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Earlier this month, as the Green Bay Packers prepared to play the Chicago Bears in an important season finale, we here at Packers Wire discussed the legacy moment approaching for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The Week 17 matchup against the Bears was, without a doubt, a chance for Rodgers to help the Packers secure the highly coveted No. 1 seed in the NFC and secure his third Most Valuable Player award.
Three weeks later, the ultimate in legacy moments has arrived for the Packers quarterback.
You couldn’t craft a better opportunity for Rodgers, the 37-year-old quarterback who is completely at peace with himself as a player and person despite the Packers drafting a first-round quarterback to kick off a season completely turned on its head due to a devastating pandemic. Sunday’s NFC Championship Game is at Lambeau Field, against the most accomplished quarterback in the history of the sport, with a chance to end a special season playing for a Super Bowl against one of the game’s young gun superstars. Rodgers, now 37, must understand the gravity of the moment, and what a historic performance Sunday would do for his legacy as a football player and his future as the quarterback of the Packers.
Week 17 was so important because it provided an opportunity for the Packers to pave the path to the Super Bowl through Green Bay. Now, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – who ended the Packers’ unbeaten start to the season back in the heat in Tampa Bay in October – have to play in the snow and cold of Lambeau Field in the rematch.
This will be Rodgers’ first NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field. He was on the sideline – and miserable – when the Packers lost to the New York Giants following the 2007 season, but his previous four trips to this game were all away from home: in Chicago, in Seattle, in Atlanta and in San Francisco.
Now, what Rodgers has wanted for so long – a chance to play a title game in Green Bay – is here, and the legendary foe he never faced in the Super Bowl despite a decade of nearly equal conference dominance is the only one left standing in his way to a second Super Bowl appearance.
The first highly anticipated matchup between Rodgers’ Packers and Brady’s Buccaneers was nothing if not anti-climatic. Rodgers threw two picks, sparking a furious rally by Brady and the Bucs, ending in a 38-10 defeat that got out of hand in a hurry and wasn’t competitive in the second half. The Packers offense was drilled into the ground, Rodgers took four sacks and was eventually replaced late in the game with the result in hand. The Buccaneers defense bested the Packers offense in every way.
The rematch is here. The No. 1 scoring offense led by the presumptive MVP has a chance to flip the script and power a win in a game that’s far more important than a Week 6 showdown.
Legacy has been and always will be important to Rodgers, a self-described historian of the game who grew up idolizing Joe Montana. He has long admired Brady, who is undoubtedly the most accomplished quarterback in the game’s long history. To beat Brady – the modern Montana – and get to another Super Bowl could end up being one of the two or three most impressive accomplishments in a Hall of Fame career.
Rodgers is 37. Brady is 43. And Rodgers wants to play until he’s at least 40, and he wants to do it in Green Bay. Slowly, he is starting to write a new future in which he pulls off the same trick as Brady, playing so well and winning so much that the team has to offload the quarterback they invested in to start the perceived twilight of his career. To beat Brady and play for another Super Bowl would be one or two steps forward in turning Jordan Love into Jimmy Garoppolo.
Imagine the path. Beat the No. 1 defense, beat Tom Brady, and then beat Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen. It would be an incredible journey to a second title.
Rodgers has crafted a magical season. He set career highs in touchdown passes (48) and completion percentage (70.7), paced the NFL in passer rating, led the Packers to 13 wins and the top-scoring offense in football, while simultaneously unleashing the full power of the Shanahan/LaFleur scheme and showing the NFL what it’s truly capable of with a Hall of Fame quarterback at the controls.
This isn’t 2010, when the Packers gained steam and all the pieces came together late for a young but talented team that didn’t know how good it was.
This isn’t 2014, when Rodgers hobbled into Seattle with a bum calf.
This isn’t 2016, when Rodgers could no longer carry a flawed football team past the finish line.
This isn’t 2019, when the Packers ran into a powerhouse team that had every answer for every question they could pose.
This is 2020, and all the stars have aligned – the Packers are the best team in football, Rodgers is the MVP and the NFC title game is at Lambeau Field.
And do not discount the personal importance of Rodgers playing his first game since the passing of Ted Thompson, the general manager who did the unthinkable twice, first drafting Rodgers with Brett Favre on the roster and then trading Favre to officially usher in the Rodgers era. Thompson was arguably the single most instrumental figure in the ascendancy of Rodgers of a football player. To win this game, just days after Thompson passed away, would undoubtedly mean the world to Rodgers, who has forever cherished the difficult decisions Thompson made to shape his future as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.
Legacy moments are special forks in the road for Hall of Fame players. All conference title games are individual legacy moments, but with all the circumstances involved, Sunday is the perfect one for Rodgers.
Brady-Rodgers. Packers-Bucs. The pen and paper are in front of both quarterbacks. One of them will write a new chapter in a legendary career at the most historic venue in football on Sunday.