Aaron Charles Rodgers was born on December 2, 1983 in Chico, California. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) He was the second of three sons born to Darla and Ed Rodgers. Football was a big part of the family culture. Aaron was watching NFL games at age 2. At age 5, he was updating the statistics on his football cards.
Aaron got plenty of football knowledge from his father. Ed had been an offensive lineman in college and continued to play semipro ball after graduation. For three years in the late ’70s and early ’80s, he was a member of the Twin City Cougars, who were based in Marysville, California. In 1980, the Cougars made it to the Semipro National Championship and defeated a team from Wisconsin to win the crown.
Aaron was a talented athlete with a strong arm and a good head on his shoulders. He played just about every sport as a kid—including soccer, basketball and baseball—but he was wired for football. He learned the Xs and Os from his dad, and also inherited Ed’s passion and competitiveness. Aaron was also something of a born leader. He had no trouble telling other kids what to do. In school, he was sometimes scolded by his teachers for being too bossy.
Every spring and summer, Aaron followed the Los Angeles Dodgers. But after September 1st, he lived and died with the San Francisco 49ers. Aaron was an over-the-top Joe Montana fan. He was 9-years-old when Montana went to the Kansas City Chiefs to make way for Steve Young. Aaron still remembers the pain of that summer wondering how he could ever root for Super Joe’s replacement. One day, of course, Aaron would be asked a similar question
Aaron enrolled at Pleasant Valley High School in 1998. He immediately set his sights on the varsity quarterback job for the Vikings. It would be several years before he reached his adult height of 6–2 and a couple more before he made it to 200 pounds. However, no one doubted he would soon sprout. As a freshman, he already had size 14 feet.
Aaron blossomed in his junior year, taking the reins of the Pleasant Valley offense, passing for more than 2,000 yards. He earned All-Section honors for the first of two seasons. Aaron’s senior year was nothing short of sensational. He threw for a school-record 2,303 yards and also set team single-game marks with six touchdown passes and 440 all-purpose yards. Aaron also starred in the classroom. He pulled A’s in the majority of his courses and killed on the SATs.
Despite his numbers on the field and off, Aaron was almost completely missing from the Division I radar. His individual heroics aside, Pleasant Valley had a losing team, and big schools don’t spend too much time recruiting from down programs —especially scrawny passers who have barely cracked six feet. San Diego State showed interested until the school’s coach was fired. The only major program to offer Aaron a shot was the University of Illinois. There was only one catch—he’d have to make the varsity as a walk-on before they talked scholarship.
Aaron declined the offer and chose to stay and play close to home, for coach Craig Rigsbee at Butte Community College in the nearby town of Oroville, California. Although this region of California is not exactly a pipeline for NFL talent, Butte could boast one success story—lineman Larry Allen, who played for the Roadrunners and later was an 11-time Pro Bowl pick with the Dallas Cowboys.
ON THE RISE
Competing in the NorCal Conference, Aaron won 10 of 11 games as a freshman quarterback, throwing 28 touchdown passes along the way. The Roadrunners won the conference championship and finished the year ranked #2 nationally. Aaron, who had finally grown up and filled out, was starting to look like a Division I passer.
Still, a teammate stole headlines from Aaron. The player attracting attention on the Roadrunners that season was tight end Garrett Cross. He was Aaron’s favorite target. Among the Division I coaches recruiting Cross was University of California head honcho Jeff Tedford. Tedford was watching film of Cross and noticed that Aaron had thrown six scoring passes in a particular game. He phoned Rigsbee and told him he was making the three-hour drive from Berkley to Oroville to watch the team’s next practice.
Normally, Mondays were just walk-throughs for the Roadrunners, but Rigsbee worked in enough passing drills so Tedford could make an accurate assessment of Aaron’s arm. He walked away from the session so impressed that he called during the drive back and offered Aaron a scholarship. Normally, junior college players must play for two years before joining a Division I program. But because Aaron had a high GPA in high school and scored more than 1300 on the SATs, he was eligible to join the Golden Bears after just one year.
The Cal staff marveled at Aaron’s ability to read defenses and make good decisions. Aaron saw action in three of the team’s first four games, playing well enough to be anointed the starter against the only college that gave him an offer, Illinois. The following week, in just his second start, Aaron scored a triple-overtime upset over nationally ranked USC.
