Monday, November 14, 2011

Tough Act to Follow

Scott Hunter, Quincy Carter, Jay Fiedler, Bert Jones, Aaron Rodgers.

Any idea what those five quarterbacks have in common? Maybe this will help: Bart Starr, Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas, Brett Favre.

Yep, that's right. Each of the first five was the starting quarterback who replaced those in the second group. Four of the first five faded into the realm of sports trivia, unable to fill the very large shoes of those they attempted to replace.

Which makes Rodgers' accomplishments the last two NFL seasons even more astonishing than they otherwise would be. And they are quite astounding by their own right. A Super Bowl victory, a Super Bowl MVP award, 16 straight NFL wins (a record in the history of the Packers' storied franchise), and a likely NFL MVP this season are the stuff of a budding legend.

That Rodgers has been able to so seamlessly replace a bona fide legend in Favre, someone who arguably was the face of the franchise more than any quarterback since Namath or Unitas, speaks volumes both for Rodgers and for the coach and front office personnel who first groomed him and then placed him in a position to succeed.

While Rodgers may be more popular in the U.S. than George Washington, Martin Luther King, and Mother Teresa these days, it is his mentoring and "handling" by the Packers that perhaps impresses me the most. For while the fawning over Rodgers is deserved (and even as a life-long Lions fan I will find myself somewhat conflicted as I watch the revival of a meaningful Lions-Packers game on Thanksgiving Day) I am convinced that the Packers' management and coaches placed Rodgers in the position that he is in today through a series of shrewd decisions.

One percent behind Jesus.

The authors of the book that I'm currently reading about the birth and growth of ESPN convincingly argue that the network's rise to its self-proclaimed status as "The Worldwide Leader in Sports" may have never occurred but for a series of decisions and events, any one of which may have resulted in the demise of the network. So too the Packers brass had multiple opportunities to fumble away the chance to grow Rodgers into the player that he is now but chose the right path every time. 

First, the Packers used a first-round draft pick to select Rodgers at a time when they already had a "franchise quarterback" in Favre (take note Indianapolis Colts). Second, they brought Rodgers along slowly, letting him to adjust to the speed of the game, learning from one of the best. Third, they recognized when it was Rodgers' time and when they did they committed to him fully, whether growing tired of Favre's "I'm retired; I'm not retired" antics or simply considering it in the best interests of the business to hand Rodgers the reins. And, finally, once Rodgers was installed as the franchise keystone, they collected, kept, and surrounded him with good talent.

Recognizing talent, training team members, surrounding your leaders with good employees, managing expectations. The Packers have taught us all something about how to achieve success in their handling of Aaron Rodgers.

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