Joe Santoro: The detrimental drama of Aaron Rodgers

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after the NFC championship against Tampa Bay in Green Bay, Wis., on Jan. 24. (Morry Gash/AP)

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after the NFC championship against Tampa Bay in Green Bay, Wis., on Jan. 24. (Morry Gash/AP)

It is natural to pick a side in the Aaron Rodgers versus the Green Bay Packers soap opera. Most everyone, of course, will take Rodgers’ side because, well, he’s the star quarterback with the movie star good looks and paycheck, hot celebrity girlfriends to die for and enough Sports Center highlights to make even Michael Jordan jealous.
And, of course, you can wear an Aaron Rodgers jersey to the mall and look cool but nobody is going to slip on a polo shirt worn by Packer general manager Brian Gutekunst and strut around town.
So Rodgers, to be sure, is empowered by his celebrity (and good looks, hot girlfriends and touchdown passes). But Rodgers, maybe for the first time in his fairytale life, needs to grow up.
Yes, he can do whatever he wants to do. He can force the Packers to trade him, he can retire, he can pout and play the victim, he can host Jeopardy and he can date and marry as many celebrity women as his heart desires. We know that. What he should do, however, is continue to help make the Packers a Super Bowl champion.
Poor Aaron, though, has felt disrespected by the Packers ever since they had the nerve to draft quarterback Jordan Love in the first round last year. That was after the Packers gave him a four-year contract extension worth $134 million heading into the 2018 season. Rodgers then played every snap of the 2020 season and Love never got off the sideline. Odds are that wouldn’t change in 2021. We should all be so disrespected in our jobs.
Rodgers is a wonderful quarterback. He is headed to the Hall of Fame. He is one of the most exciting players in the NFL. The Packers could never trade him and expect to receive fair market value. It is unfair of Rodgers to put the Packers in this situation. The Packers aren’t forcing Rodgers out of town. They aren’t even forcing him off the field.
Jordan Love will never play a meaningful snap in Green Bay as long as Rodgers is healthy and playing well. The Packers aren’t disrespecting Rodgers. Despite what the media has told you since the 2020 draft, the Packers have put a competitive team around Rodgers. Green Bay, after all, has gotten to the NFC title game in each of the last two years and four of the last seven. And, no, it wasn’t all because of Rodgers, no matter what the media has told you.
The Packers, though, lost all four of those games with Rodgers at quarterback. But, of course, it wasn’t his fault.
What Rodgers is reportedly doing is detrimental to the NFL. The NFL, after all, is not the NBA where players run the league, and sit out a third of the games because they are bored and need to check social media. Nobody cares about the NBA. That’s why hardly anyone gets all that concerned when superstars force trades or super teams. It’s just the NBA.
The NFL, though, is a different animal. Our nation is obsessed about the NFL. It is obsessed about quarterbacks. The NFL simply can’t have its star quarterbacks throw tantrums and force trades simply because their feelings are hurt. That sort of spoiled, pampered child behavior is indeed disrespectful to the league, to the individual franchises and to the fans of those franchises.
Nevada Wolf Pack football coach Jay Norvell has already set the bar high for the 2021 season. Maybe too high.
“We want to be a special football team,” Norvell said in late March before the start of the recently completed spring football practices. “We don’t want to be a special Mountain West team. We don’t want to be a special Group of Five team. We want to be a special football team.”
Look out Alabama, Ohio State, LSU and Clemson. The Wolf Pack is coming.
Norvell, though, didn’t stop there.
“We watch all these Power five teams, these nationally-ranked teams,” he said. “They are no different. These kids are all college students. They came to play ball. They came here to win and win at a high level. The only thing that separates them is what they decide to do on a daily basis.”
You can say those types of things when you play San Jose State, New Mexico, UNLV, Utah State, Colorado State, Air Force, Fresno State and Hawaii week after week instead of Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M, LSU and Missouri.
There is nothing wrong with being just a special Mountain West football team. It’s worked pretty well for Boise State. Becoming a special Mountain West football team is, after all, about all the Wolf Pack can be. So embrace it and relish it. Give it importance and meaning. Don’t diminish it with silly meaningless cliches.
Does anybody really believe that the only difference between Alabama and the Wolf Pack is how hard the players work in practice on a daily basis? If that’s the case, well, the Pack has spent the last century or so sitting on the couch, playing video games and lifting In ‘N Out double-doubles instead of weights three times a day.
We understand what Norvell was trying to say. Coaches are, after all, cliche machines. They all say the same slop, especially when talking to the media because they don’t want to tell the media anything.
But when he says the Pack can be as good as Alabama, well, that’s when even the players start to tune him out.
The Wolf Pack should be special in 2021. They might not lose a game. They should be ranked in the Top 25. There is an overflow of experience and talent on the roster because the 2020 COVID-19 season gave everyone a free pass to 2021. There is absolutely no reason for the Pack to shoot for anything less than an undefeated season and certainly a Mountain West title.
But it’s not about the players this year. The players are in place. They will work their tails off because that is what they always do. They have the rest of their lives to sit on the couch and eat double-doubles.
This season is about the coaching staff. It’s about Norvell. It’s about the decisions he makes this year, on and off the field. This is his chance to prove he is indeed special and not just a cliché machine.
The Wolf Pack’s 2021 football regular season comes down to four games. They are all road games, at California, Kansas State, Boise State and San Diego State. We are not overly concerned about any of the home games (Idaho State, New Mexico, Hawaii, UNLV, San Jose State and Air Force) or the other two road games (Fresno State, Colorado State).
Wins over Cal and Kansas State will get the Pack Top 25 votes, a win over Boise State will electrify Northern Nevada and serve notice to the rest of the Mountain West and a win over San Diego State will likely give the Pack a division title. There is no reason why the Pack can’t accomplish it all in 2021. This team is that deep and talented and, yes, well coached. They aren’t, after all, playing LSU, Alabama, Auburn and Florida.


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