With defenses laying in wait for an inexperienced passer, Aaron started his Cal career by throwing 98 straight passes without an interception. He went 6–3 as a starter during the regular season, and over the final five games, he completed 68.2 percent of his attempts.
With two games to go, Cal still had a shot at a bowl bid but needed wins over Washington and Stanford. Aaron led the Golden Bears to victory in both contests, throwing for more than 700 yards combined. His 414 yards of total offense against the Cardinal set a record for the 106-year-old showdown known as the “Big Game.”
Cal received an invitation to the Insight Bowl, played the day after Christmas. Against a normally solid Virginia Tech defense, Aaron threw for 394 yards in a 52–49 win. It capped what is still considered one of the best-ever sophomore seasons by a Pac 10 quarterback. Despite spending the first third of the year on the bench, Aaron completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 2,903 yards, 19 touchdowns, and only five interceptions.
Aaron’s junior season for Cal was even better. He boosted his completion rate to 66.1 percent and threw for 2,566 yards and 24 touchdowns. His passer rating placed him just a hair behind Matt Leinert of USC. The Golden Bears’ offense was the class of the conference, averaging better than 37 points per game. It wasn’t just Aaron’s arm doing the damage. Cal also averaged 260 yards a game on the ground—fifth best in the nation.
Aaron’s best individual game came against national championship contender USC. He wowed fans on both sides of the field by tying an NCAA record with 23 completions in a row against the vaunted Trojans. Overall, he connected on 29 of 34 passes to set a school record with an 85.3 completion percentage. USC avenged the previous year’s game, however, winning 23–17. The Golden Bears had the ball inside the 10 with under two minutes left, but the Trojans batted down three passes and sacked Aaron to win the game.
With a 10–1 record and the 2004 Pac-10 crown, Cal would have received an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl under normal circumstances. But the BCS Championship Game was scheduled to be played in Pasadena, and the Golden Bears were not part of that picture. In the final week's rankings, they were edged out by Texas. Cal fans were outraged.
Instead, the Golden Bears played Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl, held in San Dieg. On paper, the game seemed like a mismatch. The Raiders weren’t even ranked in the Top 20. Aaron got the team off to a good start, but the Cal defense inexplicably collapsed in the second and third quarters. When the offense could not make up the difference, Texas Tech won 45–31. In the weeks following this disappointing game, Aaron decided to roll the dice and declare himself eligible for the NFL draft.
One of the deciding factors for Aaron was that the 2005 draft class figured to be weak in the quarterback department. The 49ers held the first pick and were shopping for a franchise passer. Utah’s Alex Smith was rated just ahead of Aaron, but Aaron hoped that his hometown connection to San Francisco would weigh in his favor. The other passers in the draft did not project as big-time starters. Jason Campbell of Auburn, Kyle Orton of Purdue, Charlie Frye of Akron, Matt Cassel of USC and Georgia’s David Greene simply did not measure up to Aaron or Smith.
Nevertheless, as the draft progressed, Aaron's name was noticeably absent. 49ers coach Mike Nolan felt he wasn’t “athletic enough” and opted for Smith. After that, team after team passed on Aaron. He could hardly believe it when the Packers tabbed him with the 24th pick.
Tumbling from a possible Top 10 pick to the bottom of the first round was bad enough. Being selected by a team with ironman Brett Favre behind center was a potential career-killer. In the aftermath of the draft, it became clear that many teams shied away from Aaron because they simply could not believe that a player with the talent to become a franchise quarterback could have possibly been missed by every single Division I football program in the nation.
The Packers were coming off three straight division championships. They expected Aaron to watch and learn from Favre and soak up the atmosphere of a winning franchise. As it turned out, Green bayhad a disastrous season in 2005. Wideout Javon Walker was hurt in the opener against the Detroit Lions and lost for the year. Injuries plagued the team all year. Midway through the schedule, running back Ahman Green blew out a knee. Among the lowlights of what would be a 4–12 campaign was a 52–3 blowout at the hands of the lowly New Orleans Saints. Aaron saw action in three games, completing nine of 16 passes for 65 yards.
