Saturday, December 11, 2010

Time to Quit Comparing Rodgers with Old, Cranky Quarterbacks

The Packer Blogosphere is always an interesting place to inhabit.  There's always room for a little debate, which is healthy.  What's nice is that there seems to finally be a relaxing of the polarization of the fan base that was wrought upon us a few years ago.  For the most part, we're all Packer fans again.

Which brings up the conversation of the week:  whether or not Aaron Rodgers has the "right" to lambast teammates on the field, as we've seen him do a couple times recently with Andrew Quarrless and Quinn Johnson.  Now, I have feelings about that particular issue, but I have stronger feeling about the reaction from others when QB1 gets a little criticism.

Now, we've seen the emotional (read: vehement) side of Aaron Rodgers when a pass intended for the back of the endzone to Quarless was dangerously tipped by Johnson a few weeks ago.  Television cameras caught Rodgers angrily shouting at one of the two players and pointing where they should have gone.  Then, this past week, as Rodgers tried repeatedly to put Johnson in the right pre-snap position in the backfield, he resorted to a time-out and spun on Johnson, before composing himself and patting him on the shoulder and letting him know where he was supposed to be.

Is this within Rodgers' rights as a starting quarterback?  Is it his duty and role to be that type of emotional leader on the field?  Regardless of your feelings, there was a pretty significant backlash to the question even being proposed.  Claims of "jumping down Rodgers' throat" and "why all the hate on AR?" were tossed around on Twitter and the blogs without even addressing the issue at hand.  It was a knee-jerk reflex that, unfortunately, we've been pretty well conditioned to act out each and every time a Packers' quarterback gets a little criticism.

And it is time to stop.

Had someone questioned whether or not Don Majkowski was being too demonstrative towards young players, would we have jumped down their throat for even suggesting it?  How about Randy Wright?  Or Lynn Dickey?  Of course we wouldn't, because criticism of any player, when warranted, is and should be fair game.

But, we don't compare Rodgers to Majkowski or Wright.  We apparently are now comparing him to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who also have done the "angry quarterback" routine over the years.  Because we all know if Tom Brady does it, it must be okay for everyone else to do it, too.  Right?

Come on.  Remember watching Manning in the preseason game when it was evident (with a game on national television) he was going to make a demonstrative show of how much he didn't like the whole "umpire standing over the ball" rule?  He was right, it was and is a stupid rule.  But he used his status to essentially be an ass about it.  Didn't you come away at some point thinking, "Okay, Peyton, you made your point.  Quit being a jerk and play ball."

I started following the Packers and the NFL religiously in 1980, and in 1981, I began my first "job" as a Green Bay Press-Gazette carrier.  I loved that route, and was particularly proud that I delivered to Judge Robert Parins, who at that time was on the Packers' Board and was eventually elected President during my "tenure".

At the end of school each day, I'd walk over in the shadow of St. Vincent's hospital, sit on my stack of newspapers, and read the sports section front-to-back before starting delivery.  I not only knew everything about the Packers, but about most players in the NFL.  And one guy who certainly captured your imagination was a young quarterback named Dan Marino.

He was a joy to watch in those days, particularly during his 1984 sophomore season when he broke nearly every single-season passing record and led the Dolphins to the Super Bowl (in those days, you lived vicariously through other teams when the playoffs started, as the Packers were never even close).  When the Dolphins lost to the 49ers, Marino fans reassured themselves by saying that there was no way this could ever be Marino's last Super Bowl appearance.  He'd have many more.

That proved to be wrong, as we all know, but we still watched Marino play over the years.  He was a Christmas commercial regular, always telling us how much he loved buying leather gloves for his offensive linemen.  He was accessible, personable, and talented.  He was a hard guy to hate.

That is, until the latter part of his career, when the vertical passing game was limited by evolving defenses and the infamous "Marks Brothers" moved on to greener (or whiter) pastures: Clayton left to go to the Packers, while Duper was charged with intent to sell cocaine.  A more youthful cast of characters surrounded him, and Jimmy Johnson replaced his longtime coach, Don Shula.

For those of us that grew up watching Dan Marino as an all-american NFL golden boy, there was nothing worse than watching him struggle, fighting his coaches, and regularly screaming at his teammates on the field.  It was the last gasps of an old gunslinger trying to catch lightning in a bottle, to return to the days of his youth and glory.  But the screaming at teammates was a reminder that time moves on, and that not everyone will honor a past that featured a lot of individual records but precious few team honors.

In 2000, I was far removed from that 15 year-old paper carrier that breathlessly watched a young Marino capture my imagination.  I was grown-up, married, and the father of three young children.  But, when Marino finally retired, I would doubt that many of the young players who had bought into the new era of Dolphin football mourned his departure.  It would seem that time marched on for everyone.

When I see Rodgers (or Brady or Manning) screaming at teammates on the field, I don't see a natural leader.  I see Dan Marino thinking about how those young kids were making him look bad, stealing his chance at one more Super Bowl.  Brady and Manning each have at least one ring on their finger, and maybe that gives them the "right" to act like Marino.

