Rodgers has made fans say "Brett Who?''
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers just won't do it. It didn't matter that there were at least 50 reporters and camera people jockeying for position in front of his cubicle in the Packers' locker room this past week. He refused all attempts by the public relations staff to move his weekly news conference to the spacious auditorium across the hall.
"I get dressed with my teammates," Rodgers explained to them earlier in the season. "I'm not Brett Favre."
No, he's not. And he's never tried to be. And that may be the essence of the miracle that Rodgers has pulled off in Green Bay. Rodgers hasn't just replaced a legend; he's all but erased him from the public consciousness simply by winning and being himself.
It's been four years since Favre threw his last pass for Green Bay; Corey Webster picked it off, setting up the overtime field goal that put the Giants in the Super Bowl. Now the Giants are back in town again, looking to upset the defending champion Packers in an NFC divisional playoff game.
Not only is this a vastly different team from the one the Giants knocked off in 2008, in some ways it is a different town. Green Bay no longer belongs to Favre. In fact, it sometimes is hard to believe it ever belonged to him at all.
Four seasons ago, you couldn't walk a block in the state of Wisconsin without seeing a Brett Favre jersey. Now you have to do some significant legwork just to find one.
They did have a dusty rack of them -- maybe 12 in total -- toward the back of the cavernous gift shop at Lambeau Field last week. There also were three more downstairs in the Packers Hall of Fame, but nobody seemed to be paying attention to them, given that they appear between the popular Lambeau Leap exhibit and a gigantic room dedicated to "Today's Packers."
In the center of that room is a 20-foot case featuring the uniform Rodgers wore in Green Bay's 31-25 win over Pittsburgh in last year's Super Bowl, along with his MVP trophy from that game.
"It's not easy to replace a player like Brett Favre. And there was a lot of Brett Favre vs. Aaron Rodgers discussions out there before last year," said receiver Greg Jennings, who played with both. "For us, the whole discussion was over the moment the team made the decision. I think last year when we won the Super Bowl and Aaron Rodgers won the trophy, it ended the discussion outside of this locker room. Winning that is something the other guy never did."
Favre was never named Super Bowl MVP, but he did win three straight regular-season MVPs and took fans on an incredible run from 1995-97. In those three years, the Packers won an NFL-record 25 consecutive home games. They went to the NFC Championship Game three times and to the Super Bowl twice, winning it in January 1997.
Favre, who owns the NFL records for most career touchdown passes and most career interceptions, was incredibly exciting to watch. That excitement, however, had a way of getting to fans as his career went on, according to Jason Wilde, who hosts Rodgers' radio show and covers the Packers for ESPN.com.
"One of the things Packers fans seem to enjoy about Aaron Rodgers is that they don't spend Sunday afternoons on the edge of their seat worrying," Wilde said. "They don't have to worry about a great play versus a throw-your-beer-at-the-television play."
Rodgers' steadiness under pressure is a leading reason he is the leading candidate for this season's MVP. It would be a major upset if Green Bay's run ended Sunday because of a fatal mistake by its quarterback. Rodgers completed 68.3 percent of his 502 passes this season for 4,643 yards, with 45 touchdowns and six interceptions. That's right, six interceptions -- as in only 1.2 percent of his passes have been picked off this season.
"His decision-making is second to none," Jennings said. "He's so smart and he's so aware of the situation, down and distance, where we are in the game and what play he needs to try to make -- 'Hmm, I don't need to try to force this.' "
A television reporter asked Rodgers if he could trace his distaste for turning the ball over to the time he spent playing behind Favre. Rodgers responded by saying that his style was developed much earlier than that, back in his freshman year at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, Calif.
"My freshman year, I actually threw more interceptions than touchdowns," Rodgers said. "It's just making a conscious decision to be smart with the football. Since then, I haven't had any of those years."
But it's not just Rodgers' steadiness on the football field that has won over Packers fans.
"With Rodgers, the level of drama associated with him is so minimal both on and off the football field," Wilde said. "Rodgers is intensely private about his private life, where Brett was open, maybe too open. Rodgers never says anything he hasn't thought through. He's very conscious of his image and how to present himself. That wasn't really the case with Brett."
Call it drama fatigue. Favre is retired and living in Louisiana, but it took him a while to get there. By the end of his career in Green Bay, he was 38, significantly older than many of his teammates, and often dressed in a separate locker room. Since throwing that interception against the Giants, Favre held a tearful retirement news conference, tried to come back, forced a trade to the Jets, went on to play for the Vikings and got involved in an unseemly texting scandal.
All this certainly took its toll on a group of longtime Packers fans who gather every weekday morning at The Bay Family Restaurant, just down the street from Lambeau Field. The group has been getting together for 60 years to discuss all things Packers, and perhaps no subject caused as much divisiveness as Favre did during the year Rodgers replaced him. Now, however, almost all fault Favre for the way it ended in Green Bay.
"He brought a lot of it on himself," Raymond Dufano said. "We have a couple of guys who will defend Brett to the end, but no one can say anything bad about Rodgers. He's taken over so wonderfully and had great ethics. He really emulates Bart Starr."
Bart Starr? In Green Bay, that's praise as heady as one can get.