From R-E-L-A-X to 'run the table,' Aaron Rodgers had a lot to say during his memorable career in Green Bay

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette
View Comments

GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers always used his voice. In the toolbox of a Hall of Fame career, his words were one of the sharpest.

On the field, the inflection of Rodgers’ cadence gave defenses fits. Perhaps no quarterback in NFL history used free plays, gifted from drawing defensive linemen offside, so effectively. Each week, opponents knew they had to prepare for the hard count. Rodgers kept drawing offsides penalties anyway.

Rodgers’ voice was no less irresistible off the field. In 15 seasons as the Green Bay Packers starting quarterback, Rodgers deftly wielded his words. As the Packers close the Rodgers era after trading the four-time MVP to the New York Jets, here are 10 quotes that define his legacy.

Aug. 3, 2008: Family Night

The quote: “They’re booing all of us, probably me mostly. So, yeah, I take it personally. But it’s not the first time, and it probably won’t be the last time.”

There was never a dull moment in the summer of 2008, but no scene was more bizarre than the team’s annual Family Night at Lambeau Field. Brett Favre had left his Mississippi home earlier that day, arriving in Green Bay to officially end his brief retirement. He watched from a club suite as Rodgers flopped in his highest-profile showcase to date for the starting quarterback job.

Rodgers completed just 7-of-20 passes for 84 yards in the scrimmage. His only 2-minute drill ended with an interception to safety Aaron Rouse on a badly overthrown pass to receiver Greg Jennings. Even before the pick, a crowd already restless after waiting through an hourlong rain delay before action began on the field let Rodgers know who they felt should be starting quarterback. Many of the 56,600 fans rained boos down on the future Hall of Fame quarterback, a disapproval impossible for Rodgers to not hear.

The Packers would trade Favre to the New York Jets four days later for what became a third-round pick, clearing the way for Rodgers to be their starter. He would win a Super Bowl three seasons later. By then, Rodgers had been proven wrong. He heard almost nothing but cheers during his 15 seasons, leaving the echoes of those Family Night boos in the past. For a quarterback whose memory is legendary, the inauspicious introduction to his new role on his first Family Night as a starter was never forgotten.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said many memorable things during his time in Green Bay.

Jan. 31, 2011: Super Bowl media night

The quote: “Winning the Super Bowl is the optimum measuring stick for a quarterback, be it fair or not. Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, did not win a Super Bowl. I think he’s still in the discussion for the greatest quarterback of all time. But as far as playing in Green Bay, you have to win Super Bowls.”

At the onset of his lone Super Bowl week, Rodgers made clear how he gauges a quarterback’s career. The Packers were on a wild run late in the 2010 season, sneaking into the playoffs with the NFC’s sixth seed. They won three straight playoff games on the road, including the NFC championship at Chicago.

Rodgers surged to another level during the Super Bowl stretch, forming his legacy as one of the best to ever play the position. He stamped that run against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, completing 24-of-39 passes for 304 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 111.5 passer rating. His third-and-10 completion to Greg Jennings on a skinny post up the left seam with the Packers clinging to a field-goal lead in the fourth quarter will be remembered as one of the finest passes to ever leave Rodgers’ hand.

Rodgers got his Super Bowl ring, placing him in the conversation of all-time great quarterbacks. It may be revealing how Rodgers concluded his answer on how the greats are measured. In Green Bay, you have to win Super Bowls. Despite four trips to the NFC championship game after Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers never led the Packers back to the biggest stage. His 100.1 passer rating in 21 playoff starts didn’t lag far behind his 103.8 regular-season rating as the Packers starter, but there were some high-profile disappointments, especially in recent seasons.

Sept. 8, 2011: Opening win against New Orleans Saints

The quote: “It was a good start for us. I was going to ask myself, what would have happened if we had offseason workouts? I mean, could we have started any faster and scored more points?”

If few could rifle a football into tight windows like Rodgers, he was also unrivaled in delivering one-line zingers. Especially after the Super Bowl title boosted his legacy.

