Commentary

Aaron Rodgers writes his own legend

Originally Published: February 6, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Revenge? Nah. Aaron Rodgers doesn't believe in that anymore.

More like celebration. Vindication. Separation.

Thanks to the Green Bay Packers' manicure-killing 31-25 victory in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday evening, Rodgers won a muscle car, a trip to Disney World and his very own era. And he wouldn't admit it, but he also won first place in the crash diet contest.

In one game's time, Rodgers lost all the weight that comes duct-taped to the shoulder pads of a Packers quarterback. You could almost see his posture instantly improve. If nothing else, his postgame smile was as wide as one of the Cowboys Stadium end zones.

Rodgers stuck it to each of those 23 NFL teams that ignored him on the longest day of his life: April 23, 2005, when the Packers chose him with the 24th pick of the draft. He says it turned out to be the best day of his life, but sorry, here's guessing Feb. 6, 2011 -- when Rodgers' Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers -- just moved ahead.

Do you know what it's like to hold your breath for nearly six years, just waiting for an MVP night like the one Rodgers had Sunday? You could hear him exhale from here to Green Bay.

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Paul SancyaAaron Rodgers threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns against the best defense in the league.

With the victory and a 304-yard, three-touchdown, zero-interception performance against the best defense in the league, Rodgers put all the distance he'll ever need between himself and the ghost of Brett Favre. And to anybody who wondered whether Rodgers could win the close one or the big one, the answer is yes and yes.

Titletown USA just got another resident: a fourth Lombardi trophy. It'll be moving in just as soon as the Packers make their triumphant return to the team's Lambeau Field offices.

Depending on your football math, this latest trophy was either 14 or three years in the making. Fourteen is how many years it has been between Packers Super Bowl championships. Three is how many years it took for Rodgers to establish, once and for all, his own era.

Need proof? Just look at his smudge marks on that silver Lombardi trophy.

"Brett Favre is a great quarterback for the Green Bay Packers," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He'll be a great Packer for the rest of his life. But this is about passing the torch from one quarterback to the next, and Aaron's off to a heck of a start."

Rodgers is a Bay Area guy. He adored the San Francisco 49ers. He grew up watching the legendary Joe Montana win Super Bowls -- then watching Montana's replacement, Steve Young, struggle to do the same.

Rodgers was 11 years old when Young stood on the sideline of Joe Robbie Stadium in 1995 and happily told his Niners teammates to "take the monkey off my back!" At last, Young had won his own Super Bowl.

Now Favre and Rodgers have the same number of Lombardi trophy moments. But Rodgers has something Favre never had: a Super Bowl MVP award.

"I've never felt like there's been a monkey on my back," said Rodgers, who remembered that famous Young quote. "The organization stood by me, believed in me. That's what I did on the [postgame] podium -- I thanked [Packers GM] Ted [Thompson] and [team president] Mark [Murphy] and [McCarthy], really, for believing in me and giving me the opportunity.

"I told Ted back in 2005 that he wouldn't be sorry with his pick. And I told him in '08 that I was going to repay their trust and get us this opportunity."

Of course, 2008 -- the season Rodgers replaced Favre as the Packers' starting quarterback. Since then, Rodgers had put up numbers but not championships. The question lingered: Could he win when it mattered?

It lingers no more.

"He's got that monkey off his back as well," said Packers wide receiver Donald Driver, a 12-year veteran who was in tears after the game. "People probably doubted him. Didn't believe in him. But we all did."

As the Packers waited for the postgame trophy presentation to begin, wide receiver Greg Jennings, who caught two touchdown passes against the Steelers, kiddingly told Rodgers, "Man, I wish you could just win one playoff game for us."

One? Try four -- or six, if you count the last two must-win regular-season games for the Packers. Rodgers led sixth-seeded Green Bay to playoff road victories at Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago, and now at Cowboys Stadium. The Packers haven't played at Lambeau since Jan. 2. But they'll be back for the parade and celebration.

This time, figure on Rodgers getting the biggest Cheesehead cheer. He earned it. McCarthy's game plan centered almost exclusively on Rodgers and the passing attack. And Rodgers delivered, especially in the deciding fourth quarter.

"Obviously he's following a legend, but he's making a legacy," Jennings said. "He's putting down the foundation for his own legacy. I think that's what people are going to start to understand and kind of see that he's not Brett Favre, he's Aaron Rodgers. He's going to do things the way Aaron Rodgers does it. Brett did it his way, but he's going to do it the Aaron Rodgers way. And that's the way we got it done, with Aaron Rodgers at the helm."

And with Rodgers hoisting that trophy.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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