But, I don't care if Brady and Manning scream at teammates, though.  I care about our quarterback and how he represents the Green Bay Packers on and off the field.  And one vibe that Rodgers has never given off is being self-righteous.  This isn't the time to start.

Yes, Brady and Manning have also had to deal with the departures and arrivals of new teammates.  But the idea that Aaron Rodgers may already be approaching the "old veteran quarterback" status is even more magnified when you look at who is his general manager.  The Packers are consistently one of the youngest teams in the NFL, and when it seems every player from Ted Thompson's draft classes make the roster somehow, its clear to see that the Packers are going to turn over quickly and keep getting younger.

Soon, the old vets still left over from the 2007 NFC Championship game will be perhaps as soon as 2012, guys like Nick Barnett, Donald Driver, Donald Lee, Mark Tauscher, Chad Clifton, Charles Woodson, and Ryan Pickett will be gone and replaced.  Replaced not with high-priced UFA's, but with draft picks and young street free agents.  Throw in the expected injury or two, and Rodgers is going to be forced to play with young kids like Quarless and Johnson more and more.  Constantly starting over.

At age 27, Rodgers is moving very quickly from young upstart starting quarterback to the perhaps one of the older players on the team, and the bulk of players alongside him aren't going to remember (or care about) the Favregate summer.  They are going to need guidance, trust, and support from a veteran leader.

It doesn't behoove Rodgers to start barking at Quarless and Johnson when they mix up in the endzone (especially when you consider the pass Rodgers threw had a more likely chance of being intercepted had Johnson not touched it).  Those kinds of discussions can wait until the sideline, instead of played out for the fans and the television cameras.  No young kid likes being called out in public by a coach (and Mike McCarthy avoids doing so, nearly at all costs), much less their quarterback.

Rodgers plays like he has a chip on his shoulder, and he always has.  But he's also always walked the finest line of being the ultimate humble team player.  Do you really want our Aaron Rodgers to turn into Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?  Personally, I'd rather he stay exactly as he has been....a guy I love to root for.

Which brings me back to the reaction of the fans to criticism of Rodgers.  I've touched on this before, but now, I think it is truly time for Packer fans to cease and desist the ultra-sensitive protectiveness of Rodgers.  We all know why it is there to begin with, and that reason is nothing more than a shadow of his former self, a punch-line instead of a measuring stick.

And it is time to put the memories of Favre to rest, if not for our own sake, but for Rodgers' sake.  Any player should be open to criticism, but it seems that because of Favregate, Rodgers still has a protective bubble around him.  According to a pretty reliable source within the media, that insulating "no criticism allowed" starts right within the Packers organization.

How does this benefit Aaron Rodgers?  How does it help his career for him to be protected from criticism, when he's blowing up teammates right on the field?  I think of it as the one final curse that keeps the Favre Legacy hanging on:  we've been conditioned that Rodgers is the anti-Favre, the "right decision", the one who is the Yin to Favre's Yang.  And when someone tries to bring up that Favre is "good" or Rodgers is "not as good", we immediately jump to Aaron's defense.

It's time to end this.  Rodgers has proven more than enough that he is good enough to stand on his own two feet, both in the face of an oncoming pass rusher or criticism from the media or fan base.  And it needs to start with the organization and finish with us, the fans.

I myself must admit to many years of Favre defending.  Now, mind you, I was provoked by some fans who liked to see me try and punch my way out of a paper bag sometimes, but the facts are still eerie:  Favre was a guy who had a large group of people that flew to his defense in the face of any criticism.  Favre walked on water, could do no wrong, and any interception was the fault of the receiver.

In the end, how did that help Favre over the latter half of his career?  It made him above the rules, above his teammates, and gave him the entitlement to suggest, "What are they going to do, bench me?"  As Favre's behavior and ego spun out of control in his post-Packers career, we have sat back, enjoyed the show, and laughed as Favre's actions and hubris have blown up in his face.

And yet, we have to take some accountability for that.  As human beings, we love building up the Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohans of the world into untouchable beings, then laughing and mocking them when they crash back down to earth.

Is this what you want for Aaron Rodgers?  It's not what I want for him at all.  He's a big boy and can take a little criticism or questioning without having folks defending him just for the sake of defending him.  If someone offers a criticism that is valid, offer a counter-argument and defend it intelligently: don't play the Favre Card...because that is all it is.

Frankly, Rodgers deserves better than that.  And maybe a little deserved criticism is what he needs more than a free pass.

Because we've seen how well quarterbacks with free passes end up, haven't we?


Anonymous said...

Why are people writing thousands and thousands of words about this? If a guy lines up wrong repeatedly, he's not doing his job well. In the NFL, there's a razor-thin margin for error, and two or three mistakes can be the difference between a win and a loss. So yes, sometimes Rodgers yells at guys who can't seem to get it right, because sometimes that's the best way to get it through their thick skulls. This is the biggest non-story to make waves in the blogosphere since Brandon Underwood. said...

I agree that Rodgers should stop being compared to old time QB's he has proven his worthiness - to keep things in perspective I am a Bears fan and I am writing this!