ARLINGTON, Texas – Aaron Rodgers walked into the home locker room inside the belly of Cowboys Stadium and was engulfed by reporters. Administrators had to clear a path to his locker.
The Packers quarterback found his area wedged into a corner in between Mason Crosby and James Jones. He sat on the bench with his white Super Bowl XLV champion shirt and black hat, kicked two weary legs onto the deep brown wooden bench and leaned his shoulders against the wall.
Rodgers then exhaled as if he had held his breath for years in anticipation of this moment.
Super Bowl champion.
Super Bowl MVP.
The Packers had earned their NFL record 13th world championship and fourth Super Bowl title with a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I told (General Manager) Ted Thompson back in 2005 he wouldn’t be sorry with this pick,” Rodgers said. “I told him that in ’08 that I was going to repay their trust and get us this opportunity.”
Rodgers has an unmistakable smirk in moments where his self-gratification is much higher than he would ever admit. The teeth are hidden behind clenched lips. The cheeks are raised and the eyes slightly squint. But the satisfaction is blatantly apparent.
Rodgers couldn’t wipe the look off his face as he sat at that locker and gently grasped the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The hardware gleamed in the flashing lights of cameras throughout the room.
Rodgers, 27, took his place along side of Bart Starr and Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks to lead the Green Bay Packers to Super Bowl wins. Starr was named MVP twice, in Super Bowl I and II. Rodgers now has one. Favre never won the award.
Rodgers completed 24-of-39 passes for 304 yards, three touchdowns and a 111.5 passer rating Sunday. And when the game was on the line in the second half and injuries took away former NFL defensive MVP Charles Woodson and veteran receiver Donald Driver, coach Mike McCarthy abandoned the run and put everything they coveted in Rodgers’ hands.
Rodgers led an 8-play drive that ended in an 8-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings when Steelers crept within four points. The Steelers cut the lead to 28-25 with 7:34 remaining in the fourth quarter and Rodgers conducted an 10-play, 70-yard drive that ate 5:26 off the clock as he hooked up with four different receivers to give Mason Crosby an easy 23-yard field goal.
“People are going to write stories about him 10 years from now that he’s pretty special,” Thompson said. "Even though he’s done so much, he’s still getting started.
“He’s the focal point of our team.”
McCarthy added, “We put everything on his shoulders.”
The Aaron Rodgers tale can’t be told without referencing the beginning. It’s an oft-told story – a candidate for the No. 1 pick that slipped to No. 24 and had to live life behind Favre for three seasons. The team and Favre, who was arguably the most popular Packer in franchise history at the time, had a nasty divorce in 2008 and Rodgers was promoted.
The initial reaction to the California kid was not positive.
The decision will never be questioned again as Rodgers has equaled Favre’s Super Bowl win total in just his third year as a starter.
Rodgers became just the third quarterback in Super Bowl history to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He joined Joe Montana and Steve Young, who he grew up watching as a 49ers fan. Rodgers is the first Packer quarterback to throw for 300 yards in a Super Bowl.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Packers president Mark Murphy said. “The situation he stepped into, replacing an icon, not many people could have stood up to that and performed the way he has. I am so proud of the kind of person he is, but also he is a real professional.
“He’s gotten better and better and we’re very fortunate to have a quarterback of his quality.”
When things got dark, Rodgers not only took over with his arm, but he led. And that as impressive of a feat as his athletic ability. Rodgers owns that locker room. He owns this team.
Rodgers will now be mentioned in the same sentence as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, where many questioned if he belonged in that group.
Those questions were answered in Arlington, Texas.
“The way he’s stepped up his leadership, especially when this postseason started, all the great things that are coming his way are very well deserved,” tackle Mark Tauscher said. “He’s always been really comfortable in his skin. He’s just grown into it. He’s going to be at the helm for awhile.
“He’s a Super Bowl champion now. There’s a process and he’s went through it and he’s just hitting his stride. It’s a great thing to watch.”