In his first game after bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to Titletown, Rodgers opened his first MVP season in a demolition against the New Orleans Saints defense. Rodgers threw three passing touchdowns in the first quarter, taking a 21-7 lead. He finished 27-of-35 passing for 312 yards, the three scores, no interceptions and a 132.1 rating in a 42-34 win.

The context wasn’t lost on Rodgers. When the NFL locked out players following the 2010 season, some quarterbacks took it upon themselves to keep their offense fresh, holding throwing sessions with receivers away from team facilities. Rodgers was not one of them, drawing criticism for not using the spring to continue momentum from the Packers title run. He couldn’t have been crisper from the start of 2011, and kept making his point after the opener.

It's a philosophy Rodgers kept throughout his career, skipping voluntary organized team activities the past few seasons. Any time the quarterback was questioned about his offseason absences from Green Bay, Rodgers reiterated training camp is long enough to prepare for the season.

Sept. 23, 2014: R-E-L-A-X

The quote: “Five letters here, just for everybody out there in Packerland: R-E-L-A-X. Relax. We’re going to be fine.”

It didn’t take long for Packers fans to start wondering when Rodgers would deliver a second Super Bowl. The 2014 season opened flat with the Packers losing two of their first three games, including a sleepy 19-7 defeat at Detroit in Week 3. A few days later, Rodgers delivered one of the most iconic quotes of his career during his formerly weekly radio interview with ESPN Wisconsin. He simply told everyone to relax.

Short and sweet, Rodgers’ message was also prescient. The Packers rattled off four straight wins, nine of their next 10, and finished 12-4 to secure the NFC’s second seed. Rodgers was the centerpiece of that run, throwing for 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 112.2 rating that was the third highest of his career. His elite play earned the second of four MVP awards.

The Packers were squarely in contention to make a Super Bowl run when the regular season ended. There was only one problem: the Seattle Seahawks stood in their way. The Seahawks were a boogeyman for the Packers at the time, beating them 36-16 in the 2014 opener at Seattle. After beating the Dallas Cowboys at home in the NFC divisional round, the Packers returned to Seattle as underdogs in the NFC championship game.

They outplayed the Seahawks most of the way, taking a 16-0 halftime lead. Late in the fourth quarter, the Packers were perhaps too relaxed. A confluence of bad breaks – most notably, the inability to secure a late onside kick that would have punched their ticket to the Super Bowl – led to a shocking overtime loss. It remains the most devastating defeat of Rodgers’ career.

Nov. 23, 2016: Run the table

The quote: “I feel like we can run the table. I really do. The offense is starting to click a little bit more, we’ve just got to put together a game where we’re more consistent from the first snap to the last. We’ve been, I think, getting closer to that. We’ve really been clicking at times in the last few games.”

Ten games into their 2016 season, the Packers were dead in the water. It wasn’t just that their record slumped to 4-6. There seemed to be no sign a resurrection was possible. In the midst of a four-game losing streak, the last two blowouts at Tennessee and Washington by a combined score of 89-49, Rodgers was asked how he could remain optimistic considering the circumstances of the Packers’ season.

He didn’t flinch, delivering the most impactful quote of his career with three words: run the table.

The Packers didn’t lose another game in the regular season, winning six straight to force their way into the playoffs. The entirety of Rodgers’ quote highlighted reasons he believed the Packers were capable of turning things around, including tight end Jared Cook’s return from injury. Cook showed he could be a playmaker in the loss against Washington, catching six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown in his first game back.

Rodgers was unquestionably the biggest reason for the turnaround. Though he didn’t win an MVP in 2016, the second half of that season might be the finest stretch Rodgers has ever played. He completed over 70% of his passes for 1,667 yards, 15 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 121 rating in the final six games. Rodgers then delivered signature performances early in the playoffs.

His Hail Mary to Randall Cobb on the final play before halftime swung their wild-card win against the New York Giants. A week later, Rodgers completed 28-of-43 passes for 355 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 96.6 rating in an upset win at the NFC’s top-seeded Dallas Cowboys. His improvised rollout throw to Cook for 36 yards down the left sideline with 12 seconds left set up the game-winning field goal, a defining play in his career.

