Aaron Rodgers has gone from doing his best Keanu Reeves impersonation, replacing the diva quarterback Brett Favre after he mulled retirement one too many times, to being lauded as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL today.
He's now mentioned with the Tom Brady's, Peyton Manning's, and Drew Brees's of the NFL and carving out a legacy all his own. However, he has to be envious of the early success New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has had. He has won four of his five career playoff starts, making it to the AFC Championship game in 2010, and has since beaten Manning and Brady in consecutive games, on the road no less. Sure, Sanchez benefits from a stellar defense, but that is no way of categorically denying the Jets are a better team for having the "Sanchize" under center.
Sanchez has the swagger and confidence that seem to give him the necessary edge. If he throws an interception, he surely is disappointed in himself (he is human, after all), but he doesn't let that mistake become an issue in the next possession. He continues to throw the ball with the same aggressiveness and zip that he had when intercepted previously. It's the quintessential "fall off the horse, get back up and ride again" mentality.
That isn't a dig against Rodgers, though. It's more a statement in favor of tossing Sanchez's name in that hat with the NFL's elite. The NFL was taken aback by the win-or-die-trying mentality of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, so why is it that a player by the same position with more swagger and confidence (and in a bigger media market, nonetheless) isn't put on the same pedestal?
Perhaps it's Big Ben's Super Bowl rings.
For Sanchez and Rodgers, who have both proven to be very capable players at the helm of their respective teams, getting to—and winning—the Super Bowl may lock in their spot among the NFL's best.
Sanchez though, has less to prove. He's only a second year starter. He's young, athletic and has a California tan that gets Jets fans' wives to watch their games, if only to see a glimpse of him taking his helmet off on the sidelines. He has gotten so much media love, that Brett Favre is texting him asking what he can do to get the same favorable spin.
Rodgers hasn't been so lucky. His road started rocky with Green Bay and the NFL. He was passed on by more than two thirds of the league, not to mention the Minnesota Vikings who passed on him twice (wouldn't they like that do over), before he "fell" to Green Bay.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson was looking to put his stamp on the team after the Mike Sherman debacle and went with the young quarterback from Cal who everyone said leading up to the draft wasn't projecting as well as an NFL starter as the San Francisco 49ers' pick, Alex Smith out of Utah.
Smith went first thanks in part to the hype machine, and Rodgers has proven most of his detractors wrong since that day, especially when Packers management went with him over Favre. That's why Rodgers needs this game more than Sanchez, or anyone else left in the playoffs. Yes, he went into Atlanta and cooked some dirty birds that evening, but even players attached to "can't win the big one" had signature wins. Did anyone care how many times Manning guided the Colts past the Chargers or Jaguars in the playoffs? No. They wanted to see him win the Super Bowl.
So he did and delivered a ring to the Colts' fans. Now, it's up to Rodgers to do the same. The Packers' fans would love nothing more than to close the Favre era with a Rodgers-led Super Bowl win. This is his team, his opportunity and his chance to etch his name among the Lombardi's, Starr's and so many other Packers greats.
Rodgers has been unreal this postseason, posting back-to-back 3-passing touchdown performances on the road. His last game at Atlanta, he passed for 366 yards with three scores.
If Rodgers can keep up this level of play and beat the Bears Sunday, it would surprise no one if Green Bay took the Lombardi trophy back where it belongs. Rodgers would have the feather in his cap, and with a win this weekend, he could tie Favre's career playoff road victories at three. Astounding, isn't it?
Bottom line is Sanchez can recover if the Jets fall against Pittsburgh Sunday, but Rodgers won't be so mobile in the media pocket, so-to-speak. The New York media will chalk it up to "Coach Ryan's foot in mouth after team fell flat to Pittsburgh" or something along those lines. And yes, the "foot in mouth" pun was intentional.
Every game the Packers play, Rodgers is consistently abused, comparing him to Favre as the story of the game unless he plays lights out. I'm sure he would rather people stop talking about his predecessor and focus on the great player Green Bay has now.
In a Super Bowl appearance and win, Rodgers would not only silence his critics. He would also climb to the top of the proverbial mountain and stick his flag pole in Green Bay history, claiming it as Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood.