Aaron Rodgers can still recall sitting on his carpet as a kid and watching his idol Joe Montana play in the Super Bowl, and describes his own Super Bowl success as being “everything I thought it was going to be”.
Yet, nearly 12 years on from his Green Bay Packers’ 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers has yet to add further to his trophy cabinet, with some heart-breaking near-misses in recent years only adding to his sense of frustration.
Named Super Bowl MVP at only 27 years of age, Rodgers could have been forgiven for having Montana and Terry Bradshaw’s record haul of four titles in his sights. Instead, Tom Brady has soared beyond both with seven Super Bowl wins while Rodgers has stayed stagnant on one.
September 19, 2022, 1:10am
‘Super Bowl windows are getting smaller’
“It’s too long ago,” Rodgers said, in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports. “It was so special, like a blur that week.
“I was 27 years old and thought that this was the standard, that we were going to get back here many, many times and win more of these trophies.
“Especially as you get older, you realise the windows are getting smaller and the opportunities are getting fewer.”
That precocious 27-year-old is now a more grizzled 38 and aged further still by four defeats when on the doorstep of the Super Bowl, in the NFC Championship game, four further divisional round losses – like the one suffered at home to the San Francisco 49ers last season – and one wild card exit in the intervening years.
Green Bay have been seeded in the top two of the NFC conference on five separate occasions, No 1 three times – with Rodgers named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in each instance (as well as in 2014) – but only to then come unstuck in the playoffs.
“I’m always thinking about plays I could have made, things I could have done better,” Rodgers said.
“It’s tough. The finality of it is always difficult, the swiftness with which it comes on – that you’re done.
“And there’s an implicit knowledge that this is the last time this group is going to ever be together.
“It’s never going to be the same. We’re never going to be the same people, there’s going to be changes, not everybody is going to be a part of this moving forward, there’s coaches, players that will leave – they’ll get traded, cut or retire.”
‘Adams like Messi and Ronaldo – an artist’
There has indeed been turnover in Green Bay this offseason, particularly on offense where offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has become head coach at the Denver Broncos – briefly leading to speculation that Rodgers might follow – and star wide receiver Davante Adams has been traded to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Rodgers, a keen sports fan, likened Adams’ work to “Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant… [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, maybe even Kevin De Bruyne, where it becomes an art form”.
So, it was no surprise then really to see a Packers offense without Adams struggle in their opening game of the 2022 season, putting up only seven points in defeat to their NFC North divisional rivals, the Minnesota Vikings.
But Rodgers is choosing to use the group’s inexperience, particularly at receiver, as a positive.
“There’s a lot of guys that I don’t know that well and that haven’t won. And so they’re hungry,” he said.
“I definitely try and attach some of that hunger and young energy every time I step in the building.”
And that hunger is definitely still there for Rodgers, even having lived through the playoff heartbreak of the last decade and with his years advancing and his future opportunities in the game diminishing.
“Every year is special because it’s finite. And I think it’s good to keep that perspective.”
He added: “I have a lot of motivation. True motivation comes from within.
“I put in a lot of work this offseason, mentally and physically to be ready to play at the highest level and I have the last two years as well.
“It’s like a challenge as you get older and your body might not want to work the exact way it used to work. I love that challenge.”
“I enjoy letting people know what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, and I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I’ve had some opinions that have been polarising, but you know where I stand. For a long time I was quiet about a number of things and there were narratives that came up and spread like wildfire that weren’t actually based in any truth. I think I got to a point where I was like, ‘enough is enough, I’m going to take back some of these narratives’.”
Aaron Rodgers on his relationship with the media
‘Playing for Green Bay means you’re part of history’
Precisely how long Rodgers will continue to love the challenge is as yet unknown, though he, for now, ended speculation over a potential exit from Green Bay by penning a four-year contract extension back in March that will earn him a league-high $50 million per year over the first three years.
“The fabric of this organisation is so dense,” Rodgers said of his pride in playing for the Packers. “There’s been so many iconic players and coaches here, it kind of means a little bit more because you know you’re part of the history of this franchise – even more now.
“In your first year as a player, it’s exciting, it’s Lambeau Field, it’s the first time. But when you’re a player in your 18th year, it’s really meaningful to still be doing it and to know that your name is among those names that have played and had success at this iconic franchise.
“No player has been in Green Bay longer than I have, as far as years played. And we’ve had some iconic names, from Bart Starr to Brett Farve, from Reggie White to Ray Nitschke and on and on and on… Vince Lombardi, Curly Lambeau [who the stadium is named after].
“To be now mentioned forever in connection with this team is special and I don’t want to lose sight of that.”
Though his time in Green Bay and in the NFL generally might be nearing a close in the coming years, Rodgers doesn’t fear retirement. “Not at all,” he said.
“At some point the ride will end. And you’ve got to be willing to get off, close the chapter and move on to something else.”
And when that point does come, what legacy would he like to leave behind in Green Bay, with many Packers greats honoured with streets named after them? Rodgers, as always though, is setting his sights higher.
“The bigger, the better. A stadium maybe?” he added, jokingly.
Watch Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in action against the Chicago Bears in Week Two of the 2022 NFL season, live on Sky Sports NFL from 1.20am in the early hours of Monday morning.