The Packers were steamrolled in the NFC championship game one week later against the Atlanta Falcons, losing 44-21. Run the table remains the apex of a Hall of Fame career.

Jan. 22, 2017: NFC championship game loss at Atlanta

The quote: “If this has taught us anything, it’s how important home-field advantage is. Being able to sleep in your own bed, practice without the travel, and having the fan support, it makes a big difference. We’ve played in three of these now, and all on the road. It’s tough to win on the road.”

The Packers had to travel in each of their first three NFC championship games with Rodgers at quarterback. They won the first but lost the next two. After their beatdown in Atlanta, Rodgers believed he identified the missing ingredient. The Packers needed to ensure the Super Bowl path ran through Lambeau Field. His request started years of pushing for home-field advantage.

After another road NFC championship game loss at San Francisco in 2019, Rodgers got his wish in 2020. The Packers hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a trip to the Super Bowl in the COVID-19 season, poor timing considering the social-distancing limitations on fan attendance. Still, this was a South Florida team traveling to the frozen tundra. Everything was aligned as Rodgers wanted.

It didn’t go according to plan. Despite three interceptions in the second half, Tom Brady outplayed Rodgers to engineer his 10th trip to the Super Bowl. Rodgers’ number might’ve been better in the box score – he completed 33-of-48 passes for 346 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 101.6 rating – but the Packers were 2-for-10 entering the end zone in goal-to-go situations. The 2020 MVP, Rodgers was unable to make the winning play required. The game ended after coach Matt LaFleur elected to kick a 26-yard field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line despite trailing by only 8 points.

While it wasn’t as psychologically demoralizing as the 2014 NFC championship game, the Packers' 31-26 loss to the Buccaneers is one of the most crushing of Rodgers’ career. When the Packers followed with a 13-10 home playoff exit against the San Francisco 49ers one year later in the divisional round, another opportunity for the offense was unable to seize a winnable game, the excuse of not having more postseason chances inside Lambeau Field disappeared.

Sept. 30, 2018: Week 4 against Buffalo Bills

The quote: “It’s by the plan.”

The unofficial beginning of the end to the Mike McCarthy era is easily traceable. It came after an otherwise forgettable 22-0 win against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4 of the 2018 season. Rodgers threw for 298 yards, but completed just 22-of-40 passes with one touchdown and one interception to drop his passer rating to 76.9.

After the game, Rodgers simmered at the podium. He said it was “as bad as we’ve played on offense with that many yards in a long time.” He bemoaned the offense’s inability to better showcase receiver Davante Adams, who caught eight of 14 targets for 81 yards. Rodgers believed Adams was uncoverable against the Bills and should’ve had more. Asked why it didn’t happen, he offered four words that focused the spotlight squarely on McCarthy, responsible for crafting the offense’s game plan each week.

The Packers crumbled through the rest of 2018. McCarthy was fired nine weeks after beating Buffalo, following a putrid 20-17 home loss against an Arizona Cardinals team that would have the top overall pick in the upcoming draft. Rodgers has said he admires McCarthy and appreciates their 13 seasons together. While the head coach and quarterback authored many highlights, including a Super Bowl championship, friction was detectable.

July 28, 2021: First day of training camp

The quote:“It’s decisions like that, that have happened over and over and over again, that make me realize that the organization looks at me and my job as just to play. In my opinion, based on what I’ve accomplished in this league, the way I care about my teammates, the way I show up in the locker room, the way I lead, the way I conduct myself in the community, it should tie myself to a little bit more input. The rules are the same for most people, but every now and then there are some outliers, guys who’ve been in organizations for 17 years and won a few MVPs, where they can be in conversations at a different, higher level. I’m not asking for anything that other, great quarterbacks across the last few decades have not gotten. The opportunity just to be in conversation.”

From all appearances, the end of this Rodgers era is amicable between him and the team. That wasn’t always a certainty. The bitter rift between quarterback and front office bubbled over after Rodgers’ third MVP season in 2020, a year after the Packers drafted heir apparent Jordan Love. There wasn’t ever just one factor leading to the “war of silence,” as Rodgers once called it, but the result was clear.