Aaron spent 2006 on the bench, too. Favre hinted that he would retire but changed his mind before training camp. Aaron threw a total of 15 passes on the season. His year ended early when he broke a foot mopping up in a 35–0 loss to the New England Patriots.
Despite the controversy created by Favre, t he Packers improved to 8–8 under their first-year coach, Mike McCarthy, who had replaced Mike Sherman. A former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, McCarthy ended the season on a high note, reeling off four straight victories to finish at .500. After the finale against the Chicago Bears, Favre told a TV reporter that he was retiring. He changed his mind a few weeks later, once again denying Aaron a chance to start.
Favre’s indecision paralyzed the Packers. They had a lot of money tied up in two good quarterbacks, and no clear timetable as to when the changing of the guard would take place. Prior to the 2007 draft, there was talk of sending Aaron to the Oakland Raiders for Randy Moss. The Patriots traded for Moss instead, ending that speculation.
Green Bay ended up having a fine season in 2007. In fact, McCarthy would earn Coach of the Year honors, as the Packers improved to 13–3 and reached the NFC Championship Game. Aaron’s big moment came in a Thursday Night contest against the Cowboys. When Favre was knocked out of action, Aaron took over and threw for 201 yards, whittling down a 17-point lead to a field goal before Dallas closed out the Packers 37–27.
Green Bay earned homefield advantage in the playoffs, but a mistake by Favre cost them a shot at the Super Bowl. In the NFC Championship against the Giants, he threw an interception in overtime. New York kicked the game-winning field goal moments later.
In March of 2008, Favre held a tearful press conference announcing he would retire. Once again, he changed his mind soon after. Favre was back in training camp that August, but McCarthy ultimately decided it was time to commit to Aaron. The Packers, in turn, traded Favre to the New York Jets. For the next few days, fans attending Green Bay practices heckled Aaron. It didn't help that the team lost all but one of its preseason games.
That September, a quarterback other than Brett Favre started a game for Green Bay for the first time since 1992. Aaron acquitted himself well in a victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The following week, he threw for three touchdowns and more than 300 yards in a win over the Lions. A sprained throwing shoulder threatened to sideline Aaron a couple of weeks later, but he gutted out a win over the Seattle Seahawks, earning the respect of his teammates. Aaron’s biggest win came in Week 7, when he outdueled Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, 34–14.
Although Aaron had received little tutoring from Favre, he had learned a lot watching the master from the sideline. What is impossible to learn is how to make game-winning plays when a contest hangs in the balance, and this was where Aaron fell short in his first season as a starter. Green Bay lost seven games by a touchdown or less, including a pair of overtime defeats. Although the Packers finished 6–10, they could easily have reversed that record with a more experienced quarterback.
Even so, Aaron put up some eye-opening numbers in his first year as a starter. He threw for more than 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. His 13 interceptions were acceptable, though many were back-breakers that came late in close games.
Like any good competitor, Aaron took the losses of ’08 to heart andlearned from his mistakes. This was evident in 2009, when he opened the season by beating the Bears with a 50-yard scoring pass to Greg Jennings in the final minute to complete his first comeback victory as a pro. He heated up in October, earning NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors. He turned in a QB rating of 110 for the month.
A midseason loss to the sad-sack Tampa Bay Bucs threatened to derail Green Bay’s playoff hopes, but Aaron found another gear and led his team to five impressive wins in a row. After dropping a 37–36 heartbreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15, he scored a 48–10 win over the Seattle Seahawks and a 33–7 triumph over the Arziona Cardinals to finish the year at 11–5. Aaron threw for 4,434 yards and 30 touchdowns, placing him second and third in the NFC, respectively.
Green Bay came up one win short of the division-leading (and Favre-led) Vikings, but it was enough to secure a Wild Card berth. The Packers’ opponent in the opening round of the playoffs would be those very same Cardinals—once again playing on enemy turf. In a crazy see-saw battle, Kurt Warner and the Cards put up 17 points in the first quarter. The Packers showed a little life in the second quarter, with Aaron running for a touchdown. By halftime they trailed 24–10. Aaron tossed a pair of TD passes to Jennings and Jordy Nelson in the third quarter, but Warner kept pace with two scoring throws to Larry Fitzgerald.
The Packers tied the game in the fourth quarter on a scoring pass from Aaron to James Jones and a one-yard run by fullback John Kuhn. Arizona answered with Warner’s fifth touchdown throw of the day, taking a 45–38 lead with under five minutes left. With the pressure on, Aaron marched his team down the field and found tight end Spencer Havner in the end zone with the game-tying pass.
Green Bay fans were thrilled when their team won the toss to start overtime, but they watched in horror as Michael Adams stripped Aaron of the ball as he searched in vain for an open receiver. The ball bounced off Aaron’s foot and into the hands of Karlos Dansby, who sprinted 17 yards into the end zone to win the game.
Aaron finished the day with 422 passing yards, which established a new team record for the postseason. The combined 96 points and 62 first downs by the Packers and Cardinals set new NFL playoff records as well. Aaron had performed magnificently but for the first play (an interception) and last of the game. He flung his helmet in disgust as he stomped off the field.
Redemption awaited Aaron and the Packers in 2010, although it wouldn’t come easily. After cruising along with a 3–1 record, the team dropped two overtime games in a row to sink to 4–3. Green Bay stepped up after that, turning in several strong defensive performances in four straight victories to run its record to 7–3.
In Week 14, sitting at 8–4, the Packers took on the Lions in what should have been an easy game. Instead, Aaron left the game with a concussion—his second of the year—and Detroit pulled out a 7–3 win. He only had himself to blame. Instead of sliding feet first on a run down the field, he tried to squeeze out an extra yard and got hammered for his effort.
Aaron sat out the next game, as backup Matt Flynn nearly pulled off a miracle against the Patriots. But a late rally by Tom Brady turned a 27–21 lead into a 31–27 loss. At 8–6, the Packers had to win their final two games against two excellent teams, the Giants and division-leading Bears.
Aaron returned to the lineup and guided the Pack to an impressive win over New York. He threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns in a 45–17 blowout. The season finale was a classic defensive battle at Lambeau Field. With the score tied 3–3 in the fourth quarter, Aaron completed long passes to Driver and Jennings to set up a short TD throw to Donald Lee. Nick Collins intercepted a Jay Cutler pass to seal Green Bay’s 10–3 victory and secure the NFC’s final Wild Card berth.
In 15 games, Aaron piled up 3,922 passing yards, with 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. For the second year in a row, he had a passer rating above 100. Green Bay’s 10–6 record masked the fact that the team was firing on all cylinders headed into the postseason. Reaching the Super Bowl, however, would require three straight road wins.
The team’s journey began in Philadelphia. Aaron shocked the Eagles with first-half scoring strikes to Tom Crabtree and James Jones. He threw his third TD pass of the game to running back Brandon Jackson to make the score 21–10. The Green Bay defense contained Michael Vick the rest of the way for a 21–16 win over the conferences’s #3 seed.
Next up were the Falcons. At 14-2, atlanta was the top seed in the NFC. After the Falcons opened the scoring, it was all Green Bay. Aaron threw TD passes to Nelson, and Jones, Kuhn scored on a short run, and Tremon Williams returned an interception 70 yards to make the score 28–14 at halftime. In the third quarter, Aaron ran one in from seven yards, and Kuhn scored his second touchdown to put the game out of reach. The final score was 48–21. Aaron played an astonishing game, completing 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns. The Atlanta secondary simply could not stop him.
Heading into Chicago for a chilly NFC Championship Game, the Packers were actually favored over the division-winning Bears. Aaron put the first points of the game on the board with a one-yard keeper. Rookie James Starks scored on a short run in the second quarter to make the score 14–0. Any hope for a second-half comeback seemed lost after Jay Cutler sprained his knee. The Bears made the game interesting in the fourth quarter, but the game was never really in doubt. Green Bay won 21–14.
For the first time in the playoffs, Aaron did not have a particularly good game. He completed only 17 of 30 passes and made several terrible throws—including a pair of interceptions. Afterward, the Packers took comfort in the fact that they won without being carried to victory by their quarterback. Since returning from his concussion, Aaron had played about as well as anyone in history, especially under that kind of must-win pressure. Heading into the Super Bowl against the Steelers, the Packers were confident that they had enough weapons to win, whether the game was an air war or a street fight.
