Aaron Rodgers finally had his chance.
After playing his previous three NFC Championship games on the road, the eventual league MVP finally got a chance to play for a spot in the Super Bowl in his own stadium.
Then it all came crashing down.
Rodgers and the Packers left defeated as they watched Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrate on the Lambeau Field turf. The soon-to-be NFL MVP was left to ponder what happened and openly wondered if he had played his final game in a Packer uniform. While some eyebrows were raised, most just dismissed it as an emotional reaction after a heartbreaking loss when he finally got a chance to play for an NFC title at home.
Three months later, it was clear it was much more than that.
Hours before the NFL Draft, the bombshell was dropped that Rodgers was extremely unhappy with the Packers organization and would never play for Green Bay again. The news sent shockwaves across the league and rumors of a potential Rodgers trade dominated the first round of the draft. In hindsight, the timing of the release of his unhappiness can be questioned but the fact of just how unhappy Rodgers was cannot be.
For three more months, Packers fans sat on edge. Would Rodgers return? Would the team eventually cave in and trade their franchise player despite previous declarations they would not? Would Rodgers call the Packers bluff and retire?
As training camp dawned, Rodgers made the decision to return but there were questions to be answered: would he be all-in? Could he and the Packers front office coexist or perhaps even patch up their issues?
After falling on their face in Week 1, the answer became clear. Rodgers was indeed all-in and was ready to go scorched earth on the rest of the league.
What was even more remarkable is that it seemed Rodgers and team management had not only patched things up but the front office led by Brian Gutekunst had apparently even listened to Rodgers.
After the Packers made the unusual (for them) move of trading for Randall Cobb in order to secure Rodgers’ services for another year, Gutekunst was much more active in acquiring player talent as the season went on (see: Douglas, Rasul). It appears Rodgers forced the front office to evolve and healed some of the wounds between him and Gutekunst.
The drama around Rodgers’ return was only one storyline of the season, however. The quarterback again found himself in the spotlight after he tested positive for COVID-19 and was actually considered unvaccinated by the league after telling reporters he had been “immunized” back in July. He set off a further firestorm during his weekly appearance on The Pat McAfee show questioning vaccine science and alienating some fans, basically destroying the goodwill he had built up since he came back.
While Rodgers was the source of off-field, the on-field drama came from a plethora of injuries. For most of not all of the season, Green Bay found itself without its preferred starting five along the offensive line. That alone is very difficult for teams to overcome but the Packers have also been without their best pass rusher in Za’Darius Smith for all but one game and their best corner in Jaire Alexander for a majority of the year. Those factors alone cripple even the best of teams.
Yet the Packers kept on going and kept on winning. It wasn’t always pretty and it wasn’t always easy but the team has hung together and grown even closer. They won the NFC North for the third straight season and locked up the NFC’s top seed for the second consecutive year.
The team has been through a lot and their quarterback especially has put their fans through a lot. He helped make up for it by leading the team once again to the doorstep of another Super Bowl. It is now up to him to kick the door down.
The time has arrived to finish the journey. Starting today, Rodgers and the Packers will have to prove that it all was worth it and face their destiny. There is no going back after tonight. It is do-or-die time. The stars have all but aligned for this year to be the year the Packers finally breakthrough and not only reach but win the Super Bowl after coming oh-so-close so many times over the past decade.
After all they have been through, after coming so far, it is now up to the Green Bay Packers to embrace and accept their destiny.
It is time for them to write the ending their story deserves.
Football immortality beckons. Go Pack Go.