Rodgers leveraged his third MVP for more control within the organization, a voice with influence. (He also revealed in the same, bluntly transparent news conference he wanted more money, and the Packers were happy to oblige.) The organization’s decision to not consult him when conducting a search for Mike McCarthy’s replacement didn’t sit well, he said. It was a point of embarrassment when Rodgers praised former Packers receiver Jake Kumerow, who he thought was the team’s second-best receiver behind Davante Adams in 2020 training camp, only for him to be released soon after.

It’s never been the Packers’ way, but general manager Brian Gutekunst ceded some power to his quarterback. At Rodgers’ request, he traded a sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans for receiver Randall Cobb, a move Gutekunst acknowledged he would not have made if not for the quarterback. Rodgers’ departure leaves a Hall of Fame void at the most important position on the field. Off the field, it signifies a franchise returning to life as normal.

Aug. 26, 2021: COVID-19 vaccinations

The quote: “Yeah, I’ve been immunized. There’s a lot of conversation around it, around the league, and a lot of guys who have made statements and not made statements, owners who have made statements. There’s guys on the team who haven’t been vaccinated. I think it’s a personal decision. I’m not going to judge those guys. There’s guys who have been vaccinated and contracted COVID. So it’s an interesting issue that I think we’re going to see played out the entire season. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with the testing schedule. I know that talking to (NFLPA president JC Tretter), they talked about testing every single day for everybody. The league, obviously, I think shot that down or didn’t want to do that. I don’t know if that was financially incentivized or whatnot, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens if we can get the protocols changed at some point. It’s obviously something that’s moving, the protocols and outlines, guidelines are kind of changing day to day, it seems.”

When Rodgers was asked about his COVID-19 vaccination status three weeks into training camp before the 2021 season, there was no indication how problematic his answer would become. It was the penultimate question in his weekly news conference. After a follow-up from another reporter, Rodgers whisked away and wasn’t available for another week. By then, his answer had been all but forgotten.

It was quickly recalled later that season when Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19. He missed one start against the Kansas City Chiefs, barely meeting the NFL’s timeline for unvaccinated players to return a week later against the Seattle Seahawks. Which gets to the heart of the vaccination question. There was no witch hunt to uncover which players were unvaccinated. In 2021, the NFL set different parameters for when vaccinated players could return from a positive COVID-19 test, allowing a quicker return than unvaccinated players. Because of the quarterback’s importance, Rodgers was always going to be asked about his vaccinated status.

Once the truth was out, Rodgers explained with the transparency he should’ve shown earlier why he chose not to be vaccinated during an appearance with good friend and YouTube host Pat McAfee. Saturday Night Live parodied the McAfee appearance in its opening skit that week. Rodgers’ beliefs made him a polarizing figure late in his career, a pariah to some, an anti-establishment hero to others.

Jan. 28, 2023: Regular-season finale loss against Detroit Lions

The quote: “I think to assume it’s a foregone conclusion (the Packers would want me back) would be probably slightly egotistical. So I’m going to be a realist here and understand there’s a lot of different parts to this. Like I said, I was aware of the possibility of them going young if we got to the point of us getting out of it, and I’m aware of that possibility (in the future) as well. It wouldn’t be the best reality, but I know it’s a possibility.”

Maybe it was inevitable the end of Rodgers’ career with the Packers would mimic Favre’s departure from the franchise. NFL life is circular, new replacing old, the way Rodgers once did Favre. And the way Love now replaces Rodgers.

No position requires as much forward thinking as quarterback. Gutekunst set the clock into motion when he traded up in the first round to draft Love in 2020. Rodgers responded by winning the next two MVP awards. His resurgence thwarted a quick quarterback transition, but also allowed Love time to develop these past three seasons.

When Rodgers was winning MVPs, it was inconceivable the Packers might want to close this chapter of their storied history. That tune changed for the first time last season as Rodgers stumbled through the least productive year of his career, and the Packers missed the playoffs, in his age-39 season. The decline in his game was apparent. He isn’t getting younger. That the Rodgers trade isn’t surprising at this point – even to him – should facilitate a smoother transition than 2008, when the Hall of Fame quarterback’s replacement was booed at Family Night.

View Comments