In a word, Aaron’s performance in Super Bowl XLV was sensational. He stayed cool in the pocket and delivered one on-target pass after another—this despite the fact that the Packer struggled to establish a rushing attack. On several occasions, he fell victim to drops by his receivers. Aaron rallied his troops like a true champion.
Green Bay opened the scoring with a 29-yard scoring toss from Aaron to Jordie Nelson. Moments later, Nick Collins intercepted a pass and ran it back 37 yards for a touchdown. After a field goal by Pittsburgh, Aaron found Greg Jennings open in the end zone, and the Packers increased their lead to 21-3.
The Steelers came out looking like a different team in the second half. The Packers were up to the challenge. Aaron was the key again. Pittsburgh controlled the third quarter and cut the deficit to 21-17. The Packers responded with a scoring drive in the final period. Aaron capped it off with a feathery pass to Jennings to give Green Bay some breathing room. The Steelers weren’t done, following Green Bay’s score with a touchdown and 2-point conversion. Up 28-25, Aaron and the Packers needed at least a field goal. He took time off the clock and got exactly that. Pittsburgh got one final possession, but the Green Bay defense held strong. The Packers won 31-25.
Aaron was the easy choice as Super Bowl MVP. On the day, he complete 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns. He was in total command, even in the face of a fierce Pittsburgh pass rush.
The Packers headed into the 2011 season as the odds-on favorite in the NFC to return to the Super Bowl. Early on, it became clear that the Packers were the class of the conference. The defense rose to the occasion again and again with key stops and takeaways. The offense never quite developed its running game, but that mattered little, as Aaron had himself an MVP-caliber season. Blessed with a speedy, sure-handed receiving corps—featuring Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb—Aaron surpassed 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns by Week 13.
More important, the Packers were toying with the possibility of a 16–0 regular season. The wins came with relative ease. No opponent came withina touchdown until Green Bay’s final game in October, and that was a 33–27 road win over the Vikings. The first team to put anything like a scare into the Packers was the Giants. In New York in early December, Aaron had to engineer the 68-yard winning drive in the final minute to turn a 35–35 tie into a 38–35 victory.
Among the standout performances for Aaron in 2011 was a huge day against the Broncos that 408 yards and four touchdowns through the air. He threw for 396 yards against Atlanta a week later. In the dramatic win over the Giants, he passed for 369 yards and four TDs.
The debate may rage forever whether Aaron benefited from his years on the Green Bay bench, or whether those seasons were wasted. Given what he has accomplished after being freed from Favre’s shadow, it is tempting to side with those who claim he could have been a Pro Bowler much sooner. Ironically, Aaron often seems touchier about being passed over by Mike McCarthy when he was with the 49ers than having had to sit and wait for his chance to start in Green Bay?
As a lifelong student of the game, Aaron will tell you that he benefited immeasurably from those three watch-and-learn years. He filled his head with football and got a sense of what enables a star like Favre to transcend the Xs and Os. Indeed, Aaron needed just one season to carve out a special place in the game—and with his masterful 2010 and 2011 seasons, a spot in the hearts of Cheese Heads everywhere.
AARON THE PLAYER
Aaron combines the big-play bravado of the NFL’s flashy passers with the precision of the league’s top technicians. He can stand in the pocket and stare down a pass rush, or dart around until he finds an open receiver. One of the most noticeable differences between the Aaron Rodgers of 2011 and previous years was how well he was throwing on the move—and how few mistakes he made in these situations. Of course, should he need to bull his way for crucial yards, he can do that too. Though he’s no Michael Vick, he definitely has a nose for the end zone.
Aaron has a strong and accurate arm. Few players can match his skill at delivering both long and short passes on target. Like his idol, Joe Montana, Aaron is adept at getting the ball to receivers in ways that enable them to add yards after the catch.
When Aaron finds his rhythm and gets into a groove, it takes a superior defense to disrupt his passing. His physical ability, when coupled with his profound knowledge of the game, makes him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in football.
Aaron’s leadership qualities are first-rate, too. His teammates believe in him and will dig down deep for that little extra when they need it most.
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