Rodgers: From unwanted high school QB to NFL MVP
He was too small. He wasn't good enough. He didn't belong.
This is what Division I college coaches were telling the best quarterback in the NFL when he was 17 years old.
No one was very interested in Aaron Rodgers when he was a senior at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, Calif. No one except for Craig Rigsbee, the Butte College football coach, who lived a five-minute walk from the Rodgers family home.
If not for Rigsbee, it is likely that the Green Bay Packers wouldn't be coming into MetLife Stadium today five wins shy of a 16-0 regular season. And if not for Rigsbee, NFL fans wouldn't be enjoying one of the best seasons ever by a quarterback. Rodgers -- barring a monumental late-season collapse -- is a prohibitive favorite to win league MVP honors.
"He's a special player and I think one of the reasons why is he's had to take a different path to get there," Rigsbee said. "He's had to work for everything. He knows what it's like to be overlooked. Nothing has ever been handed to him."
The 6-2, 223- pound Rodgers is a fighter. He had to fight to get noticed out of high school. He had to fight the stigma of being bypassed by his favorite NFL team, the 49ers, out of college. And he had to fight the perception that there was no way he could replace a legend, that he would never be able to lead the Packers the way Brett Favre once did.
But he's done all that, and now -- the season after his MVP performance in Super Bowl XLV -- there doesn't seem to be anyone who isn't ready to hand Rodgers the league's MVP trophy.
Rodgers, who turned 28 Friday, has done the unthinkable, following up one championship season with another great year. Heading into Sunday's game against the Giants, he is completing an almost inconceivable 71.8 percent of his passes. He is on pace to throw for 5,055 yards and 48 touchdowns and finish with an all-time-best 127.7 passer rating.
He also is the only NFL quarterback to have posted a rating of 100-plus in 11 straight games, and he has a 110-plus rating in 19 of his past 22 games (including playoffs).
"He's very accurate," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said. "He's a quarterback who can put the ball where he wants to put it. If he wants to put the ball by your ear, it's going to be by your ear. If he wants it to be by your shoestrings, it's going to be by your shoestrings."
Rodgers' accuracy on the field seems to reflect the patience and resolve he showed off to get there. He is not afraid of being hit by hard-charging defensive players. He stands in the pocket and waits for what he wants, rarely forcing his throws or throwing the ball away. And when forced to run, he'll pull the ball down and take off. The results are impressive.
"He's obviously the talk of the town, and rightfully so," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's playing very, very well."
In high school, Rodgers wasn't even the talk of his own town. Chico is a laid-back, artsy college community north of Sacramento, and football is not the main attraction. Rigsbee says it was an area of California that college scouts used to pretty much ignore. It also didn't help that Rodgers was a wispy 6 feet, 170 pounds as a high school senior.
He participated in a football camp at the University of Illinois, but the best the Fighting Illini could offer him was a possible roster spot as a walk-on. When Rigsbee came calling, Rodgers was so frustrated that he told him he was thinking about taking up baseball (he had a 91-mph fastball) and trying to get a minor-league contract, or scrapping athletics to become a lawyer.
Instead, Rigsbee talked him into giving Butte a try, at least for a year. And the rest has become legend on the community-college recruiting circuit.
While scouting another player in Butte after the 2002 season, University of California coach Jeff Tedford spotted Rodgers and immediately saw stars. Rodgers accepted a scholarship and claimed the starting job five games into the 2003 season. He went on to break several school passing records before foregoing his senior season to enter the 2005 NFL draft.
On draft day, Rodgers was snubbed for a final time when the 49ers used the overall No. 1 pick to take Utah's Alex Smith. Thought by some to be a potential No. 1 pick, Rodgers tumbled in the first round all the way to the Packers, who used the 24th overall pick to make him Favre's understudy.
The Packers like to push the notion that having Rodgers wait three years for the then-beloved Favre to wind down his career in Green Bay was the best thing for him. The reality, however, was a little different.
"It was hard on him, the whole Brett Favre stuff," said Rigsbee, who remains close with Rodgers. "He has had to fight and scratch and claw at almost every step to get where he is. But it's made it all the sweeter to him."
How sweet would it be for the player who was told he didn't have the talent to play Division I football to lead an NFL team to an undefeated season?
How sweet would it be to win another championship ring and an MVP award?
Don't think Rodgers hasn't thought about it.
"I have pretty high standards,'' he said, "the way I work and care about being great. I don't think you can think too far ahead in the moment of the season, but I was definitely hoping for this kind of season."