Packers Nation shares injured Rodgers' pain
Aaron Rodgers. Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Nobody expected the outcome of Monday’s Packers game. The Green Bay Packers were on fire after a win the week earlier in Minnesota.
Come on, it’s the Bears! We aren’t supposed to lose to the Bears.
Many confident fans were posturing like Babe Ruth, all but pointing to the upper deck predicting the proverbial home run.
The Packers were going to win and win big. No one could stop them, and Aaron Rodgers was slated to have a game for the ages.
At the top of the NFC North, the Packers were the team to beat. Everyone else was just chasing them.
And then he went down.
A third down run in the first offensive drive ended with a punishing tackle, and Aaron Rodgers was slow to get up.
No one would see the grimace on his face, though it would be photographed several times over that evening.
No one knew there was a problem until he jogged to the tunnel.
Not a soul realized how he hid the pain as he tried to keep up with the athletic trainer running ahead of him.
A shoulder injury. Of course the Packers would not be more specific, and he was done for the night.
This was Number Twelve. Elite of the elite, sharing rarified air with the likes of Favre, Starr, Montana, Brady and Manning.
He’s supposed to be infallible, confident and indestructible — shoulders squared and chin held high. After all, we had seen him play that role rather successfully since 2008.
But that wasn’t the same person that emerged from the tunnel part way through the third quarter Monday night.
His body language said it all.
Rodgers’ head was down. Without his shoulder pads and uniform, he looked small. Perhaps even vulnerable.
Tight-lipped, he tried to keep his emotions in check and put on his best brave face.
Dressed in a hoodie, he used its pocket to sling his left arm while he acknowledged the crowd’s applause.
Only no one realized how much that he appreciated and needed that support.
In that moment he was no longer the demigod who led the team to a Super Bowl victory.
He was just a young man named Aaron, and he hurt.
Yet the standing ovation wasn’t just a cheer for the Packers’ starting quarterback. It was so much more.
No, the resounding applause was 78,000 of his closest friends letting him know they were with him thick and thin, that they were worried about him, and that they cared for him as a person, not just as an athlete.
Talk about a complete turn events since 2008 when he was booed and blamed for replacing a legend.
During his weekly show on ESPN Radio, he fought back tears as he recalled how powerful of a message that applause was for him.
“The reception I got from the fans,” he tried to say as he was overcome with emotion, “it was pretty special.”
Aaron Rodgers cried, and Packers Nation wept with him.
There is nothing worse than knowing someone we care about—whether it is a child, parent, friend or lover—is hurting and there is little we can do to help.
Sometimes the little pat on the back is not enough, and all we can do is empathize and try to absorb a little bit of the pain. It may not be much to offer, but it’s always comforting to know someone understands.
I like to think that is what happened.
Yet it’s easy to dehumanize football players—especially quarterbacks.
We put them on the auction block as though they were property in fantasy football leagues all across the nation every fall.
We buy and trade them with imaginary money. They are useless when they don’t score points and are tossed in the digital trash once they are injured.
We as fans also demonstrate an exceptionally bloated sense of entitlement and demand that they play through injuries we wouldn’t expect ourselves to endure.
A few intoxicated fans around me wanted to numb Rodgers’ shoulder up, strap him back together as soon as he was hurt Monday night in a manner that reminded me of that final battle in the film Gladiator where Russell Crowe is mortally wounded, but the injury is concealed and he is hoisted once again into the Roman Coliseum.
Fortunately, they were nothing more than a loud minority.
When Rodgers went down, countless others suddenly seemed to care less about the outcome of the game.
Sure, there is plenty of panic this week as the team prepares for a stretch without its biggest star, but so many more were worried about him.
Within minutes well wishes stretched across the internet through social media.
Perhaps it is the intimacy of the tiniest NFL market uniquely found in Green Bay. Or maybe it’s the unique concept of ownership only found with the Packers that binds fans tighter to the organization than any other team in the country.
With thousands of shareholders, we often do not consider Rodgers just the Packers’ quarterback. Rather he is our quarterback.
His victories are our victories, and his pain and loss is ours to share as well.
Mike McCarthy has often referred to the family mentality when it comes to how the Packers conduct themselves as a team.
They are more than just players and staff. They are brothers, and sometimes there are things more important than the actual game playing out on the field.
That is a concept that Rodgers already understands well.
But Monday night, he realized that family is not just defined by those who play and work for the Green and Gold, and that very tangible compassion permeates through the entire Packers community. We care for our own.
“Let me catch myself here,” Rodgers quietly paused as emotions overpowered words.
Don’t worry, Aaron.
Packers Nation will always be there to pick you back up when you don’t think you have the strength to do it on your own.