOAT” narrative if Rodgers doesn’t even win as many Super Bowls as Eli Manning. And that’s Jordan Love’s fault.
Except, obviously it’s not.
Our favorite players aren’t like TV shows we can return to after they’re gone. I can fire up Netflix and watch Season 1 of Schitt’s Creek again and again. In the not too distant future, Aaron Rodgers, or as we often knew him, Aaron F***ing Rodgers, won’t show up on our TV.
Drafting Jordan Love while they have Aaron Rodgers? Ew, David.
When Brett Favre retired, I cried. I’d DVR’d the press conference, came home late, made a grilled cheese and watched in my college apartment as the quarterback who’d helped me fall in love with football told me he loved the game but wasn’t sure he loved playing it anymore. And he was speaking to me, directly to me. A legend who embodied playing the game for the love of it, didn’t love it anymore. That fire had gone out. And in that moment, I had to decide for myself if I still loved the game too.
Even for those fans who grew up with Favre, or Don Majkowski, or hell, Lynn Dickey, Rodgers provided his own unique spin on the position, playing it like no one we’ve ever seen before. He could manipulate time and space in ways that would make Neil deGrasse Tyson want to delete his Twitter account. And occasionally, he still does it, like the unthinkable throw to Jamaal Williams in the corner of the end zone against the Chiefs or any of the dimes late in the Seahawks game to clinch it.
Rodgers still looks like Rodgers, still talks like Rodgers, and for enough of the time to make his team competitive, plays like Rodgers. Like Aaron Fucking Rodgers. You know who isn’t Aaron F’ing Rodgers? Jordan Love.
Of course he’s not. And that’s enough to turn fans against him, at least in the short term. We won’t even know if he can play for two or three years because that’s the point. Win now with Rodgers and hand the keys to 1265 Lombardi Ave. to Love in 2023 or whenever he’s ready. Sports fans — hell, people in general — don’t do well with delayed gratification, especially when it comes at the cost of success for an already beloved legend.
Turning up the Pressure
Starting now, the Rodgers experience more closely relates to seeing a movie you want to love, one everyone says could be an Oscar pick. Hike the stakes, start from a point of dubiousness and parse every word, every play, every movement.
“Nah, this is probably not gonna work.”
There’s an expectation of failure, to the point of even, on some level, rooting for it to be able to say, “Yeah, I told you it wasn’t that good.”
“I told you the team doesn’t care about winning with Rodgers ... the director totally phoned it in.”
Whether the team succeeds or not in the next few years has as much to do with Love playing quarterback as it does me playing quarterback (How much you wanna bet I can throw a football over them mountains?). But he’s the scapegoat, the living embodiment of opportunity cost. He’s the reason Rodgers couldn’t win it. Patrick Queen would have made all the difference, even if he wouldn’t.
Aaron Rodgers can sympathize. That’s the all-time irony, because Rodgers went through this once before. He was the reason Brett Favre would never win another Super Bowl in Green Bay, because Rodgers wasn’t the proverbial missing piece on defense to push the Packers over the metaphoric hump. The syntax is overwhelming, even for a Berkeley grad.
Rodgers’ harshest critics can’t blame him for believing this is really about him. It is. When Rodgers retires and brings some other bleary-eyed college student to tears in his apartment, it’ll be about him. For at least a year or two after, it’ll still be about him, no matter how unfair that is to Love. Rodgers suffered through prime time games against his old teammate; maybe Love finds himself facing off against 12 in purple. After all, Kirk Cousins’ contract is up the same time the Packers can move on.
Under normal circumstances, Jordan Love stars in the story as a first-round pick, but his story is really Rodgers’ until further notice. If Love wants to vanquish the memory of his new teammate, he has to play well enough to flip to script. To make it about him. Then the clock starts all over again.